After the emotional turmoil of my Lois McMaster Bujold week, I needed something light and calming, for a change of pace. Back in the midst of my Cybils reading, E.L. Bates had offered to send me a copy of her debut, Magic Most Deadly. It looked intriguing, so I agreed. And it turned out to be just the light, fun book I was hoping for.
Maia Whitney, the eldest of three sisters, is dull and dutiful. The only excitement in her life came when she lied about her age and joined the VAD during the War. Now that the war is over, she lives at home and cares for her anxious mother and her younger sisters. But then she attends a house party and accidentally witnesses a murder, and everything changes.
I love historical fantasy, as we know, and it’s great to see some that’s set in the 1920s. I really liked the way Bates set up her system of magic and wove it into history, especially the War. Relatedly, I liked how many of the characters still felt shaped by the War and their experiences. I think often there’s a sense of the 20s as an amnesiac decade, when everyone wilfully forgot what had just happened. Here we see that it’s not quite so easy.
Magic Most Deadly is also a mystery, of the amateur detective variety (granted Len has a little more experience, but he’s not actually a detective per se). I suspect that the reader looking for a straight mystery will be disappointed–here, it’s much more the setup for Maia and Len’s relationship. This is not a bad thing at all, but it does mean that the mystery strand is less important than it might be in a different book.
I also liked Maia’s complex relationship with her sisters. While I wished that Ellie had been given a little more depth, I appreciated that the Whitney girls were important to each other, and that Maia cared about her sisters and her relationship with them. Generally, family was given a lot of weight in the story and I liked that a lot.
There were a few things that didn’t work as well for me. Occasionally the prose was a little awkward or stilted. In a larger issue, I wasn’t always sure why Maia cared about magic–I wanted to see more clearly what attracted her to it. I liked that there wasn’t a lot of time spent on worrying about whether it was real or flipping out over the fact that it was, but I wanted to see a sense of wonder or beauty that made her care. Additionally, I wanted to see more of why Len and Maia were attracted to each other.
This is definitely a fun book, and one I’d recommend to people who are looking for a lighter historical fantasy.
Book source: review copy provided by author
Book information: 2013, self-published; adult historical fantasy
I’ve mentioned the fact that I really like Laura Florand’s books before. I don’t read much contemporary romance, but Florand’s books are auto-buys for me. She offered to let me read her latest, Chocolate Temptation, before it came out and I loved it so much that I bought it as soon as it was available.
This is the latest book in Florand’s Amor et Chocolat series, and the finale for now. It actually overlaps the events of the previous book, Chocolate Heart, which I liked. It’s also the first book in the series to feature a chef who’s a woman (Magalie is doing something quite different, so I’m not counting her).
Florand also treads some tricky territory with protagonists who are working together, where Patrick is Sarah’s boss. For me, she manages to pull it off, mostly because Florand and her characters are well aware of the fact that this is potentially not okay and think about it. There’s also the fact that Sarah chooses, out of the quiet strength she has, which she doesn’t see. This made a big difference; I didn’t feel that she was coerced, despite Patrick’s pushiness.
But basically, I just loved Sarah. I loved that she is quite confident in some areas and doesn’t see her own strength in others. I loved the fact that she cares about her family but also has to find her own way apart from them. I loved that she is grappling with her family history and how it echoes onto her own life.
In all of Florand’s books, there’s a sense that the couple has to figure out the issues that might sink their relationship, and that they’re real issues and big ones. I love that, because it gives the story a depth and interest that goes beyond the initial attraction. This is especially apparent here. I felt that Patrick and Sarah are almost in a negotiation, although that doesn’t have the right personal feel to it. They care about each other and they also have boundaries they’re not willing to go beyond, and they have to find a way to fit their relationship into this space. While also dealing with the baggage that comes with their personal histories. (I loved Sarah’s line about people shaping you when you’re tiny.)
I also appreciated that Sarah looks pretty frankly at issues of sexism and racism–her mother escaped from North Korea, although Sarah herself was born in the US. She has a line about wanting to be a ninja even though they’re Japanese, because at least they’re not golden-haired princesses. I love this. I want more books to be funny and fun, and also look at big things.
I’m not even sure I’m being coherent here, but regardless, Chocolate Temptation was a delight to read and is possibly my new favorite book in the series.
Book source: digital arc provided by the author; subsequently bought
Book information: 2014, self-published; adult contemporary romance