Not What It Looks Like Indeed

what-it-looks-like-coverEli Bell is the only son of a police chief inspector and a forensic scientist. He’s grown up wonky in a world that only deals with the straight and narrow — and his new boyfriend isn’t helping.

Rob Hawkes is six feet of muscle, tattoos, and arrest warrants. A career criminal and a former guest of Her Majesty’s Prison Service, he’d rather hit Eli’s parents than sit down to dinner with them. One wrong move, and Rob could destroy Eli — and his family — without a second thought.

But this isn’t what it looks like.

Rob’s not in control here — and Eli’s the one to blame.

We all bought copies of this book, and be aware, although we’ve tried not to, there may be some spoilers ahead.

Karen: Having read, and loved Metzger’s Vivaldi in the Dark trilogy, I was very excited to read this book, and as it kicked off I think all of us were pleased that it featured an established couple, and that it read quite authentically British, actually it read northern.

It can’t be much of a surprise to know that the title does really cover a lot of what the book is about. People and situations aren’t always what they appear.

Fra: Metzger has been one of the most gorgeous discoveries of my reading year: I most definitely loved the Vivaldi in the Dark trilogy and I was also very excited to read What It Looks Like.

There is a long list of likes, for me, attached to this specific novel, the first of which is that its language is deliciously British – in fact scrap that – as Karen says it is unapologetically Northerner.

It grounds the characters and the story into its environment and it pulls no punches when it comes to dialogue which is realistically peppered with cursing, slang and the dialect of the region.

From the liberal use of “fuckin”  to the very refreshing, uncensored, use of the baddest curse words of them all “cunt”, the language used in the book anchors the fiction into reality and gives it a weight lacking from similar novels in american english.

Miki: Absolutely. I agree with you on the likes.  I discovered the author thanks to his Spy Stuff, and I felt it was different, honest, adorable, and very smart in the way he approaches certain topics. The language is rich and absolutely rooted with its culture and origin, which gives a lot of personality to the book, the voice of the narrator is clear and powerful, the dialogue is fantastic, and the fact that it takes on an already established couple, original and interesting. Also, I liked the way the author approaches Eli´s sexuality, fused with the plot, and not like a big totem that either is a big secret (and everything revolves around that), or is clearly said every two paragraphs, like the author wants to prove something.

Fra: The title is in fact very revealing of the novel denouement: Eli is not what it seems, Rob isn’t what he seems and the relationship between the two characters is not at all what it looks like. There are several layers of narrative in this novel and the title is almost like a not so gentle push to actually see beyond appearances and expectations, and trust the narrator to make choices based on his own experience and not the expectations placed upon him by both his family and the society he inhabits.

At the most superficial of levels what this looks like is  a relationship between two wildly different young people: the son of police officials – firmly ensconced in their middle classes lives and beliefs, and a tattooed ex con who is bound to be dominating and abusing Eli. The almost immediate look to the intimate goings on in the couple dynamics puts that particular misconception to rest pretty early in the narrative while still being the critical issue in all arguments between Eli, his family and ultimately Rob. Rob and Eli are equals in their relationship and the BDSM element confirms the equal status of both men.

Onto the next level and what this book looks like is a commentary about Eli’s sexuality – which in a way it is – but not in the usual way. On the one hand obviously the main character’s sexuality is critical to the narrative on the other it is not big deal. I mean this in the most complimentary way. Eli’s sexuality  – and consequently the novel – is not an issue. It doesn’t consume Eli with the “oh I have a secret” “oh I must accept myself and if I do everybody will hate me” “oh I shall now offer a lecture on the issues of gender and sexuality to the people who read this”. Eli’s sexuality – simply put – just is: he is 100% sure of who he is, how he likes it and what he wants from the world around him, including his partner and his family. There is no dramatised agony of secrets keeping and a big tragic revelation to move the narrative along.

