Historical Romance

Review: The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by KJ Charles

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Title: The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting
Author: KJ Charles
Genre/Themes: Historical romance, M/M romance
Release Date: 24 Feb 2021

Author links: Website / Twitter / FB Group / Goodreads

My rating: 4.5 Stars


Blurb 

Robin Loxleigh and his sister Marianne are the hit of the Season, so attractive and delightful that nobody looks behind their pretty faces.

Until Robin sets his sights on Sir John Hartlebury’s heiress niece. The notoriously graceless baronet isn’t impressed by good looks, or fooled by false charm. He’s sure Robin is a liar—a fortune hunter, a card sharp, and a heartless, greedy fraud—and he’ll protect his niece, whatever it takes.

Then, just when Hart thinks he has Robin at his mercy, things take a sharp left turn. And as the grumpy baronet and the glib fortune hunter start to understand each other, they also find themselves starting to care—more than either of them thought possible.

But Robin's cheated and lied and let people down for money. Can a professional rogue earn an honest happy ever after?

Review 

This is a standalone m/m historical romance, similar in vibe to Band Sinister (which I love btw) and enjoyed it immensely.

KJ Charles is auto-read author for me and often pick her books even without reading the blurb. This is one of those times and the general promo as soft romance was enough for me to make me request the ARC.

And this story is just what I need - soft romance, high heat, no murders.

It's an engrossing story which for the most part kept me on my toes as to how the main romance (and all secondary relationships ) will play out. It is a rare thing in romance, especially when there is no action packed suspense plot. Somehow KJ Charles managed to do it, keep me guessing almost till the end and loved the unexpected twists and turns so much.

I liked both MCs and found their families and friends, even the truly bad ones, to be well drawn. Robin and Hart are opposites in many ways, grumpy-sunshine kind of romance which is my absolute catnip. 

We got intriguing full-fledged characters who read like real people. Some are beautiful and graceful and funny, others - not so much. Some love social events and being the center of attention, others - prefer the countryside or mathematics. 

I didn't expect the debt/payment bit that came at the start of Robin and Hart's relationship and was initially apprehensive how it will be handled re consent in a sexual relationship. But they talked things through every single step of the relationship and this left me confident that there is not pressure/forcing of any sorts. And apart from the surprising start, I absolutely loved their romance with all its complexities and mis-steps and finding a way to apologise and change oneself into a better person. 

I want to make a special note about families in this story. We see both amazingly close and supportive families but we also get  families that are abusive and harmful. This aspect in the story was very important for me and it is what makes it not exactly a light-hearted romance in my eyes. It's serious and moving and emotional and I loved it.

I highly recommend this book and tentatively hope for a sequel (Alice and Marianne's adventure in Europe totally have the potential to be awesome).

CWs: abuse, child abuse (in the past), neglect (in the past)

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Paranormal Romance

Review: Big Bad Wolf by Suleikha Snyder

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Title: Big Bad Wolf (Third Shift #1)
Author: Suleikha Snyder 
Genre /Tropes: PNR, politics, mafia
Release Date: 26 Jan 2021

Author's links:


My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb

In 2016, New York became a Sanctuary City for supernaturals...but things quickly spun out of control. Now, Third Shift is an elite team of operatives tasked with exposing the gritty underbelly of New York's criminal-supernatural underworld, taking down the worst of the worst and protecting human- and shifter-kind alike.

Joe Peluso has blood on his hands. But lawyer and psychologist Neha Ahluwalia is determined to help him craft a solid defense...even if she can't defend her own obsession. Because Joe took out those Russian mobsters for good reason--they were responsible for the death of his beloved foster brother. Those six bad guys were part of the ruthless clan of bear shifters who control Brooklyn's Russian mafia, so his vigilante justice has earned him countless enemies in New York's supernatural-controlled underworld, and no friends in a government that now bends to Russia at every turn.

Joe knows that creatures like him only deserve the worst. Darkness. Solitude. Punishment. But meeting Neha makes him feel human for the first time in forever. He's never wanted anything in his life like he wants Neha, and he'll break almost any rule to spend a minute alone with her. But when the Russian mob attacks the jail for payback, Joe and Neha are forced to escape. Before long they're on the run--from monsters who want him dead and from their own traitorous hearts.

Review 

This is an intriguing PNR that I read in one sitting. It's action-packed, engaging, with a wonderful cast of supporting characters. Despite enjoying a lot of elements in this story, there are also some things that  didn't work that well for me.

