Design a site like this with
Get started

Blog Tour & Arc Review: The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman

Publication Date: May 30, 2023

Welcome to the Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies book tour with Berkley Publishing Group. (This blog tour post is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)


A high society amateur detective at the heart of Regency London uses her wits and invisibility as an ‘old maid’ to protect other women in a new and fiercely feminist historical mystery series from New York Times bestselling author Alison Goodman.

Lady Augusta Colebrook, “Gus,” is determinedly unmarried, bored by society life, and tired of being dismissed at the age of forty-two. She and her twin sister, Julia, who is grieving her dead betrothed, need a distraction. One soon presents to rescue their friend’s goddaughter, Caroline, from her violent husband.
The sisters set out to Caroline’s country estate with a plan, but their carriage is accosted by a highwayman. In the scuffle, Gus accidentally shoots and injures the ruffian, only to discover he is Lord Evan Belford, an acquaintance from their past who was charged with murder and exiled to Australia twenty years ago. What follows is a high adventure full of danger, clever improvisation, heart-racing near misses, and a little help from a revived and rather charming Lord Evan.

Back in London, Gus can’t stop thinking about her unlikely (not to mention handsome) comrade-in-arms. She is convinced Lord Evan was falsely accused of murder, and she is going to prove it. She persuades Julia to join her in a quest to help Lord Evan, and others in need—society be damned! And so begins the beguiling secret life and adventures of the Colebrook twins.

Author Bio:

Alison Goodman is the New York Times bestselling author of Eon and Eona and The Dark Days Club series. Learn more online at

Author photo credit: Tania Jovanovic

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was utterly delightful. I love a good regency adventure, especially with a feminist bent and a woman who defies societal norms to solve crimes and right wrongs. What I did not realize I was missing, however, was for said society-norm-defying-women to be a pair of 42-year-old spinster sisters. It was delicious.

I was immediately struck, upon starting, with how familiar the storytelling felt and how appropriate it seemed for someone setting out to solve mysteries. It reminds me of the Sherlock Holmes stories with the first-person narration of Dr. Watson. In this case we have the first-person narration of Lady Augusta Colebrook, using a similar dry and slightly amused tone. It also reminds me of the narration of the Enola Holmes novels (which are likely based on those about Sherlock).

I like that the mysteries Lady Augusta elects to solve and the crimes she seeks to address all involve women being wronged, from the initial retrieval of a packet of incriminating letters to the final adventure of rescuing the inhabitants of a brutal madhouse. Each is a step farther along the path and take her a step away from the ‘neither seen nor heard’ proper lady her brother wishes to force her to be.

Her relationship with her sister was wonderful (despite the less-than-likely entire conversations held entirely in gestures — alongside the multi-sentence exchanges those gestures are purported to represent). Lady Julia is suffering from breast cancer (a disease which killed their mother and aunt) and is much more concerned with propriety than her sister, but she gamely shows up for Gus again and again, lending her skills to their rescue attempts and occasionally threatening the villains at gunpoint. The love and trust between the sisters really shines.

The disgraced Lord Evan – escaped convict, horse thief, and charming rogue – makes a wonderful partner in crime for Gus and it quickly becomes clear that he is her perfect match. I loved seeing them work together from the beginning and how their schemes grew more complicated each time but often relied on standing together and winging it moment to moment.

The villains in this are truly villainous and the misogyny and brutality against women of all ages and statuses are hard to stomach. From brothel to madhouse, the many, many ways that men have invented to be cruel to women are on display. It is hard to read in places and each encounter stokes Gus’ (and the reader’s) righteous fury.

Things worked out just a little too easily in some of the later more complicated schemes, but never enough that it took me out of the story.

I’m glad that Julia gets a love interest by the end and doesn’t have to sink back into mourning for her deceased fiance forever, and greatly enjoyed how that happened and how Julia seems much more in control of the situation.

I can’t wait for more of Gus and Julia and Lord Evan and Kent. It’s clear by the end of this that their story is only beginning which makes me very happy what with how much I enjoyed this one.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

“Is he truly senseless? Can we be sure?” It occurred to me that I had been checking people’s vitals far too often in the past few hours.

The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman

“So, finis,” I said as the front door closed.

“Not at all,” Julia said. “He will be back.”

“What makes you think that?”

She smiled. “Because he did not need to come this time.”

The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman

Non-Exclusive Excerpt:

“We should have worn half boots,” I said. “I can feel every pebble through my slippers.”

“One cannot wear half boots with full dress,” Julia said firmly. “Even in circumstances of duress.”

I stifled a smile. My sister’s sense of style and occasion was always impeccable, and rather too easy to poke.

Julia glanced sideways at me. “Oh, very funny. Next you’ll be suggesting we wear unmentionables.”

“If only we could,” I said. “Breeches would be far more convenient than silk gowns.”

“How would you know?” Julia demanded. “Heavens, Gus, you haven’t actually donned Father’s clothing, have you?”

She knew I had kept some of our father’s clothes after his death; he and I had been much the same height and wiry build. By all rights, the clothes belonged to our brother on his succession to the title-as all our father’s property did-but I had taken them, anyway. A connection to him and a memento mori of sorts.

“Of course not. I am only surmising.”

Julia settled back against my arm. “To even try them would be ghoulish.” She nudged me gently and angled her sweet smile up at me. “Even so, you would look rather dashing in, say, a hussars uniform. You have the commanding height for it, and the gold trim would match your hair.”

I snorted. Julia was, as ever, being too loyal. My brown hair did not even approach gold-in fact, it now had streaks of silver-and my five foot nine inches had so far in my life proved to be more awkward than commanding. She, on the other hand, had been blessed with the Colebrook chestnut hair, as yet untouched by age, and stood at a more dainty five foot two inches.

When we were children I had once cried because we were not identical. Our father had taken me aside and told me that he found such duplications unsettling and he was well satisfied with his two mismatched girls. He had been a good father and a better man. Yet in the eyes of society, his sordid death atop a rookery whore five years ago had become the sum of him.

It had nearly tainted my sister and me, too, for I had recklessly gone to the hovel to retrieve my father-I could not bear to think of his body gawped at by the masses, or as a source of their sport. As fate would have it, I was seen at the brothel. An unmarried woman of breeding should not even know about such places, let alone debase herself by entering one and speaking to the inhabitants. I became the latest on-dit and it was only the staunch support of our most influential friends that silenced the scandalmongers and returned us to the invitation lists.

A small group of middlings-the women with shawls clasped over dimity gowns and the men in belcher neckerchiefs and sober wools-clustered around a singer at the side of the path. The woman’s plaintive ballad turned Julia’s head as we passed.

