The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, Olivia Waite
I picked up The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows from where it had been patiently awaiting me on the shelf more or less on a whim… and got immediately sucked in. At first I couldn’t quite see how Agatha and Penelope were going to work — and in that sense the book was very much a slow burn and definitely put the work in! I believed in it without question by the end, for sure — and I also believed that they would be good for one another.
Agatha and Penelope are both rather independent, but each in their own way, bringing their own strengths to the partnership. Agatha is practical, focused on her goals of managing her business and her son as he comes of age-but she lacks idealism and joy. Those things aren’t lacking around Penelope, though she has yet to find her voice and her joy. From being quite unlike, you quickly come to understand why they complement each other and work well as friends — better than they might have imagined.
They are the main characters, of course, but there’s much to enjoy in the supporting cast: Penelope’s ‘husband’ and his real relationship with Penelope’s brother; the shocking and unrepentant poet, Joanna Molesey; Sidney, Agatha’s son, and Eliza, his lover… the supporting cast all have their charms and their stories, and help to bring the story to life.
Another aspect some readers will be keen on is the fact that Agatha and Penelope are mature women: Agatha has an adult son, after all! This isn’t a story of blemishless, stunning young women, but one of women who have lived, and enjoy that in one another. Pretty as the cover is, too, it’s misleading — Agatha and Penelope are average women, not higher class debutantes.
To my surprise, the book fell together for me very well, despite my initial scepticism about the characters and how they’d fit together. And their little revenge against closed-minded prigs in their community is rather enjoyable…
One of my least favourite things in any story is when the plot is driven by miscommunication/lack of communication… but though this is true of Slippery Creatures, I can’t ding the story for it. The lack of communication is built into the characters, and how they react to it is totally consistent, and makes sense with who they are. It would be more frustrating if they weren’t bouncing off each other, because it wouldn’t ring true. Kim is messed up, and Will is horribly stubborn, and the story would be far too easy without them.
I do enjoy their relationship, and their characters, even though Kim unquestionably brings it all on himself and puts Will in terrible danger by misreading him and his motivations, and then not being straightforward with him. But I really enjoy Phoebe and Maisie, and I’d love to know more about them — they both play small but emotionally significant parts in the plot, and I love them.
The end of the book is very much not a happy ending: Slippery Creatures is the start of something, not the end. For that reason, it’s a little rough to say how much I’m going to enjoy this series as a whole — but I suspect it will be a lot.
It took me a bit longer to get into Tears of Pearl than with the other Lady Emily books, and partly that’s because Emily arrives in Constantinople and is promptly a total British tourist and has the most typical imaginable reactions to everything, including her opinions on the treatment of women. Sure, it mentions the relative freedom some of the women have, but… it all felt really shallow.
It’s also a bit weird to read this book and find it so similar to Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamour in Glass in terms of Emily’s thoughts and fears about pregnancy and childbirth. It makes total sense that it was a preoccupation for women at that time, and these books already inclined more toward historical mystery than romance, so an exploration makes sense… and even the end of the book makes total sense as the obvious thing to happen (trying to be vague here, because of spoilers), but I’ve read that plot before in a book that I love, so it kind of hit weirdly for me.
I don’t know how much longer I’ll stick with Lady Emily; I do enjoy her preoccupation with classical things, and her unconventionality, and her warmth for her friends — and of course her funny dialogue with Colin. But I struggled to get started with this one, and got involved more with how the mystery was solved than with the emotional stuff going on. It’s too soon to say if I’ve fallen out of the series, and I’ll give it another book at least — especially since I read two-thirds of this book almost all in one go… but I’m wondering.
At first, reading The Murder Next Door felt like reading the nth book in an ongoing series. There were references to previous investigations, and bits of one of the protagonists’ past were peeping through, and it just felt like there was a whole previous book or even series being referenced. I knew it was the author’s debut, though, from other reviews, so I stuck with it and can confirm that the information you need is all contained within this book, that you don’t need to know about the previous investigations (aside from that they were ill-received by the local police), and that the characters and their motivations all fully make sense by the end.
The story itself is not so unique: the couple next door have always seemed a little haughty and aloof, but beneath the surface, the husband was abusive and unfaithful, and the wife was terrified and fed up. Louisa and Ada become involved when the husband suddenly dies, and it’s clear it was poison: Ada saw the wife fleeing with her young son, and is haunted by another woman who was once arrested for murder.
Where it becomes a little less typical is the fact that Ada and Louisa are a couple, with Ada acting as Louisa’s ‘companion’ in order to hide the truth of their relationship. What’s more, Louisa is actually asexual (though she doesn’t have that word for it), and her relationship with Ada is a balancing act of trying to read cues she doesn’t understand, and trying to ensure the relationship is also satisfying for Ada. That aspect of the book was handled pretty well: that navigation between them rings true.
Overall, it was a fairly enjoyable story once I got into it and felt sure that all the pieces would be present in the same book (and that I wouldn’t have to find some other book to figure out why Ada was so affected by the case). I did find the characters a little… wooden, I suppose, in some ways? There were some scenes where things definitely rang true, and then others where it felt that the characters were arguing or agreeing solely because that’s what the plot needed in order to proceed. Sometimes it felt like a bit of a shortcut, I suppose.
So I guess the upshot is that it was enjoyable, just not brilliant.
If this was just any book, I might rate it a little higher, given that I tore through it in three sittings, and would eagerly have done so in one. But because it’s a book in this series, I have to compare it in my mind to the other mysteries, and I don’t think it quite matched up.
