Tag: romance

Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 12 April, 2016 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

This week’s theme is “Ten Books Every X Should Read”… and I’m having a hard time picking what “X” is. I’m going to go a little off-script for me and talk about romances, I think! Unfortunately, I have just a few authors I tend to come back to, rather than reading a lot of romance, so you might want to take it with a pinch of salt… Oh, and I am using the modern version of romance, not the fantasy-romance of medieval times! So I guess “X” is “people reluctant to read pure romance”, since some of these books nudged me into trying it.

Cover of Camelot's Shadow by Sarah Zettel Cover of A Dangerous Thing by Josh Lanyon Cover of Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan Cover of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern Cover of Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

  1. Camelot’s Shadow, Sarah Zettel. This is an interesting take on the Arthurian world, and features Gawain being decidedly-not-perfect but not being the murderous asshole from Malory or even Mary Stewart’s The Wicked Day. This is proooobably one of the books that really got me interested in Gawain, and especially his relationship with Dame Ragnelle.
  2. A Dangerous Thing, Josh Lanyon. Technically, this is the second book of the series, and I think you should read the first book in order. I just think the second book is objectively better. This will not be your thing if you don’t like gay relationships, though, and I’m told that’s a thing that one is supposed to make clear about romance? So yes, gay romance!
  3. Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan. Super cute and 90% positive. More YA-ish, and also gay.
  4. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern. Also fantasy. If it doesn’t stir your heart, it’s probably made of stone. Your heart, not the book.
  5. Attachments, Rainbow Rowell. This completely won me over so I was willing to try everything of Rowell’s. Sweetly nostalgic, and not too bad about the “communicate, damn it!” issue.
  6. The Talisman Ring, Georgette Heyer. Lots and lots of fun, and features two couples to root for.
  7. Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers. Okay, the romance between Peter and Harriet is more of a slow burn thing and probably needs the build-up, but any book with the line “if I should once give way to [him], I would go up like straw” has to count.
  8. The Second Mango, Shira Glassman. Want sweet and silly in a lesbian fantasy love story? Tahdah!
  9. The Ivy Tree, Mary Stewart. I was torn over which of Stewart’s novels to include here, but this is the one that’s probably stuck with me the most. Heavy on the mystery, too!
  10. Season of Storms, Susanna Kearsley. The side characters in this are actually pretty much the amazing thing that gets it onto this list. They feel real too, and feature a gay couple basically having raised a daughter (but It’s Complicated). The main romance is straight, though.

Cover of The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer Cover of Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of The Second Mango by Shira Glassman Cover of The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart Cover of Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

I am a little irritated by the fact that I could only find one lesbian romance I wanted to include, but Sarah Diemer/Elora Bishop has some good ones, too!

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Review – A Civil Contract

Posted 11 April, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Civil Contract by Georgette HeyerA Civil Contract, Georgette Heyer

A Civil Contract is quite unlike Heyer’s other novels, because the romance is understated and, indeed, there isn’t much romance at all, at least not in the same sense. It’s a much more practical novel, dealing with the realities of life: more or less arranged marriages, marriages of convenience, unsuitable matches… The most entertaining thing about it is the clash between the aristocratic main character and his father-in-law, Mr Chawleigh. In fact, Mr Chawleigh quite steals the show on a number of occasions.

Jenny is one of Heyer’s better-realised heroines in one sense: she is practical, not very subtle, and devoted from the start to making her new husband comfortable and happy. Of course, that’s a stereotype too, and one which readers may well find less engaging than the sharp back-and-forth of Heyer’s Sophy (for one example). Still, Jenny clearly knows her own mind and does not regret things, although she does have human feelings — wishful thinking, some jealousy, etc, etc. I find her interesting because she’s so untypical of Heyer — a cosy little homemaker! And one with whom we sympathise, even though I did feel that Julia’s flaws were somewhat overdone, in a sort of ‘well, if Julia’s too nice then Jenny isn’t going to come into her own at all’ sort of way.

Really, A Civil Contract is about marriage, not about courting (like The Convenient Marriage, which has some similarities, though not in the characters); it’s about a quieter sort of love, not a grand passion. It’s about making the best of things, and about having a partner who you can rely on. Adam finally realises that that’s what he has in Jenny, and that’s lovely: the way his snobbishness initially gets in the way is annoying, but he learns.

As someone in a nearly eleven-year relationship (not to mention someone who feels no sexual attraction at all), this is in many ways more true of my experience, and it’s nice to see it in a romance novel (of sorts; I think this is less clearly romance than some of Heyer’s others, but if we divide her work into historicals, romances and mysteries… this seems to fit most into the romance section, being too recent in date for the historicals and clearly not a mystery). It might be fun to have a passionate doomed love for someone, but what matters is whether you can work together, work things out together, communicate. Jenny and Adam do model that, as each learns to discuss things with the other and share their lives.

