Tag: romance

Review – The Vintner’s Luck

Posted 27 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth KnoxThe Vintner’s Luck, Elizabeth Knox

Originally reviewed 18th July, 2009

My flatmate recommended this to me with much high praise. And read my copy before I got my hands on it, and cried at it a lot. I have to confess, when I started reading it, I didn’t really get into it. The story is about a man who agrees to meet an angel (or an angel who agrees to meet a man?) at the same time every year, for one night every year. The story focuses on these meetings, so what we get are glimpses into a life. It isn’t just the meetings, but it focuses mostly on them, rather than the minutiae of daily life. As a consequence, it takes time to get to know the characters. I think it was that that kept me from getting too deeply into the story.

It actually reminds me of a line from the first page: He took a swig of the friand, tasted fruit and freshness, a flavour that turned briefly and looked back over its shoulder at the summer before last, but didn’t pause even to shade its eyes. And then: Again he tasted the wine’s quick backward look, its spice — flirtation and not love.

Not only is that a lovely thought, and it tastes nice to synaesthetic little me, but it kind of describes how I felt about the book at first.

I didn’t really know what to expect from the story. There’s a little mystery in it, about some murders that happen in the area, and then there’s the love story between the man and the angel. I found both of them compelling. There are also glimpses into heaven and hell, provided by Xas, the angel, and the intervention of Lucifer — things that really point at a greater plot, I suppose, but we see it framed in the same way as Sobran, the human, does.

The love story is the part that really captured me, I have to say. It isn’t easy, Xas holding back from it, and then Sobran becoming angry and not wanting to see Xas, and then Xas’ disappearance… There’s enough of it to catch hold of your heart, though, and when you’re reaching the end of the book, it really, really begins to hurt.

I didn’t actually cry, although it was a close thing: I was desperate to read the last twenty pages, so had to read them under my grandparents’ eagle eyes, and that wasn’t conducive to a full-on sob fest…

I really do love the last lines:

You fainted and I caught you. It was the first time I’d supported a human. You had such heavy bones. I put myself between you and gravity.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Cruel Beauty

Posted 25 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Cruel Beauty by Rosamund HodgesCruel Beauty, Rosamund Hodges

There were some aspects of this Beauty and the Beast reworking I found really interesting — mostly, the Greek mythology that was mixed in. It didn’t feel like a typical woodsy-castle-y faux-medieval-y setting, which was refreshing, and the references to the Kindly Ones — aka the Furies — worked pretty well for me. The complex relationship between Nyx and her sister was actually kind of interesting too; it’s not straightforward, because everything is not as it first appears, and neither of them are honest to each other.

But otherwise, there were a lot of aspects of this I just couldn’t get into. Both the relationships the main character had just felt off, despite the attempt to show a dichotomy between the two where one, to borrow Tolkien’s phrasing, ‘looks foul and feels fair’ and vice versa (except mostly acts/feels; they’re both handsome, as I recall). The romance tends to the insta-love trope, and given that Ignifex never makes himself really pleasant (unlike, say, T. Kingfisher’s Beast in Bryony and Roses).

There are some interesting aspects, as I said, but looking back at it as I write this somewhat belated review, it definitely never came together for me, and it didn’t really become memorable either.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Sin Eater’s Daughter

Posted 19 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 9 Comments

Cover of The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda SalisburyThe Sin Eater’s Daughter, Melinda Salisbury

The cover for this book is just gorgeous, and between that and the first chapter, it really drew me in. There are some interesting concepts and politics, actually: I was worried from some of the reviews that it really wouldn’t hit that mark, but the way the queen uses the people around her, even her son, does actually manage to hit some interesting notes. There are a couple of twists I wasn’t really expecting, but in that way where they made sense when they happened, so kudos on that.

Overall, though, thinking about it now, it feels rather thin. I liked the concept of Twylla’s power and was quite prepared for it to be real; the way the plot plays out is actually a little disappointing, since the original idea is so tantalising. It’s also pretty heavy on the romance, and though there are one or two good scenes, mostly I wasn’t that taken with it. The title is disappointing, too; Twylla might be the sin-eater’s daughter, but that’s not really important to the plot, doesn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things. A lot of what I found interesting — like the sin eating — was background, or not real, while the elements I was least interested in were focused on.

