Short reviews

The Empty Rooftop by Lily Macpherson – (Netgalley ebook review copy) Anya is a consultant with the FBI tracking a serial killer; Tommi is a race car driver. There was such a tonal mismatch between the scenes from Anya’s POV (bleak, depressing, everything is awful for everyone she knows) and those from Tommi’s POV, of which there weren’t many. I think it would have been better all told from one POV. Also, I didn’t really see what the characters saw in each other and it took me a long time to be convinced by the relationship. Just, not for me.

Craving Flight by Tamsin Parker – So not for me. I found the idea of the story of an Orthodox Jewish woman exploring BDSM with her new husband interesting but this just didn’t quite work for me. There were many interesting elements and the picture of orthodox Jewish life in a suburb of New York was quite vivid. There were enough details to really understand the main character’s desire. Unfortunately, I was less convinced by the love story and I started skimming the sex scenes about half way through because there were so many. I’m not particularly interested in BDSM in the first place so authors have to work hard to make it interesting for me; too many or too similar sex scenes start to bore me, and I’m not super into being stuck in the point of view of a submissive character the whole time either (it can be interesting at first but after a while starts to make me feel claustrophobic).

Worth the read to see why everyone was talking about it but deeply not for me.

Review: Rough Road

Rough Road by Vanessa North
Acquired how: ebook ARC via Netgalley

Eddie is a wealthy flirt in his 40s. Wish is the 20-something road worker Eddie meets after a car accident. They find sexual compatibility fast, but figuring out how to fit into each other’s lives takes longer.

For a while it felt like everyone was talking about this book (and they may well still be). This was an absolutely charming book – not too long but not too short, either. The BDSM was well integrated into the story, showing what both Eddie and Wish got from sadomasochism and how it affected them, without expecting readers to be already fluent in BDSM, or letting the sex scenes take over the plot. Instead, the sex was well integrated into the story. It was definitely important for the characters and their relationship to show the kind of sex they have and how physically compatible they are, but the author didn’t let the sex be the only way the relationship was developed.

I loved that the conflict in the book wasn’t all about misunderstandings. While there was a bit of that (as there must inevitably be in most romance fiction), a lot of the conflict was about problems that can’t be immediately solved by talking. The characters had to search within themselves to decide what compromises they would make for the relationship and whether that would be worth it for them. Eddie had to change his habits to prove to Wish that he prioritised him. Wish had to decide to change his behaviour to deal with arguments more constructively. Both had to assess what was meaningful to them, not just in the relationship but in their lives in general.

This wasn’t just a book about two characters who are drawn to each other by physical attraction and sexual compatibility. It was a book about two men making room for each other in their lives.

Another thing I loved was that the big conflict between Eddie and Wish didn’t happen too late in the story. Plenty of times in romance fiction I get to about 85% of the way through and start to worry about what contrivance the author will use to break the characters up one last time. Not in this one. The characters deal with smaller and bigger issues in their relationship until at a point where it’s threatened by their fears – and then that is resolved in one chapter, so they can spend the rest of the book working on and enjoying their relationship. It’s a mature, adult way of navigating a relationship and I found that a joy to read. The problems they deal with are real and important, but not overwrought.

I was charmed by this book and the romance at the heart of it.

In Tune: Music they listen to

A break from your regularly scheduled review programming…

 

My book, The Rhinoceros Conspiracy Live, is about a band and I thought it would be fun to think about the kinds of music the main characters listen to.

Uri tries to only listen to music released in and around the year he was born. So Nirvana’s Nevermind, Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 2Pacalypse Now, a bit of Smashing Pumpkins, and a little bit of Enya.

Zepp would tell you he listens to Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stones, because after all like most all-male indie bands they started out inspired by 70s white man music, but secretly he’s been listening to Taylor Swift’s 1989 and Carly Rae Jepsen’s E.mo.tion on repeat for months.

Joe listens to Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence album pretty much constantly. He also really does listen to the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, and Stevie Wonder, as well as having a fondness for old school blues and early rock.

Wesley listens to whatever is on the radio because he likes everything.

Short reviews

Not That Easy by Radhika Sanghani – (Netgalley ebook review copy) Did Not Finish. I liked the idea of a story about an intern who decides to try out casual hook ups facilitated by dating apps and gets roped into writing a column about it, but the actual attempts at hooking up veered into grotesque and a little gross, rather than funny.

My Name Is Meledandri (Vampire City book one) by Mariana Lewis – I’m not entirely sure what to make of this one. A vampire in a city plagued by monsters sleeps around and gets a crush on a slayer. It’s weird but funny and compulsively readable. Unfortunately it also ends on a cliff-hanger. For all I know it’s part of a serial but if so I didn’t know that when I bought it.

Review: Fall and Rising

Fall and Rising by Sunny Moraine
Acquired how: ebook via netgalley

This is not a romance, though there are love story elements within it (not all the relationships within have happy endings, either). Instead this is space opera. I have the sort of both extraordinarily high and extraordinarily low standards in science fiction that only come with a lifetime of reading it. So, I can say that this didn’t push many of my narrative buttons, and I didn’t get into it quickly, and also say that I believe a lot of people will find this very enjoyable.

Adam and Lochlan are lovers on the run. In trying to look for a cure for the illness killing his people, the Protectorate, Adam has been cast and treated as a traitor by the very population he’s trying to save. Meanwhile, Lochlan is a member of the Bideshi, a different people who seem to be at conflict with the Protectorate. While they are running from various disasters and conflicts, both within and without their relationship, a third person – Nkikura, a spiritually gifted member of the Bideshi – must choose between staying with her lover and choosing to be a spiritual leader to her people.