If there were ever any doubts ever about the validity of the own voice argument this book should dispel them all. Eli’s voice is natural, realistic, affirmative, strong and doesn’t have to explain itself as the confidence Eli exudes about who he is is possibly the best success of this novel.

Karen: One of the strengths in this book for me, was that Eli wanted to get Rob and his family, especially his dad, to get on. In so many LBGTQ romance novels the families are either seen as the most accepting and lovely people or as unfeeling insensitives just there to destroy happiness. Eli’s family were coming to terms with who Eli was just as much as he was, but they clearly cared a lot, and felt that they were actually being supportive. The arguments that Eli and his family had, going over the same ground over and over, were reassuringly realistic. Miki raised a question though, should we be looking for character growth and movement to something- be it acceptance or not ?

Fra: The family dynamics were very well done in my opinion. The very fact that Eli and his folks – especially his father, are basically constantly having  the same argument, if slightly repetitive from a narrative perspective, makes the book even more close to reality for me.

Don’t we all have the same core argument with our parents and to an extent with our partner? My personal experience is that yes we do – fundamentally, critically, we do have the one argument over and over again. I admit that although the actual argument feels real when in it, it is also true that you get glimpses of how it is used as a narrative tool and that did take some of the enjoyment out of the reading experience.

Miki: Ok, I agree. Evidently, we always have the same arguments related to those topics that are the core to the usual fights with our beloved ones, but we are talking here about a book. A novel. A fantasy that, even if is contemporary and without magic elements, it is anyway literature. And that demands certain things to the narrative and the plot, and not a literal reproduction of 20 years of life. That´s why I felt that dynamic between Eli and his family was unnecessarily repetitive. I don´t need a mirror of my life, I want a story that flows and that is able to show me (in this context) a realistic dynamic but with movement and character growth. And I think we were getting there with the book. But then, someone decided the book needed a more “classic” approach. That the plot was lacking the elements to make the book a typical romance. And that´s when the book started to crumble for me.

Fra: I think that at first look, Eli’s copper family’s objections to his relationship with Rob is all purely based on Rob’s appearance, previous history with the law and his potential to turn abusive as his sibling’s boyfriend had.

As impassioned looks at middle class social assumptions  go this one is a powerful one. Rob,whom the reader sees first through the MC eyes as a god, the perfect lover, is constantly judged by the standards of the MCs family and their place in society. It is almost easy to fall into step with the respectable Bells and judge him solely on his appearance, social class and rough language. And yet Eli’s is a quietly strong presence, a reliable narrator who knows exactly what Rob is like and so – as readers we pay attention.  

But at a deeper level, at the what it is like – if you will – the critical issue in the argument between Eli and his parents on the suitability of Rob as boyfriend material is deeply rooted on Eli’s choices and sexuality and that parental myth that silence and support, demands and guidance are the same thing.

Because yes Eli’s parents and sister think they are being supportive but all they are doing is judging and failing miserably at the type of support Eli needs and gets unconditionally from Rob and his family at that.

Massive shout out to the Hawkes at this point. Rough, chaotic, unconventional by necessity and still more intrinsically supportive of both Rob and Eli than the quintessentially middle class Bells.

Karen : The other strength was how fluid and equal the relationship between Eli and Rob was, there was no smaller man/ larger man nonsense- just the revealing of a relationship that was honest and trying to go somewhere. It was easy to forget at times that these were young men 21 and 24 respectively, and at other times they behaved like teenagers. I found the book very sex positive as well, sex was an integral part of Eli and Rob’s relationship , so the sex scenes never felt like they were there for just titillation.

Fra: oh Karen! I loved that this relationship was mid way and that the narrative is about taking it to the next level.

I loved that Rob was so intrinsically romantic and that yes the sex was positive and affirming.

I do admit, I have so before, that BDSM makes me rather uncomfortable, but I appreciate where the author is coming from here and the “scenes” never appear voyeuristic or gratuitous. If anything, in the privacy of their own safe spaces is where we readers see exactly what the relationship between Eli and Rob is like: a relationship based on equality and a whole lot of respect and understanding of each other needs and desires.

