Tag: romance

Review – A Gentleman Never Keeps Score

Posted March 29, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat SebastianA Gentleman Never Keeps Score, Cat Sebastian

After It Takes Two To Tumble, this book follows the fortunes of one of Ben’s brothers, Hartley. As a teenager, he slept with a much older man, his godfather, to help provide for his brothers — school fees, rank, etc. On that man’s death, he inherited his house and a good deal of money, but now the whispers have gone out about why exactly he was the beneficiary… and, of course, he’s socially ruined. Into his life comes Sam Fox, publican and former boxer, who is kind and careful and handsome, and whom Hartley wants despite all the damage done by the exploitative sex he had as a teen.

On the one hand, it’s a delight how slowly and carefully the sex is explored in this book, how well Sam takes care of Hartley. At the same time, it’s harrowing; Hartley’s fears and self-disgust and inability to let himself find happiness are all over everything, making it a rather more serious book (at least to my mind). It’s not that it lacks sweetness, because it certainly doesn’t, but there’s a certain amount of bitter to it as well that — despite grief and worry — weren’t present in the previous book. There’s no on-screen rape or graphic discussion of it, but it colours everything; those who may find this triggering may want to avoid this.

It does have a lovely found family, much as the previous book does, and Hartley opens out into a lovely character as he loses some of his snootiness and challenges some of his own assumptions. Sam is lovely from start to finish — human, and not always able to be perfectly patient and perfectly understanding, but he strives to be better all the time. There are some fun side characters as well, particularly Sadie and Kate.

Overall, I enjoyed it a lot and it broke through a funk during which I wasn’t reading much at all. It’s a little darker in tone, but it does have a happy ending, and I ended up enjoying it a lot.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – It Takes Two To Tumble

Posted March 27, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of It Takes Two To Tumble by Cat SebastianIt Takes Two To Tumble, Cat Sebastian

Looking around for something cute and easy to read with Lisa (Wife Book Club!), this was my first pick because it was described as “like Sound of Music, but with fewer children and less singing”, and that sounded entertaining. And so it is: Ben is the vicar, and people in the village ask him to deal with the unruly kids of a sea-captain. The kids’ mother has died, and the captain is away on his ship, and the kids are running wild. Ben rather likes kids, and doing things for everyone in the village, so he ends up agreeing.

Said sea-captain, Phillip, comes home and is… less than pleased. However, once he gets out of the mindset of expecting everything to run like a ship — partly at Ben’s prompting — he loosens up and becomes rather more fun, and of course, he develops an attraction to Ben. Ben is engaged to a convalescent girl, Alice, with whom he grew up, and throughout the book he struggles with what’s right, realising that he’s falling in love Phillip and what he feels for his childhood friend is nothing like it. Don’t worry, though: the story avoids demonising Alice, and her sweetness and strength are still important for Ben even when they put an end to their engagement.

There’s also a plotline involving dyslexia: Phillip and one of his children are both dyslexic, and the ways that holds them both back are explored carefully. Jamie’s a wizard with numbers, but traditional learning just won’t work for him. There’s no magical breakthrough moment or anything trite and insulting like that: instead, they plan to play to Jamie’s strengths with the right sort of tutor, and… Well, I won’t say more; that would be a spoiler!

It’s all really sweet, and Ben’s adorable. Phillip is a bit meh for me (which is to say, his determination to be an ass at first annoys me), but Ben carries it.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – A Gentleman’s Position

Posted March 14, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Gentleman's Position by KJ CharlesA Gentleman’s Position, K.J. Charles

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.

Rating: 5/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – A Seditious Affair

Posted March 9, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Seditious Affair by KJ CharlesA Seditious Affair, K.J. Charles

This one feels rather darker than A Fashionable Indulgence, although some of the same themes of radicalism and struggle are in that book too. Here, they’re front and centre, because Harry’s radical mentor Silas is one of the main characters. And the other is his Wednesday liaison, Dominic Frey, who doesn’t even know his name as the book opens — just that his brute knows him and his needs, and challenges him in ways he’s never been challenged, while giving him the strength to face the rest of the world. The problem being that Dominic is a Tory, working for the Home Office, tracking down radicals just like Silas.

The whole book is a struggle between their ideals and their growing feelings for one another. Between them, they could work it out, if only they didn’t come from such different worlds at such a fraught point in time, just after the Peterloo massacre. The radical ideas that Harry mostly pushes away and hides in A Fashionable Indulgence are Silas’ everyday goals, and it sets him against Dominic, willing or not.

It takes a while for things to work out, but they do, and there is a happy ending — I promise! It’s a bittersweet ending, in many ways: they’ve balanced their need for each other with their ideals and found their ideals shaking, their dedication to them crumbling… but they do figure something out.

One thing I do enjoy that’s more in the background here is Richard and Dominic’s relationship. They were basically childhood sweethearts, but Richard couldn’t give Dominic what he needed — in fact, made him feel broken and wrong for wanting it, let alone needing it. So throughout the book they finally come to terms with that, and while it’s obvious they still love one another deeply and care very much about what the other does and what happens to them, they’re starting to let things go and make their peace with their long-ago rift.

As ever, this book does contain quite a few sex scenes, and if you’ve read A Fashionable Indulgence first, which I do suggest, you’ll be aware of Dominic’s tastes. I wasn’t always in love with the way this aspect of their relationship is portrayed: they do very little negotiating or checking in, and it takes a while for it to be fully clear how Dominic can give the equivalent of a safeword. There’s a lot of “no, don’t, stop” that can be quite discomforting, even with the context that the two of them have been doing this for a year and know each other well.

