Tag: romance

Review – Camelot’s Blood

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

Cover of Camelot's Blood by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Blood, Sarah Zettel
Originally reviewed in February 2010

I really love this book. I don’t remember how strongly I felt about it the first time, but I have a thing for second sons in fiction, second sons like Agravain — the quieter, grimmer ones, the dutiful ones with their hidden passions and their determinations. Agravain is a perfect example, and it’s also interesting that in this story, he and Laurel fall in love after their marriage, which comes of necessity and politics more than anything else. The four romances are much more differentiated than I remembered. In this one, I genuinely felt pain for Agravain and Laurel when they were separated, which is possibly because I found their situation more real.

The romance is still a little hurried in places, but I do like what we get of it. I also love the magic of this — Laurel’s magic, as she becomes unafraid and throws herself into it, doing what she has to do. I like how a lot of hints come together — the stain on Guinevere’s palm, for one thing, just that one tiny repeated detail finally finding meaning and explanation. Not something I noticed, on a single reading.

I found this somewhat unsatisfying as an end, the last time I read it. Morgaine is defeated, but Mordred is not killed, he flees. Reading it again, his defeat is pretty conclusive, and he runs like a child, but mostly I’m reminded of the fact that it’s still prophesied that he will bring down Camelot, and the threat of him isn’t neutralised at all. In one way, ending like this is very appropriate, because the quartet follows the sons of Lot, not the court of Arthur — but the court of Arthur and the importance of Arthur’s kingdom is important throughout the books, so it’s kind of odd that it ends without a real conclusion for that.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Camelot’s Sword

Posted 12 February, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Camelot's Sword, by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Sword, Sarah Zettel
Originally reviewed in February 2010

I’m liking all of these books in my second reading. It’s interesting to see all the different threads of Arthurian myth and Celtic myth brought together in this way — this book especially weaves so many things together: Tristan and Iseult, Lyonesse (Laurel) and Lynet, Lancelot and Guinevere, Morgaine, the Celtic Otherworld… I think I’m focusing a lot more on that, in this reading, instead of on the romance — which isn’t actually as central as I thought. It could do with more time spent on it, actually, because Gareth’s transformation from a womaniser into Lynet’s faithful knight is very hasty and not really given the time and space it should be. Perhaps the scene on the moor could’ve been expanded — another fifty pages would probably have made the love story much more engaging and satisfying. There were some parts of the relationship with Ryol that were glossed over a bit too much — that was closer to the centre of the story, I think, and didn’t suffer too much, but there were a few places where I wondered why the heck it was happening like that. For example, how did Guinevere figure out that the mirror was the problem? Whence came her sudden decision to confiscate it?

One thing that is becoming clear to me is that the relationships aren’t as cookie-cutter as I thought, my first time through. The relationships between Gawain and Rhian, Geraint and Elen, Gareth and Lynet… they’re much more distinct than I thought at first, and the brothers are less alike than they thought at first. I’m not sure why I thought them so cookie-cutter the first time through, actually. Possibly because all the romance is that bit hastier than I’d like. Possibly I’m a slightly more discerning reader. Possibly my taste has just changed!

I really wish this book had received a little more attention from a proofreader. The little nags I have about grammar and punctuation are really little. For the most part I like the writing. But it’s so distracting to keep thinking, “But where is the comma?”

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 9 February, 2016 by Nikki in General / 15 Comments

This week’s theme is a Valentine’s Day related freebie, so I’m going to put together a list of fictional romances I have loved! And probably no one will be surprised by my choices.

Cover of Camelot's Shadow by Sarah Zettel Cover of Chocolat by Joanne Harris Cover of Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey Cover of Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey Cover of Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier

  1. Gawain and Dame Ragnell. Sarah Zettel’s Camelot’s Shadow is the only contemporary book I can think of that uses these two in the way I’d like. I love that, in the original(? oldest extant might be a better word) medieval version, it’s all about equality. Gawain gives Ragnell a choice about her own life, her own body. How can that not appeal?
  2. Roux and Vianne, from Joanne Harris’ Chocolat. I used to think of this book as a guilty pleasure, but having given that whole concept up, I have to cop to this one (and why not?). The undemanding connection between these two really works for me — and reminds me of a favourite song, Suzanne Vega’s ‘Gypsy’.
  3. Joscelin and Phèdre, from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. I want a Joscelin of my own! Okay, they take some time getting there, but they come to an understanding and they are devoted to each other.
  4. Pilar and Loup, from Jacqueline Carey’s Santa Olivia. They’re just… adorable. Puppy love and all.
  5. Anluan and Catrin, from Juliet Marillier’s Heart’s Blood. A lovely Beauty and the Beast retelling, and I really believed in the way these two damaged people came together.
  6. Marco and Celia, from Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. This book is just… gorgeous. I need to reread it.
  7. Lord Peter and Harriet, from Dorothy L. Sayers’ Strong PoisonWell, the whole series, of course. The patience he has with her, and the way they finally, finally get together… “If I should once give way to Peter, I should go up like straw.”
  8. Kate and Curran, from Ilona Andrews’ Magic Bites. Again, the whole series. They’re just… such good banter and also passion and irritation and… yep.
  9. Phryne and Lin Chung, from Kerry Greenwood’s Away With the Fairies. I might wish for Phryne to flirt with someone else again, but I do enjoy the bond between these two.
  10. Simon and Baz, from Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On. Okay, I haven’t even read it yet, but I’ve peeked, and eeeeh.

