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

Earl Grey Editing, 2017 Reading Challenges

If you’ve been following me for even a short time, you probably know I’m a sucker for a reading challenge. Many of the ones in which I participate are seasonal or only run for a short time. However, I usually sign up for a couple of year-long challenges, just to keep things interesting.

2016 Challenge Wrap-ups ) 2017 Challenges )

What about you? What reading goals and challenges are you participating in this year?

 

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

The Wizardry of Jewish Women, Gillian Polack, Satalyte Publishing, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea

Published: September 2016 by Satalyte Publishing
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Fiction, fantasy, magic realism
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016
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.
The author is a friend. I have done my best to give an unbiased review.

Who wants superpowers?
Not Rhonda. Rhonda wants to live an ordinary life.
“My life is a soap opera with magic,” thinks Judith, as she reviews her year. Before it all begins, she just wants to lose her past and keep her children safe.
Belinda, her sister, wants recipes.
Their lives are simple.

All three women get a lot more than they bargained for in 2002 and 2003.
Bushfires.
A possessed lemon tree.
Prophecy. Magic. Romance.
Violence. Politics.
Family.

Secret Jewish women’s stuff ought to be carried out in more exotic places than suburban Australia. Except that sometimes, suburban Australia is chancy and troubling. Even without those mystery boxes from the great-grandmother no-one talks about. Even without the Angel of Death and Zoë’s pink tutu.

The Wizardry of Jewish Women is a complex book of literary fantasy that focuses on the lives of three women. Judith and Belinda are sisters who have just inherited two trunks of their great-grandmother’s papers. Rhonda is a historian and prophet whose historical articles trigger a need to blurt modern-day prophecies on the same topics in online chat rooms.

The book has many of the typical themes and characteristics of the author’s previous novels. It is a very feminist book, with Judith explicitly identifying as feminist and being involved in political activism. The domestic sphere is valued, as the story focuses on the daily lives of these women and their relationships. Judith and Belinda trade many phone calls as they try to sort out the mystery of their great-grandmother’s papers, and it seems fitting that the magic spells they find are mixed up with old family recipes. Judith must also contend with raising two kids on her own. Rhonda’s domestic life looks different, as her home also functions as her workspace. Being cut off from her family, she is very much alone and finds company instead with a few valued friends both locally and online.

Family is certainly an important theme of the book, but for me the heart was about ethics. When Judith discovers that her great-grandmother’s magic actually works, she is tempted to use it against her abusive ex-husband. However, Jewish magic should not be used to harm, as Belinda’s research informs her, and Judith is faced with setting a good example for her magically talented, young teenage daughter. Belinda herself must decide whether to withdraw to safety when her synagogue is firebombed or whether to stay and support the community. And Rhonda must deal with privacy violations from her own ex-husband and from online enthusiasts keen to root out the mysterious online prophet. She also fends off sexual harassment from her case manager at the temp agency.

As is typical of the author, there are some unusual things going on with the style. There’s something interesting going on with the numerology of the chapters. Each chapter is comprised of numbered sections. The amount steadily diminishes, making each chapter progressively shorter. Judith’s story also slips back and forward between third- and first-person, often with little or no warning. These choices made it a challenging read, particularly in the beginning when the chapters are long and I didn’t yet have a grip on who was who and what the relationships were. This is not a book that spells out parallels or connections clearly. Rather, the reader has to work for them.

All in all, I found The Wizardry of Jewish Women was a challenging book, but rewarding. It’s definitely my favourite from this author so far.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Winning Lord West, Anna Campbell, Dashing Widows, tea and books, Regency romance

Published: Self-published in April 2016
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Dashing Widows #3
Genres: Romance, Regency romance
Source: Amazon
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016,  #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for previous volumes/books.

