ARC Review: The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian (The Queer Principles of Kit Webb #2)

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Publishing Date: June 7, 2022

Synopsis:

Cat Sebastian returns to Georgian London with a stunning tale of a reluctant criminal and the thief who cannot help but love her.

Marian Hayes, the Duchess of Clare, just shot her husband. Of course, the evil, murderous man deserved what was coming to him, but now she must flee to the countryside. Unfortunately, the only person she can ask for help is the charismatic criminal who is blackmailing her—and who she may have left tied up a few hours before…

A highwayman, con artist, and all-around cheerful villain, Rob Brooks is no stranger to the wrong side of the law or the right side of anybody’s bed. He never meant to fall for the woman whose secrets he promised to keep for the low price of five hundred pounds, but how could he resist someone who led him on a merry chase all over London, left him tied up in a seedy inn, and then arrived covered in her husband’s blood and in desperate need of his help?

As they flee across the country—stopping to pick pockets, drink to excess, and rescue invalid cats—they discover more true joy and peace than either has felt in ages. But when the truth of Rob’s past catches up to him, they must decide if they are willing to reshape their lives in order to forge a future together.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book is EVERYTHING. I live and breathe books and I would be happy to never read another book and just live in this one. It’s that good. But more than that it’s the perfect book for me. Like Cat Sebastian knew it’s been rough lately and wrote it just for me. I’m predicting it makes it at least into my top 5 books this year.

It’s a cleverly disguised Robin Hood and Marian book. It’s the perfect Robin Hood and Marian book. I want to paper my walls in quotes from this book (and I probably highlighted enough to do just that – a full 11 single-spaced pages of them!!) and just live in this story from now on. Is this because I love Robin Hood stories? Yes, partly. But also I love queer love stories and Cat Sebastian’s writing in general, and the Queer Principles of Kit Webb in particular, so this was just the happy convergence of all of my favorite things.

This is an excellent queer love story. Both leads are bisexual and Marian is probably some flavor of asexual and the dynamic is very much a dominant/aggressive/in charge Marian and a submissive Rob who only wants to please her. That stable scene! She pins him against the wall! Flip the gender status quo of historical romance why don’t you? I LOVE it.

I love how Marian is the prickly and closed-off and responsible one in this relationship, and Rob is friendly and charming and is distracted by kittens. And, now that I think of it, this is yet another case of me falling completely for a grumpy / sunshine trope.

Another reviewer pointed out that this book in a nutshell is ‘disaster bisexuals’ and ‘be gay do crime’ with a side of ‘eat the rich’ and if that isn’t Marian and Rob I don’t know what is. I can’t top that as a description.

I see hints of future books of ‘be gay do crime’ and i just want to say YES PLEASE. And baby Eliza will be raised by four doting queer parents and immersed in planning of heists before she can talk. I desperately want more books in this world, with these people.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Avon and Harper Voyager for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

**Note: I highlighted literally 11 single-spaced pages of quotes so obviously I can’t include them all here. I have consolidated as much as possible but it will still be rather long. But trust me – you want to read these. They will absolutely make you want to read this book.

Although, if you don’t want to read them, that’s fine too. This is the last section of the review for a reason.

What a trick it was to be able to say I beg your pardon in a way that meant fuck off and die, and to look serene and saintly while saying it.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

The memory made him feel both wistful and somehow homesick, in the way that happy memories too often did.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“I think we’re still in the cave, hitting one another with sticks,” Rob went on. “I know that I broke the law when I stole from those arseholes at the tavern this afternoon. But how is what I did any different from putting poor men into debtors’ prison? What I did is comparatively gentle. A targeted tax on rich men who behave badly. It’s very civilized, actually.”

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

He was lost, and he had been from about the first time she sent him a scathing letter –what kind of person did that to a man who held her future in the palm of his hand? – and followed it up with trivia about that Italian fellow and his peculiarly organized version of hell.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“In the winter, you can imagine that the land could become anything. In the summer, all that’s left is for winter to come.”

Rob had never heard anyone express anything of the sort and didn’t know what to say, or even to think, beyond reflecting that if anyone were to enjoy an uninterrupted view of mud and dirt it would have to be Marian.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

She moved so slowly and deliberately it was as if she were inventing the concept of kissing right there on the spot, as precisely as if she were counting change in the marketplace. He kissed her back with none of those qualities, with nothing but profligacy.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

He wore rainwater and mud the way other men wore silk coats, only better, and she wanted him.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

And now he was looking at her as if she were a cake, if cakes were also religious icons, and she was possessed of a mortifying certainty that she was looking at him in precisely the same deranged manner.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

Rob knew better than most that sometimes nothing could salve your conscience. You just had to live with the guilt and find other ways to be the kind of person you wanted to be.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

But when she looked at him, what she felt wasn’t attraction. Or it wasn’t only that. It was a bright spark, something warm and glowing that took up residency in her chest and refused to budge. It was something like contentment, only sharp and with teeth. It was the urge to wrap her hand around his arm and not let go. It was the knowledge that he would let her.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

The idea that she was planning to go into mourning for a man she had killed with her own hands, while – regardless of what she said – robbing, extorting, or otherwise dealing feloniously with another man, made Rob feel faintly dizzy.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“Gentlemen typically don’t extort money from their tenants,” Marian retorted.

“That is precisely what gentlemen do,” he pointed out, exasperated. “It is practically the entire point of gentlemen.”

She opened her mouth as if to protest, then frowned. “Fair.”

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

It was a dark day indeed when he wanted to congratulate an aristocrat for simply remembering that servants were human beings.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

In his arms she felt as sharp as a knife and as sure as a promise and he never wanted to take his hands off her.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

And he didn’t try to hold it back, either. His friendship was like a creeping ivy – all one had to do was let it be, and it covered the whole barn.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

From where she lay, she could see at least half a dozen scars on his arms and back. He spoke of them as if he didn’t mind them, and she thought she understood – what were the pair of them, after all, but a collection of things gone wrong and then, slowly, made right again.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“Well, she did leave me tied to a bed all night,” Rob offered as an explanation.

“It’s how I make all my friends,” said Betty.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“Running away?” Rob scoffed. “I’m not running away from anything. I’m refusing to participate in inherited wealth.”

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“They’d suit you perfectly well if it were twenty years ago.” He sank into a chair by the fire. “And if you were a provincial spinster who drank tea without any sugar and terrified all the neighborhood children.”

Marian, momentarily impressed with this aesthetic success, preened a little before remembering why she needed to speak to Percy.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

He wore a blue suit of clothes so fine that Rob wanted to set things on fire.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

 It would not, however, accommodate Marian’s father and his household, and indeed the idea of cramming an elderly earl, a highwayman, a baby, the bigamous wife of a duke, and whatever on earth Percy considered himself these days under one roof was too farcical for Marian to take seriously.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

She was certain that most women felt something warmer for their children, something less sharp and jagged. Marian wasn’t much given to warmth, but whatever she felt now – a champagne lightness mixed with the usual knife-sharp protectiveness – felt like enough.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

Her laughter was rare and precious; it was the sound of church bells, the sound of coins dropping into a pocket, and he wanted to save it in a bottle and wear it close to his heart.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

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: Going Public by Hudson Lin

Publication Date: March 29, 2022

Synopsis:

A boss. His employee.

And a scandal that’s about to change everything…


As an operating partner at Jade Harbour, Raymond Chao prides himself in fixing even the most disastrous of portfolio companies—no matter the cost. While his colleagues might not always like his methods, they love his results. But his latest business partner isn’t cooperating, and what’s worse, Raymond’s underhanded tactics have landed him in hot water with the law.  

Elvin Goh has been Raymond’s assistant for years, and he’s been in love with the charming, ruthless playboy for just as long. There’s very little that Elvin won’t do—or hasn’t done—for Raymond. Impossible crush aside, it’s his job. But this time, even Elvin can’t see a way out. 

When long nights in the office lead to whispered confessions and a newfound intimacy, it seems like a dream come true—for both of them. But with the prospect of failure on the horizon, can this dream team beat the odds and come out the victors in the office and in their hearts?  

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I really enjoyed this MM romance. I chose it because I’ve been on a fanfic kick and I needed to get back to reading actual books (nothing wrong with reading fanfic, but I have a lot of arcs publishing soon that I really need to get to). I figured it was kinda like an AU and it was, which definitely helped. It had a lot of things going for it though.

First, the things I loved. Diversity! This was set in Canada and the leads were both asian which was a nice change from the standard white male leads. Also, there were many characters of color. Ray is pansexual (I loved that it made it clear that he included nonbinary folks in his one-night stands, though I do question the wisdom of lumping ‘trans’ in with ‘nonbinary’ and separating it from ‘men and women.’) Elvin is demisexual. There are several other non-straight couples / characters mentioned, though the focus is on Ray and Elvin’s deepening relationship.

The way Elvin and Ray discuss the power imbalance inherent in their relationship and that it gives them both pause was refreshing. As was the way each took care of the other in his own way.

Also I loved that the sex scenes were pretty minimal. Since Elvin is demisexual, it made sense. It was refreshing, as I read romance for the romance rather than the sex anyway. The ones that were there felt earned with their close emotional bond and romantic connection.

As for the things I didn’t love as much, the plot felt rushed at the end and tended to fade into the background. Everything gets swept under the rug and wrapped up far too easily for uncovering a mafia drug-smuggling and money-laundering operation. A lot of things — like how they missed it all when they bought Caron paper in the first place — didn’t really add up or get explained. I didn’t care that much, as I was in it for the romance anyway, but it still would have been nice to have the plot a little more developed.

All in all, it was a lovely afternoon escape that hit all the right fanfic notes and kept me engaged.

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

ARC Review: So This is Ever After by F.T. Lukens

Publication Date: March 29, 2022

Synopsis:

Carry On meets Arthurian legend in this funny, subversive young adult fantasy about what happens after the chosen one wins the kingdom and has to get married to keep it…and to stay alive.

Arek hadn’t thought much about what would happen after he completed the prophecy that said he was destined to save the Kingdom of Ere from its evil ruler. So now that he’s finally managed to (somewhat clumsily) behead the evil king (turns out magical swords yanked from bogs don’t come pre-sharpened), he and his rag-tag group of quest companions are at a bit of a loss for what to do next.

As a temporary safeguard, Arek’s best friend and mage, Matt, convinces him to assume the throne until the true heir can be rescued from her tower. Except that she’s dead. Now Arek is stuck as king, a role that comes with a magical catch: choose a spouse by your eighteenth birthday, or wither away into nothing.

With his eighteenth birthday only three months away, and only Matt in on the secret, Arek embarks on a desperate bid to find a spouse to save his life—starting with his quest companions. But his attempts at wooing his friends go painfully and hilariously wrong…until he discovers that love might have been in front of him all along.

My Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was so cute and funny! I love how F. T. Lukens takes the chosen one trope and just plays with it and turns it on its head. You have the chaotic group of questers (chosen one, mage, bard, knight, rogue, guard), but instead of beginning as they are setting out on a quest, the story begins at the end, immediately after the quest has been completed. The moment where everyone looks around at each other and goes, “Now what?”

In some ways, this is a found family story of a reluctant king and his loyal friends getting on their feet and fumbling their way into figuring out how to rule the kingdom they took back from the evil wizard. In many ways, this is a book about pining. Arek is quite obviously pining for his best friend Matt. Matt is pining for Arek. It’s quite obvious from the first pages. Since they’re both oblivious idiots, however, it takes them rather a while to figure things out.

The writing was clever and funny, and it was easy to just let myself flow along with the story and enjoy it. It’s fun. I recommend it when you need to laugh and find yourself craving oblivious idiots pining for each other over hundreds of pages. (What, just me?)

*Thanks to NetGalley and Margaret K. McElderry Books for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

I was starting to think that running away from home to follow a vague prophecy hadn’t been a good idea.

“Money won’t buy their loyalty.”

“No, but if we have happy staff, then our lives are going to be much easier.”

“No thank you. None of the above. I don’t need to be rescued, and I don’t need anyone to know me. Everyone knows love is pheromones and proximity. For it to be real for me, I’d have to be struck by lightning.” She snapped her fingers. “Instant attraction.”

ARC Review: The One True Me and You by Remi K. England

Publication Date: March 1, 2022

Synopsis:

Up and coming fanfic author Kaylee Beaumont is internally screaming at the chance to finally meet her fandom friends in real life and spend a weekend at GreatCon. She also has a side quest for the weekend:

Try out they/them pronouns to see how it feels
Wear more masculine-presenting cosplay
Kiss a girl for the first time

It’s… a lot, and Kay mostly wants to lie face down on the hotel floor. Especially when her hometown bully, Miss North Carolina, shows up in the very same hotel. But there’s this con-sponsored publishing contest, and the chance to meet her fandom idols… and then, there’s Teagan.

Pageant queen Teagan Miller (Miss Virginia) has her eye on the much-needed prize: the $25,000 scholarship awarded to the winner of the Miss Cosmic Teen USA pageant. She also has secrets:

She loves the dresses but hates the tiaras
She’s a giant nerd for everything GreatCon
She’s gay af

If Teagan can just keep herself wrapped up tight for one more weekend, she can claim the scholarship and go off to college out and proud. If she’s caught, she could lose everything she’s worked for. If her rival, Miss North Carolina, has anything to do with it, that’s exactly how it’ll go down.

