Review – The Santa Klaus Murder

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

Cover of The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel HayThe Santa Klaus Murder, Mavis Doriel Hay

The Santa Klaus Murder is a competent but (for me) uninspiring mystery; I don’t know whether I’m just reading too many Golden Age crime novels at the moment, and should therefore stop — but then, I don’t think I absolutely loved the other book I read by Mavis Doriel Hay, so perhaps it’s just that. In any case, it’s another case of Christmas in a dysfunctional family, with a controlling patriarch and issues of inheritance looming.

It is told in an interesting way, at least at first, with the opening chapters being different points of view on the early events of the story written by the characters, and that’s a sort of exercise in sketching out characters that’s pretty entertaining. It doesn’t sustain that through the book, though; the later chapters are all from the perspective of the investigator.

Not really sold on it, in any case; it felt a little like going-through-the-motions, and I found the misdirection onto a particular character obvious and rather silly. Not one that worked for me, in the end!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Wanted, A Gentleman

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

Cover of Wanted, a Gentleman by K.J. CharlesWanted, a Gentleman, K.J. Charles

This one is a slim volume, but it’s just as satisfying as the longer stories I’ve read by K.J. Charles! Theo runs the Matrimonial Advertiser, a lonely hearts publication which allows ladies of some means to put in an ad seeking gentlemen of the right sort, gentlemen to put out an ad for a wife, and so on. One day Martin comes in because of some ads placed by a young woman of his acquaintance, and it all ends with Theo entangled in a quest to follow the young lady to Gretna Green to prevent her from making a decision about marriage that she can’t undo.

I won’t spoil the ups and downs of the plot, but “oh Theo no” and “oops” and “ohhhh no” were all things I said while reading! Theo and Martin’s relationship develops quickly, without ever being treated with sentimentality, and you can root for their HEA despite the mess-ups along the way. There are several explicit sex scenes; they build the rapport between the characters, and given the shortness of the book, I’d say they’re not really skippable — how the characters interact in every scene is important to the payoff.

It was especially interesting that Martin is a person of colour, a former slave, and indeed one who was previously owned by the family for whom he’s doing a favour. It changes the narrative and provides an interesting way of looking at the period in its discussion of gratitude and privilege.

I suppose my one critique was that the twist in the middle — or at least, the way it plays out — is pretty obvious, but then, this is a romance, and you know there’s a HEA in store somehow.

Rating: 4/5

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How To Meet Your 2020 Reading Goal

Posted January 1, 2020 by Nikki in General / 13 Comments

Because I read a lot (once upon a time I managed 500 books in a year; now it’s more like 200), I frequently get asked what the trick is. People seem to think I have a lifehack or something that I can share with other people. I’ll break that down a bit more below, but here’s what I think (looking back) is the biggest driver for me meeting my reading goals…

I do best when I don’t care about the goals at all.

My reading has slowed down more and more with every goal I add, every challenge I decide I have to meet. It’s also slowed down because I’m an adult working 30 hours a week and studying and trying to be a healthy person with a tidy house — there’s no denying that. And the increased amount of non-fiction I read now is a factor as well. But there’s a fairly large correlation between when I started really worrying about meeting reading goals and when my reading speed abruptly dropped.

Now, I do have some habits which I think help me read a lot, so I’ll summarise them below:

  1. Always have a book with you. You never know when you’re going to have a tedious hour stuck by the side of the road waiting for a bus or a towtruck. Or a 30-minute wait at an appointment. Even a five-minute wait for the train gives me time to fit in a chapter.
  2. Pick up the book, not your phone (unless the book is on your phone). It goes without saying, really.
  3. Give yourself at least a little room to read based on whims. Reading isn’t meant to be a chore. You don’t need a pre-planned TBR. If you’re really excited to read a book, you’ll remember it. You won’t be able to keep your hands off it.
  4. Buy books you’re excited about. If it’s just a case of “I feel like I should read this”, that book is destined to moulder on the TBR pile forever. And my TBR pile is daunting as heck now because of exactly the wrong kinds of purchasing decisions.
  5. Make the time. It’s been a shit day, but you can still turn some pages. And if you like reading and you’re reading a book you’re excited about, that’s only gonna make your day better.