In other ways, A Civil Contract is interesting because of the background of the French Revolution, the perspective of Adam as a former soldier, and the class mixing which happens as a result of the marriage. There are some very entertaining characters, including some very determined and headstrong women who are very different to Jenny, but still positive. (Lady Nassington is one; Lady Oversley is another, in a way; and of course, Lydia.)

All in all, this isn’t one of the more adventurous stories, like The Talisman Ring, and neither is the romance one with tension or too much worry about how it’s going to work out. It is, for the most part, fairly comfortable — though I wonder if perhaps it would have been less so in more class-conscious times. (Says the daughter of a working class man and a upper-middle-class woman, whose families cordially, and sometimes not so cordially, hated each other!)

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Stormy Petrel

Posted 26 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Stormy Petrel by Mary StewartStormy Petrel, Mary Stewart

Stormy Petrel isn’t my favourite of Mary Stewart’s romance/suspense stories, though I do love that the main character is a science fiction writer, a poet, and a don at Cambridge. Her relatively self-sufficiency is great, and there aren’t too many damsel-in-distress moments. The romance is relatively light, and doesn’t treat us to the ridiculousness of marrying a guy you’ve only just met — sometimes it works for me, in Stewart’s writing, but all the same, I prefer a lighter touch. Especially when it means that the romance isn’t forced, which this would’ve been; kind of like in Rose Cottage, where the romance seemed to come in at the end to round things off.

As usual, the sense of place is great and makes me almost want to visit this area off the coast of Scotland. On the other hand, the midges sound like a pretty solid deterrent.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Winner’s Kiss

Posted 24 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Winner's Kiss by Marie RutkoskiThe Winner’s Kiss, Marie Rutkoski

Received to review via Netgalley

After The Winner’s Crime, I was a little nervous I wouldn’t like this. After all, while I rated it highly in the end, the second book in the series relied heavily on one of my least favourite tropes: miscommunication, misunderstanding, a refusal to see. Mostly on Arin’s part, but Kestrel contributed plenty: her strategies might be good if they don’t involve Arin, but when he’s involved, she loses her cool and doesn’t know quite what to do. At least in The Winner’s Crime. In The Winner’s Kiss, well: things change. The plot moves pretty swiftly, and though there was a brief part where Arin’s ignorance was so contrived I wanted to scream (the narrative flagging up “there’s a messenger and oh, Arin forgets to see him!” just made me want to bash my head against something, I’m afraid), eventually he gets the message and things get back on track.

I read The Winner’s Kiss in one day; in many respects, it makes a very satisfying ending. Kestrel and Arin both find out more about themselves, and each other; things aren’t easy, but they find their way. When an opportunity for all-too-easy revenge rears its head, Rutkoski went for a more complex and more effective way of dealing with the aftermath of betrayal, with the aftermath of a wrecked relationship. There’s no easy resolution to what Kestrel’s father is and has done, but there’s no easy refusal to deal with those issues either.

Things I wanted more of: Sarsine. Jess, and resolution with her. Roshar and his friendship with Arin. Arin the tiger. Risha.

I find that, at the moment, I don’t want to pick this apart any further. I enjoyed it, and I think people will find it a worthy final book in the series. After the tortuous miscommunications of the middle book, this final book gave me more of the feeling I had from the first.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Carry On

Posted 23 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Carry On by Rainbow RowellCarry On, Rainbow Rowell

Ever since I heard Rowell was actually going to write this, I’ve really wanted it. I mean, it explicitly features two boys being idiots in love, in exactly the same way as Rowell’s other books portray heterosexual couples being stupid (and sweet, and impossible, and teenage). And people were so excited about it — it seemed pretty mainstream. So that was cool. And then of course it takes an adversarial relationship a la Harry and Draco and develops it into love, which is one of my things.

Did it live up to my hopes? Hell yes. I was worried about a couple of things: in Fangirl, the world of Carry On was basically created to take the place of Harry Potter. I don’t actually like Harry Potter (sorry), and I was also worried that this would just turn out to be a serial-numbers-filed-off version. That didn’t happen: I was actually impressed with the way Rowell constructed her fantasy world, especially the power of words — and the way that pervaded the whole narrative: the worst thing to do to a mage is to steal their words, and at one point Simon says something trying to make it true. Perfect.

Another concern was, well, I didn’t like Draco. I thought he was slimy and cowardly. Now, Baz isn’t perfect — but he’s a worthy lead, flaws and all. He doesn’t always do the right thing, and he has opinions that we might not 100% endorse, but he’s in a difficult position and he works with what he’s got.

