Reading Highlights from 2017 – Part 3 (Final roundup)

It’s time for the third and final post in my 2017 reading highlights. At this point I will explain that for the past couple of years I’ve been keeping a list of all the books I read, assigning them a rank out of 10. So far my top ranking is 9.

Favourites for the year!

A ranking of 9/10 means I adored the book all round — story, writing, characters etc. It means the book resonated with me and I keep thinking about it and will almost certainly re-read, maybe more than once. A 9/10 generally means it is pretty well written, or at least there’s something I love about the writing, although it may not necessarily be perfect from a craft perspective.

In 2017, I rated the following 12 books and series as 9/10:

  • Spindrift — Amy Rae Durreson
  • Stygian — Santino Hassell
  • Spirit — John Inman
  • Spectred Isle (The Green Men book 1) — KJ Charles
  • Sins of the Cities (series of three) — KJ Charles
  • The Community (series of three) – Santino Hassell
  • Wolfsong — TJ Klune
  • Bear, Otter, and the Kid (series of four) — TJ Klune
  • House of Cards — Garrett Leigh
  • Preacher, Prophet, Beast (Tyack & Frayne book 7) — Harper Fox
  • Locked in Silence (Pelican Bay book 1) — Sloane Kennedy
  • Murder in Pastel — Josh Lanyon

The above list will likely explain why I focused on TJ Klune, Santino Hassell and KJ Charles in my first highlights post, and then spotlighted three “spooky house” stories in my second highlights post.

Here are a few thoughts on the remaining novels in the above list.

house-of-cardsHouse of Cards by Garrett Leigh is one of the multi-author Porthkennack series, which spans both contemporary and historical m/m romances set in the fictitious village of Porthkennack in Cornwall. For starters, I’m instantly attracted to anything set in a Cornish village, and I love all the Garrett Leigh books I’ve read; she writes about broken characters wonderfully well.

Here, a tattoo artist flees a toxic relationship and finds himself staying with a friend (another tattoo artist) in Porthkennack. In addition to the gorgeous setting, it’s all the small details I love: the beloved old-style tattoo machine, the chicken rescue activities, the smuggling(!), the fascinating secondary characters. I’ll be reading this one again soon, so I can dive into the next one by Ms Leigh (Junkyard Heart).

preacher-prophet-beastPreacher, Prophet, Beast by Harper Fox is the seventh in her Tyack and Frayne series. It’s also the only novel-length installment and takes our heroes and their daughter to some interesting and horrifying places, centred as usual around paranormal happenings in Cornwall, and specifically their new family home on Bodmin Moor.

This is a wonderful series that takes Gideon (a policeman) and Lee (a psychic) from their first meeting (in the brilliant Once Upon a Haunted Moor) through dating, marriage, fatherhood… and in this installment they’ve been married for three years. It’s a series (mostly longish novellas) I will re-read over and over again.

locked-in-silenceLocked in Silence is the first in a new series from the extremely prolific Sloane Kennedy. It’s very different in style from her popular Protectors and Barretti Security series — and a level above, I think. This one is more grounded in reality. More poignant, as both men have been wrongfully accused and vilified for different transgressions.

The premise is not earth shattering: a concert violinist returns to his home town broken and in disgrace, only to discover his childhood nemesis suffered a tragedy that broke him and ensured he’s never left… But the journey is layered and complex, with all the feels. I hope Ms Kennedy returns to Pelican Bay soon.

murder-in-pastelFinally, Murder in Pastel is a republication of one of Josh Lanyon’s early works (originally under another pseudonym, apparently). I’m a big fan of Ms Lanyon, whose novels usually revolve around some form of crime to be solved. This one is a whodunnit set in a seaside art colony in California, and involves the usual cast of eccentric characters.

The viewpoint character is a young mystery writer and son of a renowned painter who disappeared a decade ago, along with his masterpiece painting — so, in addition to the person who inevitably gets murdered, there’s a cold case to solve too. It’s kind of timeless, the way it’s written, and it’s probably now one of my favourite Josh Lanyon novels. (The Adrien English series would come first.)

Also worth mentioning

In my personal ranking system, a rating of 8/10 means it’s above average in terms of my enjoyment, and I logged 45 of these. I’m not gonna list them all, but here are some particularly worth mentioning:

  • Hailey Turner’s Metahuman Files is kind of x-men meets military adventure series (3 books)
  • Undaunted by Devin Harnois is a secondary world quest fantasy with vampires and werewolves(!)
  • Anna Butler’s Taking Shield series is excellent award-winning military science fiction set in the far-distant future (4 books so far, more to come)
  • NR Walker’s two-part Imago series is set in Australia with butterflies, her Thomas Elkin series is a three-part May-December romance featuring architects, and Switched is a fabulous standalone novel about a man who discovers he was switched at birth
  • Leta Blake’s Slow Heat is a sophisticated take on the MPreg non-shifter genre (if you can get past the whole MPreg thing)
  • Aqua Follies by Liv Rancourt brings 1950s rock n roll to life in a gritty romance with jazz and synchronised swimming
  • Amelia Faulkner’s incredible Inheritance series features ancient gods and psychic powers in San Diego
  • Silver Scars by Posey Roberts is about two scarred men who meet through a work secondment
  • Renae Kaye’s The Blinding Light set in Western Australia is about a guy who takes on a housekeeping job for a blind man

And that, my friends, is the end of my annual reading highlights. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve been very patient.

If you read in the m/m genre, I hope you’ve found a few interesting ones to try. There are certainly heaps of speculative fiction titles listed — both urban paranormal series, classic science fiction and some fantasy.

Thanks for reading this post! I wish you all another fabulous year of wonderful books.

Reading Highlights from 2017 – Part 2 (Spooky House stories)

Three of my favourite individual books from last year were “spooky house” stories. Two were straight up ghost stories — Spirit by John Inman and Spindrift by Amy Rae Durreson. The third was a different kind of paranormal story, although had a similar spooky feel — Stygian by Santino Hassell.

Each of these three novels has lingered with me long past finishing, and I will definitely be re-reading them, probably in the very near future.

