‘Rheia’ — an excerpt (and a revised release date)

In case you missed it, my ancient world fantasy novel, Rheia, comes out later in 2018. I had announced the release date as 29 September, but — as it happens — an anthology in which I have a story is having its launch party that exact same day. That being the case, I’ve decided to push Rheia’s release date back two weeks, to Saturday 13 October. Apologies to anyone that is disappointed about this, but I wasn’t really keen on trying to wrangle two book birthdays at once!

Now, onto the excerpt. 🙂 The world in which the kingdom of Oreareus exists is inspired by Ancient Greece, and a lot of the terms I use throughout the story come from that time in history. Hopefully the meaning of the various terms in the excerpt I’ve included here are clear from the context. However, just in case, I’ve included the relevant definitions from the glossary (I wrote a book with a glossary, you guys — I always wanted to do that!). You can find them at the bottom of this post.


Every year, Rheia’s father brought home four prisoners of war, sacrifices to keep the demon Typhein bound. Rheia never gave them much thought … until her father’s enemy made her one of them. Now she has two weeks to find a way to escape death at the hands of the Beast and either save her people or condemn them to destruction.

The last thing Rheia expected was to fall in love with the Beast oath-bound to kill her.

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Rheia — an excerpt

Rheia waited, fidgeting, until the herbalist finished tying off the bundle of fennel and counting out her change. Then she tucked the herbs into her basket and followed her brother, head down so as not to attract attention: an unwed, unaccompanied woman. She would kill Aias if his running off resulted in any slight against her name. She swallowed and adjusted her veil, making sure her hair was completely covered.

She found Aias standing in the deep shadows beneath the statue. He couldn’t see into the temple from there, wedged as he was between one huge sandalled foot and an outer pillar, adjacent to the shadowed porch, but his head was cocked as he listened, eyes wide as wine cups. “You just wait until I tell Mammidon about this,” she hissed.

“Shh,” Aias whispered, raking her with a contemptuous gaze. “I’m listening.”

“And if the priests see you out here, lurking like a thief, what will they say?” She grabbed his arm and tried to pull him away, but he eeled from her grip and stepped closer to the entrance. If she tried to grab him again, he might stumble backward, out into the bright sunshine where he would be much more obvious. Grinding her jaw with frustration, she glared at him.

He glared back, head tilted upward to meet her gaze. “Rheia, something is going on. They are stirred up like an ants’ nest. Don’t you want to know why?”

“No,” she whispered, shaking her head emphatically. And she didn’t. She wanted to browse the trinkets at Phidias’s stall, see if he knew her name, see whether Galen was lurking out the back somewhere and might come over to see her.

But she couldn’t do so without Aias. “All right,” she said with a sigh, crossing her arms and looking away towards the harbour as though she was merely taking a moment to shade herself from the hot sun. “One minute.”

Resolved not to listen to the voices inside the great building, Rheia studied the mason’s mark hidden at the statue’s heel as though it were the most interesting thing in the world. She had heard of Myron, even though he’d died when her grandmother was a baby; the huge statue had been his last great work. But a babble of raised voices as they passed close by the inside doorway caught her ear: the words thysia and offering louder than the rest, as the speaker emphasised a point. They fell away, and she wondered what had happened to cause such consternation. Had the helot girl tried to escape again? Had she been successful this time? There would be a city-wide manhunt to find her if it were true. A surge of sympathy for the girl made her purse her lips. How awful it would be, to know you would be dead when next the moon was full.

Aias’s fingers digging into Rheia’s arm brought her back to herself. “Rheia,” he whispered, the sound sharp with fear. “Let’s go.”

“Finally,” she muttered, glancing up and down the street for watching eyes before hurrying him away from the temple, her hand at the small of his back so he couldn’t dart off again. But when she tried to stop at the goatherder’s stall to buy a pottery jar of milk, he dragged her on, out of the agora. “Aias, stop! Wait!”

“You heard what they said.” He shook his head, curls bouncing emphatically as he hauled her along the street, almost at a run. “We have to get home. Father will know more.”

