Rose Hill's Writing Grove

A Fantasy author in the Twin Cities

Tag: reading

Book Review: Unbroken

Unbroken is an erotica novel set in the same world as the Port Lewis Witches by Brooklyn Ray. We get a cameo from a couple of characters from the other novellas and short stories, which is a nice little treat if you’re already a fan.

I knew I was going to buy this book the moment Ray posted this.

This is my exact ship dynamic. Like, exact. So I was pretty sure I was going to love this book going into it and I did. The demon is a good mix of human and not, the sex was hot, consent was regularly reaffirmed (a safe word was used and respected!), and the relationship between them was interesting. This book is first and foremost erotica though, rather than erotic romance. The relationship between Michael and the demon comes second to Michael’s personal development. There’s still fluff and romance in there, don’t get me wrong, but don’t expect it to be in the forefront the way you would for erotic romance or straight-up romance.

Part of Michael’s development is moving past an abusive relationship and it gives the book a weight that you might not otherwise expect from consent-focused erotica. His coping mechanisms aren’t necessarily healthy, but they are so very true to the way people actually react. Ray has said this is a very personal book for them in regards to how Michael relates to his trauma. It’s not treated lightly or flippantly in anyway.

This is not a witch-focused book the way the other Port Lewis books have been–Michael is a normal human–so if you’re a Pagan looking for more witchy books, this won’t quite be that. The aesthetic is definitely there in the background, though. And it is definitely quite enjoyable despite that.

I don’t know what else to say about this one. If you want M/M erotica with beautiful language and rough sex, you’ll love this. It’s great. If not, give it a miss.

 

Recommended for: fans of M/M erotica, monsterfucking, demon/human relationships, Hades/Persephone retellings, consensual erotica with rough sex

 

Mind the trigger warnings: Discussion of past abusive relationships, discussion of past sexual abuse, rough sex, drinking, scene of bloodletting, self-harm, depiction of anxiety, D/s situations

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Book Review – Song of Blood and Stone

Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope got recommended as a potential comp for mine, specifically focusing on the romance through war aspects. I think that’s probably part of the reason I’m struggling to put my thoughts into words here. I came into it expecting it to similar to my queer violent fantasy and it’s… not.

For one thing, both participants in the main romance appear to be straight, which was definitely not what I expected for an M/M comp. Don’t get me wrong, the romance was sweet. The attraction between the main characters was clear (to the point where the ace side of me was going “oh my gods, you two, get on with it”). They treated each other well, which is a delightful change from the romance I read when I was younger (which contributed to me not reading romance for over a decade). They truly and deeply cared for each other and that came out in their actions. And, I didn’t get annoyed or bored with it the way I have with some straight romances recently.

But it was a romance between strangers, rather than long-time friends. It was a romance between a prince and a shepherdess, with an almost Cinderella-like feel, instead of a pair of assassins raised by the villain. While both stories involve a romance set in the lead-up to war, in Song of Blood and Stone, it felt like the romance was separate from the war plot until the very end. In this book, the war ended, whereas in mine, the war begins.

It also wasn’t as violent as I expected. I mean, the story opened with racial slurs and threats of racial violence, then two separate rape attempts (towards both of the main characters), so I was expecting a similar level of combat and violence all the way through. But once we leave her house, there are a few isolated incidents of violent racism and a whole lot of politicking. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy political fantasy, but again that wasn’t what I was expecting from this book.

But it also wasn’t what I’d expect from a political fantasy, either. There wasn’t much manuevering for the throne, or dealing with outside royals. Rather, this is a new monarch dealing with internal strife–particularly around refugees. This is an extremely relevant topic right now, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a fantasy novel before. I would have honestly liked to see that delved into even more, but this story was tightly focused on the romance. (Not a bad thing if you’re here for the romance!)

About halfway through the book I was wondering how they were going to wrap up the plot they set up. I started to think they wouldn’t, that killing the villain would be a series goal, but no. It’s not quite a deus ex machina, despite the appearance of literal gods, because it’s still the human MCs who have to save the day (and save the goddess!). Yet, it didn’t quite feel like a twist, either? The ending was well-foreshadowed and set-up throughout the book, but again I was expecting more violence.

This might be a book I’ll have to reread again to get a better feel. (I realize this review was pretty unfair since I spent a lot of it comparing it to a book that’s not even picked up by an agent yet. Sorry about that.)

One thing I will say I was super pleased to see is that the MC does not reconcile with her abusive racist family. She confronts the racist matriarch once and decides no, that bullshit is not worth her time. I LOVE that. There’s way too much pressure in society and books for people to put up with abusers “because family.” I am so glad to see she’s not putting up with it.