Interestingly and coincidentally (I think?), all three are published by Dreamspinner Press, where they’re available in all formats of e-book, paperback and audio — I’ve included buy links.

Spindrift – Amy Rae Durreson

spindriftOfficial Blurb:

When lonely artist Siôn Ruston retreats to the seaside village of Rosewick Bay, Yorkshire, to recover from a suicide attempt, he doesn’t expect to encounter any ghosts, let alone the one who appears in his bedroom every morning at dawn. He also doesn’t expect to meet his ghost’s gorgeous, flirty descendant working at the local museum… and the village pub, and as a lifeboat volunteer. But Mattie’s great-great-grandfather isn’t the only specter in Rosewick Bay, and as Siôn and Mattie investigate an ill-fated love affair from a bygone era, they begin a romance of their own, one that will hopefully escape the tragedy Mattie’s ancestor suffered.

But the ghosts aren’t the only ones with secrets, and the things Siôn and Mattie are keeping from each other threaten to tear them apart. And all the while, the dead are biding their time, because the curse of Rosewick Bay has never been broken. If the ghosts are seen on the streets, local tradition foretells a man will drown before the summer’s end.

Seriously, that blurb alone gives me chills of the very best kind. I adore stories set in English villages. I adore everyday people trying to solve mysteries from the past. The characters are distinctive and complex and endearing. The setting is gorgeous. The atmosphere is dark and brooding.

In short, I adore everything about this book. Get it here from Dreamspinner Press.

Spirit – John Inman

spiritThe cover caught my attention with this book — I am a complete sucker for two guys and a kid. And a spooky basement.

Right, so this one is about a guy, Jason, who agrees to babysit his four-year-old nephew, Timmy, for four weeks while his single mum has a holiday with her boyfriend. Turns out that there’s a ghost in his house and Timmy’s presence seems to activate it. Then Timmy’s uncle on his estranged father’s side comes to visit…

There’s a lot more light and humour in this book (compared to the dark and brooding Spindrift), but the mystery is no less intense and the romance between Timmy’s uncles is sweet.

It all blends into another fabulous ghost story / murder mystery that I can’t wait to experience again! Get it here from Dreamspinner Press

Stygian – Santino Hassell

stygianI pretty much love everything by Santino Hassell, but for some reason it took me a while to pick this one up. Why, I ask myself. WHY?!

Stygian is the name of an indie rock band that has rented out a formerly grand, now dilapidated, old mansion in a secluded Louisiana forest for six weeks to work on new music. Jeremy is the drummer and has a secret crush on guitarist Kennedy, who doesn’t seem to realise…

The creepy old house, half of which is blocked off (for good reason, it turns out), is a major character in this spooky story. Jeremy, who is also grieving the recent death of his brother, doesn’t seem to connect with the rest of the band. Instead, he starts hanging out with their enigmatic (and eerily beautiful) landlord, Hunter Carroway…

There are many weird goings on in the house and the forest around it, usually involving Hunter Carroway or his sex-crazy sister and one or other of the Stygian band members. Although it’s not a ghost story, there are paranormal elements and another spooky mystery to solve.

It’s beautifully written (as usual) and in such a way that it’s not always obvious what’s going on, or who Jeremy should be falling for. It’s deliciously ambiguous for a romance. Loved it. Get it here from Dreamspinner Press

The first post in the Annual Reading Highlights 2017 series looked at three authors I read (and loved) a lot last year:

And there will be more posts to come. Stay tuned!

Reading Highlights from 2017 – part 1 (Three standout authors)

Here we are again at the end of another big year of reading. The total comes to exactly 200 novels and novellas, of which 30 were re-reads.

I didn’t reach the same giddying heights as last year (242 total), which I count as a win, because it means I exercised a bit more restraint. Still, 200 is an average of around four per week, so… Maybe only a tiny bit of restraint. Heh.

When it comes time to reflect on twelve months’ worth of books, I always wish I wrote more reviews of the books I loved during the year, rather than trying to do them justice at the death. But, you know what? I was too busy reading them. Maybe next year.

As I did for the 2016 highlights, I’m going to write a series of posts over the next few weeks. This time, however, they’ll be arranged by theme rather than month.

To start with, I’m going to reflect upon three standout authors I encountered this year through significant bodies of work: TJ Klune, Santino Hassell and KJ Charles.

Only one of them was new to me (TJ Klune). Indeed, I’ve previously read several brilliant books by each of Santino Hassell and KJ Charles, both of whom consistently stand out above most of the others in the m/m genre.

TJ Klune

How come it took me so long to find TJ Klune? He’s written some of the most iconic works in the m/m genre, and I suspect I’ll be working my way through his backlist for a while.

My first experience of Klune was just last month (November) through one of his newer novels, Wolfsong, which is a beautiful (and beautifully written) wolf shifter story. It’s more sophisticated than most paranormals, with a strong plot about an isolated shifter pack under threat from an evil wolf and a human who becomes part of their pack. It covers a blend of shifter politics and folklore, paranormal fantasy, and a love story — with themes of found family, vengeance, belonging and loyalty. Brilliant. (I think there’s a sequel coming — can’t wait!)

Then I dived into Bear, Otter, and the Kid, TJ Klune’s first novel, which is centred around Bear, whose mother abandoned him when he was 18, leaving his six-year-old kid brother, Tyson, in his care. The premise is heart-wrenching, but the whole series (also comprising Who We Are, The Art of Breathing, and The Long and Winding Road) is amazing and filled with so much heart.

The series takes place over about 15 years, and is about the (fierce) bond between brothers and found family and waiting and fighting for love. The first two books are centred on Bear at 21 as he falls in love with Otter (his best friend’s older brother). Bear is such a wonderful character — completely neurotic with a wild imagination, but so devoted to taking care of his genius (vegetarian, ecoterrorist-in-training) nine year old brother, Tyson. Otter, a little older and calmer, is the perfect addition to their family.

The Art of Breathing is Tyson’s story as he comes of age and finds love; then The Long and Winding Road returns to Bear’s perspective to tell Bear and Otter’s story, no longer focused on raising Tyson, as they grow their family.

