Lord of Scoundrels Book Review

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Review:

I was enjoying this book immensely right up until the point where the heroine shot the hero.

It’s pretty annoying how female violence against men gets brushed aside as inconsequential or even treated as a joke in media. If the hero had shot the heroine, people would rightly be horrified, but because she’s small and female and he’s a big brute of a guy, we’re supposed to be okay with it? Ugh.

So needless to say, after that my feelings were more mixed.

Overall, though, I have to say Lord of Scoundrels was a pretty terrific read and I can see why it’s considered a classic of historical romance.

Most of the first half of the book is taken up by what’s essentially a game of Chicken – he one ups her, she one ups him, things escalate, and then escalate even more (somewhere in there, the gun shows up) until she ends up suing him for a considerable quantity of money and he goes for Ultimate Chicken and proposes marriage, figuring if she’s going to live comfortably for the rest of her life on his wealth, he may as well get something out of it.

Or at least, that’s what he tells himself. The reader certainly isn’t fooled!

Aside from the shooting incident, I liked the heroine, Jessica Trent, a lot. She was smart, sensible, determined, and definitely gave as good as she got in her verbal sparring matches with Dain (and we all know how I adore a bickering couple). I had a few more reservations about Dain himself. Any tender-hearted reader (and I’m about as big a bleeding heart as they come) will feel bad for him due to his appalling childhood and the considerable internalized self-loathing he developed as a result, but his tendency to jump to conclusions and assume that Jessica was thinking the worst of him got more annoying the more evidence accumulated to the contrary.

Nevertheless, their arguments were witty and frequently laugh out loud funny, and the sexual tension delicious, though the language in some of the sex scenes got a little too romance novel-y for my taste. (No “quivering members” though, thank god.) My issues with the shooting and a few other things aside, I did have a LOT of fun reading this book.

By the way, romance novel covers are often terrible, so I’m not going to pick on this one too much, but it is pretty terrible. I guess it’s prettier than some, but, uh, not only does the picture bear almost no physical resemblance to Jessica Trent as described in the novel, but the impression it gives of her personality couldn’t be more incorrect. Jessica shouldn’t look so melancholy and pensive, she should be staring out at the reader with fire in her eyes!

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

A Seditious Affair Book Review

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Review:

The historical m/m romance novels of KJ Charles have been one of the best literary discoveries of 2015 for me. I especially enjoyed her novel Think of England and also really enjoyed A Fashionable Indulgence, the first in her new Society of Gentlemen series. A Seditious Affair is the second in the Society of Gentlemen series and I have to say I liked it even better than the first.

Each book in the series deals with a different couple from the set of friends who make up the titular “society of gentlemen,” but while they’re technically standalone, I think you’ll enjoy the series more if read in order. The first few chapters of A Seditious Affair deal with some of the same events as A Fashionable Indulgence, but in much more concise fashion, so I think the conflict would seem somewhat easily resolved and unsatisfactory if you hadn’t read the first book.

A Seditious Affair dealt heavily with some of the same politics and social issues that I enjoyed about A Fashionable Indulgence, but I also related more strongly to the main characters – proper, dutiful Dominic Frey and gruff, principled Silas Mason – than I did to the well-meaning but somewhat feckless Harry and the sharp-witted dandy Julius of of A Fashionable Indulgence. Despite (probably because of, actually) the two men’s differences, I felt the emotional connection between them more strongly than Harry and Julius – Dominic and Silas were a true meeting of minds, as well as physical attraction and sexual compatibility, and both of them changed and influenced the other over the course of the story.

The sex scenes were also super hot, despite the use of some rather unsexy (to me) period slang. I’ve mentioned in the past that I enjoy Dom/sub elements in romance, but often feel a little uncomfortable with Dom/sub relationships between men and women simply because of the existing social power imbalance between the sexes. With m/m Dom/sub, that problem ceases to exist, and any potential discomfort due to class inequality issues was also handily avoided in this book by the fact that the lower class man was the Dom and the gentleman the sub.

KJ Charles also has a gift for creating intriguing and memorable secondary characters that make you want to learn more about them. I’m delighted that we’ll finally be getting some insight into the enigmatic David Cyprian in the next book in the series, A Gentleman’s Position, and the revelation that Will Quex was born Susannah makes me hope we’ll learn more about him as well (a strong possibility, luckily, since he and his partner, Jon Shakespeare, are friends of Cyprian).

A great read!

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

A Fashionable Indulgence: A Society of Gentlemen Novel Book Review

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Review:

Think of England, by KJ Charles, was one of my favorite reads in 2015 so far, so I was excited to see that she has a new series coming out, and even pre-ordered the first book, which I rarely do.

