Tag: K.J. Charles

Review – Gilded Cage

Posted February 11, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Gilded Cage by KJ CharlesGilded Cage, K.J. Charles

Gilded Cage is the follow-up to Any Old Diamonds, featuring Templeton Lane. From the first book he didn’t appeal to me too much, although the defenestration thing in The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter was great; Jerry felt the more compelling of the two characters to me, and I wasn’t sure I could get to like Templeton. Well, I didn’t, really; he still seemed like a thug with the emotional awareness of a brass doorknob… but the history of James Vane as revealed in Gilded Cage did work for me. It felt like a bit of a quick flip from the thug to the sensitive, thinking, feeling man, and the transition didn’t entirely work for me… but predictably, Charles was able to pull me along and sell it to me anyway.

It helps that Susan Lazarus is awesome, and that this book features a lot of brief glimpses of the characters from Sins of the Cities (and of course from the other Lilywhite Boys stories). I loved seeing Justin again, and I’d have loved to see more of Mark and Nathaniel as well, but I suppose they would have stolen the show. Susan is relentlessly practical, determined, and closed-off; it’s a delight to watch her realise that she can trust James after all, and to see them open up and talk about their feelings and actually figure things out.

The plot also ties together both other books in this series, and gives a satisfactory ending to a certain adversary of the Lilywhite Boys — satisfactory in that someone gets Susan’s hairpins in very tender places, and also gets captured and trialled.

It all works out well, and we get a happy ending that feels true to who Susan is. We also get some glimpses of Jerry and Alec’s life, which is nice. All in all, I suspect and hope there’s little more to be said for the Lilywhite Boys: they both have their happy endings. That said, I wouldn’t object to Jerry and Alec and Susan and James having to come together to heist their way out of trouble again, so I’ll slam the preorder button hard if that comes about!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Jackdaw

Posted January 23, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Jackdaw by K.J. CharlesJackdaw, K.J. Charles

Jackdaw is part of the Charm of Magpies series, but follows a different pair of characters. It’s probably best for those who’ve read Flight of Magpies in terms of the plot, but you might actually be able to enjoy the at least one of the characters more on their own terms if you don’t know them already, because that character is Jonah Pastern, he who nearly brought Stephen and Lucien to disaster in the last book. I trust Charles to bring me to the point of enjoying even a total scoundrel’s love story, honestly, but it took a little more time because I already knew Jonah deeply endangered a character I love, and Ben Spenser — his lover — turns out to be rather dour and angry at first.

It’s worth noting that among the sex scenes in this book, there’s one with strong non-consensual themes. Ben is angry and wants to punish Jonah, and knows what he’s doing is wrong, and though he stops short of actually doing it and then Jonah wants to continue, it’s still pretty discomforting. It obviously coloured how I saw Ben: the kind of man who, in anger, seriously considers using rape to punish his lover. It is clear that Jonah has conclusively ruined Ben’s life at that point: you very quickly realise Ben lost his job, was imprisoned, etc, etc, but that isn’t an excuse.

This is also the only story in this series that really engages with the homophobia of the time. It’s not just hinted here that there could be trouble: Ben can’t do magic, can’t soften his way out of a terrible situation, so he ends up imprisoned, sentenced to hard labour, beaten, rejected by his parents, and at one point you can read him as being suicidal. He’s definitely without hope, only a grim anger, blaming Jonah for everything.

That’s not the sort of book you expect after the casual way Crane deals with even blackmail about his homosexuality; Stephen and Lucien duck almost all consequences through being able to protect themselves. It’s also not what you’d expect from Jonah’s flamboyant devil-may-care attitude in the last book. Ben doesn’t have that protection, and in the first half of the book in particular, the damage, anger and shame are all on display. It’s very grim, given the previous book, and more realistic; that’s something to bear in mind.

Aside from that, the story is essentially a redemption arc for Jonah, and somewhat for Ben as well. It has the great dialogue I expect in a novel by K.J. Charles, and in the last half or so of the book, you can start rooting for the characters again. It stands or falls, really, on the extent to which you can forgive Jonah (and Ben, if that near-rape scene bothered you as much as it did me) for what he’s done. I got there in the end — there are some delightful bits when the two of them finally feel free and comfortable — but this definitely is not a favourite in this series or among Charles’ books.

