Tag: romance

Review – Truthwitch

Posted 22 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Truthwitch by Susan DennardTruthwitch, Susan Dennard

I was pretty excited about this one given the buzz, and with Robin Hobb’s endorsement on the front cover. Unfortunately, and maybe this is partly because of the hype, Truthwitch didn’t really work for me. I loved the idea of the two girls at the center, their friendship being the most important thing, but in practice there was a lot of mooning over boys (well, Merik) on Safi’s part, and they spent a surprising amount of the book apart. I felt like we were told that their friendship was deep and complete more often than we were shown it; Safi’s concern for Iseult in the latter half of the book did help, but she was so quickly re-focused on other things.

The world would be an interesting one, if there was more to it, but instead of a sense of history and a sense of the characters having a place in a tradition of magic and magic-use, I felt like the rules were being made up as the narrative went along. Merik’s magic is weak — but he can fly with it?! I eventually decided that Threadfamily meant the people you were most closely bound to in friendship, and Heart-Thread was a romantic connection, but it took a while to be clear, and I wasn’t always sure of people’s relationships to each other. I do hope that the large dollop of queerness I read into it was true, but I was too hopeful re: Merik and Kullen, so I’m thinking not. And what’s Cleaving — or, no, that becomes apparent, but not the history of it: is it recent? Is it increasing? Has it always been a threat?

It’s fun enough if you read it without thinking too much; it’s basically an eternal chase scene, with Safi and Merik blowing up at each other in a way that’s clearly meant to denote their passion for each other, but which has strong overtones of “insta-luv”. Evrane and Aeduan were more like background characters, but I did find them interesting — particularly Aeduan, since he’s an antagonist but somewhat ambivalently placed.

I think with more background it would have felt stronger and better-paced; instead, with events coming one after the other but often without context, it actually dragged. It’s hard to care when you’re not entirely sure what the significance is, after all.

Since there are people who did love the book, I’m also open to the idea of it being a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” — and it’s not that I think it’s dreadful. I’m just not hooked, and not that tempted to pick up the sequel when it comes out.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Fair Play

Posted 15 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Fair Play, by Josh LanyonFair Play, Josh Lanyon

Confession time: a long time ago I received this to review, and did not get round to it (partly because I hadn’t read Fair Game yet). So in the end I bought it. But in the interests of full disclosure, I did originally receive a review copy.

I really don’t know what took me so long, apart from the sheer length of my damn to read list. Fair Play is kinda great: I’m not so much talking about the plot of the mystery, though I did also enjoy that. No, what I enjoyed most was Tucker and Elliot’s negotiations about their relationship, the way they had to work around each other, the way they hurt each other sometimes but still cared. And I especially enjoyed that they’re both masculine and open about their sexuality, and open about their wants and needs (at least with each other). Even better, the more emotionally intelligent of the two is Tucker, who would otherwise be a stereotype of a buttoned up cop with issues. Instead, he’s open with his emotions and not afraid of them, and he doesn’t let Elliot run away. It’s great.

Less great is their persistent miscommunications and head-butting sessions, but it does make sense for the characters and where they are in their relationship.

I did enjoy the mystery/thriller plot too; not so much the plot itself, I guess, as the way it made Elliot reflect on his father’s life, on the relationship it revealed between Roland and Elliot. That was already interesting in the first book, and it’s great here too. Again, emotional openness between masculine manly men. And, okay, it was kind of interesting reading about the sort of anti-Vietnam protests that Elliot’s father was involved in. It’s not a world I know much about, given that I’m British, and I liked the way it set the stage. The two books work together really well, and it’s not just about the romance between Tucker and Elliot — the other characters are important too.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Two Boys Kissing

Posted 12 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Two Boys Kissing by David LevithanTwo Boys Kissing, David Levithan

I do like Two Boys Kissing. But there’s one thing, right up front, that bothers me: the total privileging of gay men in the LGBT community. It happens a lot, and it happens in this book, talking about the generation of gay men who died of AIDs, centering the book around their narration as a kind of Greek chorus, and I just — where the hell are the women? Women have always been part of the gay community too, and though some appear in this book as allies, there’s a dearth of lesbians. And that sticks out a mile given that a range of different male queerness is explored, from trans people to gay people living in bigoted families to gay people living in families that just sort of look the other way, to gay kids thrown out and ending up on the street…

It’s a book about the gay community, where the central recurring theme is two boys kissing to draw attention to gayness being out there and okay. And that draws an audience of people, including support, and it’s… all gay men? I get that the AIDs epidemic, which is another theme, disproportionately took the lives of gay men. But other issues, like homophobic bullying and families not accepting you, aren’t limited to gay men and those stories aren’t just about gay men.

