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

The Furthest Station, Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London, Peter Grant, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: June 2017 by Subterranean Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Rivers of London/Peter Grant #7.5
Genres: Contemporary fantasy
Source: NetGalley
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.

There have been ghosts on the London Underground, sad, harmless spectres whose presence does little more than give a frisson to travelling and boost tourism. But now there’s a rash of sightings on the Metropolitan Line and these ghosts are frightening, aggressive and seem to be looking for something.

Enter PC Peter Grant junior member of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Assessment unit a.k.a. The Folly a.k.a. the only police officers whose official duties include ghost hunting. Together with Jaget Kumar, his counterpart at the British Transport Police, he must brave the terrifying the crush of London’s rush hour to find the source of the ghosts.

Joined by Peter’s wannabe wizard cousin, a preschool river god and Toby the ghost hunting dog their investigation takes a darker tone as they realise that a real person’s life might just be on the line.

And time is running out to save them.

The Furthest Station is a quick novella that retains the spirit of the series but which remains unsatisfying.

Peter’s distinctive voice is present; even though the novella is short, there’s still space for his digressions and pop culture references. There’s even a few footnotes addressed to his American counterpart, though I found these a bit disruptive. They call into question the nature of the story, particularly as there is no framework set up to indicate Peter is addressing someone particular.

The story does a reasonable job of introducing who Peter is and what he does for a living. However, I’m not sure I’d recommend it as an entry point to the series. For example, the oddness of Molly is never explained for a new reader and the references to Beverley and her family are cursory. There’s a lot of background present which is likely to make it confusing.

I enjoyed seeing Peter spend more time with Abigail, though there’s never any real change in their relationship. Preserving the status quo for the novels in such a way leaves it ultimately feeling like filler.

The main plot held up fairly well until the ending. While it was nice to see an acknowledgement that not all police work ends tidily or in a dramatic fashion, the number of loose ends made it unsatisfying to me.

All in all, The Furthest Station was a pleasant read, but not one of Aaronovitch’s better works.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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)

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

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)

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

4 out of 5 stars.

Anne Rowlands

 

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This story is for anyone whos ever felt invisible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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