For those who are fans of the series, it does include cameos by Stephen and later Lucien, Merrick and Saint. It wraps up into a lovely conclusion, and there are some great bits of dialogue between Lucien and Stephen, as seen from outside.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted January 15, 2020 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts. This week’s check-in is here!

Cover of Biased by Jennifer EberhardtWhat are you currently reading? 

I’m most of the way through Biased: The New Science of Race and Inequality, by Jennifer Eberhardt. It is decidedly light on the science, and heavy on anecdotes about the current state of racial inequality in the USA, used to illustrate the statistics. The more I think about it, the less science I can actually think of, especially in the last couple of chapters. She’ll mention a study briefly, but then tell a long story that illustrates the same point, and often also explain her emotions about it — at times, it’s autobiographical. It’s not ineffective, but it’s not quite what I came here for!

Cover of Flight of Magpies by KJ CharlesWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was the last book of the Charm of Magpies trilogy by K.J. Charles, Flight of Magpies. Hell of a showdown, everything coming together, and of course a happy-ever-after. Makes me want to pin my K.J. Charles ‘romance with body count’ badge to my bag — I’m terribly prone to just hoarding badges like this, worried about losing them or something, but… then what fun are they?

Cover of Captain Ingram's Inheritance by Carola DunnWhat will you be reading next? 

Goodness only knows, as ever. I think I’d like to pick up the third book in Carola Dunn’s romance series set during the Napoleonic Wars, Captain Ingram’s Inheritance. It’s fairly slim and will be a quick read, and then it can go back to the library. I’m definitely going to try and pick up copies of this trilogy for myself; I can see myself rereading it for comfort. Though I suppose that depends on whether this third book ends up messing everything up!

How ‘bout you folks? 

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Review – Flight of Magpies

Posted January 13, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Flight of Magpies by KJ CharlesFlight of Magpies, K.J. Charles

Flight of Magpies rounds this trilogy off beautifully. Of course, as it opens, the two are struggling: Stephen’s work-life balance is dreadful, while Crane has too much time on his hands. They’ve come a ways from the start of the last book, but they haven’t really resolved their priorities and their future intentions. That has to play out against the background of even more work issues for Stephen, something going on with Saint, and mysterious deaths that are clearly magical in some way, but hard to trace back.

That’s really just the start of the problems, but I shan’t spoil it. Suffice it to say that everything comes together beautifully, and Stephen and Crane get the ending they deserve. I’ll confess to wandering through the flat with my hands flailing saying “aaaaa” and refusing to spoiler it for my wife, having started and finished the book in one evening.

I’m intrigued by the glimpses of Pastern and his story — which is good, since I have Jackdaw lined up to read soon. None of the revelations in that part of the plot were particularly surprising, but the climax was nail-biting all the same. I’ll admit I was surprised about Merrick, and still don’t quite understand how that relationship developed, as such — like Crane, I was blindsided by it.

There were several sex scenes, some of them including plot-relevant information, for those who might be averse to reading them or might prefer to skip.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted January 8, 2020 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts. Check out the link-up post here.

Cover of Venus & Aphrodite by Bettany HughesWhat are you currently reading?

I’m trying to be pretty spontaneous and be really excited about everything I read this year, so I am only officially partway through one book (though others on the shelves are part-read and might get resumed in future). That is Bettany Hughes’ Venus & Aphrodite.

I’ve half-followed Bettany Hughes’ work since my first graduation, because at the same ceremony she received an honorary doctorate from my university, but I hadn’t picked this up yet. Actually, I wasn’t expecting to; I do a challenge where each month a random Dewey category gets chosen and you need to read one book from it for a chance to win, and this month was the 200s. Venus & Aphrodite happened to catch my eye when I couldn’t find the book on Judaism I’d searched up to get, so I took it instead.

I’m honestly pretty near finished; I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit, though it’s very light.