When Teagan and Kay bump into one another the first night, sparks fly. Their connection is intense—as is their shared enemy. If they’re spotted, the safe space of the con will be shattered, and all their secrets will follow them home. The risks are great… but could the reward of embracing their true selves be worth it?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was such a good, affirming, joyful book!

As someone who is active in fandom but has never been to a con, and who spent a lot of years questioning my identity (queer: nonbinary, bi ace), I really identified with Kay and felt very seen. They are like my younger self, and the atmosphere of the con was incredible.

While I didn’t have much in common with Teagan, she was easy to like and I was still rooting for her breaking away from the strict mold the pageant forced her into.

The story had its ups and downs of course but I felt so much queer joy radiating from the pages and wrapping me in this blanket of acceptance and it was so soothing.

There are also some great messages about not judging people based on what they look like or enjoy doing. And the fandom representation is so good. Such an accurate portrayal of a03 and tumblr and writing fanfiction. I want to go to a con now.

I would recommend this to every teen who is questioning their identity or knows someone who is. Sometimes you just need a dose of joy and affirmation and that’s this book in a nutshell.

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

Favorite Quotes:

And yet, it never occurred to me before that any of these people could be considered truly beautiful. And there’s a vast gulf between not judging someone for their appearance and actively appreciating their beauty.

…but if I can take anything away from this weekend, it’s that I don’t have to look a certain way to be who I am. If I feel nonbinary, I am nonbinary. There’s no right way to dress or act to prove it.

ARC Review: Wherever is Your Heart (Moonlighters #3) by Anita Kelly

Publication Date: March 1, 2022

Synopsis:

How long, exactly, had June been coming to Moonie’s for the sole purpose of pining after the bartender? 

She certainly didn’t come for the karaoke. Even though the karaoke made her smile sometimes. All these young queers with their off-key, bouncy energy. They made Mal smile, too, June knew. Even if Mal tended to hide her smiles. 

But she saved them sometimes, for June.

Maybe Mal had secret smiles for other women, when June wasn’t around. There was probably no good reason for Mal Edwards, a bastion of stability and good sense, to see any kind of future with June anyway. Was it even fair to express feelings to a woman like that when you spent months away on the road?

But as another Pride weekend approaches, June’s fiftieth birthday and the eventual end of her long-haul trucking days loom in her mind, nestled against the memories of Moonie’s nights gone by where it felt like June and Mal came close—close to something happening, something real. Until June would inevitably chicken out. Retreat once again to life on the road. 

It’s time for June to finally figure out her next act. And if she’s not brave enough to ask Mal Edwards to be part of it, she doesn’t deserve her, anyway.

After all. If you can’t tell a butch you love her during Pride, when the hell can you?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this So so much, and related to Mal and June so hard. Their love is quiet but it shines through every moment of the story, every word and every action and every look they share. I also loved that the conflict wasn’t external. It was an internal will-she-or-won’t-she brooding that was easily dispelled. The getting together was so natural and comfortable it just felt right.

The writing is so beautiful and I highlighted so many lines to refer back to. The one about being alone but together was just. Exactly how I’ve always felt with my partner. I crave that quiet companionship and it was so nice to see it on the page. Also, I too went to college in California and then went up the coast to (almost) Oregon and love the rugged pacific coast so. This novella stole my heart in a lot of different ways.

Even though I haven’t read the first two novellas — which I will remedy now — it was easy to know and love Mal and June. They were just so honest and easy together, and felt so real and present as characters despite the fact that this is a novella. The customers at the bar were only on the page for a brief time but I am intrigued by them and excited to read more.

*thanks to Anita Kelly for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes

“Mal,” she said, quiet. “Your whole body relaxes when you talk about her. I’ve never even met her but I’m half in love with June Davis just from the way you say her name.”

Wasn’t that what love was, really? Doing beautiful, funny things, just for the hell of it. Because you wanted to. Because the other person made you feel like you could.

“We’re going to look like two beached whales,” she muttered.

“Good,” I said. “Whales are majestic as fuck.”

As if I would have something to say about this, her being a secret civil engineer, other than being supremely turned on.

Well, this was a delight. Calling each other by our full names. Which seemed way too simple a thing to elicit such pleasure in my spine, but there it was.

“It’s true,” I said slowly, “That I like being alone. But with you… it’s different. Like we can still be alone, but together.”

