April RT Review Round-up: Level Up by Cathy Yardley & Love of the Game by Lori Wilde

Level Up by Cathy Yardley: Every so often I'm assigned a book for RT that I actually already own but hadn't read.  Level Up was already on my TBR based on twitter recommendations by Courtney Milan and  Bree Bridges on twitter.  The book exceeded my expectations.  I found it fun and honest.

Love of the Game by Lori Wilde:  I didn't love, Love of the Game nearly as much.  It was somewhat charming and had some really nice moments.

 


A Gentleman's Position by K.J. Charles

Charles-k-j-a-gentlemans-position-society-of-gentlemen-3I have been eagerly anticipating this romance since we were first introduced to Lord Richard and his trusted valet David Cyprian. Richard is the linchpin around whom all the Ricardians revolve.  The Ricardians (bisexual, gay or transgender) all look out for one another, protecting each other from those who would happily send them to the gallows for their orientations, preferences and predilections but it is Richard who sets the standards,  provides the listening ear or chastising word if needed and sees that the Ricardians problems are solved.  

David Cyprian however is really the person who makes it all happen.  Officially as valet he makes sure Richard always looks flawless but unofficially he the person that pays the bribes, gathers the illicit information and makes sure Richard has absolutely everything in his life go smoothly. He is the rogue with all the connections, who fixes the problems before Richard even has any inkling of them. He is incredibly proud of how far he has risen in life, but has not risen so far that he doesn't know how to work on the street.  

The one wrinkle in David and Richard's relationship is that while Cyprian is beyond devoted to Richard & Richard trusts him like he trusts no other their mutual attraction has become impossible to ignore. While David is more than willing enter into a liaison with Richard, Richard is resolute to never importune someone in his employ (unlike his father, who used and abuse anybody under his power). Their facade of mutual indifference crumbles completely in the aftermath to a surprise death-bed summons from Richard's estranged mother. 

Once their mutual attraction is no longer something they can ignore, Richard ends up hurting David while trying not to hurt him and as a result he is deprived of David when he and the Ricardians need him most.  Richard must convince David to return and if they all survive, help him figure out how they can be together.

I loved this romance. I usually avoid boss-employee/servant-master romances for all the reasons for all the same reasons Richard wants to avoid one. KJ Charles however has a great handle on the issues of consent, agency, dignity and the nature of partnership that are such a large stumbling block in their relationship.  I loved how hard it was for Richard to unbend, and realize he was wrong. Richard has to eat a lot of humble pie, and comes truly appreciate and recognize all that he has taken for granted in David. David also grows, setting boundaries and demanding Richard truly see him and value him. He is able to demonstrate that his love is not servile even if he is Richard's servant.  

Charles exploits the intimacy of David's role as Richard's valet to explore the anguish of denial and build sexual tension but the biggest loss they feel when they are apart is for each other's companionship. I loved that despite the deep chasm between them, it is the absence of their easy relationship, the effortless conversation, that wrecks them both. 

Like all the endings in the Society of Gentlemen series, I believe in David and Richard's love and felt hopeful for them despite having a great awareness of the many risks they continually face.  Charles also provides a great pulse pounding and satisfying conclusion to the overarching series plot. I highly recommend this whole series.

I received a review copy via NetGalley from the publisher Loveswept.  A Gentleman's Position by KJ Charles will be available starting April 5th.


Frederica by Georgette Heyer #TBRCHALLENGE

Heyer_0002This is my third Heyer and I enjoyed it just as much as the previous two I read. It is so much fun to recognize tropes and romance character archetypes, that I have seen in many later romances.  The Marquis is behaves like many later billionaire care-taking Alphas, discovering his ability to care and love for someone other than himself as he tries to love an independent woman who doesn't fall at his feet or dangle after him.

Frederica Merryville is the story of a managing young woman of small fortune who has declared herself a spinster at twenty-four. Frederica the eldest sibling, has been raising her younger siblings since the death of her mother.  With her father's death she was able to take control of the family finances and engineer a way to bring her siblings to London. She plans to launch her beautiful younger sister Charis into high society in hopes of securing for her a comfortable marriage.  She appeals to a very distant relation, Vernon, the Marquis of Alverstoke, in hopes that he might help them.

