4 stars, crime & mystery, historical, romance

Think of England

34715257Title: Think of England
Author: KJ Charles

England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Rating4star

I had not planned to buy any new books for a while but then I read the author’s post about the inspiration for this book and just couldn’t resist. I did grow up with the Edgar Wallace-movies and still love them. Now I only know Wallace’s mystery stories that involve beautiful heiresses and dastardly villains who are after their fortune and I don’t know any of his spy-stories (or any of the other authors she mentions as inspiration) and Think of England is clearly a spy story.  Admittedly, not a genre I would have picked up normally and the blurb also made expect something that it would eventually turn into a more ‘conventional’ mystery (with a murdered country house guests) that just had some connection with the treason/spy part.

It didn’t. But that doesn’t mean I regret reading this book. Rather the opposite: I had a lot of fun. The plot is fast-paced and takes the characters from one seemingly hopeless situation to the next while never going so far that you wonder how any human can cope with all that. But during all that, there was still time for the characters to develop their feelings for each other without it feeling rushed.

The way the book handled the issue that ‘true’ Edwardian pulp fiction tends to be rather full of homophobia, racism and various other-isms was also done very well. Neither is Curtis the single person in the whole novel who miraculously is tolerant of everything (as some historical fiction tends to do with their main characters) nor is he full of the worst prejudices that magically disappeared once he met Daniel. He starts off with a fair share of them but the circumstances soon force him to reconsider them. And he doesn’t just go ‘Well, Daniel is a foreigner but also a good guy so clearly everything I ever thought about foreigners being cowardly and evil is wrong.’ It’s a process that takes much of the book (and a lot of the time in which he isn’t occupied with escaping from mortal danger he spends reevaluating all the things he so far accepted without question).

The only downside to this is that while the scenes with Curtis and Daniel were intense and the development of their relationship believable there also weren’t that many of them and I really wished there had been more. And especially with the teasing at the end that they might have more adventures together, it’s a bit disappointing that this is a standalone. There’s certainly potential to develop their relationship further but alas…

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This is also part of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season

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Book themes for Hanukkah: Any book whose main character is Jewish (Daniel)

As well as:

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Tasks for Bodhi Day: Perform a random act of kindness. I tweeted the author to tell her how much I had enjoyed the book. Because I know reviews are a great way to help authors and I always try to write them in a way that they are also helpful to other readers who are trying to decide if they should pick up the book or not. But sometimes it’s just nice to tell an author how much you enjoy what they’re doing.

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3 stars, crime & mystery, historical, romance

An Unseen Attraction (Sins of the Cities #1)

30517107Title: An Unseen Attraction
Author: KJ Charles
Series: Sins of the Cities #1

Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship…

Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding… it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.

Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts.

Rating3star

Greater Love hath no man than he share the last ginger biscuit.

After The Magpie Lord and The Spectred Isle this is my first non-fantasy novel by KJ Charles and it’s…well different. Beyond the obvious lack of malicious spirits trying to kill the main characters. (Although…it depends on your definition of malicious spirit I guess). Both books felt like fantasy novels with strong romance elements to me. I’m not trying to slag off romance novels (and I gushed over the relationship in The Spectred Isle a lot). I’m just saying that the main plot was about the characters trying to defeat an evil supernatural being. They happened to fall in love along the way but the main threat wasn’t their relationship not working out but getting killed by aforementioned supernatural evil.

An Unseen Atraction is more a romance with a murder mystery in the background…and it occasionally tries to be a murder mystery with a strong romance plot and the end result left me somewhat unsatisfied. There was more focus on the building relationship and the troubles they face along the way than in the average ‘sleuth falls in love with a witness during the investigation’-mystery. Clem and Rowley argue. They have things they don’t want to share with each other. There are misunderstandings and their different backgrounds sometimes cause tension. All of these conflicts are well-written, realistic and not just arguments for the sake of filling pages. But the resolution sometimes falls short when suddenly the mystery pushes the romance in the back seat again.

And then the mystery plot goes beyond ‘romance where the heroes conveniently fall over some clues’ but also is never a ‘proper’ mystery because the actual sleuthing that they do is rather limited. So despite loving historical romances and historical mysteries, the book couldn’t quite win me over. I still enjoyed it and am curious enough to give the second book a try (even if there hadn’t been the sequel hook at the end) because even this romance that I wish had been more time to develop is more convincing than many of the ‘they meet, they find each other hot, they fuck, there is a ridiculous misunderstanding, it is resolved, happy end’-variety. *glances at some past reading choices*. (But yes, there’s also the sequel hook. Damn you *hmpf*)


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This is also part of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season challenge:

Winter Solstice/Yaldā Night: Read a book where the cover is a night-time scene.

