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Cassidy Percoco

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Jess Everlee: Rulebook for Restless Rogues (2023, Harlequin Enterprises ULC) 4 stars

Beautiful romance

5 stars

I loved this book from start to finish. Two excellent characters - David Forester, proprietor of the Curious Fox, a queer club he tries to make as safe as possible, and Noah Clarke, a tailor who wears drag by night; they met at boarding school and fell in love, but maintained a FWB situation while mutually pining for each other. Noah's fortunes rose while David's fell, providing another barrier between them. Very well-earned HEA. Everlee manages a good balance between historical reality (police are a concern, observation is a concern, everything they're doing is illegal and secret) and creating a story where queer readers can feel safe and secure.

Ava Reid: Juniper and Thorn (Hardcover, 2022, HarperCollins Publishers) 4 stars

A dark and thrilling read

5 stars

I came to this book through a Twitter thread by the author explaining the difficulties she had in getting it published and promoted: as it centers on a young woman and has a romance in it, it was assumed to be YA and was seen as problematic for depicting parental and sexual abuse, which frustrated Reid as she as writing gothic horror for adults. I had been perceiving it as YA myself and so avoided it, but knowing the above, I sought it out.

The Books That Burn review on this page is an excellent summary, so I won't bore you by repeating it! I'll just tell you all the things I loved about the novel.

The heroine. So often, female protagonists in fantasy/historical fiction fall into the same stereotypes. Marlinchen defies them. She is quiet, weak, oppressed; her instinct is to placate and obey. She is afraid much of …

Mimi Matthews: The Siren of Sussex (Paperback, 2022, Berkley) 4 stars

Review of 'The Siren of Sussex' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

Not a typical romance novel! I don't know if this is something common to Mimi Matthews's books, but I appreciated that there's a level of physicality/eroticism without following the traditional romance beats.

Evelyn Maltravers is the plainer younger sister of a young woman who came to ruin, so it's her duty to save the family fortunes and reputations by marrying well - her plan is to make a splash by riding her fabulous stallion in Hyde Park while wearing amazing tailored riding habits in the style of the Pretty Horsebreakers, notorious courtesans who ride on Rotten Row. She visits their tailor, Ahmad Malik, who immediately sees her potential (taking off her glasses, wearing clothes that fit, etc.) and begins to work for her. He's also trying to start his own couture house, and she becomes his emissary and his muse. They fall in love and overcome obstacles to be together. …

reviewed A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske (The Last Binding, #1)

Freya Marske: A Marvellous Light (Hardcover, 2021, Tordotcom) 4 stars

Set in an alternative Edwardian England, this is a comedy of manners, manor houses, and …

Review of 'A Marvellous Light' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

So good! The basic premise is that magic exists but is secret, and a non-magician in Edwardian England (probably sometime between 1908 and 1914) accidentally gets appointed to the government office that's meant for someone part of that world; he's immediately plunged into a deadly conflict he knows nothing about, with only his prickly magical liaison for help.

The deuteragonists are Robin, a baronet who nevertheless needs to work at a ministry post to support himself and his younger sister, and Edwin, the younger son of a magical family who nevertheless has very little ability to do magic himself. They're very much foils, with Robin having a certain amount of self-assurance and Edwin being used to his role as family buttmonkey (not a quote from the book), and it's quite satisfying to watch them each find out that the other is gay and slowly initiate a relationship; of course there's …

Review of 'Goddess of the Green Room (Georgian saga' on 'Goodreads'

1 star

I'm sorry to say that this is not a good book. I would go so far as to say that it's a bad book. It is boring, bland, and void of any plot or character arc.

The book begins with a young Dorothy encouraging her sister, Hester, into going on the Dublin stage. We follow along as Hester fails and Dorothy becomes an actress in her place, is assaulted and impregnated, comes to England, engages in a long-term affair with a lawyer, falls in love with the Duke of Clarence, lives with him as his wife for twenty years, loses him, and dies alone in France.

But ... there is no story. It reads like someone took a biography and decided that it should be rewritten as vignettes with dialogue. There's no rising and falling action, there's no theme, there's no novel.

I've always been curious about Jean Plaidy, as …

Kage Baker: The House of the Stag (2008, Tor) 4 stars

Review of 'The House of the Stag' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

Quite an epic scope for a novel, and at the same time there's such a cozy domestic feel to it.

The bulk of the story is about Gard, half-demon and half-yendri, from his innocent boyhood in the peaceful forests to oppression by the Riders, enslavement in a mountain, life in the city, and finally his role as self-professed Dark Lord, the Master of the Mountain (different mountain); the rest is about the Saint, the mystical/religious savior of the yendri, a young woman with great powers. Of course, they get married.

What I like best is that it's an amazing story, of course, with each setting and group of characters finely-wrought by the author (who frequently manages a Pratchettian feel in the way high fantasy concepts rub shoulders with normalcy) - but also, a lot of aspects relating to sex and gender feel exceptionally well handled. Gard is a person, not …

Everina Maxwell: Winter's Orbit (Paperback, 2022, Tor Books) 4 stars

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several …

Review of "Winter's Orbit" on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

This book is, honestly, extraordinary.

