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.

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

The Bone Knife, Intisar Khanani, The Theft of Sunlight, books and tea, tea and books, Earl Grey Editing

Published: October 2012 by Purple Monkey Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: The Theft of Sunlight #0.5
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Smashwords
Reading Challenges: Read My Own Damn Books
Available:  Amazon ~ Barnes & NobleKobo ~ Smashwords ~ Free across all platforms

Rae knows how to look out for family. Born with a deformed foot, she feigns indifference to the pity and insults that come her way. Wary of all things beautiful, Rae instantly distrusts their latest visitor: an appallingly attractive faerie. Further, his presence imperils the secret her sister guards. But when the local townspeople show up demanding his blood, Rae must find a way to protect both her sister’s secret and their guest. Even if that means risking herself.

I love Intisar’s work and The Bone Knife has done nothing to change my mind. It was the perfect short read while I was dealing with eye strain and Aurealis judging.

Rae was a great character, particularly because she was a bit unusual. It’s not often the staid oldest sister gets to be the focus of a story. More often it’s the magical middle sister or the impulsive youngest. Rae is pragmatic–even a little dour at times–and I loved that about her.

I also enjoyed her relationship with her family. There’s clearly a lot of love between them. Nevertheless, Rae remains aware of the way they treat her differently and their love makes their pity harder to bear in some ways. Rae’s family are also conscious of this and their guilt leaks out onto the page.

The Bone Knife is short, barely scraping into the category of novelette. The story is tightly written and manages to deal with a number of powerful themes. As with much of Intisar’s work, it deals primarily with fear and with being an outsider: of being female in a patriarchal society, of being a foreigner in a xenophobic world, and of being disabled in a world geared for the able-bodied. In this regard, the story reminded me a lot of another of Intisar’s work: Thorn. So it seems fitting that the two are set in the same world, though I was unaware of it at the time of reading (and doesn’t really come up in the story).

While Rae bears the brunt of judgement from others, she is not beyond being judgemental herself. When the faerie Stonemane arrives at her family’s ranch, her behaviour towards him is dictated solely by the negative stereotypes she has heard about his kind. I felt this served to humanise her while also highlighting how being marginalised in certain ways doesn’t necessarily mean one is above marginalising others.

Despite the connection to Thorn, this story stands on its own. However, there were some significant loose ends which I anticipate will be tied up in the forthcoming series.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Blazing Dawn, Becca Lusher, books and tea, tea and books, dragons, Earl Grey Editing

Published: Self-published in August 2016
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Dragonlands #1
Genres: Fantasy, romance
Source: Author
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & NobleKobo ~ Smashwords

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The author is a friend. I have done my best to give an unbiased review.

Nera has been fascinated by dragons all her life. Now, as a Rift Rider Lieutenant, her chance to see them up close has come. The appointment to spend five years as an escort to the human ambassador seems like the ultimate honour and gift, but the dragons she studied in training don’t come anywhere close to the reality awaiting her inside the Dragonlands.

Elder Khennik kin Blazeborn Clan Sunlord has no interest in humans. Thanks to the Cloud Curse that their kind brought down upon the Overworld, Khennik’s kin are close to losing their ancestral desert homelands forever. When he’s assigned as a delegate to the humans upon their arrival, he can’t believe his bad luck. Unlike some dragons, he has no wish for more power or responsibility, but he can’t seem to avoid collecting them. From his desperate kin to his nervous aide, right along to the useless humans, Khennik dreams of the day when he can return to his desert home.

Regardless of personal dreams and opinions, both humans and dragons are about to learn that they often have more in common than they might think or wish. And when trouble descends, the true friends you can count on have little to do with species – and everything to do with spirit.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know I’ve been enjoying Becca’s online serial Wingborn. After all, who doesn’t love Regency-inspired fantasy complete with giant eagles? Blazing Dawn is set in the same world, albeit at least a hundred years in the past. Dragons still roam the Overworld and women are still very much a part of the Rift Riders.

In fact, the women seem to outnumber the men in this particular contingent of the Rift Riders and there are a plethora of other female characters. One of the things that I enjoyed about the book was the way it opened with female friendship. Nera and Anhardyne are opposites in both looks and personality, but are nevertheless firm friends. So I was a little disappointed to see their friendship take a backseat to the action and romance.

