calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Sharp Turn, Marianne Delacourt, Twelfth Planet Press, Tara Sharp, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: December 2016 by Deadlines
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Tara Sharp #2
Genres: Crime, paranormal
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This review contains spoilers for previous volumes/books.

Tara’s quirky PI business is attracting some even quirkier customers. She’s not sure how Madame Vine’s Escort Agency got her number. And then there’s the eccentric motorcycle racing team owner, Bolo Ignatius. Both these clients want to Tara to investigate suspicious circumstances that turn up dead bodies. That can only mean one thing in this town: John Viaspa. Tara goes in for round two with the local crime boss, while balancing the tight rope of her deliciously complicated love life.

Sharp Turn is the second Tara Sharp book and continues to be fast-paced fun. Although Tara finds herself in some prickly situations (sometimes quite literally), the story maintains a light-hearted tone.

The first book in the series got off to a bit of a slow start, but Sharp Turn came roaring out of the gate. Within two chapters, the story had reintroduced reoccurring characters and set up several new plots. It verged on a little too fast for me, but fortunately settled.

I really enjoyed the return of some of the characters. Cass was a particular surprise–a streetwise teen who helped Tara out in the first book. She’d seemed like just a passing character, so I was delighted to see her back. Not only that, but she gets fleshed out as we learn a bit more about her background. She serves as an excellent foil for Tara. The fact she has more life skills than Tara–particularly when it comes to cooking–highlights Tara’s privilege, as does Cass’s relationship with Tara’s mother.

The romantic relationships were a bit of a weak point of the book. There are appearances from both love interests, just long enough to remind us that they are still there with very little meaningful interaction. New complications are added to both relationships, but these felt flimsy and unsatisfying. Overall, Tara gives the impression of not being interested in any kind of relationship beyond the superficial.

The mystery elements were stronger, with each of the cases deftly intertwined. Coming from a family of motorbike enthusiasts, I also really enjoyed the setting. It felt vibrant and full of tension.

If you’re looking for a quick, fun read, Sharp Turn doesn’t disappoint.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Nerve Ending, Tobi Hill-Meyer, transgender erotica, Anne Rowlands, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: February 2017 by Instar Books
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: LGBTQIA, erotica. Stories are a mix of contemporary and speculative fiction.
Source: Publisher
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A trans woman watches her sleeping lover and contemplates the moment of his departure. A genderqueer sissy fantasizes alone about connection in their hotel room. A trans woman adjunct professor and sex worker is hired for a sex party held by her colleges philosophy department. A trans boy has a Craigslist hookup with a queen embarked on detransition. A bodiless AI announces its gender, takes a lover, and works to revolutionize the world.

Presented here are thirty stories edited and with an introduction by Tobi Hill-Meyer that offer revolutionary erotic fantasies by trans people, about trans people, and for trans people at the crossroads of history, biology, anxiety, and love.

Editor’s note:I acquired a review copy of Nerve Endings on the recommendation of a friend. I thought reviewing it would be a good way to boost trans voices. However, once I started reading, I quickly realised I wasn’t the intended audience. Furthermore, this thread on Twitter from Corey Alexander made me realise I could be doing more harm than good by reviewing it. So, I invited Anne Rowlands for an Own Voices perspective on the anthology.

 


 

Transgender people are not a plot twist: the introduction of Nerve Endings reminds us of this essential point. It is a point recently discussed in Liz Duck-Chong’s essay on the play The Trouble with Harry and is also often used in more erotic novels in a way that is not only dehumanising but out-and-out stupid. A person who is transgender wants not to be treated as a special bit of “spice” or worse a surprise. They want to be wanted, loved, cared for, or just simply not to be told they are playing pretend.

The central idea of Nerve Endings is to help us realise and capture this in a way that keeps transgender stories present in our minds when we, the transgender audience, are at our most lonely. These stories keep us remembering that our lives are worthy. That we matter. Nerve Endings never shies away from being written by trans people for trans people. Anyone else who likes it, that’s fine, but it’s not for them, it’s for us. This was so clear as I read that I really understood why I was asked to write this review.

Nerve Endings is proud in its erotica and its kink, its few polyamorous tales. It is never there to shame, or to make readers feel less (or more) than what we are: a part of society, transgender or not.

Each story brings us into a universe that we can almost imagine is real. Even when the characters are a Demon and his summoner, or an AI and their partner, or just a simple trans woman, man or boi trying to make their way in the world.

I’m always a little left wanting with short stories anthologies. Each tale is almost always slightly less than perfect, ending bitter-sweet, or offering only a brief glimpse into the life and emotions of the characters. Almost every story left me wanting more. More of the characters. More of their love. More of the things they do to conquer their fears and anxieties. More orgasms. The unashamedly erotic, the consent, the kink, the characters and their needs and desires. It’s too much and not quite enough at the same time. I was left with a profound sense of needing–not just wanting–more. I really hope this is just the first serving of a new genre of positive, consensual stories about transgender people told in erotic, loving, caring and knowledgeable ways.

4 out of 5 stars.

Anne Rowlands

 

Anne Rowlands is a transgender woman librarian, in her spare time she is also an artist and poet. You can find her on Twitter as @anne_rowlands.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Twist, Kylie Scott, Dive Bar, contemporary romance, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Published: April 2017 by Pan Macmillan
Format reviewed: Trade paperback, 273 pages
Series: Dive Bar #2
Genres: Contemporary romance
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When his younger brother loses interest in online dating, hot, bearded, bartender extraordinaire, Joe Collins, only intends to log into his brother’s account and shut it down. Until he reads about her – Alex.

Alex Parks is funny, friendly, and pretty much everything he’s been looking for in a woman. And in no time at all they’re emailing up a storm, telling each other their deepest darkest secrets . . . apart from the one that really matters.

And when it comes to love, serving it straight up works better than with a twist.

Kylie Scott shows why she’s one of Australia’s most beloved romance writers with her new book Twist. It’s the second book in the Dive Bar series but, as with most romance, it’s not necessary to have read the previous book to enjoy this one.

The start is compelling. Alex has flown into town and shows up at the Dive Bar in her little black dress and towering heels, looking to crash Joe’s birthday party. It’s an uncharacteristic move for her, but she was goaded into it by her best friend and she’s been trading emails with Joe for months via a dating site. Except Joe has been using his brother’s account. So, when Alex throws herself at Eric, thinking he’s the man she’s been emailing, chaos ensues. I have a bit of a humiliation squick, so the opening was hard going for me. It read like a nightmare that I kept expecting Alex to wake from. However, I thought she handled herself pretty well, and wanting to find out what happens to her helped me push through the discomfort.

