The Pursuit of… is the story of two men from opposite sides of the American Civil War. John Hunter spares Henry Latham at a key engagement, and Henry goes to find him to repay the debt afterwards. John expects him to duck out at every turn, but he doesn’t, and they head across country to John’s home — with Henry talking nineteen-to-the-dozen the whole way. It took me a while to warm up to John — though I liked Henry right away — but as he warmed up to Henry, so I warmed up to him. The cheese thing is silly and cute.
In fact, the whole thing is oftentimes silly and cute, though there are also serious parts: the discussion of what truly constitutes equality, Henry’s learning process, Henry figuring out that he has to go home and figure things out with his family… There’s also a scene with non-sexual intimacy that is just lovely.
There is a sex scene, of course; it’s pretty explicit, but skippable if that’s not your thing. It isn’t all about sex, by far, and it has a lovely happy ending — though it doesn’t go with the easiest happy ending. I enjoyed it a lot.
I picked up a bunch of Courtney Milan’s books because of the furore over the RWA judgement on whether her criticism of a particular book and publishing house constituted violations of the RWA codes of conduct. Since it was Christmas Eve, I grabbed this one in particular because it’s set at Christmas, though to be honest it isn’t really about Christmas and there’s not much about it that makes it particularly seasonal.
It opens with the main character, Lavinia, finding that there is a significant discrepancy in the books at her lending library business, and what’s worse, her personal savings are also missing. Just as she fully realises the loss, her brother arrives and unfolds a tale of woe — and in the room to overhear it is Mr William White, a patron of the library and admirer of Lavinia. He decides to help her out with her little problem… for a price.
The cover is misleading, I should add; Lavinia couldn’t afford such a dress, at least until the very end of the story.
I find the character of William White rather unpleasant, and despite the fact that he later somewhat redeems himself, the storyline sits quite badly with me. He basically coerces Lavinia: he will deal with her brother’s issues if she’ll have sex with him. (And yes, this is a period novel where that would also render her a fallen woman, to some extent, and where contraception is not available.) She’s smarter than him and easily figures out what he’s doing, and decides to go along with it anyway; she sees that he is deeply hurt and wants to reach out to him and offer him love and affection. I enjoyed Lavinia’s attitude to sex — the fact that she is practical, but also eager about the sensual experience — and her way of thinking about William… to some degree. It still makes me squirmingly uncomfortable that William’s behaviour is essentially rewarded.
Nonetheless, the book doesn’t end there, and slowly he gains in understanding and figures things out. There is a happy ever after for them, and it isn’t on horribly compromised terms: both freely come to the relationship, out of genuine love and care for one another. William’s character may not be to my taste, but things still come together satisfyingly — helped by the fact that the romance isn’t the only plot, but also Lavinia’s relationship with her brother.
There are sex scenes in the book, and one of them is a rather uncomfortable one; though Lavinia is eager and William in theory wants it, it’s rather awkward because of the intended coercion and self-disgust. I would say reading it is necessary to the story, though, because dialogue and introspection carry on through the scene.
Overall, I’d still say it ends up being quite sweet and not a bad reading experience; your mileage will vary on how much William White’s character in the early part of the book colours your experience of the rest. He does redeem himself, and as I said, the happy ending is not on compromised terms.
In this instalment of the series, Curran and Kate head to Georgia to arbitrate an argument between the European shapeshifter packs. It’s a trap and they know it, but they badly need the payment they will receive if they pull it off: ten drums of panacea, the medicine that helps shapeshifters who are at risk of becoming monsters, a risk that most shapeshifters face during adolescence. It’s not clear where the trap is, and Kate’s going to be a lone human among hundreds of shapeshifters who don’t respect her and think they can easily crush her… but it’s got to be done.