But only a little disappointed. The romantic relationships run the gamut of pairings, with m/f, m/m and f/f all present–though it should be stated the m/f relationships tended to be the ones in the spotlight. However, it was the m/m relationship that I enjoyed the most and led to much squeeing over their adorableness. There was also a genderqueer dragon, which surprised and delighted me.

Nera and Khennik are both great characters. Nera is a shy introvert who has only recently made lieutenant. She prefers to let her friends have the spotlight. But get her doing what she loves–namely flying, acrobatics, movement and any combination of the three–and she shines. She’s a character who values duty and loyalty. So it’s no wonder the overly dour Khennik ends up being drawn to her. Now that the Cloud Curse has swallowed up his one joy in life, all that Khennik has left is his duty to his people and his determination to halt the curse. It’s no wonder he starts off as such a grumpy fellow. Watching him soften after a run-in with Nera was a treat.

The Overworld looks a little different in Blazing Dawn than it does in Wingborn. Not only are dragons still present, but their presence makes other things possible, such as airships. I enjoyed these changes and the way they build up the history of the world. This was reinforced by Khennik’s preoccupation with the Cloud Curse, a feature of the world which doesn’t get explored much in Wingborn.

Around the halfway mark, the story shifts its focus significantly in a way that didn’t entirely work for me. Until then, the focus had been very much on the romance and the relationship more generally between the humans and the dragons. The dragons stole the limelight in the second half. While it was interesting to see the humans realise their powerlessness in comparison, it wasn’t in keeping with the themes of equality and cooperation that had been present up until that point. I also found the change a little jarring, as the villain didn’t feel properly integrated with the rest of the story. One scene in particular got surprisingly dark.

However, I generally found Blazing Dawn to generally be a light, fun read with plenty of Lusher’s trademark banter. I’m looking forward to the sequel.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers, Wayfarers, science fiction, sci-fi

Published: October 2016 by Hodder & Stoughton
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Wayfarers #2
Genres: Science fiction
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.
This review contains spoilers for previous books.

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

I hadn’t read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet when I picked up this review copy of A Closed and Common Orbit, though I’d heard a lot about it. Although the blurb claimed A Closed and Common Orbit was a stand-alone sequel, I’m pretty particular about spoilers. I side-eyed the statement, then went and borrowed a copy of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet from the library. I promptly devoured it, shoved it into the arms of my sci-fi-newbie sweetheart, then dove into this sequel.

It was equally as awesome but in a different way.

I will admit it does stand alone very well. It takes two minor characters from the previous book and tells their stories. The premise of A Closed and Common Orbit involves a spoiler for The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, so if you care about that sort of thing I’d highly recommend starting with the first book (actually, I’d recommend that anyway). I also feel the major alien species involved in this universe get a clearer and more gradual introduction in the first book. However, by and large, it works as a starting point.

Lovelace used to be The Wayfarer‘s AI. At the end of the previous book, her memory is damaged and she has to be rebooted. She wakes up with no recollection of who she once was. To mitigate the grief of the crew, a visiting mechanic, Pepper, invites Lovelace to inhabit an artificial body she has on hand. The two then return to the planet where Pepper has made a life.

A Closed and Common Orbit offers a number of contrasts to the previous book. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet followed an ensemble cast on their journey through space. While it dealt to some extent with identity, the focus was more on cultural differences and how they play out on both the macro and micro scales. A Closed and Common Orbit is a much more intimate book. The cast is smaller, the majority of the action takes place on the surface of two planets, and the focus is on personal identity.

AIs in humanoid bodies are banned, placing great pressure on Lovelace to pass as human or risk destruction. One of the first things she needs to do is choose a name. The significance of names to identity is reinforced by the story’s structure. Each chapter is headed up with the name of the focus character. When Lovelace decides her name is Sindra, the narrative respects this and refers to her by that name rather than continuing to call her by the old one. In this way, the story models good behaviour.

Passing as human is no easy thing for Sindra. There are similarities here to Breq from Ancillary Justice: both have difficulty getting used to being in a singular body and keep reaching for connections that are no longer there. However, Breq was somewhat used to being in a humanoid body through her ancillaries, whereas the experience is completely alien to Sindra. Her difficulties were well thought out and I felt they were portrayed in a convincing way.

