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)

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)

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: 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)

Hold Me, Courtney Milan, Cyclone, Earl Grey Editing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart, Stephanie Burgis, Earl Grey Editing

Published:February 2017 by Bloomsbury Publishing
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Source: NetGalley
Available: Publisher (print) ~Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

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

Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest dragon there is. And she’s ready to prove it to her family by leaving the safety of their mountain cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. But when the human she finds tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw.

But she’s still the fiercest creature in the mountains — and now she’s found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is get herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she’ll be conquering new territory in no time…won’t she?

Judging a book by its cover–or its title–has led to many disappointments. But how could I resist a book called The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart? Fortunately, it proved to be utterly charming.

Aventurine is the youngest dragon in her family. She’s an engaging character who is fierce, headstrong and passionate. She just wants to explore the world! However, her mother won’t let her out of the family’s mountain until her scales have had at least 30 years to harden. Of course, Aventurine has never been good at following rules.

The book is intended for a Middle Grade audience and strikes a good balance with the detail it uses. One of the details I especially appreciated was the names of the dragons. Not only are all of them named after gemstones, but Aventurine and her siblings are all named after types of quartz.

This deft use of detail also applies to the depiction of making chocolate. While the story doesn’t go through every step in the process, it gives enough of them to feel authentic and doesn’t shy away from using specific terminology.

The world-building likewise gives enough detail to feel Regency-influenced while not getting too bogged down in the specifics. The city of Drachenburg comes with as many restrictions as Aventurine’s mountain home. It is hard enough adjusting to the physical reality of being a human. However, Aventurine also has to contend with issues of class and rules of propriety that mean nothing to her.

Historical settings, or settings with strong historical influences, can often feature a whitewashed cast. I was pleased to see that wasn’t the case here. Aventurine’s friends come in a wide variety of skin-tones.

Speaking of Aventurine’s friends, friendship is not something that comes naturally to Aventurine. While not solitary, dragons stick to their family groups. That becomes impossible for Aventurine, once she’s transformed into an untrustworthy human. Instead, she has to overcome the lessons her family has taught her in order to find friendship. This is no mean feat, because even as a girl Aventurine is constantly assessing those around her for a threat, identifying which humans are formidable predators intent on taking advantage of her.

Overall, I found The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart a delightful read and I’d be keen to see more of Aventurine’s adventures with her new friends. However, be warned! This book will leave you craving chocolate.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Earl Grey Editing, Who's Afraid Too? Maria Lewis, books and tea, tea and books

Published: January 2017 by Piatkus
Format reviewed: Trade Paperback, 352 pages
Series: Tommi Grayson #2
Genres: Urban fantasy
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Publisher (print) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

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

Tommi Grayson: all bark, all bite . . . and now she’s BACK!

After the worst family reunion in history, Tommi needed some space. She’s spent the last few weeks trying to understand her heritage – the one that comes with a side order of fur – as well as learning about her Maori ancestry and how she can connect to it. But she can only escape for so long.

When an unspeakable evil returns, Tommi will need every piece of knowledge and all the skills she has. With the help of allies old and new, frenemies both helpful and super-annoying, she’s going to take the fight to the enemy.

Although I had some reservations, I enjoyed the first book in this series. Who’s Afraid Too? makes an excellent follow-up, retaining what I liked about the series. Tommi remains sassy but practical. She’s a very grounded person, who knows how to have fun but is always willing to do the hard work where necessary. Nor does the story put her on a pedestal, but shows her flaws, allowing her to be hypocritical at times.

However, this is not a story for deep character studies. Most of the other characters gave the impression of being more style than substance: likeable, but I never really got to see what was beyond the surface. Admittedly, that’s a hard ask, considering the number of new friends Tommi acquires. And the importance of style was something I really enjoyed about the book. Each of the characters has their own distinct sense of fashion and there are plenty of references to music and pop culture. These are not characters that live in a bubble. Art and beauty is something that remains important to Tommi and brings a sense of balance to the narrative–she’s not reduced to being solely a werewolf but retains her interests outside of the weird world she’s joined.

Tommi’s relationship with Lorcan was also particularly interesting. I enjoyed the way the story highlighted the problem with their relationship as one of trust and not necessarily that they are mentor and student. Tommi often calls Lorcan on his mysterious bullshit; keeping things from her is not a way of keeping her safe but is actively detrimental. But there is also nuance, and Tommi is reminded that compromise is sometimes necessary.

The plot is a bit predictable in places, with the villain easy to spot. However, it is nicely paced. The sex scenes didn’t really work for me and read a little awkwardly, but the action sequences were dynamic.

All in all, I found Who’s Afraid Too? a fun read. There were a significant number of loose ends to be tied up, so I look forward to seeing a sequel.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Bitten, Amanda Pillar, Graced, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Published: Self-published in January 2017
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Graced #2
Genres: Urban fantasy, paranormal romance
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble  ~ Kobo

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

The city of Pinton has never been safe…and now a serial killer is on the loose.

Doctor Alice Reive is the city’s coroner, and she’s determined to help find the murderer. Enlisting the assistance of the Honorable Dante Kipling and city guard Elle Brown, they race to track down the killer, before another victim dies.

Hannah Romanov – Dante’s missing twin sister – has spent hundreds of years living on an isolated mountain. But her quiet life is thrown into chaos after she discovers a baby left in the wilds to die. Hannah will do anything to ensure the infant’s survival, even if it means travelling to the worst place in the world for her – Pinton.