Rheia’s heart felt strange in her chest, anxiety making it flutter. “More about what? I was trying not to listen. As you should have been.”

Her little brother stopped, staring up at her with his mouth ajar. Then he pulled her by the hand into a quiet alley, away from the bustling traffic of the main street. “One of the helots is dead,” he whispered, eyes glittering with excitement. “One of the girls. Suicide, they say.”

Rheia’s eyes widened as she stared at her brother. The flutter in her chest expanded to swallow her belly. “But what will happen now? It’s only two weeks until the festival. The offering!”

“That’s what they were arguing about. One of the priests thought the triremes would be sent back out, while the other said it was too late. Father will know; if the ships are to be sent, he will captain the fleet. Come on. Before he leaves!”

Rheia let Aias drag her up the hill towards their villa, her mind whirling with the implications. The Broken Ones were meant to have the thysies for a full ten days before the ritual. Something about cleansing rituals. But that would only give the triremes three days to get to the helot lands and back again. Would it be enough?

And if not, what was the alternative?


A mini-glossary

agora – a combination of a marketplace and a central point where citizens can meet and discuss important issues

helot – slave; used to describe the subdued peoples across the sea

mammidon – a term of endearment meaning mother

thysia (plural thysies) – a sacrifice or offering

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Review: ‘Bitter Truth’ by Lauren K. McKellar

Book #2 in the Twisted Hearts duet

You can run, you can hide, but the truth will always find you.

Everly Jenkins knows darkness — but that doesn’t stop her living life to the max. Not until she meets Cameron Lewis, the tragic reminder of her past that she just can’t seem to shake.

Being “just friends” with a man who sends her soul flying and her body up in flames is near impossible — until her secrets come out, leaving her alone.

Will the darkness overcome her once again? Or will Everly fight for the man she loves and help him face the bitter truth?

I’m going to keep this review as spoiler-free as I can, which means being cryptic (and therefore fairly brief).

The first thing you need to know is that you really shouldn’t start with the second book in this series. You’ll be hella confused, and miss all of the good feels in the first book, which I reviewed here. That being said, the first third or so of Bitter Truth covers the same events as in Honest Love, but from Everly’s perspective. I really enjoyed this part of the book, with its glimpses into what Everly’s deal really is.

I enjoy Everly as a character. She’s gone through some pretty dark times and come out the other side with the willingness to fight, not just for herself but for Cameron and what he wants more than anything else as well — custody of his baby girl, Piper. She fights for him when he doesn’t even want to see her, and frankly I’m glad this part of the story was from her perspective rather than his, because I found his slump at the start of Bitter Truth a little frustrating (if understandable).

Lauren K. McKellar does what she describes as “romance with feels”, and one of the things that has made her an auto-buy for me is that her books never feel predictable even while they stay true to the romance genre (which can be rather formulaic). There was one moment in Bitter Truth where I was absolutely certain I knew what was going to happen next. I really struggle with super-cringeworthy moments in fiction (you know, the ones where you want to hide your face so you don’t die of secondary embarrassment), and I thought this was going to be one of them — so much so that I had to put the book down and gather myself in order to keep reading.

I should’ve had more faith, because not only did what I was expecting not happen but the whole story took a turn for the even-more-awesome.

This duology has a smoking hot couple, an adorable toddler, a conniving ex who still manages to be somewhat sympathetic at times, some tragedy, some steamy sex scenes, lots of beach scenes that made me hanker for my next coastal holiday, and a happily ever after. What more could you want?


Book announcement and cover reveal: ‘Rheia’

Once upon a time, in between writing my various urban fantasy projects, I slipped and fell and wrote a fantasy novel. This was back in the days of yore (well, 2016), in between writing Lucid Dreaming and False Awakening, and I didn’t want to release this book in between the two halves of that duology.

It is now that book’s time to shine.

After going through several working titles (the highlight of which was the utilitarian Greek Fantasy, because I can’t be trusted to name things), I finally settled on the perfect name for this book — and now I can share it with you, along with the perfect cover, done by the fabulous Kim from KILA Designs.


