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Lightning Reviews: All Historicals

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Lightning Reviews are back! All three have historical settings! One is more historical mystery, while the other are historical romance. And they’re all well-reviewed, which means your TBR will probably grow a bit. Let’s go!



    The Companion

    author: E.E. Ottoman

    The Companion came out in April, but I only got around to it now. It’s the best queer historical romance I’ve read in ages. Do not sleep on this erotic love story between three beautiful and wounded people, a trans man, and two trans women. This is a gorgeous little book about finding a soft place to land. It has serious #cottagecore vibes and would be a perfect comfort read for when you want to fantasize about a woodland hideaway. I wish I would have read it sooner.

    It’s 1948, and Madeline is an aspiring writer who’s been chewed up by the toxic New York City publishing scene. Out of money, she retreats to the country house of a friend of a friend, successful writer Victor. He’s gorgeous, reclusive, and kind, mostly leaving Madeline to herself. When she stumbles across his mysterious neighbor and ex-lover, Audrey, Madeline is smitten. Audrey’s an earthy artist, with an intense wood nymph energy that fascinates Madeline. Slowly, she finds herself drawn to them both of them, even though Victor and Audrey barely seem to get along.

    The Companion is a low-conflict romance about healing from hurt and learning to trust again. The plot is minimalist: Madeline figures out how to be happy, she has a lot of sex, and she helps Aubrey and Victor get over their past. Madeline is inexperienced, and she learns through these relationships first what’s possible between lovers, and later, what she wants in a romance, in a writing career, and in the rest of her life. There’s lots of cooking, sexytimes, vintage fashion, and walks in the woods along the way. I adored how comforting this was, but readers looking for an action-filled plot will be disappointed.

    The setting is verdant, rural, dreamy, and totally separated from the rest of the world. While the characters allude to the hostility outside of their bubble, the story is insularly focused on the safe place they create together. All three characters were easy to root for, fascinating from their first appearance, caring, and equally sympathetic and distinct. That’s quite a feat in a poly romance. I often find myself liking one love interest more than the other in poly stories, so it feels more like a love triangle. Not here! These three are all ridiculously attractive, hot and talented. Competence porn abounds.

    I was struck by the writing too: every word feels precise, every subplot is essential, and it’s lovely and lyrical at the same time. The Companion is also the sexiest romance I’ve read this year. That’s right, Fall 2021 releases, you’re going to need to step it up. Lastly, I can’t overstate how compassionate all these characters are; watching them take care of one another hit me in all the feels. If you want to be looked after, you’re in good hands with this book.


    Historical: American, LGBTQIA, Romance


    Death at the Crystal Palace

    author: Jennifer Ashley

    I love the Kat Holloway series to the point that I’ve recommended and purchased copies for people all around me. I knew I’d like this one, and I did, indeed. The challenge here is that this is the fifth book in the series, so identifying the audience for a review is tricky and tends to slow down my ability to write said review.

    Meta aside, a brief summary: Kat Holloway is still balancing her life in and out of the kitchen while cooking scrumptious things. When the book opens, she’s with her daughter at the Crystal Palace for an exhibition and lecture among her friends and acquaintances from across several discrete social levels. As usual, Kat is keenly aware of her position relative to others socially and economically. Lady Covington, also at the exhibition with her family, approaches Kat and begs for her help because she’s convinced someone in her home is trying to poison her. Kat quickly decides to act, in part because she is sensitive to the fact that if the poisoner wanted to frame Lady Covington’s cook, it’d be absurdly easy to let that person take the blame (and the death sentence).

    Reading this book right after editing and releasing my podcast episode with Mikki Kendall about poisons in garden plants was an experience, let me tell you. I love when I unexpectedly occupy a pattern created by my own curiosity.

    Part of the challenge in reviewing the fifth of a series is recommending a book that would be much better experienced by reading the prior volumes. That’s a lot of books, I know. But the series is terrific as a whole. So if you haven’t read it, and you’re encountering this book for the first time here, yes, the series is great, but yes, it’s ideal to start at the first story, A Soupçon of Poison.

    For those familiar with the series already, how does this book compare to the others? Well, the mystery is terrific, and I was definitely surprised by it. I also appreciated how each book allows for the growth of the characters and of their relationships to one another. Reading the Kat Holloway series for the mystery plots is one part of the enjoyment, but reading to watch the characters create stronger connections emotionally is for me the far greater experience. I love interpersonal nuance and the tensions that arrive as personal relationships grow more complex and therefore complicated.

    There is a slowly developing romance in the series, and it is the source of my frustrations with this novel. Too many times Kat grew fussy over not knowing information that she felt somehow entitled to, and I didn’t agree with that sense of entitlement. Kat also felt entitled to information merely because she was worried, and while that worked in service to the mystery plot, it didn’t work as well in the relationship plot, especially because it was stated over and over, and therefore slowed the progress of everything else going on in the story.

    That said, Death at the Crystal Palace is a solid installment in one of my favorite series. I recommend all the books if you’re looking for a terrific historical mystery series with a lovely romance inside.

    SB Sarah

    Historical: European, Mystery/Thriller


    The Devil and the Heiress

    author: Harper St. George

    The Devil and the Heiress by Harper St. George is a tropey historical romance with light conflict. Readers looking for a lot of angst probably won’t enjoy this one, while readers looking for a romance with a lot of action and minimal conflict will be fine. It worked totally for me, but lately I’ve needed less darkness and fewer obstacles for the main characters to overcome in my reading.

    American heiress Violet Crenshaw is in London while her parents search out a suitable match for her. Violet doesn’t want to marry; she wants to be a novelist. After discovering a sanctuary for women writers, Violet plans to run away and work on her novel there.

    Christian Halston, Earl of Leigh, has met Violet at society events and is attracted to her. He approaches her father about a potential match, but her father wants her to marry someone else who will give him mineral rights or something. IDK. Her dad is a dick. Anyway, Christian learns of Violet’s plans and offers to give her a ride to the sanctuary, hoping that along the way he can convince her to elope with him to Gretna Green. He figures if it gets out that she took a multi-day carriage trip with him, she’ll have to marry him anyway. Along the way we get “one bed at the inn,” the hero rescuing and nursing the heroine back to health after a carriage accident, and love on a road trip.

    The fact that Violet’s dad and Christian (initially) are both out to force her into a marriage she doesn’t want is gross, and the conflict arrives when Violet learns of Christian’s intentions. By that time she has feelings for him, though, which adds to the internal tension.

    Because Violet and Christian spend so much time together alone, we get a lot of time where they can really get to know each other without a lot of distractions. This creates a wonderful sense of intimacy, and part of the joy I felt in reading this book was Christian really getting to know Violet and appreciate her as a person and a writer, not just a means to inheritance. It was that kind of bubbly feeling you get when you meet someone who just “gets” you, except I had it vicariously through these characters.

    If you enjoyed St. George’s first book, The Heiress Gets a Duke, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this one, as it’s similar in tone and pacing. If you want a lot of angst, this book doesn’t have it, although the hero does have some groveling to do. Overall it’s tropey and fun, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.


    Historical: European, Romance

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