Genre: Historical Fiction

Review – We Only Kill Each Other

Posted May 31, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – We Only Kill Each Other

We Only Kill Each Other

by Stephanie Phillips, Peter Krause, Ellie Wright, Troy Peteri

Genres: Crime, Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction
Pages: 136
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

With World War II on the horizon, Nazi sympathizers and fascists have taken root on American soil in alarming numbers, intending to push the U.S. towards and alliance with Germany.

When the lone hope of stopping the American Nazi movement falls to Jewish-American gangsters currently entrenched in a violent turf war, the gangsters find that there’s only one thing they hate more than each other: Nazis.

We Only Kill Each Other is set during the run-up to World War II, featuring two Jewish characters who are asked to use their skills (beating people up, intimidation and other forms of violence) to defuse the Nazi presence in their city in the US. They’re at loggerheads, however, and make unlikely allies.

It’s not a period I read much about, and as the narrative makes clear, there are no heroes here — these guys are not upstanding normal citizens, but a thug and a gang boss who happen to be Jewish. I read it more because it was there and I could read it for free than out of interest in the story based on the summary, so it’s worth keeping in mind that I’m not exactly the target audience.

And indeed, I found it mostly just… alright? The characters bonded in the end (because of course), and they did indeed manage to beat the Nazis (good) at least in this limited way (thwarting an assassination that would’ve been great for them). The art and writing were okay, but nothing that stood out. I admit to very little knowledge about the quality of the representation of the Jewish characters and whether it plays into any stereotyping.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Ruin of a Rake

Posted May 30, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Ruin of a Rake

The Ruin of a Rake

by Cat Sebastian

Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 336
Series: The Turner Series #3
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Rogue. Libertine. Rake. Lord Courtenay has been called many things and has never much cared. But after the publication of a salacious novel supposedly based on his exploits, he finds himself shunned from society. Unable to see his nephew, he is willing to do anything to improve his reputation, even if that means spending time with the most proper man in London.

Julian Medlock has spent years becoming the epitome of correct behavior. As far as he cares, if Courtenay finds himself in hot water, it's his own fault for behaving so badly—and being so blasted irresistible. But when Julian's sister asks him to rehabilitate Courtenay's image, Julian is forced to spend time with the man he loathes—and lusts after—most.

As Courtenay begins to yearn for a love he fears he doesn't deserve, Julian starts to understand how desire can drive a man to abandon all sense of propriety. But he has secrets he's determined to keep, because if the truth came out, it would ruin everyone he loves. Together, they must decide what they're willing to risk for love.

Cat Sebastian’s The Ruin of a Rake completes her usual trick of taking a character who seemed unlikeable (or at least very deeply flawed) and making him the hero. Here she takes Courtenay (last seen in The Lawrence Browne Affair) and reveals the things that make him who he is, and the ways in which he’s trying to do better.

It also introduces us to Julian Medlock, who has his own problems — not least his desire to be respectable above almost all else, and thus the way he stays away from anything that looks like feelings. Asked by his sister to help rehabilitate Courtenay’s reputation (to allow him to see his nephew), Julian gives in, and quickly finds himself attracted to Courtenay, and tempted to do things that aren’t at all respectable.

It works because there’s genuine chemistry between the characters, and there are things which go a lot better than I feared when I first read them (like Julian taking over Courtenay’s finances). There are also some obvious points of contention that I realised were going to happen waaay before they did, which could’ve maybe been a little more subtle. I appreciated the hints at Courtenay’s reformation, like the fact that he isn’t drinking (but we don’t get told that right away).

There is a stupid nitpicky thing that I’ve definitely been informed is stupid and nitpicky, but it’s one of those things where it’s something you know well or which is a special interest, and you just can’t ignore it being wrong. Julian’s malaria is fairly well portrayed in general, actually: it’s correct that there are forms of malaria that can recur lifelong (caused by Plasmodium vivax or P. ovale: they can exist in a form called hypnozoites, in an infected person’s liver, and recur from there without a new mosquito bite, sometimes years later).

…Unfortunately, neither of them have the 24-hour recurrence of fever which Julian so clearly describes (which would indicate P. chabaudi or P. knowlesi, neither of which have hypnozoites nor would be plausible for Julian to contract). The regularity of the recurrent fevers is pretty diagnostic of which kind of malaria parasite you’ve contracted, and the description of Julian’s infection doesn’t match anything real. I know nobody else cares, but I do, and it was extremely distracting. It’s not something that would bother most people!

