Review: ‘The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky’ by Summer Heacock

A humorous novel about a cupcake shop owner with a physical ailment that’s kept her from having sex for two years, and the desperate antics that ensue as she tries to overcome it.

Having sex wasn’t a big priority while Kat Carmichael’s successful cupcake shop was taking off. But when she realizes that it’s been nearly two years since she and her boyfriend, Ryan, have been intimate, she makes a pact to break her dry spell-and cure her vaginismus, a muscular condition that can make sex physically impossible.

Out of guilt, Kat calls for a break in her relationship with Ryan, so that he can see other people while she attempts to fix the issue on her own. She throws herself into physical therapy, but soon discovers her solo mission is more complicated than she anticipated. Fortunately, Ben Cleary, the shop’s best (looking) customer, is also a physical therapist, and volunteers to help out.

As time goes on, however, the boundaries Ben and Kat have set between friendship and love quickly become blurred, leaving her more confused than ever about what to hang on to and what to let go.

I haven’t read a lot of chick lit before, so this book was a brilliant way to expose myself (har har) to the genre. It is hilariously funny, with a “what can go wrong probably will” vibe and a self-described Type A main character who doesn’t like to ask for help and regularly blurts out what she’s thinking and then regrets it later.

I love Kat. But I especially love her in the context of her friends/co-workers at the cupcake shop: feisty best friend Shannon, edible-glitter-obsessed bisexual Butter and shy bride-to-be Liz. The four of them are frequently bawdy and always frank with one another, and after Kat reveals her condition to the others in a truly giggle-worthy conversation, they band around to provide moral support and sex toys to help with her therapy.

The burgeoning relationship with Ben is adorable. He’s earnest and more than a little awkward, though he generally takes things with good humour. However, he’s not a doormat and when Kat crosses the line he isn’t afraid to tell her so. Despite everything, their romance is actually touching and sweeter than one of Butter’s cupcake recipes. I ship them so hard!

As for Ryan, I was prepared to hate him, as I assumed was traditional, but — although he’s not my type (or Kat’s, really) — he is good best friend material. It just takes both of them a while to figure that out.

Summer is great at setting up awkward situations and then letting the humour roll, but where she truly shines is in writing dialogue. Kat, Ben and Ryan are also all nerds, which warms my heart. This book is a great read for anyone who likes to laugh, isn’t too prudish, and wants to read about cupcakes all day.

It even comes with some of Butter’s recipes at the back, you guys. It’s basically perfect.

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Exploring Genre: Urban Fantasy

Today I’m over at Aussie Owned, talking urban fantasy. Because why settle for the real world when you can have more? :p

Aussie Writers

September’s theme is genre, so this month we’ll each be focusing on a different genre and highlighting what makes it great. Today I’m taking a look at my favourite genre to read (and write): urban fantasy.

“Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy in which the narrative has an urban setting. Works of urban fantasy are set primarily in the real world and contain aspects of fantasy, such as the arrival of alien races, the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence or conflict between humans and paranormal beings, and other changes to city life. A contemporary setting is not strictly necessary for a work of urban fantasy: works of the genre may also take place in futuristic and historical settings, real or imagined.”Wikipedia

As a reader, urban fantasy can be a tricky genre to love. That might sound like a strange thing to say, but it’s true — quite often I go into…

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Review: ‘Obsidian’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Starting over sucks.

When we moved to West Virginia right before my senior year, I’d pretty much resigned myself to thick accents, dodgy internet access, and a whole lot of boring… until I spotted my hot neighbor, with his looming height and eerie green eyes. Things were looking up.

And then he opened his mouth.

Daemon is infuriating. Arrogant. Stab-worthy. We do not get along. At all. But when a stranger attacks me and Daemon literally freezes time with a wave of his hand, well, something… unexpected happens. 

The hot alien living next door marks me.