Enjoyable enough, but not something I’m desperate to read more of. I’m glad I haven’t already picked up The Sleeping Prince; I might in the end, but not immediately.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Lady of Mallow

Posted 8 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Lady of Mallow by Dorothy EdenLady of Mallow, Dorothy Eden

In my quest for books like Mary Stewart’s, I think I’ve found another winner. The tone is much the same, and the set-up: there’s inevitably a touch of Nine Coaches Waiting (for me) when the protagonist becomes a governness – but this time, she’s deliberately there as a spy and she has her own motivations. I actually really liked following the twists of this and trying to make my own judgements, and I like that the conclusion wasn’t simple, wasn’t black and white.

I don’t know what it is about this sort of book I find so comforting and satisfying: the smart, proactive heroine, sometimes in a time/situation where she’s meant to follow a particular role; the fact that a happy ever after is more or less assured; perhaps the safe unsafeness of the male characters who seem a little wild but are, in the end, justified and acting for the best? Regardless, I found Lady of Mallow a fun entry in the more-or-less cosy mystery genre, and I’ll look for other books by Dorothy Eden.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 12 April, 2016 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

This week’s theme is “Ten Books Every X Should Read”… and I’m having a hard time picking what “X” is. I’m going to go a little off-script for me and talk about romances, I think! Unfortunately, I have just a few authors I tend to come back to, rather than reading a lot of romance, so you might want to take it with a pinch of salt… Oh, and I am using the modern version of romance, not the fantasy-romance of medieval times! So I guess “X” is “people reluctant to read pure romance”, since some of these books nudged me into trying it.

Cover of Camelot's Shadow by Sarah Zettel Cover of A Dangerous Thing by Josh Lanyon Cover of Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan Cover of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern Cover of Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

  1. Camelot’s Shadow, Sarah Zettel. This is an interesting take on the Arthurian world, and features Gawain being decidedly-not-perfect but not being the murderous asshole from Malory or even Mary Stewart’s The Wicked Day. This is proooobably one of the books that really got me interested in Gawain, and especially his relationship with Dame Ragnelle.
  2. A Dangerous Thing, Josh Lanyon. Technically, this is the second book of the series, and I think you should read the first book in order. I just think the second book is objectively better. This will not be your thing if you don’t like gay relationships, though, and I’m told that’s a thing that one is supposed to make clear about romance? So yes, gay romance!
  3. Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan. Super cute and 90% positive. More YA-ish, and also gay.
  4. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern. Also fantasy. If it doesn’t stir your heart, it’s probably made of stone. Your heart, not the book.
  5. Attachments, Rainbow Rowell. This completely won me over so I was willing to try everything of Rowell’s. Sweetly nostalgic, and not too bad about the “communicate, damn it!” issue.
  6. The Talisman Ring, Georgette Heyer. Lots and lots of fun, and features two couples to root for.
  7. Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers. Okay, the romance between Peter and Harriet is more of a slow burn thing and probably needs the build-up, but any book with the line “if I should once give way to [him], I would go up like straw” has to count.
  8. The Second Mango, Shira Glassman. Want sweet and silly in a lesbian fantasy love story? Tahdah!
  9. The Ivy Tree, Mary Stewart. I was torn over which of Stewart’s novels to include here, but this is the one that’s probably stuck with me the most. Heavy on the mystery, too!
  10. Season of Storms, Susanna Kearsley. The side characters in this are actually pretty much the amazing thing that gets it onto this list. They feel real too, and feature a gay couple basically having raised a daughter (but It’s Complicated). The main romance is straight, though.

Cover of The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer Cover of Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of The Second Mango by Shira Glassman Cover of The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart Cover of Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

I am a little irritated by the fact that I could only find one lesbian romance I wanted to include, but Sarah Diemer/Elora Bishop has some good ones, too!

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Review – A Civil Contract

Posted 11 April, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Civil Contract by Georgette HeyerA Civil Contract, Georgette Heyer

A Civil Contract is quite unlike Heyer’s other novels, because the romance is understated and, indeed, there isn’t much romance at all, at least not in the same sense. It’s a much more practical novel, dealing with the realities of life: more or less arranged marriages, marriages of convenience, unsuitable matches… The most entertaining thing about it is the clash between the aristocratic main character and his father-in-law, Mr Chawleigh. In fact, Mr Chawleigh quite steals the show on a number of occasions.