Overall, I had a good time, regardless. Julian blossoms from where he starts, and Courtenay is more of a dear than he appeared in The Lawrence Browne Affair.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Honey & Pepper

Posted April 15, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Honey & Pepper

Honey & Pepper

by A.J. Demas

Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 222
Series: When In Pheme #1
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Newly freed from slavery, Nikias is making a life for himself in the bustling city of Pheme, working at a snack stand, drinking with a group of anti-slavery radicals, and pining for the beautiful law clerk next door. When he sees his crush attacked in the street by an outraged ex-client, it seems it’s finally Nikias’s chance to be the hero.

Kallion doesn’t need a rescue. What he really needs is a skewer of octopus fritters (with extra sauce) and a friend. Nikias can supply both, and maybe, with the help of Nikias’s skill in the kitchen and Kallion’s excellent collection of wine, they can fight past their misunderstandings and the disasters of their pasts to something deeper.

But when civil unrest roils the city and old threats resurface, the trust these two have built will be tested. And they’d both better hope that Kallion’s vicious former master will just stay dead.

Honey & Pepper is a standalone m/m romance and also the first book in the When in Pheme series set in an imaginary ancient world.

I really enjoyed A.J. Demas’ Honey & Pepper. I wasn’t sure if I would, due to the initial misunderstanding (both because it revealed that Nikias had some kind of shame about his desires, and because I wasn’t looking forward to the two of them angsting about it). But I gave it a chance anyway, and was glad: Nikias swiftly comes to realise he was rude, and that also makes clear his character as someone who is willing to be wrong, willing to think, willing to self-examine. And Kallion, for his part, forgives easily enough, because the two of them are in a situation created by the fact that they have both been slaves, and they understand how that shapes you.

Nikias is fairly straightforward as a character — his heart is well and truly on his sleeve. Kallion took longer to open up, but fortunately it didn’t happen as a third-act breakup or something like that. Instead, a plot that was already hinted at comes to the fore, and wraps things up enjoyably.

I enjoyed both Nikias and Kallion’s characters, and their interactions: the way that Nikias sweetly takes charge because that’s what Kallion needs/wants, and the positive communication between them (mostly from Nikias, but I don’t think there’s ever much doubt about Kallion’s needs and wants, even if he’s less clearly verbal about them). They work well as a couple, and I liked the supporting characters, too.

The villain of the piece is a bit unsubtle, and that part is all very black-and-white; in such a short book, there isn’t really time to add more depth, I suppose, but beside Kallion and Nikias, it felt a bit pantomime villain-y.

One thing to note, though: while slavery isn’t romanticised, there’s a touch of romanticisation of some of the slave-owning characters. I think that’s addressed somewhat by Nikias’ firm opinions on the matter (including that he is clear that he loved his master, and still thinks his master acted wrongly), and Kallion also comments on the fact that past inaction matters somewhat in the balance (though he isn’t talking directly about the owning of slaves). Still, one of the female characters is rather lionised for deciding to free her slaves and invest in the businesses of freedmen, but prior to that she did put up with an awful lot of slavery and mistreatment of slaves without doing anything about it. It feels like a little bit of a blind spot to me.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Britannia, vol 1

Posted March 24, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Britannia, vol 1

Britannia

by Peter Milligan, Juan José Ryp, Jordie Bellaire

Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 112
Series: Britannia #1
Rating: one-star
Synopsis:

On the fringes of civilization, the world's first detective is about to make an unholy discovery...

Ruled by the Fates. Manipulated by the Gods. Commanded by Caesar. In the year 65 A.D., one's destiny was not his own. At the height of Nero's reign, a veteran of Rome's imperial war machine has been dispatched to the farthest reaches of the colonies to investigate unnatural happenings... In the remote outpost of Britannia, Antonius Axia – the First Detective – will become Rome's only hope to reassert control over the empire's most barbaric frontier... and keep the monsters that bridge the line between myth and mystery at bay...

I’m not entirely sure what to make of some of the very positive reviews of Britannia. I really didn’t get along with it, but I guess it’s a matter of taste. Personally, I found that it was very heavy on male-gazey stuff (did we really need to see multiple terrified naked or near-naked women? methinks someone’s kink is on show), and while the art tells the story well, it wasn’t a style I really enjoyed, and sometimes I had trouble telling the characters apart.

