January Novellas Roudup

I spent this month reading continuing to read novellas from my favorite authors, including a sprinkling of some leftover Christmas stories I didn’t quite get to in time for one reason or another. I also discovered a few gems, including some by a new-to-me author, who I hope to read more from in the future. 

1/1-The Spy Wore Blue by Shana Galen (eBook), 4 stars: I loved the character of Blue in the Lord and Lady Spy series, and I was pleased to find out there were stories about him finding love…or in this case, rekindling it. The premise does feel a bit too similar to one of the actual books in the series, but the overall execution works and makes for a fun, action-adventure romance. 

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1/1-All I Want for Christmas is Blue by Shana Galen (eBook), 4 stars: A great holiday-themed addendum to the aforementioned title. While that title sees his work come between them, this one is much more personal, with his aristocratic family’s machinations getting between them. The way they prove their love is ultimately wonderful, and I’m glad they can finally get their well-deserved HEA. 

½-Once Upon a Moonlit Night by Elizabeth Hoyt (eBook), 4 stars: I fell out of love with the Maiden Lane series after the bitter taste of Duke of Sin and its villain of “hero,” Valentine, Duke of Montgomery, and while I always planned to return to the other books, I never did. So, the novella immediately after it was a great way to get back into it, and I am reminded why I love the series, with its juxtaposition of the whimsical fairy tale with the darker world of Georgian England. Hipployta and Matthew’s relationship is darkly passionate, but one of mutual love and respect, and makes for a great re-entry point back into the series.

½-Miracle Workers by Simon Rich (Paperback), 5 stars: I don’t typically like books that does weird stuff with religion, but I watched the first episode of the tv show, because it has Daniel Radcliffe, and was intrigued, then happened upon a copy of the new tie-in edition of the book at the library. It has a fun take on the world and Heaven itself, what with the idea of God being a CEO of a company, and I  like the idea that God is a little jaded about the state of the world, going against the common depictions of Him. And while the story remains relevant today, I like how, when it originally came out, it tied in super well with the reflection on people’s fear that the world would end in 2012, and making fun of that in hindsight. 

⅓-Once Upon a Maiden Lane by Elizabeth Boyle (eBook), 5 stars: Pure sweetness. This book plays with a lot of tropes, like the arranged marriage turned love and “lost princess” type tropes in a new way. Also, it provides an HEA for the character of Mary Whitsun, a mainstay of the series early on. While there is nothing conclusive gained about her background, she does gain more family of the heart, as well as find her soulmate in the absolutely adorable Henry.

⅓-Once Upon a Christmas Eve by Elizabeth Hoyt (eBook), 4 stars: I enjoyed this one, between seeing D’Arque’s softer side (he loves his grandmother! Awww!) and the dynamic where he and Sarah fall in love as she begins to see past his rakish exterior. And while the little fairy tales always complement the story really well, I quite enjoyed this one in particular and its fun take on The Frog Princess. 

¼-The Second Time Around by Ella Quinn (eBook), 5 stars: An installment of Ella Quinn’s Worthingtons is always great fun, and I’m glad I went back and caught up on Patience and Richard’s story. The focus on family is there, of course, and I love the exploration of  the conflict of a mother making a choice regarding giving up the perks of widowhood, particularly concerning her parental rights, and pursuing a relationship “the second time around” with a former lover. 

⅕-Night of the Scoundrel by Kelly Bowen (eBook), 5 stars: At last the notorious King gets his story! And while it seemed unjust at first to relegate him to a novella, I feel like this was the perfect length to hit all the beats of his backstory and how it impacts him in the present day. The revelation about who he was and his quest for vengeance was well done, which is saying something, given that I’m not a fan of broody, revenge seeking heroes. And he meets his match in the assassin Adeline, and I enjoyed seeing his walls come down through his romance with her, even if he did try to detach at first. 

⅙-Artemis by Jessica Cale (eBook), 5 stars-The Southwark Saga is one of my favorite series, and I was so excited to finally be able to read the Regency-set spinoff novella. Jessica Cale never lets me down in terms of letting me know about the real historically accurate but bits of history that the pearl-clutchers like to pretend doesn’t exist, and this is no exception. Her portrayal of the articulation of the idea of what it feels like to be trans in a time period before this was fully understood is well done, and I adored the fall into love between Apollo and Charlotte. It’s great to know that, even a few generations down the line, the Somertons still delight in the unconventional, and given the series numbering, here’s hoping there are more stories in this subseries along with a continuation of the original. 

1/7-Hawaii Magic by Beverly Jenkins (eBook), 5 stars: I hadn’t yet read any contemporary Beverly Jenkins, but if they’re all as charming as this one, I’m excited to try more. I picked this one up because of the setting, because there need to be more romance novels set in Hawaii. And even though this is another one from a tourist perspective, it is well done in feeling true to the “feel” of the place. Jenkins also presents two likable leads in lawyer Anita and pilot Steve. I enjoyed seeing Anita fight back against her mother’s expectations that she settle down with someone who hurt her in addition to already being successful professionally, as well as the exploration of her first time experiencing sexual pleasure, which she’s always been taught was wrong. 

1/7-Be Not Afraid by Alyssa Cole (eBook), 5 stars: Reading an Alyssa Cole historical is usually a learning experience, and this one is no different. Cole provides context to the lives of Black Americans during the Revolutionary War years through Elijah’s fervent patriotism and Kate’s cynicism, leading to them growing together and finding lasting love.

1/7-One Bed for Christmas by Jackie Lau (eBook), 5 stars: I picked this up when it was free (and it technically still is, as it’s also a gift for new  newsletter subscribers), and I decided to give it a go. It has my favorite trope, friends to lovers, and the dynamic is one I absolutely love, with a female CEO and a guy with a bit of imposter syndrome due to his lack of success. I rooted for them as they initiated the physical part of their relationship, leading them to figure out how to navigate the emotional ones.  

⅛-A Right Honorable Gentleman by Courtney Milan (eBook), 4 stars: An adorable, sweet short story about a man who doesn’t want his governess to leave. A good palate cleanser between other longer books. 

⅛-Butterflies: The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by KJ Charles (eBook), 3 stars: A fun historical airy a dash of paranormal. A great story to help me get a feel for Charles’ style.

1/9-Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan (eBook), 5 stars: While I haven’t yet read the novels in the Worth Saga, I had no issue picking this novella up and diving in, in part because of its awesome premise. I’m a sucker for f/f romance, and this one has a lot of fun humor, which is cutting without going too far. Commenting indirectly on Judge Kavanaugh and #MeToo, Milan imbues her heroines with high spirits and strong personalities, enough to take down the worst form of men in the form of the Terrible Nephew. 

