I read a different book by Eliot Grayson on a whim a while ago, and thought it was okay, and I wanted something short and relatively low-stakes this evening, so I thought I’d give this a try! James Rowley is a writer, and the brother of an Earl. His editor, Leo, has been awfully rude to him, and the crowning insult is that he’s stolen James’ work. James sets out to get revenge, and when he learns that Leo’s attracted to him, he decides that will be the perfect revenge.
The bit that I don’t really get is Leo’s nasty letter to James, which is half-explained but seems way too angry and incongruous with Leo’s feelings and actions (even if he gives some excuse about it being due to irritability). The whole scenario felt very manufactured as a result, and it doesn’t help that Leo’s feelings for James are based on very little… and James’ for him on even less. I didn’t really believe in the relationship between the two, so I wasn’t invested in it — the scene where James uses Leo and makes him feel awful is well-done, but to believe in it, I’d need to understand much better where Leo’s feelings come from.
The best bit is actually the final chapter, where they’ve got their HEA and then bicker with each other. A lot of stories dismiss the issues of class in this period, and that last chapter unpicks that a little and deals with that barrier to their happy-ever-after. Their emotions and reactions to each other in that scene make a lot more sense to me!
It’s on Kindle Unlimited and not a bad fast read; overall it’s kind of sweet, but I wouldn’t really recommend it.
Trinity Jordan is recovering from an accident she can’t wholly remember, traumatised and struggling to get back on her feet, despite her physical recovery. She’s thrown out of her usual, comfortable(ish) routine when she meets Li Wei, the nephew of the scientist who lives in the same building. He is, Dr Zhang says, recovering from a terrible accident of his own, and relearning almost everything. There’s something powerfully attractive about Li Wei, for Trinity, and she’d almost forgotten what that’s like; they find themselves drawn together, even before Dr Zhang suffers a stroke and begs Trinity to take care of Li Wei.
The thing is, Li Wei is an AI in a synthetic biological body, learning to express himself and unlock his past memories — and his progress accelerates around Trinity, who is still powerfully drawn to him when she discovers the truth. The problem is that he’s beginning to pick at the inconsistencies in her life: why does she say she frequently leaves the area, when he’s never known her to do so? Why does she describe a childhood memory and then immediately forget it?
I wasn’t quite expecting the turn the story took, from the description, but it was definitely an interesting way to twist the expectations from the cover and description. There’s more sci-fi lurking under the hood than I’d expected, though it builds up toward that point pretty well.
Apparently this was originally written for Audible and recorded with a full cast, which I think might be a better way to experience it (or at least some of the dialogue-heavy sections). If you’re looking for a sci-fi romance to listen to, it sounds like it’d be fun — and the story itself is definitely fun. I didn’t expect to find myself reading non-stop for just over an hour to read it in one go, but whomp! It happened.
Threshold takes Whyborne, Griffin, and their friend Christine to a mining town, after Whyborne’s father (who has a large stake in the company) asks him to investigate the strange rumours coming from the town. It’s time for more horrors, some amateur spellcraft on Whyborne’s part, and an awkward meeting with one of Griffin’s former coworkers. They investigate the mystery — and the mysterious changes of personality from a prominent member of the company — while Griffin and Whyborne trip over their relatively-new relationship and their insecurities.
The relationship stuff is… a bit frustrating to me, mostly, because I felt that it was somewhat contrived. We can’t have them be too settled in themselves, so Whyborne has to be jealous and Griffin has to be hiding something, and no one can just talk about it and tell the truth. They figure themselves out without it being dragged out too long, but Whyborne’s huff with Griffin felt very similar to his reaction in the last book, and that… bothers me. Like, can you ever just sit down and listen to Griffin’s explanations? Maybe trust him a little?
I really hope this will not continue to be a theme of these books, because it’s one that I’ll get tired of pretty quickly… and otherwise it’s a lot of fun! And it’s not that I don’t want to see any conflict between the leads, but I’d prefer it not to be something that is so thin and well-worn. I’m still enjoying this series a lot, but one more book of this kind of lack-of-communication will quickly start turning me off. Here’s hoping some more trust develops between Whyborne and Griffin!
All that aside, I tore through the book. The mystery and its explanation are perhaps a little obvious, but some of the details come as a gruesome surprise, and there are some genuinely horrifying moments. Christine is amazing throughout, and I have a feeling that — support Whyborne though she does — she’d concur with my second paragraph completely. She’s a joy, and a breath of no-nonsense fresh air.
I knew what I was getting into with a K.J. Charles story, of course. Men being stupid at each other, probably a bodycount, good snark and a handful of sex scenes. That makes it sound formulaic, but it really isn’t — with each new story you’re meeting new and distinct characters, with their own reasons for taking their time or falling right into bed. In this book, we meet Archie Curtis and Daniel da Silva: one an ex-military man, still healing from wounds from a terrible accident, and the other an effete poet.
