Behind These Doors – Jude Lucens

Lucien Saxby is a journalist, writing for the society pages. The Honourable Aubrey Fanshawe, second son of an earl, is Society. They have nothing in common, until a casual encounter leads to a crisis.

Aubrey isn’t looking for love. He already has it, in his long-term clandestine relationship with Lord and Lady Hernedale. And Lucien is the last man Aubrey should want. He’s a commoner, raised in service, socially unacceptable.

Lucien doesn’t trust nobs. Painful experience has taught him that working people simply don’t count to them. Years ago, he turned his back on a life of luxury so his future wouldn’t depend on an aristocrat’s whim. Now, thanks to Aubrey, he’s becoming entangled in the risky affairs of the upper classes, antagonising people who could destroy him with a word.

Aubrey and Lucien have too much to hide—and too much between them to ignore. Rejecting the strict rules and closed doors of Edwardian society might lead them both to ruin… but happiness and integrity alike demand it.  

Behind These Doors – A-

Wow, I have never enjoyed 300 pages of relationship negotiations so much??

I went into this having completely forgotten and/or not read the book blurb, so I was delightfully surprised when in the very first scene Aubrey’s committed thruple with the Hernedales is made explicit in the characters’ introductions. I love non-monogamous books but I’m not sure I’ve read a romance that starts with a committed polyamorous relationship and adds to it rather than having forming a poly relationship be the core of the story. Lucien shows up soon after the book starts, and when Aubrey is clearly responding to his bold flirtation, the Hernedales encourage him to run after this dashing stranger who caught his eye.

The book is a wonderful exploration of vulnerability and trust in relationships as Aubrey and Lucien commit to each other. There are mistakes and stumbles along the way, but without drawing it out too much all of them come back to discussion and negotiation. There are moments where the tension is all because one or the other won’t explain a situation, but while on the surface that sounds like the contrived miscommunication that hounds the mediocre romance novel, here it’s very effective in drawing from each character’s motivations, personal history, and social position. It’s relatable, in that there are things someone may not feel safe voicing even if they should and even if the reader knows they would be okay, and that’s very well done in this book.

Ultimately I am a reader who loves a plot, and this book never quite got there (though there’s some interesting through lines about women’s suffrage), and the book ended a bit abruptly. It’s certainly a HFN, but I was expecting a bit more to wrap it up. However, like I said, I have never enjoyed just reading relationship negotiations so much. I really couldn’t put this book down, and I’m amazed that this is the first full length novel from this author – I hope there are more soon!

Behind These Doors on Amazon

Bloom – Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau

Cover of Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau

Bloom – B+

Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

So this is not quite a romance novel, it’s a YA romance graphic novel, but I’ve been looking forward to reading it and wanted to cover it on the blog.

I’m so glad we’ve come to a place where a book can be about queer teenagers falling in love without Being About Being Queer, you know? Ari has really normal post-high school issues – he wants to move out, he wants his band to take off, he wants his parents to let him stop working at the family business. All of the relationships, from Ari’s potential romance with Hector, to his friendship with Cameron (an asshole) are believable and real, and that depth of character was one of my favorite parts of the book.

The illustrations carry the story, and I think that was both the book’s strength and its weakness. The illustrations of the baking itself are perfect, I wanted to go sink my fingers into bread dough as soon as I finished this book. Moments between Ari and Hector capture something special when they meet for the first time, and when they watch each other in the bakery, each unaware that the other is watching.

However, perhaps because it can rely so much on illustration, there’s not a lot of text. The story and and even the feelings behind the romance are clear but you never explicitly get Ari’s inner thoughts, which I missed. Without it, I don’t think the problems and climaxes packed as much punch as I wanted them to.

Overall I would definitely recommend picking this up, it’s a really cute romance and a relatable slice of life comic.

Bloom – short preview and links to buy at macmillan

On Romance, High Fantasy, and Forgiving Shitty Wh**e M*n

I’m asterisking this, because I don’t want THIS to be what this blog is known for.

