calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-09-25 08:00 am

The Grief Hole by Kaaron Warren

The Grief Hole, Kaaron Warren, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: July 2016 by IFWG Publishing
Format reviewed: Trade paperback, 336 pages
Genres: Supernatural, psychological horror
Source: Library
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Publisher (print) ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia~ Kobo

There are many grief holes. There’s the grief hole you fall into when a loved one dies. There’s another grief hole in all of us; small or large, it determines how much we want to live. And there are the places, the physical grief holes, which attract suicides to their centre. Sol Evictus, a powerful, charismatic singer, sends a young artist into The Grief Hole to capture the faces of the teenagers dying there. When she inevitably dies herself, her cousin Theresa resolves to stop this man so many love. Theresa sees ghosts; she knows how you’ll die by the spirits haunting you. If you’ll drown, she’ll see drowned people. Most often she sees battered women, because she works to find emergency housing for abused women. She sees no ghosts around Sol Evictus but she doesn’t let that stop her. Her passion to help, to be a saint, drives her to find a way to destroy him.

Kaaron Warren is a multi-award-winning author and The Grief Hole shows why. I’ve held off reading her work for a while, since horror is really not my jam. However, when The Grief Hole was nominated for a Ditmar Award, I knew it was time for me to dive in.

At first glance, the book looks like supernatural horror. Theresa can, after all, see ghosts. These ghosts reflect the way a person is most likely to die.

However, the ghosts are not the scary part.

Although they’re keen to gather more of their number, they are ultimately powerless background noise. As the story progresses and Theresa comes to understand things better, they become somewhat more sympathetic.

Instead, what is clear from the start of the novel is that it’s about human monsters. The story is divided up into Interventions. These are times when the ghosts around someone are so numerous or otherwise strange that Theresa is prompted to act: to commit some deed that results in death or incarceration for the perpetrator. She’s very clear she acts out of a sense of justice, rather than revenge.

However, this doesn’t make Theresa a good person by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, we’re shown all the ways that Theresa herself is monstrous. She thrives on the suffering of others, often poking at emotional tender points and claiming it’s to help. She frames newspaper smeared with blood from her cousin’s suicide, looking on it as somehow inspirational. She keeps files of atrocities reported in the media. And she jumps to conclusions about what her ghosts are trying to tell her, acting on information that is sometimes incomplete or incorrect. She shows how good intentions are sometimes self-delusion.

While the ghosts aren’t exactly central to the story, I still refused to read this story after dark. The author does a fantastic job of creating an oppressive atmosphere that lingers over the reader as much as the characters. Towards the end, the story took on a dark fairytale resonance, somewhat reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm or the story of Bluebeard. This is enhanced by the characters, some of whom feel otherworldly. Theresa’s aunt Prudence is a prime example. Her association with the colour red and the way she always carries balloons with her gives her the feeling of a hallucination, only kept partially at bay by the fact she’s visible to people other than Theresa.

I can’t say I enjoyed The Grief Hole; it is not a book intended for comfort or enjoyment. However, it is a well-written and thoughtful examination of grief and altruism. It won three major Australian awards this year and most certainly deserves the accolades it has received.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-09-18 08:00 am

Fake Geek Girl by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Fake Geek Girl, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Belladonna University, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: March 2016 by Sheep Might Fly
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Belladonna University #1
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Author
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Author’s website (electronic, free) ~ Sheep Might Fly (audio, free) ~ Review of Australian Fiction

Meet Fake Geek Girl, the band that plays nerdy songs at the university bar every Friday night, to a mixture of magical and non-magical students: lead singer Holly writes songs based on her twin sister Hebe’s love of geek culture though she doesn’t really understand it; drummer Sage is an explosive sorcerous genius obsessing over whether Holly’s about to quit the band to go mainstream; shy Juniper only just worked up the nerve to sing her own song in public and keeps a Jane Austen themed diary chronicling the lives and loves of her friends. When the mysterious, privileged Ferd joins their share house, everything starts to unravel…

Fake Geek Girl is a fun short story that brings magic to an Australian university.

The world-building was one of my favourite parts of the story. It’s set in an alternate version of the present where magic (also referred to as the Real) and technology (the Unreal) exist uneasily alongside each other. Magic is very much the norm, with almost everyone having some degree of magic proficiency. Students have laptops and mobile phones they need to keep protected from magic radiation, and heaven help the student who tries to use magic Post-Its on his ordinary textbook. The university likewise reflects this dichotomy, with the more prestigious College of the Real teaching thaumaturgy and similar magic classes, while the College of the Unreal includes Gender Studies and Unreal Literature.