You heard me. Alien. Turns out Daemon and his sister have a galaxy of enemies wanting to steal their abilities, and Daemon’s touch has me lit up like the Vegas Strip. The only way I’m getting out of this alive is by sticking close to Daemon until my alien mojo fades. 

If I don’t kill him first, that is.

This is the second Jennifer L. Armentrout book I’ve read; the first was Half-Blood, the review of which you can find here if you’re curious. I saw a review that described Obsidian as Twilight, redone with the leading lady given a dose of spine. And I can definitely see the comparison. It is, however, another paranormal romance — and anyone who read my last review will know they aren’t usually my cup of tea. Why do I do this to myself?

Okay, here we go

I really like Katy. She’s a book blogger who spends a lot of her time reading and reviewing books (which is obviously an awesome hobby to have! 😉 ) and the rest of her time looking after her workaholic nurse mother: cooking, doing groceries, cleaning. Oh, and perving at the hot neighbour.

The neighbour, sadly, is an awful human being (or, actually, not, which you’ll know if you’ve read the blurb).

For the record, I never went through the bad boy phase, and I don’t think I’ve ever been attracted to the moody and broody love interest type in a book. Daemon is, for me, no exception. He is instantly hostile to Katy, I guess because she’s getting human on his porch? He is rude, gets inside Katy’s personal space in a way I frequently found confronting, and is generally unlikeable.

He does have moments where he can be sweet, and, as a reader, it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that he’s trying to drive Katy away so she won’t befriend Daemon’s sister, Dee, and find out their secret (and that, later, he wants Katy away from him because he’s attracted to her and their love is forbidden etc etc). But that’s no excuse for his bad behaviour. And poor Dee a couple of times came across as a battered partner, apologising and cringing about her brother’s attitude. I felt so sad for her.

Now, to Katy’s credit, she doesn’t take Daemon’s crap. She admits to herself that she finds him hot and she lusts after him to her lady parts’ content, but she is more than happy to tell him what she thinks of him, and at no point does the off-the-charts tension between them cross over into (to me) inexplicable love. That fact alone is why I gave this book three stars — it is so unusual to find a paranormal romance where the leading lady doesn’t confuse lust for love, and is willing to say no to the pretty supernatural paramour when he finally caves in and deigns to be with her.

The story is fairly predictable. Katy gets herself in trouble on several occasions, and is saved by Daemon every time. (She does save him once too, which is nice.) The bad guys didn’t scare me as much as I’d hoped they would, probably because I didn’t really get their motivation. The writing is good (especially the kissing scenes), and the story ticks along fast enough that I wasn’t bored.

If you love paranormal romance, brooding-but-super-hot leading men, a heroine with a backbone, and some fairly serious sexual tension with very little follow-through, then this is the book for you.


Review: ‘RoseBlood’ by A. G. Howard

In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known.

This book broke my heart, you guys — and not in an “OMG, so many feels” way. No, it broke my heart in the sense that I wanted it to be so much more than what it was. I’m giving it two stars, which is “it’s okay” in the admittedly terse Goodreads star system. And it was okay. But I wanted it to be glorious.

I was a mad Phantom of the Opera fan in my teens. I haven’t read the original novel, but I have the Susan Kay novel and can sing the musical by heart. The idea of an urban fantasy inspired by the Phantom made me giddy with delight.

The first thing you need to know (and that I wish I’d known) is that, unlike Howard’s Splintered series, RoseBlood isn’t urban fantasy but its kissing cousin, paranormal romance. That means that the romance is the central focus of the plot, rather than a subplot. I’m not generally a huge fan of paranormal romance, for the same reason there aren’t too many pure romance stories that I enjoy. They just aren’t to my taste.

Secondly, RoseBlood uses the insta-love plot device via the mechanism of a soul mate — only in the book it’s referred to by the admittedly pretty phrase “twin flame”. The thing I didn’t find so pretty was that a twin flame was two people who shared a soul. Every time I ready about that, I cringed — not so much because of the cheesiness (although it is a tiny bit cheesy, let’s be honest) but because I couldn’t shake the mental image that the two parts of the soul were going to burst out of the two main characters in a spray of gore like baby monsters from Alien, desperate to be reunited.