Finally, I was worried that Simon and Baz being gay (or bisexual, or demisexual as some people suggest, in Simon’s case) would be a Big Thing. Actually, it shockingly isn’t. There are a few points where Simon isn’t sure about it, but it isn’t a Big Angsty Issue. And Rowell writes them well; I love the way Baz only calls Simon by name when they’re “being soft with each other”. It all feels pretty boyish.

As for the rest, well — Penelope Bunce, guys. She’s all the great things about Hermione and Ron in one, without the annoying pettiness. And she has an amazing friendship with Simon — yes, a boy and a girl being friends in YA without complications, without romance. Hurrah!

Despite the fact that Agatha got to have a voice, I didn’t feel like it was quite fair to her. She seemed fickle and cowardly, when wanting to have a life of her own was a perfectly reasonable wish, and wanting to be loved now and for herself, not as the Happy Ever After In Waiting. Still, the way it examines the tropes of the Chosen One and the Happily Ever After are welcome and interesting.

I didn’t want it to be over, and I am definitely reading it again in future.

“It’s okay,” Baz says. “It’s all okay now.” One arm is tight around Simon’s back, and the other is smoothing his hair out of his face. “You did it, didn’t you?” Baz whispers. “You defeated the Humdrum. You saved the day, you courageous fuck. You absolute nightmare.”

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Clean Sweep

Posted 19 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Clean Sweep, by Ilona AndrewsClean Sweep, Ilona Andrews

Okay, the concept reminds me of Tanya Huff’s Summon the Keeper, which I haven’t read yet but which is held in high esteem by some of my friends. But Ilona Andrews’ writing is just darn fun. Dina is funny and takes no crap, the whole concept of the inns and the responsibilities of the inn keepers is good, and while Sean Evans is kind of an ass, he’s the kind of ass that can grow on you — like Curran, from the Kate Daniels books. I actually read this in one sitting, despite rather wanting to go to bed before I started, and when done, I handed it straight to my sister.

And come on, if nothing else grabs you, the unique “vampires” from actual outer space are a really cool concept. Between this and the magic/technology mixture in the Kate Daniels books, you’d better believe that the Andrews team can come up with some great settings and interesting worlds.

Guess I’m going to have to get my hands on Sweep in Peace, though I sort of hope that neither potential love interest turns out to be the one. Shoo, Sean. Go pee on someone else’s trees.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Camelot’s Blood

Posted 19 February, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Camelot's Blood by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Blood, Sarah Zettel
Originally reviewed in February 2010

I really love this book. I don’t remember how strongly I felt about it the first time, but I have a thing for second sons in fiction, second sons like Agravain — the quieter, grimmer ones, the dutiful ones with their hidden passions and their determinations. Agravain is a perfect example, and it’s also interesting that in this story, he and Laurel fall in love after their marriage, which comes of necessity and politics more than anything else. The four romances are much more differentiated than I remembered. In this one, I genuinely felt pain for Agravain and Laurel when they were separated, which is possibly because I found their situation more real.

The romance is still a little hurried in places, but I do like what we get of it. I also love the magic of this — Laurel’s magic, as she becomes unafraid and throws herself into it, doing what she has to do. I like how a lot of hints come together — the stain on Guinevere’s palm, for one thing, just that one tiny repeated detail finally finding meaning and explanation. Not something I noticed, on a single reading.

I found this somewhat unsatisfying as an end, the last time I read it. Morgaine is defeated, but Mordred is not killed, he flees. Reading it again, his defeat is pretty conclusive, and he runs like a child, but mostly I’m reminded of the fact that it’s still prophesied that he will bring down Camelot, and the threat of him isn’t neutralised at all. In one way, ending like this is very appropriate, because the quartet follows the sons of Lot, not the court of Arthur — but the court of Arthur and the importance of Arthur’s kingdom is important throughout the books, so it’s kind of odd that it ends without a real conclusion for that.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Camelot’s Sword

Posted 12 February, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Camelot's Sword, by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Sword, Sarah Zettel
Originally reviewed in February 2010

I’m liking all of these books in my second reading. It’s interesting to see all the different threads of Arthurian myth and Celtic myth brought together in this way — this book especially weaves so many things together: Tristan and Iseult, Lyonesse (Laurel) and Lynet, Lancelot and Guinevere, Morgaine, the Celtic Otherworld… I think I’m focusing a lot more on that, in this reading, instead of on the romance — which isn’t actually as central as I thought. It could do with more time spent on it, actually, because Gareth’s transformation from a womaniser into Lynet’s faithful knight is very hasty and not really given the time and space it should be. Perhaps the scene on the moor could’ve been expanded — another fifty pages would probably have made the love story much more engaging and satisfying. There were some parts of the relationship with Ryol that were glossed over a bit too much — that was closer to the centre of the story, I think, and didn’t suffer too much, but there were a few places where I wondered why the heck it was happening like that. For example, how did Guinevere figure out that the mirror was the problem? Whence came her sudden decision to confiscate it?

