Loved this one. It deserves a better review than I have the brainspace to give it at the moment, but in short, I think it's my favorite ever renditionLoved this one. It deserves a better review than I have the brainspace to give it at the moment, but in short, I think it's my favorite ever rendition of a popular trope that I'm normally meh about (the bluestocking and the rake). There was lots of nuance and complicated self-image chewiness, and I enjoyed James's prose, which risked purple-ness in order to actually be interesting and complex....more
It's a tale as old as time: someone is wagered and won in a game of chance. It's a romance trope I love, though I can see why some readers might shy aIt's a tale as old as time: someone is wagered and won in a game of chance. It's a romance trope I love, though I can see why some readers might shy away from it, given the implied lack of agency. Thoughtful writing and thoughtful twists make it work for me, and there's so much emotional chewiness at work in this trope that I'm not surprised it's such a favorite: there's rescue fantasy, there's competence porn (skillful at cards/dice/whatever, or skillful at elegantly cheating at the same), there's a tangling and untangling of complicated desires, there's obligatory intimacy, and there are exciting hijinks going on around the protagonists. It's a hold-your-breath, don't-know-what-to-hope-for but I-can't-wait-to-see-fate-unfurl-here kind of trope. Maybe best of all, it highlights the internal workings at love and romance: that there is so much at risk in falling in love, and that love entails giving and taking irreplaceable pieces of one another.
Rose Lerner's elegant "All or Nothing" centers around understanding and owning complicated desires. The characters felt like real people, with appealing messiness and well-developed strengths and weaknesses, and it was so rewarding to watch Simon and Maggie fall into a partnership, then intimacy, and then love. I liked how attentive Lerner was to what it feels like to live outside the straight white context of what Romancelandia Regency usually looks like (but is certainly not limited to!), and the interesting ways disconnections and connections can be made. Also? I thought this was ridiculously hot, the kind of hot where the sex scenes (and any scenes with sexiness, really) hinged acutely on the characters and their personalities and desires. There was no trace of genericness anywhere. My only complaint about the novella was that the writing style was a little too florid and metaphor-heavy for me at times, but I'd still probably be tempted to rate this novella five stars on its own.
Jeanne Lin's well-paced "The Liar's Dice" was my draw to this anthology. I love her Tang Dynasty romances, and I think she's excellent at shorter-length romances. I'm the world's pickiest person when it comes to first-person single-POV romances, but Lin's craftsmanship is superb: those moments with subtle hints at Gao's tension and inner turmoil, and Wei-wei's obliviousness or misreading of them, were so beautifully executed that it was actually a fun experience to await Wei-wei coming to understand him and her feelings for him--and his feelings for her. I still haven't read second Lotus Palace book (this novella is set after it), but that didn't hinder my enjoyment of this book. Wei-wei--Bai Huang's scholarly little sister who does what she can to keep her family protected--was a delightful heroine, even though I am generally of the belief that, if you find a dead body/witnesses a murder, you should leave the investigation to the professionals, even if you are worried about whether your once feckless brother has drifted from the straight-and-narrow again. I know that means we wouldn't have gotten a story out of this, BUT STILL. Don't investigate murders if you're not a professional!!
I skipped Isabel Cooper's novella, "Raising the Stakes," having bounced off her writing before and knowing my own tastes. The setting was intriguing, but "elven warrior" and "fairy powers" are hugely unappealing elements to me.
Molly O'Keefe's exquisitely angsty "Redeemed" was so difficult but so gorgeous. Tackling the difficult aspect first: both protagonists are struggling with addiction/addiction recovery, she's being held captive by a villain, both are haunted by the Civil War, nearly everything about everyone's life is harsh, and I found this sooo bleak (though it has a happy ending, and a particularly awesome one, at that!). Darker than I usually want from my romances, in other words. But I'm so glad I read it, because it was so vividly gorgeous. Like, I want gif sets of so many of these scenes! They were rendered so eloquently and with such evocative emotion, that in a couple years, my spaghetti-strainer of a memory will probably have convinced me that it'd had been some TV show or movie when I'm remembering the scene where she's in the bird cage, and he sees her shame at him seeing her like this, and then he waits at the top of the staircase until she meets his gaze, and then he bows to her, the only thing he can do to recognize in her the dignity others want to deny her, and ALL I WANTED WAS THEM TO KISS ALREADY OKAY?
Ending the anthology is master plotter Joanna Bourne's sparkling "Gideon and the Den of Thieves." I've only read the first book in this series, quite a few years ago, but I think this would be an excellent place to start, given that it seems to be set earlier than all the full-length novels. Anyway, Bourne excels at writing smart, strategic characters and putting them in stories full of stratagems and complicated moves, and what I liked best was that Aimee remained competent from start to finish. Shameless scene-stealer Hawker drives a lot of this story, but I found the romance between Aimee and Gideon satisfying and believable. I had a couple things I didn't really like (the colonialist shit--like, I'm sorry, but I have zero faith in a romance novel hero's affected honor and attempts to reassure that his fortunes-made-in-the-East was all due to legitimate business; the highlighting of the heroine's unbelievably-kept-virginity, which I didn't like in The Spymaster's Lady, either, though in this book, there was some nuance and doubt), but overall, it made me realize I need to read more Bourne, and soon.
