Quickie Book Reviews: M/M and Historical Romance!

I’ve been burning through a lot of books this past month (I’m currently in the midst of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which I am LOVING), so here are a few quick reviews of some of the books I’ve been reading! There’s a contemporary m/m romance, a science fiction m/m romance, and a historical m/f romance. All links are Amazon links, but they’re not affiliate links.

thebonesofyouThe Bones of You by Laura Stone

The Bones of You is a pleasant reconciliation story about Oliver, a grad student finishing up his master’s degree in Cambridge, unexpectedly reconnecting with his high school boyfriend, Seth, who has gone on to make it big on Broadway.

It’s been five years since they broke up, and when they run into each other again, it’s pretty clear their feelings haven’t gone away. But the same things that broke them up are still issues, and the big question is whether Oliver and Seth will be able to make it work.

It was very, very sweet, though I was never terribly worried about whether Oliver and Seth would figure their shit out. They just worked too well together not to.

My favorite character, though, was Big Mike, Seth’s gigantic motorcycle-riding father. He was so genuinely kind and loving and proud of his son that it brought tears to my eyes. My favorite scene in the whole novel was the New Year’s party at his house.

There wasn’t much conflict, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I did wish it had been a little harder to figure out how things would shake out at the end. You just knew everything was going to be all right. Overall, though, it was an enjoyable story.

thestarhostThe Star Host by F.T. Lukens

The Star Host is a fast-paced science fiction story that reminded me of Firefly at times. Ren is a duster, someone who was born on a planet, even though he dreams of seeing the stars. Those dreams are dashed pretty quickly when he, and several of the other teenagers and children in his village, are conscripted into service for the villainous baron, who’s trying his level best to take over the entire planet.

It’s while he’s in captivity that Ren meets Asher, a drifter who’s been held captive for over a year, and they realize they’ll have to get out together to thwart the baron’s plans.

I thoroughly enjoyed the worldbuilding in this story and the legends of the star hosts (people who have special powers granted by the stars), and I really liked Ren dealing with his newfound powers. His relationship with Asher starts out antagonistic before they each come to rely on the other, and I liked how believably it was built. Even though there is a romance between them, it’s not really as large a part of the story as the “stop the baron” plot, and that worked very well for me.

I really loved it once they got off the planet and started hopping between space stations. I wished we could have seen more of how the larger universe was set up, because what we did see was really cool. I’m really, really looking forward to the rest of the series.

thedukeandiThe Duke and I by Julia Quinn

Julia Quinn is one of the mainstays of historical romance, and I’ve heard so much about her Bridgerton series–of which this is the first–that I was very much looking forward to The Duke and I. Ultimately, despite the witty writing and hijinks that made me laugh out loud at times, the book had some issues that made it difficult for me to totally enjoy.

The biggest of these was the head-hopping, the way she drifted between Simon’s and Daphne’s viewpoints in such a way that it made it difficult for me to remember whose head I was in. I can’t count the number of times I had to go back and reread, trying to identify where the switch happened. And while I liked Simon and Daphne together overall, I wasn’t terribly thrilled with the resolution of their relationship for a number of reasons.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the overprotective older brothers in Anthony, Benedict, and Colin, although thankfully they did get told off numerous times by both Daphne and her mother.

However, I can see why people enjoy the Bridgerton family; their family dinners and outings were hilarious and I really did like the messy, loving family dynamic between all of them. When the older brothers WEREN’T being overprotective nitwits, I really liked them as well.

So it was good, but I don’t think I’ll go hunting up the rest of the Bridgerton series just yet.

What have you all been reading lately? Any books I should add to my list?

Movie Review – Belle

belle-posterWith all the talk I do about how much I love reading romance, it may come as a surprise that I don’t particularly care for romantic movies. Sure, I have a handful I like (Love Actually, anyone?), but it’s not really a genre that gets me to the theater.

However, of all romance, historical romance comes closest to being my crack, so when I first heard about Belle and then later saw positive reviews for it, I decided to actually catch it in the theater.

And I’m glad I did, because it was a lovely, lovely movie.

Belle is based loosely on the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), an illegitimate mulatto girl raised by her great-uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), who also happened to be the Lord Chief Justice of England. The movie has two significant plot threads: Dido’s dealings with two suitors (one of whom is “suitable” for her rank and one who isn’t), and the Lord Chief Justice’s impending ruling on the case of the slave ship Zong (which was a landmark case in the ultimate abolition of slavery in England).

Dido has an unusual amount of freedom for the time period, both a black person and a woman. She’s the daughter of an aristocrat and grows up with the protection and most of the privilege that entails. And later, her father’s death leaves her an heiress, with enough money to live comfortably without ever seeking marriage, if she so desires.

However, despite her privileges, Dido’s skin color still keeps her on the outside, looking in. There’s a delicate balance of rules she has to follow, even within her own home and especially when guests are around. Being black is something she’s never allowed to forget, and so neither are we.

