Tag Archives: review

Review: Inheritance of Secrets by Sonya Bates

Inheritance of Secrets opens with its narrator, Juliet, in the Adelaide morgue to identify the bodies of her viciously murdered grandparents, Karl and Grete Weiss. It’s the great and terrible blow that cracks her life wide and fills it with doubt, grief, fear and danger. 

As she and her estranged sister Lily try to understand what’s happened, and to disprove the accusation that their beloved grandfather was a secret Nazi, they uncover answers to some of puzzles surrounding their family trauma.  

Through a series of flashbacks, the reader gets to see what actually happened when Karl Weiss travelled to Australia as a migrant on the Fairsea, and subsequent events that lay in wait for 60 years until a killer came to call. The two storylines eventually converge, but only when both young Karl and present-day Juliet have faced some serious threats.

Threat hangs heavy in the air throughout Inheritance of Secrets – the elusive Lily is clearly involved in some very shady dealings which leave her fearful and furtive, though her instincts may help her and Juliet in the long term. Juliet’s journalist friend Ellis has fingers in multiple pies. Things aren’t helped by Juliet’s ambitious fiancé, Jason, who is less interested in helping Juliet than in making partner at his firm.

Sonya Bates leads us through carefully the morass of accusation, confusion and threats, leaving us to doubt until late in the piece about Karl’s real history. Juliet is frequently rather hapless, as we all would be under the same conditions, but when the crisis reaches a peak, she’s resourceful. Her complex relationship with her Lily, Ellis and Jason add texture and complications to what’s already a fraught time for her, and you easily get as enmeshed in her private life as in the investigation.

The prose zips along and the reader has the pleasure of watching Juliet reconnect with Lily, realise some important things in her life and come to a renewed sense of herself by the conclusion.

A very satisfying read with a conclusion that fits Juliet’s character and the book’s themes of inherited secrets.

Buy Inheritance of Secrets

Review: The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey

It’s 1922 and Perveen Mistry, a lawyer from Bombay, has been called to the kingdom of Satapur to help resolve a conflict about an underage maharajah’s education. Jiva Rao’s mother and grandmother disagree bitterly on the best choice and as they’re observing purdah, Perveen, a woman, is the only lawyer who can visit them.

Along with trying to understand everyone’s perspectives so that a fair decision can be reached, Perveen soon learns that the circumstances of how Jiva Rao’s father and older brother died are dodgy, to say the least.  Other factors add complexity to what should be a simple legal consultation – including the relationship between colonial British influence in what is nominally an independent kingdom and the royal household; Perveen’s unexpected attraction to the local agent of the British Raj; and the complex layers of social behaviours when the characters populating the story are from a huge variety of religious, cultural, social and class backgrounds.

Sujata Massey’s Perveen is the perfect guide through this complicated landscape. Educated in England, politically aware, articulate and thoughtful, Perveen explores the layers and facets of 1920s India. She’s an outsider in more ways than one – a woman, a lawyer, a Parsi with personal history she’s not in a hurry to share, a quiet supporter of Ghandi, and an ordinary citizen trying to negotiate with a royal household conscious of its status but also how that status is peculiarly beholden to British powers.

The Satapur Moonstone is wonderfully textured in its characters and their interactions. It shows off India’s multiplicity as a nation without getting heavy handed or lecturing, because we see it all through Perveen’s eyes, and for her, it’s all India too. Descriptions of the Agent’s station and its staff and the social circle surround it, are as vivid as those of the other locals, the jungle and the palace.

The mystery evolves at a good pace – slowly at first, while we (through Perveen) grow to understand all the players and to realise that everyone has secrets.  As these get untangled, the pace of the plot picks up and dashes us towards a satisfying conclusion.

I’d finished The Satapur Moonstone before I realised that Perveen had first appeared in A Murder at Malabar Hill. Not having read it is no barrier to enjoying this book – but I’ll certainly be picking it up now!

Buy The Satapur Moonstone

Review: The Sugared Game by KJ Charles

I discovered KJ Charles in March 2019 – a friend had raved about The Henchmen of Zenda, and when someone whose taste in books allies very closely to your own, you listen to their raves. I actually began with a few other books first, but five books later I was ready to be a lifelong reader. The Henchmen of Zenda – a brilliantly entertaining take on The Prisoner of Zenda, only with the sympathy firmly in the henchmen’s camp – convinced me, if I needed any further convincing. Which I didn’t.

In the 18 months since being introduced to Charles’ work, I’ve read almost everything she’s published. I keep meaning to write about each of her series and standalones, but I’m not sure what I’d say beyond “another bloody brilliant book by K.J. Charles!”

Which brings me to The Sugared Game, the second in The Will Darling Adventures trilogy.  I could just say “another bloody brilliant book by K.J. Charles!” but that’s hardly helpful. So.

The first book of the series, Slippery Creatures, introduced us to Will Darling, a returned WWI soldier trying to adjust to civilian life, who has just inherited a bookshop from his uncle. He meets Kim Secretan, a very posh fellow with a difficult past who, it seems, can never be entirely trusted. Their sexual attraction is undeniable, but so is the fact that Will has fallen into a thick and deadly plot involving a criminal gang, the War Office, some even shadier goings on that Kim seems to be part of.