Joe is used to women passing him by in favour of his brother. It’s not that he’s unattractive–being broad, bearded and blond–but women like their bad boys and that’s just not him. Joe’s family and friends mean a lot to him and he bends over backwards trying to please everyone. But although he loves them, his friends and family drive him nuts sometimes. His emails to Alex were a place he could safely vent. Joe treats everyone with painstaking respect, making the times he crosses boundaries all the more jarring. However, one of the things I enjoyed most about his character is that he readily admits when he’s done something wrong.

The story is told in first person solely from Alex’s perspective. Nevertheless, it manages to do an excellent job of conveying Joe’s feelings. This is partly helped by the inclusion of some of their emails at the start of each chapter, but mostly the result of Joe’s earnestness and some excellent storytelling.

A couple of the plot twists felt a little forced, but it is difficult to say more without spoilers. The ending also featured a cameo by characters from Scott’s previous series. As a new reader, I found this a bit disorientating and I briefly wondered whether I’d stumbled into a preview for another book.

However, despite these flaws, I found it to be an entertaining and down-to-earth read. Twist is my first foray into Scott’s work and I’ll definitely be seeking out more.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Crossroads of Canopy, Thoraiya Dyer, Tor Books, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: January 2017 by Tor Books
Format reviewed: Hardback, 336 pages
Series: Titan’s Forest #1
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Library
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

At the highest level of a giant forest, thirteen kingdoms fit seamlessly together to form the great city of Canopy. Thirteen goddesses and gods rule this realm and are continuously reincarnated into human bodies. Canopy’s position in the sun, however, is not without its dark side. The nations opulence comes from the labor of slaves, and below its fruitful boughs are two other realms: Understorey and Floor, whose deprived citizens yearn for Canopy’s splendor.

Unar, a determined but destitute young woman, escapes her parents’ plot to sell her into slavery by being selected to serve in the Garden under the goddess Audblayin, ruler of growth and fertility. As a Gardener, she yearns to become Audblayin’s next Bodyguard while also growing sympathetic towards Canopy’s slaves.

When Audblayin dies, Unar sees her opportunity for glory at the risk of descending into the unknown dangers of Understorey to look for a newborn god. In its depths, she discovers new forms of magic, lost family connections, and murmurs of a revolution that could cost Unar her chance or grant it by destroying the home she loves.

Crossroads of Canopy is a debut novel which has some amazing worldbuilding and explores a number of social issues.

Unar is a servant to one of Canopy’s thirteen deities, having come from poverty. Her escape from abuse and slavery had made her ambitious, helped by the fact she possesses a powerful potential for magic, and she firmly believes she’s destined to be the Bodyguard to the next incarnation of her deity. She’s not an entirely likeable character–she’s impulsive, occasionally selfish and lashes out at her loved ones. However, her strong desire for justice saves her from being unsympathetic. Despite being born to poverty, Unar grew up in Canopy–literally the highest stratum of the forest–and, as such, is privileged. Thus, it is unsurprising that she shows prejudice on occasion. However, unlike the other citizens of Canopy, she catches herself and constantly questions the injustice embedded in the status quo.

Although I felt some sympathy for Unar, I found the story held me at arm’s length and didn’t engage me on an emotional level as much as I would have liked. This may have been intentional, as one reoccurring theme of the story is unrequited feelings across many relationships, both romantic and otherwise.

However, there was plenty for me to engage with on an intellectual level, and it reminded me a little of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice trilogy in that sense. There’s a common perception that fantasy doesn’t examine social issues in a way that science fiction does. Crossroads of Canopy dispels that notion by putting class and race at the heart of the story.

The world is separated into three different societies located at different levels of the forest. Canopy is the highest level with access to abundant sunshine and fresh water. Understorey lies below, receiving very little sunshine and dealing with the refuse that is tossed on their heads from Canopy. We see very little of Floor, but the story indicates its citizens are plagued by floodwater and monsters. These three societies combine to form a literal class strata, where the higher you are the better off you are. This class structure is also intrinsically tied to race. Canopians are dark-skinned, while the sunlight-deprived Understoreans are pale.

The story also deals with issues of ageism and ableism. This comes primarily through the Canopian society, where the citizens make offerings to one of their gods to protect their children from falling over the edge of the branches which form their home. However, the disabled and elderly too feeble to work are pushed to their doom. In this way, it highlights society’s cult of youth.

Another thing I particularly liked about the worldbuilding is that it doesn’t use the typical broadleaf forests found in the US or the UK. Instead, we have the kind of rainforest often seen in Australia or Southeast Asia–the kind that features an abundance of gum trees and parrots.

The story is a bit slow-paced with few action sequences. The writing style was also a bit difficult to get used to at first; there was a lot of terminology and names to wrap my head around, and I found the occasional use of alliteration distracting.

However, overall Crossroads of Canopy brings a fresh approach to fantasy, making it well worth reading.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Sharp Shooter, Marianne Delacourt, Tara Sharp, Australian crime, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books, Twelfth Planet Press

Published: May 2016 by Deadlines
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Tara Sharp #1
Genres: Crime, paranormal
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~Kobo ~ Smashwords

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tara Sharp can see auras, and its ruining her life.

When she tries to turn her inconvenient secret into a paying gig, her first job lands her in the middle of a tug of war between the biggest, baddest crime lord in town and the hottest business man Tara has ever met.

With only a narcoleptic ex-roadie, her pet galah and a vanilla slice for back up, Tara is ready to take on trouble with a capital T.

WINNER of the Davitt Award 2010 Best Crime Novel and nominated for Ned Kelly Award 2010 Best First Crime Novel

Sharp Shooter is an action-packed crime novel with a dash of the paranormal. It’s a quick, fun read that will particularly appeal to Australian readers.

The paranormal elements are light, restricted to Tara’s ability to see auras. However, the book carries the feel of urban fantasy. Tara has all the necessary feistiness but is more scruffy than polished. In the beginning, she’s a bit of a mess. She recently lost her job, caught her boyfriend in an affair with her flatmate, and is now broke and living with her parents. She is also struggling with her psychic powers. It turns out that the ability to see auras doesn’t automatically come with the ability to interpret them. I loved that Tara still has to find a mentor and learn.

She’s also surprisingly bad at people. Even with her psychic abilities, she misreads intentions. Diplomacy is not her strong suit and she often makes bad decisions. However, while she’s not always the best at respecting other people’s boundaries, she is good at setting her own. This was something I appreciated, particularly during one scene in a limo.

Despite being a reasonably fast-paced book, the story doesn’t launch straight into the action. It takes time to establish Tara’s situation and put her through some training. The beginning feels like a bit of a disaster–appropriately so, as Tara reels from one disaster to the next. It verges on disjointed, but never quite crosses the line, and by the end everything has pulled together.