(Sorry!)

Also, I found the romance more broadly a little problematic. Thorn, the male in the relationship, has all the knowledge and most of the power, and he regards the whole thing as preordained. At one point he tells Rune that they are destined to be lovers. He watches Rune sleep. Some (especially those who love Edward Cullen) will find this romantic, but I … did not.

Onto the things I did enjoy, the world is gloriously gothic. Rune’s school, RoseBlood, is all creepy props cupboards and chandeliers and secret passages behind one-way mirrors. It doesn’t have internet or cell phone access, increasing that very gothic sense of isolation. I loved the feel of it.

Just don’t ask why it’s called RoseBlood; we never find out, which is a shame.

I also enjoyed Rune’s aesthetic. She’s into handmade clothes and knitting, and has curly brown hair (something we don’t see that much of in spec-fic — I say this as a person with curly brown hair!). She does suffer from being a bit wet in the relationship stakes and doesn’t have the fire I prefer in my heroines, but I suspect that may be because Howard was trying to parallel Erik’s power over Christine in the original story.

Her friends are delightful and I wish they’d been in the book more. As for the Phantom himself, Erik is in the book, although as a largely off-screen menace and (occasionally) tragic figure. Still, in the love/hate balance I came down on the side of hate.

The paranormal element of the book is a little bizarre, but not the weirdest thing I’ve ever read in spec-fic. I won’t go into details, though, because I don’t want to include spoilers.

If you love paranormal romance, heavy gothic atmosphere, lush prose and Twilight, then RoseBlood is for you. If not, I’d suggest checking out the Splintered series instead.

 

 

 


Marriage Equality: a Non-Bookish Post

Before Isla’s Inheritance was released, when I was a wee baby writer (so, like, four years ago), I did a lot of reading on author promo. A lot of those articles talked about how you shouldn’t discuss controversial topics such as politics or religion, because you could offend potential readers and scare them away.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that’s a piece of advice I follow more in the breech than the observance, especially these days. The world gives me many feels, many of them ranty. But here on my blog, and on my Facebook author page, I have tended to maintain more of a bookish focus.

Today I’m changing that, just for a minute.

The background

#LoveOzYA rainbow

Those of you who are overseas might not be aware, but Australia (to our shame) has yet to legalise marriage equality. Same-sex couples can be recognised as being in a de facto relationship, the same way heterosexual couples can. But marriage confers additional rights to a spouse that a de facto partner isn’t entitled to, mostly around medical issues and death.

The fact we haven’t gotten it done here is due to a whole lot of reasons that boil down to a lack of intestinal fortitude on both side of politics — but, most recently, the extreme right-wing members of our right-wing government have orchestrated a new delaying tactic: a non-binding, voluntary postal survey to see what Australians think of the idea. Let me just repeat that, so you can really appreciate it for what it is. A NON-BINDING*. VOLUNTARY. POSTAL. SURVEY.

*Non-binding as in members of parliament can choose to ignore the results and vote however they want to.

The consequences

Opponents of such a survey have worried about the kind of campaigns the no vote folks will put out, and the effect that those will have on LGBTQI kids. The first of those ads, sponsored by a coalition of Christian organisations under the guise of “concerned mothers”, aired this week (before the government has gotten around to passing laws to ensure that the advertising around this campaign can’t be misleading or deceptive; best get on that, pollies!).

Unsurprisingly, the arguments put forward by the ad weren’t about why we shouldn’t give equal rights under the law to couples who choose to get married, regardless of what’s in their pants. They were the “thin edge of the wedge” argument: if we allow gays to marry, this will mean that schools will suddenly start educating our children in things we don’t approve of (presumably like empathy and kindness?).

