Tag: romance

Review – The Wind off the Small Isles

Posted 17 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Wind off the Small Isles by Mary StewartThe Wind off the Small Isles, Mary Stewart

A new-to-me Mary Stewart! Alas that it’s only a novella. Still, it’s characteristic of her work in the fine and detailed sense of place, in the sudden sweet relationship between the male and female characters, and in the atmospheric setting. Most of it would really have benefitted from a longer book: I really wanted to see more of this post-cataclysmic scene in Lanzarote, the lava beds and lack of trees… it’s not how I imagine the place, and it’s a fascinating glimpse of a whole different time — a time when tourism on Lanzarote was barely beginning, because volcanic activity had scoured the island.

The relationship, too… I can suspend my disbelief somewhat, but it would’ve been so much better to have a full novel of this, a full novel to explore the story and the development of the relationship. Just two brief encounters seemed very little.

I’d have also liked to see more of Perdita’s relationship with her employer; a female writer who may in some ways have echoed Mary Stewart herself, a strong relationship between two women… alas that the intended third story about Perdita, a full-length book, was never written.

Still, for a bit of atmosphere and setting — wow.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Busman’s Honeymoon

Posted 14 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers, audio versionBusman’s Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers

Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, Sarah Badel as Harriet Vane and Peter Jones as Bunter

Busman’s Honeymoon, or: the Wimseys will never, ever catch a break.

Honestly, despite the fact that it is a murder investigation, this one is fun. It has plenty of Peter-Harriet banter, plenty of Bunter being the ridiculously amazing manservant that he is, and plenty of heart as well. Peter and Harriet have finally got married, and they’re letting each other in, and Busman’s Honeymoon sees their first hiccups of married life — where Peter’s work as a detective makes Harriet feel like a traitor to friends who are under suspicion, and they have to decide who compromises… I like Sarah Badel’s version of Harriet, laughing and teasing, but warm too.

It’s not just about the relationship, though: there’s a solid mystery at the back of it, which is fun in its own right. And at least with this one, you really feel no pity for the criminal…

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Faro’s Daughter

Posted 10 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Faro's Daughter by Georgette HeyerFaro’s Daughter, Georgette Heyer

I spent an unfortunate amount of this wincing with secondhand embarrassment about the misunderstandings between the two main characters. Their adversarial behaviour is pretty delightful, until you think seriously about how horribly Ravenscar is treating Deb, and without real evidence that she’s actually doing anything he suspects her of. I mean, she doesn’t do much to dissuade him after his first misapprehension, but still, the things he calls her — and then at the end to suddenly declare that they’re in love! It’s a bit too sudden to me; particularly as we don’t get much from Ravenscar’s point of view that explains his softening towards Deb.

The side plot with Adrian and Phoebe, though, is pretty adorable.

It’s fun, but more fun if you try not to think about it too much, perhaps. Especially on the subject of the fond aunt, who despite the fondness, keeps suggesting various odious things to Deb to pay off their debts — we’re told she’s doting, but she seems to have bad judgement and worse taste when it comes to how she should treat her niece.

The best thing about this book is Deb’s stubbornness, her sense of honour, and her insistence that she won’t be cowed.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Strong Poison

Posted 6 November, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Strong Poison by Dorothy L. SayersStrong Poison, Dorothy L. Sayers

I can’t quite remember what the bad mood was that triggered this return to Strong Poison, so soon after I listened to the radioplay version. Fortunately, given Sayers’ witty, clever and allusive writing, it’s never going to be a chore, especially since this is one of the stronger books of the series — and it was a pleasure to realise how strong the fidelity of the radioplay version was, skipping very little of the original novel.

You see, in Strong Poison, Peter falls in love… with a woman who is almost sure to be convicted of the murder of her ex-lover. Knowing she’s innocent, pretty much because he thinks she’s pretty and her character as described doesn’t support the murder theory, he arranges to meet her, immediately proposes to her, and gets her out of the murder charge by finding the real murderer while he’s at it. The banter between them is delightful, as are the moments where Harriet is more vulnerable — she’s not immune to the situation she’s in, as she shows by breaking down in front of Peter.

The actual mystery is fun as well: in retrospect it’s very obvious, because of certain precautions a particular character has taken, but the unfolding of the hows and whys is still interesting, particularly because Bunter and Parker feature fairly strongly alongside Peter. And there’s also the delightful bit where Peter encourages Parker to propose to Lady Mary…

Still a favourite — even if my eyes popped a little at the point where Peter complains how horrible it is seeing Harriet in the dock… to Harriet. And she sympathises with him and says it must be beastly. Gah!