I read the four ‘BOATK’ books back-to-back and ended up with a major book hangover. (Just now, reading this over before I post, I feel a little teary.) They are deeply emotional (although hysterically funny in parts) and beautifully written. I laughed (a lot), I cried, I loved. Just fabulous.

KJ Charles

Once again, KJ Charles has produced a wonderful historical series in Sins of the Cities — comprising An Unseen Attraction, An Unnatural Vice and An Unsuitable Heir. Set in Victorian London with Dickensian influences, this series features fabulous, colourful characters from different walks of life and an overarching mystery surrounding an aristocratic family.

In An Unseen Attraction, the main characters are a boarding house keeper (who is the half-Indian half-brother of an unlikable duke) and a taxidermist (or ‘stuffer’). Their romance is very sweet, as someone is murdered and the nature of the mystery comes to light. An Unnatural Vice is about a journalist who gets embroiled with a charlatan spiritualist who holds a clue to the mystery; it has a very different feel, and the whole of this novel is imbued with the London fog of 1892.

The third book, An Unsuitable Heir is my favourite of the three. One of the main characters is a gender fluid acrobat, who discovers he’s actually a lost duke. His non-binary gender identity is dealt with wonderfully well — complicated by the expectations of the time, particularly with issues of male inheritance. I also loved the love story between him and the ‘enquiry agent’ (private investigator) who tracked him down.

I deliberately waited until the whole series was released before reading — and I’m really glad I did, since the mystery spans all three books and many of the characters are present in all three as well. Loved it.

As if that wasn’t enough, I also loved KJ Charles’s book, Spectred Isle (Green Men Book 1). This is a historical paranormal spin-off of the Simon Feximal series, set in London after the Great War. This one has demons and archaeology and occult events and creepy things happening. And, of course, a love story, this time between an archaeologist and an occultist. There are more to come in this series, I believe. (Yay!)

(For the record, my other favourite works of KJ Charles are The Society of Gentlemen series, and the standalone novel, Think of England.)

Santino Hassell

Santino Hassell is an author that always delivers. He writes across a few different m/m genres and seems to be getting more prolific.

This year, I particularly enjoyed his paranormal series, The CommunityInsight, Oversight and Sightlines. Set mostly in contemporary New York City, the series is about conspiracy, unrest and mystery within a community of psychics (telepaths, empaths, etc). Once again, I waited until all the books were released and then read them back-to-back. It’s an exciting series (also a little disturbing), with three separate love stories and an overall series arc.

In Insight, a young empath discovers the existence of the Community as he’s searching for answers around his twin’s apparent suicide. Oversight is centred on the privileged son of one of the Community’s founders as he starts to uncover disturbing truths about the organisation. His half-brother, the most powerful psychic in the Community and also the most exploited, brings everything to a head in Sightlines.

The three books in the Community series were the pick of the Santino Hassell novels I read this year (with one exception), but I also enjoyed the third (Hard Wired) and fourth (Mature Content) books in the Cyberlove series, co-written with Megan Erickson (although I think the first two, Strong Signal and Fast Connection, are better books).

I haven’t got around to reading the latest releases in the Five Boroughs series, but I did read the sports romance Illegal Contact (The Barons – book 1) which I liked but didn’t love. The final Hassell book I read this year was Stygian — which I did love. It’s fabulous! But I’m going to talk more about that in the next post…

… which will be about spooky paranormal stories among other things.


Reading highlights from 2016 – part 1

Gosh. How many books have I read this year? (So far 235 books and novellas, of which 198 were new and 37 were re-reads… and still counting.) My inner bookworm continues to devour and my finger continues to madly one-click. In fact, there’s been more one-clicking, because someone introduced me to bookbub.

Bookbub is a website that sends me emails with daily e-book deals in my selected genres (and authors), with direct links to Amazon. There’s many a $1 (or free) book sitting on my kindle, just waiting for me to get around to reading it… I do realise this still adds up in $ terms, but I just tell myself I’m supporting the authors. And if I don’t like a particular book, I don’t have to finish it.

I’m no longer trying to kid myself that I’m reading much of anything other than m/m (or m/m/m). I could probably count the non-m/m books read this year on one hand. (Actually, I did branch out and try some f/f this year, but so far that hasn’t captivated me much.)

But one of the fabulous things about m/m is that it spans all genres — fantasy, science fiction, mystery, crime/thrillers, historical, deep angst-ridden drama… even comedy, although that’s not my thing. So I bounce around from genre to genre, depending on my mood.

This year, there have been some fabulous new releases from favourite authors, and I’ve discovered some new authors as well. Over three posts, I’m going to summarise my favourites month by month, with some wrapping up at the end. This post covers January to April.


fatal-shadowsThe absolute highlight of January — and maybe the year — was Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series (Fatal shadows, A dangerous thing, The hell you say, Death of a pirate king, The dark tide). I do not have the words to say how amazing, fabulous, wonderful this series is, in terms of the love story arc across five books. Each book is an individual mystery, but it is not until the end of the final book that the relationship between Adrien and Jake resolves — and it’s breathtaking. I was numb the afternoon I finished The dark tide, and poured out my feelings onto the page in a post I never did publish. I was so raw. Nothing I wrote encapsulated what I felt. Even now, 11 months later, my heart still rushes as I remember the ending. Aaaaand, there’s a sixth Adrien & Jake novella due out in mid-January. I will be feverishly re-reading these books and slipping straight into that one. My heart rushes just thinking about it.

coldfusionJanuary was also the month Cold Fusion by Harper Fox came out. This book has wonderfully complex, flawed characters who transcend themselves by the end, Harper Fox’s beautiful poetic language. And, as always with Harper Fox’s books, the fabulous sense of place — in this case the northern wilds of Scotland. Love it. (See my full review here.)

