Review – A Seditious Affair

Posted March 9, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Seditious Affair by KJ CharlesA Seditious Affair, K.J. Charles

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.

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted March 8, 2020 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

Evening, folks! I am late on this and just getting this out there so I don’t need to do a double-bill next week! It’s been a busy one.

Books read this week:

Cover of Unthinkable by Helen Thomson Cover of The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh by KJ Charles Cover of The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo Cover of A Fashionable Indulgence by KJ Charles

Reviews posted this week:

Unthinkable, by Helen Thomson. Not too surprising if you’re interested in neurology and have read other books like it, but still enjoyable. 3/5 stars
The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh, by K.J. Charles. Short and sweet. Not a lot of substance, but an enjoyable short story. 4/5 stars
The Honjin Murders, by Seishi Yokomizo. Strongly influenced by John Dickson Carr, this is a solid locked room murder mystery, but not my thing. 2/5 stars
A Fashionable Indulgence, by K.J. Charles. I loved Harry and Julius, and read this (almost) all in one go. 5/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday on Thursday. This week I chattered about John Dickson Carr, K.J. Charles and Sylvia Izzo Hunter!

How’s everyone doing? Any exciting acquisitions?

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WWW… Thursday

Posted March 5, 2020 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

I missed the normal check-in, but why not! Here’s a belated WWW Wednesday… on Thursday.

Cover of Castle Skull by John Dickson CarrWhat are you currently reading?

Only fiction right now! I’m sort of begrudgingly reading Castle Skull by John Dickson Carr, because it’s a British Library Crime Classic and I’m a completist. I’ve never really managed to get along with John Dickson Carr’s stories, and I can’t really put my finger on why. Part of it is that I really couldn’t care less about the characters, and also the contrived plots… It’s mostly personal taste, I think. Anyway, I’m not far into Castle Skull and so far it’s alright, but I haven’t really changed my mind on John Dickson Carr in general.

One thing that really drives me wild is his detective characters sitting there and feeling clever without their observations being revealed to the reader. That kind of mystery story always annoys me, because it’s meant to make the reader feel stupid.

Cover of A Fashionable Indulgence by KJ CharlesWhat have you recently finished reading?

A Fashionable Indulgence, by K.J. Charles, which was a joy. I ended up giving it 5/5 stars, which I rarely do, because I didn’t want to pick at it. Charles reliably writes stories I tear right through, even when there are some hard topics (and there certainly are those). Harry’s a joy, and Julius’ slow awakening to wanting and loving him is as well.

Cover of The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo HunterWhat will you be reading next?

I’m not sure, but probably I’ll pick up The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter. It’s a reread, because I remember enjoying it and I have the two sequels, and it’s also a book club pick. So that seems like an excellent set of reasons to pick it up soon.

Of course, there’s also the next book in the K.J. Charles series I’m reading at the moment, A Seditious Affair. I’m not sure how attached I’m going to get to these characters, particularly given one of the pair’s politics are just yuck, but… at the same time, it’s K.J. Charles. I’m sure I’m going to love it.

What are you reading?

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Review – A Fashionable Indulgence

Posted March 4, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Fashionable Indulgence by KJ CharlesA Fashionable Indulgence, K.J. Charles

Harry Vane is the son of a rabble-rousing nobleman who married a commoner and ended up disowned by his family. He had to flee England with his family when he was 12 because they involved him in their revolutionary activities, and now he’s scraping by helping a secret printer turn out radical tracts and pamphlets… and then his noble family turn up to claim him, and suddenly it’s all a bit My Fair Lady: Julius Norreys is tasked with turning Harry into a gentleman. In the meantime, Harry’s thawing Julius’ heart after past tragedies, quite without Julius’ permission.

I have no doubts anymore when it comes to K.J. Charles: whatever the scenario, I’m going to enjoy it. A Fashionable Indulgence turned out to be one I enjoyed a lot. Harry’s enthusiasm and joie de vivre is palpable, and it’s no wonder it brings Julius to life. Julius’ slowly awakening need to have Harry around is a joy, and I’m on fire with curiosity for what the books about Richard (and Cyprian) and Dominic (and Silas) are going to be like, and for the chance to get a better look at their characters. It felt like I was being set up to dislike Verona, and then boom! I’d love to know a little more of her story, too. So once again, Charles got me involved with a whole new cast of characters. I was shockingly fond of Francis and Ash, even though The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh is so short, too — I was glad to see them play their parts.