The characters were also wonderful. Each character is distinct, with their own personalities and quirks. Hebe is a sweet girl who cares about her friends and isn’t afraid to snark when she’s constantly mistaken for her rock-star twin sister. Sage is the glue that holds the band together… well, usually. And shy Juniper’s love affair with Jane Austen was gorgeous. I was actually a little disappointed we didn’t get to see more of her, but I’m hoping that may be rectified in a later story.

As you might gather, friendship is very much at the heart of the story. Changing circumstances threaten to steal away one friend, but has simultaneously delivered a new one. The characters don’t always face these changes with grace, making them very relatable. They also come with a side order of banter.

The story is written in first person with the author’s distinctive voice–sarcastic but fun and upbeat. The chapters alternate perspectives, with the heading title incorporating the perspective character’s name. Despite this, I didn’t immediately twig to the shift in perspective and it threw me off in the second chapter. However, the story was too much fun not to persist.

Overall, I really enjoyed Fake Geek Girl and the series has become my new favourite of the author’s work.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-09-11 08:00 am
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Acadie by Dave Hutchinson

Acadie, Dave Hutchinson, Tor.com, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Published: September 2017 by Tor.com
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Science fiction
Source: NetGalley
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.

The Colony left Earth to find their utopia–a home on a new planet where their leader could fully explore the colonists’ genetic potential, unfettered by their homeworld’s restrictions. They settled a new paradise, and have been evolving and adapting for centuries.

Earth has other plans.

The original humans have been tracking their descendants across the stars, bent on their annihilation. They won’t stop until the new humans have been destroyed, their experimentation wiped out of the human gene pool.

Can’t anyone let go of a grudge anymore?

Acadie is an entertaining sci-fi novella, but one that ultimately didn’t work for me.

The first line is a good hook, but the story gets off to a bit of a slow start as daily life is established. Although the low gravity makes it plain things are a bit unusual, there were some small details I really enjoyed. For example, low gravity still doesn’t stop cats from chasing each other around the house.

Its sense of humour is a strength of the story. John Wayne “Duke” Faraday might be the President of the Colony, but he’s a pretty ordinary guy just looking to enjoy a holiday. In fact, the only reason he’s president was because he was away during the elections. Unfortunately, it looks like the Bureau might have discovered the hidden Colony on his watch.

As you might have gathered, the story is full of pop culture references. Duke interacts with people who have genetically engineered themselves to look like the elves from Lord of the Rings or Klingons from Star Trek. The founder of the Colony is Isabel Potter. And Connie’s full name made me chuckle.

The author builds a fascinating world in a very short space. There were some great character interactions and enough detail to paint a vivid picture.

Unfortunately, the surprise twist at the end undermined the story for me. Although clever, it left me wondering what the point was supposed to be.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-09-04 08:00 am

A Voyage Through Air by Peter F. Hamilton

A Voyage Through Air, Peter F. Hamilton, Queen of Dreams, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: July 2017 by Macmillan Children’s Books
Format reviewed: Paperback, 336 pages
Series: Queen of Dreams #3
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Source: Publisher
Available:Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

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

War is coming–and every leader of every realm has sided with the War Emperor and pledged to fight the Karrak invaders–apart from Taggie, the teenage Queen of Dreams-to-be. Aided by an unusual band of allies, including a Karrak Lord, an elf and a feisty skyfolk captain, Taggie knows that the only way to stop the war is to find the long-lost gateway between our universe and the dark universe: the home of the Karrak people. But how much is Taggie willing to lose in her desperate quest for peace?

A Voyage Through Air is the final book in the Queen of Dreams series and is a suitably epic conclusion.

It’s not a book that stands on its own, particularly since it carries on more or less immediately after the previous book. There’s a bit of recap, but it’s hard to say how effective it is. By the time A Voyage Through Air starts, there’s a reasonably large cast, containing both ongoing characters and some new faces, and it could be a lot to process for younger readers. I’d definitely recommend starting from the beginning of the series and enjoying all the fun.

Taggie and Jemima, two sisters from the ordinary world, are in fact royalty in another realm. Upon taking up her rightful throne, Taggie faces an assassination attempt by a previously-unknown cousin. This was part of a large-scale plot to assassinate the princes and princesses of all the magical realms. The Kings and Queens blame the Karrak Lords, denizens of a dark universe who were trapped in our light universe a thousand years ago. They decide to go to war, but Taggie is determined to find a peaceful solution. A Voyage Through Air centres on her quest to accomplish this by locating the hidden gateway between the universes.