And I also loved Out of Focus by L.A. Witt. This one is m/m/m and deals with a couple of guys who have been together for a decade, and who like to bring submissives into the bedroom from time to time… and they find an adorable guy they decide to keep. It’s not heavy BDSM, and deals more with the relationship side of things. I’ve come to adore m/m/m books where I can believe in all the sides of the relationship. LAW has started a series where she writes the prequels for couples who feature in her menage stories, and I would love to read how Dante and Angel first got together.


kingsrisingThe highlight for February was the much-anticipated Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat, third book in the Captive Prince fantasy trilogy. I was so worried this wouldn’t live up to the anticipation, because I adored the first two in this series — which I re-read prior to launching into the third. Aside from a few wobbles at the start and the end, Kings Rising was awesome and I love love love this fantasy trilogy so much. Like with the Adrien English series, I had a major book hangover once I finished. To quote myself: “Damen and Laurent. Oh. My. Fucking. God.” I reviewed Captive Prince/Prince’s Gambit here and Kings Rising here.

Other great reads for February were Shifting Gears by Riley Hart (the sequel to Crossroads, one of my top 5 for last year, and still one of my all-time favourites), Lonely Hearts by Heidi Cullinan (book 3 in the Love Lessons series), and Tough Love also by Heidi Cullinan (book 3 in the fabulous Special Delivery series).


brokenIn March, the best book I read was Broken by Nicola Haken. This is an example of deep angst-ridden drama/romance, and deals with triggery themes of self-harm, depression and suicide. It’s incredibly intense and well-written. I felt pretty wrung-out at the end, but the wonderful thing about this genre is that the books usually end with hope and healing and the power of love. I will definitely be reading this one again.

I also read Us by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, which is the sequel to Him. Him was probably one of my favourite reads last year (new adult, ice hockey players). Us didn’t reach the same heights, but I enjoyed it.


More brilliance in April! This time from K.J. Charles and her Society of Gentlemen series (The ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh (novella), A fashionable indulgence, A seditious affair, A gentleman’s position). These are English historicals, and not the usual kind. There is a whole host of upheaval going on, with a dash of political activism and class conflict and of course the terrors of discovery. Oh my, this series is brilliant. It’s exquisitely researched and crafted from both a plotting and writing perspective. And each book is completely different. A must for fans of historicals.

absolutionAnother of my April favourites was Absolution by Sloane Kennedy. This was my first encounter with this author, who is a veritable machine when it comes to her publishing frequency. I’ve since read most of her books — Absolution is the first in her Protectors series, another of note is her Barretti Security series — but Absolution is probably my favourite. It’s m/m/m and deals with Jonas (an artist with a traumatic past), who is the target of hitman Mace (don’t hate him; there’s a reason), and Cole (an ex-Navy SEAL whose sister Jonas once knew). The fates of all three men intersect around a thriller-style plot, and… aw, they are so sweet together. This one works for me, because Kennedy takes the time to build the three sides of the relationship and I believed in them.

I also enjoyed Imperfect Harmony by Jay Northcote, not least because it’s set around a community choir, which reminded me of my own singing experiences of the past few years. She’s another new author for me this year, and I’ve enjoyed several of her books.

Stay tuned for Part 2: May – August reading highlights between Christmas and New Year. I’m glad I started writing this early!

If you’re interested, read my Reading Highlights from 2015 post as well.

Priddy’s Tale: book review

priddyPriddy’s Tale is another gorgeous love story from Harper Fox. It’s a fantastical tale about a lost young guy who lives in a Cornish lighthouse and falls in love with a merman.

I love this story so much. It’s told in a fairy tale style — which isn’t usually my thing, because I prefer a closer relationship with the characters. But Harper Fox managed to weave her magical words around me until I felt every bit of Jem Priddy’s confusion and uncertainty about his life’s direction, his yearning for Merou (the mysterious guy he ‘rescues’ from the waters), his growing conviction that his future lies somewhere else entirely.

Priddy is adorable — blond curls and blue eyes, just out of high school, and recovering from an almost fatal experience with a party drug that has left him prone to wild dreamings. His best friend Kit has gone to college without him, leaving Priddy caretaking a fully automated lighthouse for the winter. After he calls in the rescue chopper for a boat about to be wrecked on a stormy night (and where was Flynn Summers, where?), Priddy dives in to help the man swimming beside the boat, and changes his own life forever.

The beautiful man in the water is Merou, who doesn’t of course need rescuing at all, until Priddy touches him and he’s transformed… The magic of this story doesn’t lie in the mystery, though, and it’s pretty damn obvious from the start (to the reader at least) that Merou is one of the mer people.

Merou is charismatic and charming, an ancient traveller of the oceans and time. To Priddy, he’s like a prince — worldly, confident, fascinating, even if at first he seems a bit of a nutcase. (Or possibly a hallucination.) And Merou clearly desires Priddy, calling him such sweet names as ‘daisy-brained sweetheart’ (my favourite) and ‘king of the mountain’, based on the Welsh derivation of his name, ap-Ridih.

I’m trying not to re-tell the story here, but it’s hard, because it’s such a sweet gender-flip of traditional mermaid stories. Merou romances Priddy without artifice, and Priddy is swept away (at times quite literally) by his man of the sea. There’s a glorious sexy scene down at the bottom of the ocean, where we learn a little about the physiology of mermen, and Priddy learns what it would take to be with Merou forever.

There are some tense moments, mainly surrounding the introduction of a genetic scientist who wants to capture one of the mer for research purposes. But the resolution of this — and the afterward, written by a fictitious academic who also presents a foreward — is just perfect. I finished reading this long novella (short novel?) with my heart full and a smile on my face.

It’s the way this relatively simple tale is told that makes it so wonderful. It’s filled with magical and impossible things — like horses and apples from the sea, and a stranger who mysteriously knows about Priddy’s penchant for pastries — and infused with beautiful language and an abundance of ocean-themed imagery.

Like all the author’s work, Priddy’s Tale is also evocative of place — in this instance the wild and exciting south-western tip of Cornwall, where several of her books have been based. Inspired by the old Cornish folk tales, Priddy’s Tale is Harper Fox at her lyrical and beautiful best.

Here’s the Amazon link. You won’t be disappointed. I’m reading it again… and maybe re-reading some of her others as well. I just can’t get enough Harper Fox books in my life!