The Marquis of Alverstoke circulates at the very top of Tonnish society.  A thirty-seven, Vernon is confirmed bachelor and a flirt, he has no time or attention for people who bore him, including clingy mistresses, and his demanding sisters. He prides himself in his selfishness and cynicism. Curiosity and boredom inspire him to visit Frederica, and Vernon ends up charmed and inspired by the fresh chaos of her household (she has two rambunctious younger siblings and a very large dog) to maliciously trick his sister into sponsoring the Merryville sisters and pose as their guardian.

For most of the novel, Frederica is blind to how the Marquis has slowly been falling in love with her, while his friends and family are struggling to understand why he would act so uncharacteristically, mistakenly believing him to be infatuated with Charis. I loved that he falls in love with Frederica slowly, recognizing her intelligence, and sense of the ridiculous.  His love for Frederica opens him to new relationships and he develops an independent relationship with the two younger boys, Jessemine and Felix, enjoying getting to know them for their own sakes. He is also develops a growing concern for his loyal secretary's future prospects. Frederica

5133AnbAYBL._AA300_I was bored to tears like the Marquis by the romance between Charis and Endymion and I could have skipped this whole subplot except that it is the trigger that wakes Frederica up to the fact that she has been living vicariously through her sister and enabling her worthless brother Harry to shirk his responsibilities. Her anger at and awareness of how misplaced her efforts have been is the push she needs to realize that she is worthy of grabbing at her own happiness.

I am going to declare this is was my March #TBRChallenge book in that is one of the many Heyer novels recommended to me in the last year. 


NK Jemisin's The Fifth Season (Broken Earth bk1)

612FnTYaDAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I've been in a fantasy mood recently so I ventured out of the relatively safe world of genre romance to read the first book in N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth series. The Fifth Season was in turns heartbreaking, jaw-dropping and thanks to its immaculate pacing, absolutely gripping. I was listening to the audiobook and it was hard to turn off the car and stop listening each morning and evening when my car rides ended. Yesterday I listened to the last fours hours all in one go because I could not stop.

The Stillness is a massive, extremely geologically active continent dotted with large and small communities, remnants of a once mighty empire whose lore on how survive the not-infrequent periods devastating climate change, known as the seasons, provide a foundation for its common culture. 

In the Stillness, the Orogenes are people whose inborn ability to manipulate geological forces makes them an object of fear to the general population. To be an unsanctioned, unregistered Orogene is to be a Raga, a monster, bearing the curse of Father Earth, facing a death sentence if discovered.  The alternative is to be a Fulcrum trained Orogene, raised from childhood into a regime of control and suppression, only allowed to express their extraordinary powers at the Fulcrum's command and under its strict guardianship.  

The Fifth Season is the extremely personal story of the making of continent wide-cataclysm in the Stillness. We enter the story through Essun, a raga, whose family has fallen apart days before the Cataclysm takes place.  When her  husband discovers his young son's orogenic powers, he kills him and leaves town with their daughter. Essun is desperately trying to track down her murderous husband and rescue their daughter. We also follow Syenite and Damaya. Syenite is an ambitious fulcrum-trained orogene who is increasingly angry and chafing under the Fulcrum's insidious control over every part of her life. Her new partner and mentor is Alabaster, quite possibly the most powerful oregene under Fulcrum control. Damaya is a young girl, rescued from her parents and brought to the Fulcrum for training. The Fulcrum is both a safe place and a dangerous one for Damaya, as she learns to control her powers. The story jumps back & forth through time till all the stories converge in moments of breathtaking clarity where what was left unexplained in one story is suddenly central and important in another. Together the story is one of immense heartbreak, grief, survival and transformation and it is only getting started.

The novel was flawlessly intersectional, deeply aware of the overlapping layers of race, class, and gender that play into the way people move in the world and respond to it. The world itself is richly developed & vibrantly diverse. The story centers on POC, including LGBTQ characters that are fully realized. It was just so amazingly refreshing to read, even if it took me through the emotional ringer, because the story is so deeply meaningful. I will be eager awaiting the release of The Obelisk Gate in August. 

 



Not a Mistake by Amber Belldene (Hot Under Her Collar #1)

Jordan Sykes is a recent seminary grad and newly appointed rector at St. Mary's who discovers she is unexpectedly pregnant. The father is her former advisory and long-time crush Dr. Dominic Lawrence.  Dominic is a rigidly correct Ethics professor, known as the priest-buster for his dedication to exposing and removing priests who sexually abuse their congregations.  The pregnancy is the result of an impulsive one-night stand just hours after her graduation. Although she is no longer his student, the technicality of it all bruises his conscience and after two months of no contact he find himself at her door, to apologize.

An apology is the last thing she wants for Dominic especially since she had just decided never to tell him of the pregnancy to spare him the embarrassment and scandal it would cause.

Belldane-teaser-3-2-300x300The story is about passion, love and consequences. Their passionate one-night stands shakes up their whole world and not just because they are expecting a baby together.   Dominic has to face the issues that have him resisting opening himself up to love and Jordan has to trust him to accept her and forgive her. The HEA is sweet and believable because Ms. Belldene does great work showing us how and why Dominic's priorities and ambitions could change so dramatically and how Jordan and Dominic can overcome together to build a life together. I found the struggles and doubts they face really genuine and I loved that despite the heaviness of some of the issues they face, the book is also genuinely funny. I was charmed by both the leads and the many secondary characters that enter their story.

Not a Mistake is the first book in Amber Belldene's new series about female episcopal priests called "Hot Under Her Collar." Ms. Belldene is an episcopal priest herself and her knowledge of church structure and culture shows clearly in her stories. As someone intimately familiar with how churches and seminaries operate (my husband has been a pastor for over 14 years), everything in this novel felt really familiar even though my denomination is way more conservative theologically and sexually. Clergy, pastors, priests, seminary professors all struggle with how to balance being semi-public figures whose roles rightly require a lot transparency and accountability, against the very real need for privacy and confidentiality.  I really appreciated how Belldene's characters lived in that tension and worked to make the best choices, when no choice seems quite right.


A Queer Trade by K. J. Charles

K.J. Charles has built a fascinating magical Victorian world through her numerous Charm of Magpies related novels.  I'm not completely caught up on the main Charm of Magpie books, but I couldn't resist jumping ahead to read this one because is features victorian era black hero.  A Queer Trade is the prequel to Rag and Bone which was released last week and I am currently in the middle of reading.

Crispin Tredarloe's master dies while he is away visiting family and returns to discover his master's heir have started emptying the house and have disposed of many magical papers. He is desperately searching for the paper waste man that hauled away his masters' spells before they can harm someone and expose him. This particularly urgent because Crispin Tredarloe isn't simply a magician's apprentice but an illegal warlock. If the blood magic is exposed and traced back to him, his life might be forfeit.

Ned Hall's trade might be unusual trading in paper, recycling people's old letters, and discarded notes into wrapping and packing, but it is honest work, and its freed him destitution after his family cast him out for being gay. His attraction to Crispin is quickly tested by Crispin's casual snobbishness and likely insanity.

I love how Charles's is aware of  and then layers various impediments and conflicts into Ned and Crispin's relationship, race and class differences on one end, and then give them a shared understanding of familial rejection.  I look forward to reading more about these two.


My Reckless Valentine (Lovestruck Librarians #2) by Olivia Dade

Angie's job as a library manager is jeopardy. She is one salacious display or outrageous event away from unemployment. Grant is newcomer to town, moving to Nice County to be closer to his ailing aging parents.  

Angie is in dire need of distraction, when one of Grant's suitcases flies off the roof of his car and straight into Angie's. Near-accident adrenaline, and Angie's bawdy personality overcome Grant's natural cautiousness, and sparks a road-side flirtation, that turns into dinner, and then a night of electrifying sex, that has them both wanting way more.  In the morning Grant and Angie have no regrets, just hope till they are beyond shocked to discover that his new job is to be Angie's new supervisor.