Overall, I don’t love the characters of Dominic or Silas as much as Harry and Julius, so that shaped my enjoyment of this book. I’m much more curious about Richard and David Cyprian, in the next book, and also hoping it gives us more glimpses of Harry and Ash, who are both adorable.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – A Fashionable Indulgence

Posted March 4, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Fashionable Indulgence by KJ CharlesA Fashionable Indulgence, K.J. Charles

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.

Rating: 5/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh

Posted March 2, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh by KJ CharlesThe Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh, K.J. Charles

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!

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

Review – A Perilous Undertaking

Posted February 28, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna RaybournA Perilous Undertaking, Deanna Raybourn

The second Veronica Speedwell book is much like the first, with Veronica being asked to work to investigate a crime more or less at the whim of her newly discovered family, who are of course highly placed and quite able to make themselves a nuisance if she doesn’t do as they ask. Naturally, Stoker won’t leave her to investigate alone, though he’s more than a bit miffed that she’s agreed to the whole proposal.

Their delightfully adversarial friendship continues, and I find myself torn between them continuing to be more-or-less platonic besties and actually getting together oh my goodness please. It’s obvious that’s where they’re heading, but I find myself impatient for them to get there so I can see how they fit together. Some mysteries continue — what happened to Stoker’s wife? — and there are some new ones introduced in just the last few pages, revealing some more of Veronica’s tumultuous travels but mostly just hinting at the things she’s faced down before.

The mystery itself was fairly obvious, and so was the meta-mystery from the last book (who is pulling Sir Hugo’s strings?), but it remains fast-paced and highly enjoyable. The bond between Stoker and Veronica is what drives things, for me — their needling of each other, and yet their growing reliance on each other too. I’ll be picking up the third book, and soon!

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , , , ,

Divider

Review – A Curious Beginning

Posted February 24, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Curious Beginning by Deanna RaybournA Curious Beginning, Deanna Raybourn

A Curious Beginning opens with the funeral of Veronica Speedwell’s aunt, one of the two women who raised her under somewhat irregular circumstances. She is a foundling and illegitimate, and that’s all she knows of her family. She’s her own woman, interested in lepidoptery and very competent at taking care of herself, arranging expeditions to find butterflies, selling them, and submitting papers. She conducts her love affairs discreetly far from British shores, and is generally a rather anachronistic but appealingly independent character.

This translates at times into her being rather blasé, including about the raid on her aunts’ cottage she finds when she returns to the accommodation. She is met there by a man who helps protect her and then begs her to let him take her to London and keep her safe. To cut a long story short, this ends in his murder and her being thrown together with a foul-tempered naturalist (with nonetheless appealing looks, as we hear frequently), Stoker.

The plot itself… there were points where I literally said “what the fuck” aloud, in the last 50-100 pages. There are period trappings, but Veronica is a firmly modern protagonist, not so much chafing at the rules of her time as barely acknowledging they exist. This would normally drive me up the wall, so I wasn’t sure if I even liked the book… but given how fast I swallowed it down, I guess I did! It’s not great historical fiction, but it is rather fun as a mystery (and probable romance), as long as you go into it with the understanding that it isn’t really a period story, and that the characters aren’t exactly deep. They’re glossy and fun and forever moving, but they don’t have emotional depth, in my view; Veronica’s always so matter-of-fact that she breezes right past emotion, and we don’t get to see much of Stoker’s past to judge his brooding against.

This sounds like damning with faint praise, but I really did fly through the book and immediately pick up the sequel. It’s good fun.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – That Could Be Enough

Posted February 15, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of That Could Be Enough by Alyssa ColeThat Could Be Enough, Alyssa Cole

That Could Be Enough is a novella set in the post-Civil War US, following the story of Mercy Alston, maid to Elizabeth Hamilton and aiding her in putting together the stories of the men of her late husband’s battalion as a legacy for him. Despite all her writing in that cause, Mercy’s own writing is stilted and all but out of reach, as a legacy of a disastrous love affair. Into Mercy’s life comes Andromeda Stiel, a seamstress who goes her own way, loving as she wishes, without censure from the people she lives amongst. Sparks fly, despite Mercy’s intentions, and Andromeda quickly draws her into a relationship and out of her shell.

It doesn’t go smoothly, and that’s partly due to Mercy’s character and past, and partly because of bloody lack of communication, my least favourite trope ever. Just. Communicate! “I accidentally read this piece of paper and it says you’re going to be married, can you explain?” There! It’s that simple.

I did see another review that talked about not being sure what Mercy brings to the relationship, and despite the character’s individual qualities — her writing, her charitable work, etc — I have to agree. Andromeda is sufficient unto herself, even if she wants Mercy, and nothing Mercy has is something Andromeda lacks… while at the same time, Andromeda is picking apart Mercy’s trauma, encouraging and supporting her, pushing her to do better. Mercy’s affection is grudging, and her trust non-existant. It’s hard to believe the two can get along happily for long with that kind of imbalance.

Cole’s end note with sources helps somewhat with my feeling that they can’t be this blatant as a couple in this time period, but I’m still not convinced. Speaking from experience, even now, people will tolerate you as long as you don’t “rub it in their face”. Say the words “my wife” in casual conversation while being female and you can watch someone’s attitude change in an instant, even if you know this person must have realised before. Andromeda and Mercy aren’t just quietly getting on with it — Andromeda is blatant. I question it, knowing it’s hard enough now sometimes.

Overall, I didn’t love this as much as I might have; Andromeda’s great, but Mercy just doesn’t come alive for me. She sounds great on paper, but… I can’t see what she brings to Andromeda, or really believe there’s a beating heart behind the words on the page. Because it’s so short, it’s still entertaining, but I don’t know if I could have stuck with a longer story.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , ,

Divider

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

Tags: , , ,

Divider