As ever, the book barrels along at an enormous clip. I don’t enjoy the relationship aspect of this book very much at all; after what they’ve been through so far, both Kate and Curran should know better than to behave like idiots and ignore the trust they’ve built between them. I know it’s part of the drama of the series, but ugh, Kate, you know he’d face down an army for you, why are you letting yourself be played?
(Not that Kate’s emotional intelligence has ever been a highly vaunted point in this series, admittedly.)
The escalation of the plot as far as Kate’s origins goes, though, is pretty great. Now she finds herself in a confrontation with one of her father’s closest lieutenants, and though the Pack are at her side, there are a limited number of them with her. She has to walk the line, protect the person she’s there to protect and win the panacea, and try to prevent her father’s lackey learning too much about her capabilities. Every secret she can keep now is one more weapon later. And fittingly for stakes this high, there are serious casualties…
As always, the drama and action are balanced with exquisitely timed snarky humour, and quite honestly I reread this in about three sittings and just plain gulped it down. I might not love the relationship drama in this particular instalment, but I’m Team Kate and Curran all the way.
Miss Jacobson’s Journey is the first book in the trilogy with a book I already read, Lord Roworth’s Reward. It features Felix during his earlier adventures, alluded to frequently in the second book, though the main character of the first book is undoubtedly Miriam. It opens when she rejects a suitor chosen by her parents to travel around Europe with her uncle, a doctor, and swiftly moves onto her attempts to get home after her uncle’s death. She ends up on a mission to deliver gold to Lord Wellington, accompanied by her longterm companion, Hannah, and two men: a somewhat familiar Jewish man (the very same man she turned down years before), and a young English lord (Felix) — two men who don’t get along at all.
I enjoyed reading about Miriam trying to unite the two, and the struggles and missteps as both of them become attracted to her. I’m not Jewish, or well-versed in Jewish traditions, so it’s hard to evaluate whether the portrayal of Miriam and Isaac, and the other Jewish people they meet, is a good one — but it felt like it to me, as an outsider. Miriam is great, capable and kind, though not always endowed with the best of judgement when it comes to a pretty face. It was good to get to know Isaac a bit as well, after his brief appearances in the second book. Felix is hardly shown to best effect here: we do see him grow over the course of the book, but he starts out as a snobbish antisemite, and that’s a rough thing to shake off. (And perhaps it was easier for me to shake off because I know him from the second book, as a man who has got over a lot of his prejudice, if not all of his stupider ideas.)
The happy ever after is lovely, and I do appreciate the way this trilogy is completely embedded in the history of the time. It doesn’t go too far — Felix isn’t an invented war hero, Isaac’s no international superspy; they’re just cogs in the great machine of war — but it gives you a solid feel for the time they’re living in. All in all, I think I want to acquire copies of this trilogy for my shelves to reread some other time. Onto the third book, Captain Ingram’s Inheritance!
I didn’t remember The Reluctant Widow as well as I thought I did. There was still a lot to like about it, but the heavyhandedness of the male protagonist really got on my nerves this time through. The plot: Elinor Rochdale has to work as a governess due to her father’s death after gambling away his money. Travelling to a remote place to take up a new post, she accidentally gets into the wrong carriage and finds herself entangled in the affairs of the Carlyon and Cheviot families. Ned Carlyon advertised for a woman to marry his cousin Eustace Cheviot so that he, Ned, won’t have to inherit Eustace’s land — the woman didn’t turn up, only Elinor. This is further complicated by Ned’s brother accidentally stabbing Eustace, precipitating the need for immediate action, which Ned takes by more or less bodily carrying Elinor off to marry Eustace. In theory, she’s given an opportunity to consent, but he’s so heavyhanded I don’t know if I could say no. Or acquiese without it being partly due to fear and embarrassment.
It’s not that Ned seems like a bad guy, by and large, except for his overall insistence that he is right. There is some delightful interaction between him and Elinor, and also between him and his brothers; it is hilarious, and one can see why he is liked at the same time as finding it rather maddening. That personality is all that spoils this book for me — Elinor would be a stronger character in herself if not set against Ned, and if the narrative didn’t prove Ned right over and over again.
