Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

novella

REVIEW:  Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan

REVIEW: Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan

20325481

Dear Ms. Milan:

I’ve had an odd pattern with the “Brothers Sinister” series — I’ve loved every other book. Which means three books I loved in one series — not a bad record at all. This novella falls in the “like” zone. Parts of it are delightful, but it never fully jelled for me.

It’s quite common for heroes of romance novels to declare that they like women, but Women’s Free Press columnist and Victorian feminist Stephen Shaugnessy — know for his “Ask a Man” column — means it more literally than most; he likes women for their minds and souls as well as their bodies. And he’s found a woman he likes very, very much indeed — his neighbor, Miss Rose Sweetly, who works as a computer. (Literally, someone who does computations.) Enchanted by her enthusiasm for mathematics and astronomy, Stephen arranges for Rose to tutor him as a means of spending private time with her. His motives aren’t fully formed, but they’re certainly not evil:

He wasn’t planning to seduce her, not really. It would be a terrible thing for a man like him to do to a woman in Miss Sweetly’s position, and he had a very firm rule that he did not do terrible things to people in general, and to women in particular. Liking a woman–even liking her very well–was more reason to adhere to the rule, not less.

Rose may be young and a genius, but she’s no fool. She knows Stephen’s reputation as a rake, and she knows the likely outcome for a black woman and shopkeeper’s daughter if she falls for his charm. And so she resists all of Stephen’s honest efforts to tell her how he feels.

‘If I ever have you in my bed, I want you to remember yourself. I like you. There’s no point having your body if you’re not included.’

‘This–talking to you, just like this–is already the point. I like you. I like talking to you. If you don’t like me, send me off.’

That is, she tries to resist it. But it’s hard to feel nothing for a very attractive man whose interest is so genuine.

He liked people. He liked her. She suspected he’d told her the simple truth: He wasn’t trying to seduce her.

He was just succeeding at it.

The novella is short, about 90 pages in epub, but there’s room for an important subplot about Rose’s sister, who’s close to giving birth and is being treated very badly by the racist white doctor attending her. This experience is pivotal for both Rose and Stephen.

Spoiler (spoiler): Show

It shows her how dependable he is, and shows him the validity of her fears. I’m a little dubious about the end of this episode; Rose reacts to the doctor with violence, which seems both out of character and dangerous. It failed for me as an empowering moment, because I thought she only get away with it because Stephen was there to back her up, and it made me frightened for her.

I enjoyed this story most at its serious points: when Stephen feels hurt and rejected — but never fails to be eloquent — and when Rose is struggling to help her sister, and to decide what’s right for her future. The parts that failed for me were the more light-hearted courtship scenes: for example, one in which Rose has Stephen calculate the odds that he would be able to seduce her, using factors like the probability that she would be hit on the head with an anvil. It’s clever and it’s cute, and I’m damming with faint praise there…. cute rarely works for me, especially in historicals, and the cleverness feels unnatural.

I also didn’t feel the love quite as much as I wanted to, perhaps because I’m not as enamored by discussions of math and astronomy as Stephen is. Or rather, the idea is that Stephen is generally entranced by Rose’s enthusiasm and brilliance, which is certainly believable… but I didn’t connect with his feelings. This is the same issue I had with The Countess Conspiracy: I’m supposed to love the hero for loving the heroine’s brains, but somehow I just didn’t.

But though it wasn’t a perfect book for me, there was much to enjoy. Both characters have interesting backgrounds, which leads to some powerful conversations as they really get to know each other. And there is definitely a sweetness to them. C+

Sincerely,

Willaful

AmazonBNKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle

REVIEW:  Indigo Footsteps, Spatters of Red by J.Fally

REVIEW: Indigo Footsteps, Spatters of Red by J.Fally

IndigoFootstepsSpattersofBlood

At first glance, Carter Cross and Josh Lessard seem like an ordinary couple. They make love and fight, know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, deal with the “in-laws,” and share their life and home. They even work together. One day, they’ll probably die together – possibly a lot sooner than they’d prefer, given their profession as members of a paramilitary special unit formed to thwart a gory apocalypse. While Carter and Josh are used to cheating death on a daily basis, this time the odds are stacked against them. Between a deadly mission to complete and Josh’s grandma coming for a visit, it’ll take a miracle to get them out as horror invades not only a major city but also their home.

Dear J. Fally,

Right after I have read “Bone rider” I went searching for any indication that you were planning to write another book – any book. I did not find much, but I did remember you mentioning in one Good reads interview that you were writing a short story about Carter and Josh and that possibly, maybe you would write more novelettes about these men. If this is still holds true, I cannot wait for more stories, if not, I think this short story/novelette (length is listed as 45 pages) stands alone very well.

I practically stopped reading m/m short stories because I was tired of finishing a story and thinking something along the lines of: I need more character development, I need a less abrupt ending, and why oh why does this read as an outline of the long work…again. But after “Bone rider,” if you were to write a medical prescription, I would have said that I will give it a try and I am happy that I gave this story a chance.

Carter and Josh are a couple, and the story starts with a funny domestic scene showing them fighting over what color to paint their living room.

“VIOLET.” Carter stared at the can of paint on the floor, clearly doubtful. “You’re going to paint our living room violet.”
Josh, undaunted, tossed him a brush. “No, dickhead. We are going to paint our living room violet. Unless you want to do it in green instead, but the only green they had was this weird pea-soup shade, so I do not recommend it.”
“What’s wrong with white?”
“I don’t know.” Josh shrugged and went for the paint can with a screwdriver. This was going to end badly, Carter could tell but he made no move to intervene yet. He did not put down the brush, though. Just in case. He might have to move fast to prevent total disaster. “Don’t know, don’t care,” Josh elaborated, distracted as he tried to figure out where to apply his lever. “Memere wants gay bliss, Memere will get gay bliss. Gay people like color; we are painting the walls. Can’t be that hard.”
“Who says gay people have to like color? I’m gay. I like white. It’s neutral. It’s a non-color. You can paint over any stains and nobody will ever notice.” It also made for a very pretty contrast when he put his dark hand on Josh’s winter-white ass, but this was not the time to get distracted. A horrible suspicion reared its ugly head.
“Wait. Did you go on the Internet again? Did you google?“

***
“Josh. How many cans of paint did you buy? How many fucking colors did you buy?”
The handsome face half-buried in the crook of Carter’s shoulder nudged a bit closer, the first hints of an afternoon scruff scratching lightly against his throat. “Dunno. How many colors are in the rainbow?”
Christ on cracker”

I think readers will see easily that Carter and Josh are deeply in love, but we also see and hear mentions that their professions are very dangerous. At about the fifteen percent mark of the story they are called to participate in a mission – we do not know the details right away, but we know that they will have to neutralize a mob. We learn a little later just how very dangerous this mob of the paranormal variety is and how many of those missions Carter and Josh and their team have done in the past and will do in the future. The story becomes a heroic action/adventure at this point and I loved how seamlessly domestic bliss was transformed into something else, but I wonder if some readers may dislike the change of focus.

“They were, after all, only playing at being civilians. It was an indulgence, a gift for a couple of soldiers likely to die young and horribly. They could’ve asked for a mansion if they’d wanted one, and they’d have gotten it…private airstrip in their backyard included.”
Except I did not feel that the focus ever changed completely – even though the action sequences are given every attention they deserve, we never stop seeing just how very much these two men are in love and how even amongst the darkest horror they try to keep each other safe while doing their job.

Josh and Carter come back from this mission alive, and the last part of the story again shows them in their home and dealing with Josh’s relatives. But I would argue that now both aspects of their lives are shown to be intertwined together, and the fragility of their happiness is something that made me choke up a little. Heck, I cried over their dead comrades and I only had known those characters for several sentences. I thought the overall pacing of the story – the excitement of the adventure and the domestic banter switching up was done very well.

Recommended.

Grade B

AmazonBNKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle