Shelf Love

Cold(breath) Comfort Reads: January 2023

Short Description

Starting the year off with some cozy re-reads, comfort reads, and short reads to combat the wintery weather and get through winter cold season. I share thoughts on all the books I read in January 2023, including Alice Coldbreath’s Victorian Prizefighter series, A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews, His Majesty by Shon, Better Off Wed by Susanna Craig, Hero by Claire Kent, and the Murderbot series by Martha Wells.


book recommendations, contemporary romance, romance novel discussion, historical romance

Show Notes

Starting the year off with some cozy re-reads, comfort reads, and short reads to combat the wintery weather and get through winter cold season. I share thoughts on all the books I read in January 2023, including Alice Coldbreath’s Victorian Prizefighter series, A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews, His Majesty by Shon, Better Off Wed by Susanna Craig, Hero by Claire Kent, and the Murderbot series by Martha Wells.

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Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Shelf Love a podcast about romance novels, and how they reflect, explore, challenge, and shape desire. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And on this episode, I am sharing all the books that I have read in January, 2023.

So it's like after 9:00 PM on a Tuesday night. And I haven't been feeling well for about half of January. Which means I haven't scheduled recordings and I've just been in kind of this weird space. But what I have been doing is doing a lot of reading and I said, Andrea, self, why don't you just get out of your head around this idea that creating a podcast episode has to be a whole production and just like, do it, just talk about books.

So that is what I'm doing here at 9:09 pm. So what I have done to prepare for this episode because I can't not prepare in some way, is I have written down all of the books that I have read this month.

And I'm going to start with Alice Coldbreath. So I read the first book in the Victorian Prizefighter series, uh, sometime ago, and I re-read the first book. And then I read the second of the third in the series for the first time.

So Alice Coldbreath is an indie pub author, and I've actually read a lot of her stuff. She has this Brides of Karadoc series, that's kind of like pho historical in the sense that it gives you historical vibes, but it's not actually based on any real historical period. And it's not trying to be. And I actually really enjoy that about it.

But the Victorian prize fighters series is actually a historical and it takes place in the Victorian era and something that I really like about it is that the characters are middle-class or working class. And so it's very interesting in the scheme of historical romance that takes place in England in that the people in these stories are like on the cusp of poverty, like have very little money to their names and really working for a living, figuring things out.

So the first book in the series is called A Bride for the Prizefighter and it is about a young woman whose life is turned upside down. Her father dies. And her father had a small school that she was a teacher in. And so when he dies, essentially, not only is she losing her home, which is being sold to pay the debts from her father's illness, but also she has no money.

Before his death, her father had written to her half-brother who takes her off and marries her off in sort of like a weird scenario.

You should read this. If you want to know exactly how this happens, but she ends up married to William Nye, who is both a former slash current prize fighter and owner of an inn call to The Merry Harlot.

And [00:03:00] the vibes it gives me is Jamaica Inn, and I've never read the book Jamaica Inn, but I watched that really depressing film adaptation of it, where they're in this like weird inn and there's stuff going on with smugglers. Cause they're on the coast. And it's got a little bit of like a creepy Gothic vibe going on.

Anyways. I really recommend this book. I mean, that's kind of the plot, the romance... these are two people who basically are just put in this circumstance together and they have initial misunderstandings. They start communicating, the sex is really hot. The romance evolves in a really fun organic way. Honestly, I just really enjoy the book and the whole series.

As I said, I had originally read that book sometime ago and finally picked up the second and the third books in the series. The second book, it keeps along with this prize fighter theme. So all of the heroes know each other. They're all former slash current prize fighters.

So in number two, A Substitute Wife for the Prize Fighter. So our heroine has been living with her aunt and uncle, and for reasons is kicked out of their house and replaces her cousin as the intended wife of another prize fighter named Benedict Toombs.

This story then takes us to the fairground of a Victorian fair and. You know, this book actually reminded me of Jen DeLuca's renaissance fair series. Actually, it kind of has the vibes of like everybody living in this weird carnivalesque atmosphere. And, the heroine has to find a way to fit in and sort of find her place in this group of misfits slash charlatans. It's a very fun book. And, as I have come to expect from Alice Coldbreath, great sex, great emotional and physical chemistry in this relationship.

And again, these are people who they're not rich. They're really barely making it by have very modest hopes for their lives. Like, Hey, maybe we can get a house and, not be traveling all year in a caravan,

I enjoy that these books transport you to a different world, this historical world that it's creating, but it's not a world of ballrooms. Something I don't really love about ballroom Regency type books is that the characters are extremely privileged and they're just kind of like angsty for, in my opinion, no reason. And they do a lot of things that don't make a lot of logical sense. They're being petulant or something like that.

So I don't know. I have problems with that. And this series really avoids that trap for me.

So the third book in the series is called A Contracted Spouse for the Prizefighter. And this one takes us to the world of the Victorian stage and our heroine is soon to become in the story a male [00:06:00] impersonator.

And again, she's in kind of like these borderline desperate straits. She comes from a family of actors. They're quite eccentric and they have this kind of rundown theater. And the prize fighter, Clem Dabney has created his own theater slash dancing hall type entertainment establishment. So he's kind of low brow and her family is running this highbrow theater that nobody's really interested in.

And she has been kind of playing second fiddle to her sister who is beautiful ingenue type actress. And she creates this character of this young dandy and she basically collects all of these characteristics from the men that she's observed over time and just collects them in her repertoire of like performing manhood. And, she cuts her hair short and her stage character is a male impersonator and she does really fun things with that and is really creative.

And Clem doesn't believe in her for a really long time in this story. And I really struggled with that as I was reading the story because he basically just assumes she's going to get hurt. But it's really sweet because he doesn't want her to be hurt and it goes from a marriage of convenience to him, really falling in love with her and really being humbled by her talent and creativity.

Something I should mention about these stories too, is that the characters are not really prudish. Especially in the third book, Theodora, the heroine is just really sexually open admits to touching herself before the hero makes an appearance, which as we know is a bit rare for historical romances and hell even contemporary romances.

I just find the scenes to be really frank and the characters are really emotional. Even though the male characters are prized fighters, they aren't caught up in super toxic masculinity. I don't know. I just really like this series and obviously I read the whole thing, in the course of a few days, so I really recommend it. And, if you haven't heard of Alice Coldbreath yet, I think you should check her books out.

So another book I read recently, and this was a super quick one. Was A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews. I started reading this. And about like five pages in, I was like, oh my God, this is North and South fanfiction, like AU fanfiction. And as soon as I realized that, honestly, I started picturing the characters as the characters from the North and South miniseries adaptation. And really enjoyed it.

It was a very quick read. There is no on page or even closed door sex in this. They are by the end engaged and they have a few kisses. Something that was really interesting about this story is that the characters are really thinking through what love is and what kind of relationship they want to have, what they're wanting [00:09:00] out of romantic relationship and in such a short story, it's novella length, I think it does a lot with that. There's not a lot of filler.

It takes place in the holiday season. Basically at a house party. around Christmas time and.

And something I maybe wasn't expecting to enjoy about this was that rather than the house party, Being this grand affair where everything is decorated and everybody just shows up and just like sits around and stares at each other that a lot of the festivities of the house party involved, like bringing decorations down and creating decorations together. And people just kind of like holiday making together, which I found really interesting because I feel like in modern times, the idea that you would have people over the holiday season, the idea is like, you'd have everything decorated before they get there.

it was really novel to think about like, Oh, that's kind of weird actually, because isn't that fun to do together with people?

It's not at all about the romance. But, something I found interesting. And again, if you like North and South, or you find the emotional relationship part of North and South interesting, I would definitely recommend you check this out for that alone. So that was A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews.

Okay next. I read an even shorter story. His Majesty by Shon. And this is a contemporary erotic, short story. And essentially we have two characters who were together for several years and have broken up because the hero is not clear on how to show his love and affection for the heroine without just buying her stuff. And essentially he learns that he needs to actually experience things with her by buying her stuff they can do together.

