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Natasha's a ballet student who uses dance as one of her ways of coping with her demons, not always successfully. Darrell's an engineering genius who designs weapon delivery systems as a way of coping with _his_ demons. Darrell's stuck on his latest design, and then finds inspiration in watching a ballerina dance - so much so that he hires Natasha to dance for him privately at his workshop. They fall for one another, but they're very damaged people and the road will be hard, even without someone deliberately trying to break the relationship up before it really gets started. Cue much angst before the happy ending. That happy ending acknowledges that True Love doesn't magically fix everything, and Natasha and Darrell have a long way to go before their demons are vanquished. That the characters recognise this make it much more believable that they really will make it work in the long run.

This wasn't a bad read, but it did need rather a lot of willing suspension of disbelief regarding a lone genius being allowed to work on a a secret defence contract in his garage. It also leans heavily on the Evil Brit trope for the plot's antagonist; which doubtless appeals to many not-British readers, but was merely irritating to me. I'm glad I read it and would happily read the next, but I'm not desperate to rush out and buy it.

Amazon US
Amazon UK
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Posting well out of order since this is a review copy. I may or may not get earlier book log done...


Note: I received a copy of the book from the author through Reading Alley in exchange for an honest review.

Tobias is both a fox shapeshifter and a rifter - someone who crosses the rifts between worlds. He works as a field agent for a covert organisation that tries to control rift traffic, but he's of an independent mind even if he's loyal to the organisation. He needs a partner agent suited to him, not one chosen for him to suit others' views.

Etty's from the slums, barely earning a living by disguising herself as a boy and driving her dad's hackney carriage after he was injured. She's driving the nearest cab when Tobias needs a quick getaway one night, and her world will never be the same again.

Tobias may have stumbled upon the perfect sidekick, but first he'll have to convince the people who pay his wages. And even if he does, there's a baptism of fire waiting for the new partnership. There's a whisper of new technology that could change the rift worlds forever -- and it's in the hands of a vicious criminal.

This is an excellent fantasy thriller with a strong romance subplot. The lead characters are engaging and well drawn, and I finished the book wanting to spend more time with them. There's some good world-building, with the main setting being roughly Victorian with low key magic, but references and scenes that make it clear the rift links to worlds at different levels of social and technological development.

This is the first book in a series, and sets up the universe and series arc. It does an excellent job of wrapping up its own story without an annoying cliffhanger while still pointing the way to the next book. I've been annoyed of late by too many books that tried to force me to buy the next by not giving me the resolution to the story - this book does it the better way, by making me want to spend more time in this world.

I've only two minor criticisms; there's a scene that's flat out "beautiful blue-eyed blonde girl awes the primitive natives", and there are some formatting glitches in my copy that made two chapters very difficult to read. It's a measure of how much I was enjoying the book that I persisted through the section with scrambled formatting.

Overall a very enjoyable read, and I'm looking forward to the next in the series.

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US
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It's Victorian London, and wealthy young gentleman Giles Fullerton is still grieving a year after the death of the man he loved, his grief made worse by the need to conceal it. He deals with the emotional pain by walking the streets through the night, until he can face sleep. Young lamplighter John Banks knows a thing or two about grief himself. He loved his wife dearly, even though he's gay, and has missed her each day since her death. The young gentleman who wanders his route on so many nights may have attracted his attention with his good looks, but John can see that something drives him into the night. Enough so that at last John speaks to him, concerned for his safety. Curiosity about John's job of lighting and dousing the streetlamps provides something for Giles to focus on outside his grief.

There's companionship of a sort in a stranger to speak to, and gradually the two young widowers reveal more about themselves to each other in their conversation each night; first in coded and deniable references to their grief, and then more openly. Enough so that they finally act on their attraction. But this is Victorian London, and a relationship is barred by more than their being both men; the social gulf between them would be every bit as shocking to society, and moreover puts them at far greater risk of exposure than if they could meet as equals. Will they both have the courage to find a way through to a chance at happiness?

This is a gentle, slow romance, and all the better for it. It's a lovely short novella with a pair of well drawn, appealing main characters and some good secondary characters, and a sex scene that adds to the emotional development rather than being there to make up the word count. One for my re-read list.

Available free to members of the Heroes and Heartbreakers website, or you can pay a modest sum to get a nicely formatted ebook with a gorgous cover.


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia
Kobo
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Regency romance anthology with linked novelettes by four authors, set in a small village one Christmas. The Duke's Arms of the title is the village pub, but there is a real duke as well, plus an earl or two. I've left it too late to write a proper review of this one, alas, but Azteclady's written a good review. I don't agree with her ratings on each story, but that's a reflection of the variety in the stories - if you like historical romances, there's a good chance at least one of these novelettes will work for you.

Amazon UK
Amazon UK
Amazon Canada
Kobo
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Chicklit mystery set in Los Angeles. Maddie Springer is a young fashion designer who tries to track down her lawyer boyfriend when he goes missing, and finds herself in the middle of embezzlement and murder. I nearly stopped reading on the first page, wherein Maddie describes her behaviour on the freeway when she's late for a meeting with her boyfriend. Almost causing an accident by cutting into lanes and doing her make-up in the mirror at high speed was presumably supposed to make her look adorably ditzy, but I simply found it loathsome. I did keep reading, but it coloured my view of the character for the rest of the book.

It's an odd one for me. The mystery plot was enjoyable if predictable, and there were things I liked a lot, with some good supporting characters; but it was hard work getting to the end and if it had been a paper edition I would have probably been high-speed skim-reading. No more than a two star for me and I'm not inclined to try anything else by this author, even if I can see why other people were bowled over by it.

Kobo
Amazon UK
Amazon US
ARe
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Remember that I mentioned I was reading a feminist historical romance series that a lot of you would enjoy? Well, I finished it earlier this week. And this is me, Kermit-flailing about The Brothers Sinister series by Courtney Milan. I did very nearly Kermit-flail IRL on the bus when I opened up one of the later books in the series to find it dedicated to, amongst others, Rosalind Franklin.

Even better, I went to Courtney Milan's website to pick up links for the books, and found a blogpost saying that the first full length novel in the series, The Duchess War, is free over the holiday season. (Except on Amazon at the moment, because Amazon will not let publishers set the price to free unless publishers remove the book from all other outlets.) Go and get it - there are links in that post to the various retailers where you can pick it up for free. There is a prequel novella, "The Governess Affair", which I read first, but I don't think you need to have read that for this one to make sense.

I will write reviews of the individual books, I promise, but for now I wanted to get the link to offer on The Duchess War out there.

ETA: And since I started writing the post, Amazon UK have price-matched, and it's free there as well: The Duchess War (The Brothers Sinister Book Book 1)
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Nice Tie is currently scheduled for release in next week's batch of new books from Loose Id. This is subject to the usual caveats about problems in getting the formatted ebook files onto a working server, but you should be able to get your hands on the book on Tuesday. Herewith the blurb and buy link -- excerpt to follow as soon as the approved excerpt is available.

Nice Tie

Nice Tie cover art -- gay romance novel Alex Hall likes watching good-looking men doing up good-looking ties, a kink he can safely indulge on his morning commute as long as he’s discreet. At least until the day he meets new client Robin Wood, whose face seems oddly familiar. Embarrassingly familiar, when Robin recognizes him as “that guy on the bus.”

Lusting after the client and his tie is a really bad idea. Acting on it would be even worse. Which doesn’t stop Alex’s impulsive suggestion when he realizes that Robin's as intrigued as he is awkward. They’re both grown-ups, they can handle the conflict of interest, and if nothing else it will get the awkwardness out of the way. And there’s a cheap hotel at the end of their bus route.

Just one date. One night for Alex to enjoy watching beautiful hands managing a tie with style. One night for Robin with a man who can understand his own grooming kink, even if it’s not quite the same as Alex’s. One night, and then just good friends, while they’re working together. Nobody else’s business.

But Robin has entirely too much experience with romance at work, and the past isn’t staying past.


ISBN: 978-1-62300-771-3
Publisher: Loose Id
Author: Jules Jones
Cover Artist: Valerie Tibbs
Length: 42,000 words
Price: $5.99
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20) Alexander McCall -- In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Sixth in the series about the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The usual collection of small and large puzzles for the ladies to solve, and two new characters for the series. Mma Ramotswe knocks a gentleman off his bike, and thereby gains a new staff member for the joint premises of the detective agency and the garage. Mma Makutsi joins a dance class and thus acquires a new friend. As ever with this series, gentle humour and believable domestic mysteries make this a pleasure to read.
http://www.librarything.com/work/20047

21) Sayers -- The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (audiobook)
Superb BBC full cast dramatisation, with Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter. If you're a Sayers fan, this radio dramatisation is well worth getting.
http://www.librarything.com/work/10709447
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

22) Georgette Heyer -- Venetia
One of Heyer's Regencies. There are several excellent reviews on LibraryThing, so I will merely say that I adored it.
http://www.librarything.com/work/16552/

23) Gladys Mitchell -- The Twenty-third man
Another outing for the inestimable Mrs Bradley, this time on holiday to the Canary Islands, and a cave with a somewhat erratic number of mummies of ancient Kings. As usual for this series, enjoyable murder mystery with a fair bit of macabre humour.
http://www.librarything.com/work/1246526

24) Mark Coker -- Secrets to ebook publishing
The head of self-publishing company SmashWords offers some useful advice on self-publishing via ebooks. While it's slanted to using SmashWords, it's wider-ranging than that. It's free to download, and the contents are useful and well-written. Available from SmashWords, obviously, but also on Amazon and presumably other platforms.
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/145431

25) Edward Marston -- The Merry Devils
Second in Marston's mystery series set in an Elizabethan theatre troupe. Enjoyable read.
http://www.librarything.com/work/425601
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14) Oscar Wilde -- The Picture of Dorian Grey
Lots of reviews and critiques out there already, so I'll simply say that I liked it.

15) Gladys Mitchell -- Watson's Choice

28th Mrs Bradley mystery. Mrs Bradley is invited to a weekend country house party thrown to celebrate the Sherlock Holmes anniversary. Naturally, someone provides a real life mystery, complete with a real live Hound of the Baskervilles. The plot wanders a bit, but it's still a lot of fun if you're a Holmes fan. I suspect that it will be less fun if you're not, as the book is stuffed with Holmes references and jokes.

http://www.librarything.com/work/439987
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

16) Mary Stewart -- Stormy Petrel

Romantic suspense set on a remote Scottish Island. the story's fairly simple, and the appeal is in watching the interplay of the characters, and the evocative descriptions of the island and its way of life. It has mixed reviews, and I can see why; but I liked it a lot.

http://www.librarything.com/work/96426
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

17) EM Forster -- Where Angels Fear To Tread

There are plenty of other reviews, so I will only note that I liked part of the novel, but it didn't quite gel for me even though I like this sort of social satire. I don't regret the time spent reading it but am not inclined to re-read. It's out of copyright in some countries, and thus available on public domain sites.

http://www.librarything.com/work/20427

18) Agatha Christie -- Death on the Nile (audiobook)

Abridged audiobook on 3 CDs, read by David Timson. Heiress steals friend's fiancee, friend starts blatantly stalking, even unto the honeymoon cruise on the Nile. Heiress is found murdered, and as the husband points out, the ex-friend has an obvious motive. The one problem is that she couldn't possibly have done it. Nor could any of the other people the heiress has provided with motives. The abridged audiobook has been well edited for the plot, but does by necessity skimp on the character development and social observation. There's also an unabridged audio edition, read by David Suchet, which I've not yet listened to.

http://www.librarything.com/work/29995
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

19) T Baggins -- Fifteen Shades of Gay (for Pay)

Contemporary m/m romance, and yes, the title's riffing off That Book. What it isn't is a rip-off of That Book. It's a thoughtful and well-written look at men coming to terms with their sexuality, seen through the eyes of a young actor who takes on male escort work to pay for his sister's chemotherapy, even though he's straight. The blurb for the book tells you all you need to know about the plot, and there's little point in rehashing it. It's a plot that has the potential to be very cliched, but Baggins shows what a skilled writer can do with the concept, and the book is a joy to read.

It's an m/m romance, so of course the POV character isn't straight after all. But this isn't a gay-for-you story. There's a solidly laid foundation for a character who is in deep denial about his bisexuality, and has good reason to be that way. It's Andrew's story, so we see his character grow and change the most; but there are also good portrayals of men who aren't in denial to themselves, but are closeted to their family and have different ways of coping with that. Perhaps it edges over into fairytale territory with how quickly Andrew comes to accept having gay sex without accepting that he's bi, but the story's good enough to carry it.

Be warned that it has the potential to be triggery for readers who've had to deal with cancer. Baggins doesn't dwell on the reality of living with cancer in a loved one, but doesn't gloss over it either -- the one that got me was the comment about neighbours who insist on showing their neighbourliness by just popping in to see how you are even though they're not well themselves, and infectious. But with that one caveat, thoroughly recommended.

http://www.librarything.com/work/13260408
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US
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I wandered into Alex Woolfson's sf webcomic site Yaoi 911 while he was still posting Artifice, and was hooked. The ad I clicked said "smart guy-on-guy sci-fi", and that's exactly what I got.

