Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian (Seducing the Sedgwicks #2)

35564594Summary from Goodreads:
Once beloved by London’s fashionable elite, Hartley Sedgwick has become a recluse after a spate of salacious gossip exposed his most-private secrets. Rarely venturing from the house whose inheritance is a daily reminder of his downfall, he’s captivated by the exceedingly handsome man who seeks to rob him.

Since retiring from the boxing ring, Sam Fox has made his pub, The Bell, into a haven for those in his Free Black community. But when his best friend Kate implores him to find and destroy a scandalously revealing painting of her, he agrees. Sam would do anything to protect those he loves, even if it means stealing from a wealthy gentleman. But when he encounters Hartley, he soon finds himself wanting to steal more than just a painting from the lovely, lonely man—he wants to steal his heart.

Content Warning from Author: This book includes a main character who was sexually abused in the past; abuse happens off page but is alluded to.

The squealing that happened when I found the digital galley for A Gentleman Never Keeps Score on Edelweiss….I apologize to everyone in a three-county radius.  I was that excited.  Because I have wanted to read about Sam Fox ever since I read Cat Sebastian’s description of the book on her Twitter.

Sam is an ex-prize-fighter and publican, the owner of The Bell which Sam sees as an integral part of the Free Black community in London. It’s a place to get news, get a hot meal, get a decent drink, and socialize with other members of the small London community. When Sam’s friend (and future sister-in-law and community midwife) Kate asks him to recover a nude painting she posed for as a younger woman in need of money, he agrees. With some trepidation because a Black man caught house-breaking in Regency London would not come to a good ending.

In the course of planning out his house-breaking, Sam runs into Hartley. In the alley behind Hartley’s own Brook Street house – the target of Sam’s mission. Hartley was bequeathed the house from Sir Humphrey Easterbrook (more on this below) and after a series of comical misunderstandings Sam and Hartley get down to business.  The painting.  Which, unfortunately for Sam, is likely no longer in the house because the artwork had been removed from the walls before Hartley took possession.

But this doesn’t mean Sam’s mission is at an end because Hartley would also like to recover a painting from Sir Humphrey’s collection. Hartley allowed himself to be a sort of “kept” man by Sir Humphrey when a teen because it would ensure that his brothers would be able to attend school or university, and not be destitute. And now that Hartley has inherited the house, and a little money, and has the clothes, and the curricle this means his is a gentleman – he feels like what he gave up to Sir Humphrey has been worth it, even the fact that he can’t bear to be touched.  Except that someone has spread a rumor about Hartley’s sexual orientation and now he’s an outcast in Society. If this painting is ever made public, he could lose his life.

So the most unlikely pair begins to work together to find these paintings. They also begin very, very cautiously to work toward each other and find middle ground as a gay, cross-class, bi-racial couple in Regency London. Along the way they create a family of non-Society “outcasts,” from Kate and Nick (and other members of the Black community) to Hartley’s valet/man-of-work Alf, a young gay man, and Sadie, a young unwed mother abandoned by her “respectable” family due to her pregnancy who becomes Hartley’s cook. Hartley’s brothers Ben and Will also pop up (although I was slightly disappointed that Ben did not bring his “sea captain” and the kids).

I love this book. Sam Fox is the sweetest man ever invented, I swear. He’s such a cinnamon roll. Hartley is a wonderfully multi-layered character with the way he uses his privilege to mask his hurt and protect Sam. The way Sam and Hartley actually talk through their issues and misunderstandings is just A+.  Also, there is a scene late in the book that just filled my heart to bursting. (Incidentally, there is also a scene that is so hot that you will need to fan yourself. Holy cannoli. This book gets steamy, y’all, and it’s so well-written.)

Small trigger warning, as the author herself stated in the description, Hartley was abused/coerced as a young man, alluded to in the previous book, It Takes Two to Tumble, and clarified here, but Sebastian does not go into details on the page. Just FYI if you need to know ahead of time.

Now, I am intrigued at all the places Cat Sebastian is going these days.  Her next book, due in the fall, is A Duke in Disguise, about a guy who doesn’t want to be a duke (I think?) and a bookseller who just wants to get on with her publishing business.  And then we get a book the third Sedgwick brother, Will, who is apparently involved with Sir Humphrey’s son Martin and that was a twist I was not expecting (nor was Hartley, who then gave us a hilarious aside wondering about the probability of all the Sedgwick males being gay).