Spirited Helena, Countess of Crewe, knows all about profligate rakes; she was married to one for nine years and still bears the scars. Now this Dashing Widow plans a life of glorious freedom where she does just what she wishes – and nobody will ever hurt her again. So what is she to do when that handsome scoundrel Lord West sets out to make her his wife? Say no, of course. Which is fine, until West focuses all his sensual skills on changing her mind. And West’s sensual skills are renowned far and wide as utterly irresistible…

Passionate persuasion!

Vernon Grange, Lord West, has long been estranged from his headstrong first love, Helena Nash, but he’s always regretted that he didn’t step in to prevent her disastrous marriage. Now Helena is free, and this time, come hell or high water, West won’t let her escape him again. His weapon of choice is seduction, and in this particular game, he’s an acknowledged master. Now that he and Helena are under one roof at the year’s most glamorous house party, he intends to counter her every argument with breathtaking pleasure. Could it be that Lady Crewe’s dashing days are numbered?

While I’m given to understand Winning Lord West isn’t the last book in the Dashing Widows series, Helena is the last of the dashing widows introduced in the first book, The Seduction of Lord Stone.

This book takes a bit of a different format to the last two. It opens up with a scene from The Seduction of Lord Stone but told from Helena’s perspective. Next comes a series of letters between Helena and Lord West after he is sent to Russia on a diplomatic mission. Finally, the meat of the story is told in the more conventional format. It would have been possible to tell the story without the letters but I’m glad they were included. They really set up the personality of both characters and the mismatch in communication style is very entertaining. Lord West remains determinedly charming, while Helena acerbically rebuffs him at every opportunity. However, despite Helena’s unfriendliness, her fondness for West leaks out whenever she drops her guard. Their friendship predates her violent marriage and it’s nice to see evidence of that creeping back in.

But there’s definitely more here than friendship and the tension between them is delicious. Yet, the mixture of innocence and sensuality didn’t quite work for me–it felt a bit like trying to have it both ways, despite there being a plausible reason. Also, there’s one or two grey areas in relation to consent, in a similar manner to Tempting Mr Townsend.

One of the things I’ve liked about the series is the very different personalities of the widows. Caroline is reckless and impulsive, Fenella is demure but strong, and Helena is prickly and intelligent. One thing I liked less is how Helena loses a bit of this intelligence on falling in love. While it is nice to see love undo her, it felt to me like she became quite a different person and lost some of what made her interesting.

Another disappointment was the passing references to her work in mathematics. She’s supposed to be engaged in some good work in that particular field, but we never get to see it in the story–not even obliquely. While I understand this may have been due to length constraints, I feel it would have been better to lose this entirely and leave the focus on her passion for horses.

Overall, I found Winning Lord West was predictable but made for nice, light reading. I believe there will be at least another three books in the series and I was sufficiently entertained to keep an eye out for them towards the end of the year.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Wicked Embers, Keri Arthur, Souls of Fire, urban fantasy, book review, Melbourne, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books

Published: July 2015 by Piatkus
Format reviewed: Paperback, 375 pages
Series: Souls of Fire
Genres: Urban fantasy
Source: Gift
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks
Available: Publisher (print) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for previous volumes/books.

Keri Arthur, New York Times bestselling author of Fireborn, presents the thrilling new Souls of Fire Novel featuring Emberly Pearson, a phoenix that can transform into a human—and is haunted by the ability to foresee death….

Crimson Death, the plague like virus spawned from a failed government experiment to isolate the enzymes that make vampires immortal, continues to spread. Emberly and her partner, Jackson Miller, are desperately seeking the stolen research for a cure before the virus becomes a pandemic.

But their mission is jeopardized by another threat uncovered in Emberly’s prophetic dreams. A creature of ash and shadow has been unleashed on a murdering spree. Now Emberly must summon all her gifts and investigative knowledge to put an end to this entity’s brutal rampage—even if it means placing herself in harm’s way….

Given how much I loved Fireborn, I was surprisingly disappointed with Wicked Embers. It wasn’t a bad book, but it didn’t make the most of the elements it had.