You can read a brilliant deconstruction of the ad here.

The thing that infuriates and upsets me most about this particular ad are the implied judgements. That a kid who is trans and wants to wear a dress to school is somehow deviant (based on the assumption that a man who wants to be female is weak and wrong, with all the glorious sexism that entails). I feel awful for all the trans girls (and cis girls) who see and internalise that message.

The arguments

One thing I keep reading (when I read the comments, which, I know, is stupid) is that supporters of marriage equality don’t respect religious folks’ rights to equality and to speak their minds. But someone’s opinion that another person doesn’t deserve rights the first person has is not equal to the other’s opinion that they should be treated equally. One is about protecting privilege; the other is about asserting that a citizen of this country has the right to be treated fairly under the law, regardless of their sexual preference.

And people have the right to judge the first person’s exercise of free speech accordingly.

It’s also telling that the cases being made for the no vote are red herrings (horror at school programs promoting tolerance, defence of “free speech”, rejection of “political correctness”). The postal survey doesn’t ask about any of those things; it asks whether people of the same sex should be allowed to marry. But the truth — that some people are religiously or personally uncomfortable with the idea of gay people — is much harder to defend in a way that sways votes.

No one is saying that Christians or followers of any other faith have to marry someone of the same sex. No one is forcing them to officiate a gay wedding, or to attend one. They can regard marriage between a man and a woman as a holy sacrament till the end of days. But they don’t have the moral right to deny others access to the same legal rights under the law that they themselves enjoy. That is the height of arrogance and the definition of privilege.

And, frankly, I’ll never understand why some people are so desperate to interfere in the bedroom lives of other (consenting) adults.

The personal

I am a cisgendered middle-aged woman: I identify as the gender I was born with. My awareness of my sexuality has changed over time, from being unquestioningly heterosexual to recognition that I am at least a little bit bisexual. I mean, have you seen Kate McKinnon and Gal Gadot?! (I expect that will be a surprise to anyone in my family that reads this — hi, Mum!) I describe myself as “heterocurious”, generally.

Still, I don’t consider myself to have a direct vested interest in the outcome of the vote postal survey, because I can’t imagine a situation in my life where I’ll choose to remarry (to either a man or a woman). But, regardless, the result of the survey affects those I love. I have many same-sex attracted friends: gay, lesbian, bisexual and pansexual. I know polyamorous folks who have more than enough love to go around. One of the most amazing children I know is genderqueer (I am learning to say “they” as a singular personal pronoun, something my grammarian heart never thought I’d be able to adapt to). And I know an intersex person — one who was born with genitals that were neither male nor female.

All of these people are valid and almost all of them are potentially affected by the marriage equality vote (with the possible exception of the heterosexual parties to polyamorous relationships; if polygamy becomes legal in my lifetime I’ll be shocked). That makes it my fight.

The writing

Both of my book series have LGBT elements, although in neither case is it the main plotline, and the main characters in each case are straight. But the next book I write will be a F/F fantasy steampunk. So I guess this post will have served one purpose if it drives offended readers away from my books: I’ll have filtered them out before I released that book and earned a slew of bad reviews. #winning

Seriously, remember, Australian peeps:

VOTE YES!


Review: “Once Dead, Twice Shy” by Kim Harrison

My name is Madison Avery, and I’m here to tell you that there’s more out there than you can see, hear, or touch. Because I’m there. Seeing it. Touching it. Living it.

Madison’s prom was killer—literally. For some reason she’s been targeted by a dark reaper—yeah, that kind of reaper—intent on getting rid of her, body and soul. But before the reaper could finish the job, Madison was able to snag his strange, glowing amulet and get away.

Now she’s stuck on Earth—dead but not gone. Somehow the amulet gives her the illusion of a body, allowing her to toe the line between life and death. She still doesn’t know why the dark reaper is after her, but she’s not about to just sit around and let fate take its course.