Book Launch: City of Hope and Ruin

It’s been a while (too long) since I’ve talked fantasy novels on this blog, but I’m excited to get back into it today to celebrate a new release from indie publisher, Turtleduck Press. I’ve featured a few Turtleduck Press novels over the past couple of years — not only are the team friends of mine, but they are also devoted to “out of the box” speculative fiction.

So today Siri Paulson joins me to talk a little about her new novel City of Hope and Ruin, co-authored with Kit Campbell, and released just last week.

City of Hope and Ruin ~ Kit Campbell and Siri Paulson

City of Hope and Ruin ebook coverEvery night the monsters hunt.

A city that is the whole world: Theosophy and her companions in the City militia do their best to protect the civilians from the monsters, but they keep crawling from the Rift and there’s nowhere to run. Theosophy knows she’ll die fighting. It’s the best kind of death she’s seen, and at least she can save lives in the meantime.

They say the Scarred carve you up while you’re still alive.

A village in the shadow of a forest: Refugees from the border whisper about the oncoming Scarred, but Briony can’t convince her brother to relocate his children to safety. Briony will do anything to protect them. She owes them that much, even if it means turning to forbidden magic.

When Theosophy and Briony accidentally make contact across the boundaries of their worlds, they realize that solutions might finally be within reach. A world beyond the City would give Theosophy’s people an escape, and the City’s warriors could help Briony protect her family from the Scarred. Each woman sees in the other a strength she lacks—and maybe something more.

All they need to do is find a way across the dimensions to each other before their enemies close in.

Buy via Amazon Kindle | Amazon print version| iBookstore | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Goodreads | Pinterest board

Here’s Siri responding to my questions…

What was the inspiration behind City of Hope and Ruin?

Our aim was to create a shared world that the four authors at Turtleduck Press (Kit and me, plus Erin Zarro and KD Sarge) can all play in. The initial inspiration was combining Kowloon Walled City, an incredibly dense and unregulated semi-modern urban environment, with the sort of “pocket universe” that you find in stories like Neverwhere (or think of Diagon Alley in Harry Potter). We wanted to create a place that had been magically sealed away, which of course led to the question: why? The rest of the story grew from there.

What kind of experience can readers expect?

It’s a dual-POV portal fantasy, except that both sides of the portal are secondary (fantasy) worlds. One side is more urban or even post-apocalyptic-feeling, and the other side is more traditional fantasy, but they both have some juicy worldbuilding surprises. Kit and I both love fantasy that’s heavy on character, and our early readers have told us that one of their favourite things about the book is the rich cast of characters.

What do you love most about this book?

Theosophy is the type of character who’s dear to my heart. At the beginning of the book, she’s a total cynic, hardened and closed-off. She’s given up on hope. By the end… well, you’ll just have to read it to find out! I’m also really pleased with how the worldbuilding turned out. It’s not just magic and magical creatures, although there’s that too; there’s a certain level of technology with hints that there used to be more, way back when. I love books that play with the boundaries of genre, and we definitely did that with ours. And I’m proud that we’ve written a fantasy novel starring two female characters of colour who fall for each other. That’s why we started Turtleduck Press in the first place — so we could write and publish the stories that might have fallen through the cracks of mainstream publishing.

How did the collaborative writing of the book come about and how did it work?

We knew that we wanted to set up a shared world. All four of us at Turtleduck Press are pantsers (seat-of-the-pants) writers to some extent, so we brainstormed together a bit, but the only way we could really dig into the world was to write a story about it and see what came out – ideally with more than one person’s input. Kit and I volunteered to go at it together, and the rest was history.

We decided early on that we were each going to take one side of the portal to explore. So there are two POVs in alternating chapters and they intersect regularly, but in between, each of them has their own subplots and side characters. That gave us a lot of autonomy.

Luckily we have a similar writing process. We established the main turning points and the climax we were writing towards pretty early, and then we did a rough outline of each quarter as we got to it. There was a lot of reading each other’s chapters and leaving notes to each other in the document and writing emails and video-chatting throughout the process. We had a lot of fun playing off each other’s worldbuilding and genre tropes/expectations and our respective character arcs.

What aspect of storytelling are you most passionate about?

Oooh, that’s a tough one. As you might guess from my previous answers, I really love the combination of a big character arc and fun worldbuilding in a fantasy or science fiction setting. Description is one of my favourite things to write — that’s why I love travel blogging. But the most satisfying part is writing a character who’s struggling to find her way or a community or a life that will let her be true to herself, and watching her face her fears and open up into who she is. That’s me writing courage to myself, and also hoping that the story will find a reader who needs it.

About Kit Campbell

It is a little known fact that Kit was raised in the wild by a marauding gang of octopuses. It wasn’t until she was 25 that she was discovered by a traveling National Geographic scientist and brought back to civilization. This is sometimes apparent in the way that she attempts to escape through tubes when startled.

Her transition to normalcy has been slow, but scientists predict that she will have mastered basics such as fork use sometime in the next year. More complex skills, such as proper grocery store etiquette, may be forever outside her reach.

blog | Pinterest | Twitter

About Siri Paulson

Siri Paulson writes all over the fantasy and science fiction spectrum, including (so far) secondary-world fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk, Gothic, historical paranormal, and YA with spaceships. She is also the chief editor at Turtleduck Press. Siri grew up in Alberta, Canada, but now lives in an old house in Toronto. By day, she edits non-fiction for the government. Her other current passion is contra dance, a social/folk dance done to live Celtic and roots music. Her favourite places in the world are the Canadian Rocky Mountains and a little valley in Norway.

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Sounds awesome! Please go check out City of Hope and Ruin — and if you read and like it, please consider leaving a review to help the authors out.

Three romances featuring characters with autism

It turns out that April is World Autism Awareness Month (and World Autism Awareness Day was on 2 April) and it so happens that I’ve recently read some wonderful novels featuring main characters with autism.

I know there are many important autobiographies and memoirs written by people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but I have always gravitated to fiction rather than non-fiction. If you’re like me, then I can HEARTily recommend the following m/m romance novels in which people on the autism spectrum find love and happiness.

(This is one of the things I treasure about the m/m romance genre; it tells the stories of such a diverse range of characters. Not only characters of various sexual orientations, but also characters who have conditions such as ASD and PTSD, illnesses such as depression and clinical anxiety, or who suffer from substance abuse.)