This is an excellent, very evenly high-quality anthology, and immensely satisfying in how the novellas played with the "gambled away" trope.
FTC Disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book....more
Reason #1739002 I want a time machine: so I can fast-forward to the time when Alyssa Cole has a gigantic backlist of historical novellas for me to gloReason #1739002 I want a time machine: so I can fast-forward to the time when Alyssa Cole has a gigantic backlist of historical novellas for me to glom. She packs a lot of emotion (and history) into these short works, but even with the high-stakes and high-tension of this one (she's a post-Dunmore proclamation Loyalist camp follower! he's a Patriot fighting in his owner's place, with the promise of freedom after the war--only now he's been taken prisoner!), things didn't get melodramatic, and Cole focused really engagingly on two people being kind and strong and opening themselves up to one another....more
My favorite Beverly Jenkins book I've read so far. I just can't dislike a romance that opens with the heroine rescuing the hero. It's one of my favoriMy favorite Beverly Jenkins book I've read so far. I just can't dislike a romance that opens with the heroine rescuing the hero. It's one of my favorite tropes, and much to my delight, Zahra remained competent and awesome throughout the entire book.
During the Civil War, Zahra worked as a dispatch, part of Harriet Tubman's intelligence network, and now during the messy and unpleasant Reconstruction, she's gone undercover again. One of her missions had involved rescuing Archer Le Veq, and when she meets him again--while she's posing as a notorious madam opening a new brothel in New Orleans--she has to hide her true identity while resisting getting too attached to the charming and radical Archer.
Jenkins weaves true history into her plots. Sometimes this made for clunky writing, but most of the time, I was hungry to keep learning more. I really enjoyed Zahra and Archer's relationship; there wasn't actually a lot of unnecessary emotional turbulence to it--after he figures out her identity, there's no drama about it; she know he's a trustworthy ally--and the main conflict involves whether they're willing to admit to themselves they're in love. This low-key emotional conflict between them protagonists was nicely balanced by the life-or-death stakes invoked by the peril/action plot. ...more
This is probably the most adorable book I'll read this year. It's so cute. I laughed out loud multiple times, and I"Here, have a drawing of a snail."
This is probably the most adorable book I'll read this year. It's so cute. I laughed out loud multiple times, and I needed to close the book and compose myself during the poetry scene. Dare nails comic timing with aplomb. Definitely a fluffy (fluffy! btw there's a lobster named Fluffy in this book, if that's your kind of thing) romance with some serious aspects (social anxiety, PTSD, and veteran homecomings are all incorporated into this book), but one I'd recommend to friends who aren't normally romance readers but who are interested in giving a fluffy romance a try.
The lying-and-blackmail angle was handled deftly, I thought; the drama and tension provided structure & conflict, but Dare swerved when necessary to ensure that neither character became unsympathetic or an asshole. I loved the romance itself a lot.
Not a five-star read because Scottish dialect WHY and because sometimes the serious stuff wasn't treated seriously enough for my liking (tone is difficult, I admit, and Dare did mostly a good job), but I enjoyed it dearly....more
I liked the writing at the sentence level; I can see how it could read too purple-y and too cluttered for some readers, but I kind of like the "push hI liked the writing at the sentence level; I can see how it could read too purple-y and too cluttered for some readers, but I kind of like the "push hard at an imperfect metaphor!" style. Aside from that, though, I basically finished this book solely to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end. It was tedious, and nothing was grounded in the characters personalities, which were poorly developed to begin with. Paper doll characters being pushed by romance conventions, basically. I could accept the assholeishness required by the set-up and plot, but it was sooooo boring. (Though, there was some nascent kinkiness I wasn't expecting; there were I think four threats to spank the heroine, and there was a lot of pushing of the humiliation button. I mean, the sex itself was bland if somewhat explicit, but it went nowhere actually kinky--or interesting. There were just kinky undertones that I don't usually see in non-erotica.) ...more
Not quite a husband, but definitely quite a rapist. (He's like: she's so frigid when we have consensual sex, so I know,OH SHERRY THOMAS NO. Like, wtf.
Not quite a husband, but definitely quite a rapist. (He's like: she's so frigid when we have consensual sex, so I know, I'll have sex with her while she's asleep and relaxed!!! MULTIPLE TIMES, to the point she has to bar her door against him!!! WTF OMG!!) She enacts some noncon and dubcon sexual acts, too, but two rapists don't make a romance either. (And it wasn't as overt or well-developed of a situation as the both-characters-are-rapists classic Prisoner of My Desire.) Also, it's basically about two white Brits romancing~ against the adventurous backdrop of a war in Asia in which colonized people are uprising against them and puts their precious lives and love in danger. Also also, racist terms are used a lot, which I can understand to some extent--'cause these two characters definitely are privileged Victorian imperialist Brits, so, like, what do I expect, that they wouldn't use the term "coolie"? And I'm sure Sherry Thomas, as a WOC herself, probably did make that purposeful choice. But it didn't make the book easy to read.