Miki: Yes to this. It was so so refreshing to read. That´s why I felt so enraged with that plot resolution. I still feel someone that was not the author decided it was necessary to resolve the issue between Rob and Eli´s family in a conventional  “white middle class” way. The author chooses to resolve this conflict forcibly and tie all the loose ends (unnecessarily) using something completely absurd, incoherent; a scene that falls in the list of “What to put in your book to be sold like hotcakes,” and that smells like a mediocre romance US author, smells of sulfur, as Chavez would say. It is the First World telling us again, in dichotomous terms, what is good and cute, and what is bad and ugly. And personally, I couldn’t enjoy the epilogue because it comes after that ridiculous ending. So you can’t expect me to go all “awww” after you put your superiority complex in the middle of your book.

Karen: So, until about 70%  this was a high scoring book for me, yes I had a few niggles with the repetition in the arguments, but having discussed this, on balance they were realistic then something happened to the plot that threw me. It also sparked a big debate here at Inglorious, second only to the Great  religion debate. Trying very hard not to give anything away, the book became very US traditional . Until this point, other than a few ‘gottens’ it read true to me, and I find that important, and I don’t mean just on the dialogue, the book didn’t try and glamourise things, and of course it’s primarily a romance, but does that mean that every loose end needs to be tied up and resolved ?

Fra: I agree with both of you, and this is why, when it comes to the final development and narrative resolution, I also got disappointed.

This novel would have worked very well without pushing Rob and Eli’s family together. It would have still worked if Eli had walked out of his unsupportive family and refused to have anything to do with them ever again (which was my preference but I have a known issue with authority, especially of the family type, so..)

Unfortunately this fiercely European novel, with its realistic language and strong own narrative voice, sort of turns very “usian” all of a sudden.

In a disconcerting move, we end up with all ends nicely tied up with a pretty ribbon. The plot is dragged on by one of the most overused narrative devices in the genre – the noble act of the “rough” character which makes his innate goodness miraculously visible to the people who has been judging him until about 5 minutes ago.

And considering what Miki said, this is a novel which up to this point had been fiercely European, unapologetically British and strongly literary  all of a sudden turns into the usual U.S m/m tripe; where all ends have to be tied up and the distinction between good and evil (in this case between working class and middle class) has to be overcome.

We did end up having one of our most heated discussions on this point and although we came at it from different angles we did all agree that the ending felt off, edited,if you will, to please an audience foreign to the first 70% of the novel.

That said, I loved the epilogue: I thought it was very romantic.

In summary we did enjoy this book very much: it is strong and realistic and conveys the strength of own voices in a literary way. The ending was the weakest part of this novel but we’d still recommend it wholeheartedly.

Buy It here

or here



A general note from all of us: we have decided that during the month of October we will be reviewing only books written outside of the united states. We feel a strong need to detox from the cultural dominance of u.s fiction, especially contemporary, and  to reclaim our own cultural identity while exploring novels from all over the world. We are very excited about this month’s reading list and look forward to share our musings with you all.


Series Recap Tour and Giveaway: Guns n’ Boys Series by K.A. Merikan



Hi! Miki here.

We are happy to be part of the Series Recap Tour and Giveaway for the Guns n´ Boys Series. As you might deduce by now, we don´t usually do this kind of thing. So, what´s different this time? The books and the authors. I´m a fan, I admire them both for many reasons, so it´s a pleasure to jump on this tour with all the other bloggers. So, let´s start with some important info:

Author: KA Merikan

Series Links

Guns n’ Boys: He is Poison (Book #1) Amazon US  Amazon UK

Guns n’ Boys: He is Mine (Book #2) Amazon US  Amazon UK

Guns n’ Boys: Paris (Book #2.1) Amazon US  Amazon UK

Guns n’ Boys: Homicidal Instinct (Book #3) Amazon US  Amazon UK 

Guns n’ Boys: Swamp Blood (Book #4) Amazon US  Amazon UK 

Guns n’ Boys: Chokehold (Book #5) Amazon US Amazon UK 

General blurb:

‘Guns n’ Boys’ is a twisted, dark erotic romance mixed with a crime thriller. It’s a long, turbulent journey of one couple deeply entrenched in the dealings of their mafia family. Behind the morbid humor and extreme violence hides the intense love affair of Domenico Acerbi, the mafia’s best hitman, and Seth Villani, the Don’s son.

