Blood Magic and Apocalypses: A Romance Novels Round-Up

Welp, here it is somehow Friday already, and I do not feel that I have accomplished anything this week. Anyone have good weekend plans? Mine focus heavily on hibernation. In the meantime, here are some romance novels I’ve been reading lately.

Rag and Bone, KJ Charles

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.)

KJ Charles writes about half-and-half straight historical romance novels and creepy magic creepiness romance novels, and I would be hard-pressed to say which genre I prefer. Rag and Bone is in the latter category, a companion novel to her “Charm of Magpies” series. Crispin was raised by a warlock and got into bad habits, but now he has been found by good magic-users, who are trying to teach him to do magic that doesn’t skip on the raggedy edge of necromancy. Unfortunately for him, and for his (secret, cause it’s olden times) lover, a dustman called Ned, there is an old, malevolent force stalking the streets of London.

Rag and Bone is hella creepy — as are all the books in this series: come for the sexytimes, stay for the nightmare-inducing British witchcraft.1 In his warlock days, Crispin cut off a piece of his finger and used the bone to make a pen that writes in his blood and serves as a conduit for his magic. There’s unexplained spontaneous human combustion. There’s the sound of singing, and nobody to do the singing. As always in Charles’s books, you get halfway through the book and can’t imagine how things are going to work out for her characters; but then, of course, they do. This is romance! So knowing that, it’s just fun to watch Charles get her characters into increasingly horrific scrapes, trusting that she’ll also be able to get them back out.

Mixed Signals, Alyssa Cole

The third in Alyssa Cole’s Off the Grid series, Mixed Signals is best read after the first two — but you should read the first two!2 The basic premise of the series is that solar flares (I think? I’m fuzzy on the science) have put out the lights across America. The chaos is about what you’d expect, and the survivors of the immediate aftermath must find a way to make their lives in an irretrievably altered society. Since this is a combination of two things I love — romance novels and process dystopias — I am obviously in for this.

By the start of Mixed Signals, it is years on from the initial collapse of society, and the country is rebuilding. Maggie Seong was only a kid when the lights went out, and now that she’s heading off to college, there’s been enough progress to where there are, you know, colleges to go to. As Maggie struggles to work out what she wants, her campus faces attacks from Luddite groups who want to undo the progress that everyone has worked so hard to achieve. The central romance (of the friends-to-lovers type) is a little thin, actually, but I didn’t mind because Cole’s worldbuilding is so much fun. I love this series, and I hope Cole keeps thinking of new stories for this world she’s created.

Once upon a Marquess, Courtney Milan

I…didn’t really care for this one. Courtney Milan was one of my first introductions into romance novels, way back in 2012/2013 sort of time, and it was sort of a revelation to me that romance novels could be funny and feminist and great. But I haven’t loved her most recent historicals (her book Trade Me was quite good! with all the negotiating of power dynamics!), and Once upon a Marquess was heavy-handed in the way that’s been frustrating me with Milan lately. Sigh!

It’s particularly sad because Once upon a Marquess is the first in a new series, the kind where each family member gets a story, and I love those. I’ll probably read at least one more in the Worth series before giving up, though.

Listen to the Moon, Rose Lerner

If you have talked to me about romance novels in the last recently, you’ll probably have heard me say, “ROSE LERNER SHOULD BE MORE FAMOUS.” Listen to the Moon is more grist for that opinion mill. The historical world her characters inhabit feels completely lived in, and the obstacles that stand between her protagonists and their happy ending are never contrived.

Listen to the Moon is a particularly fun book because it’s that rarest of beasts, a historical romance between two working-class people. John Toogood is a gentleman’s gentleman who has lost his position through no fault of his own, while Sukey is a maid-of-all-work who drives John mad by settling for good-enough (rather than perfection). Rose Lerner has obviously done extensive research into the ins and outs of being a house servant in the 1800s. This book is a treat on every level.

What about y’all? Read any good romance lately? I need some recommendations for upcoming airplane travel!

  1. Or the other way around! I don’t know your life.
  2. Confession, I cheated and skipped the second one because it was checked out at my library. I don’t recommend this. I followed the plot of Mixed Signals just fine, but I wished I hadn’t missed out on whatever went on in Signal Boost.
  • Lisa

    I’ve probably heard (read) you say that about Rose Lerner, but it’s finally sunk in with this title. I’d love to read historical romance with working class people. I don’t read a lot of dystopia, because I’ve read some with ridiculous levels of violence against women, but Mixed Signals sounds like something to check out.

    • It is! And I think the author deals well with the possibility of violence against women in a lawless society — she doesn’t overuse the trope, and when it does come up, she’s thoughtful about what the fall-out would be for those characters.