Overall, this was a good book. I liked it. I’d be interested in picking up the sequel when it comes out.

Recommended for: anyone who wants romantic fantasy, fans of interracial romance, people who want a Black woman lead, a sweet romance fans, people who want a sort of 1920s-ish second-world fantasy, #ownvoices black leads in fantasy

Book Review:In the Vanishers’ Palace

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I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on this book since I first heard de Bodard tweeting about it.  (I have mentioned my love of de Bodard’s work before, so I’m sure this comes as a surprise to no one.)  Sapphic Beaty & the Beast retelling with a dragon?  Hells to the yes.

Let me tell you, this did not disappoint.

I found the first half a little hard to envision sometimes, though that is a problem equally shared by our protagonist.  There is non-Euclidean architecture, reality breaking rooms, future alien tech, and dragons who rarely seem to stay in one shape for long.  This felt very much like a post-apocalyptic fairy tale.  Horrifically dangerous weirdness that people try desperately to survive, but wrapped within beautiful poetic prose.

I actually struggled for a long time with what to put in this review.  It’s just so wonderful I want to shove this book at everyone.  Like, queer fairytales with a dragon?  Why are you not already reading this?  I seriously can’t remember the last time a book made me cry, and it wasn’t even with the romance.  It was just a line about life and surviving but it’s so relevant right now.

Here’s a list of all the wonderful things in this book, since there are too many to go into individually:

  • Central F/F relationship
  • Multiple non-binary characters
  • D R A G O N S
  • Post-apocalyptic forests with alien machine/monsters
  • Dragon/alien monsters
  • Living mothers who are important to the plot
  • Dragon/human romance
  • Setting is #ownvoices Vietnamese inspired
  • Magic through books
  • Consent issues common to B&tB are acknowledged and addressed
  • People actually learn from their freaking mistakes
  • Healers and scholars are the main characters
  • There’s almost no fighting in this whole book
  • There’s only one living guy in the whole book and he dies pretty quick
  • Fresh take on a fairy tale retelling

 

So, yeah.  Pick any reason you want out of that list and read this book.  At 48k, it’s right on the edge of novella and novel. (Apparently 40k is the cut-off for novels for the Hugo awards, which I did not previously know!  So it counts as a novel for our big genre award.)  It’s not a long read, but it is definitely worth it.

 

Recommended for: Everyone?  Fans of Beauty & the Beast, fans of fairytale retellings, non-European settings, fans of post-apocalyptic fantasy, readers who want fantasy that’s not based on combat, readers who want mothers to exist in fantasy, dragon lovers, fans of Vietnamese settings, all Sapphic readers, people looking for non-binary rep

Book Review – The Glamour Thieves

The Glamour Thieves by Don Allmon is one of the most delightful books I’ve read in a while. It has a sort of fantasy-cyberpunk feel to it, a bit of Bright meets Mercedes Lackey’s SERRAted Edge series.  With lots of queer inter-species sex thrown in, to make everything better.

The story is mostly told through JT’s POV, an orc former car thief, with occasional glimpses into Austin’s POV, an elf who is an ex-fwb who drags JT back into trouble on the wrong side of the law.  We also get a few snippets of Buzz, a human hacker who JT has an old crush on, during the climax.  JT is the perfect combination of shy, horny, and kinky to make me fall in love with him.  He’s easy to sympathize with.  Austin could very easily be obnoxious to the point of unlikable, but I found him endearing.  I’d hate him if he were a real person, but when it comes to fictional characters, I love that brand of asshole.  None of the other characters stood out quite so vibrantly, including Buzz, but none of them fell truly flat, either.  It was simply clear that this wasn’t their story and there wasn’t room for anything else.

At 46k words, The Glamour Thieves is more novella than novel, which works perfect for a quick read.  On the other hand, I felt like the story had pieces missing (namely, any subplots whatsoever), but that might just be because I’m not used to the novella format. I have a great love for convoluted epic fantasy, so it throws me a little to read a straight (ha) story all the way through with no detours or complications. Like, other than the climax (and you have to expect things to go wrong at the climax), there was only one place where things didn’t go perfectly according to plan.  Like, I know half the plot was focused on the sexual tension here, but it still felt really easy.  I would have love to have seen this more drawn out, but then this would have crept into novel length, and if a novella is your target, then keeping it simple works.  This may just be a happy reader wanting more of the story.