At the same time, Dido has a happy life. It’s clear that her aunt and uncle love her very deeply, even if they don’t always know the best way to show it. Plus, she and her cousin, Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), are best friends, as close as sisters, and I absolutely loved their relationship.

The sparks between Dido and John Davinier (Sam Reid) are intense and immediate, and hot holy damn, did those two make some eyes at each other. Davinier is an extremely passionate character, intensely idealistic, and it’s talking to him that gets Dido interested in the Zong case. I wish we had gotten to hear more of their conversations as they’re getting to know each other, because what we do hear is so, so great.

Yeah, get your 18th-century flirt on!

Yeah, get your 18th-century flirt on!

One of my favorite parts of historical romance is the dialogue, and the dialogue in Belle is so, so great. Dido has the most beautifully eloquent “Fuck you, I do what I want” speech at the end of the movie. I very nearly stood up and cheered in the theater.

Often, movies with this kind of plot—a character with a foot in two worlds, but who isn’t quite able to belong to either—end tragically, but Belle avoids that trap. In fact, I wish the ending had been a little longer, to give us a true denouement to the film.

My one real complaint about the movie is the inclusion of a scene where Dido is physically attacked by a particularly despicable character. Said character is already despicable, even before this scene, and to me, it served to do little more than make him irredeemable and add in some unnecessary violence. I kind of wish it had been excised completely, and that we’d been given more time with Dido and Davinier instead.

But really, that’s a three-minute blemish on an otherwise wonderful movie. Honestly, with the social issues and the court case and the angst, it felt a lot as though someone had taken a Courtney Milan book and made a movie out of it. (Slightly different era, but still.) I enjoyed it just as much as I hoped I would, which is really all you can ask. If you like romantic movies, give this one a chance.

Book Review: The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan

After reading several books in a row that ranged from mediocre to DNF, I picked up Courtney Milan’s newest book, The Heiress Effect. Milan is, hands-down, one of the best writers I’ve ever read, so I was hoping her newest would be good.

It wasn’t just good. It was fabulous, and I couldn’t put it down. In fact, my friends probably got to hear me read aloud half the book because every time something awesome happened, I hugged my Kindle and squealed, and then had to explain why.


Miss Jane Fairfield has made a career of social disaster. She wears outrageous gowns and says even more outrageous things. The only reason she’s invited anywhere is because of her immense dowry–which is all part of her plan to avoid marriage and keep the fortune-hunters at bay.

Mr. Oliver Marshall is the illegitimate son of a duke. His acceptance in society is tenuous as it is. If he wants any kind of career at all, he must do everything right. He doesn’t need to come to the rescue of the wrong woman. He certainly doesn’t need to fall in love with her. But there’s something about the lovely, courageous Jane that he can’t resist…even though it could mean the ruin of them both.

I was really looking forward to this book because I liked Oliver, the hero, from Milan’s previous stories. I loved his relationship with Robert, the hero from The Duchess War, and I couldn’t wait to see Oliver as the hero in his own story.

However, Jane stole the entire freaking show and I loved every second of it.

By the end of the first chapter, you’re firmly in her corner. You completely understand why she’s trying her hardest to drive off any suitors. She’s brave and bold and brash, and even when she’s afraid, she doesn’t back down. You’re cheering for her every single step of the way.

Jane isn’t just bad with manners. She’s downright rude, saying things that don’t just toe the line of social rules; they jump screaming past them. “Outrageous” is quite possibly the kindest way to describe her dresses, as the first one she wears features four different kinds of lace. She came to the conclusion a long time ago that she would never fit in, so she’s going to stand out in the worst possible way to keep herself absolutely unmarriageable.

It’s hilarious to read about, but when she’s no longer playing for a crowd, Jane drops the act and we see how desperately lonely she is. And with Oliver, Jane has the first person, aside from her sister, that she can consider a friend.

Because of the circumstances of his birth, Oliver has spent his entire life with a foot in two worlds, and one of those worlds tries its best to keep him down. If he wants to accomplish anything, he has to play by the rules set out by those who came before him. And so he has, biding his time so that he can make the political changes he needs to.

However, there comes a point when the line between “biding your time” and “cowering” blurs, and that’s part of what Oliver has to deal with in his own arc. I loved him as well, loved watching him grow thanks to (in a large part) the women in his life—Jane, as well as his aunt and sister—and his final confrontation with Bradenton (one of the villains) is a sight to behold.

And I loved, loved, loved that Jane owned herself. She was never a damsel in distress, not really. She could and did take care of herself and handle her own problems. When she turned to Oliver it was not because she needed saving, but because she wanted the reminder that she wasn’t alone. Their relationship had balance.