I was delighted to discover the story was set in Perth and is filled with Australian idioms and cultural references. For example, the story makes reference to the proper way to eat vanilla slice. I don’t think it would be inaccessible to international readers, but I’m not in a position to make a good judgement on that issue. Likewise, I couldn’t say how faithfully Perth was represented, even though it felt authentic to me. The story respected its setting, rather than using it as vague background colouring. I especially appreciated that, unlike some Australian urban fantasy, the story didn’t feature an overabundance of guns.

Readers may want to be warned that the story features a love triangle… and one that so far seems weighted in one direction. However, it was counterbalanced somewhat by Tara’s friendships. She has two childhood friends: one male, one female. It was nice to see a platonic friendship portrayed between the sexes. The female relationships in this book run the gamut from antagonistic to loyal friends, which was nice to see, though I was a little disappointed it tended more towards the former than the latter. Similarly, although the gender balance between the characters was reasonable, virtually none of the women in positions of command. While this may be somewhat reflective of Australian culture, it remains a little bit of a let-down.

However, these are mostly just nitpicks. Overall, I enjoyed Sharp Shooter and found it a refreshing piece of Australian crime.

In celebration of the launch of Too Sharp, the third book in the series, Sharp Shooter is available for free across most platforms until 11 April.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Strange the Dreamer, Laini Taylor, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: March 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Strange the Dreamer #1
Genres: Epic fantasy, YA romance
Source: NetGalley
Available: Publisher (print) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around – and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries – including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Strange the Dreamer is another of the gorgeously mythic fantasy romances that Laini Taylor excels at. However, while I enjoyed it thoroughly, it had a few flaws.

Lazlo Strange is a wonderful character likely to appeal to bookworms. He’s not your usual stunningly-attractive hero. Instead, he’s a bit rough around the edges and had his nose broken when a book of fairytales landed on his face–which tells you everything you need to know about Lazlo. He was a highly imaginative boy with a thirst for stories who grew into a librarian with his nose stuck in a book. Before he went adventuring, of course. He works hard and is the sort of person to offer help to his rival simply because it’s needed.

The book takes us all the way from Lazlo’s humble beginnings to his deeds in Weep. This allows readers to get to know Lazlo well, but makes for a slow-paced story. I usually don’t mind this approach, but even I felt it was starting to drag.

It’s a story full of whimsy and the mythic that Taylor does so well. She is brilliant at creating a mood and making the impossibly epic seem plausible. The descriptions were lovely with some gorgeous turns of phrase. However, a little goes a long way–another reason the pace dragged in places.

Despite its sense of whimsy, it is quite a dark story. Readers triggered by rape and forced pregnancy may want to tread cautiously. These incidents never happen onscreen, but their impact resonates throughout the book. It’s a story that deals with cycles of violence and the seeming impossibility of breaking them.

Strange the Dreamer felt like it trod a lot of the same ground as Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Some of it was the structure: the slow set-up, the gradual uncovering of the past and the late explosion into action. There were also some thematic elements that cropped up, such as the preoccupation with angels and demons (here flavoured with some Hindu-inspired elements such as the appearance and titles of the gods). The trajectory of Lazlo’s relationship with Sarai also felt very familiar and may be a bit too insta-love for some readers.

I was somewhat disappointed with the relationship between the female characters of this book. It’s a story that barely passes the Bechdel-Wallis test, with the female characters either isolated, preoccupied with the men in their life or at odds with each other.

It may sound as if I didn’t enjoy Strange the Dreamer when it actually swept me away (once it warmed up). I enjoyed the dark whimsy of it and the later stages of the book do a fantastic job of building tension. I’ll definitely be watching for the next book. However, this is definitely not going to be the book for everyone.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Published: February 2017 by Less Than Three Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Contemporary fantasy, LGBTQIA
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Publisher (electronic only) ~Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~Kobo ~ Smashwords

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Gloria did not intend to start a halfway house for lesbian werewolves. It just sort of happened. Between running a small bed-and-breakfast with her friend Nadine, helping one young lycanthrope adjust to life after the bite and soothing ruffled fur when the other brings home an unexpected cat, Gloria has more than enough to keep her busy, but one thing is definite: she is not nor ever will be an alpha, whatever Nadine says. And the ever-expanding circle of misfits in her guesthouse is certainly not a pack. If only Nadine and the rest of the world were as simple and clear cut as she kept wanting them to be.

Humanity for Beginners is a quietly charming novella that subverts some current tropes common in urban fantasy shifter stories.

For a start, it centres a lesbian woman in her 40s–not your typical werewolf protagonist. Gloria denies the others’ insistence she’s their pack alpha. In fact, she denies there’s a pack at all (though never that they’re a family). Self-control is very important to her and she does her best to act as rationally and as human as she can. This doesn’t always work in her favour.

Gloria’s attitude towards pack dynamics stands in strong contrast to the toxic masculinity of the other packs portrayed in this story. Gloria doesn’t dominate through violence and aggression, as the other packs do. Instead, her approach is more maternal; she can’t help but be genuinely concerned for the well-being of her adopted family. This doesn’t mean she’s a pushover or that she wears her heart on her sleeve. Indeed, she sometimes struggles to stay neutral and let her fellow werewolves to make their own decisions, even though it’s really important to her that they do. She also is capable of enforcing boundaries where necessary.

This resistance to toxic masculinity also manifests in the type of story this is. Set in a rural guesthouse, Humanity for Beginners is a domestic tale that centres on relationships. As the characters sort out romantic, pack and family dynamics, they’re also busy preparing food, cleaning rooms and taking bookings. It’s a gentle story without a whole lot of action, though conflict remains present.

While each of the characters was distinct, the characters external to the pack could have used a little more depth. In particular, I would have liked to learn a little more about Damien, who is part of the family even though he’s not a werewolf. However, I feel the author did a reasonable job within the constraints of a novella.

Overall, Humanity for Beginners was a subversive story that was a pleasure to read.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Penric and the Shaman, Lois McMaster Bujold, Subterranean Press, fantasy, World of the Five Gods, tea and books, books and tea, Earl Grey Editing

Published: February 2017 by Subterranean Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Penric and Desdemona #2
Genres: Fantasy
Source: NetGalley
Available: Publisher (print only) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Young Lord Penric now wears the white robes of the Bastards Order, complete with shoulder braids marking him as a divine and sorcerer, while he pursues scholarly studies in the court of the Princess-Archdivine. His demon of disorder, Desdemona, is, of course, present, accounted for, and offering clever commentary, particularly when she grows bored. And so when a Locator of the Fathers Order shows up on the Archdivines threshold in need of a sorcerer for a journey and she volunteers Penric, at least Des is thrilled with the prospect of an adventure. As they travel into the mountains to locate Inglis, a shaman accused of murdering his best friend, the situation grows into a test for all of Penrics developing talents.

Penric’s Demon was one of my favourite reads last year and so I was delighted to get my hands on a review copy of Penric and the Shaman. As expected, it proved to be a fantastic continuation of the series by one of SFF’s masters.

