Tag: romance


Review – Camelot’s Honour

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

Cover of Camelot's Honour by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Honour, Sarah Zettel

Originally reviewed in February 2010

The first time I read this series, I wasn’t all that impressed. There are still things I’m not so keen on — the love at first sight, for one thing, doesn’t ring very true, and also the books could do with better proofreading. There’s punctuation missing, and I’m pretty sure “grieves” and “greaves” don’t mean the same thing. But, this time, I found myself a lot more interested. I preferred Geraint to Gawain, I think, and I was interested in him and his feelings about his relationship to Morgaine, and his way of dealing with his legacy from his father — and his love for Elen.

I don’t know if the story of Elen and Geraint is based on any legend, Arthurian or otherwise, although I suspect that the story of Gwiffert, at least, has some kind of link to existing mythology. Still, it’s nice to see a lot of mythology together and coupled to the Arthurian mythology, to make something new. The ongoing story of Morgaine is interesting, too: I can’t actually remember very well how that’s resolved, and I forgot that she seemed genuinely in love with Urien.

I originally didn’t like Elen much, but there is something compelling about her, too, and her struggle, and Collanau. I wished the book had more about the Lord, the Lady, and Elen’s family. As far as I remember, the Lord and the Lady don’t come into it again, which is a shame.

(Erec and Enide is, of course, where I think this comes from. It doesn’t follow it directly in plot, but I think the idea of the bird came from there.)

[Note in 2016: I know much more about the various sources now — The Mabinogion is a big one.]

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Camelot’s Shadow

Posted 29 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Camelot's Shadow by Sarah ZettelCamelot’s Shadow, Sarah Zettel

Originally reviewed in February 2010

Since I’m hoping that the module on King Arthur will run next year [note in 2016: it did], and reading widely in the tradition helped me with the Robin Hood module, I decided to revisit these books. As I said in my review almost two years ago, I’m not really one for romance books, generally, but these are Arthurian — which helps a lot, since it’s something I’m always interested in — and they’re not exactly bodice-rippers, and I do like Sarah Zettel’s writing. There’s genuinely a plot alongside the romance — at least in this first book of the four — and earlier elements of the tradition are woven into the story, while it’s also not quite a carbon copy. It could have deviated more from the tradition, easily, and perhaps been more engaging then, but this is interesting enough. I like the portrayal of Guinevere, very much in love with Arthur, and though she’s mischievous, she’s a good queen. If I remember rightly, the betrayal of Arthur with Lancelot isn’t re-enacted in this quartet, which I quite like. That’s something new. And I like this portrayal of Gawain, as compared to some quite loutish ones I’ve read before.

It’s interesting how close it sticks to the plot of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I’m doing a module on at the moment. I hadn’t read that the first time I read this, so I didn’t really appreciate how it had taken that plot but also woven in the women, Rhian and Kerra, and how it’s also woven in the story of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell — which I haven’t read, but I know a decent amount about.

It’s nice that there’s an overarching plot to these four romances, with the figure of Morgaine, about whom we learn little in this book. It’s also nice that they’re romances in both the medieval sense and the modern sense. At least, it is for my inner geek.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – How Not To Summon Your True Love

Posted 27 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of How Not to Summon Your True Love by Sasha L. MillerHow Not To Summon Your True Love, Sasha L. Miller

Received to review via Netgalley

How Not To Summon Your True Love is apparently part of a project at Less Than Three Press to include more asexual and aromantic characters, which is awesome. It is under the title “Solitary Travelers“, which does raise my eyebrow a bit — why are ace/aro people associated once more with being alone, when it looks like these stories celebrate queerplatonic and asexual relationships too, if not in all of them? But still, it’s a nice idea for a project, and I was pleased to see Sasha L. Miller’s book on Netgalley, since I’ve enjoyed her work before (The Errant Prince).

The story itself is a pretty quick read, with a fairly generic magical world set-up — territories, official relationships between those, magical politics, etc. The main character uses a “true love” spell, which summons a naked, soapy, and rather irritated young man into his dorm room. Things go downhill from there, at least from the point of view of the status quo. Suddenly Cy’s on a roadtrip to Idaho, to take Dig (the guy he summoned) back home.