“‘The Fairy Song,'” she said. “One of Robert’s favorites.”

I quickened our pace past the memory; fate seemed to be conspiring against me.

We attracted a few glances as we walked toward the gloomy entrance to the Dark Walk, mainly from women on the arms of their spouses, their thoughts in the tight pinch of their mouths.

“Maybe we should have brought Samuel and Albert,” Julia whispered. She had seen the matronly judgment too.

“Charlotte does not want our footmen knowing her business,” I said. “Besides, we are not quivering girls in our first season. We do not need to be chaperoned all the time.”

“Do you remember the code we girls made up to warn each other about the men in our circle?” Julia asked. “The code based on these gardens.”

“Vaguely.” I searched my memory. “Let me see: a Grand Walk was a pompous bore, a Supper Box was a fortune hunter . . .”

“And a Dark Walk was the reddest of red flags,” Julia said. “Totally untrustworthy, never be alone with him. It was based on all those awful attacks that happened in the Dark Walk at the time. Do you recall?”

I did-respectable young girls pulled off the path and assaulted in the worst way.

“That was more than twenty years ago, my dear. We are women of forty-two now, well able to look after ourselves.”

“That is not what Duffy would say.”

Indeed, our brother, the Earl of Duffield, would be horrified to know we had gone to Vauxhall Gardens on our own, let alone braved the lewd reputation of the Dark Walk.

“Duffy would have us forever hunched over embroidery or taking tea with every mama who saw her daughter as the new Lady Duffield.”

“True,” Julia said, “but you are so vehement only because you know this is beyond the pale. Not to mention dangerous.”

I did not meet her eye. My sister knew me too well.

“Well, we are here, anyway,” I said, indicating the Dark Walk to our right.

Huge gnarly oaks lined either side of the path, their overhanging branches almost meeting in the middle to make a shadowy tunnel of foliage. One lamp lit the entrance but I could see no other light farther along the path. Nor any other person.

“It lives up to its name,” Julia said.

We both considered its impenetrable depths.

“Should we do as Duffy would want and turn back?” I asked.

“I’d rather wear dimity to the opera,” Julia said and pulled me onward.

I knew my sister just as well as she knew me.

Excerpted from The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman Copyright © 2023 by Alison Goodman. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Blog Tour & Arc Review: That Summer Feeling by Bridget Morrissey

Publication Date: May 30, 2023

Welcome to the That Summer Feeling book tour with Berkley Publishing Group. (This blog tour post is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.


Turns out you’re never too old for a summer camp romance. Or a change of heart. When a divorced woman attends a sleepaway camp for adults only, she reconnects with a man from her past–only to catch feelings for his sister instead.

Garland Moore used to believe in magic, the power of optimism, and signs from the universe. Then her husband surprised her with divorce papers over Valentine’s Day dinner. Now Garland isn’t sure what to believe anymore, except that she’s clearly never meant to love again. When new friends invite her to spend a week at their reopened sleepaway camp, she and her sister decide it’s an opportunity to enjoy the kind of summer getaway they never had as kids. If Garland still believed in signs, this would sure seem like one. Summer camp is a chance to let go of her past and start fresh.

Nestled into the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, Camp Carl Cove provides the exact escape Garland always dreamed of, until she runs into Mason–the man she had a premonition about after one brief meeting years ago. No matter how she tries to run, the universe appears determined to bring love back into Garland’s life. She even ends up rooming with Mason’s sister Stevie, a vibrant former park ranger who is as charming as she is competitive. The more time Garland spends with Stevie, the more the signs confuse her. The stars are aligning in a way Garland never could have predicted.

Amid camp tournaments and moonlit dances, Garland continues to be pulled toward the beautiful blonde outdoorswoman who makes her laugh and swoon. Summer camp doesn’t last forever, but if Garland can learn to trust her heart, the love she finds there just might.

Author Bio:

Bridget Morrissey lives in Los Angeles, California, but hails from Oak Forest, Illinois. When she’s not writing, she can be found coaching gymnastics or headlining concerts in her living room. Her website can be found here.

Her upcoming adult novel, THAT SUMMER FEELING, releases on May 30, 2023. Her last two adult romances, A THOUSAND MILES and LOVE SCENES, as well as her first two YA novels, WHAT YOU LEFT ME and WHEN THE LIGHT WENT OUT, are all available now.

She is represented by Taylor Haggerty of Root Literary.

Image credit: Goodreads

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this cute summer romance. The characters were fun and quirky and believable, and who doesn’t want to read about thirty-somethings falling in love at their first experience of summer camp?

Garland was a great main character and I really sympathized with her. She had banked on a happy-ever-after only to find out it wasn’t and end up living with her sister and driving for a ride-share program and not knowing what to do with her life. Her sister Dara was also great and I would read more about her for sure. They were both grappling with their childhood dreams of love not turning out like they’d expected and learning to embrace their choices.

I loved Stevie and her brothers. They were vibrant and boisterous and they obviously loved each other very much. They swept Garland up into the family dynamic she’d always needed and it was really sweet.

The love story was adorable and a great way to allow Garland to let go of her past expectations and embrace what she truly wanted. I was 100% there for it and I’m so happy with how it turned out. I also love the way the experience of finally getting to go to summer camp helped the sisters embrace their quirks and become more confident in themselves.

Reading this made me want to go to summer camp too. It all felt very real, and the next best thing to going myself.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

She wore athletic apparel with conviction. It looked like a carefully considered ensemble on her, not something you tossed on to exercise.

“This is even better than I anticipated, and I anticipated a lot.”

She could do a great impression of me. It made me feel understood in a different way than I’d ever felt before. Most people picked up on my optimism. Stevie captured my vulnerability. The worries I hid behind the hope I projected.

She still smelled like a cherished memory. Like I’d known her all my life, but somehow I’d forgotten her until today.

My heart ached harder. As if little construction workers lived in there and they’d started building something new without a permit.

I enjoyed being liked, but I wanted a more accurate version of me to be seen, and I wasn’t the person I’d packed into this luggage.

She made me afraid to blink, because to miss even a single second was to miss something revelatory.

I would dance with her until the music stopped. Even then, if she wanted to keep going, I’d create music for us.

“You can be a different you tomorrow. You can also own the person you are today. You don’t have to hide away because you might one day change.”

Audio ARC Review: Right Girl, Wrong Side by Ginny Baird

Publication Date: March 28, 2023


Busy flower shop manager Evita Machado can’t wait to get to Nantucket. With a bad breakup behind her, relaxing at the shore with her folks and her brothers and their families sounds like the sure cure for heartache, and their vacation destination looks like an amazing place! But when they arrive at the quaint rose-covered cottage, another group has already put down stakes: the Hatfields.