Dear FTC: I read this thing like yesterday once the galley was downloaded on my iPad and I’ve had this pre-ordered on my Nook since that was possible.

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Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian (Regency Impostors, #1)

35270780Summary from Goodreads:
The one you love…
Robert Selby is determined to see his sister make an advantageous match. But he has two problems: the Selbys have no connections or money and Robert is really a housemaid named Charity Church. She’s enjoyed every minute of her masquerade over the past six years, but she knows her pretense is nearing an end. Charity needs to see her beloved friend married well and then Robert Selby will disappear…forever.
May not be who you think…
Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, has spent years repairing the estate ruined by his wastrel father, and nothing is more important than protecting his fortune and name. He shouldn’t be so beguiled by the charming young man who shows up on his doorstep asking for favors. And he certainly shouldn’t be thinking of all the disreputable things he’d like to do to the impertinent scamp.
But is who you need…
When Charity’s true nature is revealed, Alistair knows he can’t marry a scandalous woman in breeches, and Charity isn’t about to lace herself into a corset and play a respectable miss. Can these stubborn souls learn to sacrifice what they’ve always wanted for a love that is more than they could have imagined?

Thus far in her writing career at Avon, Cat Sebastian has created four compelling, smart m/m romances. For her fifth book, she hit us with a surprise: her new couple was not comprised of two gay men.

Unmasked by the Marquess begins as the stodgy, grouchy, and very proper Marquess of Pembroke – whose father was rather notorious in his gambling and womanizing ways – is called upon by a complete stranger to grant a favor. The young Mr. Robert Selby has a very pretty younger sister in need of a good launch into Society and could Pembroke, as a very respectable member of the aristocracy, perhaps pay her some notice? Other gentlemen (i.e. of the titled, moneyed kind) would then notice Louisa and she would then be able to make a very good match. After a bit of back and forth – and a fortuitously loose bonnet ribbon – Pembroke agrees to the request and also becomes a bit interested in the bold young man who orchestrated the whole thing.

The rather interesting wrinkle in this relationship is that Mr. Selby is not a “mister” nor perhaps a “Selby” – he is Charity Church, an orphan raised as a maid, but who was sent off to Cambridge to receive a first-rate education under the guise of “Robert Selby” at the behest of her master, the real Robert Selby. The problem facing Charity now is that Robert Selby died unexpectedly of the influenza leaving behind Charity-as-Robert and a very (very) pretty sister Louisa and not very much money, since the estate will now pass to a cousin. So Charity and Lou concealed Selby’s death and have gone on as “Robert” and Louisa for the last two years while concocting this plan to get Louisa a husband to provide for her.

But Pembroke isn’t a fool, nor is he as straight-laced as he seems. When his aimless younger brother takes an interest in Louisa, and Pembroke becomes interested in Selby as more than just a friend, Pembroke begins to investigate a few cracks in Selby’s story. And he blows Charity’s secrets wide open.

img_9600Unmasked by the Marquess is an amazing, smart romance novel about an intelligent, genderfluid/nonbinary person and a bisexual aristocrat in the Regency period. The characters are funny and charming but so heartfelt and ready to walk right off the page. It is also a novel with a lot of consider about gender performance versus sexual preference. In Sebastian’s “Author Note” she provides more than enough historical context for anyone who needed proof that non-binary people could exist in the Regency (they’ve always existed, which is the point, and existed throughout history often at great risk to their lives). Charity, later renamed Robin in the book since she is neither a “Charity” nor a “Robert,” uses female pronouns, a choice Sebastian made and one that makes sense to me, but really creates a place for herself to exist in the world that is not “male” or “female” but rather in-between or both.

Pembroke really grows with Robin as he realizes that, first of all, he’s been a right bastard to his half-sisters because of his father issues, and second, if you have money and privilege the rest of Society will either get behind you or will stay out of your way. In this way, Pembroke is the polar opposite of Dain from Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels. Dain starts out as the most hedonistic, “wicked” aristocrat, able to do whatever he likes because of his immense wealth and rank, who becomes less of a prickly jackass once he finds a woman more than capable of dealing with his bullshit (spoiler: she shoots him). Pembroke is the stuffiest of Stuffy, Uptight, British Males until Robin comes along and makes him realize that he denies himself a lot of joy and happiness in the pursuit of “respectability.” (Richard Armitage is now Pembroke, I accept this headcanon. I’ve got three words for you: North and South.)