The romance is fairly incidental; there’s little by way of romantic feelings, and it didn’t feel like Cy was that interested in Dig, even in the sense of having a squish. The ending feels like an epilogue, where they decide to try dating. Still, their relationship is cute, their banter along the way is fun, and it’s nice to see an ace protagonist getting the guy and finding out that hey, turns out he’s ace too.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Castlemaine Murders

Posted 21 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry GreenwoodThe Castlemaine Murders, Kerry Greenwood

The Castlemaine Murders is a fairly typical outing for Phryne, featuring her usual liberal attitudes to sisters, queer people, Chinese people, marriage and danger. At various points, it felt like Lin Chung was more the protagonist than Phryne was — which wasn’t bad, as such, because I do like the character and his relationship with Phryne… but on the other hand, he is definitely not what I’ve read thirteen books and counting for. Watching him come into himself and act with responsibility is kind of cool, all the same, because we’ve seen him go from obeying everything the head of the family said to being the head of the family.

The rest of the mystery, Phryne’s half, is rather secondary. In a bit of convenience, the two mysteries end up tied together — which was far too much of a coincidence for my liking, considering the age of the crimes, the distance, the amount of chance involved…

Still. I’m only critical because of the books have been more than this, at times. It’s still fun, and especially for the way all the characters are developing, growing up, becoming more and more of a family.

But hey, no Bert and Cec?

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Murder in Montparnasse

Posted 13 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry GreenwoodMurder in Montparnasse, Kerry Greenwood

I might need to take a break from Phryne for a while — just to make sure I don’t run out of her brilliance too soon, of course. Murder in Montparnasse shows us a younger Phryne, as well as the capable detective we’re used to: a Phryne who hasn’t yet learned to read men and situations and take care of herself. It is good to see her unsure of herself, and it’s also good to follow along with the mature Phryne as she negotiates Lin getting married, and becomes friends with his wife-to-be.

It’s also nice to get both Bert and Cec and Phryne’s adopted daughters playing a part in the mystery. Pretty much the whole team is involved here, including Hugh Collins, which is fun.

I think the only drawback is that maybe I’ve been eating up these books too fast, and they’re losing some of their freshness. I think if I spaced them out more, it’d be okay; as it is, I found it a little too routine. Which isn’t bad, since this is the twelfth book and I’ve read all the eleven previous ones in quite a hurry.

In case it bothered anyone else, spoiler: the Butlers don’t leave in the end. I was very worried they wouldn’t and that the lovely found-family feel was going to be lost a little — but nope, Mrs Butler sorted things out.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Dark Arts of Blood

Posted 2 January, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Dark Arts of Blood by Freda WarringtonThe Dark Arts of Blood, Freda Warrington

The Dark Arts of Blood is much like the other books in this series: lush, sexy, gothic, and unapologetic about that. The plot and such are more or less the same sort of fare: mythology shaping the world, the world shaping the mythology, the vampires trying to live in peace but being fundamentally at odds with the world because of their need for blood… For the most part, this belated addition to the series works seamlessly with the earlier books; it also doesn’t descend into any kind of nostalgia for the older books. There are consequences. Things happen to characters who we wished were safe. The mythology and magic of the world — and the tumultuous period of history the books are set in — continues to intensify.

One thing which didn’t work for me was the sub-plot with Charlotte and the lamia. It’s much the same kind of conflict she’s already faced, which was resolved in The Dark Blood of PoppiesI didn’t buy that it would resurface like this, especially when other vampires didn’t face similar problems at all with the same stimulus.

Still, the addition of more vampires to the world, going further afield and seeing other countries, is definitely welcome. And despite the fact that they got together in the first book, the relationship between Charlotte and Karl still has the same intensity now. It’s also good that despite the fact that they disagree, there is rarely high drama about it — the second book showed the biggest threat of that, but they worked on it. That is always great to see in romance fiction.

Bottom line? If you like morally ambiguous, often amoral vampires who are actually scary and otherworldly and not just humans with stick-on fangs and extra sex appeal, I do recommend this series. I’m thinking of acquiring the books for myself (I read them all from the library) for later rereading. I never expected to get so caught up, from reading the first book — there’s something so deliciously self-indulgent about them.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Moonspinners

Posted 1 November, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Moonspinners by Mary StewartThe Moonspinners, Mary Stewart

I’m wondering if I ever really say anything different about Mary Stewart’s books. They’re fairly formulaic, really: fairly independent young woman meets young man who may or may not be her cousin, there is some dramatic problem to be resolved, and they resolve it while falling in love, often improbably fast or due to some supernatural intervention (as in Touch Not the Cat and Thornyhold). They’re better than they sound, though: the atmosphere Stewart produces is amazing, and quite a lot of her female characters are actually quite strong and certainly have agency. The main character here, for example, spends most of the story getting pushed to one side by the male characters who don’t want her to get involved — but she’s the one who really sorts everything out.

This isn’t my favourite of Stewart’s books by far, but I think I enjoyed it more this time than I did the first time. Partly because yay, familiar comfort read, no doubt. Nothing wrong with that.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Timeless

Posted 28 October, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 9 Comments

Cover of Timeless by Gail CarrigerTimeless, Gail Carriger

If you’re enjoying the series, then this is basically more of the same sort of tone and plot, relationships, etc. There are a couple of nice developments — Biffy and Lyall’s relationship is particularly nice, and if you’re a fan of happily ever afters, then Conall and Alexia have a solution to something that was a problem, mostly unspoken, from the beginning. It ties up a lot of plot threads, including stuff about the God Breaker plague, Floote’s mysteriousness, and Alexia’s father.

Plenty of drama drama, silly nicknames and sex-positivity, and general silliness. I’m glad to have finished the series, but I’m a bit reluctant to jump into Prudence… The silliness has always been a touch beyond my interest, and I’ve heard other critical things about it. We’ll see. I do own it, so I might as well try!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Thornyhold

Posted 14 October, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Thornyhold by Mary StewartThornyhold, Mary Stewart

Compared to Stewart’s other romance/mystery stories, this is rather gentle. It’s more about family being there for you, about everyday magic, about finding yourself at last and fitting yourself into the world. The protagonist, Gilly, really hasn’t had a chance to grow up, or at least to grow out of her parents’ expectations, and here she finds space to do exactly that, thanks to the cottage left for her by her godmother.

It honestly sounds at some point like there’s something more sinister going on — and to be honest, the antagonist’s plan is kind of creepy and weird, and there’s animal abuse that really mustn’t be discounted as harmless that I think kind of gets waved away by the ending. And the fact that the antagonist’s plan doesn’t end up working on the intended target, but does work on an unsuspecting and previously uninterested person… hm. That’s kind of not a happy ending, not a reason to relax. If you’re going to have a world where something like a love potion works, and the protagonist is concerned about it up to the point where she meets the man she wants… Hm.

But really, that’s bringing serious issues from fantasy stories into a primarily-romance story, where it’s meant to be unproblematic. So I let it go. (Pause for musical interlude.)

Not my favourite of Mary Stewart’s books (although honestly, I don’t know what I would pick — maybe The Ivy Tree, or Nine Coaches Waiting?) but fun enough when you take it as a gentle romance story with a little tang of mystery and magic.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Wildfire at Midnight

Posted 5 October, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Wildfire at Midnight by Mary StewartWildfire at Midnight, Mary Stewart

It was a grey and drizzly day, this morning — even if it brightened up later — so I felt like turning to one of my comfort reads. Wildfire at Midnight isn’t one of my favourite Stewart novels, and indeed the sense of dread and atmosphere in the book makes it perhaps a touch darker than the others, especially with the moral conflict in the last part where Gianetta thinks she knows who did the crime.

The crime itself is pretty chillingly awful; I can’t remember if any of Stewart’s other novels features a mentally ill antagonist, but that’s how it winds up in this one. And he is pretty unsettling, when you compare his later behaviour with all the rest of the book, and think about what lay under the surface… Not a comfortable thought, certainly. It’s also not the warmest in terms of romance, since that’s barely there — there’s one or two great scenes which establish something, but not enough to really make you root for the relationship to happen.

So overall, definitely still not my favourite. But it’s Mary Stewart: the writing is atmospheric, the heroine is self-sufficient, and the ending is, for the heroine at least, a happy one.

One thing I would like to know, from other readers — there’s a scene early on where Gianetta is talking to the actress, Marcia. They’re talking about the two schoolteachers who are there together: the rather sullen older one, Marion, and the younger one, Roberta. Marcia calls them “schwärmerinen”. That seems to mean something to Gianetta, and she treats it as something scandalous/libellous — what on earth’s the implication meant to be? I have the feeling I’m too young to know context.

Rating: 3/5

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