As with the last book, it begins with one of Emberly’s prophetic dreams and dives into the action from there. Danger looms on all sides–from the creature of which Emberly dreams, from the two vampire factions looking to shut down her investigation, and from the mysterious grey-cloaked figure seeking to capture her. Indeed, I found the romance took a backseat to the thriller elements in this book. If you’re looking for gun battles, chase scenes and explosions, Wicked Embers has you covered.

However, despite all the action, I actually found the pace a bit slow in places. The revelation of the Grey Cloak’s identity and the truth of what has been going on with Emberly’s ex, Sam, was late in coming and so obviously signalled throughout both books that it proved no surprise. I also felt the repetition regarding the evolution of the creature’s prey was unnecessary, though I understood the reasoning behind it.

I was pleased to see Emberly’s polyamorous relationships continue. Each of her relationships remains distinct, with different dynamics at work. Unfortunately, they remain pretty stagnant throughout the book and don’t develop beyond the parameters set in Fireborn. It also had me noticing a distinct lack of female characters beyond Emberly. A few potentially significant female characters were mentioned, so I’m hoping to see this change in future books.

As a phoenix, Emberly has some impressive magical abilities. Nevertheless, she kept within the boundaries established in the first book and I enjoyed seeing some new limitations established. In fact, I found the magical world-building to be a highlight of the book  and enjoyed the introduction of a couple of new forms of magic.

Overall, I found Wicked Embers to be an entertaining but flawed book.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Tempting Mr Townsend, Anna Campbell, Dashing Widows, Earl Grey Editing, romance, Regency romance, tea and books

Published: Self-published in February 2016
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Dashing Widows #2
Genres: Romance, Regency romance
Source: Amazon
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks 
Available:  Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

Beauty – and the Beast?

When Anthony Townsend bursts into Lady Deerham’s fashionable Mayfair mansion demanding the return of his orphaned nephew, the lovely widow’s beauty and spirit turn his world upside down. But surely such a refined and aristocratic creature will scorn a rough, self-made man’s courtship, even if that man is now one of the richest magnates in England. Especially after he’s made such a woeful first impression by barging into her house and accusing her of conniving with the runaways. But when Fenella insists on sharing the desperate search for the boys, fate offers Anthony a chance to play the hero and change her mind about him. Will reluctant proximity convince Fenella that perhaps Mr. Townsend isn’t so beastly after all? Or now that their charges are safe, will Anthony and Fenella remain forever opposites fighting their attraction?

Anna Campbell’s Dashing Widows series features three widows who have finally come to the end of their mourning period and vow to each other to seize life once more. In Fenella’s case, her required mourning period ended some time ago; her affection for her husband meant her grieving was protracted. In the previous book The Seduction of Lord Stone her friends Caroline and Helen convinced her enough was enough: it was time to move on.

I enjoyed the way Fenella genuinely loved her first husband. It makes a contrast to typical narratives–and, indeed, the situations of her two friends. It gives Fenella a bit of a different perspective on marriage, but also provides an obstacle to her relationship with Anthony. Her hang-ups about remaining faithful to her first husband are understandable but felt perhaps a little contrived, and I was glad she didn’t hang onto them too long.

Fenella was a great character. Society might view her as a fragile beauty, but she has a backbone and a good head on her shoulders. She might be high society, but that doesn’t make her judgemental and she’s good at giving others the benefit of a doubt.

Anthony is the more passionate of the two, being quicker to anger and quicker to lust. I found him a little bit possessive too early on, but this angle was handled lightly and he retains his self-control. In fact, his self-control was one of the things I liked most about this character. Even when angry, it was clear that his anger stemmed from his affection for his nephew and he allows himself to be talked around pretty easily. Really, he’s a toasted marshmellow–a bit crusty on the outside but total goo in the middle.

Without the need to set up for the series, we don’t see much of the other widows. This allows the focus to remain firmly on the romance. However, they do appear for a key scene. More of Caroline and Silas’ story comes out in this scene. While it was nice to have this sort of interweaving, I feel that it undid some of what was interesting about the ending of  the previous book.