Then, there was this line, which is one of the best lines I have ever seen a romance heroine utter EVER:

“I’m not a gift,” she said. “Or a prize that you’ve won. I’m a woman, and I want you because it will give me joy.”

Do you have any idea how rare it is to see that explicitly stated in fiction, to see a woman owning her desire and her sexuality without any kind of shame about it? Holy shit, that line might be one of the sexiest things I’ve ever read.

And this was one of the parts that made me shriek with incoherent glee:

“Do you think you’re squabbling with him [Bradenton] over me?” She smiled more brightly. “Oh, no, Mr. Marshall. You’re wrong. I’m squabbling with him over you.”


Seriously, Jane was a thousand different kinds of amazing.

I adored the secondary romance between Emily and Anjan. Though it was shorter than the main story, it could easily have been its own book, but it worked very well as it was. My only issue was that I wanted more from Anjan’s viewpoint, because he was just great. One of his last scenes is easily a highlight of the novel.

Words cannot adequately express how much I loved this book. Everything about it was fantastic, and my nerdy little heart just absolutely adored it. While it is second in The Brothers Sinister series, you don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy this one.

Go pick it up. Now. It is worth every penny you will spend and then some.

Authors I Love: Courtney Milan

This is a series that’s just what it says on the tin: authors I love.

These aren’t just authors that I read; these are authors I follow, whose books I buy as soon as I get a chance. These are the authors for whom I’ll read everything they write just because they’re the ones writing it.

This edition features: Courtney Milan!

What does she write?
Historical romance.

How did you first hear about her?
The Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website, when they reviewed her novella Unlocked.

unlockedWhat was the first book of hers you read?
I bought Unlocked based off the aforementioned review because I was going on a relatively short plane trip and thought it would be a good length for that. Not only was I right, I ended up buying and reading the rest of the books in that series before the end of the summer.

How many of her books have you read?
All of them. I am not even exaggerating. Every novella, every novel: I own them all. All of them on my Kindle, plus one paperback I bought solely for the purpose of being able to physically give it to other people.

I might have a problem.

Why do you like her so much? 
One: She has written (thus far) two virgin heroes and done an amazing job of it. Virgin heroines are a dime a dozen in romance, but virgin heroes are so much rarer. (Oh my God, I didn’t know I needed to read awkward virgin sex until she had a scene like that in The Duchess War and it was so freaking good I just wanted to cry.)

Two: The conflicts that keep her characters apart are never, ever contrived. She forces them into corners where they have to choose between the person they love and something else that matters tremendously to them. There is always a part in her books where I’m thinking, “I know this will end happily, but I have no idea how.” You don’t run into the issue of “This could be solved in five minutes if the characters would just talk to each other.” No, even with the talking, these problems are not easily fixed.

Three: Her characters are fantastic. I can’t count the number of times I’ve finished one of her books and, when asked what I liked, replied, “(Character Here) was AMAZING.” Plus, she has a way of taking characters I didn’t like initially and turning them around so I’m sympathizing with them by the end of the series.

Four: Many of her novellas involve middle-class/lower-class heroes and heroines (The Governess Affair, This Wicked Gift, A Kiss for Midwinter). Since most historical romances involve the upper classes—throw a rock in the bookstore and you’ll hit a million books about dukes and earls—it’s a nice change to see a different class represented.

Five: She doesn’t shy away from social issues of the day, like the evolution of rights for women and lower-class men, racism, and the awful medical practices of the time, just to name a few.

In Trial by Desire, the heroine, Kate, is breaking laws by helping women get away from abusive husbands. In What Happened at Midnight, the idea of a divorce is a radical one. In the Brothers Sinister series, we see a huge focus on issues like voting rights and other extremely radical politics for the time (particularly with Robert in the first book). Milan knows how to do her research, also, and when she fudges stuff, there’s usually a detailed author’s note as to what she did and why. It adds so much richness to the books to see them taking place in a world of change like this.

What’s your favorite book of hers?
Novel: Unraveled. Smite’s probably my favorite hero.

Novella: The Governess Affair. I have read this, I kid you not, five or six times. (Here’s a bit of my flailing about it.)

What’s your least favorite book of hers?
Novel: Unclaimed. I loved the book right up until the very end. One of the fights near the end just didn’t make sense to me because there was just such a disconnect between what the heroine was thinking and what she was saying. Both made sense, but it just didn’t work as well for me.

Novella: This Wicked Gift, because I liked the hero’s arc much better than the romance itself. My favorite part—the one I reread about 3 times—was the climax with the hero at his job.

Where should a new reader start?
I would go with The Governess Affair. It’s a novella, so it’s short, and it’s the first of a new series. And I just love, love, love the relationship between the hero and the heroine. The letters between them? PRICELESS.

If you’re up for a novel, Unveiled, the first one in the Turner series, is also a great place to start. You can read my review of it here.

(Yes, a lot of these are Amazon links. No, they are not affiliate links.)