So, a smart genderfluid ex-maidservant + a bisexual stuffy marquess + Regency + secrets + hijinks = Cat Sebastian upping her game. I loved it so much. Y’all will want to read this immediately. It’s out now, by the way.

I do have to say, though, a petition is needed to have Avon get Cat Sebastian better covers. The general design is fine but they need to look less like student Photoshop projects. (Like, is Pembroke missing a thumb here?) And if you look up her next book on Goodreads, the cover shown there looks very much like two dudes pasted together from different stock photos. (Although, I need the text of that book in my eyeballs immediately because I do so want a cinnamon roll publican and bored socialite – whatever the male version of socialite is – heist m/m romance novel like yesterday.) Her books are selling, so spend a little more money on the actual art.

Dear FTC: I read the digital galley of this book and immediately pre-ordered it on my nook.

Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai (Forbidden Hearts #3)

35068637Summary from Goodreads:
Being bad never felt so good, in the third novel in Alisha Rai’s sexy Forbidden Hearts series!

Well-behaved women don’t lust after men who love to misbehave.

Heiress Evangeline Chandler knows how to keep a secret . . . like her life-long crush on the tattooed hottie who just happens to be her big brother’s friend. She’s a Chandler, after all, and Chandlers don’t hook up with the help. Then again, they also don’t disobey their fathers and quit their respectable jobs, so good-girl rules may no longer apply.

Gabriel Hunter hides the pain of his past behind a smile, but he can’t hide his sudden attraction to his friend’s sheltered little sister. Eve is far too sweet to accept anything less than forever and there’s no chance of a future between the son of a housekeeper and the town’s resident princess.

When a wedding party forces Eve and Gabe into tight quarters, keeping their hands off each other will be as hard as keeping their clothes on. The need that draws them together is stronger than the forces that should shove them apart . . . but their sparks may not survive the explosion when long-buried secrets are finally unearthed.

OK, so, here’s the deal.  I know that we always say that you can read parts of romance series as stand-alones, that you don’t have to always read them in order.  However, I think you will get much, much more satisfaction from reading Hurts to Love You after you’ve read the first two books in the series (Hate to Want You and Wrong to Need You). There’s some inter-family stuff that will make way more sense. Plus they are ah-mayzing. Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Good, you’re back.  Eve and Gabe were first introduced separately in Hate to Want You, Eve is Nicholas’s little sister and Gabe is Livvy’s boss at the tattoo parlor.  There’s an age gap between them of about 10-ish years (to be honest, I didn’t stop to calculate or notice while I was tearing through this book) and Gabe hasn’t been very close with Eve’s family in about a decade. As he says, Paul (Livvy’s older brother) got him in the “divorce” when the Oka-Kane and Chandler families split (ok, this is why you have to read the whole series, I’m telling you). But Eve’s got a little secret: she’s had a secret crush on Gabe for years and goes undercover as a Ryde driver to make sure she’s the one driving him home after his nights out.  When Eve and Gabe are thrown together in the run-up to Nicholas and Livvy’s wedding, Gabe learns that Eve is not longer the kid sister of his former friend and Eve learns that opening oneself to emotional experiences is a risk, but one worth taking.

*sigh* forever. I loved, loved this concluding installment to the Forbidden Hearts series and devoured it in one sitting. Then I read it straight through again. Eve and Gabe’s story is far more like Livvy and Nicholas’s story than Jackson and Sadia’s – there’s a LOT of drama and plotting. But it’s SO GOOD. Plus allllll the family pops up and there’s a tiny matchmaking subplot (this part was adorable – please to have a short story?). The glue in this story is how having emotions and caring for others can hurt you, but it can also feel so damn good. Eve has really closed herself off emotionally after years of verbal and emotional abuse from her father and watching her work through allowing herself to not only experience emotions but also express them was so profoundly moving.

Hurts to Love You will be out on TUESDAY March 27 – get your eyeballs ready, maybe buy some Kleenex.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley and did you really think I wasn’t going to have this pre-ordered?

