Review – Band Sinister

Posted January 3, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Band Sinister by K.J. CharlesBand Sinister, K.J. Charles

Band Sinister is one of my favourite romance novels, a favourite even among Charles’ reliably entertaining bibliography. I thought I’d reread it now because I needed the literary equivalent of a bubble bath, and it filled that role perfectly.

The Rookwoods and the Frisbys are at odds, partly because of Sir Philip Rookwood’s reputation and association with an infamous libertine, but mostly because Philip’s brother ran off with Guy and Amanda Frisby’s mother. Amanda’s just written a rather sensational Gothic novel about Sir Philip and his associates, the Hellfire club known as the Murder… and then she falls off a horse badly on Sir Philip’s land.

Because of Sir Philip’s reputation, and the family history, Guy can do nothing but go and stay at the Hall to watch over Amanda as the doctor battles for her life. Initially focused solely on her — she’s all he has left, and is very much the light of his life — Guy then finds himself drawn into the Murder’s discussions, and drawn most of all to Sir Philip.

Band Sinister is incredibly tender, incredibly focused on meaningful consent and good communication around sex and relationships. People who say consent isn’t sexy have not read this book; I have (as an asexual person) very little idea of what is sexy, but what makes for a good story about two people for me is the real connection they forge through communicating, being vulnerable, being sincere. The way they work out their problems by talking is great — and though it isn’t perfect and they don’t always communicate properly (Guy tries to take responsibility for Amanda’s doings against her will, Philip storms off), it sells me on their need to be together.

The whole book is an honestly beautiful tapestry of all kinds of love: Guy’s love for his sister; the complicated bond between Phillip, Corvin and John (which includes being family but also sex and a certain amount of possessiveness that doesn’t preclude other relationships); the bonds between the members of the Murder… and the love that grows quickly between Guy and Phillip.

There’s also a fair bit of sex, of course. It’s not really skippable (for fellow aces/sex-averse folks) because it builds the relationship between Philip and Guy, initially based very much on their mutual attraction and deepening partly due to how their experiences in bed work out. It still works as a reading experience for me because of the emotions involved, because of that attention to communication and consent.

I love the book very dearly. It helps that it also has some funny bits, and some situations that make me laugh in delight — as good as Georgette Heyer’s best bits.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Dark Archive

Posted January 2, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Dark Archive by Genevieve CogmanThe Dark Archive, Genevieve Cogman

This most recent book in the Invisible Library series features Irene, Kai, Vale, Irene’s new apprentice (Catherine), and Kai’s brother. It’s a very Sparks Will Fly sort of arrangement, not least because Vale is pitted against an adversary, his criminal mirror. A mastermind. A Moriarty — or so it seems. I was a little disappointed that certain characters didn’t interact more (let’s not be coy, I wanted more of Kai and Vale working together), and it feels like the particularly mixture of characters didn’t really have time to mix up and cause mayhem before the book was suddenly over.

That’s partly because recurring themes get tugged on again, and characters that had left the narrative triumphantly returned… some of them more predictably so than others.

All in all, the book sped by at the usual pace, and I ended up pretty happy with the explanations for the way characters are being moved around the gameboard. One very predictable outcome comes in almost at the end of the book, and honestly, it shouldn’t have taken a genius detective to see it. At the same time, the epilogue gives us an intriguing glimpse at deeper machinations and stories yet to come…

Not a favourite in the series, I think, but one which moves the plot along — and is as always a very absorbing and swift read.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Accessories: Bags

Posted January 2, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Bags by Claire WilcoxAccessories: Bags, Claire Wilcox

This short volume is from the V&A Museum, discussing the trends in fashion for bags and purses, with a bit of an insight into pockets as well. In many ways it’s a very feminine story, since men retained pockets in clothing and haven’t been such targets of fashion for much of the time. It’s a very Western European history of bags, but nonetheless, it’s interesting to see how they developed and what was considered important or essential in a bag through time. The text is descriptive and refers to items from the V&A collection to illustrate their points, photographed beautifully and carefully labelled to help you match up the two.

I’ll admit, some of these bags are just weird to me, which is an entertainment factor all its own — mostly I mean the newer fashionable ones, like the one which looks like a bag of Walkers crisps. Why?!

Fashion. Apparently.