16 tasks, 4 stars, romance

Hamilton’s Battalion: A Trio of Romances

36242916 Title: Hamilton’s Battalion: A Trio of Romances
Authors: Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole

Love in the time of Hamilton…

On October 14, 1781, Alexander Hamilton led a daring assault on Yorktown’s defenses and won a decisive victory in America’s fight for independence. Decades later, when Eliza Hamilton collected his soldiers’ stories, she discovered that while the war was won at Yorktown, the battle for love took place on many fronts…

Let me begin with a confession: I have in total listened to perhaps 2 Minutes of the Hamilton Musical. When all my friends on Tumblr started gushing about it I looked it up, started listening to the first song, went ‘OK that is hip-hop, I’ll skip that song and listen to the second…which is also hip-hop…so that is a hip-hop musical? Thanks but no thanks.’ Because that is not my genre at all. And then I just tried to ignore it. Only that was impossible because it was suddenly everywhere. On every social media site, I frequented people kept yelling Hamilton lyrics, made fanart, combined the lyrics with other fandoms. Even blacklisting and muting did only so much. I just could not escape.

Don’t get me wrong: I have absolutely no problem with people enjoying things I dislike, but if you get bombarded with something you absolutely don’t care about you can get…let’s say very annoyed. Eventually, the hype died down and I found other things to get annoyed at. I still had no intention of reading this book. Also because I assumed it would require historical knowledge about Hamilton beyond ‘He gets shot, doesn’t he?’

But then the gushing on social media started. Not quite as inescapable as for the musical but still very loud. And there was talk of a cross-dressing Jewish heroine and a mixed-race gay couple which both piqued my interest. So I asked one of the gushers if people who ran away screaming from the musical would still understand the stories (I did not phrase it quite like this) and was told that no deep historical knowledge was requred.

So here I am.

Bloody Hamilton.


Rose Lerner: Promised Land

Donning men’s clothing, Rachel left her life behind to fight the British as Corporal Ezra Jacobs–but life catches up with a vengeance when she arrests an old love as a Loyalist spy.

At first she thinks Nathan Mendelson hasn’t changed one bit: he’s annoying, he talks too much, he sticks his handsome nose where it doesn’t belong, and he’s self-righteously indignant just because Rachel might have faked her own death a little. She’ll be lucky if he doesn’t spill her secret to the entire Continental Army.

Then Nathan shares a secret of his own, one that changes everything…

Rating4star

Is there any way a story like this could not have been awesome? Jewish heroine dresses up as a man to fight in a war and stumbles over her husband whom she left years ago and now they get a second chance at romance. That is everything I never knew I wanted.

I think I might enjoy stories about couples who separated and find each other again even more than stories about couples falling in love for the first time. Especially if they are so well-written as this one. There is no idiotic misunderstanding that drove them apart the first time. It is clear that they did not fit together back then. There were genuine feelings but they also didn’t understand the other person well enough to really spend their whole life together. By the time they meet again they have grown out of this. They realize why things that weren’t a big deal for them were very important for the other one. And while I see Nathan as being the one who is more to blame for the relationship ending badly I wouldn’t describe him as a jerk who suddenly finds redemption. He was never deliberately hurtful, he only talked without thinking and never considered that others might feel differently than himself.

What did bother me was that there was no resolution for the storyline with Nathan’s mother. She was seriously sabotaging their relationship the first time around because she considered Rachel an unfitting match for her son and it is clear that she will have even more reasons to disapprove of her once they get back together. Yet, there is only a vague promise that they will deal with her and then no further mention. Considering how big a deal they made about her interference that is very unsatisfying.

Oh and yes. There was also a battle. I admit I was mostly confused because my knowledge of that period of history boils down to ‘the war of independence happened and then America was independent’ and I wager that the target demographic of that book, drawn in by the Hamilton in the title knows a bit more about that period than I do. It is not vital that you know every little detail about the battle of Yorktown but more than nothing is definitely helpful.


Courtney Milan: The Pursuit of…

What do a Black American soldier, invalided out at Yorktown, and a British officer who deserted his post have in common? Quite a bit, actually.