Cover of Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina RatherWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was Sisters of the Vast Black, by Lina Rather. Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow primed me not to even flinch at the idea of nuns in space, so I didn’t consider it gimmicky (contrast my initial reaction to “Jesuits in space” when I first read The Sparrow). I enjoyed it a lot, and there’s something powerfully hopeful about it — about rebellion and doing the right thing, and shining your light when no one else can or will.

Cover of A Case of Possession by KJ CharlesWhat will you read next?

I’ve just been buddy-reading The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles with my wife. She’s solidly on her way through A Case of Possession, so I guess I’d better catch up! Otherwise, it’s going to be even more based on whim than my usual. I’m going through my shelves and re-cataloguing my books, so it really could be anything.

What about you folks? Whatcha reading?

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Review – The Magpie Lord

Posted January 7, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Magpie Lord by K.J. CharlesThe Magpie Lord, K.J. Charles

My wife was planning to try reading some K.J. Charles, and I suggested these books… and then as she started reading, realised I couldn’t remember the first book well enough to go on the second myself. So, obviously, I had to do a reread! Right up front, the book itself contains triggers for quite detailed attempts at suicide, sexual (and incestuous) assault off-screen, and some mind-manipulation stuff that really isn’t cool (mostly by villains). There are also some scenes where enthusiastic consent is absent, though it isn’t assault.

It starts with Lord Crane being overcome by seemingly outside impulses to harm himself after a return from Shanghai where he made a living for himself after being kicked out and sent away by his father. His father and brother killed themselves too, the only reason he’s inherited, and his manservant reckons there must be something going on — they’ve seen magic before and know it’s real, so he persuades Crane to ask for the help of a local equivalent. Enter the Justiciar Stephen Day, with a family grudge against Crane’s family and an unbending need to do the right thing. Naturally, Crane’s not as bad as his family, and sparks fly between the two of them as they get to grips with the rather sordid details of the curse.

There are a couple of scenes I’m less than comfortable with between Lucien Crane and Stephen Day. I read an older version of the book, so it’s possible the 2017 version softens this somewhat — I don’t know if it was edited. But Crane’s tendency to push Stephen around is less than attractive for me, even if Stephen is actually enjoying it — and the scene where he does explicitly consent but only out of a sort of spite isn’t so great. It isn’t that I don’t love the characters together, because I do, and these kinds of stumbles and miscommunications are entirely human, but it is best to go into them forewarned if it’s something that might trip your wires.

Despite that caveat, I do love the way they come together, and especially the epilogue/added bit in the re-issue (which I did read as well after realising I somehow had the old version). Their relationship is genuinely exciting, and I love Crane and Merrick’s protection of each other, and the hints about Stephen’s life elsewhere. I hope to see something of Esther in the second or third book!

It stood up to a reread, and I’m looking forward to the second book.

Rating: 4/5

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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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Review – The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter

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

Cover of The Rat-Catcher's Daughter by K.J. CharlesThe Rat-Catcher’s Daughter, K.J. Charles

This short story features something just alluded to in Any Old Diamonds (which is in my review backlog, oops): the backstory of Stan Kamarzyn and Christiana Morrow. Christiana is trans, working as a female impersonator, and Stan admires her from afar — until he hears that she’s being threatened by a certain would-be crime lord who wants to ruin her to make an example. He’s the fence for the notorious pair of thieves, the Lilywhite Boys, and it turns out they’re more than willing to roll in and help him out. He’s family, after all.

It’s a delight to see Jerry and Temp from this perspective. Someone on Twitter mentioned that Alec (from Any Old Diamonds) is like one of those people with a big angry dog on a leash going around telling everyone ‘he’s a softie, really’, only Jerry is the dog and Jerry is not a softie. He’ll do anything for the people who belong to him, but if you’re not, get out of his way.

The defenestration scene is pretty fucking epic.

They stole the stage a little bit for me, because I so recently read Any Old Diamonds — but Stan and Christiana are adorable too. I love the time they take over their relationship, the pitfalls they avoid, the fact that they end up communicating… their squishes on each other are adorable, and the “wait, you too?!” moment when they each reveal that they’re asexual is just the best. I have a couple of quibbles about the way it’s presented (I worried that there would be a sudden “But It’s Different With You” moment, due to Stan seeming to feel some degree of attraction to Christiana which allegedly he’s never felt before), but mostly it’s very sweet.