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Truthwitch

Posted 22 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Truthwitch by Susan DennardTruthwitch, Susan Dennard

I was pretty excited about this one given the buzz, and with Robin Hobb’s endorsement on the front cover. Unfortunately, and maybe this is partly because of the hype, Truthwitch didn’t really work for me. I loved the idea of the two girls at the center, their friendship being the most important thing, but in practice there was a lot of mooning over boys (well, Merik) on Safi’s part, and they spent a surprising amount of the book apart. I felt like we were told that their friendship was deep and complete more often than we were shown it; Safi’s concern for Iseult in the latter half of the book did help, but she was so quickly re-focused on other things.

The world would be an interesting one, if there was more to it, but instead of a sense of history and a sense of the characters having a place in a tradition of magic and magic-use, I felt like the rules were being made up as the narrative went along. Merik’s magic is weak — but he can fly with it?! I eventually decided that Threadfamily meant the people you were most closely bound to in friendship, and Heart-Thread was a romantic connection, but it took a while to be clear, and I wasn’t always sure of people’s relationships to each other. I do hope that the large dollop of queerness I read into it was true, but I was too hopeful re: Merik and Kullen, so I’m thinking not. And what’s Cleaving — or, no, that becomes apparent, but not the history of it: is it recent? Is it increasing? Has it always been a threat?

It’s fun enough if you read it without thinking too much; it’s basically an eternal chase scene, with Safi and Merik blowing up at each other in a way that’s clearly meant to denote their passion for each other, but which has strong overtones of “insta-luv”. Evrane and Aeduan were more like background characters, but I did find them interesting — particularly Aeduan, since he’s an antagonist but somewhat ambivalently placed.

I think with more background it would have felt stronger and better-paced; instead, with events coming one after the other but often without context, it actually dragged. It’s hard to care when you’re not entirely sure what the significance is, after all.

Since there are people who did love the book, I’m also open to the idea of it being a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” — and it’s not that I think it’s dreadful. I’m just not hooked, and not that tempted to pick up the sequel when it comes out.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Fair Play

Posted 15 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fair Play, by Josh LanyonFair Play, Josh Lanyon

Confession time: a long time ago I received this to review, and did not get round to it (partly because I hadn’t read Fair Game yet). So in the end I bought it. But in the interests of full disclosure, I did originally receive a review copy.

I really don’t know what took me so long, apart from the sheer length of my damn to read list. Fair Play is kinda great: I’m not so much talking about the plot of the mystery, though I did also enjoy that. No, what I enjoyed most was Tucker and Elliot’s negotiations about their relationship, the way they had to work around each other, the way they hurt each other sometimes but still cared. And I especially enjoyed that they’re both masculine and open about their sexuality, and open about their wants and needs (at least with each other). Even better, the more emotionally intelligent of the two is Tucker, who would otherwise be a stereotype of a buttoned up cop with issues. Instead, he’s open with his emotions and not afraid of them, and he doesn’t let Elliot run away. It’s great.

Less great is their persistent miscommunications and head-butting sessions, but it does make sense for the characters and where they are in their relationship.

I did enjoy the mystery/thriller plot too; not so much the plot itself, I guess, as the way it made Elliot reflect on his father’s life, on the relationship it revealed between Roland and Elliot. That was already interesting in the first book, and it’s great here too. Again, emotional openness between masculine manly men. And, okay, it was kind of interesting reading about the sort of anti-Vietnam protests that Elliot’s father was involved in. It’s not a world I know much about, given that I’m British, and I liked the way it set the stage. The two books work together really well, and it’s not just about the romance between Tucker and Elliot — the other characters are important too.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Two Boys Kissing

Posted 12 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Two Boys Kissing by David LevithanTwo Boys Kissing, David Levithan

I do like Two Boys Kissing. But there’s one thing, right up front, that bothers me: the total privileging of gay men in the LGBT community. It happens a lot, and it happens in this book, talking about the generation of gay men who died of AIDs, centering the book around their narration as a kind of Greek chorus, and I just — where the hell are the women? Women have always been part of the gay community too, and though some appear in this book as allies, there’s a dearth of lesbians. And that sticks out a mile given that a range of different male queerness is explored, from trans people to gay people living in bigoted families to gay people living in families that just sort of look the other way, to gay kids thrown out and ending up on the street…

It’s a book about the gay community, where the central recurring theme is two boys kissing to draw attention to gayness being out there and okay. And that draws an audience of people, including support, and it’s… all gay men? I get that the AIDs epidemic, which is another theme, disproportionately took the lives of gay men. But other issues, like homophobic bullying and families not accepting you, aren’t limited to gay men and those stories aren’t just about gay men.