Recently, I had the deep displeasure of a medication hiccup and was thrown headfirst into the throes of a real manic episode which, sadly for all involved, coincided with a rewatch of Game of Thrones. Of course, this means that my manic hyperfocus zeroed in on Game of Thrones and more specifically a couple of characters and relationships (which will come up later). Therefore, instead of focusing on anything else in my life, I started re-reading the first book and scrolling through tumblr, and writing fanfic????? I haven’t written a goddamn fictional word in about 7 years.

At any rate, reading Game of Thrones also coincided with ONE of the worst Hot Takes around about rape in fiction and shitty heroes. It all sort of coalesced into a bunch of Manic Feelings.

Let me say this: I do not deny that George RR Martin knows how to build a world. The world building is terribly intricate, I think most threads make sense in the end, but let me tell you, if a romance novelist tried to get away with even a quarter of the stilted, repetitive, trite dialogue, they would be drawn and quartered ACROSS the INTERNET. The relationships are surface, at best, the characters are broadly drawn archetypes with some weird descriptive sex scenes with 12 and 13 year old girls.

But hey, it’s fine, right? It’s historical!!! Except that it isn’t. It’s High Fantasy, so you’re stuck in this alternate worlds, almost always in the Middle Ages in the style of an Arthurian legend. Only instead of taking an interesting tactic with this, subverting it, doing something different with the trappings, so many men take it as an opportunity to throw in some REAL WEIRD STUFF. Let’s just take this opportunity to have sex with barely pubescent women! Let’s have a LOT of rape (less in the books, but). INCEST! HALF THE WOMEN HAVE NO PERSONALITY! NO ONE SPEAKS LIKE ANYTHING OTHER THAN A POORLY PROGRAMMED ROBOT.

But hey. You created a pretty good parallel world with its own history. Good job, bro.

And yet, in the midst of this, here I am being total trash for a white male character with manpain. Here I am, a gold star lesbian, kind of thinking to herself, “If I allowed myself for 3 minutes I could talk myself into a place where it’s his sister’s fault that he tried to kill the 7 year old that found them fucking.” Because hey, I may be a pretty decent critic of myself, I may try to dismantle the patriarchy. But somehow, some way, I am still a sucker for a sad white man with one hand and a whole lot of Feelings.

It all leads me to a place where I am simultaneously on a downward emotional spiral into feelings myself, while trying to examine my place in the patriarchy and being critical of my consumption and the emotions I feel about the fiction I consume. If I’m busy writing fanfiction for a fandom that I find largely objectionable in its characterization and treatment of women, am I not just furthering the reach it has?

I can say all the right things. I can KNOW what the right things are. I can argue for the right things. But I can also find myself tipsy in a hot bath, crying as I create tumblr tags for a trashbag white male character while listening to Ed Sheeran. Does that make me a hypocrite? Or does it make me a critic who has to work through her own conditioning and her own internalized patriarchal misogyny while not hating herself for having to work through these issues?

I will only say this, which is something I have tweeted about. It is absolutely fine to like the characters you like. It’s another thing to allow the society we live in to tell you it’s okay for terrible, abusive, violent men to do these horrible acts because they’re sad or mistreated or misunderstood.

And finally, it’s a completely separate thing to bring real victims and real villains into this discussion and to romanticize the true evil in this world while using it to justify the books you produce or consume. Be conscientious, be critical, don’t be afraid to examine your thoughts and your feelings. But also, it’s okay to have gut reactions to things. It’s okay to like what you like. It’s not okay to drag real victims, real women, into your justifications.

Also. Please God tell me the dialogue gets better in Game of Thrones.

Gays of Our Lives – Kris Ripper

Gays of Our Lives Cover

Gays of Our Lives – A-

Emerson Robinette only leaves his apartment to get laid and go to work. Having MS—and trying to pretend he doesn’t—makes everything more complicated, especially his fantasies of coming on strong and holding a guy down. Finding a partner who’ll explore that with him isn’t Emerson’s idea of a realistic goal.

Until a chance meeting with a hipster on a bus makes him reconsider. Obie is happy, open-hearted, and warm; what’s more, he gets his kicks being physically dominated, spanked, and teased until he’s begging. It would be perfect, except for one thing: Emerson isn’t made for happiness, and he doesn’t see how a guy like Obie would settle for a cynic like him.

But as far as Obie’s concerned, the only thing keeping them apart is Emerson. Can Emerson handle a boyfriend who’s more invested in his future than he is? Emerson’s barely convinced he has a future. But when Obie’s smiling at him, anything seems possible.

Can you like a book and hate a main character?

Obviously yes, I hear many people do this all the time, but this is a very unusual feeling for me. I liked this book, a lot. It’s a really relatable picture of loneliness and depression. The depiction of living with chronic illness seemed legit (though I don’t have personal experience). By the end, the happy ending was truly earned and I felt everyone was in a good spot.



Obie just kind of shows up after he and Emerson literally met as strangers on a bus. Granted, he asks Emerson for his address when he invites himself to Emerson’s place and Emerson gives it to him, so I guess that is KIND OF like agreeing he can come over, but then the second time he comes over completely uninvited and just…ignores any hint he’s not welcome. And, granted, Emerson is really depressed, and in a lot of ways he needs someone to ignore his boundaries or he’d be apathetically waiting for death to come in a few weeks (I don’t say this facetiously, he’s really depressed), and granted, Emerson has no one else in his life who could possibly support him like this. He really needs someone to just show up and be like hey, let’s eat pizza, maybe your life isn’t actually over yet, just a thought.


Ugh it all works out but I hated Obie SO MUCH for like two thirds of the book until Emerson finally told him “go away” and he went. Finally! A boundary respected! It really was necessary for that to happen for me to enjoy the book as a whole – but it did, and I did, and overall it’s a compelling, fairly quick read. I got the whole series during an end-of-year sale and I will definitely be reading more.

Gay of Our Live son Amazon | Apple | B&N | Google | Kobo

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy – Alyssa Cole


Once Ghosted, Twice Shy –  Alyssa Cole       B+

Can we discuss, just briefly, how amazing it is to see two WOC as the romantic leads on the cover of a mainstream published romance novel? And that one of them presents as masculine? Because I’m really proud to see this happening and I’m so goddamn ridiculously proud of Alyssa Cole. I first met Alyssa 3.5 years ago at RWA in NYC (a week that shall live in infamy for me, for a variety of reasons). I’m fairly certain she’s one of the people I met and shortly after shared the anecdote that, “not everyone needs a dick in their ass.” What I’m saying is, from an outside perspective, it has been wild few years for Alyssa, and truly, no one could be more deserving.

As for this novella, we were introduced to Likotsi in A Prince in Theory as the assistant to Prince Thabiso and now we finally get her love story. It may be early to bring this up, but, do I wish that we could get a full length romance or two women of color? Of course. But Alyssa Cole is one of those authors that can produce an extremely satisfying story in novella format (I am notoriously hard to sell on a novella).

The other heroine we’re introduced to is Fab (Fabiola), who initially is a cultivated aesthestic of rockabilly and is now appearing as if she’s a ghost from the mist in a beanie and work boots. She’s the ghoster in the title, though, as she points out to Likotsi, she’s not in actuality as she was very upfront with Likotsi and dumped her over text.

One of the aspects that makes this a truly modern story being told is the excellent use of texts, dating apps, etc. There’s still a weird shying away of texting and social media in a lot of contemporaries I’ve read the past few years, so to see a novel so predicated on it is a breath of fresh.

As can be the case with novellas, there’s not much space to explore the characters without having to get to the point fairly quickly, but even so, Cole has always had a knack for three-dimensional characters and relationships with fully fledged lives and families, all of which motivate them throughout the story. Everyone’s life is a woven tapestry and it’s not always a simple thing to just choose love/lust/feelings over the baggage your carry with you every day. This story manages to touch on these topics by clipping along at such a pace that it was basically over before I realized I’d started it.

I also hope that people will forgive the disjointed nature of this review. I’m all goofy on cold medication and I’ll likely reread this once I’m well and cringe. But this book deserves praise. Please read it, buy it, love it. It’s so good and so needed.

Any Old Diamonds – K.J. Charles

Any Old Diamonds – A

Lord Alexander Pyne-ffoulkes is the younger son of the Duke of Ilvar, with a bitter grudge against his wealthy father. The Duke intends to give his Duchess a priceless diamond parure on their wedding anniversary—so Alec hires a pair of jewel thieves to steal it.