Rating: 4/5

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Game of Books 2021

Posted January 2, 2021 by Nicky in General / 1 Comment

A "Game of Books" image, based on the Iron ThroneGame on!

Since 2017, I’ve sort of stopped having reading goals about how many books I’ll read in a year. I felt pushed towards reading shorter books faster, always looking for more more more, instead of enjoying longer books like I used to.

Since then, I’ve moved to a points system, which lets me award myself more points for reading the stuff I want/need to read — books that have been on my backlog for a long time, for instance, or longer books.

This is that system! And it’s adaptable to whatever goals you like: whatever you want to incentivise, you can assign it a points value.

Will you be joining me?

That spreadsheet has most of the details and an example spreadsheet… which is good, because this year I’ve been too busy to set mine up yet. Last year’s post might also be helpful, since I knew what I was planning better back then!

I do know what goals I’m going for (I’m going to add in points for updating Litsy, reviewing books on time and commenting on other people’s blogs) and what I’ve given up on (no attempt to rate my enjoyment this time), but how exactly I’m going to make it work as a spreadsheet is a whole other question. Stay tuned, I guess…

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Review – Conventionally Yours

Posted December 31, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Conventionally Yours by Annabeth AlbertConventionally Yours, Annabeth Albert

Conventionally Yours features a trope-filled road trip during which two rivals head to a gaming tournament together, and of course discover that the other isn’t so bad, the other really is quite infuriating, the other has unexpected depths and issues that they didn’t dream of… and there’s only one bed. Conrad is handsome and popular, able to charm his way through most situations — except of course the mess he’s in; Alden is reserved, all too aware of his own reputation for brilliance, and not sure what he’s doing with his life. Both hope that the gaming tournament is going to solve all their problems, if they can just survive the road trip.

The way they open up to each other works for me; they feel real, with their insecurities and their stupidities, without it ever getting too far into the kind of tropes I hate in romance, like miscommunication. (Just talk! to! each! other!) There are a few bits that give me that cringe… but not too much, because mostly they do a half-decent job of being adults, and figuring things out together. That’s something I always enjoy in romance — any signs of mature communication, even if it doesn’t always work perfectly, really just work for me as a way of making me like characters and believe in relationships.

It all works out fairly predictably for a romance… but I was happy to take the ride along with Alden and Conrad, and I appreciated the discussion of Alden’s anxiety and neurodivergence, and the delving into Conrad’s issues that are hidden by his glossy surface.

I also really appreciated the illustrations, since I’m so not a visual person. They’re really clean and cute.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Spoilt Kill

Posted December 29, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Spoilt Kill by Mary KellyThe Spoilt Kill, Mary Kelly

Wow, this book is such a complete downer. It features a divorced private detective who is investigating the theft of intellectual property (special designs for the items produced) at Shentall’s Pottery, who stumbles into a much darker mystery of the death of someone at the firm. It’s both a whodunnit and a who-was-done-in, with a structure that has the body discovered at the start, then a flashback to the investigation of the thefts, and then the aftermath.

It’s difficult to say much about the story without spoilers, but perhaps the least spoilery thing is that the detective falls in love with one of the people he’s investigating. When she finds out the truth, she’s less than pleased — even though she was keeping her own secrets all along, of course. The structure and this “love” story (which comes across as fairly creepy, since he snoops among her things and takes her out places on false pretences) are the story’s pretensions to a literary mode, rather than a paint-by-numbers crime story… but honestly, I prefer the paint-by-numbers. This is undoubtedly better written, but it’s grubby and psychological and slow.

Maybe if I was in it for the kind of story it turns out to be, I’d have enjoyed it more, but it lacks what many of the British Library Crime Classics have. It’s not a ‘cosy’ for me, as many of this series of reissues are; feels way too personal and definitely far too drear. There’s a certain attention to detail, of understanding the industry that she’s writing about, which makes this book stand out… and some of the psychological stuff and the interplay between the detective and the beloved would work better for me in a different context — but I can’t say I enjoyed it.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Foxes in Love

Posted December 29, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Foxes in Love vol. 1 by Toivo KaartinenFoxes in Love vol. 1, Toivo Kaartinen

I’ve loved the Foxes in Love Twitter feed for a while, so I haaad to have this collection of the various strips once it was announced… and a friend obliged. I’ve seen them all before, but they’re still so delightful.