1/10-Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder (eBook), 5 stars: I had heard this book talked about in the context of how it handles the motorcycle-club archetype, and that’s one facet I liked, with the characters openly discussing the white supremacy of such groups not prevalent in romantic fantasies of them. But there’s also a great romance at its core between the initially unlikely pairing of Trucker and Pinky. And it’s got a great punny (and culturally relevant) title!

1/11-The Lawyer’s Luck by Piper Huguley (eBook), 4 stars: I loved this novella and how it highlights the story of slavery and the ways of fighting for freedom. I came away from this book with the knowledge about the price of it all, financially (for the abolitionists) and on one’s soul (for the enslaved). Not a ton of substance to the romance itself, but I did enjoy it overall. 

1/12-A Duke to Remember by Eve Marie Perry, Anne-Marie Rivera, Liana de la Rosa, Susannah Erwin, and Cheryl Tapper (eBook),  3 stars: Ok story, but not overly engaging. Also, the fact that the story was written by five people is obvious, even without the notations of who wrote what, as it does feel fractured, as opposed to feeling seamless. 

1/13-Grumpy Jake by Melissa Blue (eBook), 4 stars: A cute and sexy romance. It does play on some familiar tropes, a bit too much for my liking, but ultimately, I did like seeing Jake trying hard in his role as adoptive father and working to be a good guy for Bailey. 

1/14-Unlocked by Courtney Milan (eBook), 4 stars: A fun “companion” story to the Turner series, although I admit the connection was a little foggy, due to having read the first book a while ago. Mostly enjoyable, with a great take on friends to lovers and a hero who genuinely atones for his past trespasses. 

1.15-His Forbidden Lady by Nicola Davidson (eBook), 5 stars: I love the Tudor period, and I still lament the fact that romance set in this era is thin on the ground. But Davidson’s novella did the trick in satisfying me (at least momentarily) by showcasing exactly what I love about the time period, with all the danger that comes with it, somehow making love in the face of great odds even more appealing. She manages to recreate a perfect portrait of Henry VIII’s court, with the added stakes of Annabelle being chosen as the temperamental king’s next wife. The fact that it takes place shortly after the demise of his fifth wife, and her connection to the Seymour family evokes comparisons to his beloved Queen Jane is wonderfully done too. And while I still tend to prefer my romances on the sweeter side, I enjoyed seeing Annabelle and Rafe’s relationship play out, including their reawakening passion.

1/16-18-Tales from the Gunpowder Chronicles by Jeannie Lin (eBook), 4 stars: I enjoyed the main books in the Gunpowder Chronicles thus far, so getting this novella collection was a no-brainer. And while some of the stories are more enjoyable than others, it’s just fun to spend more time in the world again and see some familiar faces. I particularly liked how “Love in the Time of Engines” gave us the love story of Soling’s parents! 

1/20-Let it Shine by Alyssa Cole (eBook), 5 stars: In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I read this novella by Alyssa Cole set during the Civil Rights movement. She does a great job of touching on the issues going on in the era with all the push for change going on on multiple fronts, including racial equality. In the midst of it, there’s a beautiful interracial and interfaith relationship between African American Sofie and Ivan, who is the son of Jewish refugees. Cole deals with the tensions due to the prejudices against them and them fighting back in such a wonderful way, culminating with them and their families coming together against the odds. 

1/21-Viscount of Vice by Shana Galen (eBook), 4 stars: I enjoyed the Covent Garden Cubs series, so I was excited to go back and read the novella prequel that started it all. It’s kinda tropey, but I enjoyed the exploration of grief through Henry’s reckoning with the loss (and reunion) with his brother, and, in turn, touching lightly on Robbie’s life living at the mercy of the villainous Satin, including developing a dependency on drugs. 

1/22-Wanted, A Gentleman by KJ Charles (eBook), 4 stars: I enjoyed this novella, touching on some pretty intense topics, including the complex relationship between a formerly enslaved person and the enslaver, in the relationship between Martin and the Conroy family. I enjoyed how the racism Martin faces, both in terms of this toxic relationship and in terms of the broader racism in society, is shown through both Martin’s and Theo’s perspectives. But while the romance does feel a little rushed, especially given some of the twists along the way, there is still some charm to balance the book. 

1/23-Love is in the Airship by Catherine Stein (eBook), 4 stars: Cute and fun slice of her Sass and Steam world. While I still lament not enjoying the full novel more, these shorts are so much fun. 

1/24-One Forbidden Knight by Nicola Davidson (eBook), 5 stars: Yet another conspiracy-filled, passionate Tudor tale! I was invested in Catherine and Brand’s story from start to finish, from the mystery surrounding her father’s death, to the questions surrounding his origins, to their positions in the court of Mary I. Once again, Davidson perfectly captures the tense nature of the court of a tyrannical monarch, while showing both the dynastic and human sides to Mary I, including her, like her father in Davidson’s prior Tudor novella, realistically providing the leads with the means for their HEA, even after they’ve crossed her. 

.1/25-The Year of the Crocodile by Courtney Milan (eBook), 4 stars: A nice short to tide readers over while the next book is in development, also teasing some developments for the succeeding books, particularly where the lovable asshole Adam is concerned. It’s also great to see Tina and Blake celebrating Chinese New Year with their families.

 1/31The Earl’s Christmas Pearl by Megan Frampton (Mass Market Paperback), 5 stars: An absolutely adorable Christmas novella wrapping up a series that I more or less enjoyed. Pearl and Owen play off one another well, including a particularly funny scene where, after cracking eggs to make food, they exchange a series of egg-xcellent puns. Amd while you can read it at any time of year, the Christmas cheer radiates off the page, both in the preparations in-text and the plays on other tales and tropes, like the “12 Days of Christmas” and Home Alone.

2019 Wrap-Up

I took my elaborate notes this year, to make a note of all the different challenges I was imposing on myself, as well as just to have more precise (for the most part) genre stats, to supplement the Goodreads data. 

I read 426 books in 2019 (# pages). I was weird about counting DNFs this year, so while some that I got a ways into are included in this number, many are not. Also, not the page number may not be accurate, as Goodreads page counts occasionally differ from the actual book, especially for self published books. 