Ryan Hatfield was Evita’s former crush from high school, but their business rival moms refused to let them date. Now history professor Ryan is here for a week with his parents, who won them this oceanfront rental in a society silent auction. Once it’s clear there’s been a double-booking due to a bidding mistake, Ryan’s mom digs in her heels, meaning to stay. When Evita’s mom won’t back down either, both sides tepidly agree to share the luxury accommodations by dividing the cozy space.

With the boisterous Machados livening things up and the strait-laced Hatfields tamping them down, can Evita and Ryan keep the peace between the warring factions while fostering a growing chemistry between the two of them?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I was slow to warm up to this one. The premise was cute and amusing, but I found the writing in the first 20% or so lackluster. Then the characters really started to shine and made up for it. In the end, I loved it.

I really enjoyed how the romance itself almost took a backseat to the family drama. It’s clear that the whole impetus for reconciling the Hatfields and Machados is to make it possible for Evita and Ryan to be together. They crushed on each other in highschool, drifted apart because of their families’ long-standing feud, and then instantly fell for one another when the two families showed up for the same beach-house getaway due to a charity auction mixup. Even so, there were very few scenes of them being romantic, and the story mainly focused on the two of them as mediators in the family drama and scheming together over how to get everyone together.

All of the characters were so amusing and endearing and just felt real. There was such a contrast between the uptight, secretly unhappy Hatfields and the gregarious and loving extended family of the Machados. This created endless opportunity for humor and conflict.

I listened to the audiobook and thought it was great. I did end up speeding it up quite a bit, but the Spanish accents felt natural and believable and the characters’ voices were all easily distinguishable and pleasant. The kids’ voices were incredibly unnatural sounding which I found jarring, but it did add some humor. The narrator really brought the story to life and I think I enjoyed it a lot more than I would have otherwise.

Ryan and Evita were so sweet together, falling easily into their familiar highschool lab partners bond and enjoying one another’s company from the beginning despite their families’ antics. They were incredibly believable as the sort of couple who lasts. They were easily the most mature members of their families, and both had to have serious talks with their parents about respecting their boundaries and choices as adults. They also both were very good with the children.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Dreamscape Media for providing an early copy of the audiobook for review.

Audio ARC Review: Hotel of Secrets by Diana Biller

Publication Date: March 28, 2023


During ball season, anything can happen, even love.

It’s ball season in Vienna, and Maria Wallner only wants one thing: to restore her family’s hotel, the Hotel Wallner, to its former glory. She’s not going to let anything get in her way – not her parents’ three-decade-long affair; not seemingly-random attacks by masked assassins; and especially not the broad-shouldered American foreign agent who’s saved her life two times already. No matter how luscious his mouth is.

Eli Whittaker also only wants one thing: to find out who is selling American secret codes across Europe, arrest them, and go home to his sensible life in Washington, DC. He has one lead – a letter the culprit sent from a Viennese hotel. But when he arrives in Vienna, he is immediately swept up into a chaotic whirlwind of balls, spies, waltzes, and beautiful hotelkeepers who seem to constantly find themselves in danger. He disapproves of all of it! But his disapproval is tested as he slowly falls deeper into the chaos – and as his attraction to said hotelkeeper grows.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a delightful glimpse into the lives of a truly eclectic and charming cast of characters. I found myself drawn into their chaotic and turbulent lives and came to care for all of them over the course of the story.

The plot was chaotic as well, with quite a few twists in the spy/assassin/secrets threads, although the romance did tend to overshadow those most of the time. I didn’t mind though – it was a charming romance and I loved getting to know Maria and Eli. Watching Maria learn to trust and love her friends was so much fun, and especially so was watching Eli blossom from a closed-off and straight-laced investigator into someone who cared deeply for Maria and her various chaotic friends.

The French spy (I forget his name) was perhaps my favorite side character, always popping up unexpectedly all charming and unassuming and saying ‘well, I am a spy’ whenever his presence is questioned. The way he and Mac dragged Eli out of his grumpy “I don’t have friends” shell made me grin so wide.

Every person in the story was unique and just oozed so much life and character. I felt so warm and cozy as I was reading – I just wanted to immerse myself in the story and characters and wrap their chaotic love around me like a warm blanket.

It was slow to grab me, so if you are a fan of eclectic and well-rounded characters you might want to give it a little extra time to hook you.

The audiobook was wonderfully narrated. I ended up speeding it up to 2x speed because I think the narrator speaks slower than many, but it made the story even more immersive and made the characters seem even more real.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Dreamscape Media for providing an early audio copy for review.

ARC Review: We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

Publication Date: June 6, 2023


[I have opted to remove the comps listed on Goodreads because they are nonsense.]

Nick Russo has worked his way from a rough Brooklyn neighborhood to a reporting job at one of the city’s biggest newspapers. But the late 1950s are a hostile time for gay men, and Nick knows that he can’t let anyone into his life. He just never counted on meeting someone as impossible to say no to as Andy.

Andy Fleming’s newspaper-tycoon father wants him to take over the family business. Andy, though, has no intention of running the paper. He’s barely able to run his life–he’s never paid a bill on time, routinely gets lost on the way to work, and would rather gouge out his own eyes than deal with office politics. Andy agrees to work for a year in the newsroom, knowing he’ll make an ass of himself and hate every second of it.

Except, Nick Russo keeps rescuing Andy: showing him the ropes, tracking down his keys, freeing his tie when it gets stuck in the ancient filing cabinets. Their unlikely friendship soon sharpens into feelings they can’t deny. But what feels possible in secret–this fragile, tender thing between them–seems doomed in the light of day. Now Nick and Andy have to decide if, for the first time, they’re willing to fight.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I read this book in one sitting – while I was supposed to be reading an entirely different book. I picked it up meaning to read a chapter or two while I ate lunch — because it’s easier to read on a kindle than a paperback while eating — and the next thing I knew I was turning the last page. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

I knew I would love it from the beginning; that was a given – it’s a Cat Sebastian book. But I wasn’t prepared for how much I would love it, or for how many feelings it gave me.

This book is devastating in its quiet queer joy and relentless hope while living in the face of prejudice and hate. It’s about a queer couple in the newspaper publishing world of New York City of the 1950s. It’s about the slow realization of feelings, and the inevitable and infinitesimal merging of lives, and the way you can breathe easier when you have a community of people like you who understand you and know you. It’s about the comfort and happiness to be found in the little things in life. And it’s so soft and domestic, even with the uncertainty and the lies and the hiding. Which takes skill.

