Historical Romance

Review: To Love and to Loathe by Martha Waters


Title: To Love and to Loathe
Author: Martha Waters
Date of publication: 6 Apr 2021
Genre / Themes: Historical Romance / Romcom

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

My rating: 4.5 Stars


The widowed Diana, Lady Templeton and Jeremy, Marquess of Willingham are infamous among English high society as much for their sharp-tongued bickering as their flirtation. One evening, an argument at a ball turns into a serious wager: Jeremy will marry within the year or Diana will forfeit one hundred pounds. So shortly after, just before a fortnight-long house party at Elderwild, Jeremy’s country estate, Diana is shocked when Jeremy appears at her home with a very different kind of proposition.

After his latest mistress unfavorably criticized his skills in the bedroom, Jeremy is looking for reassurance, so he has gone to the only woman he trusts to be totally truthful. He suggests that they embark on a brief affair while at the house party—Jeremy can receive an honest critique of his bedroom skills and widowed Diana can use the gossip to signal to other gentlemen that she is interested in taking a lover.

Diana thinks taking him up on his counter-proposal can only help her win her wager. With her in the bedroom and Jeremy’s marriage-minded grandmother, the formidable Dowager Marchioness of Willingham, helping to find suitable matches among the eligible ladies at Elderwild, Diana is confident her victory is assured. But while they’re focused on winning wagers, they stand to lose their own hearts.


I loved the first book in the series, To Love and to Hoax, and this was just as good - light-hearted and funny m/f historical romance with a serious core.

This romance features a house party and a marriage, frenemies-to-lovers and it all worked great for me. There is also lovely minor f/f subplot. I appreciate how queer relationships were discussed in the text, no homophobia but easy acceptance instead. Initially I was worried about the representation of the marriage obsessed over-eager noble lady and how misogynistic it came across but I am happy to say that the truth about her turned out to be rather different and I loved it.

I really liked a lot of the story elements, besides the romance - the exploration of roles of men and women in Victorian society, how they play them and can use them to subvert the norms, how power and freedom intersect. I liked seeing both the men and women carving a place for their happiness in a very strictly regulated world. The story says a lot about the masks people wear in society and how the real person behind the mask can be much more interesting and real.

Both MCs were wonderful in their own way. Diana and Jeremy are both currently in a situation of privilege but also aware of it and trying to use it to care for themselves and for others.

Very much like the first book in the series, there is a strong element of playfulness here, Diana and Jeremy expressing their feelings for each other through pushing each other's button, lots of witty banter and play pretend.

I loved the element in their intimacy where she teaches him how to give her pleasure. There was fun and joking in the bedroom but also deeply honest and somewhat awkward conversations around pleasure and desire.

The ending felt a bit rushed and his proposal was too public for my taste though I have to admit it was a good fit for them.

I loved the glimpses of Emily and Belfry and can't wait for their (I hope) story.

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Nalini Singh

Review: Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh


Title: Quiet in Her Bones
Author: Nalini Singh
Date of publication: 23 Feb 2021
Genre: Thriller

Author's links:

My rating: 4 Stars 


My mother vanished ten years ago.
So did a quarter of a million dollars in cash.
Thief. Bitch. Criminal.
Now, she's back.
Her bones clothed in scarlet silk.

When socialite Nina Rai disappeared without a trace, everyone wrote it off as another trophy wife tired of her wealthy husband. But now her bones have turned up in the shadowed green of the forest that surrounds her elite neighborhood, a haven of privilege and secrets that's housed the same influential families for decades.

The rich live here, along with those whose job it is to make their lives easier. And somebody knows what happened to Nina one rainy night ten years ago. Her son Aarav heard a chilling scream that night, and he's determined to uncover the ugly truth that lives beneath the moneyed elegance...but no one is ready for the murderous secrets about to crawl out of the dark.

Even the dead aren't allowed to break the rules in this cul-de-sac.


Nalini Singh is my favourite PNR author, her Psy-Changling series set the bar that I use to measure any other PNR against. She also writes contemporaries which are a hit or miss for me but still, I mostly enjoy them. This is only her second thriller. I loved the first one despite the issues I had with the resolution and who the murder turned out to be.

This book is thrilling and scary and amazing but once again I have some issues with the ending.

Aarav is one of the most unreliable narrator I have ever read and going on the journey to discover the killer with him was a wild ride by all means. I admit I didn't guess the killer till the very end and very much like Aarav and suspected everyone at some point.

Like Nalini Singh's previous thriller, this one is very atmospheric with a strong sense of place which I really liked. The murder mystery in a cul-de-saq neighbourhood of the rich was very engrossing and kept me on the edge till the last page.

I found the story scarier that some horror I have read, not so much because of the murder and some of violence that happens but because of witnessing Aarav's mind breaking, and seeing him not trusting himself, not knowing and not remembering, it was brutal and so powerfully presented.

I was on board with everything going on, though some aspects of the mother-son relationship made me uncomfortable, till the very end. It was easy to hate his father, it was more difficult to pinpoint my feelings for Aarav and Nina - there is sympathy and desire to help and protect. But also they lied and cheated and manipulated the others. They were not good people but complex ones - hurt and hurting but also caring and loyal.

I felt uncomfortable with the violence we see with regard to some queer side characters. It was not only them that get hurt in the story, straight characters also suffer abuse and violence, but I feel at least some of the violence towards the queer characters could have been spared (it was not queerphobia or gender-based violence, I need to clarify).

Now, the ending, on the one hand I had suspicions that didn't turn out to be true and I am happy and relieved about it. At the same time I felt the resolution of the murder mystery took the focus away from Nina. She was very much in the center of the story and her life and disappearance basically shaped Aarav the way he was. Going in the direction it went, the ending did a disservice to Nina in my opinion.

