The Replacement Husband was an impulse read, because it was on Kindle Unlimited and I thought “why not?” It’s set in a Regency-analogue fantasy world where various gods exist and choose people to receive their blessing. Owen is one such, blessed by the goddess Mirreith: he is apparently inevitably gay, and will have to marry a man. Though he obviously cannot produce an heir, his partner is guaranteed to have a healthy heir and good fortune.
Unfortunately, in his little countryside estate, there’s very little chance of him meeting anyone anyway. At least until he takes a tumble, hits his head, and is gallantly carried home by a pair of brothers. He quickly falls for Tom, the more handsome and lively of the two — but Tom jilts him more or less at the altar by having a shotgun wedding with someone else. Tom’s brother Arthur steps in…
I wasn’t wholly enamoured of Arthur’s possessiveness and temper; provoked or not, several times he’s inches from violence, and clearly frightens Owen. He is in general a considerate partner, in fact, and takes pains to make Owen comfortable… at the same time as saying things like “say stop now or it’ll be too late”, which, ah, no. No thank you. Owen should get to say no whenever he likes, dude.
So there was some stuff about their relationship that was weird and uncomfortable, and led to me not quite believing in the sweetness of it as they settled in. However, I also did not root for Tom and his behaviour, and I find it difficult to believe that the next book is about Tom getting a happy-ever-after. I might read it if it’s on Kindle Unlimited, because I’m very curious as to how Grayson manages that — Tom makes himself extremely unlikeable — but I’m not in a hurry. Particularly since the other protagonist of the next book is apparently a complete arsehole.
In conclusion: fun enough, but not something I’d be in a hurry to read.
I loved Widdershins, and pretty much expected to love this one because of it. And there’s quite a bit to enjoy about it, mostly involving Chess: they’re non-binary, they drive a hot pink car with a vanity plate saying NBINARY and a they/them bumper sticker, and they seduce a crossroads demon into making them a hero (leading to said demon’s disgrace in Hell, dooming them to an eternity of processing new souls as they enter Hell). They’re unashamedly themselves, all over the place, and that’s lovely.
Buuut, the humour and the sex/attraction-focused relationship didn’t quite work for me. I didn’t believe that Ralgath and Chess were that attached to each other, and I didn’t have much skin in the game when they were in peril. Everything just happened very fast, from the relationship to the plot, and… I’m not that good with humour or this style of plot. I’m sure it’s a lot more fun when you aren’t a humourless lump like me — but I’ll stick to Whyborne and Griffin, with their angst and pining and more solid plot. Sorry!
I’ve been meaning to try out Jordan L. Hawk’s work for a while, partly at the urging of Portal Bookshop, and partly because I already loved K.J. Charles’ work — and this series crosses over with one of Charles’ series. If you’re a fan of K.J. Charles, this is definitely going to be for you; it has many of the same hallmarks.
Whyborne is a philologist working in a small museum who gets suckered into helping an ex-Pinkerton detective (Griffin) unravel the murder of a museum patron’s son. At first, he’s just meant to translate a coded book for the detective, but he quickly finds himself drawn in deeper — partly due to interest in the case itself, and a large part because he finds himself attracted (of course) to Griffin. Both of their pasts become absolutely key to the investigation, laying them bare to each other (in more ways than one, hurr hurr) and forging an incredible bond.
Their relationship progresses pretty fast, but it makes sense that it does: both are lonely, and Whyborne in particular has been hiding his desires and repressing everything for a long, long time. It’s also great fun to watch as he opens up and throws fears to the wind, figuring out how to stand tall in his own way. I liked the glimpse of his family (or mostly just his mother), and the slight complexity to his relationship with his father that creeps in at the end.
Leo Page is, in the simplest terms, a spy. He’s sent to a sleepy English village that could come right out of Agatha Christie’s novels, where he meets a young doctor with PTSD who (coincidentally, even though I half-expected this to become relevant) knows a little about who he is and what he does because he patched him up under secretive conditions during World War II. The story is both about solving the mystery, and also about unravelling who Leo wants to be.
I felt that James (the doctor) is rather less developed than Leo; we see his PTSD and his eagerness to love and be loved, yes, but we don’t really see him finding any peace with the PTSD or settling into himself as he could be. There’s plenty of room for that in sequels, though! What we do see is Leo’s development as he slowly becomes sure that, actually, he’s done with being a spy and directly or indirectly dealing death. It takes him time to realise that and time to decide that a life with James is worth a try.
In terms of the romance between the two, there’s a happy-for-now at the end of the book, but it’s something I could see being shaken by future books — they’re not secure in one another yet.
The mystery… eh, I was less interested in that, I’ll admit. It’s weird reading a book with such modern sensibilities and then also reading an Agatha Christie mystery, really. On that level, this fell down a bit for me, not helped by the fact that (as was traditional for Golden Age crime fiction) the victims were both unlikeable. The character of Wendy causes a certain amount of mystification, and I found her a little too much; a little too clever, a little too omnipresent, a little too obvious.