While there are a number of differences between the Wayfarer books, there are also a number of similarities. The multiple close third-person perspectives are supplemented by fictional documents, though to a lesser extent than the previous book. There are also paragraphs where characters offer philosophical views. While I found these interesting, they didn’t sit quite as comfortably with me as in the first book, perhaps because their repeated use began to give a sense of it being more of an intrusion from the author than arising naturally from the character.

The books also share a theme of found family. Indeed, the theme is stronger in A Closed and Common Orbit as we watch Pepper effectively raise Sindra while we simultaneously read Pepper’s story of being raised by AIs. And the diversity that helped make The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet such an awesome book continues. This manifested in ways big and small. I particularly appreciated Blue’s stutter and the way an explanation was neither offered nor necessary.

Overall, A Closed and Common Orbit was just as excellent as its predecessor, albeit in a different way. I’ll certainly be buying my own copy of both books.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea

Published: August 2012 by Hodder & Stoughton
Format reviewed: Paperback, 420 pages
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1
Genres: Fantasy, YA, Urban fantasy, Paranormal romance
Source: Dymocks
Reading Challenges: Read My Own Damn Books
Available: Publisher (print) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’, she has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

When I first read Holly Black’s Modern Fairy Tales series, I adored it. Daughter of Smoke and Bone pushes a lot of the same buttons and reminded me particularly of Valiant. Both are set in a modern world that coexists with a realm of magic. Both involve a young woman who runs errands for a monster. And both are about stepping into one’s power.

The story starts out in Prague, as Karou attends an art class. We gradually learn that Karou is not the ordinary girl she appears to be (even accounting for her blue hair). The drawn-out introduction of Karou’s double life served to emphasise the mystery she presents to her friends and classmates, but was somewhat irritating because it largely relied on keeping the reader in the dark.

This irritation was somewhat mitigated by the author’s ability to create atmosphere. Her depiction of Prague is evocative, with some lovely turns of phrase. This wonderful scene-setting continues throughout the novel; as Karou hops around the world (and between them), each place feels unique while also being edged with (or entirely of) magic. The world may be ours, but there is the sense of a place where the mythic is possible. A place where angels and monsters exist.

While the characters of Karou and Brimstone put me in mind of Val and Ravus from Valiant, the nature of their relationship is quite different. Ravus and Brimstone are both monstrous in appearance and taciturn in temperament, but Brimstone is not a love interest and instead plays a fatherly role to Karou. His affection for her leaks out, despite his gruffness, even as his overbearing manner provides Karou something to rebel against. Karou’s early pettiness comes into sharp relief against Brimstone’s sombreness and this only increases as the reader learns more of Brimstone’s story.

This is not to say there’s no love interest. The focus is initially on the relationship between Brimstone and Karou, but moves away to concentrate on the romance. There is conflict between these relationships from the beginning and though it dies down while the romantic relationship is explored, it’s always an underlying current. This conflict rushes back to the surface as the book winds to a close.

The romantic relationship is not going to be for everyone’s taste. It may be argued that it’s a bit insta-love, though I found that wonderful evocation of atmosphere made it work. I felt it depicted longing and attraction well without descending into the mawkishness  which plagues some YA. While physical attraction is conveyed, it’s played down in favour of emotional connection.

I’m rather sorry I left Daughter of Smoke and Bone on Mt TBR for so long and will be definitely tracking down the next book in the series.

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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)

Earl Grey Editing, A Promise of Fire, Amanda Bouchet, books and tea

Published: August 2016 by Piatkus
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Kingmaker Chronicles #1
Genres: Epic fantasy, 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.

Kingmaker. Soothsayer. Warrior. Mage. Kingdoms would rise and fall for her . . . if she is ever found

In the icy North, where magic is might, an all-powerful elite ruthlessly guided by a glacial Queen have grown to dominate the world. Now rebellion is stirring in the rough, magic-poor South, where for the first time in memory a warlord has succeeded in uniting the tribal nations.

Stuck in the middle is Cat – circus performer and soothsayer – safely hidden behind heavy make-up, bright colours and the harmless illusion of the circus. Until someone suspects she’s more than she seems . . .

Captured by the Southern warlord Griffin, Cat’s careful camouflage is wearing thin. For how long can – or should – she conceal the true extent of her power? Faced with dragons, homicidal mages, rival Gods and the traitorous longings of her own heart, she must decide: is it time to claim her destiny and fight?