Other Goodreads stats:

Shortest Book: Mating Habits by Catherine Stein (52 pages)

Longest Book: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (1,258 pages, mass market edition)

Most Popular Book: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Least Popular Book: Mating Habits by Catherine Stein

Average rating: 4.2 stars

Highest Rated Book: Mating Habits by Catherine Stein (5.00 average)

2019 Challenges/Goals

  1. Goodreads Goal: Started at 250, due to expectations of life changes at the end of last year reducing reading time. Ending up raising the goal to 300, gradually increasing it higher and higher until I read . At the end, I read 426. 
  2. Read no more than 50 books with duke heroes: A “for my sanity”/motivational goal to continue to move outside what I typically read…also a hallmark of the fact that I’ve grown to hate more Romancelandia dukes. Read 14, although historical romance is still a dominant genre for me. 
  3. Read at least 120 books by AoC: I fell short of this goal at 105, and also did not increase the goal as much as I had originally hoped as my GR goal increased. However, I still feel like I was exposed to a bunch of authors I had not previously tried, as well as keeping up with some I had read before. 
  4. Complete all the prompts for Robin Covington’s Diverse Reading Challenge: I did well with this, reading multiple books for most of the categories, and discovering several OwnVoices creators, such as April Daniels, Robin Talley, and Alexis Hall, as well as continuing to read some authors that were familiar to me, like Alyssa Cole, Helen Hoang, and Sherry Thomas. 
  5. Read more genres: While I was and still remain heavily devoted to historical fiction, both romance and non-romance, I made a point of stepping outside my comfort zone this year, selecting a number of genres I was interested in trying or reading more of: 
    1. Erotic Romance: 4. I’ve always tended more toward lower heat, but I was curious to know whether erotic romance could work for me, and to be more informed about the distinction between that and erotica. I read four books that I consider erotic romance, and while it’s still not my go-to genre, I tend to like when there’s substance to it, as with For Real by Alexis Hall. One of my picks was also a novella, Sweet Surrender by Naima Simone,  and I’m not certain I want to try that length or shorter again, although I’m not opposed to trying another of her books. 
    2. Paranormal Romance:  This was a tough one, as I don’t like alpha heroes, yet I foolishly set this goal to see if there were any that were an exception. Unfortunately, I largely read within my comfort zone, sticking to historical paranormal and steampunk, with one exception: the novella, “Lola Flannigan” by Ella Drake. The number is also inflated, due to the inclusion of the In Death series, due to their technical classification as Futuristic Romance.
    3. Romantic Suspense: My experience with the genre thus far has been the In Death series and some one-offs, including some by Nora Roberts. I didn’t venture out much, with the exception of Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Moonlight Sins
    4. Contemporary Romance: I did really well with this, in large part due to the  number of diverse contemporaries I was interested in this year. 
    5. Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit/Non-Romantic Contemporary: I did pick up some books in this genre this year, but I wasn’t as invested in non-romantic (or romance as subplot) contemporaries. Many of the ones I did pick up were due to the new trend of cross-promotion of these with romance (thank you, cartoon covers?) or once again due to the racial diversity, but I still feel like I’m aware of where my tastes are with these now. 
    6. Science Fiction: Prior to this year, I was mostly interested in Star Wars and that was as far as I got with sci-fi…and that’s more sci-fantasy, anyway. But while I did read more Star Wars, I also read more sci-fi (and sci-fantasy) that wasn’t associated with that juggernaut. From the first two books by Jessie Mihalik to Sangu Mandanna to Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, I found books that excited me. Not to mention Brandon Sanderson, who writes just as good sci-fi as he does fantasy. 
    7. Mystery/Thriller: I definitely picked up an assortment of these this year, with mixed results. This is the year I became really jaded with historical mysteries, unfortunately, and I haven’t found a ton of contemporary mysteries that appeal to me a ton either. 
  6. Do monthly mini-challenges, related to a theme for the month/season: I definitely did better at this earlier in the year. I did a Bookish Bingo and Black History theme for February (the latter also was sort of overlapping with Blackathon, but not completely).  I participated in the Rereadathon in March, but ended up only reading one book. I participated in the Asian Readathon in May, completing every challenge except the graphic novel. I did Pride Month reading in June, covering L, G, B, T, and P. June-August were also occupied by  Ripped Bodice Bingo, where I got a few Bingos. 

Stats

Books by AoC Read: 105

New-to-me authors tried this year: 184

DNFed: 44 books

Genre Breakdown: 

Historical Romance

  • Regency: 78
  • Victorian: 41
  • American (includes all American settings, like Gilded Age and Historical Western: 23
  • Other (non-popular, niche settings): 8
  • Medieval: 2

Historical Fiction: 70

Christian Fiction: 30

Contemporary Romance: 46

Erotic Romance: 4

Paranormal Romance: 

  • Paranormal: 17
  • Steampunk: 10
  • Sci-fi/Futuristic: 35
  • Fantasy: 1

Romantic Suspense: 37

Contemporary/Women’s Fiction: 18

Fantasy: 63

Science Fiction: 31

Magical Realism: 1

Mystery/Thriller: 19

Horror: 1

Nonfiction: 

  • Biography/Autobiography/Memoir: 12
  • Self-Help: 1
  • Anthologies: 15
  • Literary Criticism: 1