With a little ingenuity, some light-bending, and the help of a light reaper (one of the good guys! Maybe…), her cute crush, and oh yeah, her guardian angel, Madison’s ready to take control of her own destiny once and for all, before it takes control of her.

Well, if she believed in that stuff.

I had high hopes for this book. I love Harrison’s The Hollows series (I reviewed the first book here if you want to see what that’s all about), and I was in the mood for some YA, so this seemed the perfect fit. It’s always a risk, going into a book with the bar set so high. And I did like it … but not as much as I wanted to.

The first chapter drops you in the middle of things to the point that I double-checked I hadn’t inadvertently bought the second book the series. It heavily references the events around prom night and Madison’s death (mentioned in the blurb), but in a “you should know this” way rather than a “here’s a drip feeding of backstory” way. I discovered when I looked at Goodreads afterwards that there is a short story in a previously published compilation, Prom Nights From Hell, which covered those events. Something to be aware of. I expect that, if you read the compilation first, the start of this book would be less discombobulating.

I didn’t mind Madison as a main character, though she felt a little underdone. Again, I think it was the lack of backstory. For example, one of the elements of character growth that became apparent by the end is that she realises she needs to forge a new life with her dad and stop rejecting new friends because they can’t compete with her best friend at her old school. But her only interaction with her old best friend was that she texted her selfies a couple of times, so I didn’t realise she was rejecting new friends etc till she decided not to do it anymore.

Still, Madison is a pastel goth who has skulls on her shoes and purple hair, and is an amateur photographer. I dug that, as well as her hard-headed determination to not be a damsel in distress.

Barnabas is the light reaper (think: specialised angel) who was meant to save Madison’s life and is now stuck with teaching her how to use the new powers she should be able to access by virtue of … not being dead, I guess? It’s unclear. He looks — and acts — like a broody seventeen year old boy. Ugh. The love interest, Josh, is actually seventeen, and is much more mature. Get it together, Barnabas.

Plot-wise, once I accepted that Madison had somehow managed to evade final death by swiping the amulet, the book wasn’t too bad. I guessed from the first description of the amulets what one of the plot twists was, which was kind of disappointing. But there was another one that I didn’t see coming, which meant the end of the book was more entertaining than the first half.

Once Dead, Twice Shy is a straightforward read that would suit a younger teen (especially one who has read the story that sets this book up!). I gather it’s the first book in a trilogy, but I’m not sure I’ll be reading any further. 


Book release: ‘False Awakening’ by … me (plus an excerpt and giveaway)

It’s here! It’s here! False Awakening, the second and final book in the Lucid Dreaming duology, releases today. The buzz of releasing a book never gets old, and I’m especially excited to be able to share this story with you as Melaina is my favourite leading lady so far (don’t tell Isla).  I’m going to miss the sound of her not-so-delicate footfalls as she stomps her way through my imagination. She’s left some big boots to fill.

Before we get to the excerpt-y goodies, I’m going to be self-indulgent and say a few thank yous. Feel free to scroll right on past if the sight of an author blubbering on screen bothers you. :p

Firstly, let me fire the party cannon for my excellent support team. Stacey Nash, Kim Last and Craig Lawrie, who read the drafts in various states and gave me valuable advice and encouragement—thank you. I adore you all. Group hugs! Also, thank you to my wonderful editor, Lauren Clarke, who has an eye for plot holes, asks all the hardest questions and spots even the tiniest errors. Seriously, you guys—she noticed that an apostrophe was the wrong font. An apostrophe. She is truly my people.

The cover is brought to you by the aforementioned Kim. She has done all my book covers to date; her eye for design and her talent for turning my bumbling suggestions into something beautiful leave me constantly in awe. If you’re in need of a cover designer, look up ‘KILA Designs’ on Facebook.

