I loved The Golden Mean maybe a little bit less than the other books, even though the plot definitely advances here. It’s the end of the original trilogy, and there’s just so much that we don’t know because of the frustrating format. It makes sense that we can’t know it, but it’s still infuriating to get to the end and be left with so many questions about the story and what exactly happened. I’m very curious about that last postcard, don’t get me wrong! I’d love to read more!
But… this particular volume felt a little bit thinner, and the fact that the later books are all available second-hand only (and expensive) is really sad.
It’s still absolutely beautiful, with letters each in their own envelopes (though the envelopes are a little less well stuck to the page in this than in my copies of the first two books). It’s a lovely, tactile, multimedia experience, and I thoroughly recommend it even with its frustrations. I’ll continue reading the series when I can, though sadly it won’t be soon, unless I have a Fairy Godmother somewhere!
Sabine’s Notebook more or less immediately follows Griffin & Sabine, and has the same format. Though they were so close to meeting in the first book, Griffin gets scared at the last minute: can he have imagined Sabine? Is it possible that he’s invented her somehow? So he runs, and his letters to Sabine come from all over the world as he tries to figure things out, travelling to Florence, to Greece, to Japan… and attempts to visit Sabine’s home island.
Sabine, meanwhile, stays in Griffin’s flat in London, giving him the time to get things figured out. And then — well, I’ll let you discover it for yourselves, but suffice it to say that I loved this one as well. The ending is another kick in the gut, same as the ending of the first, and the letters between the two of them are tender and hopeful amidst the fear. And of course, the illustrations are beautiful, and the format with the envelopes and postcards remains really engaging.
I’m keen to see what the last book will do. In a way, the plot of this book is kind of demanded by the format. Once they meet, the conceit kind of falls away. So I’ll be interested to see how that gets resolved…
I was really in the mood to reread one of Mary Stewart’s novels, and I felt pretty nostalgic about The Gabriel Hounds. I thought I’d remember it pretty well, but there was actually a bit in the middle I was more vague on and that I could swear had happened in a different Mary Stewart book… In any case, The Gabriel Hounds follows Christy, separated from her group on a package tour of the Lebanon. Reminded that her great-aunt lives in the area, and surprised by the legends that seem to have grown up around her, Christy resolves to see the old lady — and thus finds herself plunged into a whole mess.
As ever, Stewart had an excellent way of bringing the landscape to life, not just the sights (I can’t imagine those anyway) but the smells and the impressions, and even somehow something of the light and the quality of the air. She’s very good at invoking an idealised, picturesque landscape — and some real nastiness, as well, of course, but that’s more commonplace. She’s not so bad with character, either — spoiled, sharp Christy; kind Hamid, who almost felt like he should be a bigger character or get some much better reward out of the story; poor Lethman…
I should warn readers that the love interests are full cousins, whose fathers were twins; cousin-marriage happens a couple of times in Mary Stewart’s books, but this one is closer than most, and lays particular emphasis on the two growing up like siblings. It might gross you out, so I mention it even though it’s a spoiler.
The actual plot is fairly obvious, and the romance almost perfunctory… but it has a kind of magic anyway.
The Faerie Hounds of York did not quite go the places I expected it to. It started off with Loxley finding himself in a fairy ring, rescued by a gruff but kind stranger, Thorncress. Warned to leave the area and get himself to London, away from Faerie influence, Loxley quickly finds himself under Thorncress’s care again. A bond is forming between them, as Thorncress tells Loxley he will help him solve his mystery and get free of the Faerie… if it’s possible.
There’s one hell of a moment with this book which I didn’t expect, given the genre; I shouldn’t say too much unless I spoil the impact, because it turned a story I was mildly enjoying into something more intriguing for me. Some aspects of the romance genre are still here, but there’s a subversion of certain expectations which put me on the back foot. I shouldn’t say too much about that!
I enjoyed the characters and the bond they form, but that moment of subverted expectation might’ve been the best bit — I could otherwise have wished for more build-up, more familiarity with the inner lives of the characters (particularly Thorncress). On the other hand, then there’d be less mystery… In any case, definitely enjoyable.
Holy moly, this is lovely. I was urged to get this to do a review on it for Postcrossing (check out my others on the Postcrossing blog!), so it was one of the things I bought with my Christmas gift cards… and I’m glad I did. It’s an epistolary story, showing both the fronts and backs of postcards and — in little pouches, from which you have to pull out actual letters which are handwritten (Sabine) or typewritten (Griffin) — letters sent between Griffin (an artist who creates postcards) and Sabine (an artist who illustrates stamps).