Jenny is one of Heyer’s better-realised heroines in one sense: she is practical, not very subtle, and devoted from the start to making her new husband comfortable and happy. Of course, that’s a stereotype too, and one which readers may well find less engaging than the sharp back-and-forth of Heyer’s Sophy (for one example). Still, Jenny clearly knows her own mind and does not regret things, although she does have human feelings — wishful thinking, some jealousy, etc, etc. I find her interesting because she’s so untypical of Heyer — a cosy little homemaker! And one with whom we sympathise, even though I did feel that Julia’s flaws were somewhat overdone, in a sort of ‘well, if Julia’s too nice then Jenny isn’t going to come into her own at all’ sort of way.

Really, A Civil Contract is about marriage, not about courting (like The Convenient Marriage, which has some similarities, though not in the characters); it’s about a quieter sort of love, not a grand passion. It’s about making the best of things, and about having a partner who you can rely on. Adam finally realises that that’s what he has in Jenny, and that’s lovely: the way his snobbishness initially gets in the way is annoying, but he learns.

As someone in a nearly eleven-year relationship (not to mention someone who feels no sexual attraction at all), this is in many ways more true of my experience, and it’s nice to see it in a romance novel (of sorts; I think this is less clearly romance than some of Heyer’s others, but if we divide her work into historicals, romances and mysteries… this seems to fit most into the romance section, being too recent in date for the historicals and clearly not a mystery). It might be fun to have a passionate doomed love for someone, but what matters is whether you can work together, work things out together, communicate. Jenny and Adam do model that, as each learns to discuss things with the other and share their lives.

In other ways, A Civil Contract is interesting because of the background of the French Revolution, the perspective of Adam as a former soldier, and the class mixing which happens as a result of the marriage. There are some very entertaining characters, including some very determined and headstrong women who are very different to Jenny, but still positive. (Lady Nassington is one; Lady Oversley is another, in a way; and of course, Lydia.)

All in all, this isn’t one of the more adventurous stories, like The Talisman Ring, and neither is the romance one with tension or too much worry about how it’s going to work out. It is, for the most part, fairly comfortable — though I wonder if perhaps it would have been less so in more class-conscious times. (Says the daughter of a working class man and a upper-middle-class woman, whose families cordially, and sometimes not so cordially, hated each other!)

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Stormy Petrel

Posted 26 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Stormy Petrel by Mary StewartStormy Petrel, Mary Stewart

Stormy Petrel isn’t my favourite of Mary Stewart’s romance/suspense stories, though I do love that the main character is a science fiction writer, a poet, and a don at Cambridge. Her relatively self-sufficiency is great, and there aren’t too many damsel-in-distress moments. The romance is relatively light, and doesn’t treat us to the ridiculousness of marrying a guy you’ve only just met — sometimes it works for me, in Stewart’s writing, but all the same, I prefer a lighter touch. Especially when it means that the romance isn’t forced, which this would’ve been; kind of like in Rose Cottage, where the romance seemed to come in at the end to round things off.

As usual, the sense of place is great and makes me almost want to visit this area off the coast of Scotland. On the other hand, the midges sound like a pretty solid deterrent.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Winner’s Kiss

Posted 24 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Winner's Kiss by Marie RutkoskiThe Winner’s Kiss, Marie Rutkoski

Received to review via Netgalley

After The Winner’s Crime, I was a little nervous I wouldn’t like this. After all, while I rated it highly in the end, the second book in the series relied heavily on one of my least favourite tropes: miscommunication, misunderstanding, a refusal to see. Mostly on Arin’s part, but Kestrel contributed plenty: her strategies might be good if they don’t involve Arin, but when he’s involved, she loses her cool and doesn’t know quite what to do. At least in The Winner’s Crime. In The Winner’s Kiss, well: things change. The plot moves pretty swiftly, and though there was a brief part where Arin’s ignorance was so contrived I wanted to scream (the narrative flagging up “there’s a messenger and oh, Arin forgets to see him!” just made me want to bash my head against something, I’m afraid), eventually he gets the message and things get back on track.