I have to admit, this may be the first time I’ve ever actually enjoyed a love triangle. Maybe because it’s the first time it’s an explicitly queer one?  Or maybe it’s because both love interests are give their pros and cons and treated like real people?  Either way, I loved it.  And I loved that it was resolved not with the death that I was afraid of as we built up to the climax, but with two of the characters simply continuing their lives in different directions. That sounds oddly drama free for a novel, but it was truly refreshing.

I also loved the worldbuilding in this. It was familiar enough to the US to be vaguely recognizable, but there were enough hints of the way things had twisted and the larger weirder world that I adored it.  It truly felt like stepping into the world.  There were no infodumps, or at least none that stood out to me.  We were simply there with the characters, as we should be.

For 46k, there were a lot of sex scenes in this.  Well-written ones too, nothing that made me cringe or roll my eyes at the biology, or even get bored and skim forward.  Now, I write erotica so this was right up my alley, but if explicit M/M sex isn’t your thing, maybe give this a pass.  I even appreciated that condoms came up–and got insisted on.  (Once, at the end, but that’s still better than most of what I read.)

My one real critique of this is that I felt like JT let Buzz’s fantasy racism go too easily–especially since it was directed at him. Buzz calls him an animal an a cannibal and is consistently afraid of JT throughout the novella, and JT basically lets it slide.  I find that hard to believe.  Like, even if he let it go on the outside, most of the novel was in JT’s head, and some sort of rant or resentment should have come up there.  The fact that it didn’t felt hollow–but no doubt necessary for that leg of the love triangle to play out.

Overall, I enjoyed this quite a bit.  I was smiling and laughing reading most of it, from the banter of the characters and the characters’ inner thoughts.  And it ended with a blatant Star Wars reference, which I absolutely adore.

Recommended for: Fans of sexy urban fantasy, fans of sexy cyberpunk, anyone looking for M/M in the fantasy genre, anyone who is looking for an orc/elf relationship as much as I am, anyone looking for a quick, fun, sexy read

Book Review – The Lies of Locke Lamora

The first time I read this book, some years ago, I was not a huge fan of it.  It reminded me very much of a heist movie, wherein a scene would begin with a wide panning shot of scenery before zooming in on the character.  In text, this meant a lot of description that I skipped.

This time, I read it properly and I like it a lot more.

This is possibly the most tightly-plotted 700+ page book I’ve ever read.  The initial plot we’re introduced to is plenty complicated on its own, as any confidence heist story should be, but then more and more complications are added.  But the way Lynch adds these in are smooth.  He lets the reader get a feel for the stakes of the current plot before adding a new complication.  And each time a new complication is introduced, its effect on the original plot is made clear.  I, as the reader, never got lost following the action because it was cleanly spaced out and explained.

Those descriptive passages that I skimmed the first read through?  They not only serve to explain some bit of worldbuilding, but also to enhance the “oh shit” moment in either the chapter that just happened or the one that comes next.  Each and every one serves to advance the plot.

Locke Lamora is the sort of anti-hero protagonist who falls into the “make him interesting rather than likable” category, and Lynch pulls that off supremely well.  The prologue is all backstory (which continues in “Interludes” throughout the novel, which is one of the most interesting formats I’ve ever seen), but it serves to make Lamora fascinating while he’s still a child.  We want to know what he did and how to get this 6/7-year-old boy marked for death.  Competence?  Holy hells, check.  Proactivity?  Yup, he’s clear right there too.  Sympathy?  Well, that comes later in the novel, once the death toll starts rising.  I wouldn’t call Lamora likeable–I generally try to avoid con men and compulsive liars–but he’s sure as hell interesting from the very first paragraph.

And even more than Locke being interesting, his interactions with the other members of his gang are fun.  More so when he’s an adult than when he’s a kid, but still.  The banter between the members of his gang is delightful.  They feel like a family.

I mentioned above the weird formatting?  Let me get into that a minute.  The prologue, as I mentioned, is backstory. One person is trying to sell him to another, or he’ll have to kill child!Lamora.  It immediately sets up tension, interest in an MC we haven’t met yet, and a whole lot of worldbuilding.  The numbered chapters follow Locke and his gang as adults.  The “Interludes” follow Locke as a child and all the trouble he gets into.  I have never seen backstory used like this, and it is superbly well done.  Every piece of backstory, as I mentioned above, serves to enhance the current plot–while also unravelling the mystery of what Locke did as a kid to get him this reputation.  If you want to look at how to weave backstory in, read this book.  If you want to look at how to weave worldbuilding in, read this book.