Cover of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern Cover of Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews Cover of Away With the Fairies by Kerry Greenwood Cover of Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

And of course, every Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart and Susanna Kearsley romance feels perfect as I read it — they just don’t tend to stick in my head separately the way these do.

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Review – Rose Cottage

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

Cover of Rose Cottage by Mary StewartRose Cottage, Mary Stewart

Rose Cottage is a quiet mystery/romance, not too heavy on either, with no dramatics of the sort you find in The Gabriel Hounds or Touch Not the Cat. It’s all fairly quiet and peaceful; a restful sort of book, with only brief moments of unease, no madly evil people (though one at least who is very flawed), no great tragedy, and an ending that brings everyone neatly together in a perfect reunion.

Given that I’d definitely choose the word “gentle” to describe it, and the romance is just barely there in the last half, this isn’t the most pacey, exciting story. It’s a cosy one, of homecoming and heart-healing and family, needing and wanting no heroics. It’s a post-war story, but the war is just a shadow in the background; it’s a family mystery, but the important thing is not so much the mystery, the not-knowing, but almost the end of the story, when people come together.

This all might sound like faint praise, and it’s true that Rose Cottage isn’t one of my favourite of Stewart’s books. But it’s enjoyable, and especially good if you don’t want high drama, just some village life and a happy ending.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Camelot’s Honour

Posted 5 February, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Camelot's Honour by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Honour, Sarah Zettel

Originally reviewed in February 2010

The first time I read this series, I wasn’t all that impressed. There are still things I’m not so keen on — the love at first sight, for one thing, doesn’t ring very true, and also the books could do with better proofreading. There’s punctuation missing, and I’m pretty sure “grieves” and “greaves” don’t mean the same thing. But, this time, I found myself a lot more interested. I preferred Geraint to Gawain, I think, and I was interested in him and his feelings about his relationship to Morgaine, and his way of dealing with his legacy from his father — and his love for Elen.

I don’t know if the story of Elen and Geraint is based on any legend, Arthurian or otherwise, although I suspect that the story of Gwiffert, at least, has some kind of link to existing mythology. Still, it’s nice to see a lot of mythology together and coupled to the Arthurian mythology, to make something new. The ongoing story of Morgaine is interesting, too: I can’t actually remember very well how that’s resolved, and I forgot that she seemed genuinely in love with Urien.

I originally didn’t like Elen much, but there is something compelling about her, too, and her struggle, and Collanau. I wished the book had more about the Lord, the Lady, and Elen’s family. As far as I remember, the Lord and the Lady don’t come into it again, which is a shame.

(Erec and Enide is, of course, where I think this comes from. It doesn’t follow it directly in plot, but I think the idea of the bird came from there.)

[Note in 2016: I know much more about the various sources now — The Mabinogion is a big one.]

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Camelot’s Shadow

Posted 29 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Camelot's Shadow by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Shadow, Sarah Zettel

Originally reviewed in February 2010

Since I’m hoping that the module on King Arthur will run next year [note in 2016: it did], and reading widely in the tradition helped me with the Robin Hood module, I decided to revisit these books. As I said in my review almost two years ago, I’m not really one for romance books, generally, but these are Arthurian — which helps a lot, since it’s something I’m always interested in — and they’re not exactly bodice-rippers, and I do like Sarah Zettel’s writing. There’s genuinely a plot alongside the romance — at least in this first book of the four — and earlier elements of the tradition are woven into the story, while it’s also not quite a carbon copy. It could have deviated more from the tradition, easily, and perhaps been more engaging then, but this is interesting enough. I like the portrayal of Guinevere, very much in love with Arthur, and though she’s mischievous, she’s a good queen. If I remember rightly, the betrayal of Arthur with Lancelot isn’t re-enacted in this quartet, which I quite like. That’s something new. And I like this portrayal of Gawain, as compared to some quite loutish ones I’ve read before.

It’s interesting how close it sticks to the plot of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I’m doing a module on at the moment. I hadn’t read that the first time I read this, so I didn’t really appreciate how it had taken that plot but also woven in the women, Rhian and Kerra, and how it’s also woven in the story of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell — which I haven’t read, but I know a decent amount about.

