Tag: romance

Review – Our Lady of Pain

Posted 16 July, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Our Lady of Pain by M.C. BeatonOur Lady of Pain, M.C. Beaton

This is no worse (or better) than the other books in the series, really. It manages to keep up a ridiculous will-they-won’t-they about both main couples, and the same string of coincidences, the same issue where the supposedly smart main characters make silly mistakes. Daisy’s storyline is more interesting than Rose’s, really, but in the latter half of the book I was just rooooolling my eyes at the manufactured drama.

This isn’t a good series. It’s fluff, fine if you like this sort of thing and okay for a quiet evening, but it’s not substantial enough for me in any way — not plot, mystery, character development or setting.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Mortal Heart

Posted 13 July, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Mortal Heart by Robin LaFeversMortal Heart, Robin LaFevers

After enjoying the first two books, I expected quite a bit from Mortal Heart. I love the way the series uses history and blends it with myth and fantasy elements; I enjoy the way that it takes a unique look at the figure of Death and what, in fact, the god of death might be like. The first two books have shown us two aspects of Mortain, in the form of women called to serve him. This book shows us another, and perhaps the most intimate yet.

I was enjoying this a lot until the point where a certain reveal is made, and then it just felt… over the top, out of nowhere. It just didn’t feel like it fit. I mean, we know it’s a world where gods are real and their presence is felt, but… to this degree? I shouldn’t say too much about it for fear of spoilers, but that aspect definitely made this my least favourite of the trilogy, despite Annith being an interesting character.

This book also deals with the issues of the Abbess and what exactly is going on there — why she’s doing what she is, why she doesn’t seem to be serving Mortain (as the heroines of the previous two books rightly felt), and it also solidifies some of the connections between characters, and shows us them anew. It even manages to humanise the Abbess, a little, which is hard going with her actions in this book and the previous two.

Overall, I think this was the weakest of the trilogy, because that reveal jars and because I think I prefer Ismae and Sybella as characters. But it was still entertaining and hard to put down.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Airs Above the Ground

Posted 7 July, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Airs Above the Ground by Mary StewartAirs Above the Ground, Mary Stewart

I misremembered this one somewhat, as I’d expected more time spent in the castle that actually only comes in about halfway through. It does speak well of Stewart’s usual ability to evoke an atmosphere; the castle/hotel works perfectly, and so does the circus. There’s not as much of a sense of landscape, though; it feels like it could be set anywhere, at least until the ending with the night time chase and the train lines on the mountain.

I remembered all too well why the romance in this bothered me. The couple are already married, and not estranged, but it turns out that he’s been keeping a big secret. I did like that she played along, didn’t blow his cover — Stewart’s heroines are often better at this sort of thing than you’d expect, even if it is in a rather ‘I’ll do anything for my man’ sort of way. I don’t like that he’s hidden all this from her and she thinks that’s okay, that they barely talk about it before he’s forgiven; I hate that suddenly he gets to beat people up ‘for’ her and that’s romantic. Gah. Bad taste in my mouth. And worse because she likes it.

Not my favourite Stewart romance at all; it lacks a lot of the charm. The saving grace is the horses: that story is poignant and enough to get invested in. The ending is, thus, perfect. Just keep the main couple out of it and finish with the horse.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – All For Love

Posted 30 June, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of All For Love by Jane Aiken HodgeAll For Love, Jane Aiken Hodge

If you’re a fan of stories like Georgette Heyer’s and Mary Stewart’s romances, Jane Aiken Hodge’s All For Love should be right up your alley. Featuring a historical setting and context, it follows two cousins, alike enough to be twins, who switch places while one executes a madcap scheme to rescue Napoleon, while preserving her reputation and giving herself an alibi in the form of her cousin’s presence. Of course, it stretches credulity a bit, as all such plots would — but it doesn’t stretch it too far; actually, a fair number of people figure out that Juliet is only impersonating Josephine.