Thank you to my friends and family for putting up with my inattention and vacant looks, for letting me rant over Messenger, and for waving pompoms most enthusiastically: Mum, Dad, Kristy, Ali, Craig, Karen, Cassandra, the BC09 girls (especially Nicole, Isla’s biggest fan!) and the AOR girls.

And finally, as always, thank you to my son, Nathaniel. There is more laughter in my life when you are with me.


Summary from Goodreads

How can you fight your nightmares when they’re real?

Melaina, half-human dream therapist, just wants her life to return to normal. Yes, her Oneiroi father is in prison and, yes, the place she worked burned down, but she has a cute boyfriend and a new house. She beat the bad guy. She’s earned a break. Right?

Unfortunately for Melaina, people are still getting possessed by nightmare spirits; the police are investigating her past; and the bad guy’s brother, the Morpheus himself, is coming to town to demand answers. When a deranged ex-nurse checks himself out of hospital on the same day her cousin runs away from home, Melaina is dragged into a fight not just for her life but for her soul.

Add on Goodreads

Buy links

Ebook

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Australia
Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Paperback

Createspace | Amazon (coming soon)

Giveaway

Enter for a chance to win:

* A $20 Amazon gift card
* One of five ebooks of Lucid Dreaming (book one)

 Click here to enter!


Excerpt

Leander studied me from the other side of the trolley. I could see the shadows of fatigue under his eyes, which shocked me. Leander never looked tired. Cocky and self-assured? Yes. But tired? No. Not even when Ikelos had bound him with barbed wire. Despite his relaxed manner, increasing the hold of Daniel’s memory over the dream and destroying so many blights was draining him. And he was too proud to admit it.

I clenched my jaw and took a breath. I’d wanted to look for matches and maybe some reams of paper, but we didn’t have time. Another blight was about to hatch. “Alright.” I pulled several packets of nails down and tossed them onto the top of the trolley with a sick feeling. I’d seen enough news stories to know real-world lunatics packed their bombs with shards, to cause additional damage. “Can you get this up there, and then explode it?” I glanced at the nails. “From a d—”

The floor erupted beneath us.

Tentacles, each as thick as one of Leander’s well-muscled thighs, smashed through the floor. The blight hadn’t been as helpless as I’d assumed … and corruption hadn’t been the only thing it had been spreading. My cheek burned as a shard of floor tile sliced it, blood welling. The trolley tipped and I ignored the pain, lunging forward to steady it before its contents spilled into the sticky darkness below. Leander leaned over and gripped the frame, placing one hand on either side, his fingers brushing against mine as I let go. His grim gaze held mine for a moment, and then his wings pumped. Air washed over me as he lifted the overstuffed trolley into the air, towards the central body mass of the blight.

For a second I felt relief as he carried the improvised bomb above the thrashing tentacles. Then one of those tentacles slid around my waist, barbs as long as my palm tearing through the scorched armour of my motorcycle leathers. I gasped and prised at them with bare hands, trying to wiggle free but succeeding only in cutting my palms. Above me, the muscles in Leander’s back worked as he strained to haul the trolley upwards, ignoring the now-free baby blight buzzing around him like an oversized mosquito. He was dragging the bomb up there with brute force. Pain caused my vision to blur, but not before I realised he was going to ignite the trolley’s contents while he was holding it. The damned fool Oneiroi had no idea what would happen.

The tentacle dragged me towards the jagged hole in the floor. I didn’t look down, not wanting to see what awaited me. The wet smacking sound and the putrid smell were bad enough. Sweat beaded on my brow and I set my jaw against the pain, blinking to clear my vision, staring up at Leander.

He drove the end of the trolley into the breeder blight’s wet mass, leaning against the handle to brace it there as he conjured a spark in one hand.

The spark descended towards the makeshift bomb.

I cried out, using the last of my energy to fling a shield, a wall of force, between Leander and the trolley.

Fire and exploding chunks of meat raining down around me. My vision blackened, and I tumbled out of the dream.

For another excerpt, see this post from May.