Graphic Novels: 1

Best of 2019

  1. The Duchess War, Courtney Milan: I officially discovered Courtney Milan this year, and while there were some hits and some misses, particularly as I started with her early work, this book, her breakout into self-publishing, is a winner. I quickly fell in love with Robert, a duke who wants to abolish the aristocracy, and Minerva, a wallflower running from a scandalous past. And in addition to a remarkable romantic arc, the book has the setup for a great family story that carries over multiple books in the Brothers Sinister, and I can’t wait to delve into them all. 
  2. An Unconditional Freedom, Alyssa Cole: The entire Loyal League series is masterful, but I have a special place in my heart for this one, because of the marvelous character development, highlighting some of the complex issues of the Civil War, like the PTSD experienced by those once enslaved and the identity issues children born of slave-owner “relationships” faced. My heart ached for Daniel, but loved that he was able to turn his experience into a positive one through his work in the Loyal League. As for Janeta, I applaud Cole for approaching a topic that could be controversial with such sensitivity, depicting her growth from someone expected to be loyal to her father and the Confederacy to finding a new cause in the Loyal League. 
  3. Forbidden, Beverly Jenkins: Beverly Jenkins is a freaking romance legend, and while I haven’t read much from her as of yet, I’m glad I got to this one, as well as some of her other recent historicals, this year, especially given the recent adaptation news for this book. I love the way the love story was interspersed with some hard-hitting issues of Black history, discussing concepts like Passing, postwar racial tensions, and political activism in a way that doesn’t feel overly preachy, but allows you to feel like you’re learning while also engrossed in a good story. 
  4. A Notorious Vow, Joanna Shupe: One of my favorite Joanna Shupe books, if not my absolute favorite. Shupe delved into Deaf culture to create her hero, Oliver, especially when it came to the battle over the usage of sign language, and later, the battle to prove his mental competence. He is paired with the perfect heroine in Christina, who deals with social anxiety, which is something I have personal experience with. I loved this twist with two reclusive protagonists who must challenge themselves in order to prove their love, and Shupe’s depth of care in writing them is wonderful. 
  5. Regency Impostors series by Cat Sebastian: While I haven’t read book 3 yet, due to the print release not being until the end of January, I’ve enthusiastically loved the first two installments. While I’ve loved a couple of her m/m books, I am glad she expanded her repertoire to include non-binary and bisexual representation, especially given the conversations around the vast preference for m/m in mainstream LGBTQ romance over the other letters. Unmasked by the Marquess not only features a subversive twist on the woman-dressed-as-a-man with the non-binary lead Robin, as they fall for a grumpy, forward thinking (in regards to sexuality and gender identiy) marquess.  A Duke in Disguise demonstrates an understanding what it means to be bi: attracted to both men and women, and the fact that you end up with the opposite sex doesn’t mean you’re not also attracted to men. But it also doesn’t mean that the HEA is any less possible, especially as Verity and Ash are absolutely perfect for one another. All of Cat’s books debunk the myth that “HEAs for LGBTQ+ people are historically inaccurate!” but I very much recommend these for their charm and excellent depiction of a spectrum of queer characters. 
  6. The Bashful Bride, Vanessa Riley: Despite not being a fan of most power imbalances, I love the idea of a “fan” meeting their favorite celebrity, and Vanessa Riley’s take on this idea in the Regency era is wonderful. While sweet on the surface, I love how Riley also includes some of her talent for incorporating tough issues in a way that doesn’t feel heavy-handed. Actor Arthur Bex’s involvement with the abolitionist movement and exposure of the prejudices Black people faced in Regency England are compelling additions to the plot, as these two carve out a relationship together. 
  7. Dare to Love a Duke, Eva Leigh: While I have enjoyed almost everything Eva Leigh has put out on some level (honorable mention to  this year’s release, My Fake Rake), this one may be her best work, and one I’ll probably always recommend to friends. I love the sex positivity of this story, with the courtesan heroine, Lucia, and the progressive duke Thomas, especially the way he respects her throughout, which is surprisingly rare in a genre that was sold to me as largely being sex positive, but also contains pearl-clutchers (case in point: the awful Smart Bitches review). 
  8. How to Love a Duke in Ten Days, Kerrigan Byrne: Kerrigan Byrne can be a bit hit-or-miss for me, due to how heavily she focuses on bad boys, but this one hit it out of the park for me. The hero is by her own admission, “one of the good ones,” with his biggest hurdle being a bit of misogyny, in keeping with the time period expectations. But it’s his pairing with Alexandra Lane that makes the story work. I loved the emphasis on Alexandra’s dark past, with an extended prologue highlighting her sexual assault and her retaliation, leading to her to carry around a lot of guilt and shame, which can be bleak for some, especially if you don’t go in prepared for it, however it is not gratuitous, and I love how it informs the rest of the narrative. But her bravery in spite of everything she’s experienced, as well as the hints provided about the experiences of her friends, prove this is going to be a dark, heroine focused series that ultimately sees them put their lives back together. And the way she and Piers overcome the obstacles to their love, especially once he comes to realize the truth, is absolutely beautiful. 
  9. For Real, Alexis Hall: I had no idea what I was getting into with this one, but I’m glad I took the chance. I tend to stay away from BDSM on principle, because while I’m not opposed to it, I feel like a Fifty Shades-esque setup with the alpha dom and the sweet submissive would be more common, although I admit I’m not that knowledgeable on the subject and am open to be proven wrong. Enter For Real, and it’s older, jaded sub and younger, somewhat inexperienced dom. That worked well, because I loved how well Laurence and Toby worked as romantic leads. The sexy and kinky bits were also juxtaposed by more tender moments as well, like Toby making breakfast the morning after their first night together, which is the first moment I feel like I thought this book might be something I could enjoy. 
  10. The Bride Test, Helen Hoang: Helen Hoang makes the list for the second consecutive year! Once again, I love how she uses her personal experiences as inspiration for her romances, this time not only featuring a major character on the autism spectrum in the lovably awkward hero, Khai, but also an immigrant heroine in Esme, reflective of her mother’s experience. With a good mix of hilarity (Khai getting the “sex talk” from Michael and Quân!) and heart, while this one took a little longer to become invested in than its predecessor, once I fell, I fell hard. 
  11. Ayesha at Last, Uzma Jalaluddin: It is a truth universally acknowledged that Islamophobia is a major issue, and this book tackles that with a light touch, through the format of a loose retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I was moved by the exploration of Khalid’s experience as a conservative Muslim working for a firm in Toronto, and the marginalizations he faces in this environment. This is juxtaposed with the relationship he develops with the independent Ayesha, who he thinks, in  a comedy of errors, his her cousin and his betrothed. There is some of the traditional Lizy/Darcy dynamic between them, but with a fresh twist, to suit the new setting and concepts Jalauddin is working with, and she pulls it off masterfully. 
  12. There’s Something About Sweetie, Sandhya Menon: This book presents body positivity done right. Sweetie is confident in who she is, and a great athlete, defying a common stereotype of overweight people. While it does also contain a narrative of her overly critical mother, I love that she doesn’t let this bother her too much, especially as she’s made up her mind to pursue a relationship with Ashish. Ashish is also great once I got over seeing him in the shadow of his brother Rishi from the previous book. While he does have a bit of growth to go through, particularly in terms of figuring out where things stand with his ex, I like that he liked Sweetie from their first meeting, seeing what they had in common (their shared love of sports) over preconceived notions about her weight. 
  13. Singapore Fling, Maida Malby: Maida Malby presents another feast for the senses with the second installment in her Carole Diem Chronicles, with great sense of place from scenery descriptions to the lush food porn. And her leads, Aidan and Maddie, are two confident people at the top of their game professionally, who come together wonderfully, complementing each other perfectly. And of course there’s a lot of heart with the plot centering around the importance of family, especially found family. 