Together, they have to deal with their blooming affection for each other, their family’s homophobia, their own prejudice, lust, jealousy, and violence. In true anti-hero fashion, they do so in most morally ambiguous ways.

Personal review about the saga:

The thing that I admire the most about K.A. Merikan’s books is how risky, original and brave they are in their narratives. They never repeat themselves, even when they use some of the classic tropes in the m/m genre in particular, and literature in general. They are the living proof that you can use any typical topic and write original and entertaining books, which have nothing to do with competing for attention (and market share) with any other exponent in the genre. Moreover K.A. Merikan always has the ability to go a little beyond the comfortable limits of any reader; they tend to provide raw, elegant, uncomfortable stories.

Guns n´Boys manages to raise  strong characters, in very specific and complicated circumstances, without many halftones. The plot relieves us from suffering again and again with the classic, easy and repeated  structure in the literature in general, but that is particularly present in this genre: the use of very specific literary categories, 2 or 3 maybe, combined almost always in the same order.

Something I value greatly in this saga, but it seems not very easy to perform for many authors, is the ability to convey a credible homosexual relationship. Also, the book includes certain taboos and violence, but without getting the feeling that the author just threw a brick from the fifth floor only to make noise. You end up feeling the relationship between Dom and Seth, with the endless but essential power struggle that exists between them and only fail to resolve with sex.

So, I recommend that you try anything by this duo. They have a very large variety of books, and themes to choose from. Guns n´ Boys is a wonderful example of how to be honest with yourself as an author, without loosing quality or sales. Just go, buy it. Book #5 is out. It´s time to give Dom and Seth a chance.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

K.A. Merikan is the pen name for Kat and Agnes Merikan, a team of writers, who are taken for sisters with surprising regularity. Kat’s the mean sergeant and survival specialist of the duo, never hesitating to kick Agnes’s ass when she’s slacking off. Her memory works like an easy-access catalogue, which allows her to keep up with both book details and social media. Also works as the emergency GPS. Agnes is the Merikan nitpicker, usually found busy with formatting and research. Her attention tends to be scattered, and despite pushing thirty, she needs to apply makeup to buy alcohol. Self-proclaimed queen of the roads.
They love the weird and wonderful, stepping out of the box, and bending stereotypes both in life and books. When you pick up a Merikan book, there’s one thing you can be sure of – it will be full of surprises.





Retro Tour and Giveaway- SA Meade Tournament of Shadows

graphiconeGive a huge welcome to SA Meade via Signal Boost PR for this retro tour, our review of Tournament of Shadows to follow – but it’s a fantastic book, and massive kudos to all involved in getting this into WH Smith branches along with the other books.

In a shadowy game where defeat can mean death, a deal with the enemy can change things forever.

In 1842, Captain Gabriel O’Riordan of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars is sent on a

mission to Bukhara. His task—to try to free two of his compatriots from the clutches of a mentally unstable Emir. On his way, he encounters Valentin Yakolev, an officer in the Russian Army, who is also on a mission—to persuade the Emir that an alliance with Russia would be in his best interest. Gabriel, disguised as a holy man, is not happy to be the object of Yakolev’s intense scrutiny. After all, he’s working for the opposing team in the Great Game being played between their two nations. When Gabriel realises that his mission is little more than a forlorn hope, a game he has no chance of winning, he’s desperate enough to turn to Valentin for help and offers him anything in return. What he doesn’t expect is to have his plans to return to Calcutta scuppered by events.

