I'd thought that one of these was a short that was the prelude to a book, but it turns out that they're both shorts, maybe novelette or short novellas. They share a setting with her Charm of Magpies books, but involve new protagonists and a new romance. Like most of the Magpies books, there's a fantasy-action main plot and an M/M romance subplot. Because these are short, the romance is underdeveloped, especially in A Queer Trade. It's more about sexual attraction than connection. The second story, Rag and Bone, felt more convincing romance-wise. I did like that (a) it's a mixed-race relationship and (b) this aspect is understated. Another thing that I liked: it didn't give the men stereotypical sex roles based on relative size. A common trope in M/M romance is to have one protag be tall and muscular and one protag short and pretty and the tall guy is the top and the small one is the bottom and I am SO OVER this. SO OVER. And in this one you have a gay couple that doesn't like anal sex so they do other stuff and it's fun and I liked seeing some variety in preferences. Anyway, I enjoyed reading them overall. 7.5
Provoked, by Joanna Chambers
This was marketed to me as an M/M historical romance, but it's thin on romance and doesn't have an HEA. The main plot is the impoverished attorney protagonist helping the brother of a convicted client track down the government agent that entrapped him. The "romance" subplot is a couple of sex scenes between the attorney and a rich sexy Scottish lord he barely knows. Both men intend the sex to be a one-off, both times. Their few conversations are light on romantic connection and focus more on a kind of resentment of each other over the mutual attraction. The attorney is the only PoV character and at least half the chapters don't even have him interacting with his "love interest". As a romance, it was severely lacking. The entrapment plot was all right but didn't really engage me . Also, the main and subplots were linked together in a contrived way.
There are some sequels starring the sexy Scottish lord and broke lawyer, and I'd guess the last of these has the HEA one expects of a romance. I dunno, since I kinda regret getting the first one and am not getting more. It was okay, I guess. Competently written. I liked the attorney when he wasn't being boringly self-loathing. The attitudes on sexuality felt ahistorical. There's this notion that standard 19th-century attitudes should be "like Fred Phelps only more so" and it's not true to the period. The idea that sexuality is something you are, not something you do, is a 20th century one. Yes, sodomy was illegal and sinful and having people be horrified by it is reasonably in-period. Having people assume that someone who has a same-sex sexual encounter, ever, can never be attracted to the opposite sex, is not in-period. Anyway, Provoked made the KJ Charles stories look much better by comparison, though. This is like a 5.5.
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