When I first began to read romance fiction, Anne Gracie’s Regency romances were the first to show me how great the genre could be – huge fun, crackingWhen I first began to read romance fiction, Anne Gracie’s Regency romances were the first to show me how great the genre could be – huge fun, cracking pace, a sense of the period setting while keeping the protagonists real and vivacious to modern me.
Now I have another favourite modern Regency romancer – Emily Larkin. If Unmasking Miss Appleby is anything to go by, I’ll be gulping down her ‘A Baleful Godmother’ series like there’s no tomorrow.
Unmasking Miss Appleby begins with a familiar enough notion – the intelligent, sweet heroine, sadly orphaned, who must now be raised by unsympathetic extended family, denied her rights and modest inheritence, treated as a burden and repressed by rigid conservatism.
The little twist here is provided by a baleful godmother who, on Charlotte Appleby’s 25th birthday, suddenly appears to grudgingly grant a gift of faerie. It’s all the result of some favour done a few generations back, and the faerie would be thrilled if she can make Charlotte regret her choice of gift, but Charlotte’s no idiot. She asks all the right questions and, mindful of her yearning for independence and for useful occupation, she negotiates for the gift of metamorphosis. She promptly transforms herself into a male body and goes off to apply for the job of secretary to the abolitionist, Lord Marcus Cosgrove. It’s a job more dangerous than usual, considering Cosgrove’s enemies, but Charlotte – as Christopher Albin – is keen for employment, believes in the cause and has a secret faerie weapon.
There proceeds a brilliant gender-smeared adventure and love story. Charlotte’s sheltered life as a woman becomes exposed to the more earthy knowledge that a man is expected to know. She has to learn what her new body is like (and has to change back into a woman the first time she needs to pee, because she can’t quite work out how it works with her ‘pego’). Marcus thinks Albin is an oddly sheltered young man, having to explain so much, like the activities in the brothel where they go to fetch Marcus’s wastrel of a cousin.
Charlotte learns about a whole new world as Marcus holds these man-to-man talks. She discovers her own body, in both its gender expressions, and in her plan to rid herself of of inconvenient desire for her boss go well until they don’t, and she falls in love with Marcus Cosgrove.
Marcus’s life isn’t simple. He was betrayed by his wife, who subsequently died tragically. As an abolitionist, he has enemies. Someone plots against his life – but is it the threat from his political enemies, from those who might suffer financially from an end to slavery, from his former best friend, his late wife’s distraught brother, or that wastrel cousin, who will inherit title and estates if Marcus dies without producing an heir.
The story twists and turns; there’s danger and violence. Every time Charlotte shifts her shape into a new form, she has to learn how each new body works (I love the sense of these scenes – Charlotte suddenly as a sparrow having to practice flying because she initially gets vertigo). But she grows as a person while learning how best to protect herself and the man she loves, and the causes they both hold dear.
Bright, vivacious, funny and clever – I had the best time reading this book and can’t wait to read more in the series....more
TRR's world of machines that turn ordinary people Into Superheroes (and back again) is revisited with a look at one teen hero who baulked at the systemTRR's world of machines that turn ordinary people Into Superheroes (and back again) is revisited with a look at one teen hero who baulked at the system. More of the mechanics and ethics of the world are explored through Griff - the former Kid Dark, sidekick to The Dark - and a boy at an orphanage who suspects he's slated to be a supervillian. It's good fun but also thoughtful about superheroics. A worthy companion piece to Cookie Cutter Superhero. ...more
Quirky, personal and informative history of some of the more obscure aspects of London, from signs of pre-Roman habitation and the social history of aQuirky, personal and informative history of some of the more obscure aspects of London, from signs of pre-Roman habitation and the social history of alchemy to the life and times of some of London's best bookshops. ...more
Short and punchy with Tansy Rayner Roberts' trademark humour, thoughtfulness and flair. The story hums with undercurrents until multiple plot threadsShort and punchy with Tansy Rayner Roberts' trademark humour, thoughtfulness and flair. The story hums with undercurrents until multiple plot threads - some of which you don't even realise are integral to the story - are al gathered together and tied off perfectly. Deceptively light but with very real, very human things to say about how people treat each other, TRR packs a lot even into such a short story. She's always a delight, and I always recomment her work heartily....more
Fun little confection of a romantic highwayman in the Robin Hood tradition and an adventurous young girl's coming out at a Regency Ball. I'm looking fFun little confection of a romantic highwayman in the Robin Hood tradition and an adventurous young girl's coming out at a Regency Ball. I'm looking forward to the longer tale about the Saint of the Sevel Dials and his Regency shenanigans....more
Cedar Grove Publishing continues to produce intriguing books that focus on diversity, in both writers and subjects. After books like The Soul of HarmoCedar Grove Publishing continues to produce intriguing books that focus on diversity, in both writers and subjects. After books like The Soul of Harmony, Fast Pitch and Pin Drop, Cedar Grove's latest offering is Sycorax's Daughters, a horror anthology written by African-American women.
Sycorax is the mother of Caliban in Shakespeare's The Tempest, but she's never seen in the play. Despite this erasure, Sycorax's presence permeates the story: the powerful witch who was banished while pregnant; through whom Caliban claims the island belongs to him; whose memory is used by Prospero to keep Ariel in line. These male characters speak for her in The Tempest, but in this anthology, Sycorax is given a voice.
But this anthology is more than interpretations of the legacy of a silenced African woman - it's deeply informed by a history of real life horrors. From the forward by Walidah Imarisha:
"for Black people and other people of color, the history of slavery, genocide, white supremacy, and colonialism is the only true horror story, and it is one we continue to live every day..."
Regina N Bradley's story 'Letty' is the best written and most chilling of the stories that visibly stem from this influence, but Sycorax's Daughters contains other poems and stories to give you the creeps. Cherene Sherrard's 'Scales' is a more satisfying examination of a little mermaid myth than Disney could provide, and Nicole D. Sconiers' 'Kim' has a robust energy that makes it a favourite. 'Summer Skin' by Zin E. Rocklyn is suitably flesh-crawling, and the unusal cadances of Kiini Ibura Salaam's 'The Malady of Need' linger. Tenea D. Johnson's 'Foundling' takes a science fiction approach and shows a less supernatural kind of horror.
As always, some stories work better than others for me, and every reader will have their own favourites. But every story is an insight, and it's given me a new list of writers to look out for....more
Set in Sydney among th elives of international students studying English, Ghost Girls is lively in character and setting. English teacher, Sophie, whoSet in Sydney among th elives of international students studying English, Ghost Girls is lively in character and setting. English teacher, Sophie, whose mother was Chinese, begins to investigate the suicide of a student - but the dead Wendy isn't the same Wendy who enrolled to study. Sophie looks into what might be a case of visa fraud, where students willingly work in the sex trade for income while sending a substitute to class. There's darker motives at work, however, and Sophie's involvement is made more complex by her own past haunted by loss and failure. Neither Sophie nor the reader know who to trust until the last moments. Exciting, engaging, full of the tastes, sounds and lives of Chinatown and the world of student transients, Ghost Girls is a terrific crime story set in multicultural Australia....more
Ellen Davitt was one of Australia's first writers of crime: this reprint of her book Force and Fraud (and a shorter tale) is preceded by an introductoEllen Davitt was one of Australia's first writers of crime: this reprint of her book Force and Fraud (and a shorter tale) is preceded by an introductory biography by Dr Lucy Sussex, putting Davitt's life and the book into context. The story is vivacious, witty and fast-paced, with very human characters and an ending I didn't predict. A good read for any lover of crime fiction as well as those interested in the early history of the genre....more