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

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

Rift Riders, Becca Lusher, Wingborn, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea.

Published: Self-published in March 2017
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Wingborn #2
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Author
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~Kobo ~ Smashwords

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

On a world cursed to be covered in clouds, protected by the elite Rift Riders who fly on the backs of giant eagle miryhls, Lady Mhysra Kilpapan and her friends are making history. Women are now firmly back within the Rider fold and the future looks bright.

But even though Mhysra and her Wingborn Cumulo have survived their first year as students, there’s more to becoming a Rift Rider than lessons and training. Especially when trouble is brewing in the Wrathlen and the kaz-naghkt are looking for revenge.

Return to the Overworld for the next exciting Wingborn adventure, where strength, loyalty, honour and friendship are about to tested to their limits and beyond.

I am a huge fan of the Wingborn series. What’s not to love about a magical Regency-influenced society where the military ride giant eagles? Wingborn did an excellent job of setting up that society: showing the bond between rider and eagle, as well as the expectations the upper class have of their children.

Rift Riders takes that and shakes it up. Now that the world has been established, a serious threat steps forward. Yullik, a man with mysterious powers, manages to unite the pirate captains of Wrathlen for the first time in history. Allied with savage draconoids, the kaz-naghkt, they may prove unstoppable–even for the Rift Riders. This new threat builds great tension and raises the stakes. It also makes Rift Riders quite a different book to its predecessor. The more domestic aspects of the story, such as society life and the Kilpapan family dynamics, are left behind in favour of a more traditional epic fantasy narrative.

While this was slightly disappointing, the transition works well, with Rift Riders becoming more of an ensemble piece. Mhysra remains an important part of the narrative, but her friends get a greater share of the spotlight, with a few stepping forward to become point-of-view characters. This enables us to see more of what’s going on, particularly when battles break out on several fronts.

The relationships between these characters remain a strength of the story. The groundwork for a few romances was laid in the previous book, but this are dialled back or absent entirely. Instead, the focus is on friendship and duty. Mhysra and her friends do their best to support each other as they struggle to survive and defend the realm. The banter between them is never entirely absent, lightening what could otherwise be quite a grim story. Nor is this friendly teasing limited to the students–Lieutenants Lyrai and Stirla are equally as bad.

Managing such a cast of characters can be a handful, but the story does an excellent job of reintroducing everyone in the beginning. It does so through a tight action sequence which handles both aerial and ground-based combat in a way that sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

All in all, Rift Riders was a delight to read. With at least one more novel to come, and with the shift of tone between books, I’m curious to see what is in store for the remainder of the series.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Bad Beginnings, Nicole Field, Less Than Three Press, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: May 2017 by Less Than Three Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Anchors #2
Genres: Contemporary romance, LGBTQIA
Source: NetGalley
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

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

After the recent ending of a relationship, Kit feels lost and uncertain about where he stands without being in a relationship. Dante, on the other hand, has been waiting for this moment for years, and now that Kit is finally single he has no intention of wasting this chance.

But even the most sincere feelings and best intentions aren’t enough to guarantee happiness, and it’s a long road from a bad start to a happy end.

Bad Beginnings is a sweet romance that does a fantastic job of modelling respectful behaviour in a number of different ways.

It’s a friends-to-lovers story. Kit is a lawyer who has started a private practice with his best friend. Having recently split up with his boyfriend, he’s beginning to realise how claustrophobic his life has become: it’s all work and no play. While he’s not exactly happy about this and yearns for the steady relationship his best friend has, Kit is not the outgoing sort. The end of his relationship was a blow to his already low confidence. He’s uncomfortable in his own skin and he’s a bit embarrassed when Dante finds him at the gay nightclub he’s been pushed into visiting.

Dante is the brother of Kit’s best friend and has all the confidence Kit lacks. He runs his own tabletop gaming store, which automatically made him my favourite. He’s also great with people, a caring and considerate guy who tries to help others. When he discovers Kit is single again, he’s thrilled–and he makes his interest plain–but he also never pushes Kit. At every turn, he seeks Kit’s consent and backs off when it isn’t given or is withdrawn.

Consent is not the only way in which the book models respectful behaviour. Kit’s BFF, Con, is a trans man. This is not looked upon favourably by Con and Dante’s parents, who persistently misgender and deadname Con. However, this is never shown on screen. Whenever it takes place within a scene, the author is careful to paraphrase rather than trigger readers by depicting it directly.

Sex is also not depicted directly, so if you like your romances sweet rather than steamy, Bad Beginnings is a good choice.