As far as the plot goes… well. I’m very eyebrow-raise-y about the concept of the Vestal Virgins having a special codex that mostly teaches you how to be Sherlock Holmes (but has maybe a few magical effects as well? hard to tell how seriously to take those screens and whether there’s some metaphors going on there). Referring to Antonius as the “detectioner” just… cringe. I cringed deep in my soul.

And it didn’t feel totally coherent, to be honest. What is Orkus exactly? How are the different manifestations related? Obviously these are questions that might well be answered in later volumes, but I just wasn’t sure of the ground we’re starting from.

Overall, there are some bits here that could’ve been intriguing, but in the end, not for me. I won’t continue reading the series.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – Sailor’s Delight

Posted February 5, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Sailor’s Delight

Sailor's Delight

by Rose Lerner

Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 172
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Self-effacing, overworked bookkeeper Elie Benezet doesn’t have time to be in love. Too bad he already is—with his favorite client, Augustus Brine. The Royal Navy sailing master is kind, handsome, and breathtakingly competent. He’s also engaged to his childhood sweetheart. And now that his prize money is coming in after years of delay, he can afford to marry her…once Elie submits the final prize paperwork.

When Augustus comes home, determined to marry by the end of his brief leave, Elie does his best to set his broken heart aside and make it happen. But he’s interrupted by one thing after another: other clients, the high holidays, his family’s relentless efforts to marry him off. Augustus isn’t helping by renting a room down the hall, shaving shirtless with his door open, and inviting Elie to the public baths. If Elie didn’t know better, he’d think Augustus didn’t want to get married.

To cap it all off, Augustus’s fiancée arrives in town, senses that Elie has a secret, and promptly accuses him of embezzling. Has Elie’s doom been sealed…or is there still time to change his fate?

Rose Lerner’s Sailor’s Delight is a slow burn, despite being a fairly short book, helped by the fact that there is a real sense of history between the two right from the start. The fact that Elie is Jewish and Brine is a sailor really shapes the story, through the Jewish holiday and Elie’s exploration of his feelings about and obligations toward people are all shaped by his beliefs and experiences as a Jewish man.

I don’t really know how to comment about the portrayal and whether it would satisfy someone looking for specifically Jewish queer romance (especially as Brine is not Jewish), but Rose Lerner has written in the past about being Jewish and the importance of Jewish representation, and I think the whole backbone of this book is about doing that.

The relationship between Elie and Brine is full of yearning. There’s obvious physical attraction as well, but also they obviously think about each other all the time, try to help one another, try to mesh their lives toge­ther, etc. It ends up surprisingly intense very quickly, and yet the steam level for the book is pretty low (no on-page sex).

All in all, it was one I enjoyed, though I needed the right moment for it — the intensity of Elie’s apparently unrequited longing was a bit much for me at one point, so I took a break from the book!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – An Impossible Impostor

Posted January 12, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – An Impossible Impostor

The Impossible Impostor

by Deanna Raybourn

Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Romance
Pages: 336
Series: Veronica Speedwell #7
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

London, 1889. Veronica Speedwell and her natural historian beau Stoker are summoned by Sir Hugo Montgomerie, head of Special Branch. He has a personal request on behalf of his goddaughter, Euphemia Hathaway. After years of traveling the world, her eldest brother, Jonathan, heir to Hathaway Hall, was believed to have been killed in the catastrophic eruption of Krakatoa a few years before.

But now a man matching Jonathan's description and carrying his possessions has arrived at Hathaway Hall with no memory of his identity or where he has been. Could this man truly be Jonathan, back from the dead? Or is he a devious impostor, determined to gain ownership over the family's most valuable possessions--a legendary parure of priceless Rajasthani jewels? It's a delicate situation, and Veronica is Sir Hugo's only hope.

Veronica and Stoker agree to go to Hathaway Hall to covertly investigate the mysterious amnesiac. Veronica is soon shocked to find herself face-to-face with a ghost from her past. To help Sir Hugo discover the truth, she must open doors to her own history that she long believed to be shut for good.

I normally race through Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell books, but The Impossible Impostor threw me for a loop. It makes sense that a means was needed to keep Stoker and Veronica’s relationship off-balance, rather than have them settle into anything too blissful… but I wish it wasn’t done via lack of communication and, well, all of this.