It’s more difficult to comment on how the trans aspect is handled. Christiana has a degree of freedom given the circle she frequents, but the time period is restrictive. There is some misgendering, all by non-sympathetic characters, and definite transphobia (same). There are also threats of sexual violence… again. All appropriate to the scenario as presented, really, but it’s not comfortable to read and worth avoiding if you think it will be upsetting to you. Christiana herself is positively portrayed, and Stan has a serious conversation with her at one point about how she prefers him to see her, which is nice.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Spectred Isle

Posted September 18, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Spectred Isle by K.J. CharlesSpectred Isle, K.J. Charles

Spectred Isle is set in the aftermath of the First World War, and much of the book is spent trying to find sense and a place in that post-war world. One main character is Saul Lazenby, an archaeologist who ended his war in disgrace after his homosexual love affair landed him in hot water; the other is Randolph Glyde, heir to an illustrious family and last survivor. Saul’s getting by through working for a harmless crank who wants every last sacred well or mysterious ghost story investigated, and Randolph’s trying to do all kinds of jobs at once, carrying on his family’s ancient duty to protect the land from supernatural influences.

Naturally, the two come together, both personally and professionally; they spend a good portion of the book dancing around it, but then quickly find that the other offers everything they’ve been lacking — Saul gets a purpose again, while Randolph finds Saul the answer to his worries about a significant part of his family duty, but then also they offer healing and hope to each other on a personal level as well. I love the way their relationship is written: they communicate forthrightly, make it clear what they each want, and also make it clear what the catch is. Randolph might be eager to have Saul in his life, but he’s not eager to do so on false pretences.

(For those mostly here for the romance, yes, there is a HEA, and there are several sex scenes.)

I’d love to know so much more about this world, which means I’d happily read any other books in this world, which at the moment means The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal. I have so many questions about the other characters, about the way things work, about the complications doubtless ahead for Randolph and Saul with the guardianship of the Moat, with the Shadow Ministry, etc, etc. Sadly, looks like book two has got into some tangles and is on hold. Luckily, Saul and Randolph’s story is complete enough in itself to be satisfying, so don’t let that hold you back!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Band Sinister

Posted February 22, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

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

“Georgette Heyer, but queer,” they [being people on Twitter] said.

“I’m there!” I said.

That’s pretty much the summary of this book, though there’s significantly more sex in this than Heyer would’ve got away with, and a lot more free-thinking, philosophy and queerness. The situation, though, is kind of classic: Guy and Amanda live in significantly straitened circumstances, trying their best to be as quiet as possible while a relative holds the purse strings, making them live on her charity. Amanda chafes at this somewhat and hits on a way she can earn them some money: she writes a Gothic novel and easily sells it. The hitch? Well, she based it on the stories about a neighbouring family — with whom her family has a long, storied and unpleasant history.

Then she decides to ride over there to do research, falls from her horse, is seriously injured, and her brother has to go join her in the den of iniquity as a chaperone. Thus do Guy and Phillip meet — and of course, Phillip is in fact much-maligned and really not at all as dreadful as he’s painted (albeit admittedly being queer, and atheist, and fairly promiscuous).

What follows is mostly a delightful exploration of a relationship based on communication — albeit with one or two snags — and consent. If anyone tries to claim consent isn’t sexy, send them this: it absolutely is in this book, and makes the sex scenes worth reading even for those who have no interest in the mechanics, because the emotional content is there. It’s not insta-luv, but the respect and carefulness is there throughout.

The happy ending is decidedly Heyer-ish in tone and effect, and it delighted me. The characters also delighted me — Guy is a dork, and Phillip a sweetheart, and both of them care immensely about the things close to them in a way that draws you into their feelings and motivations just perfectly.

And you know, I was going to automatically give it 4/5 stars, but I didn’t actually have any quibbles. It was deeply enjoyable from start to end, both for the pastiche and on its own merits, and K.J. Charles can write more Heyer-esque stuff any day and just set up a direct debit on my bank account for it.

Rating: 5/5

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