Time has passed since the last book. In the intervening four years, Penric has earned his braids as a full-ranking priest and has settled into a scholarly life. The narrative begins with a little taste of Penric’s current life. It’s quiet but Penric, being a huge nerd, loves it. Desdemona, having been through it all before (more than once), is bored by it. I really enjoyed this look into how their relationship has developed. It is part odd-couple and part parent-and-child, though this latter dynamic shifts over the course of the novella. One of my few quibbles with this book is that while we do get a few more glimpses of their relationship, we don’t get to see all that more of Desdemona.

What we get instead is an illustration of what their relationship looks like to outsiders. The story is told in close third-person from three points of view: Penric; Locator Oswyl, who has come to hunt down a shaman; and Inglis, the shaman himself. This enables us to witness what it’s like to be in Penric’s presence, to see the slips in phrasing and intonation when Desdemona takes over. It also shows us how frequently Penric is underestimated, his relative youth and cheery disposition often causing others to think him a fool, even dismiss him.

One of the things I loved most about Penric’s Demon was Penric’s kindness and I was pleased to see this remained present. The character is definitely less naive and there were glimpses of the burden he’s under. However, he never treats Desdemona as a burden and is unfailingly respectful to those around him. And even though he is less naive than he was, he still has lessons to learn–lessons that come as a surprise to him.

The gods continue to interfere in this world (and in Penric’s life) in ways both direct and indirect, which I very much enjoyed. I also liked the expansion of the world’s magic system and felt it interacted with the dominant religious system in interesting and plausible ways.

I found the opening oddly bumpy and the style jarred, but quickly settled down with Penric’s appearance. There was also a bit of info-dumping during Oswyl’s briefing of Penric and the Princess-Archdivine. It made sense in context, but I was on the verge of being lost before it was done.

However, on the whole Penric and the Shaman was an absolute delight to read. I’m very much looking forward to the next in the series.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

The Impossible Story of Olive in Love, Tonya Alexandra, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: March 2017 by Harlequin Teen
Format reviewed: Paperback ARC, 284 pages
Genres: Contemporary YA, speculative fiction
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Amazon ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Plagued by a gypsy curse that shell be invisible to all but her true love, seventeen-year-old Olive is understandably bitter. Her mother is dead; her father has taken off. Her sister, Rose, is insufferably perfect. Her one friend, Felix, is blind and thinks shes making it all up for attention.

Olive spends her days writing articles for her gossip column and stalking her childhood friend, Jordan, whom she had to abandon when she was ten because Jordans parents would no longer tolerate an imaginary friend. Nobody has seen her until she meets Tom: the poster boy for normal and the absolute opposite of Olive.

But how do you date a boy who doesnt know youre invisible? Worse still, what happens when Mr Right feels wrong? Has destiny screwed up? In typical Olive fashion, the course is set for destruction. And because were talking Olive here, the ride is funny, passionate and way, way, way, way dramatic.

This story is for anyone whos ever felt invisible.

This story is for anyone who sees the possible in the impossible.

I had some very mixed feelings about The Impossible Story of Olive in Love. The premise was intriguing and the implications were well thought out. However, there were a few elements that really didn’t work for me.

Olive is not in any way a likeable character. She’s caustic, selfish and easily bored. She’s a drama queen who likes to cause trouble and leaves her loved ones to deal with the fallout. This makes sense in the context of the story. Being invisible (but not silent or intangible), she’s more used to hiding from other people than she is to interacting with them. This means she’s socially awkward and lacks both manners and diplomacy. However, given how much time she spends watching other people, her lack of empathy doesn’t completely make sense and I struggled to figure out what Tom saw in her.

I would probably have had more tolerance for Olive as an unsympathetic narrator if the story hadn’t had a few other unsavoury elements. The gypsy curse is a bit on the nose, and the gypsies responsible are the stereotypical feckless, vengeful vagrants. There’s also the occasional line that is transphobic, homophobic or ableist, which did not at all endear the book to me.

Which is a shame, because there were some potentially very interesting elements. Isolation was a strong theme and it was nice to see how this applied just as much to Tom and to Olive’s sister Rose as it did to Olive herself. Even though Olive is functionally able-bodied (more or less), they are essentially care-givers to Olive and this comes with a price.

The practicalities of being invisible have also been carefully thought out. Transport is a problem, as Olive can’t catch a bus or a taxi and driving herself around would look alarming. She’s never learned to kiss and since she can’t see herself in a mirror her makeup skills and sense of fashion are lacking. She can’t live on her own or even let herself in the front door for fear of alerting the neighbours.

I also appreciated the way the book avoided the obvious ending. There were a few elements that could have used a little more foreshadowing, but the outcome was more mature than I’d expected. It steered the book away from being a romance and more towards a coming-of age story.

However, ultimately The Impossible Story of Olive in Love wasn’t the book for me.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Frogkisser!, Garth Nix, middle grade, fairytale, fantasy, books and tea, tea and books, Earl Grey Editing

Published: March 2017 by Allen & Unwin
Format reviewed: Paperback, 336 pages
Genres: Fantasy, middle grade
Source: Publisher
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Talking dogs. Mischievous wizards. An evil stepstepfather. Loads and loads of toads. Such is the life of a Frogkisser.

Princess Anya needs to see a wizard about a frog. It’s not her frog, it’s her sister’s. And it’s not a frog, it’s actually a prince. A prince who was once in love with Anya’s sister, but has now been turned into a frog by their evil stepstepfather. And Anya has made a ‘sister promise’ that she will find a way to return Prince Denholm to human form…

So begins an exciting, hilarious, irreverent quest through the Kingdom of Trallonia and out the other side, in a fantastical tale for all ages, full of laughs and danger, surprises and delights, and an immense population of frogs.

Garth Nix is highly regarded for his Middle Grade and YA fantasy, and Frogkisser! is unlikely to change that. It is a charming story with some fresh takes on a few traditional fairytale elements.

Anya is the youngest of two princesses. Her sister, Morven, is flighty and obsessed with boys. All Anya wants to do is hang out in the library and read books (and really, who can blame her?), but someone has to be the responsible one. Anya and Morven’s stepmother is off chasing rare plants, while their stepstepfather is an evil, cold-hearted sorcerer bent on taking over the kingdom. In order to achieve his ends, he plans to send Anya away to boarding school. However, Anya escapes first with the aid of the royal dogs.

Along the way, Anya encounters a number of fairytale tropes, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the Good Wizard and a flying carpet. One of the things I loved about the story was that these elements never manifest in quite the way you expect them to–there’s always a twist . As someone with a stepmother I adore, it was refreshing to see the part of the villain instead played by Anya’s stepstepfather (the man her stepmother married after her father passed away).