I read The Winner’s Kiss in one day; in many respects, it makes a very satisfying ending. Kestrel and Arin both find out more about themselves, and each other; things aren’t easy, but they find their way. When an opportunity for all-too-easy revenge rears its head, Rutkoski went for a more complex and more effective way of dealing with the aftermath of betrayal, with the aftermath of a wrecked relationship. There’s no easy resolution to what Kestrel’s father is and has done, but there’s no easy refusal to deal with those issues either.

Things I wanted more of: Sarsine. Jess, and resolution with her. Roshar and his friendship with Arin. Arin the tiger. Risha.

I find that, at the moment, I don’t want to pick this apart any further. I enjoyed it, and I think people will find it a worthy final book in the series. After the tortuous miscommunications of the middle book, this final book gave me more of the feeling I had from the first.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Carry On

Posted 23 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Carry On by Rainbow RowellCarry On, Rainbow Rowell

Ever since I heard Rowell was actually going to write this, I’ve really wanted it. I mean, it explicitly features two boys being idiots in love, in exactly the same way as Rowell’s other books portray heterosexual couples being stupid (and sweet, and impossible, and teenage). And people were so excited about it — it seemed pretty mainstream. So that was cool. And then of course it takes an adversarial relationship a la Harry and Draco and develops it into love, which is one of my things.

Did it live up to my hopes? Hell yes. I was worried about a couple of things: in Fangirl, the world of Carry On was basically created to take the place of Harry Potter. I don’t actually like Harry Potter (sorry), and I was also worried that this would just turn out to be a serial-numbers-filed-off version. That didn’t happen: I was actually impressed with the way Rowell constructed her fantasy world, especially the power of words — and the way that pervaded the whole narrative: the worst thing to do to a mage is to steal their words, and at one point Simon says something trying to make it true. Perfect.

Another concern was, well, I didn’t like Draco. I thought he was slimy and cowardly. Now, Baz isn’t perfect — but he’s a worthy lead, flaws and all. He doesn’t always do the right thing, and he has opinions that we might not 100% endorse, but he’s in a difficult position and he works with what he’s got.

Finally, I was worried that Simon and Baz being gay (or bisexual, or demisexual as some people suggest, in Simon’s case) would be a Big Thing. Actually, it shockingly isn’t. There are a few points where Simon isn’t sure about it, but it isn’t a Big Angsty Issue. And Rowell writes them well; I love the way Baz only calls Simon by name when they’re “being soft with each other”. It all feels pretty boyish.

As for the rest, well — Penelope Bunce, guys. She’s all the great things about Hermione and Ron in one, without the annoying pettiness. And she has an amazing friendship with Simon — yes, a boy and a girl being friends in YA without complications, without romance. Hurrah!

Despite the fact that Agatha got to have a voice, I didn’t feel like it was quite fair to her. She seemed fickle and cowardly, when wanting to have a life of her own was a perfectly reasonable wish, and wanting to be loved now and for herself, not as the Happy Ever After In Waiting. Still, the way it examines the tropes of the Chosen One and the Happily Ever After are welcome and interesting.

I didn’t want it to be over, and I am definitely reading it again in future.

“It’s okay,” Baz says. “It’s all okay now.” One arm is tight around Simon’s back, and the other is smoothing his hair out of his face. “You did it, didn’t you?” Baz whispers. “You defeated the Humdrum. You saved the day, you courageous fuck. You absolute nightmare.”

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Clean Sweep

Posted 19 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Clean Sweep, by Ilona AndrewsClean Sweep, Ilona Andrews

Okay, the concept reminds me of Tanya Huff’s Summon the Keeper, which I haven’t read yet but which is held in high esteem by some of my friends. But Ilona Andrews’ writing is just darn fun. Dina is funny and takes no crap, the whole concept of the inns and the responsibilities of the inn keepers is good, and while Sean Evans is kind of an ass, he’s the kind of ass that can grow on you — like Curran, from the Kate Daniels books. I actually read this in one sitting, despite rather wanting to go to bed before I started, and when done, I handed it straight to my sister.

And come on, if nothing else grabs you, the unique “vampires” from actual outer space are a really cool concept. Between this and the magic/technology mixture in the Kate Daniels books, you’d better believe that the Andrews team can come up with some great settings and interesting worlds.

Guess I’m going to have to get my hands on Sweep in Peace, though I sort of hope that neither potential love interest turns out to be the one. Shoo, Sean. Go pee on someone else’s trees.

Rating: 4/5

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