It’s not that it’s too surprising that Veronica’s past includes a guy like Spenlove, or that she might even have ended up in that particular sort of relationship with him (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here). But the total lack of communication with Stoker — knowing the cost if the details come out — just… argh. And I didn’t feel that Stoker’s responses to it were entirely consistent.

Anyway, I ended up half-skimming this one, so I would be aware of plot points and important conversations, without being too invested in it. That way, I can give the next book (which someone else has assured me they like better) a try.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Governess Affair

Posted January 11, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – The Governess Affair

The Governess Affair

by Courtney Milan

Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 101
Series: Brothers Sinister #0.5
Rating: five-stars
Synopsis:

She will not give up.

Three months ago, governess Serena Barton was let go from her position. Unable to find new work, she’s demanding compensation from the man who got her sacked: a petty, selfish, swinish duke. But it’s not the duke she fears. It’s his merciless man of business—the man known as the Wolf of Clermont. The formidable former pugilist has a black reputation for handling all the duke’s dirty business, and when the duke turns her case over to him, she doesn’t stand a chance. But she can’t stop trying—not with her entire future at stake.

He cannot give in.

Hugo Marshall is a man of ruthless ambition—a characteristic that has served him well, elevating the coal miner’s son to the right hand man of a duke. When his employer orders him to get rid of the pestering governess by fair means or foul, it’s just another day at the office. Unfortunately, fair means don’t work on Serena, and as he comes to know her, he discovers that he can’t bear to use foul ones. But everything he has worked for depends upon seeing her gone. He’ll have to choose between the life that he needs, and the woman he is coming to love…

The Governess Affair is a novella prequel to Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister novels, which I haven’t yet read, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. We quickly learn that the main character, Serena, has been gravely wronged by the Duke of Clermont, and his right hand man, Hugo Marshall, is told to do something about her and get her out of the way — before his duchess comes home and realises that he has once again been sleeping around.

What really matters in this novella, though, is Hugo’s interactions with Serena, and the tenderness he feels for her almost against his will. This is one of those times where a sex scene is absolutely necessary to the plot and characters, and reveals so much about them: it shouldn’t be skipped, because it’s a scene of healing and caretaking. I worry that it verges a little on the trope of (pardon the vulgarity) “magical healing cock”, but I think it’s less that Serena’s problems and fears are all gone than that she has found one person to trust, as a handhold to move toward fuller healing.

The interactions between Serena and her sister, Frederica, are also worthy of note — I’d have loved a little more depth there, a little more understanding of why they’ve ended up in this particular kind of dynamic, and what happens now that Serena has moved away again and started a life of her own, doing her best to fulfil her dreams.

Either way, I’m definitely eager to try the full novels of the series now, which focus on the next generation, by the look of it.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – A Trace of Copper

Posted December 31, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – A Trace of Copper

A Trace of Copper

by Anne Renwick

Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 115
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

New recruit to the Queen's agents, Dr. Piyali Mukherji is given a simple first assignment. Travel to the small Welsh village of Aberwyn and solve the mystery of a young woman's blue skin lesion. A challenging task, for the alarming infection is unlike anything she's seen before—and it's spreading.

Evan Tredegar, the town's pharmacist and the only man to ever capture her heart, knows more than he's telling. Despite his efforts to push her away, her touch reawakens old desires. As more villagers fall victim to the strange disease, he'll have no choice but to reveal his secrets, even if it means sacrificing his freedom.

Together they must move past broken promises, capture a rogue frog, and stop the infection before it spreads out of control.

I was really fascinated by the idea of Anne Renwick’s A Trace of Copper. Steampunk set in Wales, with a female Indian doctor main character and chasing down a mysterious disease — sounds like it has my name on it, right? And there were things to like about it, though the infectious disease concepts are introduced in ways that feel really clunky to me. Sometimes it manages to bring across genuine concepts in epidemiology, and then sometimes they miss something blindingly obvious like starting to plot the known cases on a map. (Granted, they don’t have many cases yet, but how else do they really plan to track the spread they’re fully expecting to occur?)

I also cringed hard at Piyali using the names of infectious diseases to swear. Just… super pretentious. If you want me to believe this is a biologist, you don’t need to have her doing something a child might do to show off what long words they’ve learned. At first when she exclaimed “schistosomiasis!” I thought she was making a diagnosis and the author was just laughably off-base with how schistosomiasis is contracted, what it does to the body, etc… but nope. She’s just using it as an exclamation instead of “oh my goodness!” or “oh no!”