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Bound to Be a Groom by Megan Mulry (Regency Reimagined #1)

20418278Summary from Goodreads:
Sometimes our wildest dreams come true.

In the tumultuous summer of 1808, Spain and England are close to war and four young lovers are close to ecstasy.

To carve out an independent life with the woman she loves, Anna knows she must leave her quiet Spanish convent to become a courtesan. To gain experience, she sets her sights on . . .

Sebastian, whose powerful, aristocratic confidence suits Anna’s mercenary goals. But his arrogance masks a craving for submission that Anna instinctively satisfies. Sebastian soon begs for her hand in marriage, even if it means sharing her with . . .

Pia, who trusts Anna completely—with her body and her future—until she learns of Anna’s hasty marriage. Pia questions their commitment to each other as they leave for London to meet . . .

Farleigh, the seemingly feckless duke who thinks he’s over Sebastian, the potent Spanish soldier he bedded two years ago.

What begins as a series of erotic escapades soon evolves into a deep, unbreakable bond. Two men and two women who yearn to explore are about to make their wildest dreams come true.

So Jenn on Get Booked recommended Bound to be a Groom in response to a listener who wanted to expand their romance sub-genre reading and I was like, “huh, well, I will check this out” (plus it’s only like $3 on ebook, so even if it was a dud it was fine). This is a pretty ok book, though I found the story a bit too thin in places for my taste and the characters flat outside of their bedroom activities. So it falls more on the erotica side (plot serves the sex scenes) verses romance (sex scenes serve the plot). I think ménage romances/erotica are not for me? There are too many moving parts (haha, #sorrynotsorry) to keep track of, especially once three expanded to four. Not ruling the whole sub-genre out completely, but probably not moving up the preference ladder. Mulry does write the sex scenes well, so that is a plus if this is your thing.

Dear FTC: I read the copy I bought for my nook.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Virgin Territory by Lia Riley (Hellions Angels #3)

35665820Summary from Goodreads:
Practice Makes Perfect

Patrick “Patch” Donnelly has what it takes to be the best goalie in the NHL…if only he could learn to control his temper. When Coach orders him to get his head in the game with private yoga classes, Patch isn’t having it. There’s no way this tough Boston guy would be caught dead downward dog-ing his way to inner peace. But if he refuses, he risks his starting position and the dream he sacrificed everything for, including joining the priesthood.

Yoga instructor Margot Kowalski is over men. After yet another toxic relationship, she’s eager to forget love and focus on growing her business. Doing the Hellions head coach a favor by helping out a troubled player can’t hurt, and it might give her career a high-profile boost. But free-spirited Margot is soon charming the pants off Patch. Literally. Her sassy combination of sweet and sexy proves irresistible to the goalie. Before Patch can give into temptation though, he’ll have to confess his biggest secret:

He’s a virgin.

But Patch is hiding more than sexual inexperience, and his dark past soon threatens to destroy his shot at true love.

Sports romances really aren’t my jam. (Eh, sportsball.) However, the pitch for Virgin Territory – pro hockey player with anger problems who was once set to join the priest hood and is still a virgin who hasn’t made it to second base is ordered to have private yoga sessions and romance ensues – had me hooked. I’m here for the contrasts in that hero’s description.

This was a pretty middle-of-the-road book for me. I really liked the idea of the book (see above) but there was a lot of Instalust and a very compressed timeline. Patch wigs out on a lawyer (who you find out deserved it in the end), we’re introduced to Margot, Patch is ordered to see Margo about some yoga, there are some breathing exercises/maybe a massage, he gets aroused, he freaks out and leaves, then comes back about 10 minutes later to intimidate her stalker ex, apologizes, and then proposes to have some sexytimes with Margot. I would have preferred a few months’ worth of chapters between “let me show you some breathing exercises” and “may I blow your mind with my virgin tongue” instead of about 10 minutes. Also, maybe have some actual yoga training before showing up to acro yoga? Because I really did like Patch and Margot as characters and where their relationship ended – it was just hard to believe the ZERO TO ONE HUNDRED MPH relationship. I did appreciate what Riley was doing with the anti slut-shaming/toxic masculinity themes. I’ll always be here for that.

