calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-06-19 08:00 am
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Rift Riders by Becca Lusher

Rift Riders, Becca Lusher, Wingborn, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea.

Published: Self-published in March 2017
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Wingborn #2
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Author
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~Kobo ~ 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.
This review contains spoilers for previous books.

On a world cursed to be covered in clouds, protected by the elite Rift Riders who fly on the backs of giant eagle miryhls, Lady Mhysra Kilpapan and her friends are making history. Women are now firmly back within the Rider fold and the future looks bright.

But even though Mhysra and her Wingborn Cumulo have survived their first year as students, there’s more to becoming a Rift Rider than lessons and training. Especially when trouble is brewing in the Wrathlen and the kaz-naghkt are looking for revenge.

Return to the Overworld for the next exciting Wingborn adventure, where strength, loyalty, honour and friendship are about to tested to their limits and beyond.

I am a huge fan of the Wingborn series. What’s not to love about a magical Regency-influenced society where the military ride giant eagles? Wingborn did an excellent job of setting up that society: showing the bond between rider and eagle, as well as the expectations the upper class have of their children.

Rift Riders takes that and shakes it up. Now that the world has been established, a serious threat steps forward. Yullik, a man with mysterious powers, manages to unite the pirate captains of Wrathlen for the first time in history. Allied with savage draconoids, the kaz-naghkt, they may prove unstoppable–even for the Rift Riders. This new threat builds great tension and raises the stakes. It also makes Rift Riders quite a different book to its predecessor. The more domestic aspects of the story, such as society life and the Kilpapan family dynamics, are left behind in favour of a more traditional epic fantasy narrative.

While this was slightly disappointing, the transition works well, with Rift Riders becoming more of an ensemble piece. Mhysra remains an important part of the narrative, but her friends get a greater share of the spotlight, with a few stepping forward to become point-of-view characters. This enables us to see more of what’s going on, particularly when battles break out on several fronts.

The relationships between these characters remain a strength of the story. The groundwork for a few romances was laid in the previous book, but this are dialled back or absent entirely. Instead, the focus is on friendship and duty. Mhysra and her friends do their best to support each other as they struggle to survive and defend the realm. The banter between them is never entirely absent, lightening what could otherwise be quite a grim story. Nor is this friendly teasing limited to the students–Lieutenants Lyrai and Stirla are equally as bad.

Managing such a cast of characters can be a handful, but the story does an excellent job of reintroducing everyone in the beginning. It does so through a tight action sequence which handles both aerial and ground-based combat in a way that sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

All in all, Rift Riders was a delight to read. With at least one more novel to come, and with the shift of tone between books, I’m curious to see what is in store for the remainder of the series.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)
2017-06-16 08:00 am
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Continuum 13

Trigger Warning: This post contains a realistic depiction of brains. You can thank Seanan McGuire.

Last weekend, I attended Continuum 13 in Melbourne. It was also the 56th Australian National Science Fiction Convention. The Guests of Honour were Seanan McGuire and Likhain.

I took a bit of a different approach to the convention this year. Instead of writing notes, I live-tweeted most of the panels and events I attended. You can find those tweets on Storify. They cover:

To Be Continued… a panel on serialised fiction with Nathan Farrugia, Seanan McGuire, Gillian Polack and Tansy Rayner Roberts.

Creativity and Mental Health with Likhain, Creatrix Tiara, Lauren E. Mitchell, Mary Borsellino and Dorian Ellis.

1001 Ways to Die in Space with Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

The Art and Science of Publishing with Devin Madson, Sam Hawke, Donna Maree Hanson and Robert Law.

It’s Okay to Quit, a panel on breaking up with books, franchises and fandoms. Panelists were Seanan McGuire, Tori, Figgy O’Connell, and Lauren Mitchell.

Anime and Manga with Likhain, John Samuel, Bryce Campbell, Laura Wilkinson and Candice Schilder.

Once Upon A Time with Seanan McGuire, Amanda Pillar, Kirstyn McDermott, Jodi McAlister and Sebastian Edwards.

Whitewashing in SF with Devin Jeyathurai, Stephanie Lai, Likhain, Creatrix Tiara and Tori.

Seanan McGuire’s Guest of Honour AMA.

The Ditmar Awards.

Forgotten Mothers of SFF, a panel on women writers erased from SFF. Panelists were Cat Sparks, Seanan McGuire, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Sam Hawke and Jodi McAlister.

Fan Fiction and Fan Art with Likhain, Liz Barr, Elaine Cuyegkeng and Erica.

There are also links to tweets about other panels, such as Asian SFF, Secondary Worlds in Weird Fiction, the Bioware Panel and Likhain’s Guest of Honour speech. And I included a few tweets about the Tabletop Renaissance panel I sat on, but plan to post on that in more detail next week.