The worldbuilding is more whimsical than realistic. The First Realm, where Taggie rules as the Queen of Dreams, is an inverted sphere with land around the outside and the sun in the middle. While it’s nice to see an imaginative new take, sometimes I felt that differences existed just for the sake of being different. This was particularly the case with the elves and the dragons of the world. For example, the dragons found in the Realm of Air look significantly different to the popular conception of dragons (being described as more like giant manta rays with two tails) and refer to themselves by a completely different name. It therefore seems strange to tie them to dragons at all–which the narrative does by presenting them to the sisters as dragons and repeatedly affirming how much the creatures hate being called that.

The changes to the elves make a little more sense, pushing back at the traditional uptight, milk-white portrayals. However, this is undermined somewhat by a lack of diversity in the remainder of the cast. Captain Rebecca is introduced in A Voyage Through Air as a dark-skinned skymaiden–the first the reader has seen. In fact, she’s the first dark-skinned character at all, apart from the elves, making it feel tokenistic. It really is too little, too late.

The story itself is an epic adventure, as the sisters and their friends attempt to retrace the course their ancestors took a millennium ago. There are air ships, monsters and battles on the land and in the sky. The narrative occasionally gets bogged down in description, but the style is nicely visual and is aided by a few illustrations scattered throughout the book. The language may be a bit of a challenge to younger or more inexperienced readers, but I’m not a good judge of that.

It is a good book for readers who aren’t fond of romance. There’s some in the background for Taggie, but it’s generally downplayed. Instead, the focus is on friendship and adventure.

All in all, I found A Voyage Through Air a light and reasonably entertaining read.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-08-28 08:00 am

Sunvault edited by Phoebe Wagner and Bronte Christopher Wieland

Sunvault, Phoebe Wagner, Bronte Christopher Weiland, solarpunk, Upper Rubber Boot Books, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Published: August 2017 by Upper Rubber Boot Books
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Science fiction
Source: NetGalley
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~Kobo

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

Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation is the first anthology to broadly collect solarpunk short stories, artwork, and poetry. A new genre for the 21st Century, solarpunk is a revolution against despair. Focusing on solutions to environmental disasters, solarpunk envisions a future of green, sustainable energy used by societies that value inclusiveness, cooperation, and personal freedom.

Edited by Phoebe Wagner and Bront Christopher Wieland, Sunvault focuses on the stories of those inhabiting the crucial moments when great change can be made by people with the right tools; stories of people living during tipping points, and the spaces before and after them; and stories of those who fight to effect change and seek solutions to ecological disruption.

Contributors include Elgin Award nominee Kristine Ong Muslim, New York Times bestselling author Daniel Jos Older, James Tiptree, Jr. Award winner Nisi Shawl, World Fantasy Award winner Lavie Tidhar, and Lambda Literary Awards finalist A.C. Wise, as well as Jess Barber, Santiago Belluco, Lisa M. Bradley, Chloe N. Clark, Brandon Crilly, Yilun Fan and translator S. Qiouyi Lu, Jaymee Goh, Jos M. Jimenez, Maura Lydon, Camille Meyers, Lev Mirov, joel nathanael, Clara Ng, Sara Norja, Brandon OBrien, Jack Pevyhouse, Bethany Powell, C. Samuel Rees, Iona Sharma, Karyn L. Stecyk, Bogi Takcs, Aleksei Valentn, T.X. Watson, Nick Wood, and Tyler Young.

Sunvault is a robust and enjoyable anthology with strong ideas and a large dose of hope.

Variety is a key feature of this anthology and one that cropped up in a number of ways. The inclusion of poetry and artwork was a refreshing touch. It was nice to see these forms taken seriously in the anthology’s survey of solarpunk.

The works within the anthology come from an impressive range of cultures. There was a Chinese work in translation alongside stories from Jewish and African American creators, among others. There was also work that centred disabled characters in ways sometimes reminiscent of Defying Doomsday. All of this led to a wonderful plethora of visions of the future, as well as variety in the tone of the stories. That said, hope for the future is a key element of solarpunk. There are no stories here that are unremittingly bleak, even if hope remains slim in some–such as C. Samuel Rees’s Terratology. These works tend to celebrate the tenacity of humanity and our ability to come together and find solutions.

Naturally, there are stories in this anthology that are primarily focused on ideas, rather than characters and relationships. This is not generally my cup of tea, but I found the ideas interesting enough to keep me reading. Worldbuilding is a strength of most of the works in this collection, with some offering visions of the future that are more practical than others. Throughout, there is a nice balance with works that are more emotive.