I don’t even know what to call the world of this book.  The whole thief-infested city of Camorr is built on and around these alien structures.  There’s magic, but true sorcery is extremely rare.  There’s the tech and clothing level I’d expect out of steampunk or gaslamp, but there’s no steam or gas.  Instead, nearly everything runs on fascinating uses of alchemy and these alien structures that can’t be destroyed.  (Which really makes you wonder–what happened to the one that is destroyed?)

Overall, I would highly recommend this book, especially if you’re righting ne’er-do-well protagonists.  My only caveats are: there are a lot of casual gay slurs throughout the book, which was a lot more off-putting to me the second time I read it (being more immersed in the queer community now than I was back then); if you’re not a fan of swearing in books, this is not the book for you.

Recommended for: fans of rogue characters, fans of heist movies, fans of high-stake action, fans of unusual worlds, writers wanting to examine a unique structure

Book Review – Harbinger of the Storm

This is the sequel to Servant of the Underworld, which I reviewed hereHarbinger of the Storm continued the first’s standard of correctly-written polytheism that matters to both the characters and world.  I realize this is historical fantasy and the gods referenced aren’t even mine, but I have never felt so acknowledged as a Pagan reader.  It’s wonderful.  If you want to know how to write polytheism correctly in fantasy, read this series (Obsidian and Blood).

Anyways…

Like the first, this book purports to be a mystery novel.  And there is a murder being solved, don’t get me wrong.  But as a lover of political fantasy, I felt like this was political fantasy at its finest.

The king is dead and the throne does not go straight to the heir. The council must vote between a number of worthy candidates.  And, in true political fashion, everyone has their own agenda and their own favorite.  This being fantasy, magic is part of the way they put forth those agendas and the use of dangerous magic is part of the mystery our hero must solve.

The stakes have definitely increased in this book.  Servant of the Underworld focused on saving his brother’s life amidst inter-temple drama.  In Harbinger of the Storm, all of humanity is threatened is threatened by the politicking.  Our hero is constantly racing the clock to protect the Fifth World.  And I like Acatl even more now than I did in the first book–he’s lost some of his family baggage and is more sure of himself and his role as a priest in a bellicose culture.

New characters are introduced, old characters take on new roles, and even beloved favorites are not safe from death.

Highly recommended.

 

 

Recommended for: Fans of the first book, those who want non-Western fantasy, fans of mysteries, worldbuilders, fans of high-stakes fantasy

My Introduction to Fantasy

I’ve been reading (and writing) for as long as I can remember.  That’s the benefit of a literate culture, I suppose.  My mother read romance novels.  My maternal grandfather read action-packed Sci-Fi and Fantasy.  My paternal grandmother adored dragons.  

When I was really little, I remember reading things like The Babysitter’s Club.  But most of what I read in elementary school was Teen Horror.  I loved Fear Street and Christopher Pike, though I turned my nose up at the impossibility of things like Goosebumps (which is more than a little amusing to me now).  

That all changed in fifth grade.  In fifth grade myself and two of my friends all picked up a copy of Sandry’s Book from the school book fair.  Protagonists my age, white, brown and black skinned, of every background, both girls and a boy, fat, thin and muscled.  Just like the students around me.  Elemental magic to feed the budding Pagan in my soul.  It was perfect.  

I still read Tamora Pierce to this day and I probably will for as long as she continues to publish.  I recommend her books to anyone looking for YA Fantasy to read.  

As I grew up, my grandmother lent me her dragon books to read.  My grandfather introduced me to the delightful Dresden Files, and would bring me to Uncle Hugo’s every month to pick out new books to read.  My writing shifted from ghosts and serial kilers to magic-filled worlds.  

While I still enjoy Horror in the movies I watch (and darkness in the books I read), everything I write now is Fantasy.  I try to write Romance, and it’s between a witch and a couple of werewolves.  I try to do Sci-Fi werewolves and it comes out magitek space explorers.  Even my nightmares feature liches and wraiths.  (Though happily, I have enough normal dreams with dragons that I don’t mind.)  

Fantasy is what I read and write.  I have a short story published in a Neos Alexandria anthology called Beyond the Pillars: An Anthology of Pagan Fantasy.  I have a completed, dark, epic Fantasy novel currently in the revision stage.  I am in the midst of worldbuilding and planning for an adventure/political Fantasy that I’l be working on for NaNoWriMo.  I have dozens of other story ideas floating around, half-planned and just waiting for their chance in the sun.  

 

Happy dreaming.