  14. The Right Swipe, Alisha Rai: Romance has grappled with power dynamics and consent in different ways over the years, particularly in the wake of MeToo, but the latest release from Alisha Rai represents one of the best depictions of the issues modern women face, quite fittingly through the use of dating apps. Starting with Rhiannon and Samson who meet on an app, and things end up going wrong when he ghosts her, their affiliation with rival apps leads them to collide again, in a beautiful exploration of their feelings, as well as the difficulties business women face working alongside male colleagues in industries like this one. 
  15. Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert: An absolutely adorable book that’s also not afraid to be a bit sexy. I loved Chloe and Red, and how the book sees them work on “getting a life” in different ways, with her not letting her disability hold her back from seizing the day, and Red confronting the imposter syndrome sowed by an abusive ex, as Chloe helps him with a website meant to advertise his art. 
  16. Not a Mourning Person, Catherine Stein: Catherine Stein’s character development is at its best here, as she writes about the somewhat “difficult” and scandalous Rachael. I felt for her as she came into her own, and really enjoyed her (unlikely at first) romance with the scholarly Avery. 
  17. Meet Me in Monaco, Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
  18. Ribbons of Scarlet, Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, E. Knight: In recent years, I’ve found I love collaborative novels, and this one, while I thought it seemed ambitious and too good to be true at first, came through on its promise. The six authors demonstrate the breadth of their historical knowledge, presenting the perspectives of six women from the French Revolution, with various backgrounds, from Royalist to moderate/intellectual to radical, the sections weaving seamlessly into each other to show the evolution of the French Revolution from one moved by democratic principles to the darkness of the Reign of Terror. Every moment is touchingly told, and you feel like you’re there with these historical figures. 
  19. Milady, Laura L. Sullivan: At long last, Milady gets to tell her story, and I love the way Sullivan does it in a way that pays tribute to the awesomeness of her character, showing that she wasn’t just painted as a villain because men write the history books, but in some ways by her own design. The history given for her pre-Three Musketeers feels plausible, as do the scenes that are set alongside the book, showing how different her perspective was from that of the “heroes” of the original tale. 
  20. Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye: It’s Jane Eyre, but she’s a serial killer. It does get complicated, in that this Jane references the original, so it’s a very self-aware retelling. But that’s part of the charm. One of the best parts of the book is the way her killer nature (even if it is mostly in defense of herself and other vulnerable women) helps to put her on a more even footing with the Rochester substitute, Charles Thornfield. With his own dark past, the Jane/Rochester pairing was unequal on multiple levels, including their differences in morality, their respective positions of boss and employee, and their class differences, and the ending only somewhat fixes this. But serial killer Jane and Thornfield are a match from their first meeting, and were much easier to root for as a result.  
  21. The Brilliant Death, Amy Rose Capetta: This is stunning and original take fantasy. Taking influence from Italian culture, not only is the world beautiful, but the concept of the magic is wonderful, and the way it plays into the protagonist’s exploration of the fluidity of their own gender. 
  22. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Theodora Goss: The first in absolutely fun series, I loved seeing Goss’s take on the many Gothic heroines, several of whom either got unpleasant endings in the original classic stories or played supporting roles to the male protagonists. Seeing them band together to solve mysteries and rescue one another from hijinks is great, but perhaps even more memorable is the style of the book (and its sequels), with the action interrupted by the characters telling the story in a way that is not as annoying as you might initially expect, given the hilarity of their commentary. 
  23. Dreadnought, April Daniels: While superhero stories still aren’t my cup of tea, I like this twist on it, incorporating the experiences of a transgender teen, complete with the magic transition to become their preferred gender. While containing all the hallmarks of a superhero origin story, including gaining powers and ingratiating oneself into the superhero “community,” it also highlights the real life bigotry many transgender teens like Danny face, especially from their own families, determined to impose traditional gender norms on them, and juxtaposes that with the introduction of a few positive, accepting friends with whom Danny can be herself. 
  24. The True Queen, Zen Cho: Finally, Zen Cho released the follow-up to Sorcerer to the Crown, and it strikes the right balance between being a great new adventure and providing all the elements readers loved the last time. Once again, her version of Regency London is diverse, and it’s wonderful to both spend time with familiar characters and meet more new ones. And there’s an f/f romance in this one! 
  25. Once and Future, Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy: Genderbent and very queer-positive, Capetta and McCarthy’s take gives King Arthur a much-needed makeover. No longer is it about doomed, faithless love, but a happy queer relationship in the face of great, world-shattering odds. And the twists on it, like Merlin’s de-aging process showing his evolution into a more modern and very different wise mentor, are so much fun. 
  26. Stepsister, Jennifer Donnelly: I love fairy tale retellings, but very rarely do they surprise and move me. This one did. While there’s nothing wrong with the traditional Cinderella story, I like the exploration of why the evil stepsisters would do the things they did, even if it meant losing themselves in the process. And ultimately, Cinderella and Isabelle really aren’t that different in terms of the societal pressures, and to see them come together is truly rewarding. 
  27. Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson: While any of his series could easily qualify (and I am inclined to award honorable mentions to Mistborn and Warbreaker), I feel like the sheer epicness of this series merits its choice as my Sanderson pick. While not flawless (especially some aspects of Oathbringer), this series has his best character work, with broken people reflecting on their dark pasts in such a relatable way, juxtaposed against a world that is gritty and intense, without delving into the elements of grimdark that some fantasy has been embracing. 
  28.  Shelter in Place, Nora Roberts: Arguably one of Nora Roberts’ best books, for its deviation from her typical formula to one that focuses on the issue first, and the romance second, but still makes the romance feel impactful. The relevance of the issue the story centers on (a shooting in a mall and its aftermath) is startling, and I was moved by how these people came together, with two of the people involved finding each other years later and finding love. And, of course, the psyche of her villain is dark and chilling, leaving me stunned at their depravity. 
  29. Unmarriageable, Soniah Kamal: Yet another of the three P&P retellings that came out this year, this one is much more beat-for-beat in its rendition, while also demonstrating the parallels between the cultures of Regency England and contemporary Pakistan, in regards to women and marriage. It’s frequently been said that Austen’s themes are universal/timeless, and the number of loose modern adaptations prove this. But the story of Alys and Darsee is arguably  the closest modernP&P adaptation to the source material, with the obvious exception of the trappings of setting.
  30. The Marriage Clock, Zara Raheem: This is a book that came to me at a time when I very much needed it, as it provided perspective on a simialr siutaiton to the one the heroine is facing in the book going on in my own life. I empathized with her as her family tried to push their expectations on her, even though my situation was occurring in a different cultural contect. And while I had read several books with South sian heroines this year, including others on this list, that dealt with the trope of familial expectations of marriage, and appreciated them in different ways, it was nice to have one that blatantly was about it being fine for the heroine to end up single by the end, with the possibility that she might find love in her own time, and not be subjected to the titular “clock” society put her under. 