I teared up several times, enough that it made it difficult to keep reading. I *felt* the truth in this story viscerally. Times may have changed (somewhat) but I could still understand the hesitance and the fear and defiant joy that make up a queer existence.

In some ways it was starkly different than Cat Sebastian’s other books, and yet in other ways it felt familiar. She straddled the line between quiet joy and simmering rage at the realities of queer life. It was intense and healing and beautiful. I didn’t want it to end.

I was bracing myself for tragedy as the book progressed, and I’m so glad that isn’t the sort of story Cat Sebastian is telling here. That instead she is telling a story of people who just want to live their lives, and who find the courage in themselves to do so despite the fear and threats. Like Nick, I was dreading reading about another queer tragedy.

The characters were beautifully drawn and felt so real. I came to care about them so much and feel like they were my friends. It was masterfully done. The setting also felt incredibly, painfully real. It was 100% believable.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Avon for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Nick has spent years making sure that when people look at him, they don’t see anything that sticks out like a sore thumb—they don’t see anything at all, they hardly even see a person, just a man in a suit.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

Andy gives him this flat, disappointed look that Nick recognizes because Nick invented it and now he’s going to have to sue Andy for copyright infringement.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

“Back in his day they didn’t have Band-Aids,” Nick continues. “They just slapped mud on their wounds and went back to drawing the news on the walls of their caves.”

“I can still hear you,” Jorgensen says.

“It’s nice when the elderly keep their hearing,” Andy observes.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

“It’s the creme de menthe,” Nick says, eying the green liquid distastefully. “It’s like drinking toothpaste, if toothpaste got ideas above its station.”

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

“A heart doctor, though,” he says in a tone that suggests that getting jilted in favor of cardiologists is all anyone can expect. That maybe Andy should have considered medical school if he didn’t want to get jilted. That Emily did what she had to do, because who could turn down a heart doctor?

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

“I was going to make minestrone soup,” Nick says. “You like soup.”

“I do like soup,” Andy agrees. “I take it that’s an invitation, not you taunting me with soup I don’t get to eat.”

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

He feels as if he’s been turned inside out, as if he just learned that a part of his heart is on the outside of his body, in the possession of somebody else entirely.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

But somehow, a journalist being hurt because he’s on to a dangerous story seems less traumatic than someone being attacked for living his life.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

Andy worries that it’s his lot in life to be mocked by elderly Italian women.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

Andy isn’t expecting an epiphany at eight on a Monday morning when he’s still mostly asleep, when his first cup of coffee is still hot in his hand. Honestly, Andy isn’t expecting an epiphany ever.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

A couple times a year, Nick finds a tale of gay misery and woe on his desk, because apparently Bailey has taken it upon himself to be Nick’s personal sad gay librarian.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

“You have shitty taste in books. Would it kill you to read something that isn’t totally dismal?”

“I’m paid for my taste in books,” Bailey says easily. “And I don’t mind dismal things. I’m trying to be your friend, aren’t I?”

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

Families might usually be bonded by blood, but maybe sometimes they’re bonded by shared secrets, by a delicate mixture of caution and faith, by the conviction that hiding together is better in every way than hiding alone.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

That might be what turns the tide and makes Nick enjoy the book, at least a little. These men are finding time and energy to flirt and have queer parties and get jealous and fall in love despite bombs and injuries and death. That feels like the truest thing he’s ever read.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

“Yes, well. I figured, you see.” He stops, looking suddenly at a loss. “People in New York have hearts, too, don’t they?”

And Emily must really love him if she’s susceptible to a line like that.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

A few months ago he told himself that his choices—that any queer person’s choices—were either to hide or brazen it out, and that’s still true. But there’s another possibility: pushing back against the injustices that force people to make impossible choices.

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

ARC Review: Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Publication Date: April 11, 2023


From the USA Today bestselling author of Boyfriend Material comes a riotous Regency romp full of art, expensive hats, and a love that is nothing short of spectacular.

Peggy Delancey’s not at all ready to move on from her former flame, Arabella Tarleton. But Belle has her own plans for a love match, and she needs Peggy’s help to make those plans a reality. Still hung up on her feelings and unable to deny Belle what she wants, Peggy reluctantly agrees to help her woo the famous and flamboyant opera singer Orfeo.

She certainly doesn’t expect to find common ground with a celebrated soprano, but when Peggy and Orfeo meet, a whole new flame is ignited that she can’t ignore. Peggy finds an immediate kinship with Orfeo, a castrato who’s just as nonconforming as she is—and just as affected by their instant connection.

They’ve never been able to find their place in the world, but as the pair walks the line between friendship, flirtation, and something more, they may just find their place with each other.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

There’s something magical about Alexis Hall’s writing. His books are hilarious and witty and full of unexpectedly profound truths about life and love and everything in between, and always wonderfully, unapologetically queer. I always find myself highlighting dozens upon dozens of passages and then agonizing over which to choose for my ‘favorite quotes’ section of my review blog posts. Again and again his writing has me collapsing with laughter and then startled into profound revelations when my guard is down. This book is hilarious and tender and incisive with biting social commentary. Every character is ridiculous and dramatic and I love them all.

In this book we have Peggy, who is genderfluid – not only a woman nor only a man – and is often quite cross and contrary about it, and about how the world wants to box her in no matter how vehemently she protests. And then we have Orfeo, an agender castrati opera singer who is also neither man nor woman, simply beautiful. And though some of that was forced upon them, they would be neither man nor woman either way. Being nonbinary myself, I really appreciated seeing them struggle with and ultimately joyfully accept themselves and each other as they are.

Their love story is at times stunningly gorgeous and at times hilarious, and it was a joy to watch them discovering deeper truths about themselves and one another.

It was wonderful to see Valentine and Bonny and Belle and Sir Horley again, for they bring the sheer ridiculousness energy they brought in Something Fabulous. I do feel the Sir Horley marriage thread got dropped abruptly, but I’m hoping that’s just because there will be a third book focusing on him in the future.

I hope we get more of Belle, too, as her ending was also a little abrupt and I found her realization that she is aromantic, after a lifetime diet of nothing but romantic books and daydreams, very interesting, especially when contrasted with her twin Bonny, who is romantic to his core. I would like to see Bonny realizing that Belle, though his twin, is also her own person and they do not have to share everything and his dreams do not need to be her dreams.

I really liked the addition of the Duke and Duchess of Marshalsea, and I hope we see more of them in future books as well.

The final scene, involving four participants, struck me as one of the more profound sex scenes I’ve encountered. It was so unusual, and had so much love and care and trust in it, and such a striking lack of awkwardness, that I found it quite moving. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t normally enjoy sex scenes. It’s the kind of scene that’s incredibly difficult to write well, and it’s executed beautifully. Just four people who love and trust one another unconditionally, finding joy and even further closeness together.

In case it wasn’t already clear, I adored Something Spectacular. I adored Something Fabulous as well, but I may adore this even more. I will now commence hoping for further sequels.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Montlake for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

(Yes, there are far too many, I know. But Alexis Hall is one of my absolute favorite authors and I have already cut 75% of what I highlighted.)

“Letter for you, darling.” Glancing up from her book, Peggy’s mother gestured with a forkful of bacon, causing the bacon to fly off the fork and land in her husband’s teacup. “Oh, bother.”

Mr. Delancey de-baconed his tea. “Thank you, pet. I always felt what tea was missing was more meat.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“Oh my God.” Belle’s voice broke upon them as abruptly as if she’d dropped a piano on their heads from the floor above.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

It was at this moment that Belle popped up like a shark beneath a shipwreck, seizing both Peggy and Sir Horley. “Come. We need to be at the front”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

It was beautiful, but it was beautiful in the way that looking at the night was beautiful in winter, when it was at its blackest and coldest, and you felt as infinitesimal as the distant stars. It was beautiful as only the bloodiest sunsets and the most jagged mountains were beautiful. Terrible beauty, beauty that wanted to drive you to your knees and drink the tears from your eyes, the sort of beauty to rend skies and topple cathedrals, as impossible as the flame of Prometheus.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Peggy had not come out tonight seeking a glimpse of the numinous, but the numinous was staring right at her regardless.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“So…” Peggy lurched to her feet. “I’m not very—I”m feeling a bit…” She could taste blood at the back of her throat. Her breath was knives. Her pulse a stampede of wild horses. “I think I might…”

Then the walls closed in, the ceiling rolled over like a dog wanting its tummy scratched, and the ground vomited itself into her face.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

It was almost imperceptible—perhaps so imperceptible that Peggy was probably imagining it, but something about Orfeo had changed. They offered the same warmth, the same curious gaze, the same tantalising play of humility and theatricality. But it was as though they had gilded themselves, somehow. Until they were nothing but the gleam of reflected light.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

She wondered if Orfeo would be like that, a lion and an eagle and a fiercely burning flame before they were finally just themselves, safe and spoiled in Peggy’s arms.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“Perhaps had things been otherwise,” Orfeo went on, “I would have been a farmer like my father. Married some sweet. peasant girl. Had children of my own. Never dreamed in music and lived for the gleam of a thousand candles.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Someone who wasn’t her romance-oppositional best friend, an opera singer committed exclusively to their career, or a clergyman’s daughter with a fatal case of poetry.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

And someday she was going to like somebody who didn’t see their life as a story they were telling instead of something they were living. Or, then again, maybe she wasn’t. Maybe dramatic beyond all reason was her type.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Because the soiree had been little more than a glimpse of this: the kind of beauty that did things to you. Hurt you and healed you and humbled you.

Left you not quite the same.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Peggy tried to draw her knees up even more but was prevented by the limits of her own body and the physical laws of the universe. “It’s what they want.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

She didn’t bother calling for a carriage because having to call a carriage to take you to the other side of the same damn square was the sort of nonsense society inflicted on ladies. And she wasn’t—had never been—a lady, and she was through with letting people force her to pretend to be one.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

He was fucking with her. Peggy was increasingly convinced he was fucking with her. This was going beyond butler and into obstructive.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“You’re not a coward, mio principe. Sometimes living, simply as we are, is the greatest act of courage there is.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

George bristled. “Are you ridiculing me Delancey? These are my feelings, in this sonnet. Do you know how difficult it is for a man like me to have feelings? I’m very athletic.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

In any case, Peggy liked the crocodile. For whatever reason, the taxidermist, perhaps not knowing very much about crocodiles, had positioned it on its hind legs, with its front claws extended before it and its long-snouted mouth open in an expression of mild exasperation. It was if it was saying “Oh, what the fuck now,” and it was exactly how Peggy wanted her visitors to be greeted.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Peggy wouldn’t have known to describe a piece of music as “fostering a vocal sensuality” if it stuck its tongue in her ear.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

She could have told them that the world at large believed her made for certain things and that admitting she wanted them for herself felt like betrayal, triumph, and surrender all at once. She could have told them she thought that sometimes the only way to have a choice was to make it anyway.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

And Peggy wasn’t sure what was worse: resenting a piece of art for not speaking to you or having to face up to the fact it was.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“All I want”—it was Valentine’s most tragic voice—“is to be a very rich, powerful, and well-dressed man who gets to sleep until a sensible hour of one or two in the afternoon, and bathe uninterrupted at length.” He flung his arms to the heavens. “Is that too much to ask?”

As in answer, the sky darkened, and a few drops of rain plopped heavily down upon them.

“No,” said Valentine. He subjected the weather to a ducal glare. “Stop it. Stop it at once.”

Peggy patted him reassuringly on the arm. “We’re nearly there.”

They were not nearly there. But she didn’t want to admit that to Valentine in case he burst into tears or threw himself from the vehicle.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

She had always chosen to be the naysayer, the sensible one, the voice of reason when dragged into the latest round of Tarleton hijinks, but she had never once said no. Because, at the end of the day, a world full of adventures, romantic reversals, grand gestures, and happy endings was simply better than a world without.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“If we do get married,” said Orfeo dreamily, “I shall wear gold.”

“And I’m going to wear”—Peggy gave it some thought—“clothes.”

“And this is truly what you want?”

“To wear clothes at my wedding? Definitely.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

ARC and Audio ARC Review: The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

Publication Date: March 7, 2o23


Bridgerton meets Poldark in this sweeping LGBTQIA+ Regency romance from award-winning author KJ Charles

Abandoned by his father as a small child, Sir Gareth Inglis has grown up prickly, cold, and well-used to disappointment. Even so, he longs for a connection, falling headfirst into a passionate anonymous affair that’s over almost as quickly as it began. Bitter at the sudden rejection, Gareth has little time to lick his wounds: his father has died, leaving him the family title, a rambling manor on the remote Romney Marsh…and the den of cutthroats and thieves that make its intricate waterways their home.

Joss Doomsday has run the Doomsday smuggling clan since he was a boy. His family is his life…which is why when the all-too-familiar new baronet testifies against Joss’s sister for a hanging offense, Joss acts fast, blackmailing Gareth with the secret of their relationship to force him to recant. Their reunion is anything but happy and the path forward everything but smooth, yet after the dust settles, neither can stay away. It’s a long road from there—full of danger and mysteries to be solved—yet somehow, along the way, this well-mannered gentleman may at last find true love with the least likely of scoundrels.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once again, KJ Charles has written my favorite kind of romance. I love how her books are instant comfort reads at this point, while at the same time remaining fresh and new no matter how many I’ve read. You’d think she’d run out of unique and loveable characters (most of them gold-hearted rogues who aren’t particularly morally bothered) with chemistry of the sort that means warmth and comfort and companionship and someone always on your side, in addition to the usual definition. And yet.

I love her wit and sly humor. I don’t tend to like must “humorous” books because they tend to rely on steortypes, punching down, bawdy humor, etc. Not so KJ Charles. Her humor is of the witty, sardonic, dry variety and it’s just wonderful. Here, I’ll give you an example:

“I would like to talk about this again, more civilly, to understand your point of view. I don’t know if I’ll agree but I’d rather disagree with more nuance.”

Joss hoped nuance didn’t mean shouting.

A lot of the humor in this book comes, as in the example above, from the language barrier of Marshman smuggler vs. educated Londoner. So I guess you have to like clever humor about words. Luckily, I do.

Joss and Gareth are wonderful characters. Really, every character in this book is a wonderful character. They all have such distinct personalities and feel so very real. Their romance feels very natural too, as they work together and learn to trust one another.

I absolutely LOVED everything about this and I had the biggest smile on my face while reading it. I knew I would love it – It’s KJ Charles, that’s a foregone conclusion – but it always surprises me how much I love it in the end.

The plot was great. Twisty and full of danger and trouble, but also full of quiet moments of companionship and connection. I loved how it ended, too. It was perfect. I will absolutely read the next one as soon as it comes out (and her next book, and the next…) because she’s one of my favorite authors at this point. I’ve preordered the audiobook as I know I will want to revisit this and that’s one of my favorite ways to do so.

Thoughts on the audiobook:

This audiobook and I did not particularly get along. LOVE LOVE LOVE the book, but the audio…

The narrator speaks very slowly which is fine, I can just bump up the speed (which I did, to 2x). But he adds. Random. Pauses. in the middle of sentences, then jumps back to speaking at a steady pace and. Then. Adds. More. Pauses. and it’s driving me nuts because I *can’t* increase the speed any more because then the rest is too fast.

I eventually got used to his particular style of narration, but it’s still not my favorite. Worth it, to experience the book again, but another narrator would have improved it.

I also found Joss’ grandfather to have a really strange accent in the audio. We know from the story that he was from a plantation in Georgia and thus speaks with a slow drawl. The audiobook narrator interprets this as. Speaking. Very. Very. Slowly. With. Long. Pauses. Between. Words. It has an almost staccato effect which is very much not how a southern drawl works.

5+ enthusiastic stars for the book, 3.5 unenthusiastic stars for the narration.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Sourcebooks Casablanca, and Dreamscape Media for providing an early copy and early audio copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Nobody liked paying taxes, granted, but governments levied them all the same, and one had to put up with it since there didn’t seem to be any way of stopping them.

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

Gareth had spent most of the last two days outside in self-defense, despite the persistent light mist and drizzle. He was beginning to feel that country life was bad for the nerves.

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

There was a remarkably pervasive quality to the rain on Romney Marsh, as if the sky had chosen its side in the precarious balance between land and sea. Everything felt damp, even indoors.

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

“He didn’t dine, Cecy,” Catherine said. “He just ate.”

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

“That’s entirely specious.”

“Talk English,” Joss suggested sardonically.

Gareth discovered he couldn’t instantly define specious.

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

Gareth had no idea what to say. He wasn’t a political philosopher. He had a vague sort of idea that country, king, and law were the foundations on which the nation was built, while nevertheless acknowledging that he had no intention of taking up arms for the country, the king was a mad German, and he’d spent much of his adult life happily breaking the law. Still, they were principles, even if they weren’t his principles. He’d thought this would be an easy fight to pick.

He’d met plenty of radicals in London—men who wanted wealth redistributed, laws changed, the government made representative. Joss Doomsday, fervent patriot of a hundred square miles of marshland, was perhaps the most radical man he’d ever met.

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

“Starting fights instead of facing problems isn’t courage.”

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

“But I’ve a fair bit to lose if they hang me for smuggling too. You can’t just not do things acause of the consequences.”

“Consequences are literally the reason not to do things. That’s what they’re for.”

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

“If you want something, you ask for it. You told me so, before. Is that always how you get what you want?”

Joss shrugged. “You don’t get what you want by not asking for it.”

Gareth contemplated the obvious truth of that statement. “I may have to change my approach to life.”

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

“I would,” Joss said. He didn’t know what Gareth was up to; he’d back him to the hilt anyway. “Right obstinate fellow, the new squire.”

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K.J. Charles

ARC Review: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

Publication Date: January 10, 2023


A curmudgeonly professor journeys to a small town in the far north to study faerie folklore and discovers dark fae magic, friendship, and love, in this heartwarming and enchanting fantasy.

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones–the most elusive of all faeries–lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all–her own heart.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was absolutely delightful! I loved every second. One of my top reads of the year thus far and I suspect it will remain in the top 10 at least.

Emily Wilde is a gruff, curmudgeonly professor AND a woman of 30. She doesn’t know what to do with people or how to act around them (in fact, I am suspicious that she is autistic, because she displays a lot of the characteristics) and is constantly accidentally causing offense. However, she is a genius with faeries of all kinds and her expertise and ability to find the story that underlies a situation is unrivalled.

The book is written as her field notes, and her stubborn, perpetually annoyed (particularly at her colleague Bambleby, who attracts people as easily as she repels them) voice is so strong that it makes for incredibly enjoyable reading.

I am so glad there is going to be another book because I could not get enough of Emily and Bambleby. Their love story was so exactly the type I adore, full of exasperation and grudgingly fond insults and a deep, hidden loyalty.

I also adored how Emily found the people of Hrafnsvik (and especially her colleague Bambleby) sneaking into her heart and becoming her friends quite against her will. It perplexed her greatly throughout the story, because she is so determined to care only for her research, and she doesn’t know what to do with the affection she feels and is shown.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

I managed to drag my trunk up the dock and through the village—few were about, being most likely in their fields or fishing boats, but those few stared at me as only rural villagers at the edge of the known world can stare at a stranger.

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

“Intellectual curiosity. I am an explorer, Wendell. I might call myself a scientist, but that is the heart of it. I wish to know the unknowable. To see what no mortal has seen, to—how does Lebel put it? To peel back the carpeting of the world and tumble into the stars.”

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

He smiled again. “You are not so terrible, Em. You merely need friends who are dragons like you.”

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

It is an intuition I have come to trust, for if you spend enough time studying the Folk, you become aware of how their behaviour follows the ancient warp and weft of stories, and to feel the way that pattern is unfolding before you. The third question is always the most important one.

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

I snorted. “One doesn’t need magic if one knows enough stories.”

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

He sighed. “Well, I don’t expect you to do anything with this information. I have grown rather used to pining, so it won’t put me out to keep at it, I suppose.”

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

“You’ve done nothing but talk at me since I told you I loved you.”

“Is that a problem?” For he hadn’t said it as if it were.

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

ARC Review: Something Wild and Wonderful by Anita Kelly

Publication Date: March 7, 2023


From the author of Love & Other Disasters comes a sparkling grumpy-meets-sunshine romance featuring two men’s sweeping journey across the Western wilderness.

Alexei Lebedev’s journey on the Pacific Crest Trail begins with a single snake. And it is angling for the hot stranger who seemed to have appeared out of thin air. Lex is prepared for rattlesnakes, blisters, and months of solitude. What he isn’t prepared for is Ben Caravalho. But somehow—on a 2,500-mile trail—Alexei keeps running into the outgoing and charismatic hiker with golden-brown eyes, again and again. It might be coincidence. Then again, maybe there’s a reason the trail keeps bringing them together . . .

Ben has made his fair share of bad decisions, and almost all of them involved beautiful men. And yet there’s something about the gorgeous and quietly nerdy Alexei that Ben can’t just walk away from. Surely a bad decision can’t be this cute and smart. And there are worse things than falling in love during the biggest adventure of your life. But when their plans for the future are turned upside down, Ben and Alexei begin to wonder if it’s possible to hold on to something this wild and wonderful.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a warm, cozy hug of a book. Alexei and Ben were such warm characters. Well, Alexei took a bit of warming up to people, but he was earnest and friendly. Ben befriended everyone he met and just exuded friendliness and warmth. They had such an easy, peaceful companionship that they fell into as they walked the Pacific Crest Trail. It was so nice to read.

The descriptions of the trail and the hiking were so beautiful and so appealing. It made me feel like I was there with them and made me want to attempt the hike myself. There’s no way I could actually do it, but imagining it feels nice.

The difficult parts were not so much conflict between the two (aside from a few misunderstandings) but rather things each was struggling with internally. For Ben it was the loss of a close relative to Alzheimers and his past abusive relationships. For Alexei it was being cut off by his parents after coming out as gay. These were things each had to wrestle with on their own, and I really like that they weren’t swept under the rug when they got together. They took the time and space they needed and came to terms with them, allowing them to build a stronger future together.

It was wonderful to see Alexei being welcomed into Ben’s family and friend group, and it was wonderful to see Alexei and Ben’s close relationships with their little sisters.

There is a section toward the end where it becomes an epistolary novel for a bit, the sort where most of the letters are unsent. Those are always heartbreaking, and this was no exception. I really, really, like the way it was written. Having the letters be unsent halves of conversations made them so much more impactful.

Most of all, this is a book emphasizing the wonders of queer companionship. As a queer person myself, who values that sort of companionship very highly indeed, this book hit all the right notes for me.

The audiobook performance was beautiful and the narrator imbued the characters with so much personality. I loved listening to it and definitely recommend it.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Forever, and Hachette Audio for providing an early copy of the ebook and audiobook for review.

Blog Blitz and Arc Review: A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett (The Secret Scientists of London #3)

Welcome to my stop on the A Love by Design Blog Blitz with Berkley Publishing. (This is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Publication Date: January 17, 2023


You couldn’t design a better hero than the very eligible and extremely charming Earl Grantham. Unless, of course, you are Margaret Gault, who wants nothing to do with the man who broke her youthful heart.

Widowed and determined, Margaret Gault has returned to Athena’s Retreat and the welcoming arms of her fellow secret scientists with an ambitious plan in mind: to establish England’s first woman-owned engineering firm. But from the moment she sets foot in London her plans are threatened by greedy investors and–at literally every turn–the irritatingly attractive Earl Grantham, a man she can never forgive.

George Willis, the Earl Grantham, is thrilled that the woman he has loved since childhood has returned to London. Not as thrilling, however, is her decision to undertake an engineering commission from his political archnemesis. When Margaret’s future and Grantham’s parliamentary reforms come into conflict, Grantham must use every ounce of charm he possesses–along with his stunning good looks and flawless physique, of course–to win Margaret over to his cause.

Facing obstacles seemingly too large to dismantle, will Grantham and Margaret remain forever disconnected or can they find a way to bridge their differences, rekindle the passion of their youth, and construct a love built to last?

About the Author:

Elizabeth Everett lives in upstate New York with her family. She likes going for long walks or (very) short runs to nearby sites that figure prominently in the history of civil rights and women’s suffrage. Her series is inspired by her admiration for rule breakers and belief in the power of love to change the world.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved many things about this novel. First would have to be the characters. It was fun to revisit the characters of Athena’s Retreat, and I loved seeing George and Arthur “fighting” (in other words: expressing best-friendship) about George’s increasingly ridiculous gifts for Violet & Arthur’s baby. I loved George as a character in general – he was so sweet and funny and had an absolute heart of gold. He cared and was trying to do good with the title he’d never wanted. I loved Margaret as well, though she was a bit pricklier and also incredibly stubborn. If she’d let people in and asked for help earlier in the novel I wouldn’t have been so frustrated at her decisions… though it also would have meant there would be less story. She is strong and bold and determined and yes, stubborn. I also loved the bit we get of Sam, who I remember loving in the previous book.

This novel really drove home the ‘rich and powerful men want to control and dominate women and will do anything to undermine them and keep them from succeeding and keep the status quo’ point from previous books — a point which really hits close to home after watching the events of the past few years unfolding. Much like the real-world events, the events of the novel were infuriating and had me rooting for Maragaret and her friends to prove themselves.

The romance was sweet and one of my favorite kinds — a second-chance romance between childhood friends / crushes. It was easy to get behind it because George was so very gone on Margaret. He was so in awe of her engineering brain and determined spirit and it was so refreshing, with all the terrible men in the story. They all wanted to crush her beneath their boots for the audacity of being a woman with ideas, and he just wanted to worship her for it. It was clear that Margaret loved him as well — she just had to get past her stubborn self-reliant independence.