It was so short it's kind of hard to say anything much about it. But it flew by. I enjoyed it.


The next book I read was Better off Wed by Susanna Craig. And this is part of the Love and Let Spy series. This series, which is a God don't quote me on this. Maybe Regency ish, English historical. This series has been pretty dependable for me.

So it's about spies in sort of this underground. It's like pre-MI6 spies. And I guess this is when England, is it war or shortly after the war with France, I'm not a historian. Don't ask me to tell you about the politics, about any of this stuff. But this is one where some of the characters in this series are aristocracy. But most of them are not ridiculously wealthy and most of them are [00:12:00] either spies, so they're doing some sort of work there that is interesting or they're otherwise engaged in sort of meaningful stuff in their lives, which again, takes us out of the ballroom. I cannot stand ballroom type regencies.

And this one has a heroine who is a thief catcher. I think she calls herself and essentially she is a Robin hood character who avengers women who are in service who have been abused or used poorly by their employers. And so she dons various disguises and gets information that she can use as blackmail also usually steal something that can be sold to help support the woman that she's helping. And then uses that piece of blackmail to force the bad guy to stop doing what he's doing.

And so in one case, there's a guy who has impregnated one of the maids working in his house. And, you know, the idea is get some money to support her. Given that she's been, let go without a reference and literally can't even continue being a maid. And, help her out and then try to make it so that this guy can not hurt other people in the future.

So this book has a fake relationship trope. And.

I liked the emotional development of the relationship. As well as the, uh, sexual chemistry between the characters. Uh, this is a book with OnPage. This is a book with explicit sex scenes. And you know, similar to the Alice Coldbreath novels. I talked about the heroine in this book is... now what I'm thinking about it. I think the hero is a virgin too. I think they're both virgins. But the heroine is really frank about her sexuality. And I don't think she has any plans to get married. And you know, she's not being pressured by like the need to get married or propriety or anything like that, which, I mean, honestly just makes a story so much more interesting. They have, you know, some emotional hurdles to get over. But, they communicate, which I really like.

And at the end, well, let me just say this. I think that this story does some interesting things with, having the characters engaged in making the world a better place on a scale that is possible for them to kind of create an impact.

I don't know, I've read so many books where people are like gnashing their teeth over kind of silly things. And these people have joy in their life and they're also making a difference. And I just like that. It was a good read. That was Better Off Wed by Susanna Craig.

Alright, next up Hero by Claire Kent. So this is a series of post-apocalyptic romance [00:15:00] and I love this series. I will admit they're a little repetitive in terms of the themes. And I mean, even honestly, some of the things that happen in the scenes, I'm like, okay, like I recognize this wording from previous installments in this series, but I don't know. They're just like weird comfort reads for me again, they're, post-apocalyptic sometimes kind of a bleak world.

If you're not into books where the world is a bit hostile. Uh, this might not be the series for you. This one, much like earlier ones in the series, has an age gap. A heroine and her stepfather's younger brother and her are the last surviving members of this ragtag family. And they've survived the apocalypse. He has a young daughter who lives with them and \ after several years of platonic survival they start a relationship. It's a fairly short book.

But, you know, like, honestly at this point, I'm reading these books because I know what to expect when I open them.

Probably my favorite in the series and it's not technically part of this series is Last Light. The characters from Last Light make appearances in most of the books in the Kindled series, which begins technically with Haven.

And I also really enjoy Haven. So Last Light starts kind of earlier in the apocalypse and then Haven picks up several years later. All the characters are converging.

And what I really like about this series as a whole is that even though it's a really hostile world, there is this group of people who is really committed to working together and not viewing everybody else as enemies. They're obviously cautious. It's a really dangerous world, but basically it's about how unless you build community and can trust people and can kind of work together, you're just stuck in this race to the bottom.

So I do like how, over the course of the series, the characters are converging. They're building more of these connections with other people building this community and, the world is getting better and better and better. Every year, the more these people are really coming together. So I think that's maybe what I really like about these books and keeps me coming back for more, is wanting to see how this world is continuing to evolve.