Despite this fairly thorough coverage of the con, there were a few things I didn’t mention, or touched on only briefly. I will expand on those here.

Snow on the mountains during the flight to Melbourne.

I arrived early in Melbourne, which afforded me a chance to catch up with a few people before the start of the convention. On Friday morning, Kat Clay took me to the Hopetoun Tea Rooms. The shop windows are a work of art, filled with gorgeous cakes and tarts that are guaranteed to get you drooling. They also do a lovely range of loose-leaf tea. We shared a pot of Earl Grey which had been given a unique twist by the addition of Gumbi Gumbi–a kind of Pittosporum known as Native Apricot. The chocolate pecan tart was also excellent.

In the afternoon, I got the chance to catch up with Ju from The Conversationalist. Being a Melbourne native, she was able to give me a great tour, including the locations of good places to eat and the Kit Kat store–both vital bits of knowledge. She also took me past McIver’s and Lupicia, both wonderful loose-leaf tea stores.

Tea haul

The convention started in earnest at 5PM on Friday. But that doesn’t mean there was an end to the cake. Galactic Suburbia held a fundraising drive for the Octavia Butler Memorial Scholarship.

And there was cake for the launch of Seanan McGuire’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones.

In keeping with the natures of the protagonists, Seanan had two different kinds of cake from Cake and Madness. One was a traditional cupcake with glittery frosting. And the other… well, the other was a bit disturbing.

Yes, it’s a cake.

Watching it be eaten was a little like finding myself in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.

Moving away from the food theme, I also managed to get in a bit of roleplaying at the convention. Alex Hardison was gracious enough to run a one-shot of Feng Shui for me and a few friends. The game is modelled after Hong Kong action movies, rewarding flamboyant, physics-defying manoeuvres. The system was easy to grasp, making it perfect for a one-shot. Alex had also put together a cleverly modular session based around a train heist. Everyone had a wonderful time.

I made a few new friends this year. I got to meet DUFF delegate Paul Weimer, whose voice remained very familiar after the last few months of listening to the Skiffy and Fanty podcast. It was wonderful to finally meet face-to-face. I also got to meet Kate Laidley, who I’d previously met virtually on Instagram. It was her first convention, so hopefully we didn’t scare her away!

And, of course, no convention is complete without a book haul. My own was fairly modest this year. The first thing I picked up from the dealers’ room wasn’t a book at all.

As soon as I saw those teapot earrings, I knew I needed them.

I came back on Monday to pick up a few bits and pieces. It was lucky I did, because by the time the launch of Down Among the Sticks and Bones came around, there were very few copies left.

The Princess Diarist is also a bit of a cheat because I didn’t actually buy it. It’s on loan from Mayakitten. We’re both making our way through the Hugo shortlists and catch up on a regular basis to discuss them over hot chocolate.

So, that was Continuum 13! It was my first Continuum and I had a fantastic time. Kudos to the programmers, who did a brilliant job with piecing together the panels. And a big thank-you to the committee and volunteers, who were all very friendly and kept everything running smoothly. I’ll definitely be going back when I can.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A black and white photo of a large, dark teapot and a small Chinese teacup with a fish painted on the side (Tea)
2017-06-09 08:00 am
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Loose-leaf Links #41

Chai, Real chai, Loose-leaf Links, Earl Grey Editing, loose-leaf tea

Loose-leaf Links is a feature where I gather together the interesting bits and pieces on sci-fi, fantasy and romance I’ve come across and share them with you over tea. Today’s tea is Real Chai’s original blend. As with most proper chais, it needs milk and sweetener in order to taste good. I’m in favour of honey.

Awards News ) Community and Conventions ) On Equity ) For Writers ) For Readers )

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-06-05 08:00 am

Behind the Mask by Tricia Reeks and Kyle Richardson

Behind the Mask, superhero anthology, Tricia Reeks, Kyle Richardson, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: May 2017 by Meercat Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction
Source: Publisher
Available: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.

Behind the Mask is an exciting collection of short stories about the everyday lives of superheroes. Ranging from laugh-out-loud funny to deliciously dark, these stories are about the ordinary day-to-day challenges facing these extraordinary individuals growing up, growing old, relationships, parenting, coping with that age-old desire to fit in when, let’s face it, they don’t.

Behind the Mask is a solid collection of short stories that nevertheless left me feeling ambivalent. Since I’m not much of a short story reader, this could definitely be more a reflection of my reading taste than the anthology itself. However, I didn’t find myself hurrying back to it.

