Linda78

The Silver Music Box (Silver Music Box #1) (Audiobook)

The Silver Music Box - Mina Baites, Alison Layland

From the blurb, I thought this was going to be about Lillian finding out about her roots and trying to research where her family came from and what happened to them during WWII, but that part of the plot doesn't come in until a little over 2/3s of the way through the book. Instead, it starts out with Johann Blumenthal fighting in WWI for Germany, then follows through to his son Paul at the dawn of the Nazis taking over power and Paul's eventual attempts to get his family out of the country. When things are looking grim for them, it then drops that storyline and jumps forward to the 1960s to Lillian, where I thought the story was going to start.

 

It was a bit jarring to start off, since I wasn't expecting the story to be so linear, but in the end, I found it more effective getting to know the Blumenthal's and seeing their attempts to stay in Germany as long as they could before realizing - perhaps too late - that they needed to flee to save themselves. It was disheartening to see them doing everything they could to be good Germans, in a Germany that cared about them less and less, and to see the small steps that began to segregate the Jews from the main populace more and more until the Nazis were in power and didn't care about being quite so subtle anymore. 

 

This is compounded when they end up in Capetown in South Africa - they're safe there, but all around them is apartheid - which was implemented based on Aryan propaganda and laws.

(show spoiler)

 

I did feel at times that the characters were there more to serve as plot points, and Charolette suffers the most from this since she mostly just reacts while Paul is making all the preparations. Knowing how many women worked in the underground and resistance forces during WWII, I would have liked to see Charolette take a more active role. 

 

I also would have liked more time to get to know Lillian so her story arc could have more weight, but seeing her so driven to find out everything she could about where she came from and what happened to her family was touching nonetheless. 

 

The narrator, Jane Oppenheimer, who I first heard narrating The Moonlit Garden, was an odd choice I think for this story. She has a very mellow and soothing voice, which dulled the tension from a story that really should have been tense.

Widdershins (Whyborne & Griffin #1)

Widdershins  - Jordan L. Hawk

Reread review 1/20/19:

 

No wonder I couldn't remember some of this. I read it three and-a-half years ago! ;) Time flies.

 

Whyborne and Griffin are the best. <3 I really enjoyed revisiting them at the start of their relationship, and seeing how much they've both changed and grown in confidence and strength since this first outing. Whyborne's so used to abuse and bullying that just Griffin being nice to him is enough to endear Griffin to him. And Griffin is so used to being abandoned that Whyborne sticking by him in times of trouble is enough to make its own impression. They're exactly what the other needed. <3

 

Christine's as great as ever. I still think making Ms. Parkhurst

fall for Persephone is a retcon. She's clearly crushing on Whyborne this whole time, but suddenly she's into a squid monster. Ooookay. Sure.

(show spoiler)

I'm going to try to be more open-minded about Niles, since as of book 10 I still have reservations about him. He was somewhat less awful here than I remembered him being - though he's still plenty awful, no question.

 

Original review 6/7/15:

 

I held out on delving into this series for the longest time, because historicals, especially in M/M are almost never done to my liking. They're too contemporary, or they're costume dramas, or they've got the sickly waif, or what have you. I've really only enjoyed Tamara Allen's works because she gets into the mindset of the time and doesn't try to modernize them. Ms. Hawk doesn't quite come up to that standard, but she comes incredibly close. The characters sound like they're from the turn of the century, more or less. They don't go gaga over the dress of the times; there is no more attention paid to anyone's garb than there would be in a contemporary fiction. So I liked this book just for that right from the start.

 

Then the plot starting picking up. Historical AND paranormal? Two genres I'm usually picky about. I'm trying to get into shifters, but so far I've only read THIRDS and that fell flat. Vampires? Even if I hadn't had my fill with Anne Rice in high school and with Buffy/Angel right after that, I do believe Edward Cullen has ruined the genre for the rest of humanity and all of time. Harry Dresden works for me because it's from the POV of someone working to oppose those forces and it doesn't get overly angsty, and that's more or less what Ms. Hawk does here as well. There is some angst, thanks to that Big Misunderstanding, but I wasn't bothered by it because of the way it was resolved. The paranormal element takes front and center, and I liked seeing Whyborne struggle to understand it and resist its lure. I thought the family conflict was resolved a bit too neatly, but I'm willing to see if it's resolved for good or just put on hold due to traumatic circumstances. 

 

I really enjoyed Whyborne and Griffin. They're not as cut and dry as they appear to be. They both have past struggles to contend with and past regrets that haunt them, but they're a good match for each other. You could see Whyborne slowly growing more confident in himself as the book progressed. Griffin too gets some development, but as the story is told through Whyborne's POV, we only get to see it secondhand, but we do get to see it and experience it. Then there's Christine, who in my mind looks and acts much like Marvel's Agent Carter. She's the perfect woman and I hope she becomes a regular character and a part of their team. 

 

There were a few typos, words repeating where they should have been edited out (no, not the stutters), and a couple of other minor instances but nothing overly glaring. There was just the right amount of sex, at least for me. And while this isn't quite instalove, they do fall for each other fairly quickly if you pay attention to the timeline. Still, with the focus being primarily on the investigation, that didn't bother me all that much. I'm much more forgiving of that trope when the characters are able to get over themselves and focus on the actual plot instead of getting sidetracked constantly by feels and horniness. Not that there isn't some sidetracking, but it's not on every single page and they're able to act like mature adults.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. I can see myself becoming a fan of this series if they continue to hold up to the standard set by this one. Plus, Widdershins sounds like a place that can get Hellmouthy, so I'm looking forward to what their future adventures might entail. 

Vintage: A Ghost Story

Vintage: A Ghost Story - Berman,  Steve, Steve Berman

This was interesting enough to keep my attention, and it thankfully wasn't a ghost love story, because that concept is just weird. What else is weird is that the MC is never named. Not once. So I'll call him Melindo (Gordon) because why not. 

 

Melindo is 17 and lives with his aunt after his parents kicked him out of the home for being gay. He stumbles upon a ghost one night while walking home, only to find out the ghost is his town's very own urban legend. Josh was killed in the 50s on that stretch of road and has been seen walking it ever since. Melindo is actually able to talk to Josh. Josh is hot and Melindo is horny and desperate, so why not see where this goes, right?

 

Um...because Josh is a ghost. That might be a reason. IJS.

 

It was a little strange for Melindo and his best friend Trace to be so blasé about Melindo's ghost whispering abilities. Sure, they're into the macabre and they crash funerals for funsies, but at some point, I'd have expected them to step back and question reality just a little. 

 

I liked that Trace wasn't the overbearing girl friend so typical of M/M (probably helps that this isn't actually M/M) and that the ghost story doesn't go in quite the direction I expected. Melindo's aunt was pretty cool, and I liked Second Mike a lot. Still, I never felt like I connected with any of the characters or really cared about what would happen in the end. It was a quick read though, and the writing flowed well, so it was a nice way to spend a couple of days.

Arrows of the Queen (Heralds of Valdemar #1; Valdemar #1)

Arrows of the Queen - Mercedes Lackey

This is the first book in the Valdemar series and it has a lot going for it, but it falls short of what I expect out of story. The good news is it's not another Tolkien ripoff trying to pass itself off as something original. The bad news is it's the first in a series, and I think even the first book Lackey wrote, and it shows. The other good news is that for a first book, this shows a lot of promise, and I'm willing to go along for the ride and see how Lackey improves as a writer over the course of the series, especially as I'll be reading this is publication order.

 

This book introduces us to the world of Valdemar, so named after its first ever king, and a young Herald by the name of Talia. She's the classic Hero archetype, pulled from the fringes of society from a miserable life to discover that she's something more than she dreamed possible, landing into a world of adventure. Eventually. After she gets trained and goes to school and all that boring stuff. ;) Along the way, she meets several friends, helps with a conspiracy to unseat the Queen, and gets a magical horse. 

 

I like Talia for the most part. She comes across a bit Mary Sue-ish at times, but that appears to be a hazard of the Heralds in general, since they're Chosen by their Companions, who somehow can sense the people who will have all the qualities necessary to be good Heralds: goody-two-shoes with some form of Gift and with hearts of gold no matter how awful their starts in life might have been. In other words, no one from Slytherin is getting onto this team. Not that they're perfect, and that saves Talia from being a true Mary Sue. She has faults and she pays for them, and she struggles to fit in and find her place in the Collegium. Her growth through the book was quite well-done.

 

Of the other characters we get the most page time with, I really liked Skif and Jadus. Skif was a street rat and still has many skills handy for sneaking about - and getting into trouble. Jadus becomes a mentor to Talia, and later to Skif. Elspeth, the queen's heir, is a horror child when we first meet her, and I can just imagine the tough love approach taken to tame her would be frowned upon by some. 

 

The world-building is sprinkled throughout the book and doesn't overwhelm at any point, but I would've liked to see more of the day-to-day goings on of the Collegium, more training sessions, more classes, more equestrian training, anything at all with the Council. The various other side characters also don't get as well developed as the ones I mentioned and are there mostly for support. There's also a lot of head hopping that I'm sure would annoy some readers, though it was never confusing whose head we were in at any point.

 

I also wanted more of the conspiracy.

Since most of the book was from Talia's POV, and she understandably isn't allowed into the inner workings of the kingdom, we miss nearly everything about this conspiracy. If Lackey was going to head hop anyway, I don't see why we couldn't get those scenes with the queen discussing them with her Council. Being left in the dark for this, when it drives so much of the plot, feels like a huge misstep. We don't even find out the name of the people who were arrested.

(show spoiler)

Ice Blues (Donald Strachey #3)

Ice Blues - Richard Stevenson

I do love a snarky bastard, and Don Strachey is up there with the best of them. <3 He's not always easy to love - like when he's bemoaning his forced monogamy due to the AIDS crisis - but he keeps Detective Newman and the bad guys on their toes. Even when they think they have him where they want him, he's always one step ahead, if only just. Timmy is way too good for Donald. I honestly don't know why he puts up with half the stunts Don pulls in this one. He has way more patience than I would.

 

The case is kookier than ever, as Don finds himself unexpectedly neck deep in political intrigue, possible dope dealers and millions gone missing - all thanks to some dude he met once at a party. Which really is all the more reason not to go to parties and stay home with a good book, if you ask me. Poor Timmy is put through the wringer in this one, but I think I felt most sorry for the anonymous men and women at Don's call service. You know they gossip about him during their lunch hour! Watching Don scrambling to stay ahead of the game, and the ease with which he lies and schemes and snarks his way through one scene after another was a treat. 

 

There were a bit more typos than I could put up with, especially in the last third of the book where "he" and "be" were constantly mixed up. There was also some punctuation misuse and so on. 

Vespertine

Vespertine - Indra Vaughn, Leta Blake

This just didn't work for me. Seventeen years pass between the MCs breaking up and meeting up again. That's just too long for anyone to still be hung up on a first love, especially when I couldn't even imagine why they'd be friends in the first place. Nicky's kind of got an excuse, since he's supposed to be emotionally-stunted from his years of drug use. I'm not sure what Jasper's excuse is, but he reverts back to a teenager as soon as Nicky's around. He doesn't have a concrete personality, just "revelations" as required for the plot.

 

I didn't buy the connection between the MCs. Zero chemistry - for me. I'm clearly the odd one out on this one, since everyone else seems to love it. I wanted to like it, and most of it I did like, but there was always something off. If it wasn't the painfully horrible song lyrics, it was the ham-fisted way that Jasper's conflict of religion was handled. If it wasn't the stereotypical portrayal of the rock star life and the evil record company big wigs, it was the overly contrived situations the authors kept putting the characters in to manufacture UST that fell flat on its face. Then because the authors made the reader wait so long for the smexy, a bunch of sex gets crammed into the end, by which point I was beyond caring. Then the authors threw in an absolutely ridiculous plot "twist" that annoyed me so much I had to skim most of the after-school special melodrama, which was as cliched and predictable as you would expect, just to not have my first read of 2019 end up a DNF.

 

Actually, that was a big issue from the beginning of the book. Because this is a Romance(™) so there has to be an HEA or at least an HFN, and for that to happen, there's no way Jasper was ending this book still a priest. It was pretty easy to see how that resolution was being set up. That wouldn't be an issue, necessarily, but I could never buy into Jasper's existential crisis. It came across shallow. A little less clear was Nicky's ending, but you knew something dramatic would happen to make his situation with his record company better.

 

And that was another problem. There was just so much drama. While this did start out promising, it quickly nose-dived into Dramaville around 70% and never quite climbed it's way back out again. The drama llamas were stampeding and they weren't letting our characters out of this book without massive amounts of MELODRAMA.

 

Melodramatic yelling at your long-lost love.
Melodramatic song lyrics.
Melodramatic praying in the shower.
Melodramatic swimming.
Melodramatic running away down the road whilst halfway tearing off your clothes. Yes, that deserved a "whilst."
Melodramatic phone tossing - because you can't have melodramatic ANGST if the characters can contact each other too easily. (Did he ever get a new phone?)
Melodramatic crying.

 

So.

 

Much.

 

Crying.

 

I didn't feel any of these emotions were genuine, nor did I feel any real attachment to the characters. Basically, I had attachment disorder with this book. :D

 

I didn't hate all of it. I liked all the stuff with the teens in Blue Oasis. I liked Thomas and Mrs. Wells, and Nicky's parents and Ramona. The cat was hilarious. Nicky even had his moments when he wasn't being an ass or annoying. Jasper was mostly lost potential though, sadly.

A Christmas Carol (Audiobook)

A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens, Sergio Gutierrez, T. C. Boyle, Simon Prebble

Yay! I finally finished a Dickens book! Helps that it was short and one that I'm well familiar with thanks to Mickey Mouse and Xena. :D He's still a little long-winded but being restricted by a short story certainly helped the rambling. The Disney animated classic is quite accurate adaptation, but I still like Xena's more. :D

 

What's your favorite retelling of A Christmas Carol?

Love Is Heartless (Love Can't #2)

Love Is Heartless  - Kim Fielding

This book is kind of sort of a prequel to the first in the series, since it starts long before Love Can't Conquer, but it's about Jeffrey's friend Nevin Ng and his boyfriend Colin, who Nevin mentioned a couple of times in the first book but who we never met. Now we see how they met and slowly fell in love.

 

Oh, so slowly. Nevin's a complex character with many walls built around him after a lifetime spent in foster care and for once, we're given a story that gives a more realistic portrayal of how such a character might fall in love. And it's not over a couple of nights. While Nevin becomes interested in Colin fairly quickly, it takes much longer for trust and love to develop. It also takes a lot of patience on Colin's part.

 

Colin didn't have the lonely life that Nevin did growing up, but he did have to grow up with health issues and the uncertainty of life that can bring. He's always had to be careful, and never had much excitement. So when he meets Nevin, he sees this as his chance to have a wild fling, and hopefully maybe something more if he can keep Nevin from bolting.

 

I'm not sure why, since I really liked Colin and Nevin, but I never really got them as a couple. It's no fault of the book, but they just never quite clicked for me and I can't even point to any one particular thing to explain why their chemistry was off. Maybe it was simply a matter of I'd rather be reading about Jeremy and Qay again. It might be better actually to read this one first, though it would spoil the ending of the first book so I'm not sure I can actually recommend that either. Maybe start this one until they start talking about Thanksgiving dinner, and then go back and read the first one to the end, then come back and finish this one?

 

There's also another quasi-mystery here that doesn't get a lot of focus despite Nevin being a detective - hence why I didn't use the mystery tag - but is sort of bubbling in the background until the very end. 

The Mark of Zorro/The Curse of Capistrano (Zorro #1) (Audiobook)

The Mark of Zorro - Johnston McCulley, Armando Duran

The Mark of Zorro is not Antonio Banderas's Zorro. This would be Anthony Hopkins's Zorro as a young man before he settled down. But it's still Zorro, which means swashbuckling aplenty, secret identities (though you'll know Zorro's real identity if you've seen any of the movies), ridiculously well-trained horses, feisty señoritas who will settle for nothing less than ALL the romantic tropes but who can take care of herself just fine thank you very much, and corrupt governors, all set against the backdrop of 1820s California.

 

Originally titled The Curse of Capistrano and written by a man with more pseudonyms than Aragon son of Arathorn, this story is just a grand old good time. If you want deep philosophical thoughts, look elsewhere. This is a swashbuckling novel of the finest order, and everyone is just a little over the top (or a lot, ha!) and the action is pretty well-written. Some of the material is dated, but not cringingly so and I thought it held up remarkably well considering it'll be 100 years old next year.

 

The narration by Armando Duran is very well done and he's got a nice soothing voice that suits the characters well and expresses just the right amount of flavor and spice to make the story jump off the page without being too overly dramatic. It's just overly dramatic enough. ;)

Machine Metal Magic (Mind + Machine #1)

Machine Metal Magic (Mind + Machine #1) - Hanna Dare

I saw this described as Firefly-inspired sci-fi, and while I don't normally read sci-fi, I'm a huge Firefly fan so I had to give this one a try. There is certainly a strong Firefly influence, with a good dose of Skynet from Terminator. Basically, in a dystopic future, the machines have turned against humanity, pushing humans off Earth and out into the universe, where we've made a survival/living for ourselves in a system with moons we can populate and hide from the machines, here called the Singularity.

 

Some factions exist among the survivors wanting to take humans back to the pre-Industrial age. Other people have genetically altered themselves to be able to talk to computers. How that's a genetic ability, I don't know, but *hand wave sci-fi mumbo jumbo*. There's a big clash between these two groups. 

 

It's in this future that we find the crew of the Serenity...er, I mean, the Wayward Prince. I think this was a little too much like Firefly, but without the character building of the "side" characters that I would have expected. We know their names, what they do on the ship (kind of) and maybe one personality thing about them, but other than that, I really only got a clear picture of the captain, Sebastian Garcia and of Mags, the Mal and Zoe of the crew. 

 

As for the MCs, we've got Rylan, the newest member of the crew and his kind-of-but-not-really hostage Jaime Bashir, who joins the crew on a temporary basis. Jaime's a "wizard" and can talk to computers directly. Rylan has some secrets, and that's really all I can say about that. Oh, and he has an artificial arm with computer components and he's not that keen on the idea of someone being around who can manipulate his arm besides him. While their first encounter wasn't ideal, they quickly become allies and friends.

 

This was a lot of fun, and the world building was more or less handled well, not too info-dumpy but sprinkled throughout as needed. Once the action starts, it doesn't really stop, but it doesn't really get going until the last quarter of the book when we find out more about what Rylan's actually up to. The characters are all lovable, as much as we know about them - but then I'm basing that mostly on Firefly as, again, we didn't get to spend a lot of time with many of them.

 

And that's the main issue I had here. As much fun as this was, it really needed to be longer, to take some more time than it does between the action to show us who all these multiple characters are and why we should care about them. But this is the first in a series, and as an intro, it does a decent job of setting the board. Hopefully, we'll see more character development for everyone in future books.

 

The editing is mostly good, but there are missing words throughout, pretty critical ones too. 

The Ghost Had an Early Check-Out (TGWYS #2)

The Ghost Had an Early Check-Out - Josh Lanyon

The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks was one of the earliest Lanyon books I read, after Fair Game and the Adrien English series. I adored Perry and really liked Nick. The atmosphere of the old house full of crazies was perfectly written and eerily portrayed, and the mystery was engaging and just as zany as the people in the house. I've read that book at least three times and enjoyed it more each time.

 

However, it wasn't a book or a pairing that was crying out for a sequel. Even so, I was one of the ones (semi-)excited when the sequel was first announced a few years ago. But I was nervous too because so many of the JL's books lately just haven't appealed to me or haven't lived up to those earlier books, so I went into this with mixed feelings.

 

This was painfully average. Once again, I found myself asking "who wrote this" while I was reading it because this isn't the JL of ten years ago, or even of five years ago. The writing was adequate but there was no real sense of atmosphere or the space this story was taking place in, which is too bad because she really could've done a lot with this setting of a broken down hotel full of B-movie horror props. The characters were zany but randomly so, as if their characteristics were chosen by throwing darts at a board. They didn't play off each other very well at all, and there was so little interaction with them - or maybe they were just so forgettable - that I couldn't really keep them straight, even though this only took a little over a day to read. The mystery was all over the place and didn't even make any sense. There are just too many unanswered questions, and it felt like Lanyon was just making things up on the fly instead of plotting out the mystery elements ahead of time.

 

Most importantly, Nick and Perry's relationship was just there. Because they're a couple and in the same book. It was barely touched upon. They have next to no conflicts in their relationship. Nick is gone a lot because he's the low man on the totem pole at work and has to do the overnight and away assignments, but Perry's busy with work (whatever that is) and school and his paintings, so while he misses Nick it's not really an issue for him. Perry's homesick, but that's hardly touched on either. Nick misses Perry but that's just mentioned in passing. He's frustrated their rare weekend together is being hogged up with a silly mystery in an old house, but other than a couple of short conversations about it, it's also not really an issue. So there was no real development, either individually or as a couple. There was only one sex scene - interrupted thank God, because it was averagely written as the rest of this.

 

I have to say, I finished this and had to wonder why this story was even necessary. Maybe a lot of this could have been improved if the story had been longer, but then we'd still be waiting for it.  

No Place Like Home (Love Can't #1.5)

No Place Like Home - Kim Fielding

Near the end of Love Can't Conquer, Jeremy's told about an out gay couple in his old hometown in Nowhere, KS. This short story shows us how that couple met. Stephen and Max are in their late 50s, single and looking at old age alone, until a chance meeting leads to more. This is very short, just a few scenes really, but they're sweet.

Love Can't Conquer (Love Can't #1)

Love Can't Conquer - Kim Fielding

Older MCs (in their mid-to-late 40s), each with baggage and hard pasts, each from the same small podunk town, meet again after a lifetime of disappointments and hardships. This is unlike anything I've read before by Kim Fielding. The tone is more grounded, the characters are mature and facing their lives and mistakes. It's still a fast moving romance if you look at the timeline, but there's so much weight to these characters and their scenes together that it feels more than a sufficient time for it to feel more like a slow burn than insta-love.

 

Jeremy is a park ranger in Portland, OR, and has an alcoholic ex whose bad decisions are about to crash into Jeremy's life. Qay is a recovering addict who spent years homeless and in mental hospitals, and is now working in a factory and going to college part-time. Qay recognizes Jeremy immediately from their long-ago childhood, though they were never friends. Now, the two men forge a friendship together. But love doesn't fix their problems. Jeremy's life is still in upheaval because of his ex, and Qay still has to fight his urges to give into his addiction and still has panic attacks.

 

Jeremy tries to see the good in everyone and to do good to all he meets, and Qay has been alone for the majority of his life, seeing the worst sides of life. There are several reasons for them to stay away from each other, but just as many to give each other a chance. As with most of Fielding's stories, this is a quiet story filled with compassionate and flawed characters. The supporting cast is great, and the setting is used to full effect. There are no easy answers for the MCs, and they stumble more than once. 

Bundled Up (Portland Heat #1-3)

Bundled Up (Portland Heat) - Annabeth Albert

This was disappointing. I really liked Albert's #gaymers series and was hoping this would be more of the same, but alas it was not. This contains the first three novellas of the Portland Heat series, and each one is just not up to snuff. They're rather superficial, actually, with each couple falling into lust with each other and that eventually leads to love after lots and lot and lots of redundant sex scenes. Usually, I'll at least skim the sex scenes if they're spread out enough, but there were too many even for that and I just started skipped them all. What was left was pretty standard fare, but with MCs that were terrible at communication. At least it took them longer than the standard 30 days to say the ILUs and move in together, a timeline that's painfully common in romance these days, so there's that. All stories are 1st-person POV with only one MC getting the POV per story, and all their voices sounded the same.

 

Served Hot - 2 stars

 

Robby has his own coffee cart in the business district and has the hots for one of the white-collars who comes to his cart every day. David is a finance director despite being rather young for the position, and he's on the nerdy side. David's getting over a relationship that ended when his lover died, and Robby is the insecure pushy needy emo-dude that he gets stuck with. Yeah, I wasn't feeling this couple at all.

 

Baked Fresh - 3 stars

 

Vic is a baker whose addiction to food - and his male relatives' young deaths from heart disease - led him to getting a laparoscopic band surgically placed around his stomach. Robin is a trust-fund baby who's a recovering drug addict and volunteers at a homeless shelter to atone for his past misdeeds while high. He also has a series of sexual hangups that of course can be cured only by lots and lots of sex. *sigh* Counseling is a thing, you know? I did not at all like Vic calling Robin "boy" during sex - brain bleach please! - or the mildly quasi-D/s dynamic their sexual relationship had, but I did like the relationship outside the bedroom, especially once they started talking to and supporting each other. These two actually did the most talking and connecting of these three couples. I could believe they'd actually have a future together.

 

Delivered Fast - 2.5 stars

 

Oh, it was fast all right. Lance, a younger cousin of Vic, is going to college to be a physical therapist and working part-time making deliveries for bakery where Vic works. Chris - whose name isn't mentioned until more than halfway through the book - co-owns a coffee shop with his ex. Chris is really old, y'all. He's mid-30s! *gasp* and so of course the age gap becomes an issue, and Chris is an immature dweeb about it. Lance is just barely given any depth, most of it in the last half of the novella. I skimmed a lot of the set-up with this one, because I was bored with the "guy-sees-guy, guys-boink-a-lot-of-times, and eventually start acting like a couple" formula. The blurb promises clever double entendres - I don't think the blurb writer knows what those are. And how do you not hear someone riding up on a motorcycle? That scene made no sense. Well, a lot of scenes don't make much sense in this series so far, but that one took the cake. I also wasn't feeling this couple, though this one ended stronger than it started.

The Tin Box (Audiobook)

The Tin Box - Kim Fielding

Wow, that was maudlin.

 

Appropriately so, given the subject matter, but...damn, that was maudlin.

 

I gotta say, I didn't care much about the romance in this one. Not that Colby wasn't sweet - if on the flighty side - but this really was more about Will accepting himself as a gay man after spending the last 33 years of his life trying to pray the gay away, even going so far as to marry a woman he's now divorcing. He's having to do all the self-discovery stuff most people do in their teens and twenties, and he doesn't even know the first thing about gay sex. Colby takes him under his wing, literally being his wing man as well as his friend as Will figures himself out.

 

But it's Will's discovery of a tin lunch box hidden in one of the cells of an abandoned mental institution that really helps him with his journey. Will's working as a caretaker for the abandoned hospital while he works on his college dissertation, and he finds letters that the patient, coincidentally named Bill, wrote to his lover John. Obviously, John never got said letters but Will slowly reads through them and discovers the strength and desperation of this one-time patient as Bill was forced to endure one "cure" after another for his homosexuality, at that time considered a mental illness. Some of the details are not easy to hear and learning Bill's ultimate fate is enraging, so you've been warned, but the way Will decides to honor Bill's life and legacy is indeed touching.

 

It took me quite awhile to get into the audiobook. The narrator, KC Kelly, has a pleasant enough voice and speaks clearly, but I wasn't quite feeling his voice at first, and he doesn't have a lot of range with the voices. Still, it did grow on me by the end.

 

Talk Sweetly to Me (Brothers Sinister #4.5)

Talk Sweetly to Me (The Brothers Sinister) (Volume 5) - Courtney Milan

The final story in the Brothers Sinister series centers on Stephen Shaughnessy, who has the barest of connections ever to the core three Brothers Sinister - he writes the "Actual Man" column for Free's newspaper, and Free is Oliver's half-sister. So really, no relation at all. Stephen's a carefree chap, but I didn't get the sense from the last book that he was an unrepentant lady's man. Oh, no, don't get me wrong. He doesn't pursue all those women he sleeps with. They pursue him. So it's okay. *rolls eyes* (Really, he’s a giant goober, lol.)

 

Here he's paired up with Rose Sweetly, who we've never met previously. She's staying with her pregnant sister, Patricia, who's doctor husband is off on tour with the British army. Rose also works with an astronomer as his computer - this being back when computers were people, mostly women, who did the mathematics for scientists. Rose is indeed sweet, dedicated to her job and astronomy and her sister - and keeping a proper public profile. Because you see, she's black, and that comes with a whole heap of issues when dealing with middle-class life in Victorian England.

 

There is some effort to detail what sorts of challenges Rose and her sister face, but this is just really too short to delve into them much. Most of it centered around her sister's pregnancy and the raging d-bag of a doctor she has to put up with.

 

Rose is insistent throughout nearly the whole novella to keep her attraction to Stephen under wraps because she knows how easily and quickly her reputation could be destroyed by mere association with Stephen. Most of her concern seems to be based on Stephen's reputation as a lady's man, with no consideration to her own social and racial issues. It almost seems as if Ms. Milan was unaware of the stereotype about WOC being overly promiscuous and wanton, that Rose would already be fighting against that stigma in her every interactions with men, much less one who is known to be a player. It felt a little superficial.

 

Anyway, Stephen's a fun guy and Rose is an earnest young woman. We spend more time with Rose's POV than with Stephen's, so it was hard sometimes to guess his reaction to things. I did love his attempts to flirt with bad math puns, and that he took the time to learn more about her interests. I especially liked that he didn't even hesitate to help her sister after Rose rejected him.

 

But...I don't know. This is sort of the same issue I had with A Kiss for Midwinter and I'm going to try to keep it from getting rambly.

There are many ways for a woman to be empowered and not all of them include having sex. Very few of them do actually. But here we are again with a woman giving up her principles and giving into hormones whereas the man doesn't have to compromise at all - the Sandra Dee effect, if you will. There's no reason that sex scene couldn't have been in an epilogue after they were married, you know? Not to mention that French letters were hardly equivalent to modern-day condoms but are treated in these stories as if they're fool-proof when really they're just better than nothing. And I'm not saying that Rose should have conducted herself in any specific way because of idiotic stereotypes, far from it, but given her characterization up to that point, coupled with her exhaustion and emotional vulnerability from being up all night with her laboring sister, did make this a little weird for me. It didn't feel intimate at all to me, but felt more like it's just what the story demanded, so it happened.

(show spoiler)

Okay, that got a little rambly, and I'm not sure it made much sense, but there you go.

 

So as I said, this needed to be longer to make me really buy this resolution and this pairing, cute as they were together.

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