I read this almost all in one go, which was lovely too; I’ve seen reviews complaining about the slow start, but I honestly wonder if that isn’t mostly because Julius and Harry don’t meet at first. I think the set-up makes the payoff better, and it’s not as though it takes long for Harry and Julius to figure things out.

My only complaint really is that it made me come over all Relationship Advice Dalek (COMM-UN-I-CATE!) for a bit… but it does make sense for the story too. It wraps up very neatly, at least for Harry and Julius, but it’s enjoyable that it all comes together like this.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Hearts of Oak

Posted March 3, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Hearts of Oak by Eddie RobsonHearts of Oak, Eddie Robson

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 17th March 2020

Hearts of Oak is a bit difficult to describe without giving things away. Iona is the main character, an architect in a mysterious city enclosed in a dome. She’s never really questioned the way things are, even though she has odd dreams and memories of things that no longer exist in the city. Materials that don’t exist, like concrete and felt. And yet odd things are happening: a colleague has died and a man appears at his funeral and leaps into the furnace with him; a woman she’s never met before asks her to tutor her in how the building work is done, and she seems to have had the dreams too, to know words she shouldn’t know.

There were moments that should have been really emotive — for instance, discovering you’re surrounded by automatons which don’t even look that human, but somehow you never noticed. That should surely have been freaky and weird and you should have felt for the character, but it was just kind of flat. Or the ending: the reader should have felt sorry, glad, horrified… something. But it totally didn’t work for me.

It’s an interesting concept, but it left some questions in my mind and just… didn’t engage me much on an emotional level.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Honjin Murders

Posted March 2, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Honjin Murders by Seishi YokomizoThe Honjin Murders, Seishi Yokomizo, trans. Louise Heal Kawai

The Honjin Murders is a classic Japanese murder mystery in translation, drawing very much from the sort of locked room mysteries favoured by John Dickson Carr, whose books are even referenced in the story. A couple are slain on their wedding night, and a mysterious three-fingered man is implicated, though the room the two were in was locked from the inside and no one should have been able to gain access.

It’s a bit of an odd set-up, because the story is told by a writer of detective fiction who only finds out about the murder later — it’s written as if it’s a true crime story being reconstructed after the fact, which does at times give it a blandness. There’s no real urgency to it, though partly that’s probably due to the translation. Other than the fact that it’s in translation, it’s not particularly uniquely Japanese; there are kotos and katanas and tatami mats, but exchange a few details and it’s a book by John Dickson Carr. That might be an upside, for you… however, I’m afraid I don’t really get along with John Dickson Carr, though I persist in trying.

It was so deliberately referential and so distant from the action, it just didn’t really work for me.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh

Posted March 2, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh by KJ CharlesThe Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh, K.J. Charles

This is a short story set in the world of a trilogy I haven’t read, so it feels like just a bit of a teaser. Gabriel Ashley has just made a big mistake: he gambled against a man who was an enemy of his brother’s back when they were at university, who he further insulted when he met him in person by being a drunk idiot, and he’s lost everything. The man in question, Francis Webster, has invited him round to pay up, and proposes another game. Ash ends up with absolutely nothing to bet… except his coat, his shirt, himself…

Ash is a cutie — he’s messed things up with Francis, but he knows it and tries to apologise, and he’s ready to face the consequences of his actions. Francis comes off badly at first, and I’m not 100% in love with the whole scenario, but it’s saved by Ash’s explicit and enthusiastic consent, and the fact that Ash is the one to push the situation into sex.

The story is really minimal and just set-up for the sex, so if you’re not interested, it may not be for you. I’m not sure if Ash or Francis play a particularly big part in the Society of Gentlemen trilogy, but all you’d really need to know is what I’ve described in this review. If you are interested in a short sex-filled story, it turns out rather sweet and seems worth it to me!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Unthinkable

Posted March 1, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Unthinkable by Helen ThomsonUnthinkable, Helen Thomson

Unthinkable is a journey through some non-neurotypical brains. It’s a bit of a mix, actually; some of them have neurological conditions, while others are more psychiatric, and others straddle the border. In part, it illustrates the difficulty in drawing a line between the two. Most of the cases in this book weren’t new to me (or at least, I’d read about similar ones before), although Thomson approaches each person with sympathy and a determination to try and understand them and how they think.

