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: (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: (Calissa)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

WANTED, A GENTLEMAN
Or, Virtue Over-Rated

the grand romance of

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

Act the First:

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

Act the Second:

a Pursuit to Gretna Green (or thereabouts)

featuring

a speedy Carriage
sundry rustic Inns
a private Bed-chamber

***

In the course of which are presented

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

the particulars of which are too numerous to impart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

Passionate persuasion!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

Beauty – and the Beast?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Survivor, Amanda Pillar, Graced, novella, urban fantasy, vampires, hot chocolate, Earl Grey Editing

Published: Self-published in July 2016
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Graced #1.5
Genres: Fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & NobleGoogle Play ~ iBooks ~ Kobo

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

Billie Young is a city guard from Pinton with a troubled past – she was kidnapped, tortured and almost murdered by vampires. Though she managed to survive her attack, it’s left her scarred and damaged. Now, she wants revenge.

Vere Radcliffe is a vampire spy who answers directly to the king. Recently returned to the city, he’s stuck living with his family – a fate almost worse than death. But trouble is brewing in the streets of Pinton, and Vere is asked to investigate the abduction of a city guard and the murder of several other humans.

Can Vere and Billie work together to find the killers, before it’s too late?

Survivor is the second of Amanda Pillar’s Graced novellas to come out this year. The prequel novella, Captive, didn’t quite work for me but Survivor hit all the right notes.

As the title suggests, Billie is a survivor–a fighter and an optimist, though the latter is somewhat subsumed by her adorable grouchiness towards Vere. Her attackers left her with plenty of scars and a limp that gives her chronic pain. While she’s determined not to let this slow her down, she’s still sensible about the limitations it puts on her life. Billie has stepped away from active duty in the City Guard, realising that her injuries would put a partner at potential risk, but that doesn’t stop her from seeking out the culprits responsible for the attack.

It’s Billie’s stubborn independence that attracts Vere to her in the first place. The way he follows her around at first could seem patronising or puppyish, but it never comes across that way. Instead, Vere’s curiosity and respect for Billie shines through. He is genuinely considerate, though how he managed to develop that quality in his family remains a mystery. In fact, given Vere’s colouring and weak vampire traits, I found myself wondering whether there was more to Vere’s background than the story revealed.

I don’t usually get along with serial novellas, finding they don’t have enough space to properly deal with all the elements they’re juggling. I never felt that way with Survivor. It is set in the same city as Graced and several minor characters make reappearances. However, both Billie and Vere are new characters and their story stands on its own. There are one or two places where repercussions from Graced can be seen–which was something I loved. But overall, Survivor makes a reasonably good introduction to the world and is littered with characters I’m looking forward to learning more about (the captain of the City Guard springs to mind).

The romance between Billie and Vere was sweet and balanced nicely with the investigation elements. Sex took place off-screen, making it a good story for readers who find explicit depictions uncomfortable.

There was one or two aspects of the ending I found a bit disappointing, but they are difficult to discuss without spoilers.

However, overall, I very much enjoyed Survivor and hope to see more stories set in this world.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

The Blackmail Blend, Livia Day, Cafe La Femme, the art of tea, Tabitha Blend, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea

Published: June 2015 by Deadlines
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Café La Femme #1.5
Genres: Crime
Source: Bought direct from publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks
Available: Publisher (tea and e-book) ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo

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

Six romance writers
Five secrets
Four poison pen letters
Three stolen manuscripts
Two undercover journalists
One over-complicated love life
Way too many teacups and tiny sandwiches

This shouldn’t be a recipe for mayhem and murder, but Tabitha Darling has been burned once before and she knows the signs that she’s about to fall into another crime scene. At least she doesn’t have to worry about love triangles any more. Right? RIGHT?

Saying I like a good cup of tea is rather like saying the sun rises in the east. So there was no way I was going to be able to resist a crime novella that comes with its own blend of tea–especially not when the crime novella in question belongs to Livia Day’s Café La Femme series.

