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)

The Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet Review

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Review:

I enjoy the Brother Cadfael mystery series, by Ellis Peters, so I was excited to discover the Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet, which was written by the same author under her real name, Edith Pargeter, especially since it is about Llewelyn ap Griffith and his brother David, who are also two of the main protagonists in Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Princes trilogy. I thought it would be interesting to read another author’s version of the same story and I wasn’t disappointed.

Pargeter’s version is narrated by a fictional servant of Llewelyn named Samson, and is more romanticized than Penman’s. It’s deliberately written in an old-fashioned and poetic style, to mimic the style of medieval chroniclers, and I actually started underlining some passages because they were so beautifully written I wanted to be able to find them again. Despite Pargeter’s beautiful writing style, I do prefer Penman’s series overall, as her characters seem more human. However, I definitely recommend the Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet if you enjoy historical fiction.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

My Favorite Horse Novels For Kids

I’ve loved horses for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, I don’t come from a horsey family, so I had the opportunity to ride only briefly, when I studied dressage for a couple years in my late teens. As one of those girls who asked her parents for a horse every year for Christmas, I had to content myself for most of my childhood and early teen years with reading about them. Luckily, there are tons of great horse stories out there. I was desperate enough to read quite a few books that were pretty terrible in terms of the quality of the writing, but also many that are legitimate classics. My favorite horse stories included:

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King of the Wind, by Marguerite Henry

My all-time favorite. Based (though with many historical liberties) on the true story of the Godolphin Arabian, one of the founding sires of the thoroughbred breed. Born in Morocco, the fleet-footed but small Godolphin Arabian (or Sham, as he is known in the book) is sent as a gift by the Sultan to the young king of France, who fails to recognize what he’s been given and turns the young stallion into a carthorse. Along with his loving caretaker, Agba, a mute horseboy from the Sultan’s stables, Sham is passed from owner to owner, some kind, some horrible, before his worth is finally recognized by the Earl of Godolphin. It’s a thrilling and emotional story, bookended by an account of Sham’s great descendant Man O’War and his match race with Sir Barton.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

I read all of Marguerite Henry’s horse books as a kid and loved them all. My other favorite was Black Gold, the story of the 1930s-era Oklahoma racehorse who finished his last race on “three legs and a heart.” (Needless to say, a tearjerker!)

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The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley

The first and best of the popular Black Stallion series, which I read most of. The series stars another fleet-footed Arabian, the wild and savage Black, who survives a shipwreck and a stint being marooned on a desert island with a young boy before returning to New York and becoming a mystery entrant in the match race of the century. Both a great adventure story and a great sports story!

The Black Stallion was made into a pretty good (though not entirely faithful) film during the 70s, with champion Arabian Cass Ole as The Black. The scenes on the desert island are particularly beautiful and well done.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Farley’s fictionalized biography of the legendary Man O’War is also a great read.

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Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell

Fiction with an agenda can sometimes be pretty overbearing, but Black Beauty, which Sewell wrote to bring attention to the widespread mistreatment of horses in the late Victorian era, is a great story as well as a convincing piece of propaganda. Beauty narrates the story of his life, from his happy period as a foal playing with his mother in the green English countryside to the cruel life of a London cabhorse and beyond. It’s probably the world’s most famous horse story, and deservedly so.

There have been several attempts to make a movie out of the story, of which the best and most faithful is this 1994 one, starring Sean Bean (who doesn’t die, for once), David Thewlis, Alan Cumming, Alun Armstrong, and Jim Carter.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Mr Revere and I, by Robert Lawson

A fun historical fiction novel about the American Revolution, told from the perspective of Paul Revere’s horse Scheherazade (aka Sherry). Sherry begins her career as the pride of the British Army and a dyed-in-the-wool loyalist to the British Crown, but is gradually converted to the colonial side after being “liberated” by Sam Adams (who’s given an especially entertaining portrayal here) and given to the Revere family. It’s a very funny and well written book on top of being educational and exciting, so it’s a great read by itself and would also make a wonderful addition to any Revolutionary War unit study.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Lawson’s other Revolutionary-War-from-an-animal-perspective novel, Ben and Me, which narrates the life of Ben Franklin through the eyes of his pet mouse, is also very enjoyable.

Some of my other favorite horse novels for children are sadly out of print and hard to find, such as Sky Rocket: The Story of a Little Bay Horse, another riches-to-rags-to-riches story similar to Black Beauty, and the flawed but interesting And Miles To Go: The Biography of a Great Arabian Horse, Witez II, about a Polish Arabian stallion who was caught up in the events of World War 2 before being imported to America.

What are your favorite horse stories for children?

Children of the River Book Review

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Review:

Children of the River is another of my favorite YA romance novels. It tells the story of a Cambodian refugee girl named Sundara who escapes from the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge with her aunt and uncle and flees to America. I’m ashamed to say that before reading it for the first time around age 14 or 15, I knew almost nothing about Cambodia, and nothing at all about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, who were responsible for the death of up to 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979, so it was a very eye-opening book for me. In addition to information about the Cambodian genocide, the novel also has many interesting details about Cambodian customs and traditions, as well as a nuanced depiction of the struggle many immigrants face between preserving their own unique cultures and blending in with mainstream American society.

It’s also a very sweet romance. Four years after her escape from Cambodia, Sundara falls in love with an American boy named Jonathan, which creates new complications in her life, as Cambodian culture practices arranged marriage and good Cambodian girls like Sundara are not supposed to go on dates. (Especially not with non-Cambodian boys.) Sundara and Jonathan are both changed by their relationship, and the book has a very satisfying conclusion.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

The Scarlet Pimpernel Book Review

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Review:

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy, is one of my favorite classic adventure novels. It gets off to a rather slow start, but ratchets up the tension beautifully as the story progresses until it’s practically impossible to put down. I also like that Marguerite, while forced into the role of damsel-in-distress at several points, is nevertheless allowed to be quite clever and resourceful in her own right. For a novel originally published in 1905, she’s an unusually spunky and likable heroine!

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

It seems like a book that would make a fantastic movie, but I’ve been disappointed with the attempts so far. The 1934 version with Leslie Howard was just awful. I liked the 1982 film with Jane Seymour and Ian McKellan a lot more, but still feel like it could be done better. Here’s the trailer for that version:

The Broadway musical soundtrack is enjoyable, but I’ve never seen it on stage.

Historical Fiction By Sharon Kay Penman Review

Sharon Kay Penman has been one of my favorite authors since I was a teenager. Her novels focus on the Plantagenet family that ruled England for several centuries starting in the 12th century, and their contemporaries.

It would be admittedly be pretty tough to make the Plantagenets boring (they were some of England’s least boring rulers, and that says something!) but Penman’s novels are not only highly regarded for their historical accuracy, they’re also rip-roaring good reads, with plenty of action, romance, and intrigue to keep almost anyone enthralled. For such a male-dominated period of history, I like that she also puts a lot of focus on the female characters and their complex situations.

My Favorite Penman Novels: The Welsh Princes Trilogy

The Welsh Princes trilogy were the first Penman books I read, and are still my favorites. I think they have the most appealing characters (confession time: teenage me had a huge crush on both Llewelyns), although history being what it is, they’re also something of an emotional roller coaster, especially the second and third books.

Book 1: Here Be Dragons

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The first in the series focuses on Joanna, a bastard daughter of King John. (Yes, that King John.)

Joanna is married to the Welsh prince Llewelyn ab Iorwerth (more commonly remembered as Llewelyn Fawr, or Llewelyn the Great) at the age of 14, and soon finds herself torn between her loyalty to her beloved father (who is here given a more nuanced portrayal than usual) and husband, who she also grows to love deeply.

Joanna is nearly unique in the annals of royal wives in that she was caught in an adulterous relationship and not only forgiven by her husband but restored to full favor and position at court. (A Royal Affair demonstrates a much more common aftermath for such a situation.) By all accounts, Llewelyn was grief-stricken by her death some years later, and even founded a Franciscan friary in her honor, which was completed shortly before his own death. I thought Penman navigated this tricky and unusual situation well, and came up with a plausible explanation for it, given the apparent happiness of Llewelyn and Joanna’s marriage otherwise.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Book 2: Falls the Shadow

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Book 2 continues with the deaths of most of the characters you grew to love in the first book (seriously, keep a tissue handy!) but introduces new ones in the form of Llewelyn Fawr’s grandson, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, and Simon de Montfort, the reform-minded French husband of Joanna’s younger half-sister Eleanor (Nell), as they each contend with John’s weak and incompetent son Henry III, and the rise of Henry’s far stronger son, the future Edward I (Longshanks).

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Book 3: The Reckoning

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Don’t throw that tissue away yet! You’ll need it a few more times as Edward warms up for his future role as “Hammer of the Scots” by taking on the Welsh. Although I love them all, this is probably my favorite of the trilogy. Family drama, romance, and high tragedy abound.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

If you enjoy the Welsh Princes trilogy, I also recommend Edith Pargeter’s Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet, which focuses on the lives of Llewelyn ap Gruffydd and his brother Davydd.

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The Borgia Chronicles Review

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Review:

I’m still upset about The Borgias being cancelled, so after stumbling across The Serpent and the Pearl, by Kate Quinn, the first book in The Borgia Chronicles, at the library, I decided to give it a shot to see if it could ease my withdrawal a bit.

The Borgia Chronicles, which include The Serpent and the Pearl and The Lion and the Rose, are told from the perspective of Giulia Farnese, the celebrated Italian beauty and mistress of Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI), and two fictional servants: Giulia’s cook Carmelina and her bodyguard Leonello, a dwarf who reminded me of Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones thanks to his sharp wit and love of books. Quinn’s Giulia starts out as a young and naive girl, but matures over the course of the series into a kind and caring young woman. She is an entirely different creature than the elegant Giulia of The Borgias or the energetic Giulia of Borgia: Faith and Fear, but I have to say, I like all three. So little is known of the real Giulia Farnese that any one (or none) of the three portrayals could be accurate.

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The Borgia family comes across fairly accurately, based on my understanding of their real life personalities, with one glaring exception related to the portrayal of Cesare in the first book that was resolved somewhat more satisfactorily in the second.

Quinn has a very pleasant and absorbing writing style that’s rich in period detail and sensory descriptions that bring the era to life. I repeatedly found myself reading much more in a sitting than I’d intended! I especially enjoyed her mouthwatering descriptions of Carmelina’s cooking, which are based on actual recipes from cooks of the period such as Bartolomeo Scappi (who is also a character in the books).

My biggest issue with the series was Quinn’s tendency to force me to suspend my disbelief over certain plot choices, which kept tossing me out of what were otherwise a pair of very enjoyable novels. I’ve already mentioned the issue with Cesare’s portrayal, which greatly marred my enjoyment of the first book, but though that eventually got resolved in a somewhat more probable manner, the second book went and did it again with an ending that seemed overly pat and tidy, not to mention improbable.

SPOILERS [click to view]

Despite having spent a third of the series reading Leonello’s thoughts, I never had the slightest suspicion that he was in love with Giulia, and I usually have a sharp nose for that sort of thing, so that seemed completely out of the blue to me. I could buy Giulia returning his feelings more easily, but despite the convenient sham marriage to the gay lord, I had trouble accepting that a noblewoman of Giulia’s era would just be allowed to shack up with a common dwarf for the rest of her life. Nor could I buy that Cesare would just take Leonello’s word that he’d killed Carmelina, given their history (however antagonistic it sometimes was). My romantic side was all fluttery and overjoyed that everybody ended up happy and free of their dangerous entanglement with the Borgia family, but my skeptical side was not so easily convinced.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)