So in honour of World Autism Awareness Month, here are three novels I greatly enjoyed featuring characters with autism.

Carry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan

carrytheoceanYet another plug for this beautiful, insightful and important book, which saw me murmuring aloud ‘This is amazing’ from pretty much the first page.

A true celebration of humanity, Carry the Ocean brings us the stories of two young men who are wide of the mean. Emmet has autism, Jeremey severe depression and anxiety. Through friendship and love and acceptance of each other, they find independence and happiness.

The world needs a book like this. A book that tells the stories of young people (any people) with autism, depression and anxiety, a book that makes us understand the obstacles they face and yet shows us how they can build friendships, fall in love, have relationships, find independence. A book that demonstrates their humanity. The fact these two boys are gay is secondary to the broader issues they each face, but brings its own challenges.

This book has changed the way I view the world, made me more tolerant, made me more understanding. It’s now squarely on my list of all time favourite books ever. I reviewed it at length here.

The publisher (Samhain) is closing down, so please please please if you’re remotely interested, please check it out right now. Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Cold Fusion by Harper Fox

Although I posted a review of this book on Amazon and Goodreads back in January, I never did post it here to the blog, so here goes:

coldfusionI jumped up and down and put my life on hold when this arrived on my kindle. Harper Fox is one of my favourite authors, and Cold Fusion doesn’t disappoint (me, anyway). Like many of her books (the best ones) it’s narrated first person with expression and imagery and depth of emotion that take my breath away.

Kier Mallory (Mal) is flawed and broken and headstrong and passionate. At times he made me furious, at times he made me weep, at times I just wanted to hug him. He is at the lowest point in his relatively young life when he meets Vivian Calder, makes a bunch of mistakes, but ultimately comes to care deeply for the awkward young particle physicist with Asperger’s. Viv is just adorable — hot, brilliant, loyal, struggling to make sense of his emotions, trying not to get killed, battling other health issues.

There’s a lot going on in this book, and it definitely put me through the wringer. It’s part thriller, part snow-bound mountain idyll, part medical drama. But even if I did wonder at times whether the book knew which genre it was going for, in the end I felt it all worked because at the very heart is the gorgeous love story between Mallory and Viv. I noticed but didn’t ultimately mind the changes in pace or a few plot contrivances and conveniences. I just wanted a happy ending (and at times I couldn’t see how I was going to get one…).

Overall, I loved the intensity of Cold Fusion, the wonderfully complex, flawed characters who transcend themselves by the end, Harper Fox’s beautiful poetic language. And, as always with Harper Fox’s books, the fabulous sense of place — in this case the northern wilds of Scotland.

This one is also published by Samhain, so be quick. Goodreads | Amazon

Light from the dark by Mercy Celeste

lightdarkMicah, a former US Marshal whose life is in tatters, takes on the job as bodyguard and head of security for reclusive ‘rich kid’, Christopher, who can’t leave his country mansion and fears there’s a plot to kill him.

What follows is part thriller (as they dodge intruders and danger), part mystery (as they try to unravel Christopher’s traumatic past, which has left him without the ability to speak and prone to strange ‘episodes’) and part romance between Micah and Chris. On top of all this, Chris is autistic, a factor which contributed to his PTSD. (Yeah, the premise is maybe far-fetched, but go with it…)

It’s been a while since I read this, so I can’t write a detailed review. But it’s exciting and passionate and heart-wrenching too. Ultimately, I love the relationship that builds between Micah and Chris, which has all the feels. Amazon

(Disclaimer: I am not in the position to judge the accuracy of the portrayals of autism in any of these books. Carry the Ocean in particular feels authentic to me, but how would I know? My feeling is that even having main characters with autism serves to raise our awareness and understanding of the condition. I do believe authors owe it to their readers to research carefully, but I remain at their mercy.)

These are three novels I happen to have read. I am sure there are many more wonderful novels out there featuring characters with autism. If you have a particular favourite, please share in the comments! (I’m not fussy as to genre, although gravitate towards fantasy and m/m romance at present.)

Journal: The quest for temperance and other things

I bet you’re all wondering how I’m going with getting stuff done? I mean, it’s been over a month since my last post (sorry), so obviously I’ve been far too busy kicking goals. Right?

Er, no. Not really…

Well, actually, yes, I have kicked at least one goal.

I have, for instance, revised almost half my novel in progress over the past three months. It was the ‘easy’ half, alas. Beginnings are so much easier than middles and ends. But it was satisfying to inject some of my Mongolian experiences into the early scenes involving horses.

Yep, the writing is going OK. It’s other parts of my life that still need a bit more focus. A bit more temperance.

I’ve already confessed my reading addiction. I tried to put limits on it over the past two months, but not entirely successfully. So now I’m taking more radical action. (Oh God, I can’t believe I’m doing this. I could still edit this out of the post…) My plan is to go kindle-free for the rest of April.

That’s right. April is kindle-free month. (I think I might go throw up now.)

Let me hasten to add that I am allowed to read, however. I have a gazillion paperbacks on my to-be-read pile. I’m hoping to make a little headway with these instead. Just not quite as much headway…

I’ve decided to give up a couple of other things in April too. The first is sugar. (Yeah, everyone is trying to give up sugar. The new poison.) The other is wine — or at least, limiting my intake to Friday – Sunday only.

So far, the sugar thing isn’t going so well. It’s really hard to give up my evening chocolate fix. But I’m trying to reduce the quantity.

It’s day 3 on the wine front, and so far I’ve passed. (Arrrgh! Give me wine NOW!) I’ve found that a glass of red at about 4pm (i.e. now) is a great accompaniment to the last work remnants of the day — one of the benefits of working from home. But, judging from the number of empty wine bottles I’ve been accumulating… Too. Much. Wine.

My motivation for reducing wine consumption is threefold: 1) I’m having trouble keeping up with stocks, 2) I’m suspicious of its possible/probable role in my expanding waistline, 3) Consuming wine in the late afternoon is a psychological barrier for me working out on my elliptical trainer…

(Oooooh, and just now, right this second, I received an email from my wine company telling me my ‘wines are on the way’. Ironic much?)

