After It Takes Two To Tumble, this book follows the fortunes of one of Ben’s brothers, Hartley. As a teenager, he slept with a much older man, his godfather, to help provide for his brothers — school fees, rank, etc. On that man’s death, he inherited his house and a good deal of money, but now the whispers have gone out about why exactly he was the beneficiary… and, of course, he’s socially ruined. Into his life comes Sam Fox, publican and former boxer, who is kind and careful and handsome, and whom Hartley wants despite all the damage done by the exploitative sex he had as a teen.
On the one hand, it’s a delight how slowly and carefully the sex is explored in this book, how well Sam takes care of Hartley. At the same time, it’s harrowing; Hartley’s fears and self-disgust and inability to let himself find happiness are all over everything, making it a rather more serious book (at least to my mind). It’s not that it lacks sweetness, because it certainly doesn’t, but there’s a certain amount of bitter to it as well that — despite grief and worry — weren’t present in the previous book. There’s no on-screen rape or graphic discussion of it, but it colours everything; those who may find this triggering may want to avoid this.
It does have a lovely found family, much as the previous book does, and Hartley opens out into a lovely character as he loses some of his snootiness and challenges some of his own assumptions. Sam is lovely from start to finish — human, and not always able to be perfectly patient and perfectly understanding, but he strives to be better all the time. There are some fun side characters as well, particularly Sadie and Kate.
Overall, I enjoyed it a lot and it broke through a funk during which I wasn’t reading much at all. It’s a little darker in tone, but it does have a happy ending, and I ended up enjoying it a lot.
Looking around for something cute and easy to read with Lisa (Wife Book Club!), this was my first pick because it was described as “like Sound of Music, but with fewer children and less singing”, and that sounded entertaining. And so it is: Ben is the vicar, and people in the village ask him to deal with the unruly kids of a sea-captain. The kids’ mother has died, and the captain is away on his ship, and the kids are running wild. Ben rather likes kids, and doing things for everyone in the village, so he ends up agreeing.
Said sea-captain, Phillip, comes home and is… less than pleased. However, once he gets out of the mindset of expecting everything to run like a ship — partly at Ben’s prompting — he loosens up and becomes rather more fun, and of course, he develops an attraction to Ben. Ben is engaged to a convalescent girl, Alice, with whom he grew up, and throughout the book he struggles with what’s right, realising that he’s falling in love Phillip and what he feels for his childhood friend is nothing like it. Don’t worry, though: the story avoids demonising Alice, and her sweetness and strength are still important for Ben even when they put an end to their engagement.
There’s also a plotline involving dyslexia: Phillip and one of his children are both dyslexic, and the ways that holds them both back are explored carefully. Jamie’s a wizard with numbers, but traditional learning just won’t work for him. There’s no magical breakthrough moment or anything trite and insulting like that: instead, they plan to play to Jamie’s strengths with the right sort of tutor, and… Well, I won’t say more; that would be a spoiler!
It’s all really sweet, and Ben’s adorable. Phillip is a bit meh for me (which is to say, his determination to be an ass at first annoys me), but Ben carries it.
The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon. It’s been hanging around on my TBR for ages, and I even just got into it as a readalong group with coworkers!
BOOK 2 – The NEWBIE: The newest book on the TBR
All at the same age at the time of writing: Bringing Down The Duke (Evie Dunmore), Digging Up Armageddon (Eric H. Cline) or A Delicate Deception (Cat Sebastian). Not to mention the ARCs I’ve been racking up, like Laura Lam’s Goldilocks… or the books still winging their way to me, like Red, White and Royal Blue. I’ll count any one of the books I’ve added to my TBR since the lockdown began.
BOOK 3 – The OLDTIMER: The oldest book on the TBR
Oh, criminy. A lot of my oldest books are at my parents’, and we’re staying apart at the moment. If I’ve got Robin McKinley’s Dragonhaven here, it might be that; if not, I’ll probably go with something else from 2011. Maybe Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier.
BOOK 4 – THE COLLECTOR: Short stories
Hmm, I’m fairly lacking in anthologies in print, but there’s probably something in my backlog on Kindle. If not, I’ll cheat a little and read N.K. Jemisin’s How Long Til Black Future Month?
BOOK 5 – DO NOT TRANSCEND GENRE: Read a book from your favourite genre
This one’s pretty open… let’s say I’ll use this as a prod to finish A Conspiracy of Truths, by Alexandra Rowland.