And I hate that I love Sherry Thomas's writing so much--she's poetic and practical and her words wrench every ounce of heartbreak out of you--and I thought both Bryony and Leo were interesting characters, and I wanted a better story for them, and really, the cheating wasn't something that bothered me as part of their history, but the rape and the racism just made all the supposed romance fall apart for me....more
My favorite Susanna Kearsley book. I'm a sucker for a historical road trip romance, what can I say?
I can say more, though. Namely, that this is very mMy favorite Susanna Kearsley book. I'm a sucker for a historical road trip romance, what can I say?
I can say more, though. Namely, that this is very much a Susanna Kearsley book: if you generally think her pacing is too slow, or if there's too much romance (or not enough), or if the more tepid contemporary sides of her stories don't make the more exciting historical sides worth it, or if you've heard enough about the Jacobites already, then this book might not be for you. Also, there are no paranormal elements in this book, which may or may not be a selling point.
The concept of this book (modern day: an amateur codebreaker translates an 18th century diary written in a difficult cipher; historical: the full story of the diarist and her headlong fall into a great adventure) gave Kearsley a lot of room to play around with the nature of storytelling and of narratives, of authorship and control over one's own life and one's fate, of trusting other people's word/narrative, and I think this is what made it a five-star book for me--in addition to just how much I loved Mary, the diarist, and just how wonderful Mary's ending was. There was so much thematic stuff, and the writing in the very ending made me think that Kearsley levelled up as an author with this book.
And if you need "Does the dog die??" spoilers: (view spoiler)[Frisque is alive and happy and with Mary at the end of the story. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I loved the mix of wit and seriousness. I loved all the internalizations and all the thinking the protagonists do in this one--it's definitely not menI loved the mix of wit and seriousness. I loved all the internalizations and all the thinking the protagonists do in this one--it's definitely not mental lusting but a fairly thorough account of how the characters change how they see themselves, how they relate to others. I loved how aggressive they are with their kindnesses (and it was kind of ridiculous at times, just how much they engaged in that).
I read this after Julie Anne Long's article about fallen women at Heroes and Heartbreakers, so I was surprised to find that Emma wasn't a fallen woman in the sense I'm familiar with (the SEX OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE OMG sense). I thought her own redemption, as well as John's, was very deftly and movingly portrayed....more
Atrocious cover but a compelling little story. Jeannie Lin writes well in such a short format and manages to tap into some deep emotional veins and inAtrocious cover but a compelling little story. Jeannie Lin writes well in such a short format and manages to tap into some deep emotional veins and interesting character dynamics, but I kind of feel the external plot in this one just kind of fizzled out....more
Some interesting elements here, but the combination of egregious insta-love and zero character development didn't make for a satisfying story, even ifSome interesting elements here, but the combination of egregious insta-love and zero character development didn't make for a satisfying story, even if the external plot was resolved in an interesting way....more
I have five stars worth of affection for this book (oh gosh, the math puns!), but there wasn't enough depth in these few pages for me to feel very emoI have five stars worth of affection for this book (oh gosh, the math puns!), but there wasn't enough depth in these few pages for me to feel very emotionally engaged; everything moved too swiftly, too superficially....more
I love that Cecilia Grant continues to write difficult, nuanced characters, and that their romantic arcs involve acceptance of their difficult, nuanceI love that Cecilia Grant continues to write difficult, nuanced characters, and that their romantic arcs involve acceptance of their difficult, nuanced selves. That she doesn't try to charm readers with her characters demonstrates a level of respect (for readers) that's not found often in the romance genre, and it's a breath of fresh air.
Also, I love Christmas stories that are about forgiveness and good neighborliness, and this manages to incorporate all of the above beautifully into a road trip romance. There is a lot of uncomfortableness in this story, and there's something that borders on dubious consent (and that I hadn't seen in a romance before) that some readers might want to avoid: (view spoiler)[while the two are attempting to chastely share a bed overnight, a sleeping Andrew initiates some, um, sleep frottage--there's probably an actual term for it but I don't know it--and Lucy does manage to wake him up and prevent it from escalating; the incident is treated with seriousness and maturity by the characters, and seriously-but-without-turning-it-into-angst by the narrative. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>...more
Rich and nuanced without being overwhelming in such a short format. I loved Cole's voice in this one. (I didn't like Sweet to the Taste very much, butRich and nuanced without being overwhelming in such a short format. I loved Cole's voice in this one. (I didn't like Sweet to the Taste very much, but this short-but-strong romance is SO GOOD.)...more