Tag: romance


Review – Heroine Complex

Posted 9 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Heroine Complex by Sarah KuhnHeroine Complex, Sarah Kuhn

I got this to review at some point, but I also bought a copy… a fact which I now regret. Okay, there’s a lot of cool things about it: female Asian protagonists who kick ass in different ways, a casually queer character, bitey flying cupcakes, the main character talks frankly about anxiety… And for quite a while I was enjoying it a lot.

It’s just, I don’t like reading books where people like me are called dead inside, even in jest. I’m sure the main character isn’t intended to be read as asexual — it’s mostly that she’s forced herself not to feel in order to control her powers (let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore…) — but the lack of sexual attraction to people she describes is my every day and whole life. And I’m okay with that; it doesn’t bother me or my partner, and I don’t think I’m broken because of it (anymore). It’s just the way I’m made.

It’s not my “Dead-Inside-O-Tron”.

Yes, that’s what Evie calls her lack of sexual attraction — her “Dead-Inside-O-Tron”. Neatly calls up two stereotypes about people who aren’t interested in sex: that we’re robots, and that we’re dead inside. And before you protest that nobody says that, I saw it twice on my twitter the day I was reading this book.

I kept going for a while with the book, but when I put it down to go out and came back, I found that I was just tired of it. Tired of the romance scenes punctuated by Evie wondering why her “Dead-Inside-O-Tron” had stopped working. I can get a person feeling that way and calling it that; I can understand that it’s not targeted to hurt people like me by reiterating the whole “you’re dead inside” meme. It doesn’t mean I can keep enjoying the book.

Reader, I put it down. I have plenty of books to read that don’t remind me constantly that people think I’m a dead-inside robot.

The flying bitey cupcakes are still a cool image, though.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Carry On

Posted 7 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Carry On by Rainbow RowellCarry On, Rainbow Rowell

When I was feeling a bit rough, Carry On felt like an excellent choice for some light reading. It’s all the joy of fanfic — willing characters to get together, enjoying the riffs on the canon (in this case, Harry Potter), enjoying the commentary on the genre — with the inventiveness of original fiction as well; it’s not a copy of Harry Potter, and there are some rather clever things going on with the language, the relationships, the inner thoughts of some of the characters. Agatha is a great commentary on the Chosen One’s destined girlfriend; she opts out and goes away and we’re rather glad for her, without that icky feeling prominent in a certain subset of fanfic where the gay couple are glorified above all else and the straight love interest is vilified just for existing. Agatha has a point.

Penelope is great fun, too; she’s like a combination of the best bits of both Ron and Hermione, with more of a sense of humour than either.

And Baz. I never got what people saw in Draco Malfoy as a character, but Baz is great — his ambivalence about Simon, his difficulties in coming to terms with the way things actually are (because of course, he doesn’t fit the traditional story any more than Agatha or Simon do). It’s like the characters are all framed by this traditional hero’s journey narrative, and they rebel and burst out of it in all directions while the adults around them try to keep things on course (especially the Mage, but also Baz’s father and aunt, to some extent).

There’s little of the pure evil type of thing going on here, no Voldemort who can be unequivocally hated. Everyone means well. There are blinded revolutionaries and turn-a-blind-eye aristocracy, and if they could only meet in the middle things would be better, but it’s not about fundamentally bad people, a fundamentally wrong cause.

Simon and Baz together is just… it’s very much of a piece with Harry/Draco fanfic (which I never read, but was aware of), but it makes the two characters really fit, and their relationship seem inevitable.

So yes. I enjoyed it. Again.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Winterwood

Posted 4 January, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Winterwood by Dorothy EdenWinterwood, Dorothy Eden

Winterwood is a Gothic-ish mystery/romance, very much in the vein of Mary Stewart’s work. I think it rather reminded me of her Nine Coaches Waiting — though of course, I don’t actually read these books for originality. I wasn’t sure if I could root for the pairing, given that the main male character is married at the beginning and certainly affectionate and respectful with his wife, but it worked out fairly well with both halves of the potential romance keeping in mind the barrier between them. The characters are reasonably likeable — Flora is spoilt and willful, but also generous and capable of great affection, which redeemed her somewhat for me. Charlotte, Daniel’s wife, is obviously troubled and at times is rather transparently wicked, but there are also moments where Eden manages to get across some of the pathos of her character. Daniel is a little bland, though.