They’re still interesting stories, even though they’re not surprises to me, and there were some details I wasn’t aware of — for instance, the man who believed he was dead was found to have very little brain activity, when scanned, more like someone in a coma than someone alive and walking around.

It’s silly, but I did have to laugh when Thomson mentioned someone “watching manga”. Yikes.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted February 29, 2020 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Good morning, folks! It’s been a busy week, and I have a lot of new books to show off!

Acquired this week:

First up, I have a bunch of eARCs thanks to Tor, so it’s only fair to showcase them first:

Cover of Or What You Will by Jo Walton Cover of The Ghosts of Sherwood by Carrie Vaughn Cover of The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho Cover of Drowned Country by Emily Tesh

And then I have a bunch of new books after heading to Sheffield to meet friends from afar. The bookshop was naturally the obvious place to take them!

Cover of Death in White Pyjamas by John Bude Cover of Castle Skull by John Dickson Carr Cover of The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross

Cover of How to Argue with a Racist by Adam Rutherford Cover of Ancient Iraq by Georges Roux

Books read this week:

Cover of The Five by Hallie Rubenhold Cover of A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn Cover of Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson

Cover of The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan Cover of A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn Cover of How to Argue with a Racist by Adam Rutherford

Reviews posted this week:

The Five, by Hallie Rubenhold. I found this much more riveting than I expected. I only had one quibble and that was the emphasis she placed on repeating over and over again that the women weren’t prostitutes, as if that changed how much we should care about them. 4/5 stars
Fell Murder, by E.C.R. Lorac. Rather slow; I just didn’t get into it the way I did with Lorac’s other books. It had some great elements, but… sort of meh? 3/5 stars
A Curious Beginning, by Deanna Raybourn. Unbelievable, and yet kind of riveting anyway! 4/5 stars
The Great Pretender, by Susannah Cahalan. An investigation into a famous study, which may in fact have been partially faked. 5/5 stars
A Perilous Undertaking, by Deanna Raybourn. Enjoyable as heck, just like the first book. 4/5 stars
How to Argue with a Racist, by Adam Rutherford. It’s okay and informative, but I’m not sure it’s really enough. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

#ReaderProblems. An entertaining tag that I spotted elsewhere. Learn how I pick my next read, how I feel about not loving books everyone else does, etc.
WWW Wednesday. Featuring a little preview of my thoughts on Hearts of Oak — my review won’t be up for a couple more days.

How’re you guys doing? Got any awesome new books?

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Review – How To Argue With A Racist

Posted February 28, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of How to Argue with a Racist by Adam RutherfordHow to Argue with a Racist, Adam Rutherford

I’ve enjoyed Rutherford’s work before; he communicates clearly, and he’s clearly delighted by the intricacies and weirdnesses of DNA and inheritance. In this book, he tries to provide people with the tools to argue back with some key racist talking points about skin colour, intelligence, milk-drinking, ancestry and proficiency at sport. For the most part, he doesn’t argue with a specific study or source of an idea, but offers up general points. It’s actually a very ineffective way to argue with anyone who’s going to ask for evidence, however true his points are; you can explain to a horse how to get to the water, but it’s not going to go and drink no matter how long you talk at it. Or, as my grandmother says, “You can’t educate pork.”

Really, the main problem is that some people are never going to believe you, even if you can talk the hind leg off the proverbial donkey and you can provide the sources. It’s not really clear who benefits from this book — mostly, I guess, people who know people who are sat on the fence, but can listen to reason. If you know any of those, I’ll send you my copy (assuming I haven’t already sent it to someone else) and best of luck to you!

It’s still clear and engaging, but preaching to the choir (by definition, if it’s aimed at people who want to argue with racists) and without a really clear guide to how to use these talking points. Vaguely replying “yes well everyone is related to everyone else if you go back through the family lines to the 16th century” doesn’t cut it for most racists.

If you’re on the fence and you want to understand why Ashkenazi Jews aren’t inherently more intelligent than other people and African runners aren’t inherently better at sprinting than anyone, it might be useful!

Rating: 3/5

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