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

Read My Valentine, Earl Grey Editing, romance reading challenge

During February I ran Read My Valentine. Ordinarily, it’s my excuse to read and review as many romance novels as I can manage, but I was still reading for the Aurealis Awards until almost midway through the month. So, this year I took a slightly different approach and concentrated on reviewing work that represented a spectrum of sexualities and gender identities:

Hold Me by Courtney Milan. Trans F/Bi M. Contemporary romance.
Wanted, A Gentleman by K.J. Charles. M/M. Historical romance.
Among Galactic Ruins by Anna Hackett. F/M. Sci-fi action romance.
With Roses in Their Hair by Kayla Bashe. F/F. Sci-fi YA romance.
Viral Airwaves by Claudie Arsenault. Asexual M/F, plus M/M & F/M side relationships. Post-apocalyptic SFF.

I’m pretty happy with the representation here. I hope to continue this balance in future years and perhaps even expand it a little. I know I have a lot to learn about the aromantic spectrum, for example, and have been pondering how I might include representation in my reviews for Read My Valentine… or whether I make a point of reviewing some immediately after the challenge.

Outside of these reviews and the Aurealis submissions, I read very little romance: just two books. I have a forthcoming review of The Impossible Story of Olive in Love by Tonya Alexandra, which is, in any case, more of a coming-of-age YA than a romance.

The other was Beyond Pain by Kit Rocha. This is the third in a series of sci-fi dystopian erotica that I’ve found impressively feminist and sex-positive. So far, it has included favourable representations of bisexuality, polyamory, exhibitionism and BDSM. The explicit content means it’s not going to be for everyone, but if you don’t mind that sort of thing, I highly recommend it. I’m glad there’s still another five books in the series and a new, related series beginning soon.

Considering the lack of participation Read My Valentine has had, I’m not convinced the current format is working. However, since I’ve been enjoying it, I’m considering turning it into a yearly blog feature instead of abandoning it entirely. I’m also happy to take suggestions.

How about you? Have you read any romance this month? What romance would you recommend?

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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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

WANTED, A GENTLEMAN
Or, Virtue Over-Rated

the grand romance of

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

Act the First:

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

Act the Second:

a Pursuit to Gretna Green (or thereabouts)

featuring

a speedy Carriage
sundry rustic Inns
a private Bed-chamber

***

In the course of which are presented

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

the particulars of which are too numerous to impart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Hold Me, Courtney Milan, Cyclone, Earl Grey Editing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Read My Valentine, Earl Grey Editing, romance reading challenge

I’ve mentioned many times that I’m a sucker for a reading challenge and I have especially loved the themed challenges Carl has run at Stainless Steel Droppings. There’s Once Upon A Time for fantasy from March until June. There’s Readers Imbibing at Peril for dark fantasy, supernatural and horror over the Halloween period. And there’s The Sci-fi Experience over December and January. These challenges pretty much cover all of my favourite genres except one: romance.

To cover this gap I ran Read My Valentine last year and spent February reading and reviewing romance novels. I enjoyed it so much that I decided I would run it again this year. It’s a low-pressure challenge where you can set your own target. I think this year I’ll be aiming to read at least 5 romance novels. I’ll also be reviewing plenty of romance novels this month, including m/f, m/m and f/f pairings.

If you’re interested in joining in, you can leave a link to your sign-up post below or use #ReadMyValentine for Twitter and Instagram. And if you have any great romance recommendations, I’d love to hear them!

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

ReadMyValentine2

I’ve mentioned many times that I’m a sucker for a reading challenge and I have especially loved the themed challenges Carl has run at Stainless Steel Droppings. There’s Once Upon A Time for fantasy from March until June. There’s Readers Imbibing at Peril for dark fantasy, supernatural and horror over the Halloween period. And there’s The Sci-fi Experience over December and January. These challenges pretty much cover all of my favourite genres except one: romance.

The way to my heart is through my books. For our tenth anniversary, I talked my sweetheart out of buying me a diamond ring and into buying me a Kindle (best decision ever. I don’t know what I’d do without my Kindle!). I’ve got my fingers crossed for books instead of chocolates for Valentine’s Day. So to clear some space on Mt TBR in preparation and to plug the gap in my themed reading challenges, I’ll be spending February reading and reviewing romance novels. I already have some Regency romance and some fantasy romance lined up. I even have a contemporary romance to try out.

If you’re interested in joining in, you can leave a link to your sign-up post over at Earl Grey Editing or use #ReadMyValentine for Twitter and Instagram. It’s a low-pressure challenge, so feel free to read as much or as little as you like.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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