Both of them have been invited to a country house, and they each have ulterior motives for being there. Despite early tension between them, Curtis finds himself learning to appreciate Daniel better — and of course, their tension morphs into something else. I found myself going from wanting to throw things at Daniel to totally appreciating the developing relationship and wanting Curtis to be better at all this! That said, it isn’t really fair: Curtis is always decent, and though he might have some stupid stereotypes in his mind, he’s also open to learning better. I do wish we got a little more of Daniel’s point of view and how he sees Curtis, though…
There are also some very fun side characters, and I’m excited to meet them in Proper English. So glad I have it on my shelf… but on the other hand, I might save it for when I need a pick-me-up! K.J. Charles’ books are always perfect for my fidgety moods when I’m not sure what I want to read: fun stories, interesting characters, and yes, sparks always fly — and the chemistry is always great.
I was feeling fidgety, so I decided to read for a book by K.J. Charles I hadn’t read yet. Unfit to Print is a standalone, following Gil Lawless and Vikram Pandey, the owner of a dirty bookshop and a high-flying lawyer, respectively. They knew one another at school, but have been separated for quite a long time, with Vik believing Gil to be dead. He’s looking for the son of a local Indian family, though, and that takes him to the street where Gil keeps his bookshop… and there they run into one another again.
Gil’s been hurt a lot and is as prickly as a hedgehog, while Vik’s not been interested in anyone since Gil’s disappearance from their boarding school. They quickly fall into their old intimacies, though Gil finds it hard to offer anything other than the physical and Vik finds it hard to take the physical aspect without the feelings getting in the way. At the same time, Gil needs to help Vik find out what happened to the boy he’s looking for, while trying not to get his reputation all smeared up for him…
It’s a lovely little second chance, and I quickly fell for both characters and their silly desperate attempts not to get hurt more when they’re already stumbling along with plenty of hurt to spare from their pasts. Their interaction smoulders as usual — holding hands was never so sexy — and it was a really fun read overall. The mystery aspect was a little bit perfunctory; it felt a bit of a letdown for the answer to be that easy, but it did make sense as well.
All in all, plenty of fun, though not for all the family!
It’s time for another Top Ten Tuesday, and this time the prompt is “reasons why I love X”. I chose to talk about the romance genre, because I think most people here originally followed me for my SF/F reviews, and my taste has been expanding a lot in the last couple of years. I still love SF/F, but I’ve tried to abandon any snobbery about any genres and just give more things a try, and now I read about the same amount of romance as I do SF/F! So… why is that?
There are happy endings. It’s not the ending, it’s the journey. I know that the couple are going to be happy at the end, but I don’t know exactly how they’ll get there. This really appeals to me, especially lately: I don’t really like not knowing the ending. I don’t really like sitting with anxiety about how things are going to turn out. I don’t need to know all the details, but I need to know everyone will be safe and happy at the end.
It’s often a quick read. I love the fact that there’s so much available that I can read in the space of one bath or in one sitting. I’ve lost my attention span for 6-book epics, I’m afraid. There are shorter mysteries and fantasies and SF novellas and so on, I know! But I’ve tapped into a pool of just-short-enough novels here and it’s perfect.
There’s a lot of diversity. I know there remain huge problems with romance fandom when it comes to diversity, but I know exactly where to turn for the sort of characters I like. I was overjoyed when I first dipped my toes into actually reading romance and the first thing I received to review was An Unsuitable Heir, by K.J. Charles. Finding Pen Starling at that moment was wonderful.
There’s so much out there! Okay, this is actually true of every genre, but it’s a relatively new genre for me, so there are so many surprises and new stuff waiting!
Romance pairs with so many other genres. A lot of the romance I read is actually also fantasy, or mystery, or historical fiction, and sometimes all three at once. You don’t have to stick with just one flavour!
It’s usually focused on characters and relationships. I love some amazing world-building, I really do. But I usually need characters I can get invested in, and by its very nature romance tends to focus on that dimension of the story.
There aren’t usually world-ending stakes, or they aren’t the forefront of the story. Okay, in e.g. Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk, there’s a kind of world-in-peril thing… but mostly you end up wanting to know if Whyborne and Griffin end up making friends again. This is a feature and not a bug for me and my current tastes!
Self-publishing is really strong in this genre. I don’t know if there are pockets of self-publishing out in SF/F where everything’s going really well, but I don’t know of them, and it feels like romance authors have got it down. Often amazing covers, great support for one another, good editing… and well-formatted ebooks at a reasonable price (honestly, I’d pay more for them).
Trope-y goodness. Sometimes it’s really fun to see an author take on a clichéd idea and play with it. I’m here for your enemies-to-lovers, your there-was-only-one-bed, your last minute realisations. Do it — and surprise me!
It really annoys some people. Okay, this is petty, but after someone had a meltdown about me being too “smart” to read romance (having three degrees only makes you a certain kind of smart, as anyone who has ever watched me fumbling through adulthood can attest), I can’t help but really enjoy existing to confound people’s expectations of what a romance reader looks like.
So there you go! Excited to see what other people have been gushing about this week — and don’t worry, if you comment here, I’ll visit you back as soon as I can!
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.