Sometimes, when I read a book, I hold it close to my heart, and then flail around helplessly in my head trying to think of how to explain how awesome this book is.
Then I think, “I need to process this book some more. I’ll write it up later. Also I’m tired from my epic book hangover”
And then I read something else, and the details get fuzzy, and all that’s left in my brain was “This book was so amazing.” Not so good for writing a full review, but I still want everyone to read these books.
With no further ado, this is me flailing around helplessly, the abbreviated version.
I am on record stating that this is probably the best romance novel I’ve ever read. Like, in my entire life of reading romance novels. I stand by this statement. It’s sweeping and romantic and Kinsale’s use of language is just masterful. This book also raises fascinating questions about madness, class, and religion which stick with me even as I forget Jervaulx’s given name.
Two Laura Kinsale books on the same list? Yes, you read that right. Here we have a medieval romance between Melanthe, a cold, calculating woman who above all else is scared shitless all the time, and the monkish knight who loves her. Again, Kinsale’s use of language is masterful, but in this case, it’s because of the rich, old-English-lite narration that elevates this book to pure poetry.
Book two in the London Celebrities series, which I inhaled during the stress of Christmas 2021, Pretty Face is an age-gap director-ingenue romance, but it’s so much more than that. Parker’s books are often marketed as comedies, and the dialogue is definitely sharp and sparkling, but her characters are always dealing with an undercurrent of sadness. I think I liked this one so much because the character-work here is phenomenal.
After Ingrid read The Lord I Left, also by Peckham, she texted me to say that it was a Holly book; I already had a copy of The Rakess floating around in my Kindle, so I read that instead, and holy shit, was it a Holly book. Smart, political, feminist, and sexy, all in one delicious historical bundle? Count. Me. In.
I read a whole bunch of Courtney Milan books when I was in graduate school (say, 2010ish), and hadn’t picked one up since. Sometimes when I revisit an author I used to love, I’m disappointed, either because I’ve grown too much or they’ve failed to, but that was not the case here. Milan skillfully plays with romance tropes in ways that were so fun for a major romance nerd like me and delivers a story featuring the injustices of the British aristocracy without performative woke-ness.
Heat Factor: I’m way too prim and proper to tell you how smouldering this gets, but it burns
Character Chemistry: I have never been so distraught thinking that two people were doomed to be apart in my entire life, honest truth
Plot: Alice learns that her mother is at death’s door and accepts Lord Lieutenant Henry Evesham’s invitation to deliver her home as quickly as possible despite his role as an evangelical reformer tasked with investigating the sex worker trade and recommending changes. This is nuts, because Alice is currently a housekeeper in training to be a whipping girl at a house of pleasure in London…
Overall: Look, take everything you thought you knew about sex work and faith and romance novels about the above and just toss it out the window because this book is about to shake you to your BOOTS, I’m telling you