Cover Reveal: Dust Child by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Hi, friends! I know I post a lot (okay, mostly) about romance and fantasy on my blog but I do occasionally read from other genres, so I’m very excited to share the cover reveal for a literary fiction novel that I’m looking forward to next year: Dust Child by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai.

Related: Check out my review for Que’s debut The Mountains Sing.

Now without further ado… Check out this awesome cover! 😍

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Blog Tour Spotlight: Jackie & Me by Louis Bayard

Today I’m shining a spotlight on Jackie & Me by Louis Bayard. This is a historical fiction about a young Jackie Kennedy before she was a Kennedy. Special thanks to Algonquin Books for having me on tour!

Goodreads: Jackie & Me
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publication Date: 14 June 2022
Genre: Historical Fiction

In 1951, former debutante Jacqueline Bouvier is hard at work as the Inquiring Camera Girl for a Washington newspaper. Her mission in life is “not to be a housewife,” but when she meets the charismatic congressman Jack Kennedy at a Georgetown party, her resolution begins to falter. Soon the two are flirting over secret phone calls, cocktails, and dinner dates, and as Jackie is drawn deeper into the Kennedy orbit, and as Jack himself grows increasingly elusive and absent, she begins to question what life at his side would mean. For answers, she turns to his best friend and confidant, Lem Billings, a closeted gay man who has made the Kennedy family his own, and who has been instructed by them to seal the deal with Jack’s new girl. But as he gets to know her, a deep and touching friendship emerges, leaving him with painfully divided alliances and a troubling dilemma: Is this the marriage she deserves?
 
Narrated by an older Lem as he looks back at his own role in a complicated alliance, this is a courtship story full of longing and of suspense, of what-ifs and possible wrong turns. It is a surprising look at Jackie before she was that Jackie. And in best-selling author Louis Bayard’s witty and deeply empathetic telling, Jackie & Me is a page-turning story of friendship, love, sacrifice, and betrayal— and a fresh take on two iconic American figures.

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Book Review: The Rake of Hearts by Emily Windsor

Goodreads: The Rake of Hearts (A Lady to Suit #2)
Publisher: Senara Press Ltd
Published: 02 April 2020
Genre: Regency Romance, Historical Fiction

Panda Rating:

(4.5 pandas)

When the heart is afire…
By his own admission, Lord Ernest Brook is a rake. With sapphire gaze, sinfully handsome looks and a duke for a brother, the pleasures of London have come with ease…apart from one.
Ever since the gauntlet of her first wintry dismissal was thrown, the widowed Hebe Lock has stirred his deepest desires, but just what would it take to woo such a woman?

Sparks will fly.
Hebe Locke has vowed to never again fall for a scoundrel after her brief marriage to one left her broken and haunted.
Now she finds comfort with paintbrush and canvas, but as a female artist in a male world, commissions are as rare as a ballroom without rakes.

A castle of enchantment.
As the heat of late summer warms the land, an ancient, moated castle plays host to a widow and a rake, both concealing passions contrary to their reputations.
But as Lord Ernest awakens Hebe’s desire and thaws her frozen emotions, can she hold true to her vow?
Or can this rake win the one heart he yearns for?

Sensual Regency romance with warmth and wit, this tale also includes a disreputable aunt with a secondary love story, Cotswold country fairs, sinful masquerades and…a goat.

TL;DR: After meeting Ernest in his brother’s story, The Duke of Diamonds, and getting a glimpse of the potential romance between him and Mrs. Locke, I had a feeling that I’d love their story and I wasn’t wrong! Who knew that a rake could be so devastatingly sweet? Honestly, if Ernest had pointedly looked at me over the top of his glasses across the table, I’d probably have swooned into my pudding too! 😂 I found the writaing just as full of wit and warmth in this book and there were some great laugh-out-loud moments as well, especially as Hebe and Ernest playfully antagonise each other at the beginning!

Although their romance isn’t necessarily different to a lot of regency romances, I loved their characters as they were easy to root for and their banter made it so entertaining to read! Hebe and Ernest both put up a front when they are in London in front of the ton but neither of those fronts is entirely true to their hidden characters, and I loved watching both of them shed those facades the longer they spend in the country and get to know each other! My heart broke for Hebe, who was in an abusive marriage until her husband’s death, but the scars run deep and have changed her into a young woman who feels like she doesn’t know herself anymore. Art is what brings her joy and what she finds comfort in so she turns her attention to that as she resolves to never open her heart to a man again, especially not to a rake.

Then enters Ernest, a dashedly handsome and deviously charming man, known by all from London to the country for his rakish ways that are regularly splashed on the gossip pages. Yet little does anyone know how Ernest longs for the wildness of the country and the connection he has to the land, animals and people there. He’s so much more down-to-earth than I expected and I loved his character more for it!

