October Round Up

Monthly Mini Review

Illustrated/cartoon style cover of a pair of historical/Regency young men leaning in for an embrace. One man is leaning back against a desk and has a watch behind his back.A Thief in the Night by KJ Charles – B+ At just under 3 hours of listening time, this little delight was easy to squeeze into my listening schedule. Those of us who’ve read or listened to The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting may remember that siblings Marianne and Robin were missing a brother – Toby. He’d left home suddenly some years before after a falling out with their father and, while they understood why he’d left, they missed him and wondered what happened to him.  We listeners need wonder no more as here he is.

Toby isn’t so much a thief as someone who steals things when “needs must”.  He’s happy to work for a living but it’s not always easy to find work and there have been times where he’s stolen or sold himself to survive. While his preference would be not to do either of those things I got the sense that he doesn’t let what he has to do sometimes get him down too much. As the novella begins, Toby meets a handsome aristocratic man in a tavern. They have an enjoyable encounter in the dark and Toby has real regret when he later steals Miles’ watch and pocketbook – but, needs must.

Miles has just returned from the war and is on his way home. He had been estranged from his own father and had hoped they could reconcile but he’s found out he’s a week too late – his father suddenly passed away. When Miles, now the Earl of Arvon, does make it home, he finds a house in terrible disarray. The land has been sold off, there’s only one horse and the house is full of junk – his father was a hoarder of sorts.

#RomBkLove Day 18: Speak to Me of Love

Blue graphic with books and a book light and the title: Day18: Romance audiobooks and #RomBkLove in English

When I thought about how best I could contributed to #RomBkLove almost my first idea was romance audiobooks with a focus on narrators. For those of us who love romance audio, we know it’s all about the narrator. A fantastic narrator can lift an okay book and make a great book come to life in new ways. I’ve said before that audio is a transformative medium. The listener experiences the story through the lens of the characterisation, tone, pacing and pitch of the narrator. When they get it right, it’s magic.

There are many brilliant narrators. My list of favourites is long but I’ve chosen just 6 to highlight today, paired with some of my favourite audiobooks from their catalogues.

REVIEW: Unfit to Print by KJ Charles, narrated by Vikas Adam

sepia background with a head and neck silhouette of a Black man with short curly hair superimposed over it to look like a photo negative, sort ofWhy I read it:  One from my own TBL

Content Warning: Some depiction of prostitution for financial reasons.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  When crusading lawyer Vikram Pandey sets out in search of a missing youth, his investigations take him to Holywell Street, London’s most notorious address. He expects to find a disgraceful array of sordid bookshops. He doesn’t expect one of them to be run by the long-lost friend whose disappearance and presumed death he’s been mourning for thirteen years.

Gil Lawless became a Holywell Street bookseller for his own reasons, and he’s damned if he’s going to apologise or listen to moralising from anyone. Not even Vikram; not even if the once-beloved boy has grown into a man who makes his mouth water.

Now the upright lawyer and the illicit bookseller need to work together to track down the missing youth. And on the way, they may even learn if there’s more than just memory and old affection binding them together…

What worked for me (and what didn’t): It’s often easier for a novella-length story to give me a believable HEA when the main characters already know each other. In this second chance romance (is it second chance when the first chance was when they were only 15 or 16? – let’s go with it anyway, shall we?), Vikram and Gil both went to boarding school together. As the only boys of colour in their form, they shared a common bond which quickly grew into a devoted friendship, with some, er, teenage boy benefits. Vikram is the scion of a wealthy and privileged Indian family, Gil is the illegitimate son of a wealthy man and a Black housemaid. Gil was fortunate in that he was acknowledged by his father, who housed him and paid for his education. Vikram is a straight up and down type guy, Gil tends to gravitate to the gray areas and is more “street smart”  (my term); the latter used to help Vikram not be constantly beaten up at school (the white students not being happy with the idea that Vikram was at least their equal).

When Gil was 16, his father died and his half-brother Matthew booted him out with only ten pounds. He was forced to leave the school so suddenly, he wasn’t even able to tell Vikram. For the following 13 years, Vikram mourned his friend; after looking for him as best he could, he believed Gil to be dead.

Think of England by KJ Charles

Think of EnglandWhy I read it:  I bought this one a while ago and dug it out of the TBR of Doom when Willaful was rhapsodising about how good it was.  (I have chronic FOMO – fear of missing out). Here review is up (I haven’t looked yet, but you can read it here).

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  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…

Trigger warning Racial and Anti-Semitic slurs are used by some of the characters in this book. My sense was the narrative wasn’t approving but YMMV. h/t to Willa, Sunita and Janine for reminding me about this.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  What a delight this book was. I loved the Edwardian setting and the references to the (2nd) Boer War and the wonderful sense of place the story had. I enjoyed watching Archie begin to truly see Daniel and not just the facade he displays.   I liked how Archie, through Daniel, came to question things he’d not before even really thought about.  Archie is a stand up guy but he’s not a deep thinker.  It’s not until the second sexual encounter he has with Daniel that he even questions his sexuality.  He’s had a sort of “what happens at school/during the war, stays at school/on the field” kind of sexuality.

Because the story is told entirely from Archie’s point of view, we see his gradual awareness of Daniel, his sexuality and the people around him.  Daniel is cynical and sly and wears a mask (not a real mask) because it is easier to laugh at people before they laugh at you. It is easier to project an identity for people to laugh at or sneer at that protects the real you underneath the facade.  The barbs can’t damage as much if they are misdirected, yes?  Daniel is a character of wonderful depth and I enjoyed very much his slow reveal of character throughout the story.

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