A fantastic return to crime and passion from KJ Charles with a Victorian melodrama of a novel centered around theft, murder, and several terrible people, some of whom are not really morally gray but are charming enough about their crimes that you want to give them a pass anyway.

The novel is all from the POV of nervous but vengeful aristocrat Alexander Pyne-ffoulkes (I’ll have to wait until the audiobook to learn how that’s pronounced) who has been supporting himself as an artist since his father cut him and his siblings off completely. It opens like a heist movie but quickly turns erotic when we meet Crozier.

Crozier nodded slowly. “Yes, that’s rather a lot to swallow.” He paused for a fraction of a second. “Do you not like to do as you’re told?”

“It depends what I’m being told to do,” Alec said. “Just as it depends what there is to swallow.”

Alec and Crozier’s relationship starts hot right out of the gates. Crozier sizes Alec up at a glance, sees his desires and is ready to meet them. Alec is happy to be putty in his hands. He doesn’t want to have a choice in the matter when it comes to sex and gets off on not being given one – but Crozier is almost a service top about it, which I love. You get the sense that he’s really into dominating Alec but he also asks what Alec wants, and adjusts his approach to meet Alec’s needs specifically. Crozier doesn’t ask permission, but he makes it clear he’ll listen if Alec says no. Their dynamic is super, super hot and I loved it.

Any Old Diamonds isn’t a “will they won’t they” book; they get together pretty early on. But even knowing there’s a HEA coming (and there is – or a HFN at least), I was in agony wondering how they could get there. There is a huge twist in the last half that I never saw coming (rereading the beginning it’s definitely foreshadowed! I was just really caught up in the action on the page) and I just wanted to scream HOW IS THIS MADE OK? How does it all get better? Which tbh is my favorite kind of romance novel, and I really enjoyed this one.

There are some appearances and mentions in this book of characters from KJ’s previous series Sins of the Cities, but while I recommend picking those up as well because they’re great reads, it does stand alone. If I had to quibble about what made this an A and not an A+,  then the second half wrapped things up a big quickly. You may or may not like the melodrama tone – one of the things I love about KJC is the way she flexes her style to fit different periods of literature, but YMMV.

Finally,  something I really liked about this novel is it brings up some interesting discussions of morality and crime, who deserves punishment, and who gets punished. I was reminded several times of this great twitter thread from author Rose Lerner, where she discusses crime as metaphor for homosexuality in our culture, especially in stories written by queer people. The characters in Any Old Diamonds are living through this dilemma – how to live morally (or not) as a homosexual man when homosexuality is considered a crime and a sin.  Alec is very sympathetically critical of himself, in part due to his sexuality though more because he prefers being passive during sex. He’s come to terms with it but assumes others will naturally find him a lesser being. Crozier, wronged early in his life by another man and more or less barred from reputable employment as a consequence, has embraced criminality and become an unstoppable jewel thief, choosing to both punish and abandon society. It adds a lot of depth to the novel and keeps the stakes feeling painfully real.

Overall: hot D/s dynamic meets heist movie, solid A, definitely pick it up.

Any Old Diamonds is out January 30th and can be pre-ordered at most ebook stores

American Queen – Sierra Simone

American Queen – Sierra Simone – No Grade/DNF-But Spoiled

Sometimes, when I read a book, I don’t totally agree with the reviews of it but I at least understand where the reviews are coming from. Nothing has left me this baffled since the reception of Fifty Shades of Grey, and I’m being 100% serious about that.

I was very excited about this book. To the point where I pushed past the first person present tense POV (a real pet peeve of mine). I’m flexible! I can try new things! I was even going to shrug off the magical realism of a prophet/psychic named Merlin foretelling the heroine’s parents’ deaths. I decided to shrug off the truly baffling, strange, kind of offensive made up country in Eastern Europe that was battling with Poland?? Because, sure. This is like The Princess Diaries, but war!

But about halfway through this book (maybe not even halfway, I’m listening to the audiobook), I hit my breaking point. I don’t hate magical realism, I don’t hate weaker heroines if they’re well-written, I love kink, I LOVE THREESOMES, I love age differences. I SHOULD love this book! I do not even sort of like this book.