Artifice, now complete, is a solid story about an android soldier who didn't obey orders, and is now being interrogated by the company's top robopsychologist to find out why. There follows a battle of wits as Doctor Maven tries to uncover why Deacon, last survivor of an assassination squad, not only failed to kill the last survivor of the colony his unit was sent to dispose of, but attacked the retrieval team sent in to fetch him. Excellent writing by Woolfson teamed with nice art by Winona Nelson, and it skilfully blends a thoughtful look at the use and abuse of androids with a delightful gay romance.

The Young Protectors, currently in progress, is a superheroes comic. Although some of the superheroes we run into aren't so heroic... In the prologue, young superhero Kyle has just finished a quick visit to a place he doesn't really want to be found by the rest of the team, when he encounters supervillain The Annihilator. The Annihilator's price for not telling the world that he just saw Kyle go into a gay bar for the first time is... a kiss. :-) Kyle goes back to ordinary after-class superheroing in the first chapter, but life rapidly gets more complicated for him. At forty-something pages in, there's a lot of intriguing backstory and long-term plot being hinted at, and I can't wait to see what happens next. Also, some acidly entertaining commentary about the amount of collateral damage around superheroes. Woolfson's excellent script is pencilled by Adam DeKraker and coloured by Veronica Gandini. I have no idea where Woolfson's planning to take this, but if you like your superhero comics with some May/December superhero/supervillain in the mix, take a look at this.

There are more pieces available to mailing list subscribers, but these are the ones which are currently available without registering.
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Fourth and final book in the Highland Pleasures quartet of romance novels about four brothers who are Scottish Lords in Victorian Britain. This book is about Hart MacKenzie, oldest of the brothers, and head of the family since their father's death. Their father was a brutal monster, whose ill-treatment of his family has damaged all four men. Hart has done much and sacrificed much to protect himself and his brothers, and that as much as the ill treatment has had its effect on him. There are other losses besides, including losing his wife and child to death.

And before that there was Eleanor Ramsey, his first fiancee, who broke off their engagement when she discovered what it was he did to deal with his demons. Now Eleanor is back in his life, with the intention of protecting him from a potential scandal involving nude photographs taken of him long ago.

Hart still loves her, and has no intention of letting her go this time. But holding Eleanor Ramsey will take more than even Hart Mackenzie's skill at seduction.

It's a good book, and does an excellent job in rounding off the story arc of the family as a whole. But it doesn't quite make good on hints dropped in earlier books about the darker strands of Hart's personality. There were things set up which suggested that Hart had been involved in some fairly heavy BDSM, which may or may not have been consensual, but which contributed to his reputation as a man who could use his social position and wealth to get away with a great deal. As it turns out, Hart has good reason for thinking of himself as having the same capacity for viciousness and violence as his father did, but it's to do with trying to protect his family. The BDSM isn't a red herring, but it's not what we were led to believe in the earlier books. I thought it worked, in part because I eventually felt Ashley may have been making a deliberate point about society's assumptions about consensual BDSM, but I can see why other readers felt that it was bottling out. There's fannish gossip about backtracking due to publisher pressure -- if true, then I think Ashley did a good job in retconning the setup from earlier in the series.

LibraryThing entry
julesjones: (Default)
Note - I received a review copy through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Reprint ebook edition of a Regency romance first published in 1982. I'm not a follower of historical romances in general and Regency romances in particular, so I'm looking at it from the perspective of someone who reads the occasional romance rather than someone who goes into nitpicking detail about exactly what type of glassware they had on the table in a particular decade. If you're a hardcore Regency reader you'll need to look at someone else's review.

With that in mind, my first impressions weren't good. I found the characters as initially introduced very two-dimensional, and in one case decidedly unpleasant. I really did think I might have trouble getting through enough of it to give it a fair chance. And then I realised that I was eagerly reading to see what happened next.

Lady John is a young war bride and widow who met her husband on the Continent and has never met any of his family save for a younger brother. She's invited by her late husband's family to visit them in England, mostly out of courtesy and some curiosity. She gets on very well with most of them, particularly her mother-in-law, who is set on helping her into society with a view to a fresh marriage.

But when her brother-in-law brings home a guest one night, Lady John and her new family are startled by his cold and rude behaviour to her. The last time she saw Menwin was on the Continent, just before Lord John proposed to her, and they had been friends then...

