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ARC Review: The Servant and the Gentleman by Annabelle Greene

Publication Date: May 17, 2022

Summary:

A surly gentleman and his overworked clerk fake a relationship in this swoonworthy Regency romance from Annabelle Greene.

William Hartley’s wealth and social standing often make up for his short temper, but they can’t cure his claustrophobia. He’d lost hope of finding help for it, until meeting Josiah Balfour. In a moment of panic, Josiah’s presence is a balm to his senses, leaving Hartley calm for the first time in months.

Josiah Balfour knows his place—and it’s not in the bed of a gentleman. As the administrator for the Society of Beasts, he’s responsible for the club’s well-being. When a threat to the Society emerges from an unexpected quarter, it falls to Josiah to deal with it. But Hartley is willing to help, even if it involves posing as a couple to infiltrate a rival club.

Josiah needs Hartley’s prestige to help him save the Society, while Hartley simply needs Josiah. Their relationship might be a sham, but the desire between them is all too real. Stuck in close quarters with everything they love on the line, they discover that everything might just include each other. 

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I really enjoyed this thoughtful and romantic story. The fake dating across class boundaries was fun, and Josiah helping Hartley fend off his PTSD was well done. There were so many sweet moments as the two of them fell for one another (while pretending they hadn’t because it was impossible), as well as the perfect amount of wry humor.

The writing was lovely and the heavier topics (class boundaries, protecting those accused of loving other men, money and power, PTSD from a traumatic event) deftly and thoughtfully handled. There were a few more sex scenes than I usually like, but I was enjoying the story so much I didn’t mind skimming them.

My favorite thing about it is the way Hartley and Josiah relate to one another and push one another to be better. Hartley is a bit of a Darcy – he doesn’t really see anyone he considers ‘lower’ than himself and Josiah pushes him to open his eyes to all that he’s been ignoring. Watching Hartley slowly work to change was very satisfying. Hartley in turn pushes Josiah to have more confidence in himself.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Carina Press for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

…Josiah joined him, lying down beside him, his face so full of long-suppressed emotion that it could have been a poem.

ARC Review: Something Fabulous by Alexis Hall

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Publishing Date: January 25, 2022

Synopsis:

From the acclaimed author of Boyfriend Material comes a delightfully witty romance featuring a reserved duke who’s betrothed to one twin and hopelessly enamoured of the other.

Valentine Layton, the Duke of Malvern, has twin problems: literally.

It was always his father’s hope that Valentine would marry Miss Arabella Tarleton. But, unfortunately, too many novels at an impressionable age have caused her to grow up…romantic. So romantic that a marriage of convenience will not do and after Valentine’s proposal she flees into the night determined never to set eyes on him again.

Arabella’s twin brother, Mr. Bonaventure “Bonny” Tarleton, has also grown up…romantic. And fully expects Valentine to ride out after Arabella and prove to her that he’s not the cold-hearted cad he seems to be.

Despite copious misgivings, Valentine finds himself on a pell-mell chase to Dover with Bonny by his side. Bonny is unreasonable, overdramatic, annoying, and…beautiful? And being with him makes Valentine question everything he thought he knew. About himself. About love. Even about which Tarleton he should be pursuing.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was absolutely a delight and I LOVED it. I knew after reading Boyfriend Material that this was going to be good, especially since it’s a queer regency and I love queer regencies. But it surpassed my every expectation.

Was it over the top? Yes. Was it absolutely hilarious? Also yes. I highlighted no less than 58 passages as I was reading. Was it also surprisingly sweet? Also yes.

Valentine was exceedingly grumpy and tended toward the opposite of introspection, though he did eventually realize that he was demisexual and also gay. Bonny did not delude himself as to his sexuality but tended rather strongly toward the dramatic. Really he and his sister made quite the pair and were rather a trial for staid, determinedly practical Valentine.

Having nearly all the side characters be queer made this over-the-top story even more delightful, and made for plenty of comical ‘of course they are’ moments of realization for Valentine. I am here for unapologetically queer regency romance characters. Really there aren’t enough of them.

Do you like Regency romance? Do you like queer romance? If yes, then do yourself a favor and read this. You’ll thank me, once the hysterical laughter has subsided and you can breathe again. In case you need further enticement, Alexis Hall has described it as “Dude, Where’s My Curricle,” which is both hilarious and accurate.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Montlake for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

“You need to go away this instant and put your head in a bucket of water.”

Tarleton did not, in fact, go away that instant and put his head in a bucket of water.


Thankfully, Valentine had slept where he had fallen and still in his clothes– thus sparing them both an intimacy they were not prepared for.


He positively pitied the poor woman who was going to have to spend her life with the lightning storm of wayward impulses given human form that was Bonaventure Tarleton.


“What is happening, please? I did not invite an assessment of my kneeling.”


Not to be outdone by physical expressions of dismay, Tarleton flung both his hands in the air, like a diminutive Prometheus defying the gods.


Having apparently taken his fill of the bitter draft that was Valentine, he cast himself upon a nearby chair and flung an arm across his face. “What is wrong with you?”

This felt unwarranted. And somewhat hypocritical, coming from a man who clearly had many, many things wrong with him.


There was a long silence. They Tarleton stood up, but only in order that he might further misuse the furniture by violently reoccupying it.


“I’m hoping a madcap chase across the country will bring you together.”

“It is doing literally the opposite.”


Growling with all the gravitas of a lapdog, Tarleton tugged again at Valentine’s coat. “I may be but little, but I am fierce.”


Oh God, what did that mean? And why was Valentine suddenly too warm and too… looked at? Even though Tarleton wasn’t actually looking at him.


“Well,” returned Tarleton, with a noticeable lack of gratitude, “thank you for destroying my dreams.”

“I was under the impression I was saving you from an unpleasant reading experience.”


Behind him came the chaotic rustling of a chaotic person getting dressed chaotically.


“A Stable? Anything? Tarleton, we could die.”

“This is England. If people died of rain, there’d be nobody left.”


“Of course it will hold me. I’m tied to a chair. You’ve tied a duke to a chair. I hope you’re pleased with yourselves.”


Valentine’s eyes were beginning to ache from the demands of expressing so much scepticism.


Silence descended like the guillotine.


Peggy shrugged. “Hero. Heroine. In an ideal world, one would be both.”


While Valentine was a duke and, therefore, did not whine, he was nevertheless aware that his tone was not as unwhineful as it could have been.


For someone with all the poise and patience of a sparkler, Bonny was moving with astonishing care.


“No,” said Valentine slowly, and with a vague sense of dread that perhaps he was going to be peculiar even by the standards of people who were peculiar. “I have never felt that sort of inclination towards anyone, man or woman.”


Bonny just sparkled enigmatically. “Follow me.”

“That’s not an explanation,” Valentine pointed out. “That’s a direction.”


And for a little while, he was nothing but horizon.


“It is now the nineteenth century, and we respect women and treat them as equals in areas not pertaining to politics, property, warfare, finances, or the law.”


Things had gone astray. That much had been obvious for quite some time. But Valentine was starting to realise that astray was not so much a binary state as a spectrum of disaster upon which they had not yet ceased progressing.


A huge yawn attacked Valentine out of nowhere.


“For someone who reads as much as you do, your sense of the heroic is oddly banal.”

“Sometimes the truest heroism is.”


Top 24 Reads of 2021 (not counting rereads; out of 214 total read AKA the books I loved the most)

Books 1-12

Books 13-24

Overall the books I read this year were excellent, and it was hard to narrow it down even to the overly generous 24 I chose. They were also overwhelmingly very queer which, quite frankly, was a delight.

ARC Review: Proper Scoundrels by Allie Therin

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Publishing Date: December 28, 2021

Synopsis:

Don’t miss this standalone spin-off in Allie Therin’s acclaimed Magic in Manhattan universe!

Their scandalous pasts have left them wounded and unworthy—and hopelessly perfect together.