If you don’t expect too much of it, it’s a nice distraction. Eden’s writing isn’t bad, though she can’t quite evoke a sense of place the way Mary Stewart can — I didn’t ‘feel’ Winterwood the estate very much.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Camelot’s Sword

Posted 2 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Camelot's Sword, by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Sword, Sarah Zettel

Camelot’s Sword isn’t my favourite book of the series, because the characters are definitely not my favourite and I think the way they eventually get together is a little too rushed. However, the way Zettel plays with the Arthurian mythos continues to be delightful, from her portrayal of Guinevere to the machinations of Morgaine to Kay’s surprising skill with a sword. Geez, I even love the fact that he’s actually ridiculously tall, because that’s a call-out to the Welsh versions where he was ‘as tall as the tallest tree in the forest’. (My MA dissertation was named after that descriptor, and referenced these books heavily. I think the final title was ‘As Tall as the Tallest Tree in the Forest: The Long Shadow of the Celtic Cai in the Ongoing Arthurian Tradition’ or something like that. Okay, I got the feedback that the title didn’t sound relevant, but I still like it.)

Even though this isn’t my favourite of the series, it has a lot of great moments and character set-pieces, from Kay’s interactions with Gareth to Agravain’s confrontation with Lancelot. Zettel does wonderfully at making me love and care for them all. I might not be convinced Gareth deserves Lynet, but by heck I am convinced he means to do his best by her — and that his brothers will grumble, shout at him, and back him up all the way.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Friday’s Child

Posted 24 November, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Friday's Child by Georgette HeyerFriday’s Child, Georgette Heyer

If you’ve read a couple of Heyer’s books, you know what to expect. You recognise the character types as they appear — the charmingly innocent heroine, the dishonourable but charming villain, the various prototypes for her heroes… Friday’s Child is of the “marriage of convenience” school, in which Lord Sheringham marries a childhood friend, Hero, more or less on a whim to spite his family. She’s loved him all along, of course, while he is monumentally unaware of having any feelings towards any woman, and certainly doesn’t expect to love his wife (though being a noble Heyer male, he will of course do his duty toward her).

As ever, it’s the detail and Heyer’s wit that carry a story that could be formulaic. I both laughed and cried at Friday’s Child, I’ll confess, sometimes at more or less the same scene. Sherry’s friends and their loyalty to him and to Hero are both funny and endearing, pretty much all the time; there’s something very pathetic about Hero’s adoration of Sherry, and the way he treats her (being angry with her for behaving exactly as he’s told her is right), which is funny in some scenes and just terribly sad in others. I forget which friend of mine has noted that Heyer is one of the few writers who can make a rather silly character one you sympathise with and root for, when you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to stand them at all. This is definitely true with pretty much all the characters here.

Ultimately, it’s not a deep novel of great philosophical worth, and it’s not the best of Heyer’s work in terms of originality or flair either. But it’s fun and it made me happy.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Chocolatier’s Wife

Posted 13 November, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Chocolatier's Wife by Cindy Lynn SpeerThe Chocolatier’s Wife, Cindy Lynn Speer

This is a romance set in a fantasy world, with a bit of mystery as well, so if any of those things fail to appeal, you probably won’t get on with it. I found it delightful, though: the world isn’t incredibly rich or anything, but there’s enough there to give a solid background to the story and prevent it feeling paper-thin. The romance is sweet, and the characters are enjoyable: the way they deal with their situation right from the start, the way they write to each other, the way they take care of one another.

There are a few instances of stupid misunderstandings which mostly just serve to drag out the tension, which is a little annoying — my least favourite trope or way of spinning out a story ever. Still, it wasn’t too painful, and the way they worked out their issues and actually communicated actually kinda made up for it.

I’m definitely planning to read more of Speer’s work in future.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Connection Error

Posted 12 November, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Connection Error by Annabeth AlbertConnection Error, Annabeth Albert

I originally received this to review, but ended up picking it up on the Kobo store when I needed a pick-me-up, rather later than the release date! It’s the third in a series, but it’s a loosely connected series with new main characters for each book; this one features Navy SEAL Ryan, an amputee, and game designer Josiah. Both of them have disabilities: Ryan is just learning to cope with being an amputee and going back to civilian life, while Josiah has ADHD which makes him impulsive and prone to forgetting the important things. This sets up a nice dynamic between the two of them, and I enjoy that it isn’t just plain sailing: Josiah blurts out the wrong thing several times, apologises awkwardly, etc, etc, while Ryan’s steady ability to look ahead and work things out helps Josiah steady himself.

It isn’t all plain sailing in terms of their relationship, either, starting with a casual sort-of-hook-up in a hotel while stranded by snow, supplemented by some gaming, and slowly growing into a stronger connection which both of them avoid naming or solidifying for far too long, despite their growing attachment. The emotional stuff between them is well-written, and their actions make sense: there’s no stupid misunderstandings that would just be solved by some basic communication, but rather genuine issues caused by their situations and personalities.