The stories often focused on the domestic and the personal, which I rather enjoyed. They’re less about the big, flashy battles–though those make the occasional appearance, such as in Seanan McGuire’s story Pedestal. Instead, the stories use their superheroes as lenses to examine themes such as memory, chronic illness, celebrity, and family dynamics and legacies. These stories are often quite poignant, such as Destroy the City with Me Tonight by Kate Marshall.

It also means this isn’t the most up-beat of anthologies. The tone tends towards the melancholy, and while there are notes of hope throughout, they tend to be muted.

I’d like to make special mention of Stephanie Lai’s The Fall of the Jade Sword. The story provided an excellent contrast to the fare of standard Western superheroes. Instead, it offers a historical fantasy about a young Chinese immigrant living in Melbourne. Chafing under the confines of social expectations, she sneaks out and attempts to emulate the local superhero–a figure the Chinese community recognises as a skilled practitioner of Wushu. It provided a breath of fresh air in an anthology otherwise fairly uniform in tone.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-06-02 08:00 am
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Mt TBR report: May 2017

Mt TBR, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books, Words Are My Matter, Ursula Le Guin, Year of the Orphan, Daniel Findley, Ms Marvel, G. Willow Wilson, Queens of Geek, Jen Wilde, Rosemary and Rue, Seanan McGuire, Nimona, Noelle Stevenson, The Year's Best Asutralian Fantasy and Horror, Liz Grzyb, Talie Helene

It’s official: the Hugo Awards have broken my Mt TBR. The voting packet arrived this month and I am suddenly drowning in books. There’s still some that came in the voting packet that I haven’t yet recorded on my TBR. Nevertheless, I’m quite delighted. In addition to the things listed below, I also made my way through the material provided for the Best Fan Writer and Best Short Story categories. Since they’re not exactly books, it’s hard to know how to capture them in my records.

Mt TBR Status ) Books Read ) Books Acquired ) Online Reading )

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)
2017-05-31 08:00 am
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Tabletop Renaissance

Continuum 13, Tabletop Renaissance, Earl Grey Editing

Next Friday I’ll be down in Melbourne gearing up for the start of Continuum 13. Continuum is this year’s National Science Fiction Convention and will be running until Monday 12 June. The Guests of Honour this year are author Seanan McGuire and artist Likhain. Both are 2017 Hugo nominees.

Speaking of awards, I’ll be attending the Ditmar Awards Ceremony on Saturday evening. I’ll also be sitting on a panel about tabletop gaming. Exact details are subject to change, but are currently as follows:

Tabletop Renaissance
When: Saturday 10 June, 5 PM
Panelists: Darryl Browne, Bryce Campbell, Aidan Doyle, Elizabeth Fitzgerald and Laura Wilkinson.

With tabletop roleplaying more popular than ever, our panelists discuss the current state of play, their favourite games and which new ones to look out for.

Between us, the panel has quite a diverse range of experience and I’m really looking forward to our discussion.

When not sitting on panels or watching them, I’ll likely be haunting the cafe, looking for my tea fix. If you’re along this year, please say hi! However, if Melbourne is a bit too far away for you or conventions aren’t your scene, I’ll be writing up a report once I’m home again.

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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)
2017-05-29 08:00 am
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Bad Beginnings by Nicole Field

Bad Beginnings, Nicole Field, Less Than Three Press, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: May 2017 by Less Than Three Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Anchors #2
Genres: Contemporary romance, LGBTQIA
Source: NetGalley
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

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

After the recent ending of a relationship, Kit feels lost and uncertain about where he stands without being in a relationship. Dante, on the other hand, has been waiting for this moment for years, and now that Kit is finally single he has no intention of wasting this chance.

But even the most sincere feelings and best intentions aren’t enough to guarantee happiness, and it’s a long road from a bad start to a happy end.

Bad Beginnings is a sweet romance that does a fantastic job of modelling respectful behaviour in a number of different ways.

It’s a friends-to-lovers story. Kit is a lawyer who has started a private practice with his best friend. Having recently split up with his boyfriend, he’s beginning to realise how claustrophobic his life has become: it’s all work and no play. While he’s not exactly happy about this and yearns for the steady relationship his best friend has, Kit is not the outgoing sort. The end of his relationship was a blow to his already low confidence. He’s uncomfortable in his own skin and he’s a bit embarrassed when Dante finds him at the gay nightclub he’s been pushed into visiting.

Dante is the brother of Kit’s best friend and has all the confidence Kit lacks. He runs his own tabletop gaming store, which automatically made him my favourite. He’s also great with people, a caring and considerate guy who tries to help others. When he discovers Kit is single again, he’s thrilled–and he makes his interest plain–but he also never pushes Kit. At every turn, he seeks Kit’s consent and backs off when it isn’t given or is withdrawn.