Sandwiched between A Trifle Dead and Drowned VanillaThe Blackmail Blend gives a taste of all the important elements of the series. After being somewhat scarred by the events of A Trifle Dead, Tabitha is doing her best to steer clear of crime and murders. However, when someone poisons the Regency romance author who hired Tabitha to cater for her book launch, Tabitha finds herself smack in the middle of the action once again. Already there’s crime and food. Add to that Tabitha’s complicated love life: the very hot Scotsman she turned down in the previous book makes a reappearance investigating something shady going on in the romance community, while Tabitha’s taciturn policeman beau is keeping his hands strictly off her and any crime in which she ends up being involved.

The problem with finger food is that it generally leaves you hungry. There wasn’t quite enough here to satisfy me, particularly in relation to the crime elements. However, I’m aware that this is a problem I tend to have with most serial novellas. The Blackmail Blend still managed to be a lot of fun and had me laughing out loud. The issue with a Regency high tea particularly entertained me… and had me thinking I’m reading the wrong (or the right) Regency romances.

The story could make a good introduction to the series, but readers who are aware of the established relationships will get the most out of it.

As I mentioned, The Blackmail Blend comes with its own tea. Produced by a Tasmanian company called The Art of Tea, it’s a blend of green and black teas with chrysanthemum, mango & peach. The mixture of teas makes it light and suitable for the afternoon. It has a delightfully floral fragrance (that I mistook for rose, at first) but only a mild flavour.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Ember, Bettie Sharpe, Earl Grey Editing,

Published: Self-published in November 2007
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Fantasy, fairytale, romance
Source: Amazon
Reading Challenges: #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks, Once Upon A Time X
Available: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

Everyone loves Prince Charming. They have to—he’s cursed. Every man must respect him. Every woman must desire him. One look, and all is lost.

Ember would rather carve out a piece of her soul than be enslaved by passions not her own. She turns to the dark arts to save her heart and becomes the one woman in the kingdom able to resist the Prince’s Charm.

Poor girl. If Ember had spent less time studying magic and more time studying human nature, she might have guessed that a man who gets everything and everyone he wants will come to want the one woman he cannot have.

Ember is a twisted retelling of Cinderella. Almost all of the elements of the tale have been subverted in some way. Ember is not a meek, downtrodden girl but a prickly and powerful sorceress with an affinity to fire. She eschews the silks and satins of nobility because she feels more comfortable in wool and cotton, not because she’s deprived. Her step-family don’t abuse her and the prince takes on the role of villain. Throughout the story there are mentions of other fairytales (such as Snow White), each equally as twisted. And I loved every bit of it.

I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between Ember and her step-family. Although the relationship starts out as a mercenary one, genuine affection grows between them. They are practical, sexually liberated women who respect and support each other in the face of a world that hasn’t always been kind to them.

Memory of In the Forest of Stories recommended this delightful novella to me some time ago. It languished on Mt TBR for just enough time for me to forget what it was about (which, I’m bemused to say, wasn’t that long). So I was surprised to find this fairytale was much raunchier than I was expecting. There are explicit sex scenes that contain quite a bit of heat, while not overwhelming the plot. Readers should be aware that there are some issues around dubious consent.

If you like your fairytales hot and twisted, Ember is well worth checking out.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Penric's Demon, Lois McMaster Bujold, World of the Five Gods, Hugo Award nominee

Published: July 2015 by Subterranean Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: World of the Five Gods #1.5
Genres: Fantasy
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Once Upon A Time X
Available: Publisher (print) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia

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

On his way to his betrothal, young Lord Penric comes upon a riding accident with an elderly lady on the ground, her maidservant and guardsmen distraught. As he approaches to help, he discovers that the lady is a Temple divine, servant to the five gods of this world. Her avowed god is The Bastard, “master of all disasters out of season”, and with her dying breath she bequeaths her mysterious powers to Penric. From that moment on, Penric’s life is irreversibly changed, and his life is in danger from those who envy or fear him.