London, 1925

Sebastian de Leon is adjusting to life after three years spent enthralled by blood magic. The atrocities he committed under its control still weigh heavily on his conscience, but when he’s asked to investigate a series of mysterious murders, it feels like an opportunity to make amends. Until he realizes the killer’s next likely target is a man who witnessed Sebastian at his worst—the Viscount Fine.

Lord Fine—known as Wesley to his friends, if he had any—is haunted by ghosts of his own after serving as a British army captain during the Great War. Jaded and untrusting, he’s tempted to turn Sebastian in, but there’s something undeniably captivating about the reformed paranormal, and after Sebastian risks his own life to save Wesley’s, they find common ground.

Seeking sanctuary together at Wesley’s country estate in Yorkshire, the unlikely pair begins to unravel a mystery steeped in legend and folklore, the close quarters emboldening them to see past the other’s trauma to the person worth loving beneath. But with growing targets on their backs, they’ll have to move quickly if they want to catch a killer—and discover whether two wounded souls can help each other heal.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I was a little apprehensive about this at first because I *loved * the trilogy this spins off from, but I needn’t have worried. Now that I’ve finished it, I love this one too. Possibly even more, as Wesley was a delightfully cynical curmudgeon gone soft for Sebastian alone and I adore that trope.

This was satisfactory as a standalone, though it would also have been lovely if it had been expanded a bit. I hope we get more from this world in the future. And more Wesley because he’s possibly more fun than even Rory.

I enjoyed the mystery aspect, but the best part was Wesley the cynical curmudgeon with a deeply buried heart of gold, and Sebastian the “dangerous marshmallow” as they slowly became closer and let one another see what they let no one else see. (They were terribly entertaining together from practically the moment they met. I highlighted SO many passages.)

Also, paranormal art!

This is a book (along with the series it spins off of) that I will most definitely be reading again because it thoroughly stole my heart. Historical paranormal MM is apparently my thing XD.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Carina Press for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes

…she claimed the ridiculous creature’s affections eased her rheumatoid pains. What a load of sentimental rot. Everyone was miserable; it was no excuse to dote on a yappy speck of fluff.

“Are you all right, Lord Fine?”
Wesley had some bruises, some scrapes, and blisters on his arms. But he was alive, and free, and most importantly, not on fucking fire anymore, so what came out was, “Yes.”

“Are you serious right now?” said Lord Fine incredulously. “You’re handcuffed to my bed at gunpoint and you’re more upset that the English hunt foxes?”

God, everyone was always so unflatteringly surprised that he was capable of sympathy. He’d be insulted, if he wasn’t, well, himself.

A paranormal earl, yes, that was exactly what Wesley wanted to learn existed.

There were not enough cups of tea in the world to deal with this morning.

Was–was Wesley being flirted with?
Wesley might have just been flirted with.

“Some people don’t like my accent, or my Spanish.”

“Some people don’t like opera. The world is full of classless philistines.”

Sebastian blinked.

“Xenophobia is a waste of time,” Lord Fine went on, like he hadn’t just paid Sebastian something of a compliment. “Everyone is a foreigner somewhere. Foreigners are just people and all people are universally terrible, so what’s the point of disliking foreigners in particular?”

“I said, I think you’re the witch, because when I’m with you, I remember how to be free.”

Sebastian blinked. “Is everything okay?”

No, it isn’t. You’ve just uttered the most romantic words anyone has ever said to me, in a Yorkshire pub over chips.

Oh, Christ. Wesley was not equipped to experience feelings, this was completely unacceptable.

And he did, despite Wesley’s pessimism–maybe with magic, obviously that was going to be Wesley’s explanation for everything now…

But I will admit there is one tiny place in this godforsaken world that isn’t cold and miserable, and that’s the corner you light up.”

“If you stay with me, there might be a lot of magic.”

“I’ll be thoroughly enchanted either way,” said Wesley, and went back in for another kiss.

ARC Review: A Winter’s Earl (A Regency Christmas Romance) by Annabelle Greene

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Publishing: November 9, 2021

Synopsis:

Come to me. I need you. It’s a matter of life-and-death.