Some highlights of the anthology for me were Daniel Jose Older’s Dust about a genderfluid protagonist with a special connection to an asteroid hurtling towards the Earth. It deftly blended ideas and character, with a wonderful emphasis on connection to place. Similarly, Lev Mirov’s The Desert, Blooming brought together religion and science in a beautiful combination, as the protagonist leaves the dome under which they have grown up for the first time to help plant trees to reclaim the desert.

All in all, Sunvault is an anthology that has been skilfully pieced together and I highly recommend it, particularly for those looking to get an overview of this subgenre.

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Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-08-21 08:00 am
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One Last Drop by Nicole Field

One Last Drop, Nicole Field, Less Than Three Press, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: August 2017 by Less Than Three Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Romance, LGBTQIA
Source: NetGalley
Available: Publisher (electronic only)

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

Rory is a university student — and she’s just a little too fond of drinking and partying. But when she woke up with no memory of the evening, or the person beside her and what they did, that was the last straw.

Getting help seems the obvious first step, but it’s still hard to walk into the AA meeting, and harder still to stick to her goals.

But if she wants a chance to make things work with the beautiful Michelle, and further explore the submissive side she’s ignored, she’s going to have to commit to recovery and pull her life together, no matter how difficult that seems.

One Last Drop is a f/f romance that tackles some big issues but ultimately left me unsatisfied.

The primary focus of the story is Rory’s alcoholism and her ongoing recovery. It starts at Rory’s first AA meeting which gives a pretext for the skillful delivery of a traumatic backstory without making the reader experience it directly. As a teetotaler, I appreciated the way the story highlighted the alcoholic culture not only of university life but of society more generally. There were also some poignant moments examining shame and the way this manifests–particularly in Rory’s desire to keep her problem a secret and how this undermines her by depriving her of a support network.

However, the latter point was weakened somewhat by shallow characterisation. The close third-person perspective allows us to see what’s going on for Rory, but the characters around her felt flat. Michelle in particular came across as less of a character to connect to and more as a role: that of love interest and mature role-model for Rory to potentially grow into. When the trauma in Michelle’s background came up, it caught me by surprise, as there hadn’t been any foreshadowing. Perhaps this was by design–people don’t foreshadow their traumas in real life–but it left me feeling ambivalent.

The story takes a positive stance towards support groups and therapy, which I appreciated. I also liked the interplay between addiction and BDSM; Michelle is quite firm in not allowing Rory to avoid taking responsibility for her addiction by hiding in her new role as a submissive. Readers should not expect much in the way of onscreen sex. Instead, as is common for Field’s stories, the scene fades to black.

All in all, One Last Drop had some elements I liked, but I feel it ultimately failed to live up to its potential.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-08-14 08:00 am
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Matters Arising by Simon Petrie

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body, Simon Petrie, Peggy Bright Books, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: June 2017 by Peggy Bright Books
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Guerline Scarfe #1
Genres: Sci-fi, crime
Source: Publisher
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia

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.

Tanja Morgenstein, daughter of a wealthy industrialist and a geochemist, is dead from exposure to Titan’s lethal, chilled atmosphere, and Guerline Scarfe must determine why.

This novella blends hard-SF extrapolation with elements of contemporary crime fiction, to envisage a future human society in a hostile environment, in which a young woman’s worst enemies may be those around her.

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body is a hard sci-fi crime novella. It starts off with the suicide of a wealthy heiress, but the book is as much about the author’s vision of Titan’s settlement as it is about the mystery.

Usually, I’m not particularly fond of hard sci-fi and there were elements of the genre present in Matters Arising that didn’t appeal to me. In particular, I found the language more academic than emotive, which created a distance from the characters. However, the story went some way towards mitigating that by giving the main character a family life of sorts. Seeing her struggle with her personal relationships helped humanise Guerline. Her focus and dedication to her work is shown as both a virtue and a character flaw.

The details of daily life also helped make Guerline relatable. We get to see her make long commutes, grouch at missed flights and travel delays, and engage in online research and recreation. These details also do a clever double duty, showing what it’s like to live on Titan in a way that feels natural. It also fits in with the detail-oriented nature of procedural crime.

The drawback to this approach is that it can feel a bit slow-paced. There’s no real sense of urgency until Guerline’s final trip home. However, the short chapters help to counterbalance this.

Another thing I was pleased to see was how diverse the cast was. It’s something I’m not used to seeing in hard sci-fi… though it should be said my experience with the genre is very limited, especially when it comes to modern examples.

All in all, Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body was a solid read and while not exactly my cup of tea, I’d definitely recommend it to lovers of hard sci-fi.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-08-07 08:00 am
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The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, F.C. Yee, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books, superhero YA

Published: August 2017 by Amulet Books
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Young adult, fantasy
Source: NetGalley
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.