A Fashionable Indulgence, the first in her new Society of Gentlemen series, is a Regency-era m/m romance with many of the same things I enjoyed about Think of England. It’s plotty and heavily influenced by the politics and social issues of the period (you may want to scan the Wikipedia article on the Peterloo Massacre to get a refresher course before diving in), has lots of witty dialogue, and an appealing cast of characters, including several excellent female characters.

The story centers on Harry Vane, a young man who was raised by radical, reformist parents but never shared the strength of their convictions. After the deaths of his parents in a cholera outbreak, Harry discovers his father was actually the son of a noble family, and he is set to inherit a fortune… if he drops his radical beliefs and marries an appropriate young lady. Harry is quite happy to do both in exchange for a more safe and comfortable life, and his newly discovered cousin, Lord Richard Vane, takes him under his wing and convinces his friend, the dandy Julius Norreys, to help remake Harry into the image of a proper gentleman. His dreams for his new life almost immediately get complicated: Harry, who is bisexual, thinks Julius is just about the most beautiful person he’s ever seen, and as he gets deeper into the world of gentlemen, he realizes increasingly that neither his attraction for other men nor his political beliefs can be quite so easily cast aside.

As with KJ Charles’s other series, The Magpie Lord, I did not think the UST was as strong between Harry and Julius as it was between Archie and Daniel in Think of England, so I didn’t feel as much emotional connection to their actual relationship, but her characterization is excellent, both for Harry and Julius themselves and for the well-developed supporting cast of characters. (It appears that the Society of Gentlemen series will focus on a different one of Lord Richard’s friends and relations in each novel, and I’m pretty eager to learn more about several of them, including Dominic Frey, who will be the focus of the next novel in the series, A Seditious Affair.) The period atmosphere and details were also excellent, and inspired me to look up more about the reform movements of the period.

A very enjoyable read!

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Pride and Prejudice Book Review

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Review:

It’s probably safe to call Pride and Prejudice my favorite novel. It comes down to Pride and Prejudice vs Middlemarch, but while I consider Middlemarch to be the slightly better novel, I’ve read P&P a lot more times. And watched the BBC adaptation a lot more times, as well as most of the other film adaptations, including the modern AU, the weird black & white one with the 1840s fashion and the totally OOC Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and the Bollywood version.

I get that it’s a totally predictable and boring choice for favorite book, but it really is just that good. And I don’t just mean the romance, although the romance is obviously wonderful. Jane Austen was freaking hilarious and an extremely astute observer of life, so even if you don’t like romance in general, you should give this book a try for the satire.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

Middlemarch Miniseries Review

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Review:

Adapting a novel as rich and multilayered as Middlemarch is a feat that, honestly, I might not have thought possible, but this 6 hour miniseries did a surprisingly good job. It makes a well-acted and enjoyable introduction to the story for those unfamiliar with it, and a pleasant accompaniment for fans of the novel.

However, it certainly doesn’t substitute for reading the book! Naturally, some subplots had to be trimmed or cut entirely and the miniseries never achieves the remarkable psychological depth of the novel, especially with some of the more unlikable characters. Casaubon, in particular, suffers – reading the book, you dislike him but you understand and even pity him to some degree. In the miniseries, you’re stuck at dislike and this makes it harder to understand Dorothea and her choices as well.

The biggest failure of the miniseries is the characterization of Rosamond Vincy, who becomes, of all things, weepy. The Rosamond of the novel could crush that pathetic and annoying creature like a bug. (And probably would!) Most of the other portrayals are pretty true to character, however, and several of the casting choices, most notably Rufus Sewell as Will Ladislaw, were absolutely inspired. This film was my introduction to Sewell’s work and I’ve been a fan ever since.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Middlemarch Book Review

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Review:

Middlemarch gets my vote for the best English language novel ever written, and possibly my favorite as well. It comes down to Middlemarch vs Pride and Prejudice and I can never choose. Middlemarch is longer and more challenging than Pride and Prejudice, so I haven’t read it as many times, but although not openly satirical or as sharp-tongued as Austen, Eliot shares both Austen’s wit and her deep and nuanced understanding of the foibles of human nature. At the same time, Eliot’s novel is much further-reaching than Austen’s. Middlemarch is subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life” and unlike Austen, who confines her pen largely to provincial gentry and their romantic and financial entanglements, Eliot lays out the whole life of a small English town in the 1830s, from gentry to vagrants and everyone in between. The psychological realism she achieved is remarkable, especially considering the field of psychology barely existed at the time the book was published, and despite the very different world her characters inhabit, you will recognize them as well as if they were your next-door neighbors (indeed, it’s quite possible that some of them are), and grow to care deeply about them.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

 

To Marry an English Lord Book Review

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Review:

If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, the novels of Edith Wharton, or similar period pieces, I can’t recommend To Marry an English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace, highly enough. Starting in the 1870s, many wealthy and beautiful American heiresses, snubbed by stuffy New York high society, moved to England, where they married into the British aristocracy, saving many a bankrupt family estate in the process. These matches had surprisingly far reaching consequences for both British and American society, and included Randolph and Jennie Churchill, parents of Winston, George and Mary Curzon, who became the second highest ranking woman in the British Empire after Lord Curzon was named viceroy of India, and James and Frances Burke-Roche, great-grandparents of Princess Diana. The book also focuses a great deal on Alva Vanderbilt and her daughter Consuelo (pictured on the cover), who married the Duke of Marlborough and later shared her experiences in the classic memoir The Glitter and the Gold. (If you’re interested in the Vanderbilt ladies, I also recommend Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age.)

To Marry an English Lord is a well-written, informative, and highly entertaining peek into the lives of wealthy and aristocratic Americans and Brits in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. Many parts read kind of like a Victorian People magazine, and the gossip is still as scorching now as it was 120 years ago! My only complaint is the format of the book, which is copiously illustrated and stuffed with so many info boxes and two page spreads on different details that it can be difficult to read. Hard to fault a book too much for providing too much information, though, especially when it’s as fascinating as this one!

Originally published in 1989, To Marry an English Lord has been re-released as a result of the popularity of Downton Abbey, which features an Anglo-American marriage between Lord Robert and Cora Crawley that is similar to those described in this book.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Enlightenment Series Review

Review:

The Enlightenment series, by Joanna Chambers, is an entertaining m/m romance trilogy set mainly in 1820s Edinburgh. Although the covers are a little more in-your-face than I like (thank goodness for Kindles!), the series caught my attention because of its strong reviews on Goodreads, and despite some mixed feelings in book one, I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.

The main character is David Lauriston, an up-and-coming lawyer from a farming family. Although he lacks the family connections and personal wealth of many successful men of his profession, his strong work ethic and intelligence catch the eye of a prominent Edinburgh lawyer who becomes his mentor and friend. Unbeknownst to his coworkers, however, David’s workaholism is partially to keep himself too busy to give in to his illicit attraction to other men. Raised in a religious family, David is full of self-loathing for his “unnatural” desires, and drinks too much in an attempt to dull the shame and guilt he feels for his periodic “lapses.”

This all starts to change when he meets Lord Murdo Balfour, the handsome and wealthy younger son of an Earl, who is as unapologetic about his homosexuality as David is tormented. After a chance meeting at an inn, they are unexpectedly thrown together again in Edinburgh. Though Murdo prefers to avoid “repeat performances” and David prefers to avoid sexual encounters with other men completely, the two find themselves unable to deny their growing attraction to each other.

Like One Indulgence, the Enlightenment series is a fairly typical Regency(ish) romance, just with two men instead of a man and a woman. The sex scenes were steamy and well-written, but as I mentioned above, I was a little conflicted about the romance in the first book, because Murdo behaved a bit too much like a standard romance hero for my taste – too mercurial and prone to acting angry and even aggressive over things that would have resulted in less angst and fewer misunderstandings for all if they’d just been talked out calmly. (To be fair, David’s tendency to put his foot in his mouth when trying to discuss anything resembling feelings and relationships with other men couldn’t have helped.) However, Murdo mellowed out in the second and third books and showed a more vulnerable side, and I found them more enjoyable.

All three books have interesting subplots concerning the social and political changes of the time, as well as actual historical events of the period. I found the second book’s portrayal of King George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822 to be especially interesting, and also enjoyed the subplots involving Elizabeth Chalmers, the daughter of David’s mentor.

Trigger warning (click to view): The series does contain depictions of period-typical homophobia, m/f spouse abuse, and references to past rape.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

The Amelia Peabody Series

"I always say that if one cannot have a pyramid, a nice deep tomb is the next best thing." Amelia Peabody (Photo by Yassin Hassan | Creative Commons

“I always say that if one cannot have a pyramid, a nice deep tomb is the next best thing.” Amelia Peabody (Photo by Yassin Hassan | Creative Commons)

Review:

One of my favorite series! Though I had issues with some of the later books, overall this is an extremely fun and enjoyable historical mystery series, starring a female Egyptologist and her family in the late 19th through early 20th centuries. The mysteries themselves are mostly pretty good, but I love the series most for its humor. Expect to laugh frequently and loudly! The novels are among the most quotable I’ve ever read, from recurring catch phrases like “Another shirt ruined!” to Amelia’s pithy observations on life. (There are good collections of quotes here and here.)

Correction: I love it for the humor, and the characters. Amelia, Emerson, Ramses, Sethos, and the rest are larger than life, but so entertaining and (frequently) adorable that they’re irresistible. Reading about their latest adventures is like catching up with old friends. Amelia and Emerson in particular are rumored to be part of the inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones, as well as Rick O’Connell and Evy Carnahan in The Mummy.

Series author Elizabeth Peters, who died in 2013, had a Ph.D in Egyptology, so you’ll also learn interesting stuff about Egyptian culture and archaeology along the way.

Here’s the complete series, with my commentary:

[Read more…]

Widdershins Book Review

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Review:

Continuing with my m/m romance streak, I decided to give the Whyborne & Griffin series a shot based on the recommendation of a fandom friend. Widdershins is quite the genre blender – an m/m historical fantasy/horror novel set in late Victorian New England. It stars Percival Endicott Whyborne, a reclusive scholar, and Griffin Flaherty, an ex-Pinkerton detective who now works as a private investigator.

The two meet when Griffin asks Whyborne, a comparative philologist, for his help in deciphering a coded book sent to his client by the client’s son, shortly before the son was brutally murdered. Whyborne soon realizes that it’s a book of spells… and that the spells work! From there, the two are drawn into a terrifying world of secret societies and dark sorcery.

To be honest, I dislike secret society plots as a rule, so I was skeptical about how much I’d like the book before reading it, but I did end up really enjoying it. Jordan Hawk did a great job building up the dark and creepy atmosphere of Whyborne’s hometown of Widdershins, MA, to the point that the setting is like a separate character, and the Lovecraftian monsters and eldritch abominations were grotesque and genuinely frightening. As a certified wimp, I’m a little surprised one scene in particular hasn’t given me nightmares.

The characterization was also really well done, especially Whyborne. In addition to being shy and reclusive, the man also has a severe case of social anxiety and very low self esteem. I wonder if his interior monologue might be a little annoying for someone who doesn’t suffer from either condition, but speaking as someone with a (thankfully milder) case of both: yes, that is exactly what social anxiety sounds like internally. I wanted to give the poor man a hug and a copy of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (which really helped me with mine) but unfortunately neither I nor the book are going to exist for another hundred years or so.

The romance was a nice slow burn. I didn’t think the UST was as delicious as it was in my favorite m/m romances to date – The Captive Prince and Think of England – but I liked Whyborne and Griffin as a couple quite a lot and the sex scenes were well-written and hot.

Also, major kudos for an awesome female character: Dr. Christine Putnam, a female archaeologist and Whyborne’s co-worker and friend. Her interactions with Whyborne, Griffin, and the sexist Bradley were always entertaining and she’s a great character in her own right as well. I kind of want an Amelia Peabody crossover with her.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Edit: I have now finished the rest of the series as well, and enjoyed all of them. They continue to feature the same gift for creepy atmospherics and great characterization. It has also been pleasant to see Whyborne’s relationship with Griffin and growing magical abilities slowly build his confidence and reduce his anxiety. I definitely recommend this series. The rest of the books are:

  • Threshold (book 2) – Whyborne, Griffin, and Christine investigate a coal mine in West Virginia that has been plagued by mysterious disappearances and other strange events
  • Stormhaven (book 3) – One of Whyborne’s co-workers is arrested for the murder of his uncle, a murder he has no memory of committing. I was worried about how much I’d like this one, because it’s got ANOTHER secret society, plus prophetic dreams, a trope I like even less than secret societies. But while it wasn’t my favorite of the series, I did enjoy it. It’s also got a kraken in it, and it’s hard to go wrong with krakens. 🙂
  • Necropolis (book 4) – An urgent plea for help from Christine sends Whyborne and Griffin to Egypt. This book made me want an Amelia Peabody crossover even more.
  • Bloodline (book 5) – Whyborne’s sister comes home from England for a visit, and is promptly murdered. Lots of interesting new information about Whyborne’s family here – I look forward to seeing how it affects future books.

Book 6 will be entitled Hoarfrost, and is due to be released sometime in 2015. The series also includes several short stories, including Eidolon.