Bitten is a new novel in Amanda Pillar’s Graced universe. It features some returning characters, but the focus is mostly on new characters or incidental characters from the previous novel. As such, it stands alone reasonably well and should be accessible to new readers.

There were so many potential ships in this novel. The blurb had me half expecting a f/f romance. However, it soon became clear this was unlikely. Like Graced, this was a novel that kept me on my toes; readers going into it expecting a pure paranormal romance are likely to be disappointed. The pairings happen quite a way into the story, with one getting started almost at the end. Instead, romance is balanced out with a hefty dose of crime and fantasy road trip.

The development of non-romantic relationships make it equally satisfying. I enjoyed seeing the strong friendship between two of the main male characters and to learn a bit more of how that came to be. There were also some great family dynamics, especially within Hannah’s family. And I appreciated that we got to spend some time with characters from Graced and to see how their adopted family dynamic is developing.

The story does make use of the fated mate trope, which is one I really don’t get along with. However, I was really impressed with how the trope was handled. It makes it clear the attraction the characters feel is instinctual lust and that it’s just one step along the path, with the next being getting to know each other better.

Diversity was a key part of Graced and remains strong in Bitten. The characters have a wide variety of skin tones. Hannah has something akin to a touch phobia and Alice has some mild OCD tendencies. I wasn’t wholly sold on the latter, but I have no experience with it, so your mileage may vary.

I found the ending of the crime plot a little weak but it’s difficult to say more on this without spoilers.

However, I can say that the characters and world-building make it well worth the read. The novel also finishes with a revelation that will have some very interesting implications for the world and I’m really looking forward to finding out what happens next.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Aurora Decima, Amanda Bridgeman, science fiction, sci-fi, space opera, Earl Grey Editing, book review, books and tea, tea and books

Published: Self-published in November 2016
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Aurora #6
Genres: Science fiction, space opera, military sci-fi
Source: Author
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~  Kobo

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

The tenth year war is coming . . .

Carrie Welles has survived more attacks than she can count, but each one has made her stronger. She refuses to be a victim anymore. While her nemesis, Sharley, continues to be a threat, she works with Harris and the Aurora team to protect the future, vowing to raise her children and fight as the soldier-mother she was destined to be.

Saul Harris has had visions of the Zeta ships hitting Earth years before they’re due, but has no proof to warn the UNF. Scraping together a small contingent of Alpha units, he prepares for the onslaught as best he can. He embraces his gift and ‘connection’ with Welles and they dig further into his ancestry, only to have more haunting truths come to light.

As the invasion approaches, the new Aurora team members must find their place in the crew, while old team members reunite. They must band together with the Originals and their fellow Space and Earth Duty troops if they are to defend Earth against this attack.

But is it too little too late? Have Harris and Carrie done enough to protect their future? As they fight for survival against the Zetas in a battle that stretches across the UNF Space Zone, they soon realise the price of their freedom might be higher than they were expecting to pay.

I read the first five books of the Aurora series in quick succession, so Aurora: Decima is the first book in the series I’ve had to wait for. Even though it has been a little over a year, the author managed to draw me back into the world without too much trouble. However, as the sixth book in the series, I wouldn’t recommend it for new readers–too much has happened by this point. Even as a returning reader, there were a few points at which I wished for a cast list.

Having said that, I rather enjoyed the dynamism of the cast and particularly enjoyed the addition of a few new characters. Carrie’s home, the Fortress, is run by an AI called Archie. There were a few moments when Archie displayed quite the sense of humour and its personality remains distinct throughout the book. New crew member Tikaani also displayed a sense of humour. However, while it was nice to see another woman on board the Aurora (and a Inuit woman to boot), she seemed mostly a place-filler and we never really got to know her beyond the superficial.

There was some nice development of existing characters. Carrie and Captain Harris have matured nicely, turning their arrogance into confidence. Lieutenant Gold also makes a return and plays a key role in the story.

The structure has improved on previous books. The beginning remains a little slow to get going. While the prologue recapped some useful information, the similarities in character motivation between the prologue and the first chapter gave a feeling of redundancy. There were also a few times in the early parts of the books where the story felt like it was treading water–particularly concerning the relationship between Carrie and McKinley, and between Captain Harris and his son. However, that quickly improved. Dividing the story into parts gave a smoother feeling to the time jumps (which were significant in places). Previous books in the series have had a bit of a drawn-out ending, which I was also pleased to see Decima avoided. The tension really ratchets up in the second half and I found the finale nicely paced.

While the structure was tighter, I found the prose still a bit clunky in places. The uses of the terms Alpha and Jumbo were a bit excessive, beating the reader over the head with the fact that most of the characters are no longer human rather than trusting the reader to keep in mind the differences between the humans and the super-soldiers.

The story continues to be very heteronormative (with one very minor exception) and gender binary. However, within that it does some interesting things with the themes of bodily autonomy and reproductive rights. I appreciated the way it gender-flipped one of the prominent themes of the series and began to examine it from a new angle. I very much hope to see more of this in the next book.

Overall, Aurora: Decima makes an excellent addition to the series and well worth the read.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

Published: October 2016 by Hodder & Stoughton
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Wayfarers #2
Genres: Science fiction
Source: NetGalley
Available: Publisher (print) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

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

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

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

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

It was equally as awesome but in a different way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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