I mean, representation at all is a good thing, and the differing experiences of queerness here are great as far as they go. Some of the couples are cute; some of the stories are sad. The Greek chorus works really well, even though I feel that it’s not talking to me — the story looks at some of the issues gay people have faced, some of which are applicable to queer women as well, and it just feels like it’s all about the boys.

As a story, it’s readable and touching. And yet thinking about it after the fact, I found it problematic.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Fair Game

Posted 11 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Fair Game by Josh LanyonFair Game, Josh Lanyon

Fair Game is reasonably typical of Josh Lanyon’s books, which is to say it delivers a mystery plotline twinned with the life of a non-stereotyped homosexual protagonist, without dealing solely with his love life (for example, in this book, Elliot’s relationship with his father is another key point — it isn’t just about him and Tucker, although it is about that too). Elliot is an ex-FBI agent who is rebuilding his life after a suspect shot out his knee, and I enjoy the fact that his physiotherapy is mentioned, that he can’t just get up and go go go as if he were still an FBI agent, even though emotionally that is something he hasn’t come to terms with yet.

The mystery itself, well, I guessed where it was going solely because I found a particular character irritating, after one or two red herrings. But that isn’t rare for me, and I was still interested in how Tucker and Elliot worked it out.

I really enjoy Tucker’s character, too. To begin with, he seems like a macho guy who maybe doesn’t want to accept that he’s gay or deal with his feelings, but in fact he’s readier to do so than Elliot is. He’s willing to put himself out there, to apologise for what he’s done wrong, to make the effort to meet Elliot more than halfway. It makes a nice contrast to the couple in Lanyon’s Adrien English stories, for sure. (And the sex scene did not contain any metaphors which made me spit my drink, which is also an improvement, entertaining as those could be.)

I need to get round to reading the sequel, Fair Play; I do like the couple, both individually and apart, though I’d like to see more of Tucker and his life where it doesn’t revolve around Elliot or his job.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Magic Breaks

Posted 10 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Breaks by Ilona AndrewsMagic Breaks, Ilona Andrews

It’s hard to believe this is the seventh novel of the series. Somehow it still manages to feel fresh, and I’m not ready for this arc to come to an end. Yet that’s exactly what this book does, featuring Kate bigger and more badass than ever, with Curran at her side and ready to fight with her, against something she’s been preparing for her whole life.

Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t quite go as expected.

As usual, I found the Pack politics somewhat frustrating. One minute they’re all loyalty, and the next they won’t follow Curran and Kate, even though they’ve proved themselves, even though they’d give their lives for the Pack. I did enjoy the by-play between Desandra and Jennifer, though, and how that whole storyline wove throughout the book and joined the main storyline in places. Desandra’s a fun character, even if her humour isn’t always my thing, and she’s come a long way from our first glimpse of her.

The only place this falls down for me is that, well, I just don’t believe Curran’s going to bow out gracefully. It’s convenient for Kate to doubt him or think he’s dead or whatever, but I never do. And with Kate as the narrator, I never believe that she’s really in danger either.

I really want so many more of these books stretching out ahead of me, though. Something about them just hits the spot perfectly.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Heart of Aces

Posted 7 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Heart of Aces by various authorsThe Heart of Aces, various

The Heart of Aces is a collection that’s almost more interesting/important to me because of the theme than because of anything about the actual stories within. Asexual representation is a big thing to me, because for a long time I was all kinds of confused about why I wasn’t interested in other people the way my peers were, why I didn’t want the same things in a relationship, etc. The only times I did come across it were in stories about trauma, and then it was something to be got over; not something that you can just accept. And that’s the nice things about the stories here. Each one of them accepts asexuality as a valid way of living a life that can still be whole and fulfilling, and even shared with a romantic partner. Sometimes you have to compromise or go out on a limb, sometimes things don’t match up quite as well as you’d hope, but all the same, these stories say it’s possible.

(And oh, my relief that I don’t think a single character in these stories calls not wanting sex “unnatural”, or anything like that. Look, I don’t feel naturally feel physical attraction — if anything, if I did, that would be unnatural for me, even if it might maybe be achievable with drugs or something. It’s just not the way I’m built, and that’s okay.)