Sabine has been seeing Griffin’s art in her dreams for years, and reaches out to him via a postcard once she finally finds out who he is and how to contact him (through running across his artwork). After just a few postcards are exchanged, she proves to him that she knows his art like no one else can, and they quickly forge a connection despite the physical distance between them. It’s a love story, and a mystery: how are they connected? Why are they connected? What does it mean?
It’s a lovely reading experience; the pouches are a nice gimmick, and they really give you a sense of discovery. I’m not super great with visual detail, but the fronts of the postcards (illustrated by Griffin and Sabine, in the story) and the decorations on envelopes and letters add quite a bit. It’s a very short read, but worthwhile — and that ending! I’ve ordered the next two books.
Band Sinister is one of my favourite romance novels, a favourite even among Charles’ reliably entertaining bibliography. I thought I’d reread it now because I needed the literary equivalent of a bubble bath, and it filled that role perfectly.
The Rookwoods and the Frisbys are at odds, partly because of Sir Philip Rookwood’s reputation and association with an infamous libertine, but mostly because Philip’s brother ran off with Guy and Amanda Frisby’s mother. Amanda’s just written a rather sensational Gothic novel about Sir Philip and his associates, the Hellfire club known as the Murder… and then she falls off a horse badly on Sir Philip’s land.
Because of Sir Philip’s reputation, and the family history, Guy can do nothing but go and stay at the Hall to watch over Amanda as the doctor battles for her life. Initially focused solely on her — she’s all he has left, and is very much the light of his life — Guy then finds himself drawn into the Murder’s discussions, and drawn most of all to Sir Philip.
Band Sinister is incredibly tender, incredibly focused on meaningful consent and good communication around sex and relationships. People who say consent isn’t sexy have not read this book; I have (as an asexual person) very little idea of what is sexy, but what makes for a good story about two people for me is the real connection they forge through communicating, being vulnerable, being sincere. The way they work out their problems by talking is great — and though it isn’t perfect and they don’t always communicate properly (Guy tries to take responsibility for Amanda’s doings against her will, Philip storms off), it sells me on their need to be together.
The whole book is an honestly beautiful tapestry of all kinds of love: Guy’s love for his sister; the complicated bond between Phillip, Corvin and John (which includes being family but also sex and a certain amount of possessiveness that doesn’t preclude other relationships); the bonds between the members of the Murder… and the love that grows quickly between Guy and Phillip.
There’s also a fair bit of sex, of course. It’s not really skippable (for fellow aces/sex-averse folks) because it builds the relationship between Philip and Guy, initially based very much on their mutual attraction and deepening partly due to how their experiences in bed work out. It still works as a reading experience for me because of the emotions involved, because of that attention to communication and consent.
I love the book very dearly. It helps that it also has some funny bits, and some situations that make me laugh in delight — as good as Georgette Heyer’s best bits.
Conventionally Yours features a trope-filled road trip during which two rivals head to a gaming tournament together, and of course discover that the other isn’t so bad, the other really is quite infuriating, the other has unexpected depths and issues that they didn’t dream of… and there’s only one bed. Conrad is handsome and popular, able to charm his way through most situations — except of course the mess he’s in; Alden is reserved, all too aware of his own reputation for brilliance, and not sure what he’s doing with his life. Both hope that the gaming tournament is going to solve all their problems, if they can just survive the road trip.
The way they open up to each other works for me; they feel real, with their insecurities and their stupidities, without it ever getting too far into the kind of tropes I hate in romance, like miscommunication. (Just talk! to! each! other!) There are a few bits that give me that cringe… but not too much, because mostly they do a half-decent job of being adults, and figuring things out together. That’s something I always enjoy in romance — any signs of mature communication, even if it doesn’t always work perfectly, really just work for me as a way of making me like characters and believe in relationships.
It all works out fairly predictably for a romance… but I was happy to take the ride along with Alden and Conrad, and I appreciated the discussion of Alden’s anxiety and neurodivergence, and the delving into Conrad’s issues that are hidden by his glossy surface.
I also really appreciated the illustrations, since I’m so not a visual person. They’re really clean and cute.
Evie and the Pack-Horse Librarians, Laurel Beckley
Received to review via Netgalley
Accused of leaking a manuscript she was supposed to edit, Evie gets exiled from her normal job as an editor to work as a librarian distributing literature via literally riding from homestead to homestead on a pack-horse, far from her usual home. Oh, and her girlfriend is the one who betrayed her, she barely knows how to ride a horse, and the place she’s going is full of privation and coal dust. Charming!
This is a very short book, but there’s a lot going on with the world-building (explicitly queer-positive: kids transition to a chosen gender as well as to adulthood, same-gender relationships are common or perhaps even the default; there’s some magic of various types, quite poorly defined; there’s some kind of law requiring literacy, hence the pack-horse librarians)… and yet there’s not a lot of detail on any of that. It feels like a side-novella in a known universe or something like that, though as far as I know that isn’t the case.
I found it a bit oddly paced, with instaluv into the bargain and a really obvious “twist”. It feels like a lot of elements were included to pad things out but didn’t actually get wrapped up. The romance is cute, but we barely know the love interest, who gets introduced pretty late. There were a lot of elements I found interesting, but overall it was kinda meh, I’m afraid!
Elliott is recovering from an awful betrayal, holed up in a small house not far from where his brother lives, and buying books in place of therapy. After a good deal of prodding and some awful interviews as he tries to get back into academia, Elliott decides to share some of his books by building a Little Free Library. And hey, it’s a cliché, but books can bring people together, and so it proves for Elliott — not all the connections he forms are deep and lasting, but it gives him a connection to the community which he was lacking, and starts to wake him up a bit.
Simon is a police officer, or was, before he was shot in the knee. He meets Elliott while walking for physiotherapy, and has something of an awakening as he gets to know Elliott, and browses the books in his library, which include books on queer history. Although he’s in the closet to his family, and Elliott’s planning on moving to wherever he can get a job, the two of them decide to try to make something of it.
The Little Library is, overall, really sweet. Neither Elliott nor Simon are totally perfect, but they are doing their best, and though they have miscommunications and mismatched needs at times, they work through it like adults. We see both of them in their family relationships as well, and there’s no clear-cut awfulness or greatness — just people being people, not always good to each other, but in the end being a family and making things work. The drama isn’t big huge world-ending stuff, and they don’t treat it that way; these are very definitely adult men, figuring things out, making their way through things.
I enjoyed it a lot, and thought Simon was terribly sweet. They make for a good pair, each offering something to the relationship and to each other, and it was fun to watch it happen.
This is Kind of An Epic Love Story, Kacen Callender
This book is very much YA, which I expected, so it was a nice choice when I didn’t feel like I had much focus, and it proved to be a really quick read. What drew me to it was that the love interest, Ollie, is deaf and uses sign language, and I read from reviews that the narrative explains the signs a couple of times and then expects you to remember them. I’m not super visual, so I thought that might be tricky, but I definitely wanted to see how it worked out.
The main character and narrator, Nate, isn’t deaf, but he learned some sign from Ollie when they were younger. Ollie moved away — and left their friendship rather broken-off, as it ended with Nate trying to kiss Ollie and Ollie running the heck away — but now he’s back, just as Nate’s broken up with his best friend, Flo. Ollie’s still trying to make a long-distance relationship work, but Nate can’t help but hope they can pick things back up again…
The sign language thing was really well done; even if you’re not great at actually picking up and remembering the signs, the context does tell you what’s happening, without repeatedly translating the same signs over and over. It also avoids translating directly from sign to English, though it supplements the signs it describes by the boys typing messages to each other via their phones.
The teenage web of friendships are all pretty well done, too; I could totally believe in Flo and Nate’s awkwardness with each other, and their slow feeling out of the new boundaries, and I believed in their little group of friends. It’s mostly sort of sketched in, but the sketch works.
I found Nate’s repeated fatalism rather grating, in some ways — every time something doesn’t go his way in some tiny way, he just gives up on it… but that’s kind of the point of the story, so you have to bear with it a bit. I thought Flo and Nate’s friendship was sweet, for all its ups and downs; Ollie’s probably too good for Nate, but maybe Nate’s starting to learn, at the end…
I found myself kinda wrong-footed by the total lack of homophobia anywhere in the book. I don’t know how representative of a teen experience it is now, but my teens were completely swallowed by the homophobia of other kids and people around me. Sure, that’s 12 years ago, and in a conservative sort of school which only let girls start to attend a couple of years before I joined the school… But it felt very weird to read a book where homophobia was just not a problem. I know why some authors prefer to do it — and I’d like to think maybe it is people’s experience now — but it was really pretty odd to be reading a certain sort of YA, expecting it at every turn of the page, and just… not finding it. Not a bad weird! Just weird.