Additionally, the kindle ban will hopefully improve my sleeping patterns, which may or may not also be contributing to the waistline thing (because apparently sleeping patterns play a role in weight loss/gain). Plus, it would be really awesome if I could get up earlier and do the elliptical thing in the morning instead.

(Then, maybe, the wine habit could be re-initiated?)

I’m a little reluctant to post this… Mainly because it feels like I’m revealing a bit too much about my terrible habits. And (let’s face it) who among you really cares? But hopefully a public declaration will help keep me in line.

In other writing-related happenings, I spent Easter at the 2016 Australian National Science Fiction Convention (Contact 2016) in Brisbane. It was a delightfully intimate convention at Hotel Jen, with some interesting programming and I was able to catch up with many friends as well as meet new people.

I particularly enjoyed listening to fantasy authors talk about their researching experiences (Real Fantasy); discussions about female heroism and what makes a hero (Female Heroism: the either/or argument); a panel of bi/pan-sexual women talking about Queer SF; and the challenge of keeping characters sympathetic to the reader when you make them do bad things (Kill or be killed – The role of hard choices in writing compelling narrative).

I also attended the Aurealis Awards, which are Australia’s premier jury-voted literary awards for speculative fiction. It was awesome to see my good friend and writing buddy, Deborah Kalin, win two awards (Best Young Adult Short Story and Best Horror Novella) for her novella ‘The Miseducation of Mara Lys’ out of her collection Cherry Crow Children. (See this post from a year ago with some thoughts from Deb about the collection.) Yay!

Finally, on a more whimsical note, I have adopted a couple of new mobile office ‘tools’ this year. My Crumpler ‘green bag’ is being rested, and I’m using a new Crumpler bag, which is designed to look more like a handbag. Aside from the fact it doesn’t have as many internal pockets (in particular pen slots, which I am missing greatly), my new bag is proving ideal for carting my laptop around — or not.

To protect my laptop, I went looking for a funky laptop sleeve and found this awesome website called Society6, which sells a host of very affordable stuff featuring the work of independent artists. I liked their stuff so much, I bought two laptop sleeves.

This saves me from changing bags all the time for those (admittedly rare) occasions when I’m not lugging my laptop around. This new bag is just a bit smarter and more practical for everyday use — although I really do miss the pen slots!

My thoughts on Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat

kingsrisingTo start with, I want to say the Captive Prince trilogy is now probably one of my top five fantasy series ever — just for sheer emotional power. After finishing Kings Rising (the third book, just released) last night, I feel wrung-out and satiated all at once. I’m in a post-novel fug (it’s over, I don’t want it to be over!) and I can’t put my mind to much except… this.

So I need to purge and decompress, but it’s hard to know where to start. I’m simultaneously buzzed and mopey. Aching. Restless. And more than half of me just wants to go back to the beginning and read them all again.

Damen and Laurent. Oh. My. Fucking. God.

Settle. Breathe. Write your damn review.

Kings Rising is the third book in the Captive Prince trilogy by C.S. Pacat, a Melbourne author. I reviewed the first two in the series last year — and I’m really thankful I didn’t come to them earlier and suffer the very long wait.

The basic premise of the series is this:

Instead of inheriting a kingdom when his father dies, Damen is betrayed by his half-brother and gifted as a pleasure slave to a rival nation’s crown prince, Laurent. Meanwhile, Laurent is also being manipulated out of his throne by his uncle who is regent but wants to be king. The princes start off hating each other, then over the first two books gradually build mutual respect and a deep emotional connection, based on their recognition they need each other to survive all the political and military plotting, and ultimately regain their birthrights.

Each book picks up exactly where the previous left off. Which means Kings Rising picks up just after Damen and Laurent have finally spent the night together, and Damen’s true identity as Prince Damianos, who killed Laurent’s elder brother (and hero) six years ago on the battlefield has just come to light.

(I honestly do not know why reviewers keep calling this slave m/m erotica. There is only one sex scene between them in two whole books. It’s a love story, not erotica. Is it just because it’s love between men they have to call it erotica? Gah!)

In Kings Rising, the relationship between Damen and Laurent is back on rocky ground, but they do form a political alliance and endeavour to defeat both the Regent and Damen’s bastard half-brother. There’s a cast of new supporting characters too, all of which are robust enough and play their roles.

But it’s Damen and Laurent we’re interested in; and their love will not be denied. It can overcome Laurent’s knowledge of Damen’s identity and the fact he flogged Damen nearly to death in the first book. It can even overcome the fact they’re destined to be kings of two different nations.

Each recognises he needs the other to temper strong emotions; Laurent’s intelligence and political nous complements Damen’s insightful military strategy and skill on the battlefield. Together they make a stronger whole. And because their love is so hard-won, so against all the odds, it is all the more powerful.

The challenge of meeting expectation

I confess I was, while excited, also a little apprehensive to read Kings Rising. I’ve been burnt by third books many times before, especially from debut authors. And I so desperately wanted this book to reach the heights of the preceding two — the tension, the twisting, the stakes, the deep emotional impact. I also desperately wanted the writing (from Damen’s point of view) to reflect the same elegant, sparse, yet deeply emotional style.

And as it turns out, Kings Rising is not a perfect book. The opening few chapters are a bit shaky, bumpy, especially as the author throws in the first ever chapter from Laurent’s point of view — which at this stage I did NOT want. After seeing him and knowing him through Damen’s eyes, I didn’t want to suddenly get inside his head. Not that much was revealed about him anyway. It was just a random and annoying deviation. (I am trying to forget this chapter even existed.)

But once the first few chapters were out of the way, it settled down into something reminiscent of the first two books. Damen is once again the viewpoint character, struggling to second-guess Laurent’s fierce strategising and plots within plots, trying to make the hard political decisions and temper his own headstrong nature, yearning for Laurent who has retreated emotionally.

Restrained yet emotional writing

Pacat’s writing is wonderful. It manages to convey deep emotional connection and love and fear, while being fiercely restrained. So often it’s what’s not said or thought that conveys the depth of their feelings — the reader is never in any doubt of either character’s love, even though neither once says the actual words. Their individual acts — of vulnerability or sacrifice — say all that is needed.