It was so satisfying to watch them come out of their shells and I loved how art played a part in that. It is their love of horses (and animals in general really) that bring them together and as Ernest watched Hebe paint them so full of life, they are able to connect through their understanding and compassion for the animal, and it is also what makes them realise that there’s more than meets the eye to either of them. There were some delightfully swoon-worthy moments as they become more vulnerable with each other, and paired with their banter and sizzling chemistry, it resulted in some great steamy scenes! 🥵

In addition to their story, there was a bonus romance between Hebe’s aunt Beatrice and Ernest’s stable master, Redmond. This sweet second-chance-romance didn’t detract from the main romance between our H/H, and though it was a little bit angsty, their connection after all these years apart was undeniable! I loved aunt Beatrice, who was such a cheerful and supportive presence in the story, so it was great to see her also get a HEA with the love of her life. Other than aunt Bea, there were other great supporting characters in this story who I found endearingly charming, quirky and witty, too. Grampy Tom was a particular favourite and I loved his ‘mysterious’ teachings relating to life and the weather and anecdotes about life.

Overall, I’m really enjoying this regency romance series and I’m looking forward to reading the next story in the series, although I have no idea when that will be (sad panda)!

Have you read The Rake of Hearts or is it on your TBR?

Book Review: The Duke of Diamonds by Emily Windsor

Goodreads: The Duke of Diamonds (A Lady to Suit #1)
Publisher: Senara Press Ltd
Published: 02 April 2020
Genre: Regency Romance, Historical Fiction

Panda Rating:

(3.5 pandas)

In the coldest flint, there is fire…
Casper Brook, the eighth Duke of Rothwell, has forever spurned frivolous pleasures, his restless emotions remaining buried beneath duty and command.
Yet when a titian-haired minx perches upon his ducal desk and claims to know the whereabouts of his one burning obsession, a game of wits and passion erupts…

Fire ignites from a spark…
Miss Evelyn Pearce possesses naught but a frail young sister and an ebony-black cat. Left destitute by her baronet father’s spendthrift ways, fate and talent hand her the opportunity to seek escape from the dangerous alleys of London town.
The cold Duke of Diamonds holds the key, and all Evelyn must do is resist his not-so-cold kiss…

A dance of flaming desire…
A passion forged on secrets can never be satisfied, but as guises fall and plots unravel, will the duke’s controlled façade shatter to reveal his searching heart within?
Regency romance with warmth and wit. This book contains sensual scenes.

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Book Review: Subtle Blood by K.J. Charles

Goodreads: Subtle Blood (The Will Darling Adventures #3)
Publisher: KJC Books
Published: 23 June 2021
Genre: Historical Romance, Mystery/Thriller

Panda Rating:

(4.5 pandas)

Will Darling is all right. His business is doing well, and so is his illicit relationship with Kim Secretan–disgraced aristocrat, ex-spy, amateur book-dealer. It’s starting to feel like he’s got his life under control.

And then a brutal murder in a gentleman’s club plunges them back into the shadow world of crime, deception, and the power of privilege. Worse, it brings them up against Kim’s noble, hostile family, and his upper-class life where Will can never belong.

With old and new enemies against them, and secrets on every side, Will and Kim have to fight for each other harder than ever—or be torn apart for good.

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Book Review: The Sugared Game by K.J. Charles

Goodreads: The Sugared Game (The Will Darling Adventures #2)
Publisher: KJC Books
Published: 26 August 2020
Genre: Historical Romance, Mystery

Panda Rating:

(4.5 pandas)

It’s been two months since Will Darling saw Kim Secretan, and he doesn’t expect to see him again. What do a rough and ready soldier-turned-bookseller and a disgraced shady aristocrat have to do with each other anyway?

But when Will encounters a face from the past in a disreputable nightclub, Kim turns up, as shifty, unreliable, and irresistible as ever. And before Will knows it, he’s been dragged back into Kim’s shadowy world of secrets, criminal conspiracies, and underhand dealings.

This time, though, things are underhanded even by Kim standards. This time, the danger is too close to home. And if Will and Kim can’t find common ground against unseen enemies, they risk losing everything.

A 1920s m/m romance trilogy in the spirit of Golden Age pulp fiction.

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Book Review: Slippery Creatures by K.J. Charles

Goodreads: Slippery Creatures (The Will Darling Adventures #1)
Publisher: KJC Books
Published: 13 May 2020
Genre: Historical Romance, Mystery

Panda Rating:

(3.5 pandas)

Will Darling came back from the Great War with a few scars, a lot of medals, and no idea what to do next. Inheriting his uncle’s chaotic second-hand bookshop is a blessing…until strange visitors start making threats. First a criminal gang, then the War Office, both telling Will to give them the information they want, or else.

Will has no idea what that information is, and nobody to turn to, until Kim Secretan—charming, cultured, oddly attractive—steps in to offer help. As Kim and Will try to find answers and outrun trouble, mutual desire grows along with the danger.

And then Will discovers the truth about Kim. His identity, his past, his real intentions. Enraged and betrayed, Will never wants to see him again.

But Will possesses knowledge that could cost thousands of lives. Enemies are closing in on him from all sides—and Kim is the only man who can help.