I didn’t really get along with A Promise of Fire. On the surface, it had a lot of elements I love–a good balance of fantasy and romance, interesting use of mythology–but these were outweighed by the things I found troublesome.

The opening didn’t make a good case. It was clunky and heavy on description, rushing to introduce characters, most of whom play very little part in the remainder of the story. Fortunately, the style evened out after that first heady rush.

The thing that really bothered me was the relationship between Cat and Griffin. Cat is a Kingmaker, a being that appears once every 250 years whose magical abilities guarantee the rule of whoever they support or holds them captive. How exactly this works is never quite clear; while Cat has quite a few magical abilities, all of them seem to have come to her for other reasons. Griffin is a warlord who has recently overthrown the corrupt, magic-using rulers of the kingdom and installed his sister in their place. Lacking magic himself (other than an immunity to harmful magic), he takes Cat captive to ensure his sister’s peaceful rule and keeps Cat tied close to him at all times as they make their journey back to the palace.

There’s an inconsistency in Griffin’s treatment of Cat that smacked of gaslighting to me. Cat is understandably outraged and upset over her loss of freedom. While Griffin treats her fairly–making sure she has access to everything she wants and even paying her as if she were another member of his bodyguard–his attitude (and the attitude of his bodyguards) towards her desire for freedom is that she’s being unreasonable. Nor does he free her from her physical confines until she swears a magically-binding vow not to escape. However sweet he is towards the people he cares about, and however admirable his goal, without her agency Cat’s attraction to Griffin comes across as something more akin to Stockholm Syndrome.

This lack of agency even extends to their sex life. Although she’s definitely attracted to Griffin, Cat has some (understandable) concerns about pregnancy. So at first she backs out of having sex, until a god throws a tantrum, causing her to change her mind. This kind of pressure undermines any sense of agency on Cat’s part.

What makes all of this even more disappointing was that the other relationships in the book are handled quite well. The dynamic between Griffin’s bodyguards and Cat is laid-back and fun, as they grow to become close friends. They tease each other mercilessly but are always there when it counts. The jealousy this causes Griffin is also handled very well and I actually enjoyed this aspect quite a lot. I also enjoyed the genuine affection between Griffin and his family.

As I mentioned before, I appreciated the balance of fantasy and romance, though it may be too heavily weighted towards the latter for some readers. The focus is primarily on the relationship between Cat and Griffin, with the epic fantasy plot coming in second. There are also some explicit sex scenes which may not be to everyone’s taste.

Overall, I found the book disappointing in its waste of potential.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Den of Wolves, Juliet Marillier, Blackthorn and Grim, fantasy, historical fantasy, Earl Grey Editing, books and teaPublished: October 2016 by PanMacmillan Australia
Format reviewed: Trade paperback, 418 pages
Series: Blackthorn and Grim #3
Genres: Historical fantasy
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016
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.

Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.

Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies…

Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone…

Den of Wolves was one of my most anticipated books of 2016. It didn’t let me down, though it also didn’t go quite where I expected.

The book is slightly less discrete than its predecessors. While there is a self-contained mystery, the resolution of Blackthorn’s story (and, to a lesser extent, Grim’s) forms an important plot thread. Key parts of Den of Wolves are set in the same locations as Dreamer’s Pool and involve some of the same characters.  I would therefore not recommend that new readers start here.

The stylistic choices of the previous books carry over. Chapters alternate between key characters; Blackthorn and Grim’s chapters are told in first person, while chapters focusing on other characters use a close third-person perspective. Each voice is distinct and deftly handled, with some lovely turns of phrase.

Violence against women has always been a key theme of the series. Den of Wolves augments this by focusing on male privilege. Men occupy positions of power and frequently make decisions concerning the female characters without any kind of consultation. In some cases women are carted around like furniture and forced to leave homes they’ve known all their lives. Marillier makes very evident the frustration, powerlessness and fear this engenders in the female characters. I particularly appreciated that it’s not just the “evil” male characters that act this way. On the contrary, some of them have good intentions but seem to have no grasp of the effect their authoritarian approach has on the women around them. They assume they know best and expect everyone around them to obey.

I had a few thoughts on the ending that is impossible to discuss without spoilers. To put it as vaguely as possible: although the ending was foreshadowed and I appreciate what it was doing, I was a tiny bit disappointed. It negated a portrayal that, to my mind, was even rarer and more valuable.

Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed the book and the series remains a favourite.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Stealing Snow, Danielle Paige, fantasy, YA, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, Bloomsbury Publishing

Published: September 2016 by Bloomsbury Publishing
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Stealing Snow #1
Genres: Fantasy, YA
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.

Seventeen-year-old Snow has spent the majority of her life within the walls of the Whittaker Institute, a high security mental hospital in upstate New York. Deep down, she knows she’s not crazy and doesn’t belong there. When she meets a mysterious, handsome new orderly and dreams about a strange twisted tree she realizes she must escape and figure out who she really is.

Using her trusting friend Bale as a distraction, Snow breaks free and races into the nearby woods. Suddenly, everything isn’t what it seems, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur, and she finds herself in icy Algid–her true home–with witches, thieves, and a strangely alluring boy named Kai, none of whom she’s sure she can trust. As secret after secret is revealed, Snow discovers that she is on the run from a royal lineage she’s destined to inherit, a father more powerful and ruthless than she could have imagined, and choices of the heart that could change the fate of everything…including Snow’s return to the world she once knew.

This breathtaking first volume begins the story of how Snow becomes a villain, a queen, and ultimately a hero.

Stealing Snow is a mash-up of several different fairytales, primarily The Snow Queen and Snow White, with a little Alice in Wonderland thrown in for fun. This means there’s a lot going on in the story and I didn’t think it ultimately pulled it off.

The blurb isn’t quite an accurate description of the plot. When the love of Snow’s life is spirited away from the mental hospital in which they live, she manages to bust out with the aid of mysterious forces and another patient, then travel to the magical world to which he’s been taken. While I very much enjoyed the way she’s the one rescuing him, Bale functioned as a bit of a Macguffin and didn’t have much in the way of a personality. This made it particularly annoying when Snow used him as a justification for allying with people who are only out to take advantage of her and her magic. She’s frequently prone to declaring something is the only way. I understand that she lived a sheltered life and is in a strange world, but I would have liked to see her use her imagination a little more often. Also, for someone who was so suspicious of others while she lived in the mental hospital, she’s remarkably credulous once she breaks free.

Unsurprisingly, the use of mental illness conforms to problematic fantasy tropes. Characters are nebulously “crazy” or “insane”, with mental illness being used solely to set up the plot. This is not a book that takes a sensitive and nuanced approach to mental illness.

If you don’t like love triangles (or other geometric shapes), this book isn’t for you. There are three boys in love with Snow and she kisses all of them. I understand getting swept up in the moment, but at the same time, it didn’t really fit with Snow’s driving urge to save Bale and the way she treats him as her One True Love. Three love interests also seemed a bit excessive. The vague indication that there could be a reason behind it wasn’t enough for me to buy in.

There were some potentially interesting relationships between Snow and some of the other female characters, particularly the Robber girls. Unfortunately, they never got the space to really develop.

The ending was a hot mess with twist piled upon twist. The one twist that was foreshadowed was obvious quite early on. The rest came completely out of the blue.

All in all, Stealing Snow wasn’t my cup of tea.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Bound, Alex Caine, Alan Baxter, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, contemporary fantasy, urban fantasy

Published: July 2014 by HarperCollins Publishers
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Alex Caine #1
Genres: Contemporary fantasy
Source: Amazon
Reading Challenges: Read My Own Damn Books
Available: Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Alex Caine is a martial artist fighting in illegal cage matches. His powerful secret weapon is an unnatural vision that allows him to see his opponents’ moves before they know their intentions themselves.

An enigmatic Englishman, Patrick Welby, approaches Alex after a fight and reveals, ‘I know your secret.’ Welby shows Alex how to unleash a breathtaking realm of magic and power, drawing him into a mind-bending adventure beyond his control. And control is something Alex values above all else… A cursed grimoire binds Alex to Uthentia, a chaotic Fey godling, who leads him towards chaos and murder, an urge Alex finds harder and harder to resist.

Befriended by Silhouette, a monstrous Kin beauty, Alex sets out to recover the only things that will free him – the shards of the Darak. But that powerful stone also has the potential to unleash a catastrophe which could mean the end of the world as we know it.