So on an emotional level, from the perspective of the love story, I got what I needed and wanted out of Kings Rising. Damen, charismatic and honourable and loyal, wins the heart of Laurent, whose true character is gradually revealed over the three books as he opens up to Damen and lets him inside. From cold to warm-hearted, self-serving to self-sacrificing, resentful to forgiving; but always so intelligent with the ability to be extremely ruthless when needed. He’s a truly marvellous creation and I fell for him so hard.

It even appears they will get a happy ever after… No two kings deserve it more. (Apparently there’s an epilogue coming as an addendum, for which I cannot wait.)

However, I do have to agree with many other reviewers that the last 20% of the book does fall away in terms of plausibility of plot. After 2.8 books of intricate political maneuvering, the ultimate confrontation is all resolved a bit too easily, and relies too much on luck with not enough twisting. Also, Damen is played far far far too easily — first by the Regent and then by his brother. It made me mad with him, especially as the Regent’s manipulation put Laurent in a very bad situation and any reader with half a brain was expecting the reveal leading to it.

Having said that, I did like the way the final confrontation played out based on the past actions of a cast of supporting characters from all three books — from the Regent’s poor murdered bed slave, to the thuggish guard who tried to kill both Damen and Laurent on various occasions, to the unexpected contributions of their companions. This tied up a bunch of loose ends rather neatly, and gave me the feeling the author knew what was going on the whole time.

Traditional fantasy — princes with swords

I should note also this is not fantasy for those who seek innovative worldbuilding or gender equality. On the whole, it’s a traditional male-dominated (perhaps more than normal) fantasy world, but it feels solid enough. For this series it doesn’t matter. It’s about princes with swords. C.S Pacat has admitted in interviews that it started as something she wanted to read and she listed a whole bunch of fantasy tropes to include. And there they are. Familiar doesn’t in this case mean bad.

Despite its flaws, I still love Kings Rising and think it’s a fitting conclusion to a series that’s already close to my heart. After all, for me it’s all about the characters and the emotional resonance, and I can’t fault any of that.

I’m not the first to say this, but I’m a little envious of people who still get to enjoy this for the first time. The first two do stack up well on second reading, though — I inhaled them a few days prior to Kings Rising, wanting to make sure I was fully immersed in the world and characters before I took the final journey. I’m pretty sure I’ll be re-reading this series periodically for years to come.

I’m pretty sure I’ll be thinking about Damen and Laurent a lot too.

AWW2016This is my first review for the 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge. I’ve committed to reading six books and reviewing four, although I’ll endeavour to read and review more.

The year of getting stuff done

Today has been an exercise in self control. A novel for which I’ve been waiting waiting waiting has been released — Kings Rising, the conclusion to CS Pacat’s Captive Prince fantasy trilogy is now available. In fact, it is already sitting on my kindle.

But I promised myself that February (i.e. this week) marked the start of “The year of getting stuff done”. It’s a year when I’m going to get off my a$$ and take control of my life. Things to do… places to see… health to prioritise… And all that.

And I need to take control, because for the past year I’ve been… distracted.

It’s not that 2015 was a bad year. It was a pretty great year, actually. I kicked a lot of goals — plenty of singing, plenty of writing, regular D&D with friends. Not to mention the trip of a lifetime to Mongolia!

But I’m also very aware that there are parts of my life I’ve let slide. I haven’t achieved nearly as much I’d have liked to, and I need that to change. I need to be less distracted. Or maybe the word is consumed.

The issue? It is, I’m afraid, too much reading. Overall, I’m delighted I’ve kicked my TV habit in favour of books, but I have to acknowledge I’ve taken this reading thing a bit too far.

For example:

Reading all night and right through the next day. OK, I only did that once, but I saw 7am from the wrong side several times. When I hear the birds start singing and light breach the cracks in the holland blind… yikes.

Finishing a book at 3:30am and heading straight to Amazon to one-click the next book in the series.

Not wanting to socialise… if my friends only knew how many times I dragged myself to a social engagement when all I wanted to do was stay home with my kindle.

Blowing off entire half days (when I’m supposed to be working) in order to read. This working from home gig requires discipline!

I’m serious.


I’ve been completely consumed by reading reading reading. It’s been read/eat/read/work/read/write… Every spare moment of every day has been spent on the couch. When not immersed in a book, I’ve been at best only half present, thinking about when I get to switch on my kindle again. It’s like I’ve been submerged in a poppy haze.

Plus I’ve kidded myself into thinking I can exist on around 4 hours sleep a night. Unfortunately, I’m a slow reader. And the more emotionally engaged I get with a book, the slower I go. I like to immerse myself and savour. So I end up reading for a lot of hours. I reckon at some stages of last year (and this past month) I’ve been averaging 8 hours of reading a day. Do the math.

So step one is recognising I have a problem, right? This reading thing has become a habit I need to break. Like too much chocolate.

Imagine how much more I’ll achieve if I simply halve my reading time? Sleep, for one thing. More regular and intensive exercise. Maybe I’ll get on top of the housework. Or my jungle of a garden.

And then there are of course my creative goals. Although I have pressed on with my novel in the past year, imagine how much more I’d have done if I channelled some of those reading hours into writing?

And wouldn’t it be nice if I could sit down and actually write all the blog posts I have buzzing around my head? (So much more to share about Mongolia…)

All this is why I have resisted closeting myself with Kings Rising today. Why I am spending this evening with my laptop instead of my kindle. It’s about kicking my habit.

Already I feel less foggy. It’s only day 3 and I’m going OK. I’m not feeling too twitchy. Not that I’m giving reading up all together. I’ve simply set myself some limits.

It’s going to be a good year. Better sleeping habits and exercise are high on the agenda — I want to be fitter and more highly energised. Improved brain activity. All the good stuff.

I’m striving for greater productivity all round. No more making do with the bare minimum. It’s time to take back control and create, rather than consume.

That’s the end of my confession. I did enjoy last year. A lot. But I’m going to enjoy this one even more.