The thing that bothered me, really, was that Stoker really doesn’t want to be dragged into the mystery, and yet Veronica insists she knows what’s good for him, dragging him into danger again and again. That’s been the case for a while now, but in this book he genuinely didn’t seem that intrigued or happy to be dragged into a mystery. His worries about Veronica and her need for adventure rang very true, while Veronica just steamed ahead pulling him with her into any mess she could conceivably manage to traipse through.
However, the danger didn’t seem nearly as real in the other books, and the way they stumble out of the final danger just felt so unbelievably convenient and contrived. It took the whole book to get there, and they’re barely in trouble for a chapter before it’s all fixed up — and most of the time they are in trouble, they spend it having a lovers’ tiff.
This all sounds very critical, but I gulped this book down. The pace starts a little slow, but the mysteries are tantalising enough to drag you into it — and there is some genuine pathos and a little character development, mostly toward the end. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s good fun; it’s just not the best.
I pounced on this as soon as it came out, of course, and wasn’t disappointed. There’s a bit of a vibe of K.J. Charles’ Any Old Diamonds about the plot (except I guess it may also be reminding me of The Gentle Art of Fortune-Hunting, in some ways), and I’m totally here for that, any time. The relationship between the two leads is very different to that book, with far less power-play (and less cold-blooded criminality), but there’s an element of getting your own back that’s delicious.
Speaking of the relationship between the two leads, it’s a sweet one. It takes quite a long time to develop, though the seeds are obvious from the start in their strong physical attraction to one another. The best part, of course, is the slow development of trust between them, despite their disparate backgrounds, despite the harsh parts of their past.
There were a few twists and turns that I spotted coming, but nonetheless made shocked noises when they did happen, because oh! no! how dare! etc. So that was fun, and in general it was just everything I needed — if, in the end, the happy ever after felt rather easy to come by, I completely didn’t mind, because I was charmed by the characters. And in this plague year 2020-gone-2021, we can all do with some happy endings. I don’t want to talk too much about why I felt it was easy to come by, because that’s a spoiler, but suffice it to say that it’s very neat. It feels believable for the characters, but people usually find it harder to make wholesale changes like that!
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 17th August 2021
I’ve enjoyed Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s other books, so I clicked for this one on Netgalley more or less on auto-pilot, and because the idea of reading historical fiction set in a period/place I don’t know much about sounded interesting. It’s set in Mexico in the 1970s, and follows two main characters: Maite, a lover of romance comics who gets accidentally pulled into intrigue as a result of minding her neighbour’s cat, and Elvis, a lover of rock-n-roll and part of a gang dedicated to crushing student dissent against the government.
Neither of the characters is likeable for me, which is where things fall down. This is a really personal thing, but it’s always an issue for me — I can enjoy a story without characters I love, but it’s usually got to be something more in my usual wheelhouse. The characters are interesting, in that they’re well-written. Particularly in the case of Maite, who I could imagine very well. But… without quite being able to hang my hat on either of them, at all, because they’re both pretty unpleasant as people… I just checked out.
If you’re really interested in the period and/or in historical fiction and noir-feel fiction, this will probably be more your thing than it was mine (where SF/F is still my main genre). I did find the historical context fascinating — I kept looking things up to get a bit more context. I might give it another try in future, but for now, it didn’t really work for me.
As a reminder about my ratings in this case, since it’s so much a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”: take this with a grain of salt; as always with my ratings, it’s based on my personal taste and how much I liked it. And sometimes not-so-keen reviews can still point the way for other readers who think “but that sounds like it’s right up my street”!
In this book, Lady Emily is now engaged to Colin, and gets drawn into his world of espionage in her quest to clear the name of someone close to her. The trip takes her to Vienna, where she consorts with the best and worst… and with a woman Colin once loved, and who still wants to be with Colin herself (despite her marriage). Jealousy isn’t a good look on Lady Emily, and I was embarrassed for her when she slipped and revealed her lack of trust in Colin. I joke about being the relationship advice Dalek, but really, communicate!
Aside from the plotline of jealousy, it turns out someone else is in love with Emily (groan), so there are two jealousy plotlines here, both involving unrequited love. I admit that this book is not my favourite so far because of that, though the investigation plot was actually fairly engaging. I enjoyed Emily’s dip into espionage, even if it all got a little melodramatic.
In the end, it’s a fun read, just didn’t quite capture me the way the previous books have!
The second Lady Emily book focuses on a mysterious string of incidents in which items that had belonged to Marie Antoinette are being stolen — along with a sideplot of her encounters with a mysterious admirer. Meanwhile, Colin continues to try to persuade her to marry him, and scandal about her bubbles away.
The book features quite a few delights — anonymous flirting in Greek, Emily’s continued interest in her studies and classical art, Colin’s attempts to persuade her of his affections, and Emily’s friendships with other women around her. Even her mother is a delight, in her own overbearing way, because her support for her daughter is solid despite the total lack of understanding between them. She even arranges for Emily to have tea with the Queen!
Like the first book, I found this really enjoyable, and I’m eager to read the third. Which is annoyingly out of print, but ebooks have come to my rescue.
Yaaaay, a stand-alone Regency romance with attempted cunning scams, falling in love with the wrong people, and improbably yanking at the tangle and sorting it all out at the end. It’s funny, the communication between the characters is as sexy as I ever find anything (ace, remember), and it’s good for the happy wriggle and toe-curls of “yaaay, a proper romance-novel happy ending”. And of course, it’s K.J. Charles, so you count on the fact that the sex advances character and plot, consent is properly obtained, and she knows the contract with the reader when it comes to happy ends.
I don’t understand how allegedly intelligent people don’t figure Robin out waaaay sooner than they do, given the abundant clues, but I do love the slow reveal of Robin’s past and motives, and the way the plot builds up toward the pairing.
And the funniness. And the heart.
Band Sinister is still my favourite, but this one is definitely on my ‘reread when things are shit’ list, too.