Nix is clearly a dog person. Readers familiar with his Old Kingdom series may remember the Disreputable Dog. Frogkisser! has the royal dogs, a pack of canine advisers to the royal family. They’re presided over by matriarch Tanitha, and one of the younger dogs, Ardent, serves as a companion to Anya on her adventures. Being a dog person myself, I loved these characters and there were a few observations of canine behaviour that had me chuckling in recognition.

Tanitha isn’t the only female in a position of power in this book: women are everywhere. They are warriors, healers and bandits. It was such a delight to read a story where the gender balance was equal and where not all the women were white.

While it is a Middle Grade novel, adult readers will find plenty to enjoy. Geekish references are sprinkled throughout the story; there was one Lord of the Rings reference almost at the end that had me laughing out loud.

All in all, Frogkisser! is an absolute delight to read, no matter what your age.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Viral Airwaves, Claudie Arsenault, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: Self-published in November 2016
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi), 2nd ed.
Genres: Speculative fiction, LGBTQIA
Source: Amazon
Reading Challenges: Read My Valentine
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble~ Kobo

Henry Schmitt wants nothing more than a quiet life and a daily ration of instant noodles. At least until he learns the terrible secret that drove his father away the Plague that killed his mother and ravaged his country was created by those now in power. His only chance to expose the truth is through a ragtag band of outlaws who knew his father and an airborne radio broadcast, but he’d have to dig into his family’s past and risk the wrath of a corrupt government.

Viral Airwaves is a standalone novel sitting firmly between dystopia and solarpunk and centering LGBTQIAP+ characters. If you love hopeful stories about overcoming desperate odds, nemesis working together, and larger-than-life characters, don’t miss out!

Viral Airwaves is not a romance. Nevertheless, I wanted to include some representation of asexual characters in my reviews for the Read My Valentine challenge. Viral Airwaves turned out to be an excellent choice because while it’s not a romance (at least not in the strict genre sense), relationships are at the heart of the book.

The story is told in close third person from the perspective of three characters. Each character is flawed, but likeable… though not always at first.

Henry Schmitt is our entry into the story. He’s one of the last occupants of a town dying after its tourism trade dried up. He just wants a quiet life and he’s ill-equipped to deal with the disruption when he gets swept up with a gang of rebels who knew his father. These characters view him as cowardly, and perhaps he is. Henry’s desire for normalcy and his tendency to eat when stressed made him very relatable, even as I was cheering for him to grow beyond these.

He’s one of two asexual characters mentioned in the book and the only one that gets time onscreen. However, much like his stress eating, this part of his character isn’t framed as a defining characteristic, but is rather simply part of the background. Diversity of race and sexuality is likewise a casual part of the story throughout.

The second POV character is Andeal, an electrical engineer who is one of the founding members of the rebellion. He’s an important friend to Seraphin, the leader. He was also imprisoned with Henry’s father, and the pair were experimented on by a government scientist. The result for Andeal was blue skin and an overriding fear of being imprisoned again. This fear provides an interesting counterpoint to his incessantly (and sometimes foolishly) optimistic personality.

The last POV character is Captain Hans Vermen. He deserts the army in his quest for vengeance against Seraphin for killing his brother. Hans is xenophobic and has some strongly internalised homophobia. At first glance, he’s a repulsive character but he became one of my favourites as I discovered his motivations and watched him struggle with his prejudices. In fact, it was a joy to watch all of the characters battle with their flaws and make new connections with other people.

It is never specified whether the story is set in our world or some close parallel. What is clear is that the world has been through some kind of apocalypse. Bacteria has destroyed the world’s oil supply and the population has been decimated by a plague. Oil-driven technology has been replaced: solar panels abound and government vehicles are all electric. Mass media has been reduced to radio, which is controlled by the authoritarian government who came into power in the wake of the plague. The setting feels at once modern and old-fashioned. While this mostly worked there were a couple of places where it jarred.

The pace is quite slow, particularly in the beginning. However, this was important for establishing the relationships that are at the heart of the book and there were occasional bouts of action that helped keep things moving forward.

The story bills itself as a hopeful one, but readers should be warned it gets dark in places. There is torture and character death, so tread with caution.

Overall, Viral Airwaves was a thoughtful, character-driven storythat drew me in and kept me turning the pages.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

With Roses in Their Hair, Kayla Bashe, Tam Lin retelling, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea, science fantasy

Published: Self-published in November 2016
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Romance, science-fiction, fantasy, fairytale retelling
Source: Amazon
Reading Challenges: Read My Valentine
Available:Amazon

A F/F sci-fantasy retelling of the child ballad Tam Lin. Released as a tribute to the life and works of academic “tam-nonlinear” and to raise awareness of the adoptable cats they posted about having to leave behind. Content notes for parental abuse, vaguely alien body horror. A story about survival and finding beauty in love and resistance.

I’m a sucker for Tam Lin retellings and this f/f romance seemed like the perfect addition to my reviews for Read My Valentine.

This is a very short retelling, barely even making it to the category of novelette. As usual, I found it a bit too short to be truly satisfying. I felt the length did the setting a disservice because there was a lot that was intriguing. I particularly enjoyed the blending of fantasy and science-fiction. The fae of the original ballad become aliens who appear as beautiful humans, and who rule this dystopia. Of course, there are a core of humans devoted to resisting this cruel regime, but who seem almost like fae themselves with their use of implanted wings. I’d have liked to see a bit more of how the fae came to rule and how the humans came to use this technology. The story also could have used a little more set up of some elements, particularly of the sacrifice toward the end.

However, the advantage of the short length was that it kept the focus fairly tightly on the relationship between Jennet and Tambourlain. Jennet is one of the human resistance who has demonstrated herself skillful enough to earn implanted wings. But despite being a fierce fighter, she cares deeply for the people around her, even those she hardly knows. Tam, in contrast, is a formidable changeling warrior concerned only with earning her parents’ approval. Emotions are not approved of in fae culture. Yet, she can’t deny she has a strong connection with this human resistance fighter.

The writing style lacked a bit of clarity in places; in particular, it was hard to keep track of which “she” was being referred to sometimes, making things rather confusing. However, there were some nice ideas and turns of phrase. I particularly liked the sentinels made of clockwork and brought to life by the deaths of violinists.

All in all, I found With Roses in Their Hair an intriguing, but flawed story.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Among Galactic Ruins, Anna Hackett, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books, sci-fi romance

Published: Self-published in August 2015
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: The Phoenix Adventures #0.5
Genres: Romance, sci-fi, adventure
Source: Amazon
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017, Read My Valentine
Available:Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~Kobo ~ Smashwords

When astro-archeologist and museum curator Dr. Lexa Carter discovers a secret map to a lost old Earth treasure–a priceless Faberg egg–she’s excited at the prospect of a treasure hunt to the dangerous desert planet of Zerzura. What she’s not so happy about is being saddled with a bodyguard–the museum’s mysterious new head of security, Damon Malik.