Virgin Territory is out now in ebook from Avon Impulse. It is number three in the series, but I didn’t read the previous two so if you’re a series purist do not fret.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals, #1)

35271238Summary from Goodreads:
From acclaimed author Alyssa Cole comes the tale of a city Cinderella and her Prince Charming in disguise . . .

Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.

Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.

The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

About two chapters into my galley of Alyssa Cole’s A Princess in Theory I started squealing. Ledi is a grad student in epidemiology! Specifically, infectious diseases!! *heart-eyes emoji* And she talks about the research and the writing like she knows what she’s doing!! *many more heart-eyes emojis* (Turns out Cole used to work as an editor for a science journal, yaaaaaas, girl.)

So here’s the deal: if you were looking for an update-ish of Coming to America with a stronger female main character, a prince who is concerned with doing right by his people, strong and intersectional secondary characters, science, social commentary, and excellent fashion descriptions, A Princess in Theory is for you.  If you weren’t looking for a story like this, you still want this book.  You’re welcome.

I lurved it. All of it. Ledi is a smart, streetwise heroine from the school of “no one wants a foster kid no matter how much she tries to be the Perfect Kid.” You just want to smack so many adults on her behalf, both from her childhood and from her current adult life (there’s a post-doc in her lab that deserves some Draino in his coffee). Thabiso is a literal Prince who gets his life turned upside down when he determines Ledi’s his long-lost fiancé – his plan to show her what she missed out on (chiefly, His Awesomeness as a Prince) when her parents fled Thesolo is just the most delightfully wrong-headed idea ever. Once Thabiso decides to get to know Ledi (although he does that as some dude named Jamal, so also not the best plan in the long-term), Cole brings in some great commentary about colonialism, big-government jacking around with global disease prevention funding, and the foster system. There are some steamy sexytimes, too. (What? This is still a romance novel.) My only criticism – and it’s a minor one – is that I could smell the villain coming from miles away, which is probably my own fault for having read so many Agatha Christie novels.

I know Cole probably didn’t intend the juxtaposition, but when she described Thabiso’s beard as being trimmed to accentuate his sharp jaw my brain went immediately to all the pictures of Chadwick Boseman dressed in his T’challa costumes. So if this ever gets made into a movie, they’ll have to cast Boseman. Sorry not sorry? (I mean, there are worse people you can resemble, I’m just saying. I was reading this in the two weeks prior to the release of Black Panther in theatres and Instagram just kept parking ads and trailers with Boseman’s gorgeous face all over my feed. Ledi was a little harder to headcast – Letitia Wright is obviously a good choice with her recent turn as awesome scientist-princess Shuri in Black Panther.)

I would like to ask the Romancelandia Fairy-godmother for a book for Likotsi – she quickly went from Thabiso’s enigmatic assistant to an awesomesauce lady frand and she needs a story of her own. (Also, I want all her suits, even though I do not have the body type for them, because they sounded so damn gorgeous.) But next up is a book for Ledi’s bestie Portia who goes off to Scotland for an internship in swordmaking (y’all, Portia is something else) and finds a duke along the way. PS: Avon, any time you want to park that galley on Edelweiss I’ll read the crap out of it.

A Princess in Theory is out today! Whoop whoop!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss and I had a copy pre-ordered on my nook. So hah.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Haven by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Beards & Bondage #1)

34745311Summary from Goodreads:
A week-long getaway…

City girl Claudia Cade’s carefree life is plunged into chaos when a camping trip with her brother in the national forests of Northern California turns into a deadly dash for her survival.

A solitary world turned upside down…

Nature photographer Shepard Olsen has resigned himself to a quiet existence, with only his dog by his side, until a woman in need of his protection shows up on his doorstep and throws his universe into disarray.

Two lives linked by tragedy…

Claudia is desperate to heal from her traumatic loss, but can’t stop thinking about her run-in with evil….or the grizzled mountain man whose quick thinking and good aim saved her life. When she shows up on Shep’s doorstep again, she finds she isn’t the only one who can’t move on.

…saved by bliss.

The two begin an intense, passionate relationship of Dominance and submission, pleasure and pain, but with dark memories haunting them and decisions about the future rapidly approaching, Claudia can’t help but wonder…how long can they be each other’s haven?