If you’re doing a modern retelling of a legend, but still sort of clinging to the magical realism, you have to do some sort of worldbuilding. This has the feeling of a fanfiction turned novel where you’re supposed to inherently know some things about the world, except that it’s just inspired by the Arthurian legends, but, IMO, deviated enough as to make almost all of the choices utterly baffling.

This is to not even delve into how much suspension of disbelief is involved in Ash, the President of the USA being 35 when he’s elected and for his VP to be the same age and…also his secret kinky lover. Not to mention the fact that Ash fucked his half-sister (and didn’t know it as his half-sister until too late???????). Not to mention that Ash has several e-mails from a very underage young girl describing a semi-illicit encounter with him and her masturbatory fantasies subsequent to this.

The real issue for me boils down to: I don’t know why any of the more controversial and baffling choices were made.

  1. The war in Eastern Europe serves zero purpose other than to kill her parents and make Ash a war hero, something that could be done without inventing only one country and having it attack Poland.
  2. Greer, heroine, is 10 years younger than Ash, the President (it’s a menage so there’s no real singular hero) and they meet the night of her 16th birthday. They makeout. He later finds out that she had just turned sixteen that evening, but he still had numerous explicit sexual fantasies about fucking her. This isn’t presented as wrong enough? He thinks it’s kinky, but it’s also presented as just fine! She was ready, willing and able! Yes it was wrong she was younger — but no one ever really lays into the fact that she was a CHILD (she’s very naive and innocent) and he was a 26 year old decorated war vet, jerking off to thoughts of devirginizing her. COOL.
  3. They see each other one more time five years later. She has sex with his future VP that night and somehow none of them know of this connection until 10 years later when he sends Embry, VP and devirginizer, to set up a meeting with Greer at a church. Which then sets up her going to the Presidential residence and Ash immediately introduces BDSM aspects to their relationship.
  4. Greer DEEP THROATS TO ORGASM HER FIRST TIME. WHAT IS HAPPENING? Why would you have a heroine who only had sex ONE TIME and has only been kissed twice and have her DEEP THROAT PERFECTLY THE FIRST TIME? Why are these choices being made?

I want to understand the appeal of this novel but the plot choices are baffling, the characters are flat, the relationships have no real emotion to them, and the sex is …purple.

A Hunger Like No Other – Kresley Cole

Hunger-14-2-232x375  A Hunger Like No Other – Kresley Cole 


“Was it just her, or did lovers look more adoringly at each other in this city? Especially in the springtime.

‘Die, bastards.’

She sighed. It wasn’t their fault that they were bastards who should die.

Is this a book that begins with the hero of the tale ripping his own leg off in order to pursue his soulmate/fated mate? Yes. Is this a book where the half-vampire/half-valkyrie heroine bites the hero’s erection and sucks blood from it trying to punish him only to have it backfire? YEP!

Apparently, I read this book six years ago. According to my GoodReads and because I do remember the original cover. That being said, I remembered literally nothing about this book which is shocking because it seems … hella memorable.  Maybe I didn’t finish it last time? Which would make sense. I’m on the record as not caring that much for men as a general notion. Especially not alphaholes. Especially not alphaholes that are pretty rapey for large swathes of the book. Especially not rapey alphaholes who are fated for a heroine that, at least at first, seems too stupid to live.

Yet, here we are, with me screaming about this book and eagerly borrowing the second one in the series to continue.

This is a novel where a 1200 year old (sort-of) werewolf has been tortured for 150 years by vampires only to smell his mate and literally tear his leg off to get to her. This is a novel where a 70 year old vampire/valkyrie hybrid is too soft, sweet and naive to be of much use to anyone (really, through no fault of her own). This is a novel where the hero really spends a huge amount of time being very, very, very sexually aggressive and downright ignores non-consent to sexual acts repeatedly.

It’s also a book that is somehow charming, funny, really really really sexy and ends up being very empowering for the heroine. She finds her own strength, saves herself, dictates her own terms, and — I mean, she sucks blood out of an erection, you guys. If you didn’t want to see that happen, you really just shouldn’t read any paranormals ever.

It’s a book where alphaholes have to come into the 21st century, where powerful women control their own lives, and where being a soulmate doesn’t mean you have insta-love. Just insta-lust.