The stories in the collection are a little shaky; one of them I just found plain unreadable, while others were very basic. There are a couple of sweet ones in there, though. I do wish that there was a bit more representation across the board — a cisgendered, straight, asexual couple would be great to see, or stretching the definition of ace a bit, an aromantic character — but there is one story with a trans character (albeit the POV character takes a while to switch pronouns correctly), and a realistic range of what the characters in the stories are interested in. I wouldn’t really recommend the stories, except that there’s so little out there that’s tailored for asexual people. If you feel like you really need to see something that does touch on that, you might enjoy picking up The Heart of Aces.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Magic Rises

Posted 5 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Rises by Ilona AndrewsMagic Rises, Ilona Andrews

Magic Rises really ups the stakes. It opens with a serious dilemma for the Pack being made really crystal clear to Kate: the likelihood of the Pack’s children to ‘go loup’, at which point the pack have to kill them. To make sure we really notice, one of the children affected is a friend of Kate’s adopted daughter, and then the Pack receive an offer: go and mediate issues with a woman who is pregnant by two different men, whose father uses her as a way to control and divide territory. In return, you’ll get a load of the stuff you need to drastically reduce the odds of loupism.

It’s a trap, of course, and the trap is really well baited. The only question is really who it’s set for, and of course, it turns out that this advances the overarching plot as well: Kate’s heritage comes more and more to the fore, and her relationship with Curran has to weather that. At the same time, there’s a price paid within the story for every advance they gain, and lots of impossible choices to make.

My main frustration is that Kate and Curran start being idiots again. Communication, people. It’s not a myth. Use your mouths and talk to each other. Argh! Even if they don’t agree on tactics and so on, I wish their personal relationship felt less shaky and superficial at moments like this. I believe that Kate needs Curran, loves him. Now make the two of ’em act like it!

Also, the whole Andrea-and-Raphael issue is just all of a sudden solved. I’m guessing this is the point where it’d have helped to read Gunmetal Magic.

It’s a really fun read, though: it just races along at breakneck pace, and you never know exactly what’s going to happen next. The writing team that is Ilona Andrews don’t pull their punches.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – One Ostara Sunrise

Posted 21 August, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of One Ostara Sunrise by Elora BishopOne Ostara Sunrise, Elora Bishop

This book features another holiday with Isabella and Emily, and another instance of the two of them being caught up in big events — in this case, mythical events involving nothing less important than the changing of seasons. The relationship between the two of them is sweet, as usual, but it doesn’t really expand on the world or even the backstories of the two girls.

The main attraction is the warmth of the two characters and their relationship, and their deepening harmony with the world around them. It feels less substantial than the second book, and it doesn’t further any of the plotlines, though, so it does fall a little flat for me. In the collected version, there is also a short story about Alice’s first meeting with Isabella and how they pair up, which at least answers some of my curiosity about Alice!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – One Imbolc Gloaming

Posted 14 August, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of One Imbolc Gloaming by Elora BishopOne Imbolc Gloaming, Elora Bishop

Somewhat to my disappointment, the second book of the Benevolence trilogy doesn’t expand on any of the gaps I felt in the previous book. Instead, it moves away from Benevolence for a while, as Emily and Isabella attend traditional Imbolc festivities. The world is expanded in terms of showing us more locations, more kinds of magic, and more of Isabella’s friends and family. It also gives us more time with the couple, as their relationship deepens — though it has been a bit insta-love. Still, for once it’s a lesbian couple having insta-love, and they’re cute, so why not? We can make exceptions, right?

It also features the tragic love story of a long-dead abbess and a knight, who are reunited through Isabella and Emily’s efforts. That part is a bit, well, flowery, but it works.

The scenes Bishop describes glitter with the winter cold and the warmth of friendship; that aspect is definitely done really well. I’m still curious about various aspects of the first story, and I’m also beginning to be very curious about Alice, Isabella’s cat familiar. She’s just been a sidekick so far, but there are hints at an inner life and outside personality for her, and I want it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – One Solstice Night

Posted 6 August, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of One Solstice Night by Elora BishopOne Solstice Night, Elora Bishop

For some reason, I never got round to reading the two books which follow this one, so I’ve reread this one now. It’s a very short novella — shorter, I think, than the two which follow — and so it was a very quick read. Some of the novelty has worn off from Elora Bishop’s work to me; there was a magic the first time I read this in it being some of the first unrepentant lesbian romance I read, and I think I liked it more for that. Bishop’s introduction about the lack of queer people in the books I read as a child ran true; the only ones I remember were all evil, or died.

One Solstice Night is, by contrast, a little delicate sugary confection. Isabella is a mediocre witch who has slipped up a few too many times, and has in fact been chased out of towns by a screaming mob (but this is dealt with fairly lightly). She comes to the small town of Benevolence hoping for a new start, and attracted by the fact that she only has to do one spell each year. And there she meets an outcast woman, shunned because of an ancestor’s doings, and befriends her.

Naturally, things come to a head and the spell doesn’t go right, the villagers aren’t pleased by the love fest between their witch and their outcast, but love prevails. I’m quite interested to see if the other books go into more of the background: what exactly the Wolf was, why Emily’s ancestor damaged the protective spell, etc. The lack of explanation of a motive behind that is what made this feel rather shallow on the second read.

Rating: 3/5

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