Awkwardness and dismay ensue as Angie and Grant both frantically try to create some professional distance, and cover-up their attraction so that they both can keep their jobs.  

One of the things that I love about Dade's books is how her heroes and heroines can both be essentially nice and decent people and still have terrific conflicts with each other and land is supremely hard situations.

I loved Angie -- I love that she breaks the convention of the shy quiet librarians. She is brash, outgoing and vibrant.  I loved that Grant is passionate in an unconventional way and more than anything steadfast and sincere. 

 

 I received a review copy of My Reckless Valentine from Olivia's Publisher Lyrical Shine

{Disclaimer: I beta read for Olivia, and I think she is smart, funny and writes great books and I consider her a good friend.}

 

Related articles

Recent Reads, great books by Lauren Dane, Rachel Aaron & Kristen Ashley
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley #TBR Challenge Book
What is making you happy this week?
Indecent Proposal by Molly O'Keefe (Boys of Bishop #4)

March RT Reviews

Knit Tight by Annabeth Albert I love knitting. I always carry a project with me and knit at every opportunity. I was equal parts wary and excited when I started reading this romance but I loved it. It got the knitting right and I found the romance very lovely and honest, especially as they struggled to make time for each other and to accept love. I will be looking for more of Annabeth Albert's work in the future.

Duty Before Desire by Elizabeth Boyce I was initially really enjoying this story. I am sucker for the rake reformed & fake relationship tropes but I ended up deeply disappointed with it.

All Chained Up by Sophie Jordan This RS-tinged romance lost all momentum in the last few chapters and ended with a deflated whimper.


Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas

51QsomoXDYL._SX272_BO1,204,203,200_Lisa Kleypas's romances where among the very first historical romances I ever read and although I own a few of her contemporaries I have never been able to sink into them in the same way I have her historom. I was thrilled to hear she was returning to Avon for new set of historical romances but I was half-afraid to read them in case I had lost my taste for them.

Cold-Hearted Rake is the story Devon Ravenel, dissolute gentleman who unexpectedly find himself an Earl and responsible for decaying estate.  Although eager to rid himself of the estate and resume his old life in London when Devon is confronted with his cousin's guilt-ridden and contrary young widow Kathleen and her long-neglected sisters-in-law, Helen, Pandora & Cassandra he finds himself agreeing to try to save the estate.

While I enjoyed Devon & Kathleen's sparring in letters and in person the romance between the rake and virgin-widow did sizzle or  command as much of my attention as the delightfully interesting secondary characters.  The Ravenel sisters are delightful. I loved self-contained Helen and boisterous and unruly Pandora and Cassandra and I was fascinated by West's transformation from drunk to capable steward.

 

 


Backwards to Oregon by Jae


513XIPvy6JL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_
Luke Hamilton has been living as man since, her mother died when she was 12. Guarded and reserved Luke awkwardly tries to avoid the advances of Fleur, a prostitute former military buddies have paid for as parting gift.

Although warned by the Tess, the brothel's owner and one of the few people privy to Luke's secret that Luke's has special needs that require her discretion, Fleur, whose real name is Nora is puzzled and distressed by Luke's reticence and brusque refusal of her services.  

Both Tess and Nora are truly shocked however when Luke returns to the brothel with a marriage proposal shortly after rescuing Nora's young daughter from a ugly altercation on the streets. Confused, wary but convinced of Luke's good-nature Nora agrees to join Luke on the grueling cross-country journey from Missouri to Oregon in hopes of providing herself and her daughter a more promising future.

Along the way Luke and Nora grow closer but their marriage is tested in several ways by the journey and the secrets they keep from each other.

I believed in this romance and the conflicts and tensions that drive Luke and Nora to make the unconventional but believable choices they have made. Jae carefully developed the characters and built up the tension around their secrets, slowly unwrapping the pasts that shaped them.

The only low-light in the novel for me was one of the encounters the caravan has with a Sioux, where a Lakota man tries to trade a pony and young woman for the red-headed Nora or Amy, much to Luke's frustration.  Up to that point the novel had done a good job staying away from stereotyping Native Americans. That scene felt unnecessary to the story.