Rheia

Release date: 29 September 2018

“Beauty and the Beast meets Ancient Greece, with a steampunk twist”

Every year, Rheia’s father brought home four prisoners of war, sacrifices to keep the demon Typhein bound. Rheia never gave them much thought … until her father’s enemy made her one of them. Now she has two weeks to find a way to escape death at the hands of the Beast and either save her people or condemn them to destruction.

The last thing Rheia expected was to fall in love with the Beast oath-bound to kill her.

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Review: ‘The Demon’s Lexicon’ by Sarah Rees Brennan

Nick and his brother Alan are on the run with their mother, who was once the lover of a powerful magician. When she left him, she stole an important charm – and he will stop at nothing to reclaim it. Now Alan has been marked with the sign of death by the magician’s demon, and only Nick can save him. But to do so he must face those he has fled from all his life – the magicians – and kill them. So the hunted becomes the hunter … but in saving his brother, Nick discovers something that will unravel his whole past…

It’s been a little while since I finished The Demon’s Lexicon, but life got busy and I haven’t had a chance to review it till now. That means this review might be a little on the short side, but I still remember the highlights.

As far as genres go, urban fantasy is my favourite and my best; you’ve probably guessed that if you’ve read any of my books. It’s also hard to find urban fantasy rather than paranormal romance, and I powered through this book because of that, happy as my dog when he sticks his face in front of the hose. (Just go with me here.)

Here are the things I loved:

Nick. This surprises me, because he’s the sort of brooding leading male that I cannot stand in paranormal romance novels. But because the story is told from his point of view, we get to see inside his head. We see his emotions (mostly fury or bafflement), and hear his thoughts. He clearly loves his brother, but he seems completely incapable of articulating that, or much of anything other than frustration and smart arse comments.

Nick lives in his head, even when it pains his brother, Alan, and when — to the reader — the solution is obvious. He isn’t a particualrly nice character, but he is fascinating. I enjoyed spending time with him in this book (though I definitely wouldn’t want to in real life, and I sure as hell wouldn’t date him). I’m in awe of Brennan for making a thoroughly dislikable character so fascinating.

The brothers. This falls out of the first point. It was so nice to see a portrayal of brotherly love in a book, prioritised far and above the tenuous romance plotlines with side character Mae. Alan and Nick have each other’s backs. For Nick, it has always been that way — Alan has always been there for him.

That’s why the merest hint that Alan might be keeping secrets sends him into a tailspin. It’s clear to the reader (I keep saying that, but there really are two layers to this story — what we see, and what Nick can comprehend) that Alan loves his brother and has his best interests at heart. But poor Nick just can’t see it.

The twist. Boy howdy. I sort of half guessed, but Brennan took it all the way. The ending alone earns this book a whole star on its own.

(The only thing that makes me sad is that I want to buy the second book in the same edition as the first, and it’s currently sold out on The Book Depository. Wah!)


Australian Women Writers Challenge – 2018 wrap up (?)

The Australian Women Writers’ Challenge is part of a world-wide movement to raise awareness of excellent writing by women. It helps readers to challenge the subconscious stereotypes that govern our choice of books to read. The challenge encourages avid readers and book bloggers, male and female, Australian and non-Australian, to read and review books by Australian women throughout the year. You don’t have to be a writer to sign up. You can choose to read and review, or read only.

Last year, I failed both the reading challenges I set myself (Goodreads and Australian Women Writers), largely because I spent a lot of the year absorbed in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive books, and those things are huuuuuge.

So this year I moderated my expectations of myself — reading and reviewing 10 books by Australian women writers (instead of 15), and reading 30 books overall instead of 40. But I’m up to date on my Stormlight books.

All this is by way of explaining why we’re only halfway through the year and I’m writing my “mission accomplished” post for the AWW challenge. :p

Here is a link to each review, as well as my star rating for each book. They are listed in chronological order.

*Yes, Jay is a dude, but Amie isn’t. So nyah.