In short: it’s pretty fucking magical. AND ABSOLUTELY BANANAS.

Brain Candy and “The Cattery”


The Cattery – A

In Romancelandia I see us often try to justify our book lists to more mainstream fiction reading friends, either by recommending books that transcend the genre or by pointing out how mainstream publishing and the patriarchy conspired to denigrate perfectly valid popular books that deserve as much recognition as anything else. Trope-y romance novels written for the popular id are no better and worse than the reams of James Patterson action novels, and why is “chick-lit” taken less seriously than Franzen’s heavy handed male gaze anyway?

All of this is legitimate, but what about those books – in any genre – that you know need caveats when recommended to the unwary reader? That you feel you need to justify even to other fans?

Buckle up pals, it’s time to talk about the enjoyable realm of trashy books.

As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another one’s treasure. Brain candy, id-fic, trashy novels….I use these terms with a deep love for those books that I adore but that I can’t explain or justify. These are books where recommendations come with ifs and buts (“The prose is really purple but…”, or “if you like this trope then…”). They hit a very specific trope, or kink, or possibly ten of those all rolled up together, and are best when over the top and unrealistic but, like candy, they go right to my lizard brain and say YES THIS IS GOOD.

For example, a book where a Jedi-like space knight is sent as envoy with his student to a planet but because reasons, they have to spend the whole time pretending his student is his leashed sex slave, including proving this with a public blowjob, and an oops-we-used-the-wrong-massage-oil incident where the ONLY WAY to cure the student’s oil-induced lust is to fuck him. I loved it. I loved it so much, even though it at one point described the head of someone’s penis as a “tender nugget of flesh” (yes, now you’ve also had to read that phrase) and I would never, ever recommend it to someone if they weren’t into unrealistic BDSM, teacher/student, and fuck-or-die tropes. It’s an almond joy for the brain, and if you don’t like coconut, there is really no point in me offering you any.

“The Cattery” is a book I read this week that I found utterly delightful, sexy, and fun but if you’re not into unrealistic billionaire romances and pet-play, then this is not for you. Goran joins Luis’s “cattery”, five men who pretend to be cats and indulge in meowing and orgies for his pleasure. If they last six months, they get paid $100,000, but Goran isn’t sure he can keep Luis happy once he starts to fall for a fellow cat.

I can’t justify or explain why I enjoy thinking about grown men pretending to be cats as much as I do. And I don’t think I need to, any more than you need to justify why you will read any book with a Scottish Laird sweeping a common maiden off her feet or why you like poetry. But if you do like these things…10/10, do recommend, grade A.

The Cattery on Amazon

Hearts Alight – Elliot Cooper


Hearts Alight – A

Dave Cunningham hates the rampant consumerism that’s come to dominate his family’s Hanukkah celebrations. But a chance to bring a bit of a holiday happiness to his long-time crush, Amit Cohen, helps put him in a more festive mood.

In the quest to craft the perfect gift, Dave tries to urge a few personal details out of stoic Amit. Unintentionally, he learns the Cohen family’s secret: Amit is a golem. But Amit has a problem that runs deeper than his magical origin, and a Hanukkah miracle might be the only thing that will keep the budding flame between him and Dave from going out.

I finally found it!! A holiday romance that’s holiday and romance! Hearts Alight is a “sweet” romance that hit the perfect warm fuzzy note for me. Dave is grappling with wanting Hanukkah to be more about family, but the Hanukkah his family wants isn’t what he wants from the season. His love life has never taken off, and he’s not unhappy but he wishes he had more in life. He strikes up a friendship with Amit, and they find their way through family and Hanukkah together.

This is not really paranormal. Yes, Amit is a golem, but it’s just kind of…part of who he is? Which I really liked. It kept the story feeling really relatable and normal. Dave and Amit’s families are minor characters, but still fleshed out enough to keep the story grounded. My only quibble was Taylor, a one dimensional jock who shows up and is dismissed equally quickly, didn’t really have a point – but even he’s kind of sweet. It’s not a story with a bad guy.

I know Hanukkah just ended this year, but at the risk of sounding SUPER cheesy – a story like this is timeless. It’s real cute, and I really enjoyed it!

Hearts Alight on Amazon