However, overall, I found Tempting Mr Townsend a quick, light read and just what I wanted.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Vigil, Angela Slatter, Verity Fassbinder, Brisbane, books and tea

Published: July 2016 by Jo Fletcher Books
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Verity Fassbinder #1
Genres: Urban fantasy
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, Once Upon A Time X
Available: Abbey’s ~ AmazonBook Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

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

Verity Fassbinder has her feet in two worlds. The daughter of one human and one Weyrd parent, she has very little power herself, but does claim unusual strength – and the ability to walk between us and the other – as a couple of her talents. As such a rarity, she is charged with keeping the peace between both races, and ensuring the Weyrd remain hidden from us.

But now Sirens are dying, illegal wine made from the tears of human children is for sale – and in the hands of those Weyrd who hold with the old ways – and someone has released an unknown and terrifyingly destructive force on the streets of Brisbane.

And Verity must investigate – or risk ancient forces carving our world apart.

Angela Slatter has made quite a name for herself with her short stories. She’s had a number of collections published and her novella Of Sorrows and Such was released by Tor.com last year. Vigil is her first full-length novel.

It sits firmly in the realm of urban fantasy. Verity Fassbinder is your typical strong female protagonist–literally. She has super strength, super snark, an absent family and problems with authority. Being half human and half Weyrd, she never quite belongs in either world. This heritage makes her useful to the Weyrd’s ruling council, who employ her as their troubleshooter. After all, not all of the Weyrd are content to live quiet lives and avoid the attention of the (more numerous, more panicky) humans. Verity often finds herself in the position of having to advocate for the Normals (as the humans are referred to), despite never really having lived a normal life.

The Weyrd is a collective term for the supernatural creatures of the world–the vampires, the shapechangers, the sirens and more. There’s a wonderful mishmash of dark fairytale and mythology that’s likely to appeal to fans of Supernatural. A few of the usual suspects make appearances alongside others less common and a few that defy classification. None of them are particularly fluffy. A particular highlight for me was the taxonomy of sirens, which struck me as being well thought out.

I was also delighted to find this urban fantasy set in Brisbane. Keri Arthur aside, it is so rare to see novel-length fantasy set in Australia and I would love to see more of it. I was a little concerned at first that Slatter’s familiarity with the locale might assume the same level of familiarity on the reader’s part. However, things settled down after the prologue and I enjoyed the wry observations about Brisbane’s seasons and propensity for flooding.

One small thing I found irritating was Slatter’s inability to refer to the city by its name. Instead, it was always ‘Brisneyland’, which–while it may have been a nod to the short story that was Vigil‘s precursor–grew tiresome after a while. Even changing it to ‘Brisvegas’ (as it gets called in some of the southern states) would have been a welcome variety.

Another quibble I had was with David, Verity’s love interest. In steering away from the strong romance elements often associated with urban fantasy, I feel Slatter went too much in the opposite direction. Glossing over the development of Verity and David’s relationship left David as less of a character than a cipher standing in for a particular way of life. It deprived the relationship of the emotional weight it needed.

However, it does give a chance for Verity’s found family to take more of the spotlight. The centre of this family is Mel and her young daughter Lizzie, two Normals who live next door to Verity. Lizzie frequently ducks through gaps in the fence to visit Verity and it’s clear that, although Verity misses her birthday party in the opening chapter, there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for each other. In fact, Vigil is delightfully full of female characters and female friendships.

One last problem I had with the story was the magical curing of several significant injuries and chronic illnesses. While I can understand the narrative reasoning for these, it seems to be a bit of an abelist attitude and I feel that in most cases keeping them would have led to a more interesting story.

Despite this, I found Vigil a darkly fun read that hooked me quickly and reeled me in. I can’t wait for the sequel.