The exploration of Ryan’s new disabilities is well done, in my opinion; it explores some of the difficulties he has with physicality, some of the things he has to get used to, but he is also unequivocally still a sexual person. Josiah’s ADHD, too, is dealt with sympathetically.

There are quite a few sex scenes in this book, as with much romance (particularly queer romances); they’re well-written and don’t forget the characters’ limitations or characteristics, and though they’re not exactly essential to the plot, they are key in demonstrating how the relationship between the two men works and grows. The main thing that I enjoyed, though, is that it isn’t just about the sex, and we get windows into both characters as they navigate life. My only quibble is that sometimes the time jumps felt a little weird, and the formatting of the Kobo ebook made it difficult to tell what was actually typed and what was just thought during the gaming sessions.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Snowdrift and Other Stories

Posted 29 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Snowdrift & Other Stories by Georgette HeyerSnowdrift and Other Stories, Georgette Heyer

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 3rd October 2017

I’ve been a fan of Heyer’s Regency romances and adventures for a while now, so when I saw this was ‘Read Now’ on Netgalley, I confess I pounced. It’s actually the collection Pistols for Two (which I hadn’t read yet) but with three extra stories from early in Heyer’s career.

While Heyer’s short stories aren’t precisely what I like in a short story — something with a twist, something maybe a little unpredictable, something packed into as small a space as possible — they’re fun little stories, very much like her longer works but compressed. The same types of hero and heroine, the same sorts of love scene and the same sort of happy ending abound, along with Heyer’s usual wit. If you enjoy the banter between her characters and the sparkle of her writing, all of that is in evidence here. If I had to call the collection anything, I might call it Miniatures!

If you don’t love Heyer’s work, well, this won’t be for you. It’s very much typical of her, and she doesn’t have the space to make her heroes and heroines distinctive. And if you’ve never tried Heyer, well, I’d start with The Talisman Ring instead, if I were you.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Beautiful Ones

Posted 20 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Beautiful Ones by Sylvia Moreno-GarciaThe Beautiful Ones, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 24th October 2017

I wasn’t a huge fan of Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise, though I liked it well enough, but I wanted to give more of her work a try. I wasn’t disappointed! The Beautiful Ones is a sort of Heyer-esque romance, only with magic as well — maybe Austen. You get the vague idea. It’s alternate universe, but there’s enough parallels that I just sort of nodded and accepted it as our-world-but-with-different-names. I’d have loved more world building about that, but it might have taken away from the character study and the romance, so I’m not too disappointed.

The characters, well. I spent a fair amount of time wanting to shake them into being sensible and communicating properly, but I enjoyed them and rooted for them — except of course for Valerie, who I didn’t quite hate (Moreno-Garcia does a reasonably good job of pointing out why she is the way she is), but who definitely isn’t a character to love. I found the lengths she ended up going to a bit unconvincing and unpleasant — sucks that it’s a guy who at the end decides to do the decent thing and come clean, and Valerie ends up being pretty irredeemable.

If you don’t like romance and novels of manners, this probably won’t appeal; if you do, then I recommend it. Even if you’re not so much into fantasy, really; that aspect is relatively slight.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – First Grave on the Right

Posted 18 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of First Grave On the Right by Darynda JonesFirst Grave on the Right, Darynda Jones

Received to review via Netgalley

I didn’t have high hopes for this, I admit, but what people said about it made it sound like some light fun.

Guys, this needs to come with trigger warnings. This review needs a trigger warning because it describes the problematic stuff. It opens with the main character having a sexy dream. Only it’s not just a dream: there’s some kind of supernatural agent behind it and it is actually a person who she knows. Okay… I’m a little dubious about the consent here because it sounds like he just jumps into her dreams and goes at it, but I’ll hold off. It’s clear she thinks she knows who the guy is and that she’s more or less okay with him having sex with her.

That’s fine, but I’m not along for the ride because it’s revealed later that they’ve met once before. She tried to help him in a situation which appeared to be horrific abuse, and he pinned her against a wall and groped her while asking if she’d ever been raped (read the scene quoted here).

THIS IS NOT ROMANTIC. THIS IS NOT LIGHT FUN. I DO NOT WANT TO BE HERE.

Now, I’m not judging people who find bad boys sexy or whatever, and maybe somehow all that is dealt with. But it didn’t look like it was being dealt with, and I was very uncomfortable.

Given the importance of sex and who likes whom to the apparent plot (which is otherwise jerky and felt oddly paced), it’s perhaps not a surprise I didn’t get along with it in other ways either, but… yeesh. At the very least, I’m shocked no one I know has brought up that aspect of the plot/characterisation/pile of problematicness before.

Rating: 1/5

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