Top 10 New Author Discoveries This Year

I made it a habit of trying a tom of new authors, especially those that were highly recommended and sounded interesting to me. Here are the top ten (in no particular order, for the most part) authors I discovered this year that wowed me. To qualify, I had to pick up multiple books by them this year, with a minimum of two. 

  1. Brandon Sanderson: I have read all but a few of his previous YA books and his Middle Grade Alcatraz series at this point, so Sanderson is likely the author I most eagerly embraced in 2019. With an approachable, yet engaging style, he has consistently put out good quality work, to the point when even his lesser efforts, like Elantris and Mistborn era 2 are still memorable. And his engagement with fans regarding his progress is impeccable, allowing them insight into ongoing projects through his blog (in particular the yearly State of Sanderson posts), as well as consistent engagement on Twitter, as well as willingness to appear on readers’ and reviewers’ YouTube channels (a major one for many on Fantasy BookTube was his appearance on Daniel Greene’s channel). 
  2. Amy Rose Capetta: While I discovered Capetta through her collaboration with her partner, Cori McCarthy, Once & Future, a queer sci-fi King Arthur retelling, I came to embrace Capetta’s love for a variety of genres, while still centralizing queerness. Their genderfluid fantasy, The Brilliant Death, is a masterpiece, and 
  3. Catherine Stein: To start with, she’s pretty much an awesome person for sending me copies of all her books up to this point.
  4. Beverly Jenkins: She’s one of those authors I’m kicking myself for putting off for so long, in part because she was and is such a trailblazer in Black romance. While her older books are hard to find, I enjoyed her last historical series, am waiting with bated breath for book two in her current series, and am so happy to see that she’s getting some love on the adaptation front, as mentioned with the news about Forbidden. 
  5. Theodora Goss: While she only has the one novel series, about the Athena Club, I thoroughly enjoyed these quirky books. As a bit of a literature nerd, I loved seeing familiar characters from a new perspective, both through their exciting adventures and through the silly comments they make while putting together the books of their adventures. 
  6. Courtney Milan: Technically not completely new-to-me, as I read a novella by her late last year. But I read three full novels and an additional novella (in Hamilton’s Battalion) by her this year, and while it was a bit of a rocky start, beginning with her debut, Proof by Seduction, I did eventually make it to The Duchess War, arguably considered one of her best, and, as noted, one of my favorites this year as well, and I anticipate to continue reading her backlist very soon. 
  7. Alexis Hall: Like Capetta, Alexis Hall tends to write all over the place genre wise, although all of his books feature LGBTQ+ characters, so I was excited to experience two very different books from him this year: the erotic gay contemporary, For Real, featured in my top ten, and the queer Sherlockian fantasy, The Affair of the Mysterious Letter. Both are fabulous, with the former delving into a BDSM relationship in an unexpected way, and the latter being a fun romp with 
  8. Abigail Wilson: While she’s walking in familiar territory, with a combination of the Regency world and Gothic atmosphere, and writing inspirational romance (albeit with understated Christian themes, compared to some of her peers), I think she has a lot of promise, based on her two releases this year. Her stories feel reminiscent of the classics, like Austen and Bronte, and fellow inspirational historical authors like Julie Klassen, but she is very much bringing her own thing to the genre with page-turning romantic mysteries that had me invested in their plots completely. 
  9. Kristen Callihan: I was so excited to dive into her Darkest London series, which I had heard about, but didn’t really feel the urge to dive into until now. While some of the books are inevitably better than others, her world building is wonderful, and her characters, for the most part, are compelling. And while she’s moved onto contemporary, and I’m interested in trying those too, I’m anxious to see another historical paranormal from her again. 
  10. Scott Lynch: While he only has the three books in the Gentlemen Bastards series to his name thus far (with a fourth due out at some point), the series is still impressive even in its unfinished state, and I’m impressed with his character work, focusing on the friendship between a ragtag band of thieves. And while his style takes some getting used to, I found it makes the series memorable, as you really get to explore the characters through examinations of their past and present.

2020 Goals

  1. Goodreads Goal: My productivity is highly linked to my schedule, and while I’m hoping to work on building up some other skills, like getting back into novel writing after letting it slide, I anticipate I will continue to have a pretty open schedule. Thus, I’m planning to make my “starter” goal 300, akin to my productivity while in school. 
  2. Reading Log: I kept all my stats this year in a single doc file (I suck and  could never get a handle on Excel/Sheets), but I ran into hiccups as the doc got bigger and bigger and would constantly run into loading issues (on top of other computer issues). Thus, for 2020, I’ve decided to switch to keeping my reading logs monthly, which is also more in keeping with what some of my friends in book groups have been doing with their reading journals, and will result in more accurate stats, until I can hopefully figure out the spreadsheet business.
  3. Keep reading diverse authors (with priority to looking for more ownvoices works): I improved a lot this year, as I noted, but I think I can still do better to seek out some of the truly underrepresented voices outside of mainstream publishing.  
  4. Do as many of the prompts for the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge as possible. 
  5. Read two indie/self-published books per month (but aim for more): An idea I got from BookTuber Merphy Napier, who tries to make this a priority. I recently got my first eReader (a Nook Glowlight), so that should solve some of the access issues I had with self-published authors in the past. It also goes hand-in-hand with the previous goal, as I think one of the reasons I fell short this year is that, even with my growing self-awareness of my reading choices, publishing is still largely white and cishet. 
  6. Diversify blog content: While reviews are still going to be the main focus, I do enjoy more topical posts, and would like to make a habit of doing them, although I do still want to focus most on hot-button issues. I do also anticipate, with my access to eBooks, that my approach to reviewing novellas will change, so would like to do a “Novella Round-Up” on occasion, possibly monthly, but it depends on my reading choices. 

Review of “A Prince on Paper” (Reluctant Royals #3) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. A Prince on Paper. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062685582 | 377 pages | Contemporary Romance

3 stars

A Prince on Paper has a lot of great ideas, but it is one of those books where it feels like the ideas all got jumbled up in execution. I found the setup appealing, with its setup that feels just slightly reminiscent of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (whether that was Cole’s intent is uncertain, since the characters first made appeared in book one of the series, A Princess in Theory, which came out in 2017, and was likely in development for a while prior).

And the characters themselves are very likable and complex. Nya is dealing with a lot with her father in prison following his traitorous actions in A Princess in Theory, and Johan, behind his playboy facade, is deeply concerned about his younger brother and also dealt with loss in his past due to his mother’s death.

However, while the two of them being thrown together provided amusement at first, I found my investment in their potential as a couple flagging as the story grew more and more confusing. Ultimately, I found myself skimming more than actually reading, because the romance, especially once it hit the Big Misunderstanding, did not feel well executed.

However, I really appreciated the subplot surrounding Johan’s sibling, Lukas coming out as non-binary, and especially the discussion around the issue of proper pronouns not just in English but in other languages too, as well as promoting awareness and compassion for non-binary people. I hope that, given that Cole has announced plans for a spinoff series set in the same world, that that means Lukas will get their own book.

In summary, this book seems to have the same issue that the other two novels in the series had, of being poor executions of promising ideas, as well as trying to do a little too much, to the point of neglecting to make the central romance convincing, a problem which did not plague the novellas, due to their shorter length. However, this series is still fun and has great characters (the strongest part of the series overall), and I would still recommend them to those looking for diverse and fun contemporaries.