Consent is not the only way in which the book models respectful behaviour. Kit’s BFF, Con, is a trans man. This is not looked upon favourably by Con and Dante’s parents, who persistently misgender and deadname Con. However, this is never shown on screen. Whenever it takes place within a scene, the author is careful to paraphrase rather than trigger readers by depicting it directly.

Sex is also not depicted directly, so if you like your romances sweet rather than steamy, Bad Beginnings is a good choice.

The relationship between Kit and Dante is the biggest strength of the book and is let down by a weak crisis point. When Kit loses a work case, it triggers a crisis of confidence. However, it’s a sub-plot that never had much strength behind it. It’s a little too vague how Kit managed to lose the case and not entirely plausible that he’s never lost up until that point–particularly since the business has been running long enough to have two employees other than Kit and Con. Kit displaces his feelings of inadequacy by starting an argument with Dante. While this works, the resolution between them came a little too quickly. Instead of seeing Kit wrestle much with what he’s done, we jump back in after he’s already got his life pretty well put back together. It felt a little glossed over, with the story all too eager to focus on the next obstacle of Dante’s parents. The book could have benefited from a bit more length.

Nevertheless, Bad Beginnings was a charming read. I’m delighted to discover that Con’s story is told in the first book, so I will definitely be checking that out.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A black and white photo of a large, dark teapot and a small Chinese teacup with a fish painted on the side (Tea)
2017-05-26 08:00 am
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Loose-leaf Links #40

Australian Grapefruit, Adore Tea, sencha, green tea, Earl Grey Editing, Loose-leaf Links

Loose-leaf Links is a feature where I gather together the interesting bits and pieces on sci-fi, fantasy and romance I’ve come across and share them with you over tea. Today’s tea is Australian Grapefruit from Adore Tea. It tastes like a plain sencha at first, but finishes with a strong citrus aftertaste.

Awards News ) Community and Conventions ) On Equity ) For Writers ) For Readers )

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A black and white photo of a large, dark teapot and a small Chinese teacup with a fish painted on the side (Tea)
2017-05-24 08:00 am
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Guest Post: Twisted Moon Magazine

20170522_112146 no chip

It’s no secret that I’m fond of reading speculative erotica. So, I was delighted when Twisted Moon Magazine launched their first issue. With the second issue due out on Friday (in time for the New Moon, natch), I’ve invited the editors to share a little about their publication.

Why erotic speculative poetry?

What made us, the founders and editors of Twisted Moon Magazine, decide that the world of online poetry needed an even more niche publication?

We would be lying if we said it wasn’t partly because we all really like reading sexy poetry. We do. It’s pretty great. And aside from wanting a reason for people to send us their naughty writing, we came to the consensus that there wasn’t really anything out there which published the sort of work we were interested in reading. We imagine this is the way a lot of literary publications come about — the editors want to read a particular sort of thing, and being unable to find it in sufficient quantity or quality, they create a space for others to contribute and help expand the genre in question.

It’s probably worth taking a moment to discuss the idea of ‘speculative’ as a genre.

A quick glance at Wikipedia shows that speculative poetry/fiction has been defined by Suzette Haden Elgin as being “about a reality that is in some way different from the existing reality.” Fantasy and science fiction often overlap with the speculative genre for this reason, but neither fantasy/sci-fi nor Elgin’s definition are exhaustive. Strange Horizons commented in an article that what makes poetry speculative is a feeling and/or set of references. It’s an ‘I know it when I see it’ category, and while vague for the purposes of crafting some kind of formal definition, it’s not really necessary to have such a definition in order to get a feel for the speculative genre.

Speculative works are often relegated to their own publications because they can’t quite seem to find a home in more mainstream ‘literary’ magazines — not for lack of quality, but because they often have an element of the fantastical, whimsical, or uncanny that feels out of place next to works of stark realism or literary fiction. It’s these elements that make the speculative genre appealing to people wanting to tell stories which are either themselves outside of the mainstream, or which look at the world from outside the mainstream perspective. There is a great wealth of literary fiction that speaks to the human experience, and some of it is truly outstanding, but oftentimes the experiences on which such works focus are limited, and so are the ways in which those experiences can be described or conveyed.

The speculative genre encompasses elements of fantasy and science fiction, as mentioned before, but also elements of myth, horror, magic realism, fairy tales, and the supernatural. Many of the themes common in these elements are also common in Own Voices stories, which — for those who haven’t come across the term — are stories about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group. We want to be clear: we’re not saying that diverse stories and experiences are a form of fantasy, or that they cannot be told through literary fiction. We’re saying that the tropes common to speculative works — themes of transformation, otherness, identity, a quest for justice, the transient vs the permanent — are also often found in stories told from non-mainstream perspectives.