Infamous poet Sherborne Clarke is a scholar, a lover—but not a father. When he finds a baby abandoned on the steps of his crumbling castle, he knows he must get her to London and an orphanage. It’s the perfect excuse to contact the one person he trusts…the man whose love he stills yearns for, and whose heart he broke years before.

Richard Ashbrook was groomed from birth to become the Earl of Portland, until Sherborne betrayed him, exposing his sexuality to the papers and forcing him into exile. But as much as he hates Sherborne, Richard has never managed to break their link or let his confusing sentiments concerning him subside. When he receives a missive implying that Sherborne’s life is at risk, he knows it is time to return home.  

Richard undergoes the perilous journey from Sicily only to find the other man untouched. Furious, he agrees to transport the baby to London—whatever gets him out of Sherborne’s life once and for all. But when a snowstorm leaves them stranded, they’re forced to confront the past—and deal with the love between them that’s all too present.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I did not expect to like this as much as I did. I was swept up into the story from the very beginning and it never let me go. I felt very strongly for Richard and Sherborne and was kept enthralled as their love story drama unfolded. My favorite part is the way they rekindled their old romance in a way that let them grow and move beyond the angry, jealous passion of their youth and into a warmer, steadier love, as well as the way each new event only deepened their connection.

The writing was beautiful, too. The prose was easy to flow along with, with no awkward stumbling blocks, and the emotion was beautifully rendered. The sex scenes were necessary to the story and each furthered Richard and Sherborne’s emotional connection. The did not bother me as the more gratuitous scenes do in most romance.

The minor characters were endearing – though not as much as Richard and Sherborne, except perhaps for Parsley. I enjoyed reading about all of them and I thought the ending especially beautiful.

The plot was admittedly rather thin and some events a bit contrived (and it was hard sometimes to figure out who was speaking during dialogue — I can’t believe I’m going to say it, but it could have used a few more dialogue tags), but overall it was a lovely Christmas story that I can definitely see myself reading again.

I will definitely be seeking out more of Annabelle Greene’s books.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin – Carina Press for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: Between His Lover and the Deep Blue Sea by Merry Farmer

Book Cover

Synopsis:

Sailing Master Septimus Bolton has spent his entire life at sea…in more ways than one. Now that his ship has been decommissioned at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, he has nothing to do but accept the invitation of one of his fellow naval officers to convalesce for the summer at a remote country estate in Yorkshire. Septimus would do anything to get back to sea…

…until a pair of blue eyes and a mischievous smile tempt him to forget everything, including discretion.

Adam Seymour has had to fight for everything he has, from the scholarship that allowed him to attend university to the right to be himself. Now, as tutor to the Duke of Malton’s precocious children, he has a comfortable life in a grand country estate far away from ridicule. His goal of starting a school for underprivileged children once his noble charges outgrow his tutelage seems well within reach…

…until temptation arrives at Wodehouse Abbey in the form of handsome, older, irresistible Septimus.

It doesn’t matter how hard Septimus fights his feelings for Adam, the two men can’t seem to stay away from each other. But when Septimus is offered the chance of a lifetime in the form of the ship he’s always wanted to command, he will have to choose between the possibility of lifelong love and the dream that is finally within his reach.

PLEASE BE ADVISED: Steam Level – Smokin’ hot! This includes explicit scenes between male lovers, so if that isn’t what you want to read, please feel free to pass on this book.

My Review:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I considered dnfing this one but pushed through because the story was good. I did skim a lot of the second half though.

I like the characters, though Adam was a bit too impulsive and young-seeming. My favorite moments were when Septimus and Adam were being teased by Septimus’ friends — and especially the absolutely ridiculous game they invented to drive Septimus and Adam together. I also really enjoyed the scenes with the children and the barge chase.

My biggest problem with it was the writing. It was too convoluted and tangled and I desperately wanted to take a red pen and slash through it as if I were slashing through brambles. The dialogue especially was overwrought and too formal and really unrealistic.

Under the writing, though, is a good story that makes for an enjoyable light read.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Oliver Heber Books for providing an e-arc for review.