The Sugared Game continues the fabulously outré pulp fiction adventures that began in Slippery Creatures: the Zodiac gang with its code names and ruthless cohorts are still operating, despite the distinct blows delivered by Will and Kim in the previous book. The gang’s head, Capricorn, is still out there, though the focus this time is on the Aquarius.

Kim, as slippery a creature as ever tied an exquisite suit, has not been in touch with Will for a few months as the book opens, and Will is hurt and furious in equal measure, despite no declarations having been made. His best friend Maisie, however, has made fast friends with Kim’s fiancée, Phoebe (it’s complicated) and Maisie’s genius for clothing design is giving both women new opportunities.

Celebrating the new business potential at the High Low night club, however, Will is thrown unexpectedly into Zodiac dealings once more, and vulnerable, shifty, unreliable, gorgeous Kim is suddenly back in Will’s life. Inevitably, Will gets tangled up in this ruthless game – which he wouldn’t mind so much if Kim didn’t keep on hiding so much and lying the rest of the time. Their fragile intimacy – their mutual attraction and desire – could easily be the making or breaking of these men and the vicious gang they’re trying to dismantle (or just survive).

Charles once more delivers a cracking adventure story populated by gritty, really real people, despite the fantastical pulp/007 style plots. When Kim and Will clash, it’s not some silly misunderstanding that would be cleared up if only they would talk. (Though, yeah, Kim’s incapacity to do that isn’t a help.) The obstacles they have to overcome for the adventure, and for their personal lives, are real, embedded in personality, values, motivations that make sense and forces both internal and external. This makes the resolutions to both adventure and love story incredibly satisfying.

Slippery Creatures resolved one story line and took Kim and Will on a step forward in their relationship. The Sugared Game brings them on another step, while the Zodiac storyline is addressed in more detail along with consequences for Kim and Will as well as Maisie and Phoebe.

I’m eagerly looking forward to the third in the trilogy, Subtle Blood, due out later this year. I have no doubt that Kim, Will, Maisie and Phoebe will be tangled up in deadly adventures once more, facing believable and difficult personal issues, and that the conclusion will be as hard-fought-for, and as deeply satisfying, as everything she writes.

Buy The Sugared Game

Buy Slippery Creatures

Review: Octavius and the Perfect Governess by Emily Larkin

Emily Larkin has released a new book in her wonderful Regency-era Baleful Godmother series, and is taking the series in a new direction after a series of short stories called the Pryor Prequels.

The series began when a woman and her three daughters save a faerie child from drowning. It’s fae mother rewards them with wishes that will follow the family line – as each female descendant reaches a particular birthday, they will be granted a wish. But the Fae are scary folk, and Baletongue will trick them if she can.

Previous books have followed the female descendants, but the Pryor Prequels trace how one descendant transferred her wish to the male line, and the terrible consequences of that wish.

Now, in the first novel following that thread, we have Octavius Pryor, a wealthy young man from a family of men with special, faerie-gifted powers. His grandfather is very strict, however, on the rules of how such gifts can be used, because of what his mother wished.

Octavius in fact has chosen the same wish that Miss Appleby did back in Unmasking Miss Appleby, the book that got me hooked on this series. Like Charlotte Appleby, Octavius has chosen the gift of metamorphosis.

In Unmasking Miss Appleby, Charlotte changes into a man in order to escape her restricted life; here, Octavius first changes shape into a woman as a forfeit on a bet with his brother and cousins, and visits Vauxhall Gardens with them at night. There he discovers just how unpleasant man can be, and how little power women have in his world.

When Octavius adopts a female shape again in order to teach the vile Baron Rumpole a lesson for the attempted assault, he encounters Miss Toogood, the governess Rumpole has engaged to teach his two daughters. He determines at once to find a way into Rumpole’s household in order to protect this courageous, kind woman from the fate that has befallen other women in Rumpole’s household staff.

There follows a novel of Larkin’s usual deft charm, wit and pace. She gives the subject matter the seriousness and drama it deserves, with Octavius learning and absorbing the lessons of how the privilege of been male and wealthy are not extended to others, and how those privileges can be used to abuse others. The characters are nicely drawn, likeable but flawed, and the obstacles to their love are those of circumstance and genuine conflict rather than foolish misunderstandings that could be fixed if people would just talk.

I particularly enjoyed Octavius and his cousin and friend teaching Miss Toogood self defence – this isn’t going to be a story about a damsel in distress, but of two people with agency, learning and becoming stronger together.

The shapeshifting element of Octavius and the Perfect Governess brings an interesting undercurrent, seen also in Unmasking Miss Appleby, of body dysphoria and characters that are not transgender but whose feelings may reflect some experiences of being transgender. This is the element that first engaged me with this series and I enjoyed reading about it from the male-to-female perspective.

I’m looking forward to more books in this series – and there are hints that there may be another gay romance in the set.

You can read an excerpt of the book on Emily Larkin’s website.

Buy Octavius and the Perfect Governess