The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie Lo’s every waking thought. But when her sleepy Bay Area town comes under siege from hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged.

Her only guide to the demonic chaos breaking out around her is Quentin Sun, a beguiling, maddening new transfer student from overseas. Quentin assures Genie she is strong enough to fight these monsters, for she unknowingly harbors an inner power that can level the very gates of Heaven.

Genie will have to dig deep within herself to summon the otherworldly strength that Quentin keeps talking about. But as she does, she finds the secret of her true nature is entwined with his, in a way she could never have imagined

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is a fun, fast-paced YA novel which plays with elements of the Chinese legend Journey to the West. It was a delightful read, but suffers from a few flaws.

Genie is a great character. She takes her study seriously and uses her unusual height to round out her curriculum as a member of the volleyball team. Her greatest dream is to leave behind the Bay Area town in which she lives. She’s disciplined, but underneath she’s quite an angry person, which I liked about her. She’s also a little bit juvenile at times.This suits her age, but contributes to an overall feeling that the book verges on Middle Grade rather than being Young Adult.

This is exacerbated by the relationship between Genie and Quentin. The romance between them is interesting in theory, but in execution it never feels that deep. Instead, it feels tacked on to a reasonably solid friendship. Part of this is due to Quentin’s lack of respect for boundaries. This was entirely in keeping with his character, but it undermines the relationship. Genie pushes back, but we never really see Quentin’s learning curve, making elements of the ending surprising.

Genie’s relationship with Quentin also undermines her friendship with Yunnie. This is something Genie explicitly struggles with and it was disappointing that this was never properly followed through. Instead of Genie’s decisions having a lasting impact on that relationship, it gets used as a plot device.

The action sequences were well-handled. The few shown on screen were dynamic and fast-paced, and I was happy the ones that took place but weren’t really important to the story got hand-waved.

As I mentioned, the story plays with elements of Journey to the West. I liked how it had been updated for the modern age and its framing as a superhero tale. The way the original legend relates to Genie was clever and opened up some interesting discussions on the nature of personhood. It was also nice to see a story that not only centred an Asian-American protagonist, but an entire community.

Overall, I enjoyed The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, despite its flaws. The door has been left open for a sequel, which I would quite happily read.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-07-31 08:00 am

Valentine by Jodi McAlister

Valentine, Jodi McAlister, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: January 2017 by Penguin Teen Australia
Format reviewed: Paperback, 395 pages
Series: Valentine #1
Genres: YA, fantasy
Source: Slow Glass Books
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Strange and terrible things begin to happen to four teenagers — all born on the same Valentine’s Day. One of these teenagers is the Valentine: a Seelie fairy changeling swapped for a human child at its birth. The Unseelie have come to kill the Valentine — except they don’t know who it is.

Pearl shares a birthday with Finn Blacklin. She’s known him all her life and disliked every second of it. Now Pearl and Finn must work together to protect themselves from the sinister forces that are seeking them out.

But there’s one more problem: the explosive chemistry between them…

This was definitely a case of “right book, right time” for me. I’d meant to review something else, but it was clear from the first page that we weren’t going to get along. Since I had a Monsterhearts game coming up, I thought I’d give Valentine a go instead. It turned out to be the perfect mood-setter.

But I think I was always going to love this book. As I’ve mentioned before, I was a huge fan of Holly Black’s Tithe, and Valentine hits many of the same buttons. The book starts off with a strange event–a black horse mysteriously showing up at a party–and things get stranger around Pearl. If you like your faeries with teeth, this is definitely a book to check out. It makes use of some of the less commonly known or used pieces of faerie lore, such as elf-locks, though it doesn’t always play them straight.

Pearl isn’t stupid and recognises something weird is going on, though she sometimes wavers in that belief. She’s a relatable character in many ways, taking her responsibilities seriously and angsting over what other people think of her. She’s brave and loyal, while also being afraid and, at times, hypocritical. She neglects her best friend but doesn’t hesitate to put herself in danger for the people she cares about.

The book is told in first person and is lightly sprinkled with pop-culture references and text speak. This is not going to suit everyone. I thought it contributed to making Pearl’s voice a strong one. The reference to the eternal conundrum of Sherlock vs Elementary made me smile. Facebook also plays a role in the plot as a way the characters keep in contact. Valentine embraces the modern era, rather than trying to work around it.

I also love a good enemies-to-lovers story. It’s clear from the outset that Finn isn’t as disdainful of Pearl as she is of him, though that doesn’t prevent him from expressing anger and irritation towards her where it’s warranted. Watching Pearl’s opinion of him grow and improve was a delight.