After many dangerous years as a galactic spy, Damon Malik just wanted a quiet job where no one tried to kill him. Instead of easy work in a museum full of artifacts, he finds himself on a backwater planet babysitting the most infuriating woman he’s ever met.

She thinks he’s arrogant. He thinks she’s a trouble-magnet. But among the desert sands and ruins, adventure led by a young, brash treasure hunter named Dathan Phoenix, takes a deadly turn. As it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want them to find the treasure, Lexa and Damon will have to trust each other just to survive.

Among Galactic Ruins is a novella that blends romance, science fiction and action. Think Star Wars meets Indiana Jones: the main characters search for a lost temple on a desert planet in the hopes of finding treasure. It is fast-paced fluffy fun.

Dr. Lexa Carter defied her wealthy family to become an astro-archeologist. They conspired to keep her out of trouble by pushing her into curatorship. That suited Lexa… until she discovered a map that could lead her to lost treasure. One of the things I loved most about Lexa is even though she’s lived a sheltered life, she’s still quite capable of holding her own. She can defend herself physically, if necessary, and has a tendency to run towards trouble–particularly when that trouble is threatening Damon. Her privileged upbringing hasn’t left her without a spine.

Damon Malik is a former spy-cum-assassin who retired for the quiet life. He’s now the head of security at Lexa’s museum and drives her up the wall with his stringent precautions. He’s less than pleased about being dragged out to the middle of nowhere on a wild goose chase. However, Lexa’s passion for her field of interest captivates him to the point where he starts hoping she’ll look at him the same way she looks at those ruined temples. And no matter what’s being thrown at them–sinkholes, desert wolves–Damon never treats Lexa as if she’s incapable.

There were a few elements that didn’t work for me. The style was a little clunky in places, tending towards telling rather than showing. This was particularly the case with world-building. The dirty talk also didn’t work for me, coming across as cliched and a bit awkward.

I also found the ending a little less than satisfying, feeling that the resolution came too easily.

However, I enjoyed the fast pace and the adventure of it. There were some excellent action sequences and the sexual tension between Lexa and Damon really drew me in and had me holding my breath. And as a Jacqueline Carey fan, I got a giggle out of the Kushiel’s Dart reference.

Overall, I found Among Galactic Ruins to be a great deal of fun. It was a lovely way to ease out of Aurealis judging and interesting enough that I’ll be following up the rest of the series.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Wanted, A Gentleman, KJ Charles, historical romance, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea.

Published: January 2017 by Riptide Publishing
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Historical romance, LGBTQIA
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Read My Valentine
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

By the good offices of Riptide Publishing
KJ Charles’s new Entertainment

WANTED, A GENTLEMAN
Or, Virtue Over-Rated

the grand romance of

Mr. Martin St. Vincent . . . a Merchant with a Mission, also a Problem
Mr. Theodore Swann . . . a humble Scribbler and Advertiser for Love

Act the First:

the offices of the Matrimonial Advertiser, London
where Lonely Hearts may seek one another for the cost of a shilling

Act the Second:

a Pursuit to Gretna Green (or thereabouts)

featuring

a speedy Carriage
sundry rustic Inns
a private Bed-chamber

***

In the course of which are presented

Romance, Revenge, and Redemption
Deceptions, Discoveries, and Desires

the particulars of which are too numerous to impart

KJ Charles excels at gay historical romance. Wanted, A Gentleman is a standalone novella that is short and entertaining. However, as is often the case when I read novellas, I found it a little too short to be truly satisfying.

Both main characters are flawed but likeable. Theo comes across as opportunistic and disreputable, though it’s clear he has a good heart underneath. He’s also observant and intelligent, able to see the world in ways Martin can’t. These qualities are especially valuable for his trade as a writer of romance novels. This aspect of his character was something I enjoyed and never felt it crossed the line into self-indulgence.

Similarly, I appreciated Martin’s unabashed enjoyment in reading romance novels. He’s not afraid of having this hobby discovered and is happy to share his criticisms of what he’s read. It added a little extra dimension to a character who is keenly aware of honour and obligation, and generally quite straight-laced.

Historical romance is often a whitewashed genre, so it was a delight to see a PoC take centre stage. Martin was a slave who was taken from his home at a young age and given as a gift to his British masters, who eventually freed him. In the mind of the Conroy family, Martin is a close friend, yet they treat him in ways they would never treat a friend and give no thought to Martin’s experiences. It was nice to see the intersection of racism and good intentions be explored.

While I felt the attraction between Martin and Theo was well handled, the resolution of this attraction was a little sudden for me. Nevertheless, it fits in with Theo’s character (who isn’t one to beat around the bush) and ties in with the characters getting swept up in something bigger than themselves.

Likewise, there was a twist around two-thirds of the way through that came as a bit of a shock. While it was an excellent way of exploring some backstory, a little more foreshadowing would have been useful.

Wanted, A Gentleman is never going to be my favourite of KJ Charles’ work. However, it manages a lot of action and depth for such a short work and is still well worth reading.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Hold Me, Courtney Milan, Cyclone, Earl Grey Editing

Published: Self-published in October 2016
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Cyclone #2
Genres: Contemporary romance
Source: Amazon
Reading Challenges: Read My Valentine
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~Kobo ~ Smashwords

Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months, not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.

But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love

I’m not usually big on contemporary romances. However, I am a huge fan of Courtney Milan and the previous book in this series was amazing. I went into Hold Me with high expectations and they were met at every turn.

As the blurb suggests, it’s an enemies-to-lovers story. The book is told in first person present tense, alternating between the perspectives of Maria and Jay. Jay is a genius professor and a friend of Maria’s brother. He works hard and doesn’t have time for distractions. He also considers himself a feminist. However, when Maria shows up at his lab door looking for her brother, he quickly dismisses her–no one who looks as girly as she does could possibly have brains as well. Maria is a trans woman who has worked damn hard on the skills necessary to make herself look feminine and gorgeous. She’s proud of her skills and they don’t preclude the intelligence she needs to research and run disaster scenarios for her blog. A blog that Jay is a huge fan of and comments on frequently.

Not to say that Maria is the good guy and Jay the bad. The story has more nuance than that. Jay learns from his mistakes and puts genuine effort into doing better. And when he figures out that Maria and Em–the owner of the blog who he messages all the time and is half in love with–are the same person, he confesses immediately, rather than dragging it out in one of those painfully embarrassing scenarios. Maria also has her blind spots. She tends to conflate Asian heritage, despite having a number of friends of different Asian backgrounds. And although she does a good job of calling Jay on his inconsistent boundaries, her fear of intimacy makes her own boundaries pretty inconsistent at times.