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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Ishtar, Amanda Pillar, K.V. Taylor, Kaaron Warren, Deborah Biancotti, Cat Sparks, horror anthology, Morrigan Books, Gilgamesh Press

Published: November 2011 by Morrigan Books
Format reviewed: Paperback, 262 pages
Genres: Horror, sci-fi, speculative fiction
Source: Pulp Fiction Books
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, Once Upon A Time X, #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks
Available: Amazon ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: A few of the contributors are acquaintances. I have done my best to give an unbiased review.

This novella collection is powerful, sexy and very, very deadly.

‘The Five Loves of Ishtar’: Kaaron Warren Follow the path that the goddess Ishtar takes through the eyes of her most devoted worshippers, her washerwomen. Sharokin, Atur, Ninlil, Shamiran, Ninevah and Ashurina share in their goddess’ loves, losses and triumphs, as kingdoms rise and fall in the Land of Rivers.

‘And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living’: Deborah Biancotti In modern-day Sydney, male prostitutes are dying. Their bones have turned to paste and their bodies are jelly. As Detective Adrienne Garner investigates the deaths, she finds rumours of strange cults and old gods whose powers threaten her city and, ultimately, her world.

‘The Sleeping and the Dead’: Cat Sparks Dr. Anna remembers little of her life before the war, merely traces of the man she used to love. When three desperate travellers rekindle slumbering memories, she begins a search that takes her to Hell and beyond. A search for love and, ultimately, enlightenment.

Having an interest in mythology but next to no knowledge of Ishtar herself, I picked up this anthology on a whim at a speculative fiction convention in the distant past. It trends a bit more towards horror than I would usually read–unsurprising, given the authors–but it remained within my tolerance.

As the description makes clear, Ishtar is a collection of three novellas that tell the story of the goddess at different points in time. Kaaron Warren kicks off the anthology, showing Ishtar at the height of her power. Ostensibly told in first person, the point-of-view pulls towards omniscient third person. I didn’t find this a problem, but I know others may. In fact, I found the point-of-view an interesting aspect of this story. There are multiple washerwomen telling the story, but the sameness to the language encourages the reader to perceive them as the same person–much as Ishtar does. And yet, the washerwomen often have different attitudes towards the goddess they serve. I appreciated this nuance.

Being Kaaron Warren, of course there’s viscera in the seams of Ishtar’s clothing and armies of still-born babies. Despite this, I found the story a bit slow-paced and felt my attention wandering from time to time. It had a lot of work to do in laying the foundations for the other stories. Covering a lengthy period of history, it details Ishtar’s myths as well as her loves (which are usually related), bringing them to life with historical detail. I enjoyed the way it commented on the changing relationship between the genders (though I should note it was very heteronormative and subscribed to a gender binary). Likewise, it did an excellent job of showing the changes in power experienced by Ishtar.

Deborah Biancotti’s modern take was better paced and it hooked me in much more quickly. Like Cat Sparks’ story, it was told in third person, present tense. Ishtar was more of a distant character in this story, though remains at its heart. As such, her motives weren’t entirely transparent and the story lost cohesion a bit towards the end. However, I thought it connected well to the previous story and the justification for setting it in Australia was reasonable. One quibble I had was to do with the style. In places it was both show and tell, as if the author didn’t trust the reader to interpret the description correctly. However, this was a relatively minor annoyance.

Having dealt with the past and the present, Cat Sparks’ story focuses on the future. It is unclear how far in the future it is, particularly since Dr. Anna’s memory is a bit sketchy. It is also unclear where exactly it is set, other than a desert wasteland containing remnants of the present day. I liked this because it could equally have been former Mesopotamia as Australia (though I’m leaning towards the latter). I found the style a bit fussier than the previous stories, playing with language in a way that was sometimes enjoyable and sometimes tiresome. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this story most of the three. I appreciated the way certain elements of the previous stories had been reinterpreted for the future setting. As with Deborah Biancotti’s story, the ending devolved into chaos a little too much for my taste. However, it was also an appropriate finale to the anthology.

Overall, I found Ishtar a solid anthology but one not precisely to my taste.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

The Lyre Thief, Jennifer Fallon, Hythrun Chronicles, War of the Gods, HarperVoyager

Published: March 2016 by Harper Voyager
Format reviewed: Trade paperback, 445 pages
Series: Hythrun Chronicles #7, War of the Gods #1
Genres: Epic 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.

Her Serene Highness, Rakaia, Princess of Fardohnya, is off to Hythria, where her eldest sister is now the High Princess, to find herself a husband, and escape the inevitable bloodbath in the harem when her brother takes the throne.

Rakaia is not interested in marrying anyone, least of all some brute of a Hythrun Warlord she’s never met, but she has a plan to save herself from that, too. If she can just convince her baseborn sister, Charisee, to play along, she might actually get away with it.

But there is trouble brewing across the continent. High Prince of Hythria, Damin Wolfblade, must head north to save the peace negotiated a decade ago between the Harshini, Hythria, Fardohnya, Medalon and Karien. He must leave behind an even more dangerous conflict brewing between his wife and his powerful mother, Princess Marla.

…And in far off Medalon, someone has stolen the music.

Their quest for the tiny stolen lyre containing the essence of the God of Music will eventually touch all their lives, threaten everything they hold dear and prove to be far more personal than any of them can imagine.

I have a confession to make: I’ve never read any of Jennifer Fallon’s novels. She’s one of those seminal Australian fantasy writers I’ve always heard amazing things about but never quite managed to get to. I even have one of her books gathering dust on Mt TBR… which I’ll be dusting off soon.

The Lyre Thief is perhaps not the best place to start with Fallon’s work. While it is the beginning of a new series, I didn’t realise it was part of a pre-existing world with an overarching story. It is possible to jump in here, but as a new reader I found it required me to work hard. Being epic fantasy, there’s a complex web of relationships in place–one that spans multiple kingdoms. The events in The Lyre Thief deal with the consequences of previous books and is set about ten years after the last series ends. Fallon does an excellent job of conveying these previous events without seeming to info-dump and it gives an excellent sense of a lived-in world. Nevertheless, it is a lot for a new reader to take in.

I thought it was worth the effort. Being an epic fantasy, the story is told from multiple points of view. Each POV character has their own thread that interweaves with the others to create a bigger picture that spans the nations involved in this world. In some books this can feel choppy, but Fallon manages it with skill. She kept me interested in each of the characters’ stories while simultaneously creating a nice flow to the overall story. In fact, she uses alternating POVs to subtly convey an issue with time that crops up in one of the threads.

Of course, it’s the characters that really make the story. This is not one of those gloomy epic fantasies where the characters are all horrible people being horrible to each other for the sake of being “gritty” or “realistic”. For the most part, I rather liked the characters (with a couple of exceptions) which made it easy to be interested in what was happening to them. This meant that I wasn’t waiting impatiently for it to get back to a certain character, even though I still had a couple of favourites. However, this does not mean the characters were without their flaws. Almost without exception, they are looking out for their own interests and act selfishly. In most cases, it is balanced out by genuine love and affection for at least one other person.

While I wouldn’t classify the story as grimdark, readers should be aware that there is a rape scene and approach with caution where necessary.

As I mentioned, The Lyre Thief is the first in a new series, so there’s plenty yet to be resolved. Each of the threads is left at a point of transition, giving just enough resolution to be satisfying while still leaving the reader eager for more.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Lyre Thief, even though it made me work hard. I’ll be making use of the wait for the next book (which, I’m pleased to see, is tentatively scheduled for later in the year) to go back and read the other books set in this world.

 

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

22734052

Published: Self-published in July 2014
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: The Phoenix Adventures #2
Genres: Science fiction, space opera, romance
Source: Author’s website
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, #ReadMyOwnDamnBooksThe 2016 Sci-fi Experience
Available:  Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

Two years ago, on a deadly mission to the lawless Devil’s Nebula, Commander Zayn Phoenix’s life imploded. Now the former Strike Wing pilot fills his days with dangerous adventures alongside his treasure hunter brothers.