Those who don’t see themselves or their experiences reflected in conventional narratives are often drawn to unconventional narratives, such as those found in speculative fiction and poetry. The motifs and metaphors available in the genre are unique, and sometimes, they make it easier to speak plainly about the often undervalued stories of individual communities.

What, then, does eroticism have to do with it?

For one thing, diverse narratives are even more marginalised when it comes to talking about sex. Narratives created by outsiders about marginalised groups are often exploitative – predominantly created by people outside of the group being portrayed, and are rarely representative of the experiences of the people within that community. This is visible in mainstream long-fingernailed lesbian porn, or trans sex workers having to label themselves with slurs to find an audience, and many other areas besides. More accurate and representative narratives often don’t get the distribution or recognition they deserve, and the lack of accurate and diverse representation can cement marginalised groups as outsiders.

But the reality is that people have sex. All kinds of people and all kinds of sex, and once you move away from the restrictive spaces these people are talking about, we’re sharing and celebrating these forms of eroticism. The Western world has more or less gotten to a place where the social consciousness is aware that sexuality is a spectrum and there are more than three sexual positions, but the paradigm still needs to be to shifted away from ‘normative’ and ‘nonnormative’ sex, towards the understanding that all forms of sex are kind of weird and entirely worth writing about.

Poetry, and in particular speculative poetry, can create a space for this – a way to explore sexuality through new and different lenses, to celebrate the weird and find novel, interesting ways of expressing desire in all its forms. As queer women, Twisted Moon Magazine’s editors are very aware of how important it is to have diverse and accurate representations of queer sexuality. This is also applicable to other groups – people of colour and trans people (women especially) are often depicted by outsider groups as fetishised or hypersexual, while disabled people are often depicted as nonsexual. As far as we can, we hope to give folk the autonomy to depict their experiences and desires, and add to the range of Own Voices work out there.

Is it really necessary for such stories to be told through erotic speculative poetry? Can they be told equally as well through plain old erotica and romance genre fiction, or some other way?

Of course they can. We’re not trying to say that the incredibly niche genre that Twisted Moon Magazine has chosen to publish is the only way in which diverse stories can be told, nor that the only stories which can be told in that genre are diverse ones. We want so badly for there to be more literary fiction, and historical fiction, and non-fiction that dives beyond mainstream experiences. We’re also really into works that tell familiar stories in new and clever ways. There are so many, many ways to tell stories, and honestly, erotic speculative poetry is a pretty specific way.

But it’s a way we’re keen to explore and expand. We received more submissions when we opened than we expected to, and some of them blew us away. We all had ideas of the kind of stuff we wanted to read, and it’s been delightful to have those ideas expanded. It’s also worth noting that we had multiple authors telling us they were submitting poems they’d had since before Twisted Moon Magazine was started, which they’d never found a home for. We can’t claim to be a home for everyone – we know we’re exploring a very niche market – but we do at least try to be a warm, inviting bed.

We think it’s important to emphasise our interest in Own Voices work and diverse stories because it’s vitally important to boost the voices and experiences of people with non-mainstream lives and experiences.

We have been very encouraged by the response – a number of the poems we receive have included notes explaining that their poem is, for example, an exploration of gender, or of a poet’s experience of eroticism as an asexual person, or a response to recent politics. We are thrilled that poets feel able to use Twisted Moon Magazine as an avenue to explore these connections and get their work out into the world.

That said, there’s no strict requirement for what the poetry we publish has to be, other than erotic and speculative. We have guidelines on our website, which we very, very much appreciate people reading and sticking to (especially the one about removing your name from the document!) but a speculative poem doesn’t have to retell a deeply personal experience, and it doesn’t require allegory or veiled meaning. Sometimes a masturbating mermaid is just a masturbating mermaid. (Note: we are into that.)

The point is that the genre allows for fun, sexy fantasy for its own sake, as well as for diverse and/or marginalised stories to be told in a way that is distinct from many other literary genres.

Really, we just hope Twisted Moon Magazine can enrich the reader by showcasing poetry from all over the world, by people from all manner of backgrounds – or at least gift them some beautiful words about fae orgies, robot eroticism, and centaur sex.

 

 


 

Twisted Moon Magazine is an Australian-based online magazine of speculative, erotic poetry. The editors are Hester J. Rook, Liz Duck-Chong, P. Edda, and Selene Maris. We all decided there wasn’t enough sexy speculative poetry in the world and we launched Twisted Moon to help remedy that problem. We publish tales of naked witches dancing by moonlight, the smell of your ghost lover’s skin, the whispered memories of dying stars as they yearn across galaxies. The poems you read to your lover over the phone just to hear their breath catch.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-05-22 08:00 am
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Children of the Different by S.C. Flynn

Children of the Different, S.C. Flynn, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: September 2016 by The Hive
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Dystopian YA, speculative fiction
Source: Author
Available: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.