Instead, he and Valentin flee north, fighting off bandits, their desire for each other and the hardship of desert travel. Their travails bring them closer together until a secret from Valentin’s past tears them apart.

Can they set the past behind them and move on together?


Author Bio

S.A. Laybourn lives in Wiltshire with her son and two needy cats. She works as a freelance editor and sometimes writes stories. Her alter-ego S.A. Meade writes gay romance. She loves cooking, reading, gin and tonic and the occasional glass of wine. She is not terribly domesticated and has trouble finding things that she thought she’d put in a ‘safe’ place.

You can find her books at:

And follow her on:

Give away below:


Double, double toil and trouble


Some problems you can’t solve with magick—and some you can.

After a homophobic pagan group rejected him, Lars Kendall is a solitary heathen on the Northern Path, loyal to the gods of the Norse pantheon. But being on his own sucks. So when he finally meets a mixed group of other queer witches and magick-users, it’s like finding family. If family involved exploring past lives and casting spells.

Rhys Turner quit a stressful job in the City after his high-strung boyfriend of six years walked out. He sold the expensive flat in central London and bought a run-down house out in the suburbs. Never mind that it needs walls knocked down, its garden landscaped, and what the hell is up with that carpet?

With his health failing, Rhys is desperate for a clean slate and a new start. He isn’t ready to fall in love with anybody, least of all the hunky builder who looks like he’s stepped out of a TV show about Vikings—tattoos, long hair, and all. But as strong and loyal as Lars is, he also has a very soft heart, which might be the hardest thing for Rhys to resist.

Fra:There is no doubt in my mind that Voinov’s departure from traditional publishing has heralded a  new and very productive period of his writing career. Unconstrained by the demands of a niche market he is now able to deliver a range of diverse queer narratives that are a delight to read.

This is most certainly the case in his latest offering, hopefully the first of many in this series, Lars, Witches of London. Anchored to the London suburban settings, Lars proposes an elegant and delicate take on faith, friendship, belonging and romance in a context similar – IMO – to Magic Realism.

The narrative is tight and free flowing and the themes all intersect to deliver an incredibly interesting story line

Karen: Totally agreed, as a reader I have become increasingly frustrated with many contemporary romances, and this was a breath of fresh air.

Miki: Agreed. Absolutely. His writing is free now from the coercitive impositions of the publishing market and you can feel how happy he is. And we have many examples of it. His books were always a great pleasure to read, different from anything inside the genre.

Karen: I’m going to start by saying that I beta read this book, and I loved it, and I would say that while I share a lot of the feeling in the book about how we are connected to the world and people in it, I don’t share any pagan beliefs. And this didn’t detract in anyway from my enjoyment of the book –

Fra: Indeed Karen, we did have very lengthy and satisfying conversations about the faith/spiritual elements of the story. I thought the faith element and the introduction of a spiritual level and covens in the middle of the British suburbs was actually quite a clever thing to do. It is possibly the setting in which you’d least expect magick and paganism and yet it works incredibly well.

I found the Norse paganism in particular very thought provoking.  As an agnostic I have very little time for institutionalised religion but I find spiritualism, especially of the pagan type, satisfying at a philosophical level.

Also Norse Mythology is an old and very well loved interest of mine and I enjoyed the juxtaposition of mundane and mythology in the setting chosen by the author.

Like you I did not find this element to be distracting from the story. In fact I thought that it gave the characters their agency and it was a critical element of the plot construction.

Miki: we had indeed a nice discussion while reading the book. I need to say first that the only reason I started this book without thinking was this author. The things is, I was very skeptical, I had many doubts because I’m an Atheist. Hardcore, to the core, atheist. I fight, contradict, discuss with/against every kind of beliefs, religions, even believers. Anything. So I was a little wary, especially because even if I can make a bit of suspension of disbelief and take the book as a scifi story, I thought that maybe the author wanted the reader to feel like Lars, to finish the book believing in the same things he does.