Review of “An Unconditional Freedom” (Loyal League #3) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. An Unconditonal Freedom. New York: Kensington, 2019.

Paperback | $15.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1496707482 | 270 pages | Historical Romance

5 stars

Alyssa Cole concludes her Loyal Leagues series as strongly as she began it with An Unconditonal Freedom. And from a personal standpoint, I find this one to be my favorite of the series, due to the personal growth of both hero and heroine.

Daniel intrigued me from his initial appearance in book one, and I was moved by the exploration of his trauma of being sold into slavery and vengeance motivating his actions. Cole also demonstrates the poignant parallels between the dark experiences of slaves in this era and the modern day crimes against African Americans which she spoke about as influences in her author’s note.

As for Janeta, I applaud Cole for writing a heroine with such an interesting conflict. Amid a lot of the recent discourse about historical slave/master “relationships” (like that of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings), it’s fascinating to have a story that looks at the complex experience of a child of such a union, being brainwashed to believe that slavery for others is right and that she and her mother are the exception (while also experiencing a phenomenon of not truly belonging), then progressing through her experiences working with the Loyal League.

Cole’s historical research is on point as always, and I came away from this book intrigued at the role Europe played in the Civil War. It is usually talked about as purely a conflict that impacted the U.S., so it was cool to see it in context of the wider world as well.

This conclusion to the series is, in short, absolutely wonderful. I would recommend it to any fan of historical romances rich in both historical research and a message that resonates today.

Top 10 Romances by Authors of Color (A Personal List)

Another year, and once again we have more proof how little the romance industry has progressed, first with the release of The Ripped Bodice third annual State of Racial Diversity in Romance survey, and more recently with the release of the RITA finalists, which are, once again overwhelmingly white, and while there are a couple finalists of color, Black authors in particular are once again snubbed. And, as is often the case when race comes up, while some are compassionate allies, others are…not. Claiming not to be racist, they say such things like “I don’t see color,” and I don’t care if someone  is black, red, blue, purple, etc.” (I greatly appreciate Eva Leigh’s takedown of the latter defense in particular).

Therefore, wanting to write about this whole situation, but being aware that I may not have a lot of the information, due to a lot of it being insider Romance Writers of America organizational stuff that I am only getting snippets of secondhand, I made a compromise and decided to shout out my favorite books by authors of color.

So, without further ado, and not (entirely) in any particular order, here are my favorite reads by authors of color:

  1. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018): Obviously, this one would be on the list. And Helen Hoang said on Twitter that she didn’t enter, due to her awareness of the  broken RITAs judging system, and how it favored some POC over others. But regardless, it is still my (and many others’, I’m sure) personal favorite of last year. Despite having a premise that could have easily put me off, it captured the perfect balance of steamy and sweet for me, and Michael and Stella have one of the healthiest, most nurturing relationships in romance I’ve ever read.
  2. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (2019): I’ve been dying to read more f/f, and despite it being only a novella, this satisfied my craving completely. While the main Reluctant Royals books have fallen a little short of expectations for me, this one was beautiful, and hit all the right notes as a second chance love story.
  3. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (2018): I had some issues with the element of miscommunication in her prior book, but The Proposal hit it out of the park for me. I loved the emotional journey that Nik goes on toward letting herself be loved, especially after being with a partner who was emotionally abusive,  and Carlos for being such a great, supportive hero from the beginning.
  4. Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras (2018): I was psyched when Priscilla’s first book double finaled last year, and that was part of why I ended up checking out her work. But I personally feel like this one is better than the first, although I may be biased due to the librarian heroine and the adorable hero. It has a situation that I did not expect to love, but
  5. Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins (2016): My first Beverly Jenkins book and my personal favorite of her Old West/“Rhine Trilogy,” I loved Forbidden for its captivating romance while dealing with difficult topics like race relations and Passing.
  6. Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann (2018): Asexual representation is lacking, particularly in traditional publishing, and I was glad to see this one get some love last year, especially since I first heard about it through author Mackenzi Lee’s Pride Month recommendations video. I love how it deals  with navigating how to have a relationship as a asexual person, as well as touching on the pressures that Black people in America face, having to work twice as hard to prove themselves academically and professionally.
  7. I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (2017): This is  an adorable book that put a fun spin on a premise that’s been done before: using tips from Korean dramas to impress the guy you like. And while the romance was cute, “flailures” and all, the best part about this (and a Maurene Goo book, in general) is seeing the parent-child relationships she crafts. The heroine and her father becoming closer through their shared love of K-Dramas is so sweet.  
  8. Pride by Ibi Zoboi (2018): While I’ve seen mixed reviews of this YA Pride and Prejudice retelling, I enjoyed this one. My criteria for an Austen retelling is a mix of capturing the spirit of the book, while adding something new, and Ibi Zoboi does so in transplanting the story to present-day Brooklyn, and discussing the issue of gentrification.
  9. The Forbidden Hearts series by Alisha Rai (2017-18): This series was life changing in the best way. I’m not normally a fan of super-steamy books, but I loved the way the romance in these books was just as much about the characters’ emotional bond with one another as it was about their sexual desire. And the series also beautifully develops family relationships that I could get invested in just as much as the love relationships, and while I can sometimes find that some authors focus too much on one and leave something wanting with the author, I felt Alisha Rai captured the perfect balance of the two here.
  10. The Loyal League series by Alyssa Cole (2016-19): I admit, I’m cheating on this one, as I haven’t read book 3 yet, and I don’t know for sure when I’ll get to it. But the first two books are amazing, and I love the beautiful relationships that arise between the two couples from working together in high-pressure situations.

Review of “Once Ghosted, Twice Shy” (Renegade Royals 2.5) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy. New York: Avon Impulse, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $4.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062931870 | 144 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

Despite not being massively wowed by the Reluctant Royals series to date, I was super excited for the release of this novella, in part because I really enjoyed Likotsi’s character, but also because I was happy to see more f/f romance from a traditional publisher. And I was truly blown away. While I could definitely see ways that this story could have been fleshed out to be a bit longer (and definitely wanted it, because Fab and Likotsi’s relationship is amazing), I did like that it portrayed a beautiful love story between two black queer women, providing some intersectionality as well.

While I was initially skeptical when I saw the dual timeline setup, given that I had seen this attempted in novellas before (and even full novels) with mixed results, I really liked it in this one, getting a sense for how their past fling had potential and the reason it ended in the past, and seeing them reunite and address their lingering feelings and the reason Fab ended up breaking it off in the present. Both of them are incredibly sympathetic, and I enjoyed that they had a dynamic where, even though things did end on a bad note, when they reunited, they did not try to deny the feelings that still existed between them.

And while it is more subtle, I did like how the story touched on some of the issues facing black people today, through the explanation of Fab’s family situation. And I found it wonderful that Likotsi offered to help, regardless of how things worked out between them in the end.