A 1920s m/m romance trilogy in the spirit of Golden Age pulp fiction.

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ARC Review: The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron

Special thanks to Feiwel & Friends for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads: The Magical Imperfect
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publish Date: 15 June 2021
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction

Panda Rating:

(3 pandas)

Etan has stopped speaking since his mother left. His father and grandfather don’t know how to help him. His friends have given up on him.

When Etan is asked to deliver a grocery order to the outskirts of town, he realizes he’s at the home of Malia Agbayani, also known as the Creature. Malia stopped going to school when her acute eczema spread to her face, and the bullying became too much.

As the two become friends, other kids tease Etan for knowing the Creature. But he believes he might have a cure for Malia’s condition, if only he can convince his family and hers to believe it too. Even if it works, will these two outcasts find where they fit in?

BUY A COPY:

TL;DR: Ultimately, while I might not recommend this for its disability rep, I appreciated the historical context and the representation of cultures and the immigrant perspective This was very different from what I expected after reading the blurb but I was pleasantly surprised by the nostalgic vibes it gave me. This did read a bit on the younger side of MG for me but I do think that it would be suitable and enjoyable for MG readers across all ages, even older readers such as myself.

This was a very different middle-grade read compared to what I normally pick up in this genre. It’s historical fiction but also has aspects of magical realism that leant the story an even more whimsical atmosphere. It’s written in verse and though the prose is simple and without unnecessary flair, it was also evocative and I could easily picture the neighbourhood form in front of my eyes. The community was diverse and there was a sense of camaraderie between all the neighbours that made the pages feel full of warmth and joy.

While I expected a touching story about the friendship between two young misfits, and we got that, it also went beyond that and there were many elements to the plot and setting that I didn’t expect to find—from religious to historical and cultural, and I was see it in a MG. I was intrigued by the late 80s setting in San Francisco and by the historical event that occurred during the time period of the story. What I found most refreshing though was seeing the Filipino representation in a historical setting and I was pleasantly surprised to read about the immigrant journey to America from a different (non-Western) perspective! Etan’s Jewish and Maia’s Filipina cultural heritage also played important roles in their story and as I grew up in the Philippines, I found reading about Maia’s family—her Lola and the food!—was comforting and made me a little nostalgic, too.

I found the friendship between Maia and Etan to be very sweet and full of youthful optimism and joy. As their bond grows closer, Etan finds the strength in his own voice again. Maia also finds joy in being able to have someone her age who doesn’t see her as “The Creature” but can look beyond her eczema to the loving, precocious and vibrant little girl she is. I really loved her sass and confidence, as well as her connection to nature and the trees surrounding her home.

Another aspect that I thought was interesting was the representation of Maia and Etan’s disabilities—severe eczema and selective mutism, respectively. I’ve never read a book with these disabilities represented (whether it be adult, YA or MG) so I found it interesting to read about and have it be part of these characters. However, what disappointed me was the use of the magical healing clay as a “cure” for these disabilities to make Maia and Etan ‘normal happy kids’. It made it seem like people with disabilities are not ‘normal’ and that you need to look and act like others to be happy. Yes, Maia wasn’t 100% ‘cured’ but the message is still the same and it’s not one that I would want any person to read and believe that they’re less than because they have a disability or live with chronic illness. The topic of mental health was also explored a bit through Etan’s mother but I wish it was done in more depth as it impacted Etan and his family so greatly.

Even though I didn’t end up loving it as much as I thought I would, it was still a quick, engaging and easy read. I loved the diversity and the historical context and in the future I’d be interested in seeing what else Baron has written.

Have you read The Magical Imperfect or is it on your TBR?

Goodreads Monday – Small Favors by Erin A. Craig

Welcome back to Goodreads Monday! It’s been a very hot minute since I did one but I figured I might as well get back into it! This weekly meme was started by @Lauren’s Page Turners and it invites you to pick a book from your TBR and explain why you want to read it. Easy enough, right? Feel free to join in if you want to! I’ll be using a random number generator to pick my books from my insanely long GR Want-to-read list.*

*Sorry if a book has been featured twice. I need to make better note of which ones I’ve done already!

This week’s featured book is Small Favors by Erin A. Craig. This is actually an anticipated 2021 YA historical fantasy release. It apparently has horror, supernatural, magical realism and retelling elements to it? It’s scheduled to be published 27 July 2021! 😍

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Goodreads Monday – In Deeper Waters by F.T. Lukens

Welcome back to Goodreads Monday! It’s been a very hot minute since I did one but I figured I might as well get back into it! This weekly meme was started by @Lauren’s Page Turners and it invites you to pick a book from your TBR and explain why you want to read it. Easy enough, right? Feel free to join in if you want to! I’ll be using a random number generator to pick my books from my insanely long GR Want-to-read list.*

*Sorry if a book has been featured twice. I need to make better note of which ones I’ve done already!

This week’s featured book is In Deeper Waters by F.T. Lukens. This is a YA historical fantasy that comes out mid-April 2021!

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