It’s nice that there’s an overarching plot to these four romances, with the figure of Morgaine, about whom we learn little in this book. It’s also nice that they’re romances in both the medieval sense and the modern sense. At least, it is for my inner geek.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – How Not To Summon Your True Love

Posted 27 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of How Not to Summon Your True Love by Sasha L. MillerHow Not To Summon Your True Love, Sasha L. Miller

Received to review via Netgalley

How Not To Summon Your True Love is apparently part of a project at Less Than Three Press to include more asexual and aromantic characters, which is awesome. It is under the title “Solitary Travelers“, which does raise my eyebrow a bit — why are ace/aro people associated once more with being alone, when it looks like these stories celebrate queerplatonic and asexual relationships too, if not in all of them? But still, it’s a nice idea for a project, and I was pleased to see Sasha L. Miller’s book on Netgalley, since I’ve enjoyed her work before (The Errant Prince).

The story itself is a pretty quick read, with a fairly generic magical world set-up — territories, official relationships between those, magical politics, etc. The main character uses a “true love” spell, which summons a naked, soapy, and rather irritated young man into his dorm room. Things go downhill from there, at least from the point of view of the status quo. Suddenly Cy’s on a roadtrip to Idaho, to take Dig (the guy he summoned) back home.

The romance is fairly incidental; there’s little by way of romantic feelings, and it didn’t feel like Cy was that interested in Dig, even in the sense of having a squish. The ending feels like an epilogue, where they decide to try dating. Still, their relationship is cute, their banter along the way is fun, and it’s nice to see an ace protagonist getting the guy and finding out that hey, turns out he’s ace too.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Castlemaine Murders

Posted 21 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry GreenwoodThe Castlemaine Murders, Kerry Greenwood

The Castlemaine Murders is a fairly typical outing for Phryne, featuring her usual liberal attitudes to sisters, queer people, Chinese people, marriage and danger. At various points, it felt like Lin Chung was more the protagonist than Phryne was — which wasn’t bad, as such, because I do like the character and his relationship with Phryne… but on the other hand, he is definitely not what I’ve read thirteen books and counting for. Watching him come into himself and act with responsibility is kind of cool, all the same, because we’ve seen him go from obeying everything the head of the family said to being the head of the family.

The rest of the mystery, Phryne’s half, is rather secondary. In a bit of convenience, the two mysteries end up tied together — which was far too much of a coincidence for my liking, considering the age of the crimes, the distance, the amount of chance involved…

Still. I’m only critical because of the books have been more than this, at times. It’s still fun, and especially for the way all the characters are developing, growing up, becoming more and more of a family.

But hey, no Bert and Cec?

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Murder in Montparnasse

Posted 13 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry GreenwoodMurder in Montparnasse, Kerry Greenwood

I might need to take a break from Phryne for a while — just to make sure I don’t run out of her brilliance too soon, of course. Murder in Montparnasse shows us a younger Phryne, as well as the capable detective we’re used to: a Phryne who hasn’t yet learned to read men and situations and take care of herself. It is good to see her unsure of herself, and it’s also good to follow along with the mature Phryne as she negotiates Lin getting married, and becomes friends with his wife-to-be.

It’s also nice to get both Bert and Cec and Phryne’s adopted daughters playing a part in the mystery. Pretty much the whole team is involved here, including Hugh Collins, which is fun.

I think the only drawback is that maybe I’ve been eating up these books too fast, and they’re losing some of their freshness. I think if I spaced them out more, it’d be okay; as it is, I found it a little too routine. Which isn’t bad, since this is the twelfth book and I’ve read all the eleven previous ones in quite a hurry.

In case it bothered anyone else, spoiler: the Butlers don’t leave in the end. I was very worried they wouldn’t and that the lovely found-family feel was going to be lost a little — but nope, Mrs Butler sorted things out.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Dark Arts of Blood

Posted 2 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Dark Arts of Blood by Freda WarringtonThe Dark Arts of Blood, Freda Warrington

The Dark Arts of Blood is much like the other books in this series: lush, sexy, gothic, and unapologetic about that. The plot and such are more or less the same sort of fare: mythology shaping the world, the world shaping the mythology, the vampires trying to live in peace but being fundamentally at odds with the world because of their need for blood… For the most part, this belated addition to the series works seamlessly with the earlier books; it also doesn’t descend into any kind of nostalgia for the older books. There are consequences. Things happen to characters who we wished were safe. The mythology and magic of the world — and the tumultuous period of history the books are set in — continues to intensify.

One thing which didn’t work for me was the sub-plot with Charlotte and the lamia. It’s much the same kind of conflict she’s already faced, which was resolved in The Dark Blood of PoppiesI didn’t buy that it would resurface like this, especially when other vampires didn’t face similar problems at all with the same stimulus.

Still, the addition of more vampires to the world, going further afield and seeing other countries, is definitely welcome. And despite the fact that they got together in the first book, the relationship between Charlotte and Karl still has the same intensity now. It’s also good that despite the fact that they disagree, there is rarely high drama about it — the second book showed the biggest threat of that, but they worked on it. That is always great to see in romance fiction.

Bottom line? If you like morally ambiguous, often amoral vampires who are actually scary and otherworldly and not just humans with stick-on fangs and extra sex appeal, I do recommend this series. I’m thinking of acquiring the books for myself (I read them all from the library) for later rereading. I never expected to get so caught up, from reading the first book — there’s something so deliciously self-indulgent about them.

Rating: 4/5

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