Penric’s Demon is the first thing I’ve read by Lois McMaster Bujold and I can see I’ve been missing out.

I liked Penric. He’s reasonably intelligent but naïve, making him a great way to experience the World of the Five Gods for the first time. Having grown up in a rather backwater mountain valley, the city of Martensbridge is as new and amazing to Penric as it is to the reader. However, while I love a character with a sense of wonder, it was Penric’s kindness that really endeared him to me. He loves his home and gets disgruntled when people look down on it, even when he later concedes they may have cause. He also treats those around him with unfailing respect and generally believes the best of them. Bujold cleverly makes this both a hindrance and a help.

I found the author’s approach to demons to be quite a novel one. Saying more risks spoilers, but I will note I enjoyed it a lot.

The pacing was excellent. Bujold manages to skillfully convey information to the reader without resorting to info-dumps. I never felt lost or overwhelmed, even though the world was new to me. Being a novella, there’s always a risk that the story will feel too short or unfinished. However, there was enough conclusion to keep me satisfied while still leaving me craving more.

Overall, I found Penric’s Demon a great introduction to Bujold’s work and it has inspired me to seek out more.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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Sunbolt, Sunbolt Chronicles, Intisar Khanani, fantasy, Purple Monkey Press

Published: June 2013 by Purple Monkey Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: The Sunbolt Chronicles #1
Genres: Fantasy, YA
Source: Author
Reading Challenges: Once Upon A Time X
Available: AmazonBook Depository ~ BooktopiaKobo

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

The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.

When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.

Having been impressed by Khanani’s work in Thorn, I knew I needed to check out some of her other stories. Sunbolt is an original novella and the first in the Sunbolt Chronicles. With the sequel coming out next month, I thought Sunbolt would make a good starting point and wasn’t disappointed.

As with Thorn, Khanani does some interesting things with representations of race. Karolene is an island city with a dark-skinned population. The nations to the north are described as pale-skinned and exotic, a description which neatly inverts some racist stereotypes. The villain also inverts these stereotypes, being the most prominent of a very few white characters.

Hitomi herself is Asian, making her stand out in Karolene. She does everything she can to fit in, but her skin and hair will always mark her out as a stranger. This is a particular problem for someone involved in an underground movement. But, more than that, it also alienates her from the place she considers home.

I very much enjoyed Hitomi as a character. Her selfishness and prejudice was balanced out by fierce loyalty and courage. My one quibble is that even though she grows away from her flaws, the short length of the novella made this progress a little fast for my taste, leaving me feeling the emotional arc of the story wasn’t quite solid.

The story kept me on my toes with all its twists and turns. I particularly appreciated the way in which when things begin to go wrong, they go wrong in a very mundane way and snowballs from there. This made it feel realistic to me and it meant that the stakes for Hitomi grew correspondingly.

All in all, Sunbolt was both fast-paced and thought-provoking. I will definitely be seeking out the sequel, Memories of Ash, when it is released in May.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

28650286

Published: February 2016 by Momentum
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Graced #0.5
Genres: Fantasy, paranormal romance.
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, Read My Valentine
Available:  Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo

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

Civilization has ended.

Vampires, werewolves, and the Graced are at war with their human creators, and humanity is losing. But one girl might hold the key to salvation. Held captive with her fellow humans by alpha Wolfgang and his pack of weres, Laney secretly inches ever closer to breaking were and vampire blood dependency forever.

But Laney doesn’t have long. Their numbers decimated by plague, humans are being kidnapped and reduced to livestock. And when Laney and her sister are kidnapped by a neighboring vampire clan notorious for its “farming” of humans, their only hope lies in Wolf – who doesn’t know the shocking secret Laney has gone to great lengths to conceal.

With their lives and the future of humanity in the balance, can Laney and Wolf learn to trust each other before their races cease to exist?

Captive is a prequel novella to Amanda Pillar’s Graced. Given the latter was one of the highlights of my 2015 reading year, I had high hopes for Captive. Unfortunately, I found the novella’s ambition exceeded its scope.