*** WARNING: This book contains a sexual relationship between a fashionista and a cranky mountain man who are dealing with physical and emotional trauma. And a very big, cuddly dog.***

Rebekah Weatherspoon has been popping up in lists of romance authors recommended to me for a while now. And I’ve been intrigued, but her usual genres (contemporary, BDSM) aren’t always my bag. I’ve had good luck with contemporaries of late and I was told that Haven would be a good place to start so I decided to give it a whirl. (I was also tickled by the series name: Beards & Bondage.)

Haven takes off like a rocket right from the first page. Shep, a large bearded mountain man with a penchant for bondage, saves Claudia’s life when she turns up at his cabin bleeding and running for her life. When her attacker steps out of the woods, and offers to share her with Shep, Shep gives one warning and then shoots the man. On the way down the mountain to the hospital, she relates a horrific story: she was camping with her brother when they were attacked by two men. As Claudia recovers from her injuries Shep tries to give her some comfort, simply holding her so she can sleep. Although they each try to return to their previous lives, the experience has irrevocably changed both of them. Claudia soon returns to Shep’s town, to find closure and explore her attraction to the man who saved her.

I’ll probably never be a fan of 1st person POV in my romance reading, but it worked for this book. Weatherspoon would give us several chapters in one POV before switching to the other, so it wasn’t too much back and forth. Shep isn’t some sort of grizzled, nasty dude in a shack; he’s a very rugged, fit nature photographer with a modern cabin who just happens to be an introverted Dom. The conversations that Weatherspoon gives him with Claudia, where they discuss exactly what she wants from her time with Shep and what a D/s relationship with Shep would entail, were refreshing; no one does any quibbling about feelings before getting down to business. This isn’t a sweet or funny romance (although Claudia is a smartass with excellent one-liners). It’s a story about two people who work through some very, very heavy emotional stuff mixed with incredibly hot sexytimes (if you’re like me and the pain thing is really not your jam, the scenes lean into the Bondage portion of BDSM more than anything else). The only part of this book I really felt didn’t work was that the HEA didn’t seem earned. I totally got the instant emotional connection between Shep and Claudia – they both went through something traumatic and it created an instant bond worth exploring. But they’re given a week – which is eventually cut short by a plot point, so maybe 4 days – and it just doesn’t seem long enough for them together. They each work through some things separately, but I would have liked them together in one place for collectively more than a week.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book on my Nook.

Austenesque · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

By the Book by Julia Sonneborn

35297218Summary from Goodreads:
An English professor struggling for tenure discovers that her ex-fiancé has just become the president of her college—and her new boss—in this whip-smart modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Persuasion.

Anne Corey is about to get schooled.

An English professor in California, she’s determined to score a position on the coveted tenure track at her college. All she’s got to do is get a book deal, snag a promotion, and boom! She’s in. But then Adam Martinez—her first love and ex-fiancé—shows up as the college’s new president.

Anne should be able to keep herself distracted. After all, she’s got a book to write, an aging father to take care of, and a new romance developing with the college’s insanely hot writer-in-residence. But no matter where she turns, there’s Adam, as smart and sexy as ever. As the school year advances and her long-buried feelings begin to resurface, Anne begins to wonder whether she just might get a second chance at love.

Funny, smart, and full of heart, this modern ode to Jane Austen’s classic explores what happens when we run into the demons of our past…and when they turn out not to be so bad, after all.

First of all: Persuasion is my absolute favorite Austen novel. Would pay good money to get Ciaran Hinds to read Wentworth’s letter aloud over and over (the movie fades Hinds’s and Amanda Root’s voice-overs back and forth and I’m not a fan of that, Hinds only please). Any Persuasion re-telling churned out of the Austen fan-fiction machine gets extra side-eye and skepticism from me.

Second: I have an extra-helping of skeptical for retellings that chain themselves to the original plot in lock-step. (There are retellings out there for Pride and Prejudice to which you can set your watch.) Some of the best retellings/modernizations/sequels take what they need from the bones of the story and jettison what no longer applies to twenty-first century novels.