All in all, I had minor complaints with the story and feel this is a solid thriller with a compelling mystery plot, engaging written with a more or less satisfying resolution.

CWs: domestic violence, abuse, car crash, hospital stay, cheating, suicide, drugs, alcohol addiction (in the past), mental health issues, migraines, memory loss

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Alternate History

Review: Sword Dance and Saffron Alley by A. J. Demas


Title: Sword Dance (Sword Dance #1)
Author: A. J. Demas
Date of publication: 31 July 2019
Genre: Alt-history Romance, queer romance

Author's links:

My rating: 4 stars

Five years ago, Damiskos’s brilliant military career was cut short, leaving him with a permanent disability and scars that are not all physical. Adrift and still grieving, he tries to find meaning in an unsatisfying job.

Work takes him to the remote seaside villa of an old friend, where, among an odd assortment of guests, he meets the eunuch sword-dancer Varazda. Enigmatic and beautiful but distinctly prickly, Varazda is the antithesis of the straightforward and serious Damiskos. Yet as they keep getting in each other’s way at the villa, their mutual dislike is complicated by a spark of undeniable attraction.

Then the villa’s guests begin to reveal their true characters and motives—no one here is what they seem—and Damiskos finds himself at the centre of a bizarre web of espionage, theft, and assassination. Varazda may need Damiskos’s help, but not as much as Damiskos, finally awakening to a new sense of life and purpose, needs Varazda.

Sword Dance is the first book in the Sword Dance trilogy, an m/nb romance set in an imaginary ancient world, with murderous philosophy students, sex acts named after fruit, and love blossoming in the midst of mayhem.


This is the second book I read by this author and it is set in a vaguely similar world - alternate historical world reminiscent of Ancient Greece and Rome. I liked the world building before and I liked it here. It's a rich and vividly depicted world.

I liked suspense/murder mystery at a house party plot and was invested in it despite finding it all going a bit silly towards the end, still it''s very enjoyable and good enough background for the romance plot.

I found both MCs very interesting and likable. Damiskos and Varazda are opposites in many ways but both are decent human beings, who care about others and are open to exploring the attraction between them.

Damiskos is an ex-soldier, uncertain about his future, disabled. He struggles to find his direction in life but at the same time is comfortable in his desires and sexuality. Varazda is a non-binary sword dancer, an eunuch, a freed slave. Acting was part of his job (dancer and a spy) but women's style is also part of who he was - long hair and kohl and dresses and accesories. I found him to be a captivating character, both strong and loyal but also insecure, lacking experience in consensual sex, never before having  had a lover/partner on his own free choosing.

Their relationship started under extreme circumstance and was to some extend adrenaline driven, though their moments of tender heart-to-hearts were my favourite. The awkwardly shared fears and doubts and dreams under the cover of the night melted my heart. 

There is no HEA at the end of this book, just the promise to explore things between Dami and Varazda further.

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Title: Saffron Alley (Sword Dance #2)
Author: A. J. Demas
Date of publication: 6 Feb 2021
Genre: Alt-history Romance, queer romance

Author's links:

My rating: 4 stars


A month ago, eunuch sword-dancer and spy Varazda collided with ex-soldier Damiskos at a seaside villa during a dizzying week of intrigue, assassinations, and a fake love affair that—maybe—turned real. Now Varazda is back home in Boukos, at the center of a family and community he dearly loves, and Damiskos is coming to visit.

Things aren’t going according to plan.

Varazda’s family members suspect Damiskos’s motives. Varazda grapples with his own desires. Add in a horrible goose, a potentially lethal sculpture, and yet another assassination plot, and any man other than Dami would be boarding a ship straight back to Pheme.

It’s going to take all of Damiskos’s patience, and all of Varazda’s strength, to make this new relationship work. After all that, solving one more murder shouldn’t be too hard.

Saffron Alley is the second book in the Sword Dance trilogy, the continuation of Dami and Varazda’s story from Sword Dance. It crosses over with One Night in Boukos, but you don’t have to have read that book to enjoy this one.


I was happy that I could read this book right after I finished the first one so I could pick up Dami and Varazda's story right where they left off.

I loved the romance here even more than in book 1 but also found the suspense, especially the whole plotline with Varazda's friend Ariston even more ridiculous than in book 1. This did nothing to detract of my joy of the rest of the story though.

Seeing Dami and Varazda becoming a couple, navigating V's family and friends, deepening their intimacy (which had its ups and downs) was wonderful.

My favourite element in the romance is how much of it is basically caring about each other, being mindful of the other person's issues (Dami's disability impairs his movement and V is also considerate of that without making a big deal about it; V's trauma impacts his ability to be intimate of Dami and Dami did his best to make their intimate experiences as comfortable, as satisfying as possible for V without making him pressured or inadequate in any way).

I absolutely loved seeing them navigate V's family and domestic routines. Dami is great with V's found family, no questions, no doubts, complete understanding of V's obligations and care for his loved ones. I liked how they navigate their intimacy, made accommodations for the traumas and disabilities of the other without making it a big deal. There was awkwardness and misunderstandings, but also a lot of care for each other, subtle gestures of support, love, trust which I loved seeing on page.

This book delves deeper into Varazda being non-binary/genderfluid. I enjoyed seeing him embrace himself (and his friends' absolute acceptance of who he is) but since I am a cis person myself I don't feel qualified to judge how well the non-binary representation was done.

The story ends abruptly but with a tentative HFN and the promise of a HEA. I am excited to read the next book in the series and see how Damiskos and Varazda and their loved ones will settle together as one big family.

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