That’s it. That’s my magic bullet. Everything else comes and goes, but these things are constant and always help toward meeting my goals.

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2019 Stats

Posted December 31, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Welp, here we are at the end of the year, and I don’t think I’ll be finishing another book before midnight. How’s it been? Well. I’ve read less than I have in a long time. I think I’ve enjoyed my reading more than maybe last year, when I was starting to feel painted into a corner with silly rules. I don’t know if I’ve fixed that, exactly, but I’m hoping I have.

Here are some neat figures from my organisational spreadsheet:

OTHER STATS:

Total read: 213
Number of rereads: 51 (24%)
Total page count: 62,991 (-10,090 from last year)
Most-read genre per month:

  • January: History
  • February: Science
  • March: Science & History (tied)
  • April: Fantasy
  • May: Fantasy
  • June: Fantasy
  • July: Fantasy
  • August: Fantasy
  • September: Fantasy
  • October: Mystery
  • November: Mystery
  • December: Romance

Number of ratings:

  • Five stars: 17
  • Four stars: 97
  • Three stars: 66
  • Two stars: 27
  • One star: 6

First book read: The Bell at Sealey Head (Patricia A. McKillip)
Last book read: The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal (K.J. Charles)
First book bought: A Murder Most Unladylike (Robin Stevens)
Last book bought: Sorting the Beef from the Bull (Nicola Temple & Richard Evershed)

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Game of Books 2020

Posted December 29, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

A "Game of Books" image, based on the Iron ThroneIt’s almost that time again! This is the fourth year of Game of Books, intended to incentivise reading and focus not on the total number of books read, but balancing a variety of goals like reading longer books, finishing up books in a series, reading books I’ve had on my TBR for longer…

In any case, everyone’s welcome to join in! I suggest you read through my ramble about how it works if you haven’t encountered the idea before, but skip to the end if you just want the spreadsheet!

So this year I’m personally trying to lean really hard on reading things I enjoy. Accordingly, the “joy factor” I’ve previously used has been scrapped — I’d get more points for reading books I hated, which was silly! I don’t think I did read anything I hated for that, but I did keep on with books I would probably have stopped. Also, I was supposed to guess the joy factor of a book before reading it, and that just never really worked.

So, instead I have the “enjoyment” column, which rewards me for DNFing, for being so excited about books I babble at my wife about them, for picking up a book to read the first page and accidentally getting halfway through, etc.

I’ve also nixed the one that rewards me for taking longer over reading a book, because if I can’t read a book in a couple of days, I’m probably not having fun, and that is not good.

I do also want to read books I’ve owned for longer, keep up with reading books in a series, and reward reading longer books.

Here’s my full setup:

PointsAcquisitionLength (pages)SeriesEnjoymentBonus
12020, reread, ARC, library book0-100Not in a series/not going to read more of the seriesFinished itFor each 100 pages over 500
22018-2019101-200First book in a seriesDNFed itARC 2019-2020
32016-2017201-300Middle book of a trilogyWas so excited I infodumped at LisaARC 2018 and older
42014-2015301-400Last book of a trilogy, middle book of a seriesRead the first page and accidentally ended up halfway throughBook club book read on time
52011-2013401-500+Last book of a series (to date)Read in 1-3 sittingsRead within a week of purchase or borrowing

I’ve made my monthly goal 220 points. To work that out, I tallied up how some random books I enjoyed from 2019 would score in the new system, and figured out the average score (11), and then multiplied that by how many books I would want to read each month if I was setting a simple reading goal. In theory, then, I can read fewer than 20 books as long as I enjoy them a lot or finish series I’m reading or whatever scores the high points. This usually gets revised a bit when I have a feel for how it’s going.

And that’s it! Feel free to share, join in, modify it however you wish (the idea is to ignore simplistic targets of books read to incentivise your ideal reading experience — which won’t be the same as mine!) and have fun with it!

You can find the spreadsheet here, and then:

  • Claim a sheet that isn’t already named (or duplicate the template sheet)
  • Rename it to your name/blog name/a unique identifier
  • Click on the arrow next to it and select “Protect the sheet”
  • Set it so only you can edit your own sheet
  • Copy over anything you want from the template
  • Personalise
  • Fill in throughout the year!
  • Profit???

