Authors: Josh Lanyon, K.A. Mitchell
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: Historical M/M
Length: Novel (print 272 pages)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Summary Review: Two holiday tales that prove you can have your peppermint stick…and eat it too.
An Improper Holiday by K.A. Mitchell
Ian Stanton is the earl’s dutiful second son, always doing the proper thing. One exquisite exception: Nicholas Chatham. Except the consummation of their two-year relationship left Ian convinced that their desires were never meant to be indulged.
Five years later, Ian is home from war, wounded in body and spirit. Nicky never believed what they felt for each other was wrong, and he has plans to make things right. Now he has only twelve nights to convince Ian that happiness is not the price of honor and duty, but its reward.
The Dickens With Love by Josh Lanyon
Three years ago, antiquarian James Winter lost everything: his job, his lover and his self-respect. Now a rich collector wants him to do whatever it takes to buy a newly discovered Christmas story by Charles Dickens from the nutty professor who owns it. The catch: the buyer must remain anonymous.
Sedgwick Crisparkle turns out to be totally gorgeous—and on the prowl. Faster than you can say “Old St. Nick”, they’re mixing business with pleasure. But once Sedgwick discovers James has been a very bad boy, their chance for happiness is disappearing quicker than Santa’s sleigh.?
An Improper Holiday by K.A. Mitchell reviewed by Erastes – 5 stars out of 5
At last–a Regency that reads like a Regency! K A Mitchell was not an author known to me, so I was pleasantly surprised to be drawn in immediately with dialogue that was perfectly formal and with a real sense of time and place.
It’s quite nicely researched, and I wish I had that to say more often. Usage of the word “marquisate” for example which is entirely correct, a journey by carriage to Derbyshire over vile, rutted roads which took days–and extended further because of the inconvenience of Ian’s sister–rather than hours. It’s touches like this which really bring a book to life. (See my recent rant on horses!!)
It’s good too, to see an disabled hero. So many books have entirely whole officers returning from the war, and dealing with an amputee is realistic and refreshing in this genre. In fact Ian is quite a delight, having:
gone from reading classics in his purple robes to the buff and scarlet of a second lieutenant, with no time at all to learn how to converse with a lady. What did one say in such a case?
I love the way he fills in the backstory between himself and Nicholas in deft, episodic touches which pull the reader along like Scheredzhade did with her murderous husband, so we never feel we are being dumped with the backstory, or pulled out of the present narrative with a break in the action, as if often the case with “Parted Lover” stories.
The language is perfectly apt for the period, not so olde -worlde as to be inaccessible, but a great balance of formal narrative and speech and some really lush description, so well painted that you can really see exactly what’s being described, like this section which makes me feel very sorry for the poor servants.
Lacy clumps of snow still fell, yet slowly enough that the cobblestone path was well-cleared by servants wielding stable brooms. Hundreds of candles in the chapel threw enough light to gild the small drifts with a gold luster. Such a view coupled with the light scent of horses from the brooms made Ian fancy the sight and smells recaptured the Nativity.
He’s emo, yes, but it works very well, and that surprised me, as so many times I find an emo protag to be annoying as hell. But Ian is not whining; he’s realistic and fatalistic. He thinks he’s seeing it clearly. Nicholas has responsibilities now he’s the Marquess, and their youthful love affair, however torrid, cannot possibility resume, however much Ian would want it to.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, and there’s much more to the plot, and more character involved–all beautifully fleshed out, and none of them just wallpaper, than the blurb or my clumsy review shows. But I’m not going to spoil it for you, and if you enjoy a regency with a strong flavour of the time, well-researched history that layers itself onto the page without you even noticing it’s there and a protagonists that you will be crossing your fingers for–hoping that they will get their well-deserved happiness, then you are going to love this.
