Proper English is the story of Pat and Fen, who I previously encountered in Think of England — this book is set before that, but reading them in either order is completely fine, because you don’t need to know much from either book to appreciate the other. It opens with Pat and her brother travelling to a shooting party at a country house, where it transpires that there’s a whole party invited, including their host’s fiancée, Miss Carruth. She turns out to be a sweet but apparently fairly silly girl, rather prone to giggling and girlishness: a pretty stark contrast to Pat, who is a women’s shooting champion, and expects to be treated practically as one of the men.
Most of the rest of the company aren’t nearly that nice, and it quickly becomes apparent something is very wrong, as their host allows his brother-in-law to lord it over everyone and say awful things, while clearly hating that it’s happening. Pat tries to just enjoying the shooting, but quickly finds that Miss Carruth (Fen) is a lot smarter than she likes to let on. Also, Pat is not at all immune to her charms, despite the differences between them. Their friendship and romance is adorable, and they quickly find that they’re not so much opposites as complementary to each other.
Because this is a K.J. Charles novel, of course, that’s not the end of it: in classic country house mystery style, on a miserable rainy day when no one can go out or leave, one of the company is found dead. Pat and Fen are all too aware of all the secrets in the house, one of them being their own, so they decide to figure it out and try to present the police with a fait accompli…
It’s all very fun, exactly as I would expect from K.J. Charles, and I’m a little disappointed I’ve finished it already.
It’s Tuesday, and I’m joining in with Top Ten Tuesday for the first time in a few weeks! The theme this week is “books for your younger self”, and I can think of a whooole bunch of different ways to interpret that. I’m going with a list of books I wish I’d read sooner than I did!
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. Okay, maybe this one’s cheating, but I’m reading this at the moment and being so annoyed at my slightly younger self for not jumping right on that.
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. This book has been such a comfort to me; teenage me could’ve really done with it.
Madam, Will You Talk?by Mary Stewart. Or really any Mary Stewart book; I was so snobby about romance novels, but reading Stewart and Heyer made me see. How much awesome could I have read if I started sooner?!
Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi. I feel like I’d have appreciated this even more if I’d read it when I was closer to the age it’s aimed at. I liked it now, but… I’d have liked it more then, I think.
An Unsuitable Heir, by K.J. Charles. Also one of the books that properly pulled me into romance, but this one is extra special because the existence of Pen as a character, as a person it was possible to be, would’ve possibly sped up figuring out some stuff for me.
Spillover, by David Quammen. Because it helped me figure out that staying curious about stuff really does help with anxiety — and maybe if I’d read it a couple of years earlier, some of my anxiety would have hit less hard. Or maybe it’d have chosen a different path, who knows.
Feet in Chains, by Kate Roberts. Or pretty much any Welsh classics, the existence of which I only discovered at the age of 21, having been told that Welsh people didn’t write anything worth reading.
River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey. I needed Hero. Much like Pen, they’d have taught me a bit more about what’s possible. Also, hippos.
Strange Practice, by Vivian Shaw. This is just so much fun, I’d have liked it to be in my life way before now.
Strong Poison, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Or the whole series, of course, but I can’t believe I only picked these up in my twenties. Though that’s partly because they were out of print, I think? I can’t imagine my mother wouldn’t have bought me them sooner if they were in print.
How about you? Anything you wish you’d read when you were younger?
Tuesday again already! And this week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “books that make me smile”. Which is… honestly, most books. Just being around books makes me smile — even books I personally wouldn’t enjoy, it can be really exciting to look at someone else’s books, or browse through a shelf… But there are some specific books that put a smile on my face for various reasons, so let’s do this!
The Talisman Ring, by Georgette Heyer. Most Heyer novels have me giggling throughout, but this was one of the first I read, and the reread was just as good. The Reluctant Widow, too. She has some annoying heroes and some repetitive plots/themes… but in general, I’m always going to smile at a Heyer novel.