The key problem with Captive is that it tried to do too much: it aimed to be a paranormal romance and an exploration of a post-apocalyptic world, as well as show a pivotal point in the world’s history and be an origin story for one of the characters from Graced. All within 100 pages. As a result, it doesn’t successfully manage any of these elements.

I didn’t find there was much chemistry between Laney and Wolf, with their on-stage courtship being limited to Wolf invading Laney’s personal space and kissing her a few times. The secondary relationships were far more entertaining. Laney’s sister Jane lacks a romantic bone in her body, so it was particularly amusing to see attempts to woo her.  I hope we may see something more of her in the future.

As a fantasy story, it didn’t quite work for me either. It’s always difficult to write short speculative fiction because the premise and feel of the world needs to be conveyed in not much space. Captive faces a difficult challenge because it’s set in a world that isn’t our present day or the far future of Graced but something in between. A prologue in the form of a character’s diary entry tries to set the scene but ends up feeling like an awkward infodump that left me without a visceral feel for the world. Since the pertinent information comes up again later–repeatedly, in some cases,–I feel it would have been better to put the prologue’s word count to better use within the story itself.

Despite my criticisms, I enjoyed the story a lot. While the diversity of the characters isn’t as broad as in Graced, it is still casually present. Laney makes a great character. Physically, she’s never going to be a Strong Female Character, which makes her quiet courage all the more admirable. I also enjoyed seeing one of the characters from Graced make an appearance in the final chapters, albeit in a much younger form.

While Captive could conceivably stand on its own, some of the impact of the events it depicts would be lost. New readers are best off picking up Graced first.


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calissa: (Calissa)

26187278

Published: Self-published in September 2015
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Dashing Widows #1
Genres: Regency romance
Source: Amazon
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, #ReadMyOwnDamnBooksRead My Valentine
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & NobleKobo ~ Smashwords

Caroline, Lady Beaumont, arrives in London seeking excitement after ten dreary years of marriage and an even drearier year of mourning. That means conquering society, dancing like there’s no tomorrow, and taking a lover to provide passion without promises. Promises, in this dashing widow’s dictionary, equal prison. So what is an adventurous lady to do when she loses her heart to a notorious rake who, for the first time in his life, wants forever?

Devilish Silas Nash, Viscount Stone is in love at last—with a beautiful, headstrong widow bent on playing the field. Worse, she’s enlisted his help to set her up with his disreputable best friend. No red-blooded man takes such a challenge lying down, and Silas schemes to seduce his darling into his arms, warm, willing and besotted. But will his passionate plots come undone against a woman determined to act the mistress, but never the wife?

I wasn’t particularly fond of Anna Campbell’s story in A Grosvenor Square Christmas, but she managed to win me over with The Seduction of Lord Stone. It begins with three widows having tea as their year of mourning comes to a close (for two of them, anyway). Finally, society is easing its proscriptions over their activities and it’s time to enjoy their freedom. Caroline, in particular, is determined to make the most of it.

In light of this introduction, I was disappointed not to see more of the friendship between the widows. There were a few moments between Caroline and Helen. However, these seemed to occur mostly because Helen was also Silas’ sister and had motives of her own rather than out of genuine friendship. Fenella seemed to exist merely to provide a brief impediment to the relationship between Caroline and Silas. I found this a great shame, since Fenella and Caroline had such opposite attitudes to marriage; Fenella could have provided an interesting perspective for Caroline, had they spent any time talking together outside of the prologue.

The lack of female friendship meant that the focus was firmly on the romantic relationship between Caroline and Silas. Perhaps this was for the best, as it meant the pacing of this relatively short book stayed brisk. Caroline and Silas were enough to keep my attention on their own. The tension between them sizzled; I was surprised my Kindle didn’t combust! I liked that the dynamic between them was a little unusual, with the female protagonist looking to play the field while the rake was looking for something a bit more permanent.