** Yes, Meagan is American, but Amie isn’t. See above re: “nyah”.

And here’s a genre breakdown for those that like numbers:

  • Romance: 3
  • Young adult contemporary: 2
  • Speculative fiction: 5
    • Middle grade fantasy: 2
    • Science fiction: 2
    • Steampunk historical: 1

There are other excellent books by Australian women on my TBR pile, so I’m sure I’ll add to this list as the year progresses (I want to get to at least 15, to prove that I can). Still, I can tick this challenge off for the year. Woohoo!


Revew: ‘A Thousand Perfect Notes’ by C.G. Drews

An emotionally charged story of music, abuse and, ultimately, hope.

Beck hates his life. He hates his violent mother. He hates his home. Most of all, he hates the piano that his mother forces him to play hour after hour, day after day. He will never play as she did before illness ended her career and left her bitter and broken. But Beck is too scared to stand up to his mother, and tell her his true passion, which is composing his own music — because the least suggestion of rebellion on his part ends in violence.

When Beck meets August, a girl full of life, energy and laughter, love begins to awaken within him and he glimpses a way to escape his painful existence. But dare he reach for it?

I bought A Thousand Perfect Notes the same day that it arrived at my local bookstore (I checked the delivery date) and gobbled it up that night. The author is Cait from the popular Aussie blog Paper Fury; she has such a hilarious writing style on social media that you might — if you know her work — go into this book expecting it to be full of sunshine and cake.

Well, it does have cake, at least. And maybe a little sunshine, mostly in the form of the delightful August. But there’s a lot of darkness in this story. Beck is terrorised by his mother, both physically and psychologically. He has zero sense of his own self-worth, despite being a genius player and an even better composer. There were so many times that I wanted to just sweep him up and take him and his kid sister away, or get them some sort of help (or drop a piano on their mother, not gonna lie).

Part of me can’t even comprehend a world where a boy could be so thoroughly abused and no adults would step in to help, and that’s why it’s so important for me to read a story like this one, even though parts of it made me feel kind of queasy. For example, the shame Beck feels for being a fifteen-year-old boy abused by his mother feels so real. His efforts to keep his distance from August because he’s afraid of what his mother will do if she finds out he’s wasting perfectly good practice time on a friend (or even to complete a group assignment) are so, so sad. And his desire to protect his five-year-old sister from his mother’s wrath were super sweet, even as it made me furious that he needed to.

August is, on the surface of things, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (dear god, someone make her wear shoes!), but she has depth that a MPDG doesn’t, with her desire to get straight As in school and to save every animal in the world — even some that maybe shouldn’t be saved. She has hippy veterinarians for parents, eats hipster vegitarian food and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. She also doesn’t rush into a relationship with Beck, even though she clearly grows to like him. The evolution of their friendship into something that could be more is sweet to see.

Joey, Beck’s sister, is a wildcat in glitter and gum boots. I adored everything about her, even as I wouldn’t want to parent her. Yikes! (Of course, if she were actually being parented, then I expect she wouldn’t be so violent in the first place…) And the descriptions of Beck’s music are magical. I don’t know classical music that well, but this story let me feel the mood of music by different composers.

A Thousand Perfect Notes is a quick read that will break your heart, but you should read it anyway.


A children’s Harry Potter birthday party

My son just turned nine (wut) and had requested a Harry Potter party. Our house is very small with no discernable yard — and it’s winter here — so we decided on a “movie” pyjama party, based on my misguided theory that kids in their PJs would be less likely to run around shouting.

Needless to say, very little movie-watching took place. But fun was had regardless. I thought since it was a book-related party I’d share my experience here, in case it is of benefit to others.

(Note: Check the run time of the movie before you start. I forgot quite how long Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone actually runs — we didn’t quite make it through the movie before the other parents came to collect their kids. It wasn’t a big deal, though, given how little time was spent in front of the TV.)

The Food

Our budget didn’t stretch to actual Harry Potter brand food, especially since I’d have had to order it in from the UK, so I made do. We bought lolly snakes, chocolate frogs and other snacks, but then I gave them a Harry Potter theme by labelling each bowl with Honeydukes-inspired labels. (This also meant I could flag the contents of each for those kids with dietary requirements.)