Band Sinister, by K.J. Charles. Most K.J. Charles books would fit the bill actually… but Band Sinister is one of the rare ones that doesn’t also have a massive bodycount, so it’s the one that fits most readily on a list about smiling! Though A Fashionable Indulgence is also worth mentioning. And A Gentleman’s Position. Ugh, no, they all make me smile.
Have His Carcase, by Dorothy L. Sayers. From the opening paragraph onwards, there’s so much cleverness and wit. And it features two of my favourite characters in fiction, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. How could I not smile? Also, memories of the radioplays and BBC TV adaptations, and so many good conversations with my mum and my wife…
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. Alright, not all of it is happy or comfortable reading, but Maia is a delight and so are many of the characters who surround him. I’m trying not to reread it too often, but honestly, when I’m stressed it’s the first thing that comes to mind.
Small Robots, by Thomas Heasman-Hunt. There’s a Small Robot for almost every occasion, and they’re so often so cute… or so apt for the moment. Check out their Twitter!
The Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. The series has been so much fun, and the accompanying art (including on the cover) is so good. Isabella and her deranged practicality really stick with me.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin. I can’t help remembering being sucked in and just ZOOMING through it, whenever I see this book! And so many great conversations about it, and just… yeah.
Catching Breath, by Kathryn Lougheed. One of the many books about disease (like The Emperor of All Maladies, or Spillover) that a) helped me get over irrational fear through fostering curiosity instead, and b) really set me on my current path when it comes to studying. Of course I smile when I think about this one! There’s so much out there to learn, and I never have to stop. Plus, I wrote my dissertation on TB basically because of this book. I know a lot of people hate their dissertations by the end, but I did not; I’d gladly research and write several more chapters!
This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story, by Kacen Callender. I haven’t actually read this yet, but it looks like fun and I’m really excited to finally get through my TBR pile to it. (Not that I am reading a set number of books before I pick it up, just that my brain is like a very crowded train station, and This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story has not — yet — managed to get on the attention-trains zooming through.)
Red, White and Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston. Ditto the above! It looks and sounds so cute, aaahh.
I’ll be interested to see what books make other folks smile — and hopefully why! Leave me your links if you’ve done this TTT as well!
It’s Tuesday again already? Gah. So this week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is “Authors I’ve Read the Most Books By”. This one’s always tricky because sometimes you can read just one series by an author and it swamps the handful of one-shots by authors you like more. What’s more, I think my stats might be messed up by all the rereads. So I’m going to ignore the actual statistics here and go with the authors I think I’ve read the most of.
Ursula Le Guin. She was pretty prolific! She’s got to feature on the list somewhere. I read Earthsea as a teenager and gradually moved through most of her science fiction and then her non-fiction essays… and no matter what she writes, it’s all so good. There are more memorable and less memorable forays (a lot of people discount or didn’t like Lavinia or the Gifts trilogy) but… in general, I’ve found something to enjoy in everything she wrote.
K.J. Charles. Charles takes up a pretty good chunk of my shelf, and of course I don’t have all of them in paperback. I’m going to be willing to try just about anything she writes, and I’m a little sad I only have a handful to go. (Being Proper English, Rag and Bone, Slippery Creatures… and maybe some shorter stories? The Price of Meat and A Queer Trade, at least, and of course the crossover with Jordan L. Hawk’s Whyborne & Griffin.)
Kerry Greenwood. On the strength of the Phryne Fisher series alone, she’s probably pretty high on my list.
Carola Dunn. Same, only with the Daisy Dalrymple books — plus one of her romance trilogies. She’s hugely prolific and I really need to decide on a few more of her romances to read, because I really liked Miss Jacobson’s Journey et al.
Dorothy L. Sayers. She’s got to be up there in the list, given I’ve read all the Peter Wimsey books, the short stories, and The Documents in the Case…
Marie Brennan. I actually haven’t read all her books yet, but I’ve read one or two of the Onyx Court books, and all the Isabella Trent books, a couple of novellas and at least two short story collections. I’m willing to try just about anything with her name on it.
Guy Gavriel Kay. He’s got a fair few books out and I’ve even read all but two of them, so I think he must be a contender here! I actually got hooked on his oldest books (The Fionavar Tapestry), but he’s got a beautiful way with words. Just… don’t put him in charge of who pairs up with who.
N.K. Jemisin. I might not actually have read more of her works than some other authors, but she deserves a place on this list for intentions. I’m behind, but I will read everything she’s written and everything she’s going to write, most likely.
Mary Robinette Kowal. At this point I’m just eyeing up my shelves and going “oh, that’s a sizeable chunk of books and I’ve read most of them”… But after not entirely loving Shades of Milk and Honey, I was entirely converted, loved that whole series, loved The Calculating Stars, greatly enjoyed a short story collection… Pretty solid pick here, I think.
Jacqueline Carey. From my first introduction to Kushiel’s Dart, I’ve loved Carey’s work, and I’ve eaten up all her Kushiel universe books… plus most of her others as well. I’m a little behind, as always, but always gonna love her lush prose.
I’ve no idea how that actually matches up to the numbers on Goodreads, but I haven’t been great about tracking that lately anyway! I think this is a pretty representative idea, anyway.
Who do you read most of? Do your shelves get dominated by never-ending detective series, or do you spread out your reading?
Ten years of Top Ten Tuesday! Wow. This week I’m turning to an old one… that I probably did before, knowing my interests. Here are the ten books I wish I could experience again with fresh eyes. I’m mindful that the suck fairy may have visited books I loved when I was less mature, so I’ve steered away from childhood favourites.
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. Everyone knows I loved this one, I think! I wish I could read it again and then compare notes with myself. Did I love the same characters? Did I suspect the same characters? What different things would I focus on, being a different person now than I was then? Honestly, that goes for all of these, though: I’d love to know how things would stack up if I could experience them anew from where I’m standing now. The Goblin Emperor is a special favourite, though.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin. This book has been around for 10 years now, and had 12 reprintings! Whoooa. I remember the first time I read it, it was so compulsive — I had to know what happened, how everything was going to work out, why things we’re happening… I’d love to have that experience again.
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. My mother made me wait to read this until I was eleven, to try and ensure I was mature enough to understand some of the subtleties. I know I didn’t get it all, and my readings of it more recently have been layered with those early impressions, and also with studying it. I’d love to be able to read it for the first time with all the stuff I know now about mythology and Tolkien’s intentions.
The whole Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood. I’ve read all of the Phryne books now, some of them twice, and I’d love to be able to recapture the first time reading them and falling in love with the characters. Some of it’s getting a little too familiar now!
Band Sinister, by K.J. Charles. It was just so sweet and funny and I laughed so much. I’m sure I’m going to enjoy reading it knowing what happens… but I’d love to recapture that breathless ack, how are they going to deal with this?!
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. I’m not sure I can take rereading it in full knowledge of where it’s going, but I remember being so blown away by it.
Fledgling, by Octavia Butler. I feel like I’m better equipped to handle Butler and where her work was coming from now, but I know this book had a lot of impact on me because it was uncomfortable to read. I don’t know if it’s lost that uncomfortableness now… but I don’t feel like it should. I’d like to get uncomfortable all over again, as an older and wiser adult.
A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. The first time I read this book I didn’t love it, and that feels like a waste now. I’d also love to know if it’s something you have to read again to love, or if I was just a crankypants that day.
Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal. Same! I ended up loving both these series, and yet… did not love the book first time through. I was just drawn back by something to give them another try. I’d love to give them another first try and see what happens!
Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. I feel like this one actually gains from rereading, because I felt like I understood it better on a second read, when I’d absorbed more of the world… but also I remember the way it completely grabbed hold of my brain the first time. I’d like to have a clear schedule and a rainy day, and just… give it a second first try.
Some of these are probably obvious choices, but… it’s not just books I like to reread (actually, I’ve struggled to reread The Sparrow). It’s about recapturing that first impression, and I’ve no idea if I would love all these books the same way if one could do that… but I’d love to find out.