The relationship between Kit and Dante is the biggest strength of the book and is let down by a weak crisis point. When Kit loses a work case, it triggers a crisis of confidence. However, it’s a sub-plot that never had much strength behind it. It’s a little too vague how Kit managed to lose the case and not entirely plausible that he’s never lost up until that point–particularly since the business has been running long enough to have two employees other than Kit and Con. Kit displaces his feelings of inadequacy by starting an argument with Dante. While this works, the resolution between them came a little too quickly. Instead of seeing Kit wrestle much with what he’s done, we jump back in after he’s already got his life pretty well put back together. It felt a little glossed over, with the story all too eager to focus on the next obstacle of Dante’s parents. The book could have benefited from a bit more length.

Nevertheless, Bad Beginnings was a charming read. I’m delighted to discover that Con’s story is told in the first book, so I will definitely be checking that out.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Children of the Different, S.C. Flynn, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: September 2016 by The Hive
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Dystopian YA, speculative fiction
Source: Author
Available:Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

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

Nineteen years ago, a brain disease known as the Great Madness killed most of the world’s population. The survivors all had something different about their minds. Now, at the start of adolescence, their children enter a trance-like state known as the Changeland and emerge either with special mental powers or as cannibalistic Ferals.

In the great forest of South West Western Australia, thirteen-year-old Arika and her twin brother Narrah go through the Changeland. They encounter an enemy known as the Anteater who feeds on human life. He exists both in the Changeland and in the outside world, and he wants the twins dead.

After their Changings, the twins have powers that let them fight their enemy and face their destiny on a long journey to an abandoned American military base on the north-west coast of Australia–if they can reach it before time runs out.

Children of the Different is a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel set among the varied landscapes and wildlife of Western Australia.

I’m always keen for SFF set in Australian landscapes, so I had high hopes for Children of the Different. Unfortunately, I found it somewhat disappointing.

The surreal aspects of the story was one of the strengths of this book. It is set in both the real world and the Changeland, a kind of dreamscape. I enjoyed the diversity of the scenery within the Changeland, which ranges from desert, to caverns, to road tunnels.These scenes are mutable in the manner of dreams, changing with little warning. However, as with dreams, there’s always a sense of underlying rules and logic.

Each teenager who passes through the Changeland emerges with special abilities. I particularly enjoyed how these manifested in Arika. It struck me as a bit unusual and watching these transformations from her perspective was very effective. I also appreciated that the use of her abilities came at a price, though this was something that could have been given a bit more weight.

The story did become repetitive at times, retreading old ground as first one twin, then the other is captured by the various parties seeking them. Despite this mirroring, it seemed to me that Arika was often a more passive character than her brother. She is the first to be captured and prevented from rescuing her brother. She is unable to resist her captors in the way that Narrah does and must literally go with the flow. This seemed more or less a trend with all the female characters. who were generally outnumbered and (with the exception of Arika and Toura) don’t really seem to do much.

There was also other questionable representation. I was disappointed to discover the only explicitly Aboriginal character had a history of drug and alcohol abuse.

The romance elements were completely unnecessary and felt tacked on. Although this part of the plot had been foreshadowed to some degree, this foreshadowing lacked emotional engagement and was therefore ineffective.

Overall, Children of the Different had some interesting ideas but was ultimately let down in its execution.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Queens of Geek, Jen Wilde, contemporary YA, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea.

Published: March 2017 by Swoon Reads
Format reviewed: Paperback, 288 pages
Genres: Contemporary YA
Source: Publisher
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available:Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

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

When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know its going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.

Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans shes over her public breakup with co-star, Reese Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlies long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie, no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

I loved Queens of Geek. I read the whole thing in an afternoon and I’ll be shoving it into the hands of friends as soon as I’ve finished writing this review.

The book is written in first person, alternating between the perspectives of Charlie and Taylor, the two main characters. Charlie is a rising star with a popular YouTube vlog. She also recently starred in an indie movie that was a hit with audiences. She’s very much in the public eye and she’s come to SupaCon at the behest of the film studio to promote the movie and the sequel. However, neither she nor her agent have much influence in the industry and so even though Charlie’s friends have come along for moral support, they’re unable to get VIP passes and are separated from Charlie early on in the story.

This gives space for Taylor’s side of the story to develop. Taylor is an Aspie with social anxiety. Coming all the way to America for a big convention is a huge step outside her comfort zone. But she’s determined to meet her favourite movie star, and her best friend Jamie is there looking out for her. I loved the relationship between these two. It’s clear from the start that Jamie cares about Taylor by all the small things he does to ease her way and to check on her. When she inevitably has a meltdown, he never pushes, but gives her the space she needs, often without her even having to ask for it. I also loved that he is as much of a geek as she is. They talk in movie quotes and his own interest in comics is present alongside her love for fandom. It was refreshing to see a relationship portrayed between geeks instead of between a geek and an outsider or from an outsider’s perspective of geekdom.