I think I did mention Claire Kent really likes the age gap. And some of them things that I would not say that I'm normally into. So one of the books in the series, the heroine had a boyfriend at the time of the apocalypse and they go to live with his father. The boyfriend dies and years after that, [00:18:00] her and the father get together. And it's something where I'm like, Ooh, that does not do it for me.

Like that part of the story is not what I enjoy about it. I do kind of get that in Claire Kent's books she's playing with that. And I mean, there is a lot of conversation about sort of the like, oh no, I feel like they shouldn't be doing this. Like the taboo element of it. I don't know. I would be very curious if there was like a large contingent of readers who were explicitly there for that element.

I don't know. In my opinion, it doesn't go there in that like edge lord taboo way. I don't know why that's in there, but it's there.

Okay, so I'm going to round out what I read this month. I won't talk about Murderbot that much, but I have been doing a Murderbot reread. This is the series by Martha Wells. It's a far distant sort of scifi future where there's this humanoid, construct robot synthetic human. That is called a Murderbot or it calls itself and Murderbot. It's basically a security bot that is enslaved by this corporation.

And, it's amazing world building. I think what is incredibly fascinating about the series and probably what interests most people about the murder bot series, not only reimagining how human society would work in the future where technology and society is incredibly different.

But also it's really thinking through the ethics of artificial intelligent beings. And I love that over the course of these books. And I should say most of them are novellas. There is one book of the six that is a novel length. And honestly, the novel length one is probably my least favorite. The novella length ones. I mean, they're just so fun and they go by quickly.

There's just so much about finding it hard to really deal with emotions. And you kind of expect that because the main character is a robot, essentially but. It's more about us than it's about robots, if you know what I mean.

There's an episode that I did, I think it's episode 104 called I'm Having an Emotion that is a direct quote from murder bot. I talked about this in episode 104, but what's really interesting too, is that the story explores how we use fictional stories to really process our emotions and contextualize them and try out different things and understand other people better and understand our own emotions better.

If you haven't read murder bot yet, please check it out. I'm not normally a scifi reader. And I mean, if you listen to this podcast, you probably have an idea what I like at this point.[00:21:00]

This is like an asexual robot, right? This robot has no interest in romance or sex. It is very much dealing with emotions as emotions, not just romantic, sexual, in fact, not at all romantic sexual. So please, please, please. I beg you. Read murder bot. I heard people talking about murder bot for a long time and I was like, yeah. Okay. Whatever that doesn't sound like something I would like.

And then I started reading them and I couldn't stop. And now I'm reading them again and enjoying them just as much the second time.

Okay. So that's it. I hope you enjoyed hearing me talk about books that I read recently. And, if you guys like this, I will do it again. I hope to kind of keep up my pace of reading. Obviously I did a lot of rereading this month, and I don't know if it's just the kind of turn of the year from you know, the exhaustion after all of the excitement of December where it just feels like you're racing towards the end of the year.

And then you're trying to like refresh and come back into things. And I think all the rereading was essentially like, I just need a win right now. I don't really want something new. I want something that I know is going to work out for me.

I should also say I actually DNF'ed a lot of books. Most of them were advanced reader copies for trad pub books. I don't know if you noticed, but the majority of the books I just talked about were independently published. Actually, I said that, but Alice Coldbreath is indie. His Majesty by Shon is indie. And Hero is indie. Okay. So five were indie and then Better Off Wed was trad. Mimi Matthews was trad. Murderbots, all trad. So I don't know. Okay. Half of the books were indie, but of the romance, the majority was indie.

So, yeah, that's it. End of January. Have a good February. And if you are a journalist writing a trend piece about Valentine's Day and romance novels this February, 2023, my advice for you quite frankly, is just don't.

Thank you so much for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed today's episode, please subscribe, rate, or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out ShelfLovePodcast.Com for transcripts and other resources. Or you can find me @shelflovepod on Twitter or @shelflovepodcast on Instagram. Or you can always email me at Andrea at Shelf Love Podcast dot com.

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