So if I’m ever found with a lost memory… you know what to sit me down with! What would you want to re-experience for the first time?
I knew what I was getting into with a K.J. Charles story, of course. Men being stupid at each other, probably a bodycount, good snark and a handful of sex scenes. That makes it sound formulaic, but it really isn’t — with each new story you’re meeting new and distinct characters, with their own reasons for taking their time or falling right into bed. In this book, we meet Archie Curtis and Daniel da Silva: one an ex-military man, still healing from wounds from a terrible accident, and the other an effete poet.
Both of them have been invited to a country house, and they each have ulterior motives for being there. Despite early tension between them, Curtis finds himself learning to appreciate Daniel better — and of course, their tension morphs into something else. I found myself going from wanting to throw things at Daniel to totally appreciating the developing relationship and wanting Curtis to be better at all this! That said, it isn’t really fair: Curtis is always decent, and though he might have some stupid stereotypes in his mind, he’s also open to learning better. I do wish we got a little more of Daniel’s point of view and how he sees Curtis, though…
There are also some very fun side characters, and I’m excited to meet them in Proper English. So glad I have it on my shelf… but on the other hand, I might save it for when I need a pick-me-up! K.J. Charles’ books are always perfect for my fidgety moods when I’m not sure what I want to read: fun stories, interesting characters, and yes, sparks always fly — and the chemistry is always great.
I was feeling fidgety, so I decided to read for a book by K.J. Charles I hadn’t read yet. Unfit to Print is a standalone, following Gil Lawless and Vikram Pandey, the owner of a dirty bookshop and a high-flying lawyer, respectively. They knew one another at school, but have been separated for quite a long time, with Vik believing Gil to be dead. He’s looking for the son of a local Indian family, though, and that takes him to the street where Gil keeps his bookshop… and there they run into one another again.
Gil’s been hurt a lot and is as prickly as a hedgehog, while Vik’s not been interested in anyone since Gil’s disappearance from their boarding school. They quickly fall into their old intimacies, though Gil finds it hard to offer anything other than the physical and Vik finds it hard to take the physical aspect without the feelings getting in the way. At the same time, Gil needs to help Vik find out what happened to the boy he’s looking for, while trying not to get his reputation all smeared up for him…
It’s a lovely little second chance, and I quickly fell for both characters and their silly desperate attempts not to get hurt more when they’re already stumbling along with plenty of hurt to spare from their pasts. Their interaction smoulders as usual — holding hands was never so sexy — and it was a really fun read overall. The mystery aspect was a little bit perfunctory; it felt a bit of a letdown for the answer to be that easy, but it did make sense as well.
All in all, plenty of fun, though not for all the family!
This is the final book in the Society of Gentlemen series, and it beautifully wraps things up — not just for Richard and Cyprian, but for the characters of the other two books as well. It’s all very cleverly done, with David Cyprian pulling the strings and manipulating things into place, and Richard stumbling towards happiness with large blundering feet. The plot is mostly: Richard fucks up, Richard needs Cyprian back, David Cyprian is too loyal for his own good, Richard puts his foot in it some more. I was at once longing for a happy ending and wanting David to realise Richard truly is an idiot and walk away.
Charles can always bring me round to enjoying a character or plotline I didn’t think I would; she had no problems here, as I was already eager to see what David could do and how things would work out. I actually read this all in one go.
It’s not just the characters and their relationship, though. I really liked the side characters, including the way Richard’s elder brother and his wife try to take care of Richard and are supported by him in turn. Knowing the world already from the other books, it’s interesting to see it from a new slant and discover the other sides of people one might have already disliked or dismissed.
As with the first book, I have very little I want to criticise here. It was a lot of fun. Just one point: Richard is portrayed as pretty much demisexual (and apparently word-of-God says he is), but there is a scene which puts the lie to that where he says he wanted David since he first saw him. Neither the inclusion nor that moment are a major part of the plot, but it’s a point worth being aware of if you’re hoping for demisexual representation.
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.
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!