Not everyone is going to like the ending, particularly since it deviates from certain genre expectations, but I found it a mature change. The story is also set in Australia, which results in some subtle cultural shifts.The common US stereotypes of jocks, nerds and goths are absent. Instead, there are some distinctly Australian elements, like school captains and Pearl’s job as a lifeguard at the local pool.

Overall, I found Valentine a fresh and intelligent take on faerie YA urban fantasy. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-07-24 08:00 am

Ashes by Amanda Pillar

Ashes, Amanda Pillar, Graced, Graced series, Venom and Vampires, paranormal romance collection, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Published: July 2017
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Venom and Vampires collection, Graced #2.2
Genres: Paranormal romance
Source: Author
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.

Aria Ash shouldn’t exist

Born to a were mother and vampire father, Aria Ash is the perfect blend of two races, and in their world, that’s a death sentence. Hunted for as long as she can remember, she now hides in plain sight in the city of Skarva, and will do anything to keep her secret safe.

Sebastian Talien is an alpha were with a troubled past. Ever since his pack went rogue and tried to kill three innocent pups, he’s been dedicated to rescuing children in need. Now an invitation has him heading to Skarva, to help a child he thought he’d failed

Ashes is a novella set in the Graced universe, around the same time as Bitten. While I enjoyed reading it, I ultimately had the same issue with it as I did with Captive: I felt its ambition exceeded its scope.

Since Ashes is part of a collection, I assume it’s meant to appeal to new readers. I feel it’s only partially successful on that front. The beginning works quite well, introducing us to the characters and getting us invested in their relationship. However, the Graced universe is a complex one. Worldbuilding elements necessary for understanding the story were given in a kind of infodump in the guise of one character educating and warning another. The character doing the educating also functioned like a deus ex machina, there to make sure certain things happened. While there is context and an implied reason, it sat rather awkwardly and I’m not sure how it would sit for someone new to the series. It is also old information to returning readers, making it a little bit dull to sit through, even if I enjoyed the cameo from that particular character.

That said, I felt Ashes was a much stronger story than Captive. Aria is a wonderfully fiery character. She’s powerful and quick to protect what’s hers. I really enjoyed the way her strength is something that Sebastian finds attractive, rather than seeing it as a threat. Their relationship is likely to be a bit too insta-love for some readers, but it worked for me. The circumstances and the passion between these two dominant characters sold it. The pair are also able to spend more time together than Laney & Wolf did in Captive. This gives their relationship a more solid foundation before the rest of the action really kicks into gear.

I also really enjoyed the development of the city of Skarva. We got to see the Duke of Ravens in Bitten. In Ashes, we get to meet the Duke of Ashes and learn a little more about the other ruling dukes. I liked that each duke has their own motif, providing a distinctive counterpoint to the vampire nobility of Pinton featured in previous books.

There were also plenty of loose ends left and I’m looking forward to discovering which directions will be explored next.

All in all, Ashes was bumpy in places, but an enjoyable read.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-07-17 08:00 am

Trust by Kylie Scott

Trust, Kylie Scott, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: Self-published in July 2017
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Young adult, contemporary romance
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available:Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~Kobo

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

Being young is all about the experiences: the first time you skip school, the first time you fall in love… the first time someone holds a gun to your head.

After being held hostage during a robbery at the local convenience store, seventeen-year-old Edie finds her attitude about life shattered. Unwilling to put up with the snobbery and bullying at her private school, she enrolls at the local public high school, crossing paths with John. The boy who risked his life to save hers.

While Edie’s beginning to run wild, however, John’s just starting to settle down. After years of partying and dealing drugs with his older brother, he’s going straight–getting to class on time, and thinking about the future.

An unlikely bond grows between the two as John keeps Edie out of trouble and helps her broaden her horizons. But when he helps her out with another first–losing her virginity–their friendship gets complicated.

Meanwhile, Edie and John are pulled back into the dangerous world they narrowly escaped. They were lucky to survive the first time, but this time they have more to lose–each other.

Trust is Kylie Scott’s first foray into Young Adult and I certainly hope it won’t be her last because I was pretty impressed.

There was so much that was great about this book. I appreciated its diversity. This includes race and sexuality–two of Edie’s new friends are lesbians and the other Vietnamese–but it also goes beyond that. Edie herself is an unconventional protagonist. She may be white and blonde, but she’s also considered overweight and has no desire to change that. She has seen her mum go through the constant torture of diets and would rather be happy than subject herself to the same. Of course, she is bullied for being a socially-unacceptable body shape but never by the narrative. Instead, she is also shown as being desireble–and desirable by someone who has a socially-acceptable body shape.