  • For me it is hard to read most novels categorized as romances that are the dime-a-dozen-writer-puts-out-50-a-year kind, with covers showing “pecs and abs” and titles like A Knave in a Kilt or something. But I think there are plenty good romances if you expand the notion of the genre a bit. In my opinion, it is perhaps the most difficult of the genre categories. For science fiction, you can pretty much define it as “going into space” or back through time or something. But romance? There is so much that can be called “literature” or even “women’s literature” so it’s hard to know just what one means by “romance.” Under the expanded notion, I’ve read many I would consider “good” but under the more narrow designation, not so much! :–)

    • Nishita

      @nbmars:disqus love that comment. The traditional romance novels tire after a point. I always love it when the romance is woven into a larger story (say Outlander), but a whole book about a couple doesn’t wow me any more.

  • Shoot, so many titles to think about! I like a little romance, but generally do not read books that are designated Romance. Ha, ha, when rhapsodyinbooks mentioned the covers and “pecs and abs”–I have felt exactly the same. Finding the right authors is the key, so thanks for some titles and authors to consider. 🙂

    • Well, if you do find one or two romance-designated books that you like, make sure to review them, and then I can recommend a few more along similar lines. 🙂

  • Christy

    I’ll have to check out the Alyssa Cole series. Thanks! I think I liked some of Milan’s Brothers Sinister books more than you did – for example I loved The Suffragette Scandal. But I totally agree about Once Upon a Marquess. That said, I think the sample chapter from the next one in this new Worth series seemed promising, so I will try it. But I’m looking forward to the second Cyclone book even more. And fine! I put Rose Lerner books on my Kindle now! I must obey the all-caps tags!

    A couple of romances I liked recently were Jill Sorenson’s Caught in the Act and Edge of Night. I read them because I came across the author’s post on multiculturalism and romance: http://jillsorenson.com/2012/06/20/multiculturalism-romance/

    • Yes, I’m going to keep trying with Courtney Milan. I can’t abandon her! She was the first romance author I ever loved! :p Thanks for the Jill Sorenson rec — will check her out!

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    I almost choked on the water I was drinking when I read the title Once upon a Marquess. You may not have liked the book that much but the title is an excellent play on another title for which I served as assistant director in high school drama 🙂

    • Hahahahaha. Romance novel titles can be so silly, but the good news is that the authors know they’re being silly and just have fun with it.

  • Romance is one genre I haven’t explored at ALL besides reading one Sarah MacLean book (which I greatly enjoyed). The Alyssa Cole series in particular sounds really good to me. I’m going to see if I can try the first in the series from the library. Thanks for such great recommendations!

    • Any time! And if you want more like Sarah MacLean, I’d recommend — well, obviously, more Sarah MacLean, first of all. But then also Courtney Milan’s Turner series, of which Unveiled is the first, and Loretta Chase’s most recent series, of which the first is Silk Is for Seduction.

      • Wow thank you! I appreciate the recommendations and will definitely check them out.

  • I love that you said that “romance novels could be funny and feminist and great” because I discovered that about them very late too. I haven’t heard of any of these so I will check them out.

    • Yay! I especially recommend Alyssa Cole and Rose Lerner — two very different authors that I wish were more widely known.

  • Juhi

    I love whenever romance gets some love! 🙂

    I’ve had a bad run with Milan recently. Once Upon A Marquess just came through library hold so we’ll see how that goes!

    • Indeed? Say more? What books of hers haven’t you liked?

      • Juhi

        I abandoned both The Suffragette Scandal & Trade Me in between. Both the stories have a feminist ethos but it felt to me as if the background started overtaking the story rather than being used in service of the story! Which kind of made me not pick them up again once I had to put them down.

  • Citizen Reader

    Wow, romance genres are really becoming quite specialized, aren’t they?
    Thanks for the tip on “Trade Me”–I’m going to check it out!

    • Oh, definitely! It’s one of those things where if you have a really specific set of preferences for what you want in a romance novel, there’s almost always going to be plenty of reading material available for you.

      Also, I am always ALWAYS willing to dish out romance novels recommendations. :p

  • Nishita

    Why haven’t I heard of KJ Charles before? These books sound marvelous!

    • They’re a lot of fun! Just, you know, lots of sex and lots of blood magic. Know whether you’re cool about that before starting. :p

  • Rag and Bone sounds like it will tickle my creepy bone (I have a need for darker/creepy reads some days). Some of Courtney Milan’s stuff I adore, but like you, I do feel like she pushes it a bit far sometimes. I always have to wait for her books to go on sale and then binge read them… it’s a problem (especially when many of them go on sale at once- it happens, but not often). I polished off To Sir Phillip With Love and When He Was Wicked (Bridgertons 5-6) by Julia Quinn at the beginning of March, and naturally I liked those ones. I don’t think I’ve ever *not* liked a Bridgertons book before, though.
    ~Litha Nelle