The book touches on a lot of different issues. While Taylor is negotiating the challenges presented by her social anxiety, Charlie is dealing with sexism in the entertainment industry and the division (or lack of it) between her public and private lives. And the story also touches on bisexual erasure, when Charlie’s ex declares he doesn’t believe bisexuals exist. The presentation and resolution of these issues isn’t always the most subtle; like most fangirls, this book wears its heart on its sleeve.

It also constantly shows examples of women supporting each other. Even when things are falling apart for Charlie, she’s always there for Taylor’s big moments or whenever Taylor needs a friend. Likewise, even when Taylor is competing against other women, it never stops her from holding out a hand in friendship–especially when its needed. And this support is also demonstrated over and over again by minor characters.

Queens of Geek made me so happy and I’d love to see more stories like it.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

Finnikin of the Rock, Melina Marchetta, The Lumatere Chronicles, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books, books and tea

Published: September 2008 by Viking Australia
Format reviewed: Trade Paperback, 416 pages
Series: Lumatere Chronicles #1
Genres: Young adult, fantasy
Source: Secondhand book shop
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

Finnikin of the Rock and his guardian, Sir Topher, have not been home to their beloved Lumatere for ten years. Not since the dark days when the royal family was murdered and the kingdom put under a terrible curse. But then Finnikin is summoned to meet Evanjalin, a young woman with an incredible claim: the heir to the throne of Lumatere, Prince Balthazar, is alive.

Evanjalin is determined to return home and she is the only one who can lead them to the heir. As they journey together, Finnikin is affected by her arrogance . . . and her hope. He begins to believe he will see his childhood friend, Prince Balthazar, again. And that their cursed people will be able to enter Lumatere and be reunited with those trapped inside. He even believes he will find his imprisoned father.

But Evanjalin is not what she seems. And the truth will test not only Finnikin’s faith in her . . . but in himself.

Melina Marchetta made a huge impact on Australian literature with her contemporary YA novel Looking for Alibrandi. More than a decade later, she made her debut into fantasy with Finnikin of the Rock. Reflecting this path, the book comes across as patchy, showing Marchetta’s experience as a writer in some places, while showing the flaws of a debut author in others.

Finnikin of the Rock shares some thematic concerns with Looking for Alibrandi. Both are concerned with identity and the experience of immigrants. However, while Looking for Alibrandi is concerned with an individual, first-generation Australian looking to negotiate between the different cultures she belongs to, Finnikin of the Rock is more concerned with nationhood and the plight of refugees. When the story begins, the nation of Lumatere is under a curse. A significant portion of its citizens were magically expelled from the kingdom, which has also been sealed off from the rest of the world. Attempts to enter the kingdom have resulted in death. Finnikin has long since given up hope of returning. Instead, he has concentrated his efforts on securing land for the refugees in order to establish a new home for them.

Marchetta doesn’t shy away from showing the plight of the refugees. Many camps are squalid and plagued with illness. There have been massacres and while the nobility are tolerated in other countries, the majority are shunned. Through Finnikin, the reader is encouraged to identify with them and sympathise with their desire for a place of safety, for a home.

Finnikin is an understandably angry character at the start of the book. Futile negotiations with foreign kingdoms on behalf of his people have left him despairing, though he never gives up. Marchetta shows her strengths as a writer in this complex character, gradually bringing him back to hope but in a way that brings him little comfort.

Evanjeline is less complex, but no less interesting. Her purpose is intentionally quite obvious from early on and she causes Finnikin no end of grief–particularly when she completely disregards his orders. I appreciated her strength of character and the tension between her purpose and her relationship with Finnikin. There is an inversion of power dynamics that grants her agency and keeps Finnikin on the back foot, reacting more than acting. In some respects, the book is more Evanjeline’s story than Finnikin’s.

Although the story was compelling, the pacing was also a bit slow. At one point, Finnikin is literally forced to backtrack in order to advance his relationship with Evanjeline in a manner that felt contrived and quickly undermined.

This is also a book concerned with violence against women. This primarily manifests within the kingdom of Lumatere itself, where the usurper and his forces prey on the (mostly young) women of the kingdom. There is also an attempted rape against Evanjalin. While these elements contributed to the bleakness of the story, they felt unnecessary. Perhaps the threat to the women of the kingdom was intended to show the ways in which people are kept oppressed and vulnerable. However, it came across a shortcut way to express the evil of the current rulers of Lumatere.

One other element I appreciated about the story was the presence of religion. It’s rare to see the inclusion of religion in fantasy in a way that is generally positive and contributed to the plot.

Overall, I found Finnikin of the Rock a promising debut, despite some flaws.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This story is for anyone whos ever felt invisible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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