The process of Juliet’s relationship with Josephine’s husband is sweet; the way he carefully provides for her without ever pushing boundaries too much or letting her know that he knows she’s not Josephine, and the way they come to care for each other and refuse to do anything about it, because of course, he’s married to Josephine. Then, of course, someone from Josephine’s past shows up to overturn things once more…

It’s all reliant on heaps of lucky coincidence, of course, and Josephine is such an unpleasant person in some ways that you know, really, how it’s going to end — I never really had any tension that it wasn’t going to work out, though I did find myself wondering how it would work out. The writing isn’t as witty as Heyer’s, nor is there a sense of place evoked as in Stewart’s work, but all the same I got quite invested and very much enjoyed the read.

Oh, and if duels and secret plots entertain you, there’s plenty of that alongside the romance.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Saga Volume One

Posted 28 June, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 12 Comments

Saga vol 1Saga Volume One, Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples

The first volume of Saga had me hooked right away: something about the clean lines of the art, the way it perfectly brings across character and expression, to begin with. Also the quirkier details, like the pictures that show on Prince Robot’s monitor. But also the story: the offbeat narration by a character who has only just been born at the start of the story, the set-up of the worlds fighting, the Robot kingdom assisting, etc. Alanna and Marko’s relationship is believably silly: they’re ridiculously in love, they’re not always best-suited for each other, but they’re muddling through anyway.

It’s also funny in general — not always in the most “tasteful” or “refined” way, as some of the sex-related humour shows, but believably. You can like these characters, it says, because even though one has wings and the other has horns, they’re dweebs like you.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Snobbery With Violence

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

Cover of Snobbery With Violence by M.C. BeatonSnobbery With Violence, M.C. Beaton

I wasn’t a fan of M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series at all, so I was quite prepared to dislike Snobbery With Violence intensely. That might have been better for my TBR list, but it turned out that Snobbery With Violence hits the spot for me. It’s not Sayers, of course; it’s lacking in that incisiveness and depth of characters. But it is a fun quick read with characters you can more or less get along with: sometimes Rose is too spoilt, and Harry Cathcart too… blandly typical. I actually liked the side characters of Beckett and Daisy more; I like their relationship to each other and to their bosses.

Lady Rose’s family, well, they’re pretty colourless and despicable in a hands-off, self-absorbed way that is neither engaging nor particularly original. In general, the characters around the main four feel like props. The mystery, too, felt like that. It’s all relatively by-the-numbers. Sometimes the things which happen are just too silly — the example I can think of is from the second book, but at times there’s a cascade of events like a comedy of errors which just… makes the book feel like it’s intended to be a comedy somehow.

All of this is essentially damning with faint praise: I wouldn’t particularly recommend these books to someone specific, but since I have them, I’m reading them all and enjoying them. If you’re looking for something light with a bit of historical romance and a bit of mystery, this might be your thing. Objectively, it should probably be a two-star rating, but subjectively, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Vintner’s Luck

Posted 27 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth KnoxThe Vintner’s Luck, Elizabeth Knox

Originally reviewed 18th July, 2009

My flatmate recommended this to me with much high praise. And read my copy before I got my hands on it, and cried at it a lot. I have to confess, when I started reading it, I didn’t really get into it. The story is about a man who agrees to meet an angel (or an angel who agrees to meet a man?) at the same time every year, for one night every year. The story focuses on these meetings, so what we get are glimpses into a life. It isn’t just the meetings, but it focuses mostly on them, rather than the minutiae of daily life. As a consequence, it takes time to get to know the characters. I think it was that that kept me from getting too deeply into the story.

It actually reminds me of a line from the first page: He took a swig of the friand, tasted fruit and freshness, a flavour that turned briefly and looked back over its shoulder at the summer before last, but didn’t pause even to shade its eyes. And then: Again he tasted the wine’s quick backward look, its spice — flirtation and not love.

Not only is that a lovely thought, and it tastes nice to synaesthetic little me, but it kind of describes how I felt about the book at first.

I didn’t really know what to expect from the story. There’s a little mystery in it, about some murders that happen in the area, and then there’s the love story between the man and the angel. I found both of them compelling. There are also glimpses into heaven and hell, provided by Xas, the angel, and the intervention of Lucifer — things that really point at a greater plot, I suppose, but we see it framed in the same way as Sobran, the human, does.

The love story is the part that really captured me, I have to say. It isn’t easy, Xas holding back from it, and then Sobran becoming angry and not wanting to see Xas, and then Xas’ disappearance… There’s enough of it to catch hold of your heart, though, and when you’re reaching the end of the book, it really, really begins to hurt.

I didn’t actually cry, although it was a close thing: I was desperate to read the last twenty pages, so had to read them under my grandparents’ eagle eyes, and that wasn’t conducive to a full-on sob fest…

I really do love the last lines:

You fainted and I caught you. It was the first time I’d supported a human. You had such heavy bones. I put myself between you and gravity.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Cruel Beauty

Posted 25 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Cruel Beauty by Rosamund HodgesCruel Beauty, Rosamund Hodges

There were some aspects of this Beauty and the Beast reworking I found really interesting — mostly, the Greek mythology that was mixed in. It didn’t feel like a typical woodsy-castle-y faux-medieval-y setting, which was refreshing, and the references to the Kindly Ones — aka the Furies — worked pretty well for me. The complex relationship between Nyx and her sister was actually kind of interesting too; it’s not straightforward, because everything is not as it first appears, and neither of them are honest to each other.

But otherwise, there were a lot of aspects of this I just couldn’t get into. Both the relationships the main character had just felt off, despite the attempt to show a dichotomy between the two where one, to borrow Tolkien’s phrasing, ‘looks foul and feels fair’ and vice versa (except mostly acts/feels; they’re both handsome, as I recall). The romance tends to the insta-love trope, and given that Ignifex never makes himself really pleasant (unlike, say, T. Kingfisher’s Beast in Bryony and Roses).

There are some interesting aspects, as I said, but looking back at it as I write this somewhat belated review, it definitely never came together for me, and it didn’t really become memorable either.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Sin Eater’s Daughter

Posted 19 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 9 Comments

Cover of The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda SalisburyThe Sin Eater’s Daughter, Melinda Salisbury

The cover for this book is just gorgeous, and between that and the first chapter, it really drew me in. There are some interesting concepts and politics, actually: I was worried from some of the reviews that it really wouldn’t hit that mark, but the way the queen uses the people around her, even her son, does actually manage to hit some interesting notes. There are a couple of twists I wasn’t really expecting, but in that way where they made sense when they happened, so kudos on that.

Overall, though, thinking about it now, it feels rather thin. I liked the concept of Twylla’s power and was quite prepared for it to be real; the way the plot plays out is actually a little disappointing, since the original idea is so tantalising. It’s also pretty heavy on the romance, and though there are one or two good scenes, mostly I wasn’t that taken with it. The title is disappointing, too; Twylla might be the sin-eater’s daughter, but that’s not really important to the plot, doesn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things. A lot of what I found interesting — like the sin eating — was background, or not real, while the elements I was least interested in were focused on.

Enjoyable enough, but not something I’m desperate to read more of. I’m glad I haven’t already picked up The Sleeping Prince; I might in the end, but not immediately.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Lady of Mallow

Posted 8 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Lady of Mallow by Dorothy EdenLady of Mallow, Dorothy Eden

In my quest for books like Mary Stewart’s, I think I’ve found another winner. The tone is much the same, and the set-up: there’s inevitably a touch of Nine Coaches Waiting (for me) when the protagonist becomes a governness – but this time, she’s deliberately there as a spy and she has her own motivations. I actually really liked following the twists of this and trying to make my own judgements, and I like that the conclusion wasn’t simple, wasn’t black and white.

I don’t know what it is about this sort of book I find so comforting and satisfying: the smart, proactive heroine, sometimes in a time/situation where she’s meant to follow a particular role; the fact that a happy ever after is more or less assured; perhaps the safe unsafeness of the male characters who seem a little wild but are, in the end, justified and acting for the best? Regardless, I found Lady of Mallow a fun entry in the more-or-less cosy mystery genre, and I’ll look for other books by Dorothy Eden.

Rating: 3/5

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