Overall it’s a fun mystery and a fun romance, a heck of a romp, but gah, Ned’s personality.
Lord Roworth’s Reward is technically the second book of a trilogy, but most of the characters are new and the set-up is easy to grasp. Felix is an agent for a banker who needs the latest news from the war against Napoleon to help conduct his affairs. Felix is an impoverished nobleman, but due to his experiences in the first book (which are revealed in outline in this book), he is accepting of people from a wide range of social backgrounds — setting the stage for a rather obvious unrequited (but Is It Really) love with the woman lodging in the same house. Fanny is the sister of an artilleryman, and has been following the drum since she was a child. Now she has an adopted child of her own, and Felix’s way with the child brings her over all a-flutter even as she teases him and lets him underburden himself about his courtship of a society lady.
The book is never particularly surprising, but it’s a competent romance that manages to have some very sweet moments. There was Jewish characters and those of lower income, all portrayed positively, which sets it apart from a lot of Regency romances. I’m not great at the historical stuff, but it’s full of detail (perhaps a little too much at times for those here for the romance) about the political situation, and I think it’s quite well situated in a known moment in history.
I found it very enjoyable, even if I could call every step of the dance, and I’ve reserved the first book and already have my hands on the third.
In Any Old Diamonds, Alec has a score to settle with his family, and to do so, he enlists the help of a notorious pair of jewel thieves: the Lilywhite Boys. To get them into his father’s home in order to steal his mother-in-law’s jewellery, Alec must put aside all pride and grovel to his father, and then pass Jerry off as a friend who can be invited as a guest to a fancy party, giving him the opportunity to complete the theft. In the meantime, he must work closely with Jerry, taking his advice on how to ingratiate himself with his father, and create the impression of intimacy between the two of them.
Alec and Jerry quickly discover that they’re attracted to one another, and their tastes align in particular ways; it’s worth noting for any potential readers that Alec’s submissive side, and Jerry’s eagerness to exploit that in a consensual way, are rather key to the plot. There are several sex scenes which are important both to the overall plot and to the relationship between the two characters, and if that’s something you can’t even stand to skim through, this will not be the book for you. Nonetheless, I thought the romance was beautifully handled: they communicate with one another (with one notable plot-specific exception which is not to do with sex), they’re clear about their desires, needs and intentions, and despite Jerry being a criminal and fully capable of awful violence, the relationship between the two of them is always completely frank and consensual.
I did wring my hands rather about a certain development partway through the book — I was sure it was going to put paid to any easy resolution between them — but everything turned out beautifully. Alec and Jerry might not have quite a conventional romance, but I adored their dynamic and how everything turned out. There are some very difficult parts of the story to do with Alec’s family, but I promise, there’s a happy ever after and excellent payoff.
The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, Olivia Waite
This is a lovely historical romance in which a young girl, Lucy Muchelney, seeks a patron to help her continue her work as an astronomer after her father’s death. She did much of his work in the years before his death, but has never been acknowledged as the author — though she has high hopes that the Lady of Moth, Catherine St. Day, will listen to her and sponsor her as the translator of an important astronomical work written in French. Catherine St. Day is a widow, freed from an unhappy marriage to a scientist, and reluctant to jump into supporting yet another scientist, even in his memory.
Obviously, she decides to do so (early on — that isn’t a spoiler) and the two quickly grow close. Their romance is sweet, though I was frustrated by the miscommunication plotline in the last section of the book. I know constant communication between partners can’t be the norm because everybody seems weirded out by my relationship, but yeeesh, I am tired of it as a complicating trope in romance fiction. On the other hand, I am glad that fear of exposure wasn’t a huge plotline here — it’s hard to shape a happily ever after around constant massive fear of exposure or disgrace, so in that light I was glad Waite steered clear.