ARC Review: Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

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Publishing Date: February 1, 2022

Synopsis:

Following Written in the Stars and Hang the Moon, national bestselling author Alexandria Bellefleur pens another steamy queer rom-com about former best friends who might be each other’s second chance at love…

Margot Cooper doesn’t do relationships. She tried and it blew up in her face, so she’ll stick with casual hookups, thank you very much. But now her entire crew has found “the one” and she’s beginning to feel like a fifth wheel. And then fate (the heartless bitch) intervenes. While touring a wedding venue with her engaged friends, Margot comes face-to-face with Olivia Grant—her childhood friend, her first love, her first… well, everything. It’s been ten years, but the moment they lock eyes, Margot’s cold, dead heart thumps in her chest.

Olivia must be hallucinating. In the decade since she last saw Margot, her life hasn’t gone exactly as planned. At almost thirty, she’s been married… and divorced. However, a wedding planner job in Seattle means a fresh start and a chance to follow her dreams. Never in a million years did she expect her important new client’s Best Woman would be the one that got away.

When a series of unfortunate events leaves Olivia without a place to stay, Margot offers up her spare room because she’s a Very Good Person. Obviously. It has nothing to do with the fact that Olivia is as beautiful as ever and the sparks between them still make Margot tingle. As they spend time in close quarters, Margot starts to question her no-strings stance. Olivia is everything she’s ever wanted, but Margot let her in once and it ended in disaster. Will history repeat itself or should she count her lucky stars that she gets a second chance with her first love?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I really, really enjoyed this story. The whole setup is classic romcom material and it was very well written. I was hooked from the beginning and flew through the pages.

Watching Margot and Olivia navigate their past and learn to trust in each other and build a future together was very satisfying. Margot’s friends were amusing and I love how they welcomed Olivia with open arms. Cat was also very amusing.

This was very much a story where the conflict was internal instead of external — learning to deal with feelings that had been shoved down and old hurts that had never healed. Margot and Olivia each have a lot to learn from each other and I love how they actually do learn from each other and admit (albeit reluctantly) that the other might have a point.

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

ARC Review: Love and Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

Love & Other Disasters

Publishing Date: January 18, 2022

Synopsis:

The first openly nonbinary contestant on America’s favorite cooking show falls for their clumsy competitor in this delicious romantic comedy debut “that is both fantastically fun and crack your heart wide open vulnerable.” (Rosie Danan, author of The Roommate)

Recently divorced and on the verge of bankruptcy, Dahlia Woodson is ready to reinvent herself on the popular reality competition show Chef’s Special. Too bad the first memorable move she makes is falling flat on her face, sending fish tacos flying—not quite the fresh start she was hoping for. Still, she’s focused on winning, until she meets someone she might want a future with more than she needs the prize money.

After announcing their pronouns on national television, London Parker has enough on their mind without worrying about the klutzy competitor stationed in front of them. They’re there to prove the trolls—including a fellow contestant and their dad—wrong, and falling in love was never part of the plan.

As London and Dahlia get closer, reality starts to fall away. Goodbye, guilt about divorce, anxiety about uncertain futures, and stress from transphobia. Hello, hilarious shenanigans on set, wedding crashing, and spontaneous dips into the Pacific. But as the finale draws near, Dahlia and London’s steamy relationship starts to feel the heat both in and outside the kitchen—and they must figure out if they have the right ingredients for a happily ever after.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I absolutely LOVED this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I don’t generally read contemporary romance, but I saw ‘queer and nonbinary’ and took a chance, and I’m SO glad I did.

The representation in this book was SO SO good. As a queer, nonbinary person myself, so much of what London said and was rang true. And I loved queer disaster Dahlia so much for her warm acceptance of them. They were just so good together and (almost) everyone in the book was surprisingly cool with respecting them and their pronouns.

I also loved how well-written this was. I was totally invested in this fictional cooking show and I don’t even watch real life cooking shows. Dahlia’s and London’s love of cooking came through so well, I could almost taste the dishes they were creating.

I was also totally invested in their relationship. And the writing was just so beautiful and there were so many passages that just viscerally struck true. I loved the discussion of Dahlia’s divorce, and the way she was trying to reinvent herself in LA, and when London realized that exuberant Dahlia was just… sad.

Gah I just loved it so much.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

It would be September soon, and Dahlia was glad. It would be easier, somehow, she thought, to be sad in the fall.

A flurry of expletives ran around London’s mind like foul-mouthed bunnies on speed.