There’s no overarching story or anything, so you can dip in and out as you wish. Instead, it’s a collection of slice-of-life strips, showing the lives of Blue and Green, who love each other very much. You get their musings about how lucky they are to be together, how they deal with setbacks like depression and bad days, little bits of silliness… it’s always delightful, or when it’s a little sad, it’s still always sweet because the foxes have each other.

Also, sometimes it’s just too real, e.g. this one: into the pit of irrational conclusions! I’m better about that than I used to be, but ooooh boy that rang true.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – The Secret Chapter

Posted December 20, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Secret Chapter by Genevieve CogmanThe Secret Chapter, Genevieve Cogman

Genevieve Cogman has given us a proper heist story! We’ve seen Irene stealing books before, of course; that’s kind of the point. But this book is a traditional heist story, expanding the idea of Fae having archetypes into modern stories about thieves and crime bosses, as well. It’s fun to see Irene with a whole crew, even though this book doesn’t feature Vale at all — and fun to see her and Kai able to work together again.

There’s obviously a bigger plot accumulating, as well, so that though there’s a sort of “monster of the week” feel to the various thefts and negotiations and investigations, slowly the pieces are coming together on other big questions. Alberich was but a bump in the road, seemingly; there’s something even bigger to worry about, between the revelations of this book, the truce promised in the previous book. It feels good that six books in, the individual stories are still engaging — total popcorn for my brain, anyway — and pacy, while an overarching story keeps building at its own pace.

I’m fascinated by Indigo and the position this book puts Kai in; I’m super curious about Irene’s promised new apprentice. I love the way Sterrington has come back into things, and hope to see more of her. And it looks like the next book should see more of Vale again, maybe even at the same time as Kai — a book that’s Kai, Vale and Irene against the world has my full attention.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Goldilocks

Posted December 18, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Goldilocks by Laura LamGoldilocks, Laura Lam

Oh boy, here I am finally, reviewing this. It’s been a heck of a year, and this wasn’t quite the right book for me earlier this year — I didn’t even get to the pandemic part, it’s just that the portrayal of a world slid out of control was too much for me in general. Goldilocks portrays a future version of Earth with women forced back out of the workplace, climate change out of control, and temperate areas overpopulated and struggling. A small crew of women are heading for a new planet, Cavendish, with the hope of finding and making a new home there, to save everyone.

Things turn out darker than that hope, in a way that’s difficult to talk about without giving too much away. There are some twists that are worth experiencing as part of the story, with its multiple timelines and carefully timed revelations. I’m usually pretty good at guessing ahead, but one or two twists caught me on the hop.

In the end, one particular character came across as a little too straightforwardly villainous for me. I didn’t have an ounce of sympathy for their aims or their choices on the way there, and that sat oddly with my earlier impressions of them. I’d have welcomed something that felt a little more nuanced, perhaps, though I did find Naomi’s reaction to them was nicely ambiguous. The ending seemed to suggest that things were meant to be that way, but after a certain point, they just went beyond the pale for me.

Overall, though, I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Burnout: Solve Your Stress Cycle

Posted December 18, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Burnout by Emily & Amelia NagoskiBurnout: Solve Your Stress Cycle, Amelia & Emily Nagoski

Burnout is a self-help book, so no surprises here: there’s a rather chummy writing style with simplified, bitesize “science” (some of it feeling more dubious than other bits), and there’s a fair bit of colloquial, “relatable” stuff like saying “(ugh)” every time they write the word “patriarchy”. The book is focused on women, or at least people who were assigned female at birth, and throughout it assumes that it’s speaking to women and that women are the only people who would benefit from the advice contained therein. I don’t think that’s true, though I think some aspects of burnout that they discuss tend to impact women more.

There are some interesting ideas and bits of advice in here, and the ways in which it emphasises exercise — or doing some kind of analogue for exercise, like lying down and tensing each muscle sequentially — are fairly doable for anybody, without an undue emphasis on fitness/weight. There’s a section about body positivity which is probably useful for some folks, and which emphasises the ways weight loss is a con.

Overall, I’m probably never going to be a huge fan of self-help books, but this one has useful information and is probably accessible to just about anyone who can put up with the sex/gender assumptions being made. It is probably not going to fix your brain; it certainly didn’t fix mine… but it can offer a useful perspective.

Rating: 3/5

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