Aaand then the two main characters were too busy boning to keep their minds on the politically and epidemiologically important disease they were meant to be tracking and attempting to cure. I’ll give a pass on their supposed mechanism of cure and the speed of it working (and indeed of them finding a cure), and of the fact that they totally ignored the likelihood of resistance arising if you’re gonna use a monotherapy… because I expect this was written by a layperson and it’s sweet that they made this much of an effort to begin with. I suspect it’d go down easier for someone who doesn’t study infectious diseases, though.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Magician’s Angel

Posted December 18, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Magician’s Angel

The Magician's Angel

by Jordan L. Hawk

Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 108
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Vaudeville stage magician Christopher Fiend lives for the spotlight. His chance at big time stardom awaits him in Chicago, the next stop on the circuit after the little town of Twelfth Junction.

Edward Smith wants nothing to do with his family's theater. Until Christopher catches his eye on opening night, then treats him to a very special performance during intermission.

When a dead body turns up in the middle of Christopher’s act, suspicion immediately falls on him. If Christopher and Edward can’t work together to clear his name, Christopher won’t make it to Chicago in time. Edward knows he shouldn’t get attached to a man who will be gone in two days, but his heart—and a very special angel—have other ideas.

This Christmas-themed novella by Jordan L. Hawk features two people who’ve encountered setbacks and bitterness, and who team up to become more than the sum of their parts, finding an ease and comfort with each other that shocks them. It’s a little bit insta-love, since they don’t spend much time together, but I did believe that a quick and strong connection formed between them, given the circumstances and their pasts, and I could believe that they’d manage to form something stronger and less ephemeral.

I suppose the part I found least convincing was the race to the departing train at the end, such a typical Hallmark type moment — but it’s still a relief to meet the happy ending at the station, even if it’s predictable and melodramatic.

The mystery itself wasn’t too surprising or in-depth, given the length of the novella, but it worked to give the characters time and space to talk and show us who they are. I enjoyed it as a whole package, romance and mystery and a little bit of Christmas magic and all.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Peter Cabot Gets Lost

Posted December 12, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – Peter Cabot Gets Lost

Peter Cabot Gets Lost

by Cat Sebastian

Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 210
Series: The Cabots #1
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Summer 1960:

After years of scraping by, Caleb Murphy has graduated from college and is finally getting to start a new life. Except he suddenly has no way to get from Boston to Los Angeles. Then, to add to his misery, there's perfect, privileged Peter Cabot offering to drive him. Caleb can't refuse, even though the idea of spending a week in the car with a man whose luggage probably costs more than everything Caleb owns makes him want to scream.

Peter Cabot would do pretty much anything to skip out on his father's presidential campaign, including driving across the country with a classmate who can't stand him. After all, he's had plenty of practice with people not liking him much—his own family, for example. The farther Peter gets from his family's expectations, the more he starts to think about what he really wants, and the more certain he becomes that what he wants is more time with prickly, grumpy Caleb Murphy.

As they put more miles between themselves and their pasts, they both start to imagine a future where they can have things they never thought possible.

Cat Sebastian’s Cabot books are proving to hit the spot every time for me. In this one, two idiot guys drive across the US with limited contact with their families beyond a couple of calls from payphones and a few postcards. At the start of the drive, they barely know each other, and they definitely don’t like each other, but gradually Caleb realises Peter’s not actually a bad guy, and Peter figures out what makes Caleb prickly and manages not to step on his toes… and of course, they fall in love. Or at least get very infatuated, and throw themselves eagerly into exploring their physical attraction.

I love that it doesn’t go with the very familiar mid-book miscommunication followed by reconcilation during the climax. It’s gentler and quieter than that, and Peter and Caleb do their best to communicate what they’re thinking and feeling, and figure out how to forge a relationship in their particular circumstances.

I have a lot of favourite moments, but there’s a special place for the moment where Caleb overhears Peter talking to his family, and ends up saying that he can’t believe he’ll have to vote for Peter’s dad (and we hear that Tommy, a main character from another book and Peter’s uncle, will be hitting the bar before and after voting for his brother). It just tickled me and felt so realistic.

For those who love their tropes, I have to point out as well that this is pretty much a grumpy/sunshine pair-up…

Rating: 4/5

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