Blameless, Gail Carriger
Hm. I wish Conall had been made to grovel rather more than this, after his reaction in the last book; I especially wish that his horrible comments to Alexia weren’t just stupidity and were actually driven by a real fear of betrayal. That would make me feel less annoyed if he had some foundation for the way he treated her. Gah. Still, this book does allow Genevieve, Floote and Professor Lyall to shine. And get up to hijinks.
The series continues to be absurd, fun, and relatively inconsequential, with some surprisingly sweet moments — Biffy and Lord Akeldama, ach, right in my feels; Vieve’s caring for Alexia — and some things that can’t help but make you laugh. I mean, for example, this bit:
Alexia found herself surrounded and embraced by a room of such unmitigated welcome and personality that it was akin to being yelled at by plum pudding.
Just. What? And yet it makes sense somehow, in the absurd and over the top context of the Parasol Protectorate (words which were finally used in this book).
Conall still needs to grovel.
Changeless, Gail Carriger
This series continues to be fun, rather absurd, sometimes witty. The pack dynamics are interesting, etc, and this book features characters I already met in the Finishing School series. It’s a little odd to see them as adults, but I rather like seeing Sidheag again, and especially Vieve. I loved the part she had to play and the way queerness is just a part of this world, sex is not dreadfully horrifying (because as most people know, the Victorians weren’t actually, well, Victorian about it), and the way roles in society change because of the supernatural set is quite interesting. (Also interesting where it does not change, but instead fashions and such of the period are explained by the supernatural set’s presence.)
On the other hand, the end of the book just irritates the living daylights out of me. Everyone is entirely unreasonable, nobody bothers to think oh hey, maybe things are different with a preternatural than a human, and any love or trust between Conall and Alexia is just chucked out the window. I hope to goodness that this doesn’t get smoothed over with some nibbling and bodice ripping; I care enough about the characters to be outraged, so I hope Carriger keeps faith with readers and deals with this plotline in a way that does them justice.
Like Soulless and the Finishing School books, it’s fun and easy to read, and while I’m not wildly in love or unable to do without the thought of these books in my life, they’re enjoyable and a little bit addictive for me. Blameless is within arm’s reach right now, and I might just go with that impulse.
Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal
I read this one before and wasn’t enormously impressed, despite reading it one go. I think that was still pre-appreciation of Austen (sorry Mum, I can’t help it) and pre-interest in anything like romance; definitely before my interest in the likes of Georgette Heyer. So an Austenesque fantasy didn’t work for me much then. Honestly, the setting itself doesn’t quite convince me now, but that’s not because I don’t like Regency novels. It’s more that something feels off, for example when Melody says “la!” all the time. It just seems like too many period things are being sprinkled in for verisimilitude, and you don’t need all of it or so much of it.
In any case, I did appreciate this one more this time. I like the way glamour is woven into the society as a female accomplishment, like painting, which men can do professionally and women are expected just to dabble in. I liked the way things worked out between the characters; Mr Dunkirk’s reactions to Jane, and how that shapes her actions; Mr Vincent’s awkwardness about his feelings. Perhaps the romance is a little sudden, but you can see how it comes about, too.
The ending is rushed; what’s with those last few pages? I suppose it’s very like how we’re told at the end of an Austen or Heyer novel who married who and went to live where, but it jars when you’re reading a modern fantasy novel, at least for me. Ah well. At least I enjoyed the book more this time, and I’m looking forward to the sequels with hope.
Touch Not the Cat, Mary Stewart
A reread for me, since I felt the need for something familiar during the readathon. It was one of the first Mary Stewart books I read, and it’s one of the more openly fantastical ones. It’s got the usual set up of the plucky young heroine, a landscape that’s important to her or exotic or otherwise worth describing lovingly, and the man she eventually marries. The fantastical part is the telepathy between them, the bond; Stewart uses it well, creating interesting dilemmas and confrontations.
The story of the twins is a little disappointing, because so obvious; we don’t see enough of James’ struggle against his twin to see him as any kind of victim in the situation, and his reaction to Rob and Bryony’s marriage seals that. It gets a little cartoon villain-ish.