Bound is equal parts contemporary fantasy and action-packed thriller. In this dark and gritty version of our world, magic exists under the noses of ordinary people. Even fighter Alex Caine doesn’t realise at first that his ability to read the aura (or ‘shades’) of his opponents and predict their movements is a magical one. Instead, he thinks it’s a result of his hard training and discipline as a martial artist. I liked this angle, fitting in as it does with some of the more esoteric philosophies of martial arts.

When approached by an English magician, Alex soon discovers that he can not only read people but that his ability also extends to deciphering magical texts. Indeed, he’s more talented at it than most, which is the very reason he’s sought out. The idea of a martial artist being sought out for his ability to read is a wonderful disruption of stereotypes that delighted me.

However, the book succumbs to other stereotypes that I found disappointing. The female characters in particular lacked agency and were almost without exception sex objects. Silhouette and Sparks get the most page time and both functioned (willingly) as a way for the male characters to release tension through sex. The book gets some points for including gay and POC characters but this is undermined by almost all of them being killed off. To be fair, the story is full of violence and racks up quite the body count.

The fight sequences are a definite strength of the book. The author has extensive martial arts experience and it shows. Fights are short and brutal, not left to drag out unrealistically. The choreography is well thought-out and the characters’ mental states play an important part. I particularly enjoyed Alex’s fight with the Subcontractor because even when desperate and caught off-guard, Alex fought with intelligence and came up with a useful strategy.

I found the middle of the story rather repetitive. Alex feels Uthentia starts to get the better of him, has trouble keeping violent impulses in check, blows off some steam by having sex with Silhouette and then is back to worrying about staying in control. It works to illustrate the constant background struggle, but it got somewhat boring and I was never really convinced he was in any danger of losing.

So while not my cup of tea, Bound is likely to appeal to anyone who loves plot-driven thrillers and gritty fantasy.

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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)

Flameout, Keri Arthur, urban fantasy, phoenix, books and tea, Earl Grey Editing

Published: July 2016 by Piatkus
Format reviewed: Paperback, 360 pages
Series: Souls of Fire #3
Genres: Urban fantasy
Source: Hachette Australia
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016
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.
This review contains spoilers for previous volumes/books.

Emberly and her red hot partner, Jackson, have hit an impasse in their battle against the crazed humans infected by a plague-like virus derived from vampire blood. Their quest to unearth the leader of the group leads them into an ambush—and leaves Emberly at odds with her former lover, Sam, who’s pressuring her to join his Paranormal Investigations Team.

To make matters worse, three local witches have been kidnapped—and if their spells fall into the wrong hands, Emberly’s powers could end up smothered. With time ticking until the virus consumes the world, Emberly and Jackson must race to save the witches, find a cure, and smoke out their nemesis—or go down in a blaze of glory…

After my disappointment with the previous book, I’d hoped Flameout would live up to some of the promise of the series. Unfortunately, it proved to be an action-packed book in which almost nothing happens.

As with Wicked EmbersFlameout is very plot-driven. The vampire battle that ended the last book brought news of new factions within the vampire ranks, and most of them are unhappy with Emberly. Rogue elements of Melbourne’s resident werewolf pack also have it in for her after some altercations, and the head of the pack is unwilling to step in. And then there’s the head of the Red Cloaks who has taken a very personal interest in her. Between trying to dodge people who have it out for her, Emberly and Jackson are still in search of the missing research notes stolen from her previous employer. Their efforts have displeased the Paranormal Investigations Team, who have decided that the best thing to do about it is to force her to join them by whatever means necessary.

In case all these elements weren’t enough, Melbourne’s magic community also gets introduced when a powerful local witch contacts Emberly about seeking out some missing coven members. Once again, I found world-building to be a strength of the series and the addition of this community brings something new and interesting to the story. I was particularly interested in the way the human witch’s relationship with Mother Earth differed from Emberly’s. I also enjoyed seeing a new form of magic at work.

The story foreshadows larger plots at work. While I found this interesting, it undermined any sense of resolution. The ending was suitably flashy and cinematic, but didn’t ultimately change the status quo.

The relationships also remained stagnant. I continue to appreciate the distinct differences between Emberly’s polyamorous relationships and the marked lack of resentment between Emberly’s life mate Rory and her new flame Jackson. I certainly don’t want to see Emberly be forced into the tired trope of picking One True Love. However, it would be nice to see the relationships grow in some way.

Although I was entertained by Flameout, I was ultimately disappointed and will be thinking hard about whether I wish to continue reading the series.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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