BOOK 6, 7 and 8 – THREE IS COMPANY: A trilogy
I’m not going to nail myself to these, but probably N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season et al. I never read this series. I’m covered in shame, I know.
BOOK 9 – FACE REALITY: Non-fiction
I have lots and lots of options here. I’m bouncing off Mark Kurlansky’s Salt right now, so I’ll go with Dennis Baron’s What’s Your Pronoun?
BOOK 10 – BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS: A book by a non-US/UK author
Technically I’ve read this before, but I can’t go onto the next book without rereading The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu.
BOOK 11 – RANDOMMMMMM: A random choice
This is meant to be “the third book from the left/bottom of the second shelf in your TBR”, and this is a complicated proposition with my shelves. I’m actually going to go with my library books for this one, and it looks like I’m reading Not Quite A Lady by Loretta Chase.
Book 12 – TREAT YOURSELF: A favourite or book by a favourite author
So this will be either The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison), or one of K.J. Charles’ books I haven’t read before — maybe Think of England.
Non-fiction: Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. I’m thinking of ditching it, though. It doesn’t feel very much like there’s a coherent narrative here; it’s just a lot of facts about salt, one after the other. It is interesting, but it feels more like reading a series of encyclopaedia entries or something.
Fiction: I’m partway through rereading Mira Grant’s Feed, which I think I talked about last week. Wife Book Club (aka me and my wife read the same book at the same time) is now The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein. It’s a reread for me, but Lisa’s discovering it for the first time. We haven’t actually discussed it much yet…
What have you recently finished reading?
It Takes Two To Tumble by Cat Sebastian. It’s just adorable; somebody described it as Sound of Music, minus some of the kids and all of the singing. That’s pretty much it. There’s also a subplot involving one of the main characters having dyslexia, as does his son, which I felt seemed well-handled? And I enjoyed the female love interest (inasfar as she was really a love interest).
What are you going to read next?
I have no earthly idea. Honestly, I’m not managing to read much. My anxiety medication is helping, but either I’m not finding the right book or my mood isn’t stable enough yet. I’m not going to make any guesses or set any goals; I’ll figure it out in its own time.
Well, folks, it’s been quite the week. I haven’t been very well (mentally), and while I’m getting better with the help of some anxiety medication (sigh, I was so proud to have weaned myself off it), it’s been rough. So here’s the haul of books I got on our last hurrah day out before moving to social distancing mode and ending non-essential trips, a couple weeks ago.
Next week I’ll share the ARCs I’ve been getting, and whatever’s come through the mail, and try to get back to my normal format.
Some non-fiction, some romance, a little sci-fi, a little fantasy and mystery… a typically mixed haul for me.
Let’s get back to normal a bit. Here’s my WWW Wednesday post!
What are you currently reading?
Non-fiction: The Rules of Contagion, by Adam Kucharski. This is a bit on the nose at the moment, clearly. I’m enjoying it in little snippets, though.
Fiction: I’m rereading Mira Grant’s Feed, for… probably obvious reasons. It’s at once anxiety-inducing and anxiety-beating; it reminds me of my first experience with reading it, when I had a lot of trouble with my anxiety and this was hitting all my buttons in both good and bad ways.
Wife Book Club (AKA me and my wife pick a book and read it together, at the same pace, in the same place, at the same time): It Takes Two To Tumble, by Cat Sebastian, which is so far very cute and generally fun.
What have you recently finished reading?
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, by Zen Cho. It’s an ARC. I enjoyed it, but felt like I was Missing Something. I haven’t read/seen/otherwise consumed much Wuxia, so I guess that’s part of it.
What will you be reading next?
Possibly The Steerswoman, by Rosemary Kirstein, for Wife Book Club. I’ve read it before, and enjoyed it, but never got onto the rest of the series.
This is the final book in the Society of Gentlemen series, and it beautifully wraps things up — not just for Richard and Cyprian, but for the characters of the other two books as well. It’s all very cleverly done, with David Cyprian pulling the strings and manipulating things into place, and Richard stumbling towards happiness with large blundering feet. The plot is mostly: Richard fucks up, Richard needs Cyprian back, David Cyprian is too loyal for his own good, Richard puts his foot in it some more. I was at once longing for a happy ending and wanting David to realise Richard truly is an idiot and walk away.
Charles can always bring me round to enjoying a character or plotline I didn’t think I would; she had no problems here, as I was already eager to see what David could do and how things would work out. I actually read this all in one go.