For such a passionate person, Caroline was ruled by her head a lot more than I would have expected. She has very definite ideas about the way things need to be and is determined to stick to that, even if it means she ends up getting in her own way a lot. I found that quite realistic. Silas is a bit more flexible in his thinking, but still very clear on what he wants. At first, I found the ending somewhat unsatisfying, but the more I think about it the more I appreciate it.

Overall, I found The Seduction of Lord Stone a quick and enjoyable read. The foreshadowing of Helen’s story has me looking forward to the next book in the series.

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22734052

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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calissa: (Calissa)

25892668

Published: July 2015 by M/M Romance Group @ Goodreads
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Sci-fi, romance, fantasy
Source: M/M Romance Group @ Goodreads
Reading Challenges: #ReadMyOwnDamnBooksThe 2016 Sci-fi Experience
Available: Publisher (electronic)

When the crew of the Medical Explorer Juniper arrive at the space city of Caelestia, they are horrified to find it floating airless in space with thousands of its people dead. The only survivor is a cyborg gardener, Vairya, who has been left amnesiac and terrified, barely able to choke out a few words: “It could happen again.”

As ex-military doctor Reuben Cooper explores the illusory rose garden of Vairya’s memory, where Vairya himself flirts and hides among the flowers, he discovers a terrible threat, not just to the crew of the Juniper but to all humanity.

Can four doctors and a cyborg fight a merciless enemy that can kill with a touch?

I adore Amy Rae Durreson’s work and In Heaven and Earth has done nothing to deter me. This novella has all of Durreson’s trademarks–solid world building and a sturdy plot alongside a sweet romance.

The story gets off to a dynamic start with the crew of the Juniper investigating the aftermath of a planetary apocalypse but slows after the first scene under the weight of world building and back story. Fortunately, Durreson manages to deliver her exposition in a way that makes sense in terms of the situation and still keeps the action moving forward. By Chapter Two, the pace has picked up.

Although In Heaven and Earth is science fiction, Durreson is primarily a fantasy writer and it shows. The science is fairly light and verges on magic in a few places. There is also a couple of charming interludes in Vairya’s mind which he has shaped to resemble a fantasy world. While I had no problems with the fantasy elements (and actually enjoyed them quite a bit), it may not be your cup of tea if you prefer your sci-fi hard.

The plot itself kept me guessing and maintained the tension very nicely. Durreson does a great job of illustrating the desperation of the situation in which Reuben and Vairya find themselves, adding a wonderful bittersweetness to their developing relationship.

I was also charmed by the characters. Reuben has been damaged by past experiences that shook his faith in humanity. His relationship with the rest of the crew of the Juniper is uneasy and this is cleverly brought forth during Reuben’s adventures in Vairya’s mind. Vairya, on the other hand, retains a sweetness and a joy for life, despite being essentially immortal. I particularly enjoyed this subversion of the trope.

I’m so glad I saved this for my holiday reading because it meant that I was able to dive in and not come up for air until the end. If you’re a fan of sci-fi romance, you should definitely check out In Heaven and Earth.

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

23298457

Published: October 2014 by Smashwords
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
SeriesTales of the Aekhartain (Historical Aekhartain #1.5)
Genres: Historical romance
Source: Smashwords
Available: Smashwords

Disclaimer: The author is a friend. I have done my best to give an unbiased review. Also, this review contains some spoilers for Unbound and Free.

Everyone deserves a second chance at love…

Barely even a wife before she became a widow, Briallen feels like she’s lost everything – and now she has to stand by while a group of strangers moves in to the house she once called home. As hard as that it is to face, it’s made even more difficult by a man she feels drawn to, and two children she can’t help but love.

Elisud’s world is changing. Homeless and wandering, with a grieving nephew on his hands, he has no choice but to live on the farm – even when he feels the constant call of the sea. Determined to make things right for his nephew and daughter, he can’t help but notice Briallen and the bruised look in her eyes.

Both battered by grief and woes, can these two wounded people ever see past their own pain and accept the love that’s kindled between them? Or will their own self-doubts hold them back?

Set in the British Iron Age, this romantic novella deals with an age-old tale of loss, grief, healing and love, with a little help from family.

Be With Me takes place between the novellas Jealousy’s Shadow and Unbound and Free. While it could conceivably stand on its own, it isn’t really intended to do so and new readers will be missing some important context.  Healing and family are key themes of the novella (as the blurb above suggests), with Demairo’s recovery from the trauma of Jealousy’s Shadow being as much an integral part of the story as the romance between Elisud and Briallen.

That said, Be With Me is quite a different story to the novellas in Unbound and Free. Both feature some intense family dynamics, but where the focus is on violence and survival in Unbound and Free, it becomes more about interpersonal relationships in Be With Me. The tone is cozier and more domestic. I found this benefitted its historical aspect.  In Unbound and Free, I wasn’t sold on this element; the setting felt it could equally be generic fantasy or historical fantasy. That’s not the case in Be With Me, where the details of day-to-day life come more to the fore. Every member of the family is expected to do their part and things begin to break down when this doesn’t happen, setting everyone on edge. The novella gave a very clear sense of what it is like to be part of a small community, almost to the point of claustrophobia. True privacy is hard to come by for Elisud and Briallen, making the moments they snatch together all the more sweet.

This more intimate setting also allows a nice exploration of the ways in which this society’s expectations have hurt both genders. While the relationship at the heart of the novel is a heterosexual one, it doesn’t use this as a pretext to pretend homosexual relationships don’t exist, even in this historical setting. However, while they may exist, they are not necessarily accepted, and it was interesting to trace how the consequences rippled outward. While the clan into which Elisud and Briallen have been adopted might ultimately love and need each other, their love is not always gentle; just as with any family, there are elements that are lazy, unpleasant and hard to love. Having reasons why they might be the way they are doesn’t necessarily make them easier to bear but it did make me nod in recognition.

The pacing Elisud and Briallen’s relationship was perhaps a touch uneven. There was a moment not long after they first meet that had me concerned they were veering a little too strongly towards insta-love. Yet on the whole, their relationship progresses slowly enough that it made me want to shake them towards the end.

I found Be With Me to be a sweet, character-driven romance that was well worth my time and an excellent addition to the Aekhartain series.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

22740970

Published: July 2014 by Smashwords
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Tales of the Aekhartain (Historical Aekhartain #1)
Genres: Historical fantasy
Source: Smashwords
Reading Challenges: Once Upon A Time IX
Available: Amazon ~ Smashwords

Disclaimer: The author is a friend. I have done my best to give an unbiased review.

Demairo’s life is far from easy. Living on an isolated island with a father who hates him and a mother he adores, things are difficult enough without the whispering voices that cry on the wind. Because this is no ordinary island.

Luckily Demairo is no ordinary child, and he has some unusual friends to support him. But a storm is coming, and no amount of crows, seals or shining stars can save him – unless he chooses to be saved.

A choice is only the start of the journey.

Set in Roman Britain (456AD), Unbound and Free is a collection of four stories following Demairo across almost thirty years as he finds out where he truly belongs.

Although the blurb calls Unbound and Free a collection of stories, I found it better to treat them as a single novel. The first of the novellas, Jealousy’s Shadow introduces us to Demairo and his family. It is clear from the beginning that the dynamics between them are uncomfortable at best, so if domestic violence is a trigger for you, it might be best to give this book a miss. Demairo’s father, Dewydd, is an abusive drunk who likes to take out his anger on the young boy.  Demairo’s mother, Lowena, does her best to shield her beloved son, but there is only so much she can do, especially when she has to keep the household running almost single-handedly. She gets some help from her brother-in-law, Elisud, who, while as sweet as his brother is sullen, does nothing to stop the abuse. Of everyone on the island, it is Elisud’s young daughter Ceri who has the most success in defusing Dewydd’s moods, perhaps because she is too young to fully understand the situation.