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Review – Once Ghosted, Twice Shy

Posted December 29, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa ColeOnce Ghosted, Twice Shy, Alyssa Cole

It’s probably bit weird to come to this book without reading the main series, but the cover is so lovely! Likotsi is essentially the personal assistant (“Advisor Most High”) to the prince of a fictional African country. She was in New York working for the prince a while before the story opens, where she met Fabiola through a dating app. They clicked quickly, and were well on the way to falling in love when suddenly Fabiola decided, out of nowhere, to tell Likotsi that it was over between them. Back in New York, Likotsi’s planning to forget her… and of course a chance meeting makes that impossible.

(No, there is no actual ghosting in this story. Fabiola makes the end of the relationship explicitly clear, and then enforces her boundaries in not wanting to talk to Likotsi.)

There’s something too much about the narration at times — here’s an excerpt from early in the book: “New York City didn’t have majestic mountains or roaring waterfalls or rolling plains, but it was a beautiful city in its own way. It deserved better than to be the receptacle of memories that impeded her forward motion like a badly tailored suit that was too tight at the knees and elbows.” It would be perfectly fine — and smoother to read — if it was more like this instead: “New York City didn’t have mountains or waterfalls or rolling plains, but it was a beautiful city in its own way. It deserved better than just to provoke the memories that kept constraining her at odd moments, like a badly tailored suit.” That’s not the best, but it makes the point: you know mountains are tall and waterfalls roar, you know that a badly tailored suit fits badly.

I don’t normally nitpick too much at the prose level, and thankfully it did smooth out once it stopped being self-conscious and the leads started going around the city together. It ended up pretty cute, and Fabiola’s reasons for the abrupt breakup are obviously such that she is not in fact an asshole.

There is one sex scene which is very explicit; it’s totally fine to skip, it’s just a culmination of their relationship, without significant character development or plot relevance. It’s pretty clearly signalled and at the end of the book.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted December 28, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Greetings, folks! It’s been Christmas, so I’ve got quite a few new books… for instance, I got my wish for more physical copies of K.J. Charles’ work! 😍 (Some of these I bought myself, mind you.)

Stack of KJ Charles books with a stuffie hedgehog on top

(Sssh, don’t disturb the Librarian Hog, he’s been deliberating for days about how to shelve these!)

So here’s a selection of my new books…

Newly Acquired:

Cover of Romancing the Duke Cover of The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare Cover of Proper English by KJ Charles

Cover of Death in Fancy Dress Cover of Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger Cover of Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch

Cover of The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly Cover of The Pursuit of by Courtney Milan Cover of This Wicked Gift by Courtney Milan

In no particular order, because why not enjoy the eclectic way things come into my brain?

Thank you again to the anonymous friend who bought me Steel Crow Saga via Portal Bookshop. Also the anonymous friend who bought me The Private Life of Jane Maxwell, because you only identified yourself as “a Habitican book blogger”, and I know a few. Much much love to you and to everyone who’s bought me books lately. <3

Reviews posted:

Magic Rises, by Ilona Andrews. This book drives me a little bit mad because there’s a lot of awesome, but then also a stupid miscommunication plot between Kate and Curran, just when they were acting like sensible people. 4/5 stars
This Wicked Gift, by Courtney Milan. I have (serious) issues with the male love interest, but there is a lot to enjoy here as well. 3/5 stars
The Pursuit of…, by Courtney Milan. Okay, this one’s really cute. 4/5 stars
The Christmas Egg, by Mary Kelly. Rather meandering and unfocused, but not a bad seasonal read. 2/5 stars

And that’s it for this week! How’s everyone doing?

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Review – The Christmas Egg

Posted December 28, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Christmas Egg by Mary KellyThe Christmas Egg, Mary Kelly

It felt only right to pick this up around Christmas, given the title. Obviously crime books aren’t usually too full of the warmth and joys of Christmas, and so it proved again. Chief Inspector Brett Nightingale gets called out to the home of a Russian emigré, an old woman who seems to have been killed in her sleep and any valuables taken. The valuables turn out to have been very valuable indeed, so a meandering case starts to unfold involving a collector, a perky and pretty girl who works as an assistant in the shop, the old woman’s son, and various red herrings strewn about liberally. The main character is Nightingale, with some glimpses of his subordinate, Beddoes.