* They attempted to kill each other the first time they met.
* They’re liable to try again at some point in the five-hundred mile journey that they’re inexplicably sharing.
* They are not falling in love with each other.
* They are not falling in love with each other.
* They are…. Oh, no.

Rating5star

This story was simply lovely and laugh-out-loud hilarious and still, the serious parts did not feel out of place. While the main story is about two guys on a road trip from hell (walk from hell?) during which they try not to strangle each other. (Though I would say Henry was in bigger danger of being strangled) it is also a story about a privileged white guy and a black ex-slave. And while Henry did have his share of tragedy in his past, he never really considered the things John had to go through. And John tells him that without any sugarcoating.


Alyssa Cole: That Could Be Enough

Mercy Alston knows the best thing to do with pesky feelings like “love” and “hope”: avoid them at all cost. Serving as a maid to Eliza Hamilton, and an assistant in the woman’s stubborn desire to preserve her late husband’s legacy, has driven that point home for Mercy—as have her own previous heartbreaks.

When Andromeda Stiel shows up at Hamilton Grange for an interview in her grandfather’s stead, Mercy’s resolution to live a quiet, pain-free life is tested by the beautiful, flirtatious, and entirely overwhelming dressmaker.

Andromeda has staid Mercy reconsidering her worldview, but neither is prepared for love—or for what happens when it’s not enough.

Rating: 2star

The final novella was sadly disappointing. I already considered not finishing it because I hated pretty much everything about the beginning. First, there’s Mercy whose inner monologue is so world-weary and full of repeated ‘love is a scam’ assurances that I wanted to tell her that the gloomy noir fiction PIs are in a different aisle. Then Andromeda appears and her beauty gets described in three pages of purple prose. She then starts ‘flirting’ with Mercy and by that she means ignoring her boundaries, making her uncomfortable and finding it extremely amusing. Oh and she takes advantage of the fact that Mercy’s boss has ordered her to stay with Andromeda to drag her to places she doesn’t want to go. How charming.

Towards the middle, I got my hopes up a bit because Andromeda seemed to realize that Mercy needs some breathing space but instead of developing that point further we get some utterly ridiculous obstacles and in the end, Mercy has to learn that all was her fault and apologize. Because people who have been hurt badly totally still have to expect the best of everybody. Always.


 

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This book also is part of my 16 Tasks of the Festive Season challenge:

International Human Rights Day: Read any story revolving around the rights of others either being defended or abused. 

In Promised Land Rachel joins the army because she hopes that having openly Jewish soldiers in the army will lead to Jewish people being treated better in the independent United States than they are in Britain (or any country at the time). A main point in In Pursuit Of… is that the nice words in the Declaration of Independence aren’t really about every man. And while it isn’t the main theme of This Could Be Enough Andromeda does get told that the owner of a property is reluctant to sell it to her because she is unmarried and black.

5 stars, fantasy, romance

Spectred Isle (Green Men #1)

35118935Title: Spectred Isle
Author: KJ Charles
Series: Green Men #1

Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.

Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfill his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.

Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.

Rating5star

 

“You’ve had a hell of a time, haven’t you?”
“Other’s worse,” Saul managed.
“That is the most specious form of consolation possible. One can always find someone who has it worse. If I’m having my fingernails torn out with pincers, it is unhelpful to observe that my neighbour has been hanged, drawn and quartered.”

 

One thing that annoys me in romances is when the relationship seems to be a one-way-street. One partner is experienced in Everything: sex, relationships, life in general and genre-dependant monster hunting, cooking or archery. Of course they are just too happy to teach their partner who Knows Nothing.

 

You know nothing, Jon Snow
Come on. Did you expect my to pass up the opportunity to use this gif?

That’s not what happens in this book. To say that Saul’s last relationship ended catastrophically is an understatement and now he’s unsure about himself, his sexuality and doubts he even deserves good things. A lack of confidence has never been a problem for Randolph and he’s in a privileged enough position that his sexuality had never been an issue. He is, however, an aristocrat and thus grew up in a family where nobody had emotions of any kind (or at least never talked about them). He also thought in his profession relationships were out of the question anyway.
Apart from that, both of them are in a bad place after the war but have a hard time admitting to themselves just how bad it is. So when they meet they learn from each other. About acceptance, admitting things to yourself and dealing with your emotions.

 

“Look, not to insult you by suggesting that you have human feelings, but-”
“I should bloody well hope not.”

That doesnt’t mean that there’s no humour. Rather the opposite. Neither of them is ever in want of a witty comeback and it’s a joy to read them. On occasions, I felt it would have been better if they had kept their conversation serious for a bit longer instead of turning to sarcasm again. But then dealing with difficult situations with humour is very human (and it got never so bad that I felt I was just reading witty remarks loosely connected by a plot).

Now for the non-romance part:
*excited shouting* STEPHEN AND MATHILDA!

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Look, some long-dead monarchs make me exceptionally happy.

Ehem. Sorry. I will simply forever be bitter about the lack of (good) fiction about the Anarchy. WHY IS EVERYTHING ABOUT THE WAR OF THE ROSES? Now it’s not a big deal, in the sense that you need extensive knowledge of the era to understand what is going on. The little information you need is explained in the book. But I’m very happy when authors dive into some of the less well-known chapters of English history.
The plot should also satisfy readers that don’t get nerdgasms when certain periods of English history are mentioned. It’s fast-paced, has a very interesting magical system and a great set up for a trilogy. It answers enough questions to give closure to the storyline, while leaving enough open to make me look forward to the next book.

 

ARC provided by the author.

4 stars, romance

Knit One, Girl Two

Title: Knit One, Girl Two
Author: Shira Glassman

Small-batch independent yarn dyer Clara Ziegler is eager to brainstorm new color combinations–if only she could come up with ideas she likes as much as last time! When she sees Danielle Solomon’s paintings of Florida wildlife by chance at a neighborhood gallery, she finds her source of inspiration. Outspoken, passionate, and complicated, Danielle herself soon proves even more captivating than her artwork…

 

Rating

Clara didn’t know what to say, but she also knew not every silence had to be filled. Sometimes the white spots, those left undyed and natural, were integral to the beauty of a colorway.
Somehow the best way to describe this book is by what it’s not. Because it’s sweet and quirky but not in the way of some books where everything and everybody is just sweet and quirky but has no depth beyond that. It’s also not one of those novellas where I felt that it would have needed more pages. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have minded spending more time with Clara and Danielle, but their story didn’t need more space. Since it was only about the development of their relationship there were no sideplots that felt rushed. It was also not one of these books that promise knitting on the cover but then desperately also try to appeal to a non-knitting audience by only occasionally mentioning the most basic knitting terms. (Yes I’m side-eying some knitting-mysteries here…) Now I’m not saying that non-knitters won’t enjoy the story. It’s not just about knitting, but knitting is an important part of the story and if you’ve only ever seen yarn in the form of the socks you got from grandma for Christmas, a few things might confuse you a bit.
Overall a very charming read and I want to check out some of the author’s longer works.
2 stars, fantasy, romance

The Spirit Heir (A Dance of Dragons #2)

23477260Title: The Spirit Heir
Author: Kaitlyn Davis
Series: A Dance of Dragons #2

Drenched in darkness and surrounded by the echo of screams, Jinji waits deep in the dungeons of Rayfort, haunted by the memory of the knife stabbing Rhen, plagued by a foreign voice whispering through her mind. A few floors above, Rhen rests trapped in a coma, about to wake to a changed world–a world where his best friend is a woman, his nephew is the king, and an enemy army surrounds him on all sides.

But human wars are insignificant compared to the darkness gathering unseen. Memories of lives she never lived flash through Jinji’s thoughts, hinting at a past that cannot be repeated. A mysterious phantom visits Rhen, carrying cryptic messages of the future. And somewhere out there, the shadow continues to lurk in silence.

Startled by their altered relationship and tempted by new feelings, Rhen and Jinji must find a way to work together. The fate of humanity rests on their shoulders and the real battle has only just begun…

Rating: 2star

“And at least soldiers chose to fight, chose to risk their lives in combat”

Do you really want to go there? Are you really saying that in ye olde pseudo-medieval fantasy world everybody joined the army because they just loved fighting/their country/both so much. Nobody did it out of necessity, because they couldn’t find another job but needed the money or just because it was a family tradition or simply anything but Duty. Honor. Courage.?
Nope. Our soldiers are the good ones, our enemies have the evil ones/the poor slaves that are forced to fight (delete as appropriate…the book can’t make its mind up either).

There are good bits in this book. It still occasionally makes good points about sexism and racism. And it has a great scene when Jinji – who is in the palace and feels very uncomfortable among the nobility because they are all so racist – basically wins a staring contest with the queen and thinks that now nothing the other nobles do can bother her anymore. Only a few pages later it’s again mentioned how uncomfortable she is and the scene with the queen is never mentioned again.
However, my favourite bit of the book is when Jinji gets captured and imprisoned again very shortly after she has been chained up in a dungeon for three weeks. Does that bother her? No, but immediately afterwards she throws a hissy fit of jealousy because Rhen talks to another woman. Because fuck PTSD and trauma, what’s really important are you pants-feelings.

Talking about Jinji and her WTF-decisions/emotions: she’s hearing a voice in her mind and the voice claims she wants to help Jinji fight the mysterious Shadow that’s causing all the problems in the book (well…all the problems not caused by evil, sexist fantasy Arabs). Jinji is not convinced and worries that the voice in her head is actually the Shadow who is trying to trick her and refuses to listen. Until she hears that the Shadow has attacked people after she started hearing the voice. Clearly, a mysterious magical entity that has enough power to force people to attack their loved ones can’t be inside Jinji’s head and somewhere else. That would be illogical.

Despite all that I’m still less bothered by this than by the novellas about Leena inventing feminism, and we finally got dragons in this book. About bloody time. And I just didn’t hate it enough for one star.
ARC provided by NetGalley

Review of book 0.5
Review of book 1
Review of book 1.5

2 stars, fantasy, romance

The Shadow Soul (A Dance of Dragons #1)

20903363Title: The Shadow Soul
Author: Kaitlyn Davies
Series: A Dance of Dragons #1

When Jinji’s home is destroyed, she is left with nowhere to run and no one to run to–until she meets Rhen, a prince chasing rumors that foreign enemies have landed on his shores. Masquerading as a boy, Jinji joins Rhen with vengeance in her heart. But traveling together doesn’t mean trusting one another, and both are keeping a deep secret–magic. Jinji can weave the elements to create master illusions and Rhen can pull burning flames into his flesh.

But while they struggle to hide the truth, a shadow lurks in the night. An ancient evil has reawakened, and unbeknownst to them, these two unlikely companions hold the key to its defeat. Because their meeting was not coincidence–it was fate. And their story has played out before, in a long forgotten time, an age of myth that is about to be reborn…

Rating2star

The world building in this was just very confusing. Jinji and her people are clearly inspired by Native Americans. Including that one day the white men – Rhen’s ancestors – came, took their land and suppressed them. But…they suppressed them…only sometimes a bit…or something. The only thing Jinji talks about is that they are not allowed to speak their language anymore. To make sure of that a guy visits them once a year and checks on them…And Jinji still speaks the language (though it is not clear if she is fluent or if she just knows some words that can’t be translated in the language of the ‘Newworlders’).
I just got the impression that the author had realized how problematic Pocahontas is but enjoyed it nevertheless and wanted to rewrite it with less evil oppressors but still wanted to keep the oppression at least a bit. Just like in the prequel novella I read, it seems that there didn’t go that much thought in the worldbuilding.
I also couldn’t make out how many ‘Oldworlders’ there roughly are. We don’t get any number for Jinji’s tribe but I had the impression they were roughly 100, rather less than that. Are there any other natives in this world? Perhaps but probably not. At least, I think so. Jinji repeatedly says that she is the only one left after her tribe was slaughtered in the beginning of the book. She could mean that she is the last of her tribe (the Arapapajo) but other tribes are never mentioned. Were there ever others? Were there ever more Arapapajo? Who knows?

Sometimes the book does things well. For example, when Jinji thinks about how she will continue disguising herself as a boy as long as she is in the city because being a Native among white people sucks but being a Native girl would suck even more. But at the same time, the bad guys in the books are a) Ye Olde Fantasy equivalent of Arabs and b) as cliché-evil as you can get.
Seriously, I was surprised that their king wasn’t introduced stroking a black cat. He’s evil because he’s evil and enjoys laughing diabolically.

The rest of the book is also not more than average. The plot just…happens. I rarely had time to worry too much about the characters because they are never in danger for very long. Chapters frequently ended in cliff-hangers, which were then resolved in the course of the next chapter. Often with the help of plot-convenient magic but nobody really wanted to talk about that magic because reasons.
So, yes I liked this more than the prequel novella but it still wasn’t that good.

ARC provided by NetGalley

Review of book 0.5 in the series