It’s not just the characters and their relationship, though. I really liked the side characters, including the way Richard’s elder brother and his wife try to take care of Richard and are supported by him in turn. Knowing the world already from the other books, it’s interesting to see it from a new slant and discover the other sides of people one might have already disliked or dismissed.
As with the first book, I have very little I want to criticise here. It was a lot of fun. Just one point: Richard is portrayed as pretty much demisexual (and apparently word-of-God says he is), but there is a scene which puts the lie to that where he says he wanted David since he first saw him. Neither the inclusion nor that moment are a major part of the plot, but it’s a point worth being aware of if you’re hoping for demisexual representation.
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 24th March 2020
The Empress of Salt and Fortune is described as an “Asian period drama”, which sounds about right to me. It opens with a cleric, Chih, whose job is to document events and stories, in order that they might be remembered and understood in the future. They travel with a hoopoe, Almost Brilliant, who is a neixin. The neixin work alongside clerics, learning stories and passing them on. Chih is eager to catalogue the stories of the place where the recently deceased Empress was originally exiled from the court, prior to her rise to power. They’re lucky enough to meet Rabbit, an old woman who served the Empress before and during her exile.
The story is parcelled out in little snatches: Rabbit curates the story, presenting what she wants Chih to understand and slowly bringing them to the understanding of it. I found myself not very surprised by the reveal by the time we got to the ending, but the slow spinning out of the story worked for me. It feels very fairytale-like, with most of the characters very opaque, but the little glimpses we see are enough to flesh it out — at least enough to keep me interested through the course of the novella.
Just to note, I’m unclear whether Chih is actually non-binary rep. As far as I remember the early part of the book, Rabbit assumes they are female until she realises they’re a cleric. So it sounds more to me like a cultural thing, rather than an identity thing per se, and it isn’t really explored. It’s just a fact. There is also a brief reference to a lesbian relationship, but it’s very brief and not really very important to the story. There’s queerness woven into the story, but I didn’t feel it was particularly intended to be the centrepiece.
It feels like there’s so much potential for more stories in this world — stories about the clerics themselves, as well as the stories they discover and record. I’d be interested to read more if there ever is more, but it does also work as a self-contained story.
This one feels rather darker than A Fashionable Indulgence, although some of the same themes of radicalism and struggle are in that book too. Here, they’re front and centre, because Harry’s radical mentor Silas is one of the main characters. And the other is his Wednesday liaison, Dominic Frey, who doesn’t even know his name as the book opens — just that his brute knows him and his needs, and challenges him in ways he’s never been challenged, while giving him the strength to face the rest of the world. The problem being that Dominic is a Tory, working for the Home Office, tracking down radicals just like Silas.
The whole book is a struggle between their ideals and their growing feelings for one another. Between them, they could work it out, if only they didn’t come from such different worlds at such a fraught point in time, just after the Peterloo massacre. The radical ideas that Harry mostly pushes away and hides in A Fashionable Indulgence are Silas’ everyday goals, and it sets him against Dominic, willing or not.
It takes a while for things to work out, but they do, and there is a happy ending — I promise! It’s a bittersweet ending, in many ways: they’ve balanced their need for each other with their ideals and found their ideals shaking, their dedication to them crumbling… but they do figure something out.
One thing I do enjoy that’s more in the background here is Richard and Dominic’s relationship. They were basically childhood sweethearts, but Richard couldn’t give Dominic what he needed — in fact, made him feel broken and wrong for wanting it, let alone needing it. So throughout the book they finally come to terms with that, and while it’s obvious they still love one another deeply and care very much about what the other does and what happens to them, they’re starting to let things go and make their peace with their long-ago rift.
As ever, this book does contain quite a few sex scenes, and if you’ve read A Fashionable Indulgence first, which I do suggest, you’ll be aware of Dominic’s tastes. I wasn’t always in love with the way this aspect of their relationship is portrayed: they do very little negotiating or checking in, and it takes a while for it to be fully clear how Dominic can give the equivalent of a safeword. There’s a lot of “no, don’t, stop” that can be quite discomforting, even with the context that the two of them have been doing this for a year and know each other well.
Overall, I don’t love the characters of Dominic or Silas as much as Harry and Julius, so that shaped my enjoyment of this book. I’m much more curious about Richard and David Cyprian, in the next book, and also hoping it gives us more glimpses of Harry and Ash, who are both adorable.