Misunderstandings abound, and I found some of them rather too contrived, particularly the way in which both Lady John and Menwin had never questioned what they were told by a third party some years earlier. But the scheming by various characters to put things right was entertaining, and I found this a fun light read once I got past the first couple of chapters.

The first few pages are available as a free sample at Book View Cafe, and it's worth taking a look if you like Regencies.

http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/lady-john/
http://www.librarything.com/work/1576198
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5) Jennifer Ashley -- The Many Sins of Lord Cameron

Third of the Highland Pleasures quartet of romances about four brothers who are Scottish lords in Victorian Britain. This one looks at Cameron, a man who has sworn off marriage after his appalling first marriage, but who has not sworn off women. He's a popular man with the ladies, being a generous lover both in the financial sense and in wanting it to be a mutually satisfying experience. Ainsley Douglas, a young widow of noble blood but impoverished circumstances, has crossed paths with him once before. But then she was married to a man she would not betray. Now she's alone, and willing to consider letting Cam seduce her at least a little -- and not just because that way she might be able to avoid explaining exactly whose letter she was looking for in Cam's bedroom, where it had been hidden by his latest mistress. The slow seduction turns to friends-with-benefits and then romance. But even when it turns to marriage, Cam still has demons from the past to face down.

Another strong entry in this excellent romance series. As with the first two books, this has strong characterisation and a solid plot, with the sex scenes being an important part of showing the growth and changes in the relationship between the lead characters. One of the things I like about this series is that it has strong heroines who have their own lives to lead, and a good measure of control over those lives. And of course, women who enjoy sex and have had a sexual past. Two widows out of three heroines so far, but absolutely no virgin widows here. It's also notable for showing a male victim of domestic violence.

I think the book is richer for having read the series in order, but would be enjoyable read as a standalone.

http://www.librarything.com/work/9110564
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Book 74

Second of a series of romance novels about four brothers who are Scottish lords in Victorian Britain. I'd picked up the first one, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, because the reviews made it sound like the sort of romance I'd enjoy, rather than fling against the wall. I liked that book well enough to promptly order the next. Lady Isabella and Lord Mac were significant supporting characters in the first book, wherein they had been legally separated for two or three years, but were clearly still in love with each other. This book is the story of how they work towards a reconciliation, but also shows how and why they had ended up living apart. It can be read as a standalone, but I think will work better if read after the first book, as you will go in understanding some of the family backstory that explains why Mac behaves the way he does.

I don't think this book is as strong as the first, but that was always going to be a difficult target to reach. I still thoroughly enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to being able to read the next book in the quartet.

LibraryThing entry
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The big news in the romance blogosphere yesterday was that Harlequin/Mills&Boon are opening a digital-only press, Carina Press, which will cover a much broader range of genres than the print divisions do. They'll be publishing more than romance, and in romance they'll be publishing material that wouldn't fit into the print lines. While it doesn't explicitly say so on the website, apparently that will include LGBT, multiracial, and other "non traditional" romances that have already proven popular at the established digital publishers. It will also include things which you might think at first glance would be perfectly traditional Mills & Boon fare, but which don't actually fit into their existing lines -- e.g., if you've got a cross-genre, it won't be necessary to ramp up the romance to make it fit. The other print-related restriction that's gone is story length -- they'll consider a much wider range of manuscript lengths.

Part of the big news is that they've recruited Angela James, former editor-in-chief at Samhain. This is a smart move. Angela has several years of experience at one of the biggest players in the current digital publishing market. This matters, because while Harlequin have been doing well at digitising their print lines, what this represents is a direct move into a different style of digital publishing. Carina Press is digital-only, DRM-free, and following the model of no advance but high royalty rate -- the same model that has become a flourishing niche market over the last decade by being able to cater to genres with a readership too small for mass market but large enough to support excellent small press sales.

Will it succeed? Maybe not. But this is Harlequin we're talking about. They've survived in business for a century by giving the market what it wants, and they've already got good experience in what it takes on the technical side to put together an ebook and sell it. I want to see their royalty rate and contract[*] before signing on the dotted line, and I want to see them in business long enough to look viable before I risk a full-length manuscript with them, but yes, I'm interested.

[* Harlequin is an actual example of "big publishers screw over their authors too". They've improved over the years, under pressure from the RWA and others, but their contracts have at times been examples of Publishing Evil.]

ETA: apparently I can't read, in spite having read the guidelines looking for *and* *expecting* *to* *find* a statement that LGBT was welcome. It's certainly there now. Insufficiently caffeinated this morning, obviously.

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