Nineteen years ago, a brain disease known as the Great Madness killed most of the world’s population. The survivors all had something different about their minds. Now, at the start of adolescence, their children enter a trance-like state known as the Changeland and emerge either with special mental powers or as cannibalistic Ferals.

In the great forest of South West Western Australia, thirteen-year-old Arika and her twin brother Narrah go through the Changeland. They encounter an enemy known as the Anteater who feeds on human life. He exists both in the Changeland and in the outside world, and he wants the twins dead.

After their Changings, the twins have powers that let them fight their enemy and face their destiny on a long journey to an abandoned American military base on the north-west coast of Australia–if they can reach it before time runs out.

Children of the Different is a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel set among the varied landscapes and wildlife of Western Australia.

I’m always keen for SFF set in Australian landscapes, so I had high hopes for Children of the Different. Unfortunately, I found it somewhat disappointing.

The surreal aspects of the story was one of the strengths of this book. It is set in both the real world and the Changeland, a kind of dreamscape. I enjoyed the diversity of the scenery within the Changeland, which ranges from desert, to caverns, to road tunnels.These scenes are mutable in the manner of dreams, changing with little warning. However, as with dreams, there’s always a sense of underlying rules and logic.

Each teenager who passes through the Changeland emerges with special abilities. I particularly enjoyed how these manifested in Arika. It struck me as a bit unusual and watching these transformations from her perspective was very effective. I also appreciated that the use of her abilities came at a price, though this was something that could have been given a bit more weight.

The story did become repetitive at times, retreading old ground as first one twin, then the other is captured by the various parties seeking them. Despite this mirroring, it seemed to me that Arika was often a more passive character than her brother. She is the first to be captured and prevented from rescuing her brother. She is unable to resist her captors in the way that Narrah does and must literally go with the flow. This seemed more or less a trend with all the female characters. who were generally outnumbered and (with the exception of Arika and Toura) don’t really seem to do much.

There was also other questionable representation. I was disappointed to discover the only explicitly Aboriginal character had a history of drug and alcohol abuse.

The romance elements were completely unnecessary and felt tacked on. Although this part of the plot had been foreshadowed to some degree, this foreshadowing lacked emotional engagement and was therefore ineffective.

Overall, Children of the Different had some interesting ideas but was ultimately let down in its execution.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-05-19 08:00 am

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Queens of Geek, Jen Wilde, contemporary YA, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea.

Published: March 2017 by Swoon Reads
Format reviewed: Paperback, 288 pages
Genres: Contemporary YA
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: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 BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know its going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.

Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans shes over her public breakup with co-star, Reese Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlies long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie, no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

I loved Queens of Geek. I read the whole thing in an afternoon and I’ll be shoving it into the hands of friends as soon as I’ve finished writing this review.

The book is written in first person, alternating between the perspectives of Charlie and Taylor, the two main characters. Charlie is a rising star with a popular YouTube vlog. She also recently starred in an indie movie that was a hit with audiences. She’s very much in the public eye and she’s come to SupaCon at the behest of the film studio to promote the movie and the sequel. However, neither she nor her agent have much influence in the industry and so even though Charlie’s friends have come along for moral support, they’re unable to get VIP passes and are separated from Charlie early on in the story.

This gives space for Taylor’s side of the story to develop. Taylor is an Aspie with social anxiety. Coming all the way to America for a big convention is a huge step outside her comfort zone. But she’s determined to meet her favourite movie star, and her best friend Jamie is there looking out for her. I loved the relationship between these two. It’s clear from the start that Jamie cares about Taylor by all the small things he does to ease her way and to check on her. When she inevitably has a meltdown, he never pushes, but gives her the space she needs, often without her even having to ask for it. I also loved that he is as much of a geek as she is. They talk in movie quotes and his own interest in comics is present alongside her love for fandom. It was refreshing to see a relationship portrayed between geeks instead of between a geek and an outsider or from an outsider’s perspective of geekdom.

The book touches on a lot of different issues. While Taylor is negotiating the challenges presented by her social anxiety, Charlie is dealing with sexism in the entertainment industry and the division (or lack of it) between her public and private lives. And the story also touches on bisexual erasure, when Charlie’s ex declares he doesn’t believe bisexuals exist. The presentation and resolution of these issues isn’t always the most subtle; like most fangirls, this book wears its heart on its sleeve.

It also constantly shows examples of women supporting each other. Even when things are falling apart for Charlie, she’s always there for Taylor’s big moments or whenever Taylor needs a friend. Likewise, even when Taylor is competing against other women, it never stops her from holding out a hand in friendship–especially when its needed. And this support is also demonstrated over and over again by minor characters.