Rob and Bryony’s relationship is sweet; I suppose that’s a spoiler, but it’d be hard to review this without mentioning that James is not Bryony’s ‘secret friend’. I really didn’t need all the stuff about how Rob is really an Ashley; it makes the plot that much more convoluted, but ends up reinforcing that whole snobbery about the lady of the family not marrying the kitchen boy.
Madam, Will You Talk?, Mary Stewart
Not my favourite of Mary Stewart’s novels, but it’s what the library had when I felt like revisiting. It probably hasn’t really been long enough since I first read them, but ah well: they’re still fun. Stewart was brilliant at establishing a sense of mood and place: a hot French town, dust on the roads, shade under the trees, a cool breeze when you drive fast but sticky and heavy when you’re stuck in traffic… I enjoy Charity’s character, her past, and the fact that despite that tragic past, she uses what her husband taught her about life and love to move on, and Stewart never implies that her love for either the new love or the old diminishes the other.
The relationship itself, well. The constant descriptions of the love interest as dictatorial are exactly right, and one can’t help but think the whole relationship a little off-putting. She’s terrified of him at first, she thinks he’s a murderer, and he’s violent to her, and yet… There’s a passion in the relationship, which is something I do like to see, but his violence was waved away all too easily. A different era, I know… and yet.
The mystery itself, well: it’s melodramatic, all kidnapping and attempted murder and links to Nazism. But it works as long as you’re in the right headspace, and I was, since I’m well used to Stewart’s work.
Season of Storms, Susanna Kearsley
There’s so much about reading Susanna Kearsley that reminds me of reading Mary Stewart’s work. Something about the sense of place (this is so firmly Italy, and the house and its grounds are so easy to imagine), the female heroine, the romance… Except it’s better, because it steers away from some of the colonial and sexist attitudes that were still pretty firmly entrenched in Mary Stewart’s work, despite her independent and reasonably proactive heroines.
And this book especially won me over, because the main character has been brought up by two gay men in a stable, loving relationship. Neither of them are stereotyped, and the relationship feels real, lived in, between both them and the woman who is essentially their daughter. I got more caught up by Roo and Bryan than by Celia and Alex, honestly. I also ended up having a conversation on Twitter with the author about which of various characters I’d want to be my dad… (Well, in reality, no one is better than my dad. But shush.) There’s some serious emotional punches there, which really work because of that warmth and family which Kearsley portrays so well.
The plot itself is reasonably predictable; the trick is that I got involved with the characters.
Impossible, Nancy Werlin
It’s difficult to say how I feel about this book. There are a lot of things I liked: the supportiveness of Lucy’s adoptive family, the relatively sex-positive attitudes and the emphasis on women’s autonomy and right to choose what’s right for them, the very fact that it’s built on a folk song (there are so many stories in those). The part that worried me somewhat was the fluctuating attitude to abortion: at times it’s suggested as a natural solution (which it is in the situation described here), and at others there’s very much a “no, every life is sacred” thing. There’s a risk of glorifying teen pregnancy, and glorifying martyrdom-by-having-your-rapist’s-baby which I’m very uncomfortable with.
And yet, as I said, free choice is emphasised so often; several positively portrayed characters express their support for abortion… I think it’s just a factor of the story’s set-up: if Lucy has an abortion, there’s no story, and there’s hints that the adversary in the story is manipulating things.
One thing it does glorify that I’m not sure about is very hasty marriage. The characters don’t seem mature enough for it, and it’s so immediate upon their realisation. She’s having a baby -> we must get married. And then, of course, there’s the fact that the whole plot of the story hinges upon centuries of rapes.
I’m not entirely sure what that comes to, overall. The writing is fairly simple and functional, though once or twice it does capture some moments perfectly — particularly Zach and Lucy’s relationship, and Lucy and Sarah’s friendship. I did feel a push to finish the book; I had to know how the mystery/riddle/curse worked out. I’m not sure I’d recommend it, but I found it interesting.