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.”


ARC Review: The Perks of Loving a Wallflower by Erica Ridley

Book Cover

Publishing Oct 26, 2021

Synopsis:

Fans of Bridgerton will love this Regency romp in which a proper Society miss recruits a very improper lady grifter in a quest for vengeance, only to find love instead.

As a master of disguise, Thomasina Wynchester can be a polite young lady—or a bawdy old man. Anything to solve the case. Her latest assignment unveils a top-secret military cipher covering up an enigma that goes back centuries. But when Tommy’s beautiful new client turns out to be the highborn lady she’s secretly smitten with, more than her mission is at stake . . .

Bluestocking Miss Philippa York doesn’t believe in love. Her cold heart didn’t pitter-patter when she was betrothed to a duke, nor did it break when he married someone else. All Philippa desires is to rescue her priceless manuscript and decode its clues to unmask a villain. She hates that she needs a man’s help—so she’s delighted to discover the clever, charming baron at her side is in fact a woman. Her cold heart . . . did it just pitter-patter?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The most important point is that I absolutely ADORED this book. I was hoping Erica Ridley would get an f/f (or perhaps more properly sapphic f/nb) regency romance right and she definitely did. I absolutely cannot wait for the next Wynchester novel.

This novel was a joy and a delight to read. Having the Wynchester siblings AND an sapphic f/nb romance in one book — and genderfluid/nonbinary representation, demisexual representation, AND realistic body size representation all in the same main couple! — was more than I had ever hoped to see in a traditionally published romance. I felt seen. More than that, I felt loved.

I have always loved Erica Ridley’s gift for creating well-rounded characters that jump off the page and then giving them sweet romances where they overcome their own prejudices and doubts in order to enter into a partnership together. I would choose the Wynchesters over the Bridgertons any day. Not only are they a diverse bunch, but they each possess unique skills that they use as a team to (only slightly illegally) bring justice to those not normally served it.

I especially loved how Elizabeth was brought to life in this book. She is still a side character, but she has some delightful lines. In fact, half of my favorite quotes involve Elizabeth. I hope we see her story soon.

As for our main couple, Tommy is genderfluid / nonbinary, possessed of minimal curves, and a master of disguise. Philippa is a bluestocking who doesn’t believe she can love, possessed of lush curves (that Tommy is very obviously physically attracted to), and is stifled by her parents ambition. They each own their story and leap off the page, with a love story and life lessons I loved to root for.

I listened to the Duke Heist audiobook to remind myself of the characters before reading this, and I’m so glad I did because Moira Quirk’s narration was superb. I have now preordered this book as an audiobook.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Erica Ridley, and Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for providing an e-arc for review.


Favorite Quotes

And… what was wrong with Philippa’s breathing? Was her bosom heaving? Was this a heaving bosom?


“Everyone extorts everyone else all the time, darling”
“Do they?” Philippa said doubtfully.
Her mother pursed her lips. “That’s what a society is. A group of people with agreed-upon methods of social extortion. ‘Do this, or suffer the consequences.’ We call it ‘proper comportment’ so that it sounds nice.


“Tiglet is a homing kitten,” Tommy reminded him. “If she sets him down, he’ll run back to Islington.”


“Graham is out gathering intelligence, and Elizabeth… is off shopping for rapiers.”


“We call those ‘words.’ Extremely adept practitioners can advance all the way to ‘conversation.’


“I guess everyone has a weakness,” Elizabeth said with a sigh. “Mine is uncontrollable bloodlust.”


“Huzzah,” said Elizabeth. “Contravene patriarchal coverture’ is exactly the sort of evening activity I was looking forward to. I’m going to need a bigger sword stick.”


“…but being splendid at something does not mean a body is obliged to do it.”


Any sign.” Elizabeth patted the handle of her sword stick. “Blink if you want mayhem.”
Philippa blinked in surprise.
“Perfect.” Elizabeth unsheathed her sword. “I’ll attack first.”


Philippa was not afraid to be Philippa. She wore more lace on her person than most people owned in their entire wardrobe. Philippa was the bluestockingest ringleader of the bluestockingest reading circle in existence. Philippa was proud to be Philippa.


“We are all saving the day,” Tommy said firmly. “The Wynchesters are a family of knights of various colors and genders who save the day together as a team.”


Tommy grinned. “Elizabeth has even woken herself up giggling maniacally.”
“Not maniacally,” Elizabeth said from across the table. “Giggling with cold calculation.”


This was truly the worst library Philippa had ever seen.

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