Queens of Geek made me so happy and I’d love to see more stories like it.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)
2017-05-15 08:00 am

Bout of Books #19

Queens of Geek, Jen Wilde, The Grief Hole, Kaaron Warren, Bout of Books, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea.

Round 17 of Bout of Books wrapped up yesterday, so it’s time for me to check in with my progress!

In my sign-up post, I mentioned my goal was to get through a minimum of three books. I got off to a roaring start. By Tuesday, I’d finished Kaaron Warren’s masterpiece of atmosphere The Grief Hole, and blasted through Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde. The two books balanced each other nicely, with the contemporary YA making a wonderful antidote to the lingering creepiness of the previous book. I’ve got a review of Queens of Geek going up on Friday but (spoilers) I loved it a lot and can’t wait to share it with you. You’re going to have to wait a little longer for my review of The Grief Hole, which will coincide with Kaaron’s turn as MC at Conflux in October.

My reading rate dropped off after Tuesday. An impending deadline ate my brain and I also had a few social commitments. I think some better planning is in order for the next time around.

What about you? Did you join in Bout of Books last week? If so, how did you do? If not, what did you read over the week?

For those interested in the next Bout of Books, it will take place on 21-27 August 2017. For further details, keep an eye out here or head over to the Bout of Books blog.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A black and white photo of a large, dark teapot and a small Chinese teacup with a fish painted on the side (Tea)
2017-05-12 08:00 am
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Loose-leaf Links #39

Milky Oolong, Tea Centre, loose-leaf tea, Earl Grey Editing, Loose-leaf Links

Loose-leaf Links is a feature where I gather together the interesting bits and pieces on sci-fi, fantasy and romance I’ve come across and share them with you over tea. Today’s tea is Milky Oolong from the Tea Centre. It’s a light, sweet tea with a creamy flavour (as the name suggests), making it lovely for after dinner.

Follow Up ) Awards News ) Community and Conventions ) On Equity ) For Writers ) For Readers )

 

And lastly (just for fun), Ann Leckie reviews some blends from Adagio Teas.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-05-08 08:00 am

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock, Melina Marchetta, The Lumatere Chronicles, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Published: September 2008 by Viking Australia
Format reviewed: Trade Paperback, 416 pages
Series: Lumatere Chronicles #1
Genres: Young adult, fantasy
Source: Secondhand book shop
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

Finnikin of the Rock and his guardian, Sir Topher, have not been home to their beloved Lumatere for ten years. Not since the dark days when the royal family was murdered and the kingdom put under a terrible curse. But then Finnikin is summoned to meet Evanjalin, a young woman with an incredible claim: the heir to the throne of Lumatere, Prince Balthazar, is alive.

Evanjalin is determined to return home and she is the only one who can lead them to the heir. As they journey together, Finnikin is affected by her arrogance . . . and her hope. He begins to believe he will see his childhood friend, Prince Balthazar, again. And that their cursed people will be able to enter Lumatere and be reunited with those trapped inside. He even believes he will find his imprisoned father.

But Evanjalin is not what she seems. And the truth will test not only Finnikin’s faith in her . . . but in himself.

Melina Marchetta made a huge impact on Australian literature with her contemporary YA novel Looking for Alibrandi. More than a decade later, she made her debut into fantasy with Finnikin of the Rock. Reflecting this path, the book comes across as patchy, showing Marchetta’s experience as a writer in some places, while showing the flaws of a debut author in others.

Finnikin of the Rock shares some thematic concerns with Looking for Alibrandi. Both are concerned with identity and the experience of immigrants. However, while Looking for Alibrandi is concerned with an individual, first-generation Australian looking to negotiate between the different cultures she belongs to, Finnikin of the Rock is more concerned with nationhood and the plight of refugees. When the story begins, the nation of Lumatere is under a curse. A significant portion of its citizens were magically expelled from the kingdom, which has also been sealed off from the rest of the world. Attempts to enter the kingdom have resulted in death. Finnikin has long since given up hope of returning. Instead, he has concentrated his efforts on securing land for the refugees in order to establish a new home for them.

Marchetta doesn’t shy away from showing the plight of the refugees. Many camps are squalid and plagued with illness. There have been massacres and while the nobility are tolerated in other countries, the majority are shunned. Through Finnikin, the reader is encouraged to identify with them and sympathise with their desire for a place of safety, for a home.

Finnikin is an understandably angry character at the start of the book. Futile negotiations with foreign kingdoms on behalf of his people have left him despairing, though he never gives up. Marchetta shows her strengths as a writer in this complex character, gradually bringing him back to hope but in a way that brings him little comfort.