The one thing I could have done without was the sex scenes. There weren’t too many — three, I think? — but they were very… detailed. Luckily they weren’t vital and I could skim them (slowing down to read the dialogue in case it advanced the plot, which it occasionally did). And for me, three sex scenes is three too many. I know I’m in the minority here, and in fact I saw some reviewers lamenting that there weren’t enough sex scenes — which, how? — so I’m going to chalk it up to just the average romance reader apparently liking to read about sex a lot more than I do and not let it impact my rating.

Margaret also dragged the stubborn independence thing on a liiiiiiittle bit too long, in my opinion, and it bogged down the middle 40% of the book. I think some tightening of the plot there would go a long way toward making this flow better and feel more consistent.

Overall though I really loved it. I love stories with smart women and men with hearts of gold, and this delivered that beautifully.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Berkeley for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

The work came first. She mustn’t ever forget when everyone abandoned her, the work was always there.

A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett

As the sun battled to punch through the haze of coal smut hanging in the damp London air, Grantham sat in shadows, jealous of the lone shaft of light that fell through the window and landed on Margaret’s left cheek.

A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett

Everything would be fine if you do the work. Do not aim too high, do not set yourself out to be noticed. If you were a woman in a man’s world, moving forward meant bending to their desires or just doing the work.

A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett

Yes, and imagine what they would think if Margaret failed? If they learned she spent every day unsure of her talents and worried about exposure? Shouldn’t she feel like a role model if she was going to be one?

A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett

“I have always loved her,” he said. “I breathe her and bleed her, and if you open me up, my heart is the shape of Margaret Gault. I have loved her from the moment she knocked me to the ground; a blow from which I have never tried to recover. Of course I love her.”

A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett

Whether that step leads you to where you were always meant to be depends on how you define courage. Is it the tenacity to forge ahead no matter the obstacles, or the ability to ask for help when those obstacles seem insurmountable?
Or is it both?

A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett


Maggie had returned.

Of course, she was now known as Madame Margaret Gault.

Try as he might, Grantham could never twist his tongue around the name.

Almost his whole life, he’d called her Maggie.

His Maggie.

From upside down, he watched as she turned the corner of the carriage house, the wind unfurling the hem of her simple bronze pelisse. A brown capelet hung about her shoulders, and a matching muff hid her hands. Catching sight of him, she paused, tilting her head so he caught a glimpse of lush auburn curls peeking out from beneath her tea-colored bonnet trimmed with bright red berries. Margaret’s fair skin showed no hint of the freckles that had once plagued her every summer, and thick brown lashes shielded her hazel eyes.

She was unusually tall for a woman; nevertheless, she moved with effortless grace, and not even the blazing clash of colors adorning Violet next to her could detract from her beauty.

For she was a beauty, Margaret Gault. Once wild and graceless, she’d bloomed into a woman of elegant refinement.

A woman who was more than met the eye.

A woman who would rather feast on glass than give him the time of day.

For eleven years, the first day of summer meant Margaret would be waiting for him beneath the willow where they first met. She and Violet attended the Yorkshire Academy for the Education of Exceptional Young Women together. While Violet came home to her large, affectionate-and very loud-family, Margaret had no one waiting for her at home. Her father had died of a stroke when she was ten and her mother had little interest in Margaret’s whereabouts or well-being.

Violet and Grantham had been Margaret’s family. The three of them had been the best of friends until one hot afternoon when Margaret had smiled a certain way and the ground went out beneath his feet. A year later he was soldiering in Canada and Margaret lived in Paris and their summers together were nothing but a memory he pulled around himself like a blanket on cold lonely nights.

“Good afternoon, Grantham,” Violet greeted him, seemingly unaffected by his headfirst dive into her rosebushes. She wore a shocking yellow day dress beneath a burgundy velvet paletot and atop her head sat a garish blue bonnet topped with a life-sized stuffed parrot.

Swallowing a barrelful of curses, Grantham tried wriggling out of the bushes, every single thorn piercing his flesh a hundredfold as Margaret stared without saying a word.

“Ahem.” He cleared his throat as he managed to get to his feet despite being trapped in the center of one of the bushes. As he pulled a branch from his hair, a shower of wrinkled brown rose petals drifted down his shoulders. “You are especially . . . vibrant today, Violet. I brought this for Baby Georgie.”

He thrust the torn, dirtied rabbit at Violet, who received it with a bemused air. One of the buttons had come off and the silk was stained green and brown.

“Madame Gault,” he said, bowing to Margaret. “So lovely to see you again.”

No matter how strongly Grantham willed it, Margaret did not speak to him in return. Instead, she bent her knee a scant inch in a desultory curtsey, her lush mouth twisted like the clasp of a coin purse, no doubt to hold inside the names she was calling him in her head. He had a good idea what some of them were, considering he most likely had taught them to her.

Grantham hadn’t seen Margaret for thirteen years until their reunion-if one could call it that-a year and a half ago in the small parlor of Athena’s Retreat. He hadn’t exactly met the moment then, either-although to be fair, there’d been a hedgehog involved. The handful of times he encountered her since, she’d avoided meeting his eyes with her own, as though he were an inconsequential shadow cast by their past.

Someone to be dismissed.

Someone who had broken her heart and whom she would never forgive.

“See who is come to live in England for good.” Violet linked her arm with Margaret’s and beamed at her friend.

This was news.

When Margaret had come to stay at Athena’s Retreat a year and half ago to complete an engineering project for her father-in-law’s firm, Grantham had hoped she’d stay but she returned to Paris after three months. He’d asked Violet if Margaret might ever return, but Violet had doubted it.

“She’s one of the only women engineers in Europe with an excellent reputation. Why give up a dream hard fought to come back to England and fight all over again?” Violet had asked.

Something had changed, however, and now Margaret was home.

His heart leapt in his chest and the bitter orange flavor of hope flooded his mouth.

“Clean yourself up and come inside for tea,” Violet said to him now.

Margaret did not echo the invitation. Instead, she tightened her hold on a stylish carpet bag and accompanied Violet and Arthur into the building.

There are moments in life when the world shifts as though a door has opened somewhere out of sight. Whether a person runs toward that opened door or not depends on how fast they’re stuck in place. Grantham considered for a moment how painful it would be to get himself unstuck.

Although the tangle of branches in front of him twisted menacingly, he pulled a deep breath of resolution into his lungs alongside the scents of rosehips and crushed greenery. Gritting his teeth, he made his way through the thorns toward the open door.

Excerpted from A Love by Design by Elizabeth Everett Copyright © 2023 by Elizabeth Everett. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved.