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REVIEW:  Lessons in Love by Charlie Cochrane

REVIEW: Lessons in Love by Charlie Cochrane

Dear Ms. Cochrane,

Ever since a good friend of mine suggested I read your Cambridge Fellows series, I was interested in your take on the M/M novel.   I was told that the sexual relationship was tame compared to the majority of the market and the book had a fun historical aspect.   Now I trust this friend in M/M recommendations, so when I got the book and started reading it I had fairly high expectations.   She was the same person who introduced me to Whistling in the Dark (which totally blew me away), after all.   I think fans of that same type of book will be pleased with Lessons in Love like I was.   If they’re in for a little mystery with their romance, that is.

Lessons in Love by Charlie CochraneProfessor Jonty Stewart once took was a student in English at Cambridge and now he is a professor of English at Cambridge.   Jonty is ready to deal with a group of rowdy English majors.   That he can handle.   The appearance of Professor Orlando Coppersmith, however, isn’t as easily handled.

Orlando has always been a type of hermit among his colleagues at Cambridge.   Social gatherings are foreign to him.   His best friends are his favorite leather chair, the warm fire place, and a good book.   Coming in one day to find the unruly young academic, Jonty, in his favorite chair makes him feel both frustration and, surprisingly, amusement.   Professor Stewart manages to do what no other professor could accomplish: he has made friends with Orlando Coppersmith.

Slowly, the friendship of these two professors grows into something deeply affectionate.   Orlando has never been sexually attracted before this; yet he can’t help but notice that he thinks of Jonty as more than a regular friend.   In private they even use their Christian names, something they consider very personal.   The budding romance between the two clumsy academics is jarred when a student is murdered.

The two professors quickly get on the scene of death.   When it’s found that the student was murdered for homosexual reasons, Jonty and Orlando get scared.   What if they are targeted next?   What if someone discovers their secret affections?   And, most importantly, what happens if the murderer is left to kill more students in Cambridge.   Set in England, 1905, Lessons in Love is a fun and quick read that adds a well rounded mystery element to a historical gay romance.

M/M is a fairly new genre for me.   I started reading it this year, and I’ve been pretty happy with the few books that I’ve read.   I have found that, more than anything, I appreciate a well-rounded central couple, as in regular romance novels.   Jonty was probably my favorite of the two characters.   His position as the younger of the two educators would normally place him in the position of being the more submissive character.   I enjoyed your reversal of that, instead making him the more experienced of the two in romance and sexual activity.   He had a delightful attitude that was fun without being overboard, and it made his character one that you want to succeed.

Orlando’s dynamic was different, instead relying on his innocence when it comes to romantic attachments and two men having sex.   Since his relationship with Jonty never goes into a full out deal in this first novel, his fears involving the practice are somewhat of an unresolved problem.   At the end of the book a reader could easily just say that things work out based on the relationship, but it’s not something entirely resolved.   As there are subsequent books in the series, it would be assumed that it’s addressed in later novels.   I thought it was an interesting take on things, because Orlando gets these fears personified when he’s asked to dispose of a book of male sensuality a murdered student had at one point.

“You know that I would, so long as you also understand that I don’t want to do those things.”   Orlando shut his eyes and shuddered.   As far as he was concerned Lord Morcar’s books had been filled with filth and he didn’t want anything to do with such stuff.   When he’d been a young man, the total extent of his preparation for matters sexual had been his father teaching him that he should take a cold bath should he become aroused in any way.   He’d never had to obey the instruction.   And while Orlando had no idea what Jonty had been taught, he’d assumed it was something similar.

Jonty took his friend’s hand, speaking slowly and gently.   “I really do think you should tell me exactly what you read in those books.”

Orlando told him, in detail, becoming unhappier with every word.   It all seemed even more disgraceful when spoken aloud.

“Would you be very upset to know that I had done some of those things?”

“Jonty?”   Orlando didn’t know whether he was upset or not, just incredibly shocked.   He knew that Jonty had much more experience of the world in general than he did, but he’d always assumed that his friend was the same as him in this regard.   Still a virgin.   “I had no idea.”

You handled it deftly, and I especially appreciated the subtle but clear establishment that they were friends as well as more than.   Relationships of this regard require that kind of establishment, and it made the conflicts so much more personal because of their friendship and romantic love working in conjunction.

Their relationship makes up a good 50% of the novel, with the other half being the mystery.   I felt it was a nice balance, as you use every word with importance and don’t skimp on either aspect of the book.   I felt the romance had it’s moments more so than the murder aspect.   The mystery wasn’t officially assigned to Jonty and Orlando, and they weren’t extremely passionate about solving it.   The one thing I do think hinders the mystery aspect is that some people will undoubtedly figure it out based on their thought process.   I didn’t, but I overload on the hints for every character and can never really decide on a character to throw my suspicions toward.

On the romantic aspect, the one problem I had was that Jonty and Orlando agreed to halt their affections for the sake of their safety while the killer was on the loose, then they reenacted them and decided they could deal with it.   Then they would repeat.   That happened several times throughout the book, and I felt like people like Orlando and Jonty would have been sensible enough to at least try and stick with either one earlier on and make it as safe as possible, as opposed to changing their routine and never really getting a feel for what would make them safe and still let them do what they needed to do.

I found Lessons in Love to be an enjoyable read and a promising start to the Cambridge Fellows mystery series.   At 130 pages, it wasn’t too long or too short, and I found it to be the perfect length for the story.   Seeing the progression of Jonty and Orlando’s relationship should be amusing and heartwarming.   Skilled mystery readers may guess the criminal before the end of the story, and there are some issues with repetition of a worn idea, but overall I felt the novella was very strong and worthy of a look for those that like historical fiction like I do.   Especially those that are looking for M/M that isn’t so focused on sex. B

All the best,

John

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| Sony| Samhain

REVIEW:  Pegasus by Robin McKinley

REVIEW: Pegasus by Robin McKinley

Dear Ms. McKinley,

Your fantasy books made my life in middle school.   I was in a precarious reading stage where I just didn’t know what I liked.   Harry Potter was wrapping up, and I wasn’t sure if the fantasy genre was still my thing.   While not every book tickled my fancy, (some were real stinkers) I discovered a copy of Rose Daughter in my library.   I promptly devoured it – because a bubbly seventh grade reader must devour any YA retelling of Beauty and the Beast – and was enchanted.   So then I read Spindle’s End. By then I really couldn’t deny how brilliant I thought you were.

Pegasus Robin McKinleyI didn’t get the opportunity to read any of your other work from my library at that point, but I was left transformed by these books.   You’ve written countless others, including the ever famous Beauty, The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, and Sunshine.   While Pegasus wasn’t as strong of a read as my favorite of yours (Spindle’s End), it was a fresh breather for the YA world, and on reception of the companion book next year, will seem a little more fleshed out and complete.

Sylviianel (Sylvi, for short) is a princess.   As a member of the royal family, she is required to have a pegasus bound to her.   A thousand years has seen a treaty between the pegasi and the humans acknowledged, and the binding is an important part of inter-species respect.   Sylvi isn’t keen on being bound.   Her father and his pegasus can speak offhandedly, but rarely understand each other.   Her mother and her pegasus can barely speak simple sentences to each other.   It’s been well known that the pegasi and the humans haven’t had a clear understanding of each other.

The day of her binding, Sylvi is introduced to Ebon.   A young, black pegasus with an attitude, Ebon is wary of being bound to Sylvi.   He’s sure that a girl human would connect better with a girl pegasus.   Tradition is tradition, however, and the fourth child of the human king must be bound to the fourth child of the pegasus king.   Unlike anything that’s been known in remotely understood history, Ebon and Sylvi can communicate.   They can mind speak.

Revealing their ability does not come easily.   They suddenly have more responsibility than ever.   Sylvi is barely twelve, yet her people expect her to understand the pegasi because of her communication.   In truth, she only knows what she does from her studies, and from what Ebon slowly begins to tell her.   What she does know is that the humans and the pegasi don’t truly understand each other.   That they may, in fact, be underestimating the intelligence and abilities of the other race.

This brings Sylvi to the attention of the most powerful magician at court, Fthoom.   A stingy and bold magician, he claims the pegasi and the humans can’t understand each other.   That their friendship isn’t as grand as it seems.   Fthoom could prevent the humans and the pegasi from coming to true understanding, and Sylvi is now in his way with her ability to truly speak to them.

Pegasus is the first half of a story that shows the importance and uniqueness of true friendship, as well as communication.   Can two species really learn to speak to each other past simple sign language and mind speak?   Or will Fthoom destroy the wavering peace between them for his own intentions?

One of your biggest strengths has always been the way you write your main female characters.   They are always strong, whether physically or mentally, and they have an air of maturity about them despite their youth.   Yet it’s believable maturity.   Sylvi follows in this same character tradition, but she’s slightly more subdued than your other heroines.   She has more of a mental process about her.   While not quick and cunning or strong and brave, she knows how to get things done.   Practical.   I was never once disappointed with her choices, and the way she handled things throughout the book was solid.   Readers who find the current YA heroine types trending will be pleased to see a stronger and more able character in the works.

Another character you handle well is Ebon.   For many readers, the impossibility of having a romance between Ebon and Sylvi will be reason enough to try out this book, but there are a lot of complexities about his character.   He’s the rasher of the two, yet he still has his own knowledge and skills that reflect someone ready to deal with these responsibilities.   He’s a good other half to Sylvi.   He dares her to take risks (like flying with him, which is considered highly inappropriate) and to look past the social norms without making a big deal about it.   For something to be so serious for Sylvi, yet to be so simple to Ebon, is a good example of the cultural boundaries you play with.   His friendship with Sylvi is also unique in that it has a slow build that really pays off for the reader.   It’s so well drawn that it’s easy to see the beauty in their relationship.

Since the story is mainly focused on these two, they are the most important characters to look at, but the wealth of side characters isn’t to be ignored.   The way you paint each pegasus as individually as you would a human character speaks well for the book’s themes and for your talent at making wonderful characters.   Each one, from Sylvi’s mother to her wishy washy pegasus Hirishy, has a breadth of emotion and personality that other novels don’t.   Part of it is because the story is so massive, yet another part is simply the way you can work these things into the narrative.

With your narrative strengths come worldbuilding strengths, but in Pegasus your world was built almost too well.   I can tell people how pegasi can fly (their bones are hollow) or how human royalty isn’t a sole matriarchy or patriarchy, and that’s something I love.   I entered the world, I invested my time, and I came out with a lot of knowledge that will stay with me subconsciously until the next book appears.   I loved learning about it, as it was so fascinating and well thought out.

Yet you did it almost too much.   The first few chapters were very large in the information department, and a lot of that was the world’s history.   The rest of the novel was much better with handing out information, but the first few chapters are heavy handed and will deter readers with low attention spans.   The book also ends without much resolution, but that’s not a problem with the writing more so than how the book was published.   Consideirng the second half of this duet is actually the second half of the official book, it’s not a big issue.   I’m really excited to read Pegasus II because of the immense payoff I know I’ll receive upon reading it.   Other than your world building, you know how to write lovely dialogue, and your prose is equally lovely.   Not many writers write with a style that is both fantastical yet so deep realistically, but you pull it off quite well.

Readers who haven’t read fantasy before would not want to start with Pegasus.   It’s a longer novel with a lot of world building and setup, and readers need to understand that going in to really get the experience.   Your characters are wonderful, and I really enjoyed the relationship dynamic between Sylvi and her bonded pegasus Ebon.   The facts of your world will delight and entrance readers, but some parts are genuinely slow because of information or the general easy pace of the narrative.   Pegasus isn’t the best of your best, but it’s still pretty good, and was easily one of my favorite books this year, even if it wasn’t as solid as some others on its own.   I’m so glad to see another facet for teens and adults to read your books in, because reading your books simply brightens my day.   B

All the best,

John

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| Sony| BooksonBoard