This a paranormal romance set firmly in the politics of present-day America. I found the political messages, which I understand and fully support, to be very heavy handed in the text, very in your face, overshadowing the paranormal and romantic aspects in the story. Quotes from the news is not is not what I am looking for in PNR. 

It's the first book in what shapes to be multi-book series and I felt the world building was very sketchy and was overshadowed by the thriller aspect. I am sad to say at times it read more like a mafia book than a PNR. 

I did like the diversity of the cast, the fast pace and the whole secret operations/team of super soldiers aspect worked very well for me. There was tension and intrigue and humour, a side romance that I very much liked. 

I have mixed feelings about the main romance though. It was steamy and the sexual attraction was off the charts. At the same time, I was not a fan of the danger banging and felt there is not enough substance in Neha and Joe's relationship. It was a fated mates sort of situation though both Neha and Joe very much insisted in entering the relationship on their own free will. Both Joe and Neha acted on their attraction their own, not just being led by some supernatural forces. 

Yet, I didn't understand fully her attraction to him and they kept having the same argument over and over again of him not being good enough/worthy of her. It was repetitive and didn't really show any growth of their relationship beyond the sexual attraction.

I was not bothered by Joe being  grumpy, surly, mostly unrepentant about his past. Giant surly heroes with the softest heart are my catnip. What I was bothered by was his lack of trust in her, no growth in their relationship. 

On the positive side, I absolutely loved the side characters, all of them, Neha's friends/bosses and relative, the whole third Shift crew, they were all great, full-fledged and I can't wait to read more about them. 

Overall, this book was not what I expected and it had both things that worked great for me and things that I found annoying, making it very hard for me to review it. It's very much a YMMV situation, so I would suggest you give it a try if you like high-stakes, fast-paces, PNR with strong political aspect and diverse cast. 

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Alix E. Harrow

Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

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Title: The Once and Future Witches
Author: Alix E. Harrow
Genre /Tropes: Fantasy, Witches
Release Date: 13 Oct 2020

Author's links:

My rating: 4 Stars





Blurb

In 1893, there's no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters--James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna--join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women's movement into the witch's movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There's no such thing as witches. But there will be.
 

Review


I absolutely loved this author's debut, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, and was very excited to read this one too. In the end reading it was a wild ride, it's a rich, mesmerizing and loudly feminist but also dark, slow at times and disturbing. 

It started a bit slow for me and it took me a while to warm of the the three sisters but after the half mark, it picked up pace significantly and I couldn't put it down till the end.

The author creates a rich world of spells and witching populated with diverse characters, all standing firmly on their own, all of them quite memorable. At the same time there were some dark and painful to read scene for me to read personally

In full honesty it all felt very gender essentialist to me at aroudn 30%, and I was worried it will go fully into "all men are bad and all women must fight them with any means at their disposal". I am glad to say this changed and as the story continued there was less focus on gender but rather on power dynamic, people with all the power and rights and people with none of them. 

It was truly empowering, there were moments of joy, true friendship and camaraderie. I would say the focus is on building relationships of all kinds - familial, between friends and co-workers, between lovers. 

I appreciate the casual queer rep and the way the author explored racial relations, labour and voting rights. 

There are strong love/romance elements which made the romance reader in me ecstatic. They were not the main focus of the story but they were solidly drawn and made me believe in them and in their HEAs. 

The ending was both unexpected and fitting in a way. It felt right but also made me ugly cry, so there is that and I am not saying anything more in order to avoid spoiling it for other readers. 

In short, I would recommend this book with the caveat that you need to be in the right headspace for it. 

CW: abuse, torture, difficult childbirth, burning at the stake, sexual harassment

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2020

Favourite Books of 2020

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2020 was a rough year and reading was a struggle for me at times. I barely read 45 books this past year, the lowest number for me for the past couple of years. Despite the small number, there were some real gems among them and I have compiled them in a list with 10 favourite books of 2020. 

1. Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall. Simply the best queer romcom I have read. Funny and sweet and touching, both very real and very over the top. You can read my full review here.


2. Network Effect by Martha Wells. I binged read the Murderbot series and they basically saved may sanity during the lockdown. Never in a million years I thought I would come to care so much about a sentient murder bot and their friends. 


3. Whiteout by Adriana Anders. I really this early in 2020 and it was such a great start to what turned to be a really difficult year. The story was pure adrenaline rush with a dose of romance and I am super excited for the next book coming out in August 2021. You can read my full review here.


4. Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, mostly after reading the previous two book in the series, I approach this one as SFF with romantic elements, rather than as a proper romance. Two people falling in love amidst trying to save their world in some space adventures. You can read my full review here.


5. One Night with the Sexiest Man Alive by Ainslie Paton. This book is all the titles as - one sexy, tropey romance that pushed all my buttons. Strong Pretty Woman vibes (minus the sex work), movie worthy grovel scene in the end. You can read my full review here.


6. Headlines by Lucy Parker. I have loved all of Lucy's books and this one is no exception. Such great enemies to lovers romance. You can read my full review here.


7. Wolf in Sheep's Clothing by Charlie Adhara. This is book 4 in an ongoing series following the same couple (human and werewolf) investigating crimes together. It's high heat, intense suspense and an ever growing romantic relationship. You can read my full review here.


8. Alpha Night by Nalini Singh. Another winner in the Psy-Changeling series. These books were my introduction to paranormal romance and continue to be my favourtie till this day. What I love the most about this story how unique it is in the Psy-changeling world yet it fits perfectly in it.


9. Sweet On You by Carla de Guzman. It's a Christmas romance set in the Philippines and I loved it. steeped in local traditions and delicious food it was a balm to the soul to read. You can read my full review here.


10. To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters. It's a delightful regency romcom that made me laugh and swoon. You can read my full review here.


And bonus entry:

11. Division Bells by Iona Datt Sharma. I picked this on a twitter rec and was taken by surprise how gorgeous it is. It's a bit melancholy, a bit sad, a lot political and ultimately charming and hopeful and i loved it. You can read my full review here.



Historical Romance

Review: To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters

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Title: To Have and to Hoax 
Author:  Martha Waters
Date of publication: 7 Apr 2020
Genre / Themes: Historical Romance / Marriage in trouble / Romcom

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Instagram / Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

In this fresh and hilarious historical rom-com, an estranged husband and wife in Regency England feign accidents and illness in an attempt to gain attention—and maybe just win each other back in the process.

Five years ago, Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley met, fell in love, and got married. Four years ago, they had a fight to end all fights, and have barely spoken since.

Their once-passionate love match has been reduced to one of cold, detached politeness. But when Violet receives a letter that James has been thrown from his horse and rendered unconscious at their country estate, she races to be by his side—only to discover him alive and well at a tavern, and completely unaware of her concern. She’s outraged. He’s confused. And the distance between them has never been more apparent.

Wanting to teach her estranged husband a lesson, Violet decides to feign an illness of her own. James quickly sees through it, but he decides to play along in an ever-escalating game of manipulation, featuring actors masquerading as doctors, threats of Swiss sanitariums, faux mistresses—and a lot of flirtation between a husband and wife who might not hate each other as much as they thought. Will the two be able to overcome four years of hurt or will they continue to deny the spark between them?

Review 

This is a delightful historical romcom, a solid debut by Martha Waters. It's a marriage in trouble plot and the MCs have been estranged for four! years after they had a fight. There is a also ridiculous game of pretend she starts as a way to make him show his feelings for her. It is not something that should work for me on paper but in reality, it was great fun, whimsical and light-hearted but also going deep into issues of family, marriage, intimacy. 

The writing is engaging and clever, the humour worked great for me and overall the story felt rich and very atmospheric. 

The main conflict in the story, a massive row that left Violet and Audley barely speaking to each other for four! years, could have been easily resolved with an honest conversation. It felt like they have wasted four years over nothing, and all their friends agree with me but at the same time it didn't bother me as much as I expected because of them never being in denial about their feelings and then when their game of pretend began they quickly saw through it and went on pretending while admitting their feelings to themselves (and each other eventually).

Audley is the uptight, highly determined and focused, a white knight in shining armour kind of herop (my catnip basically) who is madly in love with his wife but he is really incapable to talk about his feelings, admitting he made the wrong assumption was very difficult for him. Violet is flirty and frivolous, smart and curious and energetic and absolutely loved her. 

They have a turbulent relationship, they have to work on being more open, more trusting, need to find a way to be together but I can see they both want it and ready to put in the effort, so I can see them work as a couple in the long term and that is what got me over their stubbornness and stupidity to cling to their anger for four! years.

I love their tight circles of close friends and can't wait to read more books in the series featuring them. 

I would recommend this book with the caveat that the main conflict is based on a misunderstanding that could have been easily resolved if the MCs just talked to each other. 

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