Evanjeline is less complex, but no less interesting. Her purpose is intentionally quite obvious from early on and she causes Finnikin no end of grief–particularly when she completely disregards his orders. I appreciated her strength of character and the tension between her purpose and her relationship with Finnikin. There is an inversion of power dynamics that grants her agency and keeps Finnikin on the back foot, reacting more than acting. In some respects, the book is more Evanjeline’s story than Finnikin’s.

Although the story was compelling, the pacing was also a bit slow. At one point, Finnikin is literally forced to backtrack in order to advance his relationship with Evanjeline in a manner that felt contrived and quickly undermined.

This is also a book concerned with violence against women. This primarily manifests within the kingdom of Lumatere itself, where the usurper and his forces prey on the (mostly young) women of the kingdom. There is also an attempted rape against Evanjalin. While these elements contributed to the bleakness of the story, they felt unnecessary. Perhaps the threat to the women of the kingdom was intended to show the ways in which people are kept oppressed and vulnerable. However, it came across a shortcut way to express the evil of the current rulers of Lumatere.

One other element I appreciated about the story was the presence of religion. It’s rare to see the inclusion of religion in fantasy in a way that is generally positive and contributed to the plot.

Overall, I found Finnikin of the Rock a promising debut, despite some flaws.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-05-05 08:00 am
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Mt TBR report: April 2017

Earl Grey Editing, Mt TBR, Mouse Guard, David Petersen, Ms Marvel, G. Willow Wilson, The Grief Hole, Kaaron Warren, Crow Shine, Alan Baxter, vN, Madeline Ashby, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson, Finnikin of the Rock, Melina Marchetta, books and tea, tea and books

April was already a great month for my reading, but it was nice to have Dewey’s readathon to give it an extra boost. Mt TBR has increased a little with the release of the shortlists for the Hugos and the Ditmars. However, the award shortlists also mean I’m not having any trouble meeting my new year’s resolution to get to the library more often.

Mt TBR Status

Mt TBR @ 1 January 2016: 327
Mt TBR @ 31 March 2017: 307
Mt TBR @ 30 April 2017: 306

Books Read ) Books Acquired ) Online Reading )

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-05-03 08:00 am

Deweys Read-a-thon, April 2017

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon badge

Dewey’s 24-hour Read-a-thon took place on Sunday, Australian time. For those who have somehow managed to miss my incessant posting about it, the event is basically a chance for book geeks across the world to get together and read as much as possible. It is also held in honour of its founder, a book blogger who went by the name Dewey, who passed away several years ago. I participated in my very first read-a-thon in April 2011 and haven’t looked back since.

The blow by blow )

The next read-a-thon will be taking place on 21-22 October 2017. Don’t forget to mark it on your calendar. It has a great sense of community that keeps me coming back. I do hope you’ll join us next October.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-05-01 08:00 am

Sharp Turn by Marianne Delacourt

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 black and white photo of a large, dark teapot and a small Chinese teacup with a fish painted on the side (Tea)
2017-04-28 08:00 am
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Loose-leaf Links #38

Loose-leaf Links, Earl Grey Editing, Lapsang Souchong, T2, loose-leaf tea

Loose-leaf Links is a feature where I gather together the interesting bits and pieces on sci-fi, fantasy and romance I’ve come across and share them with you over tea. Today’s tea is Lapsang Souchong from T2. The cooler weather always has me craving smoked teas and this is one of the more smoky varieties.

Awards News ) Community ) On Equity ) For Writers ) For Readers )

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-04-26 08:00 am

Bout of Books 19 sign-up

Bout of Books 19, reading challenge, Queen of Geeks, Jen Wilde, The Rebirth of Rapunzel, Kate Forsyth, Temeraire, Naomi Novik, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Dewey’s 24-hour read-a-thon takes place this weekend and, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m hoping it will help me put a dint in Mt TBR and my reading for the Hugo Awards. But I know I need all the help I can get. Therefore I’m planning to follow it up by participating in round 19 of Bout of Books.

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 8th and runs through Sunday, May 14th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 19 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog.– From the Bout of Books team

Being a low-pressure challenge, Bout of Books lets me set my own goals. As with last few times, I’m aiming to get through a minimum of three books. I’m not entirely sure yet what I’ll end up going with, but there’s plenty to pick from. At the moment, I’m leaning towards Jen Wilde’s Queens of Geek and S.C. Flynn’s Children of the Different. And there’s still reading to be done for the Hugos and the Ditmars.

If you’d like to join in, there’s still time to sign up!

What’s on your TBR pile this week?

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-04-24 08:00 am

Anne Rowlands reviews Nerve Endings edited by Tobi Hill-Meyer

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.