As someone who struggles with work/life balance, I appreciated the portrayal of Jay’s workaholism. It felt authentic to me. The resolution of this theme wasn’t quite as solid as I would have liked, but I appreciated the subtle approach, rather than bashing the reader over the head with the way things worked out.

The author also took a more subtle approach to the characters’ marginalised identities. Being a trans woman is shown as important to Maria’s identity but is never the most important thing about her. Rather, her passions and intelligence are centred instead. Jay’s bisexuality felt a little weak in comparison, without the same sort of significance to his character. Nevertheless, I appreciated that their sexualities didn’t define who they were.

There is some terrifically snappy banter between the two as they flirt and exchange insults in the languages of maths and science. There was one insult regarding lasers and masturbation that had tears of laughter streaming down my face.

All in all, I found Hold Me a fantastic romance with all the feels. It cemented Courtney Milan as an author I will follow to the ends of the earth.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart, Stephanie Burgis, Earl Grey Editing

Published:February 2017 by Bloomsbury Publishing
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Source: NetGalley
Available: Publisher (print) ~Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest dragon there is. And she’s ready to prove it to her family by leaving the safety of their mountain cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. But when the human she finds tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw.

But she’s still the fiercest creature in the mountains — and now she’s found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is get herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she’ll be conquering new territory in no time…won’t she?

Judging a book by its cover–or its title–has led to many disappointments. But how could I resist a book called The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart? Fortunately, it proved to be utterly charming.

Aventurine is the youngest dragon in her family. She’s an engaging character who is fierce, headstrong and passionate. She just wants to explore the world! However, her mother won’t let her out of the family’s mountain until her scales have had at least 30 years to harden. Of course, Aventurine has never been good at following rules.

The book is intended for a Middle Grade audience and strikes a good balance with the detail it uses. One of the details I especially appreciated was the names of the dragons. Not only are all of them named after gemstones, but Aventurine and her siblings are all named after types of quartz.

This deft use of detail also applies to the depiction of making chocolate. While the story doesn’t go through every step in the process, it gives enough of them to feel authentic and doesn’t shy away from using specific terminology.

The world-building likewise gives enough detail to feel Regency-influenced while not getting too bogged down in the specifics. The city of Drachenburg comes with as many restrictions as Aventurine’s mountain home. It is hard enough adjusting to the physical reality of being a human. However, Aventurine also has to contend with issues of class and rules of propriety that mean nothing to her.

Historical settings, or settings with strong historical influences, can often feature a whitewashed cast. I was pleased to see that wasn’t the case here. Aventurine’s friends come in a wide variety of skin-tones.

Speaking of Aventurine’s friends, friendship is not something that comes naturally to Aventurine. While not solitary, dragons stick to their family groups. That becomes impossible for Aventurine, once she’s transformed into an untrustworthy human. Instead, she has to overcome the lessons her family has taught her in order to find friendship. This is no mean feat, because even as a girl Aventurine is constantly assessing those around her for a threat, identifying which humans are formidable predators intent on taking advantage of her.

Overall, I found The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart a delightful read and I’d be keen to see more of Aventurine’s adventures with her new friends. However, be warned! This book will leave you craving chocolate.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Octavia E Butler, Gerry Canavan, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: November 2016 by University of Illinois Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Non-fiction
Source: NetGalley
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I began writing about power because I had so little, Octavia E. Butler once said. Butler’s life as an African American woman–an alien in American society and among science fiction writers–informed the powerful works that earned her an ardent readership and acclaim both inside and outside science fiction. Gerry Canavan offers a critical and holistic consideration of Butler’s career. Drawing on Butler’s personal papers, Canavan tracks the false starts, abandoned drafts, tireless rewrites, and real-life obstacles that fed Butler’s frustrations and launched her triumphs. Canavan departs from other studies to approach Butler first and foremost as a science fiction writer working within, responding to, and reacting against the genre’s particular canon. The result is an illuminating study of how an essential SF figure shaped themes, unconventional ideas, and an unflagging creative urge into brilliant works of fiction.

As with Letters to Tiptree, I went into this without having read any of Octavia Butler’s work (don’t worry, it’s on my list) and without even knowing a whole lot about her. I feel that approach didn’t work for me quite as well this time around.

I’d been expecting a biography. And Octavia E. Butler is a biography to some extent. However, it is equally concerned with analysing her work. Throughout the book, the author puts forward a theory unifying her work, looking in depth at her significant published and unpublished works and examining how they fit together. This necessarily reflects on her as a person–and in particular her views on humanity–but may not be satisfying for people looking for more details of her daily life. As someone who hasn’t read the stories being examined, I found it reasonably accessible, though I have no doubt it will hold much more meaning for those who have.

Despite the heavy focus on her stories, I still learned a lot about the person. I found the examination of her writing process particularly interesting. Learning about the way she would almost compulsively write many different variations of the same story was intriguing. Her preoccupation with the business side of writing  was also something I think many writers will be able to related to, even if it was amplified by her poverty. This drive to make sales is also shown as being in conflict with what she felt was her artistic integrity; she needed to sell her stories but resented making changes in order to make them more palatable to publishers or the public. Unsurprisingly, she is portrayed as a deeply unhappy person, never satisfied.

The tone tends towards academic and may be considered dry by some. Indeed, the book started to drag a little after a while.

Nevertheless, I found it an interesting read. This will probably appeal to fans already familiar with Butler’s work.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Earl Grey Editing, Who's Afraid Too? Maria Lewis, books and tea, tea and books

Published: January 2017 by Piatkus
Format reviewed: Trade Paperback, 352 pages
Series: Tommi Grayson #2
Genres: Urban fantasy
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Publisher (print) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review contains spoilers for previous books.

Tommi Grayson: all bark, all bite . . . and now she’s BACK!

After the worst family reunion in history, Tommi needed some space. She’s spent the last few weeks trying to understand her heritage – the one that comes with a side order of fur – as well as learning about her Maori ancestry and how she can connect to it. But she can only escape for so long.

When an unspeakable evil returns, Tommi will need every piece of knowledge and all the skills she has. With the help of allies old and new, frenemies both helpful and super-annoying, she’s going to take the fight to the enemy.

Although I had some reservations, I enjoyed the first book in this series. Who’s Afraid Too? makes an excellent follow-up, retaining what I liked about the series. Tommi remains sassy but practical. She’s a very grounded person, who knows how to have fun but is always willing to do the hard work where necessary. Nor does the story put her on a pedestal, but shows her flaws, allowing her to be hypocritical at times.