That’s really a small quibble, though it doesn’t sound it: I was here for James and Leo. Their sexual connection doesn’t boil off the page, but there are several lovely moments of intimacy which I rather prefer.
This got recced at some point when someone on Twitter was asking for romances set in bookstores, and it was on Kindle Unlimited, so I figured I might as well. I don’t think I had a good look at the plot, because if I had I might’ve run away screaming… Alfie Carter is a mechanic, and he spends his off time listening to audiobooks and talking about how awesome Jane Austen was with ‘LLB’, his online boyfriend. Leo runs a second-hand bookshop and spends half his time talking to his online boyfriend, ‘Camaro89’. Alfie and Leo hate each other after Leo’s less than graceful putdown of Alfie not long after arriving in town… and obviously LLB is Leo, and Camaro89 is Alfie, and realities are gonna collide at some point.
To my infinite pain, the whole thing is a series of miscommunications and lack of communication; Relationship Advice Dalek (“COMM-UNI-CATE! COMM-UNI-CATE!”) was out in a big way for reading this entire thing. But… it feels kind of nice to read about totally normal stuff right now, and this stupid situation has normal idiot humans all over it.
For my money, Leo’s putdowns of Alfie feel like too much, though. If you put those aside, it’s cute, but the putdowns are hurtful and mean-spirited, and they make Leo not a person I want to hang out with. Obviously as LLB he comes to see the better parts of Alfie, and when they start dating offline it makes sense… but geez, Alfie, Leo wasn’t just being a bit of an asshole, he was being a lot of an asshole! And that never really gets explained enough for me to feel quite right about liking Leo.
Laying that aside, it’s cute, and the epilogue is extra cute. I don’t buy Leo’s character, though, and it makes me a little bit wary to try Malcolm’s other romances, based on the synopses of those. Sounds like a lot of potential for stupid miscommunications and asshole characters. I guess I’ll try one sometime, and see how it goes!
I liked Miranda in Milan more than I expected from the reviews I saw around before I read it — I was curious, but not wildly interested, and mostly just picked it up now because I’m reading a lot of short fiction because that’s what’s working for my brain. And it turns out… I really liked it. I started reading it and figured I’d have to stop halfway through for work; halfway through, I damned work and carried on until I was finished.
It’s a semi-retelling, semi-sequel to The Tempest; a retelling because it plays with some of the facts and embellishes them, a sequel because it’s set after the play. It follows Miranda after she and Prospero return to Milan. The servants whisper about her, and she’s forced to wear a black veil to hide her face, but luckily a young Moroccan servant is happy to talk to her and explain things to her. They quickly become close, and this develops (fairly quickly) into a romantic relationship. I’m a little nonplussed by reviews feeling it came out of nowhere; I didn’t actually remember this was f/f, and was hoping for the romance to happen from the first hints of it.
It’s probably a good thing I read Jacqueline Carey’s Miranda and Caliban quite a while now, because the prose would suffer in comparison! As it is, I found it worked well for me: I wouldn’t say it’s going to stick in my head for beauty, but it succeeded in conjuring an atmosphere for me.
It all resolves a little simply and in the way I kind of expected, and I do appreciate the criticism that Prospero has no complexity and is basically a big evil bogeyman — though I also appreciated the way Miranda had to go over her memories and figure out where the lies and gaps were. It’s a little realistic hint of an abusive relationship that rang very true. Agata could have been just completely horrible, too, so I enjoyed that we got to see another side of her and understand a little of her bitterness and fear.
All in all, it worked really well for me; I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Knit One, Girl Two is a short, low-stakes f/f romance. Clara’s into dyeing yarn, but she’s looking for inspiration for a new set of colours. She finds that inspiration in paintings by Danielle, a fellow Jewish woman, and Danielle is just as excited as she is by the chance to collaborate. They bond through the shared endeavour, which goes big time thanks to Danielle’s famous uncle, and a shared fandom. The only conflict in the novella is something that’s going on for Danielle, leaving her unable to paint and unhappy.
One thing I enjoyed a lot was how Clara dealt with hearing that something was going on for Danielle, via a rumour. She knows she can look it up… but she doesn’t, and instead sends a message to Danielle explaining that she knows something is happening, but she doesn’t want to pry. It’s a really cool and respectful way to go about it, which helped smooth over something I’d have found rather awkward.
The writing is fairly simple and matter-of-fact; the dialogue and descriptions didn’t really take off for me. It’s a cute story, and I’m so glad it’s out there providing f/f representation, Jewish romance, and low-stakes happiness… but I’m afraid it probably won’t stick with me. It’s a good companion for half an hour of reading, especially because it is low-stakes: things happen which you can care about, in the way you care about your friend’s latest drama or your sister’s work issues… but it tugs lightly on the heartstrings, rather than playing one of Paganini’s Caprices.
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.
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.
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.