But his nights are another story: haunted by nightmares of one unforgivable act.

Until an assassin lures him into a hunt. A hunt for her freedom from the Assassin’s Guild. A hunt for a derringer used in an ancient and infamous assassination—of old Earth president, Abraham Lincoln.

Zayn is compelled to join the perilous adventure with Ria Dante that will take them straight into the heart of the Devil’s Nebula, but not for money, fame or treasure.

He joins because Ria has the face of the woman he left for dead in the Nebula years before.

When the Book Gannet saw my potential reading list for the 2016 Sci-fi Experience, they suggested I pick up some Anna Hackett to balance out the Big Serious Sci-fi. Since they’ve never steered me wrong, I went over to the author’s website where I picked up In the Devil’s Nebula as part of a free book bundle. I’m glad I did.

In the Devil’s Nebula was fast-paced fun. Actually, I was a bit surprised at just how fast-paced. I went into it expecting it to be mostly focused on the romance but found myself in the middle of an action adventure instead. The plot manages to combine space opera with heist story with romance and even tosses in a little Western just for fun. It’s a lot to jam into such a small space but the style is very cinematic and it hangs together well.

Naturally, the characters come with baggage. Back when Zayn was in the military, he was forced to mercy kill a team mate he was attracted to–a team mate who looks eerily like Ria. Despite this, Zayn isn’t much of a brooder and I liked that about him. He prefers to channel his grief into action, as the pilot for his treasure-hunting brothers. He also has a talent for conducting heists… when a certain someone doesn’t get there before him.

Ria is a member of the Assassins Guild who wants out. Of course, no one retires from the Assassins Guild, so she’s been forced to get a little creative with her retirement plan. But she needs help. I liked Ria’s boldness. She gets the attention of Zayn and his brothers by pre-emptively stealing the treasure they’re hunting. Yet while she’s bold, she’s not generally reckless and is more than capable of physically keeping up with Zayn no matter what sort of trouble they find themselves in. The sexual tension between these two is strong, though some of the early romantic moments could have been held for a beat longer.

However, it was the secondary characters that really stole the show. BEll is the onboard computer for the Phoenix Brothers’ ship. I liked that she had such a distinct personality and spoke in a very sassy, casual way. Then there was Lastite Lala, a teenager with a talent for explosives. Despite her young age and total lack of fear, Lala is capable of looking after herself and does a great job of keeping the protagonists on their toes.

In the Devil’s Nebula made for some light, action-packed reading. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will be snagging the rest of the series for later.

2016scifiexp400


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calissa: (Calissa)

26594217

Published: January 2016 by Hachette Australia
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Tommi Grayson #1
Genres: Urban fantasy, New Adult
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~  Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Kobo

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

This is the story of Tommi, a young Scottish woman living an ordinary life, who stumbles violently into her birthright as the world’s most powerful werewolf. The sudden appearance of a dark, mysterious (and very attractive) guardian further confuses her as her powers begin to develop and she begins to understand that her life can never be the same again. The reader will be swept up in Tommi’s journey as she’s thrown into the middle of a centuries-old battle and a world peopled with expert warriors and vicious enemies – this is the start of a series – and a world – you will fall in love with.

While it’s not without its problems, Who’s Afraid? is some of the best urban fantasy I’ve read in a while. It falls squarely within its genre but nevertheless manages to avoid many of the common pitfalls.

Tommi is a great character. She’s sensible as well as sassy, thus managing to avoid the slide into irritating. Like most people, she makes mistakes and decisions that are not exactly wise. Yet even when she does so, she never entirely abandons common sense and takes precautions when it comes to risky situations. For example, when she goes to visit strangers in a house on the edge of town, she texts her best friend the address in case something happens.