There was plenty of action in this book, and a lot of characters to allow the reader to see different viewpoints on the central conflicts. Mysticism and the connections between communities are also key themes. I think if you’re interested in a more spiritually-influenced space opera, that puts the fantasy in science fantasy, then you will probably enjoy this.

Review: Gatekeepers & Dreamweavers

Gatekeepers & Dreamweavers by Helena Maeve
Acquired how: ebook via netgalley

Simon is a runaway, Lucas is a witch finder, and Irene is a witch.

This was delightful! The first poly romance I’ve read (I know people call them ménage romances, but that seems like reducing an entire sub-genre to sex acts) and I was transfixed start to finish. I didn’t expect there to be so much plot or to be so drawn in by the characters, but I was and I really enjoyed it.

I appreciated the way the characterisation evolved as the characters grew to know each other. The writing is nicely descriptive and paints a richly textured world. There is a wonderful sense of place that I often find lacking in fiction these days, and you really get a good sense of what the woods and the town are like. There were a few moments where I found descriptions of the action a little confusing, but for the most part the writing was clear and absorbing.

I also liked the commentary on abuses of power and sexism. Well recommended!

(To be released in November 2015.)

Review: Witches & Wolves

Witches & Wolves by Kelly D Smith
Acquired how: ebook via netgalley

This is a short book – only about 11k words – but cute. A lot cuter than I was expecting given the subject matter! Tory is a witch who lives in the woods; Gee is a new werewolf who turns up on her doorstep. With the help of Tory’s ex-boyfriend, Jake – also a werewolf – Tory encourages Gee to come to terms with her new life and helps her fight off a hunter.

There’s four chapters in the story and it’s somewhat episodic. There are some dark elements but the story runs at the cuter end of the scale. The characters bond over pancakes. While it’s only a Happy For Now ending, given the characters have only known each other a little while and plan to get to know each other better, I liked where the story went. I wouldn’t have minded a bit more depth of description but I understand there’s only so much you can do in a story that length. There’s also some clumsiness in the language but I think that’s down to the author’s youth (and believe me, in this glass house, I am throwing no stones).

Cute! It didn’t rock my world but I look forward to see how the author evolves from there.

Review: The Sea Wife

The Sea Wife by Naomi Clark
Acquired how: bought ebook

Charley is a masters student and Nessa is a selkie.  They’ve been seeing each other for some time when somebody steals Nessa’s skin.

This is an utterly charming story. It’s short – only six chapters – but that’s just long enough to show the warmth and affection between the two women at the centre of the story. The description is lush and you can practically smell the sea air while reading it. Because it’s an established relationship story, the characters are freed up to do things other than just brood on their relationship and the story is all the better for it (and it makes what brooding on their relationship there is feel that much more earned).

Very much recommended.

Review: Lovers and Fighters

Lovers and Fighters by Nash Summers

Acquired how: bought ebook

Scott is a stuffy curator at a museum still desperately trying to be the man his parents want him to be; Julian is the delinquent brother of one of his friends. When they meet sparks fly

I bought this because the cover is gorgeous. I admit it. The problem with that is that a gorgeous cover doesn’t mean a book is right for me at all.

I liked the prose in the beginning of the book, in part because I assumed the writing was gently making fun of the main character. As I read on, I realised it was not, and it was a very different kind of book than I’d been expecting. Perhaps this accounts for why it didn’t work for me? However, my main problem with the romance, really, was that the characters didn’t seem to talk to each other when it counted and I wasn’t convinced they were actually any good for each other. Nor was I convinced they were necessarily bad for each other – they were just sort of there, existing in the same space. I understood what drew them to each other but the lack of communication toward the end soured me on the idea that they could ever really make it work.

I think perhaps the book needed to be longer. I think if the author had gone a bit more in depth with the characters and had them interact more after the halfway point I could have been convinced. As it was, the book was just not for me. There’s a lot of drama so I probably would have loved something like this twenty years ago – and there’s definitely an audience for this book. I just didn’t like the characters and all the drama without attempts at mature conversation was too much for me. But it’s probably the dark, angsty book of someone’s dreams.

Short romance reviews

Hot Head by Damon Suede – I read it because it’s pretty much a classic in the subgenre of m/m romance, but it’s one of those cases where it’s just a mismatch between book and reader. I gave it two stars on goodreads which I almost feel bad about it because it’s not like there’s anything wrong with it. I just don’t really like it. The bits that work for other people didn’t really work for me (even as I could see why it caught on) and I skim-read pretty much everything after the two main characters got together. I may just be allergic to the writer’s prose style, the same way I am with Annie Proulx. I did like that one kissing scene in the locker room, though.

Her Most Secret Affair by Jesalin Creswell – I’m not sure this isn’t actually terrible? But I enjoyed it. It’s ridiculous! The madame of a very swish Victorian-era brothel falls for the new hire, so in addition to the lesbian romance, there’s also a lot of m/f sex scenes described and it’s kind of porny. The whole scenario is straight into the erotic romance id vortex, I think. But fun! Also, short. I was drawn in by the gorgeous cover and I have no regrets about buying it.

Muscling Through by JL Merrow – This is pretty much just adorable. It’s your classic lower-class British thug and upper-crust Oxbridge grad opposites attract pairing, not super long, and a very easy read.

Glitterland by Alexis Hall – I wasn’t sure I would like this at first. It’s not just that the main character was a little pretentious, it was that the prose seemed to also be so. But I persevered and once I got into it I was charmed. Darian was all charm and I loved watching Ash fall for him. I also liked the depiction of mental illness; for once all the overwrought feelings that come at the more dramatic end of the romance novel scale made sense, because Ash was already so off-kilter. The book didn’t excuse his bad behaviour, even if the self-loathing engendered by his bipolar disorder explained it, and it made sense that someone who struggles with the black dog would struggle so in the wake of a break up.