I mean, representation at all is a good thing, and the differing experiences of queerness here are great as far as they go. Some of the couples are cute; some of the stories are sad. The Greek chorus works really well, even though I feel that it’s not talking to me — the story looks at some of the issues gay people have faced, some of which are applicable to queer women as well, and it just feels like it’s all about the boys.

As a story, it’s readable and touching. And yet thinking about it after the fact, I found it problematic.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Fair Game

Posted 11 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Fair Game by Josh LanyonFair Game, Josh Lanyon

Fair Game is reasonably typical of Josh Lanyon’s books, which is to say it delivers a mystery plotline twinned with the life of a non-stereotyped homosexual protagonist, without dealing solely with his love life (for example, in this book, Elliot’s relationship with his father is another key point — it isn’t just about him and Tucker, although it is about that too). Elliot is an ex-FBI agent who is rebuilding his life after a suspect shot out his knee, and I enjoy the fact that his physiotherapy is mentioned, that he can’t just get up and go go go as if he were still an FBI agent, even though emotionally that is something he hasn’t come to terms with yet.

The mystery itself, well, I guessed where it was going solely because I found a particular character irritating, after one or two red herrings. But that isn’t rare for me, and I was still interested in how Tucker and Elliot worked it out.

I really enjoy Tucker’s character, too. To begin with, he seems like a macho guy who maybe doesn’t want to accept that he’s gay or deal with his feelings, but in fact he’s readier to do so than Elliot is. He’s willing to put himself out there, to apologise for what he’s done wrong, to make the effort to meet Elliot more than halfway. It makes a nice contrast to the couple in Lanyon’s Adrien English stories, for sure. (And the sex scene did not contain any metaphors which made me spit my drink, which is also an improvement, entertaining as those could be.)

I need to get round to reading the sequel, Fair Play; I do like the couple, both individually and apart, though I’d like to see more of Tucker and his life where it doesn’t revolve around Elliot or his job.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Magic Breaks

Posted 10 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Breaks by Ilona AndrewsMagic Breaks, Ilona Andrews

It’s hard to believe this is the seventh novel of the series. Somehow it still manages to feel fresh, and I’m not ready for this arc to come to an end. Yet that’s exactly what this book does, featuring Kate bigger and more badass than ever, with Curran at her side and ready to fight with her, against something she’s been preparing for her whole life.

Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t quite go as expected.

As usual, I found the Pack politics somewhat frustrating. One minute they’re all loyalty, and the next they won’t follow Curran and Kate, even though they’ve proved themselves, even though they’d give their lives for the Pack. I did enjoy the by-play between Desandra and Jennifer, though, and how that whole storyline wove throughout the book and joined the main storyline in places. Desandra’s a fun character, even if her humour isn’t always my thing, and she’s come a long way from our first glimpse of her.

The only place this falls down for me is that, well, I just don’t believe Curran’s going to bow out gracefully. It’s convenient for Kate to doubt him or think he’s dead or whatever, but I never do. And with Kate as the narrator, I never believe that she’s really in danger either.

I really want so many more of these books stretching out ahead of me, though. Something about them just hits the spot perfectly.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Heart of Aces

Posted 7 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Heart of Aces by various authorsThe Heart of Aces, various

The Heart of Aces is a collection that’s almost more interesting/important to me because of the theme than because of anything about the actual stories within. Asexual representation is a big thing to me, because for a long time I was all kinds of confused about why I wasn’t interested in other people the way my peers were, why I didn’t want the same things in a relationship, etc. The only times I did come across it were in stories about trauma, and then it was something to be got over; not something that you can just accept. And that’s the nice things about the stories here. Each one of them accepts asexuality as a valid way of living a life that can still be whole and fulfilling, and even shared with a romantic partner. Sometimes you have to compromise or go out on a limb, sometimes things don’t match up quite as well as you’d hope, but all the same, these stories say it’s possible.

(And oh, my relief that I don’t think a single character in these stories calls not wanting sex “unnatural”, or anything like that. Look, I don’t feel naturally feel physical attraction — if anything, if I did, that would be unnatural for me, even if it might maybe be achievable with drugs or something. It’s just not the way I’m built, and that’s okay.)

The stories in the collection are a little shaky; one of them I just found plain unreadable, while others were very basic. There are a couple of sweet ones in there, though. I do wish that there was a bit more representation across the board — a cisgendered, straight, asexual couple would be great to see, or stretching the definition of ace a bit, an aromantic character — but there is one story with a trans character (albeit the POV character takes a while to switch pronouns correctly), and a realistic range of what the characters in the stories are interested in. I wouldn’t really recommend the stories, except that there’s so little out there that’s tailored for asexual people. If you feel like you really need to see something that does touch on that, you might enjoy picking up The Heart of Aces.

Rating: 2/5

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