In this way, Tommi reflects the groundedness of the story as a whole. Like most urban fantasy heroines, she has physical attributes that mark her as different–in Tommi’s case, it’s her blue hair. However, this is not because Tommi is a special snowflake who was born that way (being a werewolf is surely enough on that front!), but because she dyes it, making it a conscious style decision for her.

The groundedness also manifests in the romance. The characters don’t make the best impression on each other at first. Even once they get past that, it’s a slower burn than I generally see in urban fantasy. I enjoyed it all the more for that.

The casual diversity also delighted me. A number of minor characters are mentioned as having same-sex spouses and there’s a bit of a mix of races. Tommi herself is half Maori.

Which leads me to one of the reservations I had about the book. Although Tommi is half Maori, she has been brought up in Scotland, away from her Maori heritage. The portrayal of that part of her family is problematic for spoilery reasons. I was disappointed not to see it balanced out with a more positive portrayal of the Maori, particularly because it leaves me feeling like the story is only paying lip-service to diversity rather than truly being inclusive of cultures that are different. I also wasn’t sold on Tommi’s reasoning for seeking out her Maori father, especially since she believes he raped her mother.

It is also worth noting that if sexual assault is a trigger for you, it may be best to steer clear of this book. While I felt the incident was handled with maturity, it combines with Tommi’s age to take this book into New Adult or adult categories rather than YA.

Overall, I very much enjoyed Who’s Afraid? I’ve not seen any strong indications outside of the blurb that this is going to be a series. However, the way has been left open and I am very keen to see more.

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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)

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If you’ve been following me for even a short time, you probably know I’m a sucker for a reading challenge. Many of the ones in which I participate are seasonal or only run for a short time. However, I usually sign up for a couple of year-long challenges, just to keep things interesting.

2015 challenge wrap-ups

Regardless of any other challenges I sign up for, I always have a personal reading goal. For 2015 it was 80 books. I never mentioned that here because I was worried it was too far out of my reach, especially considering I only read 56 books in 2014. Well, I needn’t have worried. As indicated by my stats post earlier this week, I managed 92 books, easily surpassing my personal goal.

Goodreads challenge 2015

For the annual Goodreads challenge, I committed to 52 books and logged 89.

Last but not least, was the 2015 Australian Women Writers reading challenge. It was the first year I participated, so I signed up for the Miles level. This required me to read 6 books written by Australian women and to review 4 of them. I ended up reading 26 and reviewed 17. Here are my reviews.

2016 challenges

I was a bit conservative with my challenges for 2015. I was still getting used to reviewing ARCs and was looking to reestablish a baseline of what I could do, rather than to really challenge myself. However, now that I have some numbers to work with, I can afford to stretch.

With this in mind, my personal reading goal is 100 books. I’ve accomplished this twice since I started recording my reading stats in 2005, so I know it is possible.

For the annual Goodreads challenge, I’m aiming for 90 books. You’ll notice this is a little less than my personal reading goal; I like to leave a bit of wiggle room for books not registered on Goodreads. 

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I have signed up for the Australian Women Writers reading challenge again in 2016. My aim this year is to see whether last year’s numbers are repeatable, so I’ll be aiming to read 25 books and review 15.

Lastly, I’m going to have a go at the #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge hosted by Andi at Estella’s Revenge. The title makes the aim of the challenge pretty clear and Andi has left it up to participants to define for themselves the exact goal and rules. Last year, a little under 50% of the books I read came from purchases (some new, some an existing part of Mt TBR), with the other 50% being pretty evenly split between review books and books I had borrowed (both from the library and from friends). I’d like to make the split between purchased books and books from other sources 60/40 in 2016. My hope is this will go some way towards shrinking Mt TBR. Since I haven’t had much luck with strict Mt TBR rules in the past, I’ll be keeping my approach pretty flexible. The one drawback is that this approach doesn’t necessarily prevent me from acquiring new books, so I guess I shall see how effective it ends up being.

Between these and the seasonal challenges, I should be kept pretty busy!

What about you? What reading goals and challenges are you participating in this year?

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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