(There is a moment which made me laugh where Beddoes realises that Nightingale’s first name is actually David, and his name is Jonathan. I think that’s the allusion which is being made, anyway. Slightly raised eyebrows, given the often homoerotic interpretations of David and Jonathan these days. Not sure that’s what Kelly was going for.)

Overall, “meandering” is really the word that comes to mind. There’s a rather confused action-y bit at the climax, but that part also features a pages-long explanation from Nightingale, for the benefit of the collector, on what might be driving the Russian emigré’s son. It all seems really disorganised and hard to follow, although whodunnit is painfully obvious all along.

It’s engaging enough for a quiet afternoon, but I was hardly in love with it, and I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best of this series.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Pursuit of…

Posted December 26, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Pursuit of by Courtney MilanThe Pursuit of…, Courtney Milan

The Pursuit of… is the story of two men from opposite sides of the American Civil War. John Hunter spares Henry Latham at a key engagement, and Henry goes to find him to repay the debt afterwards. John expects him to duck out at every turn, but he doesn’t, and they head across country to John’s home — with Henry talking nineteen-to-the-dozen the whole way. It took me a while to warm up to John — though I liked Henry right away — but as he warmed up to Henry, so I warmed up to him. The cheese thing is silly and cute.

In fact, the whole thing is oftentimes silly and cute, though there are also serious parts: the discussion of what truly constitutes equality, Henry’s learning process, Henry figuring out that he has to go home and figure things out with his family… There’s also a scene with non-sexual intimacy that is just lovely.

There is a sex scene, of course; it’s pretty explicit, but skippable if that’s not your thing. It isn’t all about sex, by far, and it has a lovely happy ending — though it doesn’t go with the easiest happy ending. I enjoyed it a lot.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – This Wicked Gift

Posted December 26, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of This Wicked Gift by Courtney MilanThis Wicked Gift, Courtney Milan

I picked up a bunch of Courtney Milan’s books because of the furore over the RWA judgement on whether her criticism of a particular book and publishing house constituted violations of the RWA codes of conduct. Since it was Christmas Eve, I grabbed this one in particular because it’s set at Christmas, though to be honest it isn’t really about Christmas and there’s not much about it that makes it particularly seasonal.

It opens with the main character, Lavinia, finding that there is a significant discrepancy in the books at her lending library business, and what’s worse, her personal savings are also missing. Just as she fully realises the loss, her brother arrives and unfolds a tale of woe — and in the room to overhear it is Mr William White, a patron of the library and admirer of Lavinia. He decides to help her out with her little problem… for a price.

The cover is misleading, I should add; Lavinia couldn’t afford such a dress, at least until the very end of the story.

I find the character of William White rather unpleasant, and despite the fact that he later somewhat redeems himself, the storyline sits quite badly with me. He basically coerces Lavinia: he will deal with her brother’s issues if she’ll have sex with him. (And yes, this is a period novel where that would also render her a fallen woman, to some extent, and where contraception is not available.) She’s smarter than him and easily figures out what he’s doing, and decides to go along with it anyway; she sees that he is deeply hurt and wants to reach out to him and offer him love and affection. I enjoyed Lavinia’s attitude to sex — the fact that she is practical, but also eager about the sensual experience — and her way of thinking about William… to some degree. It still makes me squirmingly uncomfortable that William’s behaviour is essentially rewarded.

Nonetheless, the book doesn’t end there, and slowly he gains in understanding and figures things out. There is a happy ever after for them, and it isn’t on horribly compromised terms: both freely come to the relationship, out of genuine love and care for one another. William’s character may not be to my taste, but things still come together satisfyingly — helped by the fact that the romance isn’t the only plot, but also Lavinia’s relationship with her brother.

There are sex scenes in the book, and one of them is a rather uncomfortable one; though Lavinia is eager and William in theory wants it, it’s rather awkward because of the intended coercion and self-disgust. I would say reading it is necessary to the story, though, because dialogue and introspection carry on through the scene.

Overall, I’d still say it ends up being quite sweet and not a bad reading experience; your mileage will vary on how much William White’s character in the early part of the book colours your experience of the rest. He does redeem himself, and as I said, the happy ending is not on compromised terms.

Rating: 3/5

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