The Dickens With Love by Josh Lanyon reviewed by Aunt Lynn – 5 stars out of 5
The Dickens with Love is a wonderful, tightly-written little Christmas-themed romance that at times had my eyes rolling in the sheer kitschiness of it, but one that overall I liked very much. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if I learned that Samhain had a contest: give us your best holiday story, and it must have glow-in-the-dark condoms (and use them!), a lost Christmas book, as many references to the band America as possible (without driving you, your readers, and your protag crazy), and an ocelot — and Josh’s tale won. I found it to be delightfully sarcastic, humorous, touching, a bit angsty and sad all at the same time, so totally Josh.
TDWL begins with our first-person narrator, disgraced book hunter James, meeting with a rather unsavory client about a newly-discovered Dickens Christmas book that said client is determined to purchase at almost any cost and means from English University Professor Sedgwick Crisparkle — as long as he remains anonymous. A little uneasy with that stipulation, but really, really needing the commission, he is tasked with convincing the good Professor that he must sell the book to this undisclosed buyer before it goes to auction. James, both skeptical of the book’s authenticity and sure that the seller is going to be a nut job with a name like that, needs to see the book first, though. When he shows up, he is shocked to find that Crisparkle is a total hunk — in an academic kind of way — and the book just may be genuine. But the two don’t hit it off so well and James is sure that he has ruined the chance for the sale — and his badly-needed commission. All is not lost, however, and several meetings — and steamy smexxing sessions — later with Sedge, he thinks he may have saved the day, only to have it all fall apart when Sedge finds out who the buyer is. Now, with his reputation damaged even further, he finds that all he really cares about is his lost opportunity with the man who was only supposed to be a holiday fling.
I have always said that Josh Lanyon is a master of writing flawed, damaged heroes and James is no exception. A voracious reader orphaned at an awkward age, he made a name for himself in the antiquarian book world as an appraiser until it was all taken from him in an unfortunate scandal. Regardless of the truth of his lack of involvement, he was ruined, his perfect life destroyed, and now he lives paycheck to paycheck by shamefully working at the local B&N (Ebenezer Scrooge would have learned a few things about the dark side of humanity if he’d happened to work in a national chain bookstore three days before Christmas). His emotions — his desperation, his self-pity over his situation, his conflict over Sedge, his mixed feelings over procuring something so potentially wonderful for such a crappy human being — were palpable and I felt for him.
What else did I like about this story? Many little — and not so little — things.
Like how cleverly there are many Dickens themes at play, such as orphans, poverty (or on the verge of), Christmas, love, generosity, redemption, prostitution, and probably more that I missed. How Sedge is parallel with Dickens himself regarding a close-call on a train, and how he teaches chemistry like Mr. Redlaw in The Haunted Man.
How James, like Dickens, had happiness, then significant financial problems, then an unexpected windfall. I would like to hope that maybe, like Dickens, he goes on to reclaim his life and reputation.
How Josh created excerpts for the very Victorian-y The Christmas Cake, which could easily have been something Dickens wrote.
How James was with Darcy, his just-as-lonely neighbor. That James decides to go to the movies and what is being offered are films that will be released for Christmas this year. How Josh opted for the Stardust martini recipe I would have chosen (yum!). And I can’t forget Oscar, our feline friend, whose scene was suspenseful and funny from beginning to end.
The many Christmas references that are woven in throughout; some kitschy, some sentimental, some sweet. Angels, snow, trees, peppermint sticks, Christmas music, A Christmas Carol.
Josh is also skilled at first-person narration, and I felt it was successful here as I thought all of the other characters were fully-fleshed, beginning with newly-reborn Sedge to Darcy to the morally-bankrupt, “arrogant, unprincipled asshole” Mr. S. The band America, I felt, was also a secondary character (Were those guys following me or what? What had I ever done to them that they needed to haunt me like the Ghosts of Christmas past?), as well as the odd weather in LA.
In the mood for a holiday novella? I highly recommend this fab, Joshly-written Christmas tale.