One thing that is becoming clear to me is that the relationships aren’t as cookie-cutter as I thought, my first time through. The relationships between Gawain and Rhian, Geraint and Elen, Gareth and Lynet… they’re much more distinct than I thought at first, and the brothers are less alike than they thought at first. I’m not sure why I thought them so cookie-cutter the first time through, actually. Possibly because all the romance is that bit hastier than I’d like. Possibly I’m a slightly more discerning reader. Possibly my taste has just changed!

I really wish this book had received a little more attention from a proofreader. The little nags I have about grammar and punctuation are really little. For the most part I like the writing. But it’s so distracting to keep thinking, “But where is the comma?”

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 9 February, 2016 by Nikki in General / 15 Comments

This week’s theme is a Valentine’s Day related freebie, so I’m going to put together a list of fictional romances I have loved! And probably no one will be surprised by my choices.

Cover of Camelot's Shadow by Sarah Zettel Cover of Chocolat by Joanne Harris Cover of Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey Cover of Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey Cover of Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier

  1. Gawain and Dame Ragnell. Sarah Zettel’s Camelot’s Shadow is the only contemporary book I can think of that uses these two in the way I’d like. I love that, in the original(? oldest extant might be a better word) medieval version, it’s all about equality. Gawain gives Ragnell a choice about her own life, her own body. How can that not appeal?
  2. Roux and Vianne, from Joanne Harris’ Chocolat. I used to think of this book as a guilty pleasure, but having given that whole concept up, I have to cop to this one (and why not?). The undemanding connection between these two really works for me — and reminds me of a favourite song, Suzanne Vega’s ‘Gypsy’.
  3. Joscelin and Phèdre, from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. I want a Joscelin of my own! Okay, they take some time getting there, but they come to an understanding and they are devoted to each other.
  4. Pilar and Loup, from Jacqueline Carey’s Santa Olivia. They’re just… adorable. Puppy love and all.
  5. Anluan and Catrin, from Juliet Marillier’s Heart’s Blood. A lovely Beauty and the Beast retelling, and I really believed in the way these two damaged people came together.
  6. Marco and Celia, from Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. This book is just… gorgeous. I need to reread it.
  7. Lord Peter and Harriet, from Dorothy L. Sayers’ Strong PoisonWell, the whole series, of course. The patience he has with her, and the way they finally, finally get together… “If I should once give way to Peter, I should go up like straw.”
  8. Kate and Curran, from Ilona Andrews’ Magic Bites. Again, the whole series. They’re just… such good banter and also passion and irritation and… yep.
  9. Phryne and Lin Chung, from Kerry Greenwood’s Away With the Fairies. I might wish for Phryne to flirt with someone else again, but I do enjoy the bond between these two.
  10. Simon and Baz, from Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On. Okay, I haven’t even read it yet, but I’ve peeked, and eeeeh.

Cover of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern Cover of Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews Cover of Away With the Fairies by Kerry Greenwood Cover of Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

And of course, every Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart and Susanna Kearsley romance feels perfect as I read it — they just don’t tend to stick in my head separately the way these do.

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Review – Rose Cottage

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

Cover of Rose Cottage by Mary StewartRose Cottage, Mary Stewart

Rose Cottage is a quiet mystery/romance, not too heavy on either, with no dramatics of the sort you find in The Gabriel Hounds or Touch Not the Cat. It’s all fairly quiet and peaceful; a restful sort of book, with only brief moments of unease, no madly evil people (though one at least who is very flawed), no great tragedy, and an ending that brings everyone neatly together in a perfect reunion.

Given that I’d definitely choose the word “gentle” to describe it, and the romance is just barely there in the last half, this isn’t the most pacey, exciting story. It’s a cosy one, of homecoming and heart-healing and family, needing and wanting no heroics. It’s a post-war story, but the war is just a shadow in the background; it’s a family mystery, but the important thing is not so much the mystery, the not-knowing, but almost the end of the story, when people come together.

This all might sound like faint praise, and it’s true that Rose Cottage isn’t one of my favourite of Stewart’s books. But it’s enjoyable, and especially good if you don’t want high drama, just some village life and a happy ending.

Rating: 3/5

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