Of course, the cast list wouldn’t be complete without including the island itself. Rumours on the mainland call it cursed. Only Demairo hears the voices of drowned sailors begging to be released from their torment, but his whole family feels their influence. The gradual corrupting of the characters is nicely handled, particularly in Lowena. Atmosphere is a strength of the novella, arising from the supernatural elements of the island and the tense family dynamics.

I’m not particularly good with history, so I couldn’t say how accurate the details of the story were. I wasn’t convinced the story needed a historical setting and would have worked just as nicely as a low-magic secondary world.

The stories following Jealousy’s Shadow deal pretty directly with the aftermath of the first novella, so I won’t say much about them. The bulk of the second novella, Unbound and Free, had an intensity that matched Jealousy’s Shadow, though in quite a different way. I found the expectations Demairo’s family had of him to be a little uniform for my taste, especially since they didn’t seem to be based on anything concrete.

Unbound and Free is intended to be an entry point for new readers into Lusher’s Aekhartain series and on the whole I think it works as intended, with the exception of a few short scenes that new readers may find cryptic.

Join me on Friday for an interview with Becca.

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

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Earl Grey Editing will be closed from 20 December until 12 January, making this my last post of the year. I thought I would leave you with some of my favourite reads from 2014. These are not books that were necessarily published this year, just read by me this year. In no particular order:

Books! )

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calissa: (Calissa)

18465323

Published: 2013, self-published
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Love Has No Boundaries
Genres: Contemporary romance, gay romance
Source: Available free online from the Goodreads M/M Romance Group

When Cal comes home from his first year at university, he discovers his family’s Texan ranch is in dire straits and that his mother has hired a handsome city boy called Joseph to help out. Like Amy Rae Durreson’s The Court of Lightning, this novella was written for the Goodreads M/M Romance Group’s annual challenge. It is a sweet romance with no sexually explicit content.

There was a lot to like about Running Deer and Hidden Badger. Joseph’s character is of Native American descent but is out of touch with his heritage. Instead of playing on the stereotype of the wise Indian deeply connected to Nature, Joseph is from Los Angeles and knows nothing about the expansive Texan landscape. He can barely ride a horse and Cal has to teach him the business of ranching from the ground up. Although it seems a bit of a stretch that Joseph doesn’t even know what a scorpion looks like, I was pleased that the story didn’t fall into the trap of racist typecasting I might have expected from the title.

Sarge also makes sure her Texas is firmly in the modern era. The ranch hands all have mobile phones for emergencies, Joseph has an interest in digital photography and Cal speaks to his (soon ex-) boyfriend via Skype. The ranch remains fairly isolated but it is nice to see there was no pretense that these technologies don’t exist.

The story itself is a lot of fun but has a few flaws that make me suspect there was a shortage of time and word count. The focus is very much on Cal and his family. While there are some strong hints about Joseph’s backstory, they are never followed up. This vagueness and the lack of stage time given to Joseph’s past leaves the novella feeling somewhat unbalanced.

Similarly, there are a lot of threads that are dropped as the story progresses. The opening suggests that racism might be a key issue and a particular threat to Joseph. However, after the opening that threat disappears entirely. Likewise, Cal’s boyfriend disappears with hardly a whimper, making it difficult to see why he was included in the first place. Instead of adding to the story, these shadow threats only serve to weaken it. The final confrontation needed more building up and I found the conclusion very abrupt.

Despite these flaws, I still enjoyed Running Deer and Hidden Badger. The characters were endearing and Sarge did a wonderful job of bringing the Texan landscape to life. I also very much appreciated the way she wears her fandom on her sleeve, with references scattered throughout the story. There’s a horse named Rincewind (after the wizard from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series), a property called Nine Tails (a reference to the Naruto anime) and Joseph uses the Tenth Doctor as a reference point for describing Cal to his mother. Overall, it was a nice, light romance that made my inner geek chuckle.

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