For example, the snakes became “Basilisk Bites” and our Jelly Belly jellybeans were “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans”. My son and I got around the fact they weren’t every flavour by faking it, which the other adults got in on. “Oh, gross, I just got a soap-flavoured one!”

The “Cake”

My son doesn’t like icing (I know, right?) so we decided to do homemade muffins in house-coloured cupcake wrappers instead. I googled “butterscotch muffins”, thinking I’d claim they were butterbeer, and ended up using this recipe from taste.com.au. I found it was a little dry, so added a little extra buttermilk, and because we didn’t use the caramel sauce due to my fear of sticky pre-teens, I added a splash of maple syrup as well. I’m not a baker, generally, so I was pleased at how nicely they turned out.

The one Potter-ish food thing I did order was the cupcake toppers, which were super-easy to apply. I did have to add a very thin layer of icing sugar (with a splash of boiling water to make a paste), just to get the toppers to stick, but I got away with it. 😉

Wizarding Accessories

Wands

Far and away the most time-consuming (but satisfying) part of the party prep was making the wands. My talented friend Craig and I spent hours on these, though the materials themselves were quite cheap: a packet of wooden chopsticks, a glue gun and a packet of beads. Craig already owned the paint, which would’ve been a huge extra expense if I’d had to get it myself.

Each kid got to chose a wand — there were six children and twelve wands, so I get the spares! — and I’d done up a card for each one with a core and wood based on this page, so they all had unique “powers”. The kids spent the vast majority of the party dividing into tribes and flinging curses at each other. It was a little Lord of the Flies, not gonna lie, but they had fun.

Photos, detail work and amazing talent by Craig. Dribbly “organic” wands by me.

Wizard Hats

I painted the party hats black and then used my glue gun to stick stars all over them. Quick and easy!

Party hat graciously modelled by Professor McGonagall

The Games

Sorting Hat

All the kids who came knew their Hogwarts houses in advance (because we’re those sorts of people), but I’d downloaded and printed a couple of origami “sorting hats” from this site, which got quite a bit of use.

Pass the Parseltongue

This was regular pass the parcel, but with toy snakes, lizards and frogs in each layer.

Stick the Sock on the Dobby

I drew Dobby onto a sheet of A3 cardboard and then made socks for the kids to stick on him with sticky tac. I had prizes for those that got their sock into his hand and for the funniest placement (which ended up being an earring).

Musical Statues

As well as pausing the music, I used my wand to cast the charm “immobulus” (the freezing charm). It was a bit of a juggle managing both, so I had to get the other parents to judge who was out each round.

Other Games

I had organised a few other party games that we didn’t get to because the kids wanted to get back to flinging curses.

  • A “Celebrity Head” style game — I had a plain black party hat and some stickers that I was going to write Potter character names on so each child could have a turn at guessing who they were.
  • Memorise the spell — Starting with a “base spell” word, each kid has to repeat what has been said previously and then add a new word to the spell, going around in a circle, so that you end up with a string of gibberish.
  • Transfiguration class — I found a packet of animal noses and was going to get each child to cast a spell on themselves to “transform” and draw a nose from a bag.

The Prizes

Again, I didn’t have a huge budget for prizes, so I went for theme rather than brand. As well as the parseltongue lizards etc, I found a cheap pack of dragons at the local two dollar shop. I stuck some googley eyes on pompoms and called them pygmy puffs. I bought a grey Ikea rat to be Scabbers, and a little while owl to be Hedwig.

I had more prizes than we actually needed, so I divided up what was left into the party bags at the end. (Except for Scabbers. He lives with me now.)

Conclusion

All in all, everyone had fun — including me, as the whole thing appealed to my inner Ravenclaw. My boy has already told me he wants a Doctor Who party next year, which I think will be trickier.

For now, I’ll be over here, collapsed in a pile of wizarding robes and left-over lollies.