The Errant Prince, Sasha L. Miller
Received to review via Netgalley
The Errant Prince is a fantasy novella, with an LGBT romance at the heart. It’s set in the kind of world that I love in fantasy, where we haven’t automatically copied over the things we’re bigoted about. Even the fact that Myron is trans doesn’t get as much attention as it might in our world, and as we would assume it would’ve done in medieval-esque societies. It’s also awesome that the issues in this story are not to do with the sexuality or gender of the characters.
It’s also nice that this is a romance story in which there aren’t Terrible Misunderstandings. There’s one, but it doesn’t really count, because they actually communicate about it and sort themselves out before it escalates.
The fantasy aspect isn’t just backdrop, either. There’s some worldbuilding, though I’d welcome more; there’s a lot of information on magic and how it works; there’s a fair idea of the politics and society surrounding the story. It’s not as immersive as I like my secondary worlds to be, but it isn’t two dimensional. Overall, it’s a sweet and enjoyable story — and wonder of wonders, there’s no sex shoehorned in, despite the delicate balance of tension between the two main characters.
The Gabriel Hounds, Mary Stewart
Mary Stewart’s romance/suspense/mystery type novels have been my go-to comfort reading for a while. Unfortunately, now I’ve finished them all and I’m back to the beginning. I mostly grabbed this from my community library to demonstrate that we should totally keep Mary Stewart on the shelves because people want to read ’em, but I’m pretty sure this was the first of her books I read (other than The Crystal Cave), so it makes sense to start over with it!
I think I appreciated it more, this time. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it before, and I was still in a fairly snobby stage about anything with romance in it, but now I’m happy to sink into Stewart’s romances and enjoy the atmosphere, the way she establishes a sense of place. The landscape is as much a part of this as anything else: dusty, hot, romanticised.
I still stick by the judgement that it’s basically Famous Five for adults, in terms of the mystery. Replace drugs with treasure and you’ve got Five on Treasure Island, basically, apart from the fact that then George marries one of her cousins at the end. There are a couple of reasons why the cousin relationship is creepier than normal here: they were brought up practically as siblings, called “the Twins” by their family; their fathers are identical twins. So in terms of DNA, they’re half-siblings, pretty much, bar any epigenetic modifications. I know that maybe it wouldn’t have been viewed that way then, but it still skeeves me out a little.
Still, for drama and adventure and a glorious atmosphere, plus the fact that at least Charles and Christy don’t have a weird power imbalance to their relationship, I have to give this a higher rating than I did before. The other bad point is, of course, the treatment of one of the only other “on-screen” female characters, Halide: a bigger stereotype of the scheming simple Arab servant, I’m not sure you could have. So not 5/5, even if I do really appreciate some aspects.
The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley
I didn’t have to read much of this to realise that Susanna Kearsley’s work is going to be the perfect replacement for the comfort reading I got all the way through in the last two or three years (Mary Stewart’s romance/adventures). It has the same sense of place, the beautiful descriptions of landscape, and the same sort of heroine: female, curious, about to be swept up in bigger events than she’d ever have expected. And better: this is explicitly fantastical, where most of Mary Stewart’s books were more mysteries, sometimes with hints at fantasy.
And better again, whew, we don’t have first cousins getting married at the end.
It does start off with kind of a slow pace, and Eva is only rarely involved in actual action, despite the backdrop of free trading and other such types of derring-do. And it is indeed a romance, so the ending is a happy one for most of the characters (though there’s a sadder note, too, with Eva’s sister’s husband; I was glad there was some closure at the end of story with him as well, even if it was a sadder story), and there’s plenty of romance going on — not just for Eva, but in the background. And yeah, I think Fergal and Daniel take the time travelling woman a little too lightly. They’re curious, but not curious enough to feel realistic. They both just decide to protect her right away.
But I enjoyed it anyway: it has a great atmosphere, and the writing flows well. It’s a bit like The Time Traveler’s Wife, I guess, in that I wouldn’t want to examine how the timeline works too closely lest it fall apart, but it was the ideal fluff, and it had enough substance that I cared about the characters.