When I started it, I did think more intro was needed. There was a lot of “as you know, Bob” in the first chapter and I just let it wash over me without trying to understand the worldbuilding going on in the dialogue. And I continued reading.

Very soon, I decided that the book must have been originally a fanfiction that got the serial numbers filed off – it was familiar, and the sudden start almost presumed you already knew the characters. Imagine my delight when I realized that it is indeed original fiction, but the very first drafts were posted to a fannish forum I frequented at the time, where I’m fairly sure I read and commented on a few of them! Obviously, this only predisposed me further to it.

What’s extraordinary to me is the fact that in 2021 we can actually have …

Katherine Addison: The Witness for the Dead (2021, Tor Books) 4 stars

A standalone novel in the fantastic world of Katherine Addison's award-winning The Goblin Emperor.

When …

Review of 'The Witness for the Dead' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

I loved The Goblin Emperor so much that I didn't want to seek out Witness for the Dead - who knows when Addison will write another book in this world, I have to make it last - so I waited until I happened to come across it on the shelf at the library, which finally happened.

I don't know that I would say it's better than The Goblin Emperor - for one thing, TGE is a better entry point because Maia knows nothing about court and the reader learns along with him, where Celehar in WftD is in a world he knows intimately - but in some ways it hangs together better. This is a murder mystery, and an exploration of the outer edges of Maia's kingdom; there are no huge plots to uncover, no questions of "what makes a good king?" and so on. The worldbuilding calms down here …

reviewed A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)

Sarah J. Maas: A Court of Thorns and Roses (Hardcover, 2015, Bloomsbury USA Childrens) 3 stars

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to …

Review of 'A Court of Thorns and Roses' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

I enjoyed this book so much, just tore through it! I read it right on the heels of Throne of Glass and while I enjoyed that book, you can just see how much Maas has improved as a writer. I'd also note that while Throne feels very YA in plot, characterization, tone, etc. Court could easily have been marketed as adult fantasy rather than YA (which is probably why I liked it more).

The plot is an interesting mash-up of the traditional version of Beauty and the Beast and the ballad of Tam Lin: Feyre (= Fair = Beauty, btw, took me a while to pick up on that) is the youngest daughter of a failed merchant, and while hunting to feed her family she kills a giant wolf she knows is one of the Fae. As a result, the high lord Tamlin, in the form of a huge beast, …

Sarah J. Maas: Throne of Glass (2012, Bloomsbury USA Children's) 3 stars

After she has served a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier …

Review of 'Throne of glass' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

A good, fast-paced read, but not quite as good as Maas's later work; certainly feels the Y in YA. Can be read as a standalone but is probably better if you continue on to read the whole series (I assume).

To summarize it briefly: Celaena, a proficient assassin, has been in the salt mines for a year when she is taken out by Prince Dorian and his guard captain Chaol to be the prince's candidate in a competition to find the next King's Champion. But someone, or something, is picking off candidates even outside of the competitions designed to winnow out the unworthy. Celaena's heart is also pulled into two directions, between the overtly romantic Dorian and the steadfast Chaol.

The major drawback to the book is that it's so clearly written to be part of a series. For instance, from very early on, I started to suspect that Maas …

"In this new full-length biography of Katherine Howard, Henry VIII's fifth wife, Conor Byrne reconsiders …

Review of 'Katherine Howard' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

An unexpected gem!

I often have need of referencing biographies of elite and royal women from the early modern period, and I usually do so with a hefty sigh. Most of them rely heavily on primary sources, and I get frustrated at the tendency of the authors to simply take them at face value; they also usually focus on dates and "facts", and only differ from common interpretations if the writer has found a new primary source to incorporate.

Katherine Howard: A New History, on the contrary, refreshingly rests on appropriate secondary sources and contextualizes historical events with scholarship. I did not expect to find this kind of academic approach in a biography of Katherine Howard, particularly one from this kind of small press, but here we are! (And then I found out that the author is still a student?! Incredible.)

For instance, Katherine's relationships to Henry Manox and …

Elizabeth Casteen: From she-wolf to martyr (2015, Cornell University Press) 5 stars

Review of 'From she-wolf to martyr' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

While this book may be a challenging read for those not used to academic history, it's well worth the effort.

Johanna/Giovanna I of Naples is a queen with no name recognition in the anglosphere. A descendant of the French Angevins who ruled Provence and southern Italy in the Middle Ages, she inherited the throne from her grandfather and would struggle against gendered expectations for the rest of her life. And rather than acting like a modern heroine in a historical novel, she made use of these expectations and tropes when she could in a fascinating version of medieval PR. Still, due to her pivotal role in the Western Schism (don't worry, I also had only the vaguest memory of what this was from high school, too) as well as the brutal murder of her first husband, she went down in Italian history as a voracious, nymphomaniac "she-wolf".

Casteen examines the …