By the Book was recommended to me by author (and bookseller) Sarah Prineas, so I decided to take a chance on it. In this setting, Anne Elliot, lonely, over-looked, middle daughter of a class-obsessed, cash-poor baronet, has been transformed into Anne Corey, an over-worked, under-appreciated English professor trying to get a tenure-track position at her liberal arts college Fairfax. Captain Wentworth, gallant naval captain rising through the ranks via his success in the Napoleonic Wars, is now Adam Martinez, a former undocumented child immigrant from Guatemala who has risen through the ranks of collegiate administration to become one of the youngest college presidents in the United States. He is Anne’s ultimate boss…and her ex-fiancé (Anne had got some less-than-stellar life advice from her advisor, Dr. Russell – cue Lady Russell – about not having a serious relationship in grad school). Entering from stage right is our Mr. Elliot – in this iteration rock star author Richard Forbes Chasen, very sexy, British, and successful, who has just taken the job of writer-in-residence at Fairfax (he gets to give a JFranz burn, and I laughed forever).

These are the bones of Austen’s original: a hero and heroine with a second-chance romance and a bit of a villain. And this is all that By the Book needs. It is a sweet and charming campus novel about a professor who is lonely and uncertain in their job prospects. It does not lock-step its plot to the original, so if you are very familiar with Persuasion (like me) you won’t quite guess the path to the denouement (y’all, if you can’t guess how this book generally ends you need to read more Austen and romance novels). Austen fans will enjoy all the little bits pulled out of Persuasion and used to flesh out the plot. Sonneborn even borrows a little bit of Wickham from Pride and Prejudice. But if you have never read Persuasion, you don’t need it to enjoy By the Book.

Anne is our protagonist throughout this book. We feel all her indecision, uncertainty, and frustration at being a single woman trying to get some respect and job security in a really, really tight job market (there is a rejection letter for her book that almost made me punch my iPad). And maybe also find a boyfriend because loneliness is the worst sometimes. I had a good chuckle every time Anne and her work-husband, Henry James-teaching professor Larry, had to deal with their tone-deaf department chair because lack of insight in administrators is a real thing. Speaking of Larry, I really liked his character. He’s an adaptation of Captain Bennick, the grief-stricken, poetry-obsessed friend of Wentworth. As Anne’s best friend, Larry is a hopelessly romantic gay man who becomes embroiled in an illicit affair with the hottest actor of the moment who is starring in an obvious Twilight-esque teen movie where Jane Eyre is a vampire (it’s hilarious, I’m not kidding). He’s always got a good quip, some timely text emojis, and an unironic love of a terrible mash-up movie (based on an uneven genre mash-up novel) even while stating he doesn’t read novels published after 1920 (see also: I laughed forever at this, too). I felt so much for him at the end of this book.

I’ve been reading some reviews of By the Book that don’t quite feel the romance or tension between Anne and Adam. This may be a fair criticism. Anne and Adam don’t spend a lot of time together (especially alone) in the book, particularly compared to genre romance novels so expectations may not be met on the page. But, in my opinion, this makes sense in the end especially given that Adam is the college president where Anne is very much his subordinate; no one with even half of Adam or Anne’s intelligence would jeopardize their academic career to get a leg up with the boss. This goes triple for women and people of color, which Anne and Adam are. Adam also makes a nice speech at one point that brings up plot-specific reasons for not trying to get with Anne once he’s at Fairfax, which I won’t spoil here. In addition, this separation between characters is exactly what happens in Persuasion. The only person who flirts with Anne Elliot is Mr. Elliot, making everyone, including Wentworth, believe that those two will marry.

I really enjoyed By the Book. I was pleasantly surprised by how deftly the update in plot was handled and I loved the warm-fuzzy feeling I got while reading (I love second-chance romances in general). I think this is also a good entry in the “campus novel” genre, because I recognized a lot of real-world things that happen on college campuses (raise your hand if you’ve ever been “volunteered” for institutional fundraising drives?). A definite recommend.

Comment: I do not like the US cover. It says “charming novel about young love set in a bookshop in the French countryside” not “campus novel about tenure-track professors at a liberal arts college within driving distance of Beverly Hills/Los Angeles.” Does anyone even ride a bicycle in this book? (There’s a motorcycle, but I don’t remember a bicycle.)

By the Book will be available on February 6.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss after someone whose taste I trust told me they thought I might like it. I’ll probably buy a paper copy to put with the Austen collection.