The Dickens With Love is a Christmas story that proves that also a library mouse can fall in love, and surprise surprise, for another mouse too! Yes, since the classical Cinderfella story, mixed with Christmas feelings, would suggest that our hero is being rescued from a cold and lonely Christmas day by a knight in shining armour, and instead, of shining, the other hero has only the horn-rimmed glasses.
James Winter is a book hunter, better he was a very good book hunter before losing his credibility when the antiquarian he was working for was found out with the hand in the jam, meaning that he was selling fake rare books. Just from that you have probably understood that James is not exactly Indiana Jones, the biggest adventures he probably had in his life was to find a rare book in the attic of some old lady, but James loves books and for him, even that was a fantastic adventure. Now he is deprived of all of that, he is forced to work in a department store selling cheap books to even cheaper buyers and he is dying inside. When an unscrupulous man asks him to deal in his name for a unpublished manuscript by Charles Dickens, even if James doesn’t like the man, the chance is too great to renounce.
The owner of the rare book, Sedgwick Crisparkle is an English professor who has some hidden reasons to auction the book far from England and in a as much as possible anonymous way. There is a bit of mystery here, probably Josh Lanyon is not able to write a novel without a bit of mystery, but actually it’s a really old fashioned and sweet mystery, very much in line with the entire story.
Anyway when James meets Sedge, the real reason behind the meeting is soon forgotten, and they are swept away in a whirlwind romance… with green and red flavoured condoms and posh hotels. It seems that Sedge is more interesting in tasting life (pun intended), in each possible way, and soon is better than later, almost essential. Sedge is like a child on a Christmas morning, eager to unwrap all the toys to then decide which toy will be the first to play with.
James is a bit disoriented, Sedge has the attitude of a stuffy English professor, and the grace of an elephant, but then suddenly he looks James with yearning eyes, demanding love… well not exactly love, he is demanding sex, but still with the eyes of a puppy, so that James is unable to resist. Problem is that Sedge is also impulsive and easy to come out with sharp words, and James is still quite sensible on some arguments. The two together seem to work only when they are not speaking and also when the alcohol helped them to loose a bit of their inhibition.
What probably I like most of both men is that they are so sweet and tender, they are not at all macho man, neither Sedge when he is trying to be gallant, he is more a kitten who is trying to growl like a lion. But then there is no need to knights in shining armours in this story, there are no real dangers and the only thing you can hurt are feelings. After all we are not speaking of deadly weapon, but of an old leather manuscript. Even the villain is not so dangerous and the worst thing that can happen is to go back home with a black eye.
Amazon Kindle: The Dickens With Love
An Improper Holiday by K.A. Mitchell
In 1814, after the Battle of Badajoz, Ian has one reason more to not consider himself a proper man, he lost a limb in battle and not he is not even up to the task he was destined to as second son of an Earl, to be an army officer. He is now living wandering from one relative to another, trying to choose the one who pities him less. He is probably searching to disappear from the world, and so he is not so happy when his brother, the Earl, asks him to be the chaperon to their sister to the annual Twelve Night fete at Carleigh Castle: the heir to the Marques, Nicholas, was not only Ian’s best friend at school, he was also his first love. Like so many lovers before them, when they were young and careless, they swore to be everything for each other for forever and ever, but then the war changed it all.
There is a right characterization in both men: Ian is the typical second son, the one to whom everyone, from his father to his tutors, always instilled the concept of honour. His family was not enough wealthy to provide for him, and so Ian had to find his way in the world alone; he was supposed to be an officer, he was supposed to be independent. Not yet out of school, and in love with another man, Ian was forced to enlist and leave everything he knew. He did that to honour what everyone expected from him, and even if he didn’t leave Nicky with a promise to come back, inside his heart he was bound to be an honoured man even with him: Nicky was his first man, and Ian was determined to maintain him the only one also. In every aspect of his life, with his family and with his lover, Ian was and still is a perfect romance hero. And as a perfect romance hero, when he comes back home with an heavy handicap, he can’t consider to “impose” himself upon his lover, that, on the other hand, being a first son and heir, has to marry and fathered one heir or two at least. Probably in Ian’s mind, if Nicky marries a woman, it’s not almost a betrayal; it’s another way to be an honoured man, something Ian can perfectly comprehend. So, in his “innocence”, Ian doesn’t consider Nicky totally lost, in a way he is still faithful to the memory of their past love.
It’s so with despair that Ian discovers that, not only Nicky was not faithful to them when Ian came back home as a less than full man, he wasn’t neither faithful to them when Ian was in battle. Nicky tells to himself that it was the need of companionship, maybe even the fear for what could happen to his lover, but in a way or another, Nicky didn’t respect the unsaid pact of being faithful to Ian. And, again, I think this is quite right with his character: Nicky is the first son, the heir; he has no need to be an honoured man; he will have everything thanks to his birth right. Oh yes, while Ian was away, he conspired with Ian’s sister, Charlotte, to have news on Ian himself, but this is the only hint I have that Nicky was as involved in their relationship as Ian was and still is. Now that Ian is back home, Nicky is bent upon the task to convince the man that they can be still together, that there are way for them to be couple, even if not in front of the society, at least in the intimacy of their bedroom. The solution is simple, and probably one that many before them took. But still, even if Nicky is now behaving as a man in love, I would not say that he is a perfect romance hero like Ian, I think he is a bit selfish and for sure a spoiled brat.
The setting is quite nice, the story turns mainly around Ian and Nicky, but there are some interesting supporting characters, and I liked very much as the author described the different connections inside both families, of Ian and Nicky; there are all the different possible relationships of the time, the widowed and ruined cousin, the married but without child sister who plays the role of mistress of the house ad interim, the old father, the distant brother… it’s like an handbook of a noble English family of the nineteen century.
Amazon Kindle: An Improper Holiday
http://samhainpublishing.com/print/to-all-a-very-sexy-good-night-print (print book)
Amazon: To All a (Very Sexy) Good Night
Cover Art by Amanda Kelsey