Another thing I loved about the story is the way it advocates for healthy relationships and boundary setting. Edie is not shy about cutting people off if they violate her privacy. She has zero time for other people’s bullshit. While her relationship with John didn’t start under the best circumstances, it is a healthy one–with each one supporting the other through the changes they’re making in their lives. There is also one scene that takes a bit of a dig at Twilight when John unexpectedly shows up at Edie’s bedroom window one night.

This is not a book that pulls its punches. It kicks off with the robbery Edie and John get caught in at the convenience store, and takes us all the way through that traumatic experience. It has all the bodily fluids (and I really do mean all). There’s onscreen sex–and, being a romance writer, Scott isn’t shy about it. There’s awkward sex and sexy sex, and good consent practices at all times.

All in all, I loved Trust to pieces and I’m hoping we’ll see more YA from Kylie Scott.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-07-10 08:00 am

Corpselight by Angela Slatter

Corpselight, Angela Slatter, Verity Fassbinder, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea, Australian fantasy

Published: July 2017 by Jo Fletcher Books
Format reviewed: Trade paperback, 386 pages
Series: Verity Fassbinder #2
Genres: Urban fantasy
Source: Hachette Australia
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Publisher (print) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon~ 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 volumes/books.

Life in Brisbane is never simple for those who walk between the worlds.

Verity’s all about protecting her city, but right now that’s mostly running surveillance and handling the less exciting cases for the Weyrd Council after all, it’s hard to chase the bad guys through the streets of Brisbane when you’re really,reallypregnant.

An insurance investigation sounds pretty harmless, even if it is for ‘Unusual Happenstance’. That’s not usually a clause Normals use — it covers all-purpose hauntings, angry genii loci, ectoplasmic home invasion, demonic possession, that sort of thing — but Susan Beckett’s claimed three times in three months. Her house keeps getting inundated with mud, but she’s still insisting she doesn’t need or want help . . . until the dry-land drownings begin.

V’s first lead takes her to Chinatown, where she is confronted by kitsune assassins. But when she suddenly goes into labour, it’s clear the fox spirits are not going to be helpful . . .

As I’ve mentioned before, I love a good urban fantasy and Angela Slatter’s Verity Fassbinder series is turning out to be one of my favourites. Corpselight does some unusual things with the genre.

For a start, it’s refreshing to see a pregnant protagonist. And I don’t mean just pregnant, I mean almost-ready-to-drop pregnant. This raises the stakes in some interesting ways. Verity has scaled back her activities as an investigator for the Council, but events conspire to draw her in. She’s forced to weigh her duty to the Weyrd community against her daughter’s safety.

The theme of motherhood plays out in several strands of the book. In particular, it is concerned with neglectful mothers and examines where this can be fairly benign all the way through to where it facilitates abuse. Readers should be warned the story is quite dark in places, involving off-screen family abuse and on-screen suicide.

The book is not without humour, however. Fassbinder’s Law of Handbags made me chuckle, and I cackled out loud at numerous points of the story. I also appreciate a book that takes its cake seriously… though marshmallow and caramel sounds a bit sweet for me.

One of my criticisms of Vigil was its depiction of Verity’s love interest, David. I was pleased to see him get a little more screen time in Corpselight. He’s still a relatively shallow character–but this is by design. It reverses the gender dynamics often present in male-led urban fantasy and noir. David is the supportive spouse, there to love and enable Verity. While this was also true of Vigil, his added screen time gives weight to the affection he and Verity share.

The story kept me on my toes. Every time I thought I’d figured out the direction it was going, it proved me wrong. The ending, in particular, shook things up and I’ll be interested to see how events play out in the sequel.

Overall, I found Corpselight to be a thoughtful example of urban fantasy and an excellent continuation 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)
2017-07-03 08:00 am

Retribution by Jennifer Fallon

Retribution, Jennifer Fallon, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Published: May 2017 by Harper Voyager
Format reviewed: Trade paperback, 420 pages
Series: Hythrun Chronicles #8, The War of the Gods #2
Genres: Epic fantasy
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~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 book.

Since fleeing Winternest to avoid King Hablet’s wrath when he discovers the truth about her parentage, leaving her slave, Charisee, to take her place, Rakaia has been on quite an adventure. She has met the demon child, traveled the continent with the charming minstrel, Mica the Magnificent, enjoying more freedom then she ever imagined trapped in the harem in Talabar. But her freedom has come at a cost. Mica has committed an unthinkable crime, worse even, than stealing the golden lyre, and she is now his unwilling accomplice, sailing the high seas on a Tri-lander pirate ship, doing everything she can to avoid upsetting the man she once thought she loved, but has now realized is quite insane.