However, this is not a story for deep character studies. Most of the other characters gave the impression of being more style than substance: likeable, but I never really got to see what was beyond the surface. Admittedly, that’s a hard ask, considering the number of new friends Tommi acquires. And the importance of style was something I really enjoyed about the book. Each of the characters has their own distinct sense of fashion and there are plenty of references to music and pop culture. These are not characters that live in a bubble. Art and beauty is something that remains important to Tommi and brings a sense of balance to the narrative–she’s not reduced to being solely a werewolf but retains her interests outside of the weird world she’s joined.

Tommi’s relationship with Lorcan was also particularly interesting. I enjoyed the way the story highlighted the problem with their relationship as one of trust and not necessarily that they are mentor and student. Tommi often calls Lorcan on his mysterious bullshit; keeping things from her is not a way of keeping her safe but is actively detrimental. But there is also nuance, and Tommi is reminded that compromise is sometimes necessary.

The plot is a bit predictable in places, with the villain easy to spot. However, it is nicely paced. The sex scenes didn’t really work for me and read a little awkwardly, but the action sequences were dynamic.

All in all, I found Who’s Afraid Too? a fun read. There were a significant number of loose ends to be tied up, so I look forward to seeing a sequel.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Bitten, Amanda Pillar, Graced, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Published: Self-published in January 2017
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Graced #2
Genres: Urban fantasy, paranormal romance
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available:Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The city of Pinton has never been safe–and now a serial killer is on the loose.

Doctor Alice Reive is the city’s coroner, and she’s determined to help find the murderer. Enlisting the assistance of the Honorable Dante Kipling and city guard Elle Brown, they race to track down the killer, before another victim dies.

Hannah Romanov–Dante’s missing twin sister–has spent hundreds of years living on an isolated mountain. But her quiet life is thrown into chaos after she discovers a baby left in the wilds to die. Hannah will do anything to ensure the infant’s survival, even if it means travelling to the worst place in the world for her: Pinton.

Bitten is a new novel in Amanda Pillar’s Graced universe. It features some returning characters, but the focus is mostly on new characters or incidental characters from the previous novel. As such, it stands alone reasonably well and should be accessible to new readers.

There were so many potential ships in this novel. The blurb had me half expecting a f/f romance. However, it soon became clear this was unlikely. Like Graced, this was a novel that kept me on my toes; readers going into it expecting a pure paranormal romance are likely to be disappointed. The pairings happen quite a way into the story, with one getting started almost at the end. Instead, romance is balanced out with a hefty dose of crime and fantasy road trip.

The development of non-romantic relationships make it equally satisfying. I enjoyed seeing the strong friendship between two of the main male characters and to learn a bit more of how that came to be. There were also some great family dynamics, especially within Hannah’s family. And I appreciated that we got to spend some time with characters from Graced and to see how their adopted family dynamic is developing.

The story does make use of the fated mate trope, which is one I really don’t get along with. However, I was really impressed with how the trope was handled. It makes it clear the attraction the characters feel is instinctual lust and that it’s just one step along the path, with the next being getting to know each other better.

Diversity was a key part of Graced and remains strong in Bitten. The characters have a wide variety of skin tones. Hannah has something akin to a touch phobia and Alice has some mild OCD tendencies. I wasn’t wholly sold on the latter, but I have no experience with it, so your mileage may vary.

I found the ending of the crime plot a little weak but it’s difficult to say more on this without spoilers.

However, I can say that the characters and world-building make it well worth the read. The novel also finishes with a revelation that will have some very interesting implications for the world and I’m really looking forward to finding out what happens next.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Aurora Decima, Amanda Bridgeman, science fiction, sci-fi, space opera, Earl Grey Editing, book review, books and tea, tea and books

Published: Self-published in November 2016
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Aurora #6
Genres: Science fiction, space opera, military sci-fi
Source: Author
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~  Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This review contains spoilers for previous books.

The tenth year war is coming . . .

Carrie Welles has survived more attacks than she can count, but each one has made her stronger. She refuses to be a victim anymore. While her nemesis, Sharley, continues to be a threat, she works with Harris and the Aurora team to protect the future, vowing to raise her children and fight as the soldier-mother she was destined to be.

Saul Harris has had visions of the Zeta ships hitting Earth years before they’re due, but has no proof to warn the UNF. Scraping together a small contingent of Alpha units, he prepares for the onslaught as best he can. He embraces his gift and ‘connection’ with Welles and they dig further into his ancestry, only to have more haunting truths come to light.

As the invasion approaches, the new Aurora team members must find their place in the crew, while old team members reunite. They must band together with the Originals and their fellow Space and Earth Duty troops if they are to defend Earth against this attack.

But is it too little too late? Have Harris and Carrie done enough to protect their future? As they fight for survival against the Zetas in a battle that stretches across the UNF Space Zone, they soon realise the price of their freedom might be higher than they were expecting to pay.

I read the first five books of the Aurora series in quick succession, so Aurora: Decima is the first book in the series I’ve had to wait for. Even though it has been a little over a year, the author managed to draw me back into the world without too much trouble. However, as the sixth book in the series, I wouldn’t recommend it for new readers–too much has happened by this point. Even as a returning reader, there were a few points at which I wished for a cast list.

Having said that, I rather enjoyed the dynamism of the cast and particularly enjoyed the addition of a few new characters. Carrie’s home, the Fortress, is run by an AI called Archie. There were a few moments when Archie displayed quite the sense of humour and its personality remains distinct throughout the book. New crew member Tikaani also displayed a sense of humour. However, while it was nice to see another woman on board the Aurora (and a Inuit woman to boot), she seemed mostly a place-filler and we never really got to know her beyond the superficial.

There was some nice development of existing characters. Carrie and Captain Harris have matured nicely, turning their arrogance into confidence. Lieutenant Gold also makes a return and plays a key role in the story.

The structure has improved on previous books. The beginning remains a little slow to get going. While the prologue recapped some useful information, the similarities in character motivation between the prologue and the first chapter gave a feeling of redundancy. There were also a few times in the early parts of the books where the story felt like it was treading water–particularly concerning the relationship between Carrie and McKinley, and between Captain Harris and his son. However, that quickly improved. Dividing the story into parts gave a smoother feeling to the time jumps (which were significant in places). Previous books in the series have had a bit of a drawn-out ending, which I was also pleased to see Decima avoided. The tension really ratchets up in the second half and I found the finale nicely paced.

While the structure was tighter, I found the prose still a bit clunky in places. The uses of the terms Alpha and Jumbo were a bit excessive, beating the reader over the head with the fact that most of the characters are no longer human rather than trusting the reader to keep in mind the differences between the humans and the super-soldiers.

The story continues to be very heteronormative (with one very minor exception) and gender binary. However, within that it does some interesting things with the themes of bodily autonomy and reproductive rights. I appreciated the way it gender-flipped one of the prominent themes of the series and began to examine it from a new angle. I very much hope to see more of this in the next book.

Overall, Aurora: Decima makes an excellent addition to the series and well worth the read.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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