This was a delightful palate cleansing novella, and one that has me anticipating more in the series. I would recommend this book to fans of black and/or queer romance.

Review of “A Hope Divided” (Loyal League #2) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. A Hope Divided. New York: Kensington, 2017.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1496707468 | 266 pages | Historical Romance 

4.5 stars

A Hope Divided is another utterly delightful installment in the Loyal League series, and I’m now even more excited for the release of book three in just a few days. I love how Alyssa Cole is once again stripping back the layers of what we know about the Civil War, and focusing on the roles people played as spies for the Union.

Marlie and Ewan are such wonderful characters. I love how the precarious position of a free black woman during this time period was conveyed through Marlie, as well as Ewan’s compassion for those who are enslaved. I loved that, even though there were dangers to them being together, what bonded them was their shared love of science and philosophy, and their dedication to the Union Cause.

My one complaint that it was a bit too short, and I felt like the ending could have been fleshed out a bit more. I also just really wanted more story, because I was sad when it was over, because I basically devoured the book.

I would definitely recommend this to someone who wants something a little different in terms of historical romance. Rich in historical detail and with compelling, relatable characters, it is truly a great read.

Review of “Hamilton’s Battalion” by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, and Alyssa Cole

Lerner, Rose, et. al. Hamilton’s Battalion. [United States]: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017. Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1977530691 | 346 pages | Historical Romance

5 stars

While I rarely rate novellas in anthologies individually, this is one of those rare collections where each story was so uniquely layered, that it deserves a collective 5-star rating. I also give the authors props for taking a story motivated by some of the less-than-wonderful events going on in our country at the time the stories were written and expanding the fervor generated by the entertaining and politically conscious musical, Hamilton, writing the long-forgotten stories inspired by people during the Revolution that don’t fit the traditionally white, heterosexual male narrative.

Rose Lerner’s “Promised Land” is lovely in terms of how it tackles the issue of a Jewish person’s identity in the context of their country, given the way Britain has not allowed them citizenship. It was beautiful to see Nathaniel and Rachel, an estranged married couple whose issues are rooted in religious difference to an extent, navigate not only what led to their separation, but finding their place in the new country of the United States.

“The Pursuit Of…” by Courtney Milan strikes the perfect balance between being funny and conveying an impactful message. I loved the cheese, both the literal variety and some of the more romantic sort, while it also touched on John’s family’s experience as slaves, ending with an optimistic ending not only for him and Henry, but for the others as well, that feels completely believable.

I was most excited for “That Could Be Enough” by Alyssa Cole, as I was dying to read an f/f historical, and like the others in this collection, it did not disappoint. I love how this tied the other stories together, following Mercy, who played a peripheral role in the other two stories. And it was nice to read a story where the community surrounding her and Andromeda was more or less accepting of their relationship, with Mrs. Hamilton being a wonderful supporting character in this one.

I would recommend this one to fans of Hamilton and the American Revolution setting.

Review of “A Duke by Default” (Reluctant Royals #2) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. A Duke by Default. New York: Avon Books, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062685568| 376 pages | Contemporary Romance

3 stars

I wanted to love this book. Yes, I was initially annoyed by the fact that dukes now appeared to be invading contemporaries, but the blurb he didn’t appear to be just another rich playboy made me give it another chance.

And the first half of the book was promising. It has a lovely slow-burn romance rife with tension, and both Tav and Portia are wonderful characters. Despite not being likable in the first book in the series, A Princess in Theory, I liked how she was trying to turn over a new leaf and not engage in some of the behaviors that made her a hot mess. And I found Tav’s story heartwarming, especially getting to know his Chilean refugee mother, and how her story is informed by current world issues without beating the reader over the head with it. The stellar front half culminates in a lovely library scene in which Portia finds out about the identity of Tav’s father, leading to an reference exchange with the librarian where she goes looking for info, that also contains a nod to the romance industry and its plethora of dukes, eliciting one of many laughs from me.

However, the second half, bringing about Tav’s “duke lessons” sent the story downhill for me. Not only is he the illegitimate son of a dukedom that has already passed to a legitimate distant relation, so he couldn’t inherit under any circumstances, but he was given the title Duke of Edinburgh. As in Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. I can normally let some more obscure real life titles slide, but considering the public profile of not only prince Philip, but the entire Royal Family, as well as the fact that the Queen makes an appearance towards the end of the book, it seems like a ridiculous thing for Cole to miss, especially since she refers to the dukedom as “the Royal Dukedom of Edinburgh” at times. Additionally, I found it a bit ridiculous that she tried to pass off the cousin as a villain, when he has every right to be upset. I might have been fine with this gender-swapped Princess Diaries plot if there had been a reveal to confirm he was actually legitimate and born to a secret marriage, or if Cole had followed her own example from the previous book and set the action in a fictional country so she could make her own rules.

On the whole, I still think fans of romance will like this book, especially if they’re fans of both historical and contemporary, and aren’t too hung up on the legalities and protocols surrounding the aristocracy, or can avoid picturing Prince Philip every time they see the words “Duke of Edinburgh.” However, for those who are, I would approach this book with caution.

Review of “A Princess in Theory” (Reluctant Royals #1) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. A Princess in Theory. New York: Avon Books, 2018 ISBN-13: 978-0-06-268554-4, $7.99 USD. 

4 stars

A Princess in Theory is overall a great book, but not without its flaws. While I felt like the first half of the book was well-done, establishing who Ledi and Thabiso are and building the relationship between them, once it hits the middle, the book does fall flat slightly. I feel the mystery element as far as what was going on with Ledi’s parents and the mysterious illness was compelling, but the story ended with some unanswered questions. And despite there being a major reveal at the halfway point for Ledi, I didn’t feel like that or how it impacts her relationship with Thabiso going forward, is properly addressed, even though the premise is that she’s his betrothed, and his family intend to honor it by the end, despite entertaining other options. While I understand that the characters have more modern notions of romance, given the subgenre, I still wanted more closure there.

However, I did really like Ledi and Thabiso, and how their characters are written contrary to expectations of both their character types and the popular hero and heroine types in romance. Thabiso does kind of have a bit of a sense of entitlement, due to his upbringing as royalty, but he is definitely a sweet guy at his core, and the opposite of the typical alpha hero (one particularly fun, meta moment is when he mentions sneaking his mother’s Mills & Boon books).  Ledi is very different from the nerdy, quiet characters you stereotypically think of in people in STEM fields, and I like that there is equal focus put on her relationship with the sometimes problematic relationship with her best friend as there is on her professional life and her developing romance with Thabiso. The character are also complemented by great world-building through the development of the Thesoloian religion and culture, which only enriches this story.