I do kind of wish that the former lover wasn’t so petulant… I loved the sympathy with which her husband was treated by the narration and the characters, and I wish she as a character seemed more worth all the devotion she supposedly inspires.
For my folks who’re asexual/demi/just not interested in sex in books for whatever reason, this book does contain sex scenes. They’re not 100% necessary to the plot, though they do demonstrate the emotional connection between the protagonists, and deepen it through intimacy.
All in all, enjoyable enough and I’d read more in the series, though it didn’t blow me away.
This short story features something just alluded to in Any Old Diamonds (which is in my review backlog, oops): the backstory of Stan Kamarzyn and Christiana Morrow. Christiana is trans, working as a female impersonator, and Stan admires her from afar — until he hears that she’s being threatened by a certain would-be crime lord who wants to ruin her to make an example. He’s the fence for the notorious pair of thieves, the Lilywhite Boys, and it turns out they’re more than willing to roll in and help him out. He’s family, after all.
It’s a delight to see Jerry and Temp from this perspective. Someone on Twitter mentioned that Alec (from Any Old Diamonds) is like one of those people with a big angry dog on a leash going around telling everyone ‘he’s a softie, really’, only Jerry is the dog and Jerry is not a softie. He’ll do anything for the people who belong to him, but if you’re not, get out of his way.
The defenestration scene is pretty fucking epic.
They stole the stage a little bit for me, because I so recently read Any Old Diamonds — but Stan and Christiana are adorable too. I love the time they take over their relationship, the pitfalls they avoid, the fact that they end up communicating… their squishes on each other are adorable, and the “wait, you too?!” moment when they each reveal that they’re asexual is just the best. I have a couple of quibbles about the way it’s presented (I worried that there would be a sudden “But It’s Different With You” moment, due to Stan seeming to feel some degree of attraction to Christiana which allegedly he’s never felt before), but mostly it’s very sweet.
It’s more difficult to comment on how the trans aspect is handled. Christiana has a degree of freedom given the circle she frequents, but the time period is restrictive. There is some misgendering, all by non-sympathetic characters, and definite transphobia (same). There are also threats of sexual violence… again. All appropriate to the scenario as presented, really, but it’s not comfortable to read and worth avoiding if you think it will be upsetting to you. Christiana herself is positively portrayed, and Stan has a serious conversation with her at one point about how she prefers him to see her, which is nice.
Thornbound is the sequel to Snowspelled, set in a Britain where Boudicca beat back the Romans, leading to a British system where women rule and make the hard decisions, and softer, more emotional men do magic. The partnership between a spellcaster and a political woman is important in this world, leaving somewhat more equality between the sexes in some ways, but shutting down the career prospects of women who are capable of magic or men who wish to do otherwise. Cassandra chose to do magic while her brother chose to be a historian, despite their famous family and legacy, and though Cassandra has lost her own magic, now she’s set up a school to teach other girls like herself. Unfortunately, there are certain political forces set against her…
I don’t 100% love the gender role flip, to be honest. It feels a little too, well, flippant. I’d like to see a bit more of how it works and why it works before I really believe in it? Which these novellas are a little too slight to provide.
Nonetheless, in other respects I like this book a lot: I enjoy Cassandra’s relationship with her family, and particularly her relationship with her sister-in-law. I adore that these are people who care about each other and build each other up (and I wish it wasn’t set against the petty woman who wants her to fail because it might disturb the social order — obviously in this setting a man wouldn’t have the pull a woman would, but I hate the tropes of women bullying and sniping at each other in rivalry, and this kind of hit that for me).
I also adore Cassandra and Wrexham; there’s not really enough of that relationship in this book for my tastes, and yet it is at the heart of what Cassandra is doing… I adore that they sit down and talk about it (eventually) and start figuring out a course in life that will work for both of them, fulfil all of their dreams.
I’d happily read more in this world, for sure, I’d just like some things firmed up a bit so they don’t feel so contrived.