Meanwhile, Charisee, still pretending to be Rakaia, is trying to make the best of her new life as the Lady of Highcastle. But Rakaia’s past will catch up with her, even as her own lies are in danger of being exposed.

As Adrina struggles to hold Hythria together, and Marla tries to deal with the fallout from the shocking events that take place in the Citadel during the treaty negotiations, Wrayan Lightfinger and the apprentice sorcerer, Julika Hawksword, must travel to Sanctuary to find out why the fortress is back. What they will discover is shocking and will affect the entire world, even though they don’t realize it.

The Lyre Thief was one of my favourite books of 2016, so I was delighted to get the opportunity to review the sequel. It didn’t disappoint.

Being an epic fantasy, the book has a large cast of characters. I didn’t stop to reread the first book, instead choosing to dive in. It was a bit of an effort to remember who everyone was, but I soon got my feet under me. The book also has a cast of characters in the back to help, should you need it.

One thing I loved most about this series is that there are women everywhere. Most of the POV characters are female and they drive the action forward at every turn. Although the setting is a generically medieval-influenced fantasy comprised largely of patriarchal societies, the author uses her female characters to examine this set-up and to undermine it to some extent. Sophany and Rakaia are caught in relationships with dangerous and abusive men. Both try to protect people they care about and influence the situation by playing to very traditionally feminine roles. This provides an interesting contrast to Charisee and Adrina, both of whom are more secure in their power, even if it is borrowed from their husbands. These two women use this power to defy the patriarchy more directly, to varying degrees of success.

These women are without their flaws. Some of the minor female characters are downright horrible. And, as with the first book, the POV characters often act selfishly–but this is often a short step from survival and it’s never the sum of who they are. There’s always someone they care about and this helps them to remain likable.

There are a few places where the book wears its influences plainly. This was most notable when a childish king declared it was his mission to drive out the elves and make his nation great again. The story is dark at times, so this may not be the best choice for readers looking for a light escape.

However, if you’re looking for a more hopeful, more feminist alternative to A Song of Ice and Fire, Retribution may be the book for you.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-06-26 08:00 am
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The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch

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

Published: June 2017 by Subterranean Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Rivers of London/Peter Grant #7.5
Genres: Contemporary fantasy
Source: NetGalley
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~Kobo

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

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

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

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

And time is running out to save them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-06-19 08:00 am
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Rift Riders by Becca Lusher

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)
2017-06-05 08:00 am

Behind the Mask by Tricia Reeks and Kyle Richardson

Behind the Mask, superhero anthology, Tricia Reeks, Kyle Richardson, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: May 2017 by Meercat Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction
Source: Publisher
Available:Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

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

Behind the Mask is an exciting collection of short stories about the everyday lives of superheroes. Ranging from laugh-out-loud funny to deliciously dark, these stories are about the ordinary day-to-day challenges facing these extraordinary individuals growing up, growing old, relationships, parenting, coping with that age-old desire to fit in when, let’s face it, they don’t.

Behind the Mask is a solid collection of short stories that nevertheless left me feeling ambivalent. Since I’m not much of a short story reader, this could definitely be more a reflection of my reading taste than the anthology itself. However, I didn’t find myself hurrying back to it.

The stories often focused on the domestic and the personal, which I rather enjoyed. They’re less about the big, flashy battles–though those make the occasional appearance, such as in Seanan McGuire’s story Pedestal. Instead, the stories use their superheroes as lenses to examine themes such as memory, chronic illness, celebrity, and family dynamics and legacies. These stories are often quite poignant, such as Destroy the City with Me Tonight by Kate Marshall.

It also means this isn’t the most up-beat of anthologies. The tone tends towards the melancholy, and while there are notes of hope throughout, they tend to be muted.

I’d like to make special mention of Stephanie Lai’s The Fall of the Jade Sword. The story provided an excellent contrast to the fare of standard Western superheroes. Instead, it offers a historical fantasy about a young Chinese immigrant living in Melbourne. Chafing under the confines of social expectations, she sneaks out and attempts to emulate the local superhero–a figure the Chinese community recognises as a skilled practitioner of Wushu. It provided a breath of fresh air in an anthology otherwise fairly uniform in tone.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
2017-05-29 08:00 am
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Bad Beginnings by Nicole Field

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)
2017-05-22 08:00 am
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Children of the Different by S.C. Flynn

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)
2017-05-19 08:00 am

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

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)
2017-05-08 08:00 am

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

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.