But that’s not the way this book works. Hey, maybe I’m even more convinced now about my atheism !

Karen: So Miki what made you change your mind about Lars?

Miki: I think is the intensity of my reactions. The part that i enjoyed the most were Lars´s thoughts, his arguments and reasoning not only related to Paganism and Norse Mythology, but also about atheism. I found myself trying to contradict and argue against his ideas, and that was absolutely satisfying and very very entertaining. It was like talking to a dear friend, on a saturday night, with a glass of wine.

For example when he says things like: “…it was worse because Rhys was an atheist and truly believed that humans were upstart apes.” Come on, Lars, you know we don’t really “believe”. Or the conclusion that “atheist who considers faith the opium of masses”. Exactly, Lars, that’s the point. And things like that. I enjoyed that the most.

So the author just wanted to provoke a little, to move the reader a bit , to put us in a position where it was impossible to stay away of the subject in discussion. And that’s fantastic🙂

Karen : I think it’s fair to say that while we were reading this it sparked off the most discussions we’ve ever had over a book, and I think this reflects the strength not only of the writing, but also on how non preachy the pagan elements of the book are.I think that when a writer is passionate about things it can sometimes be difficult to get the  balance right, but I didn’t find that here. Making Rhys an atheist helped in the balance of course but for me it was the normalcy of the setting as well. And I am curious to know if that was the same for you Miki and Fra ?

Miki: Yes. The debate and ideas that flourish regarding beliefs, faith and how it affects everyday decisions is super interesting. But I feel Rhys atheism is not really about the rejection of belief that any deities exist, but more like a consequence of everything that’s happening to him. I feel he could be easily convinced of the contrary if some details of his life could change. So, as an atheist, I didn’t really feel his atheism, but maybe that was on purpose too.

Fra: Firstly yes; we did end up having some of the most satisfying book discussions while reading.

Secondly: I thought that the belief systems explored in the  novel did not detract in any way from my enjoyment of the story itself.

Lars’s pagan practices had a beauty and delicate feeling to them which felt unobtrusive. Voinov is obviously very close to this subject matter but I never felt as if he was trying to preach or impose his own set of beliefs on the reader.

The suburban setting and Rhys atheism did work very well to counterbalance the spiritual elements.

I thought that the way the Norse Mythology was deployed throughout the book gave it depth but the fact that it was constantly balanced by Rhys atheism and his journey through medical treatment gave it credibility. To Lars’ quests in the spiritual world there is always a corresponding step in the empirical one. Rhys’ illness is not magically resolved. At the same time as Lars’s paganism is well known to the author, Rhys’ illness and the cures available in modern medicine are also well researched.

Because of the parallel nature of this particular narrative arc the reader is encouraged to drawn her own conclusions and either believe that the mystical search in the dream landscape is the key or the bone transplant from a sibling is what make the difference in the end.

Karen : One of things I appreciated about Lars was also the gentleness of the love story, and this added to the balance. While on one hand you have this new group of friends whose beliefs are quite radical, on the other you have the most gentle and romantic of love stories. This is certainly in part due to the nature of Lars himself , but it’s also a clever piece of writing. There were times that I had to remind myself that Lars isn’t actually real

Fra: I agree Karen, the love story which underpins the narrative is gentle and delicate and it does – also in my opinion – adds to the story’s balance. Lars is a calm, rooted, presence and as such he is a very cleverly developed character. He is younger than Rhys, was raised in very unconventional circumstances, he practices paganism and looks like a Viking: it would have been very easy to design a character who was intimidating and imposing. The fact that Lars is unassuming but unfaltering in both his faith and in his support of Rhys breaks the possibility of using cliches in the story development. I appreciate that, no scratch that I actually love it when an author goes for breaking the mould. Let’s face it there are so many cliches’ going around in fiction right now that the breaking of them is rather refreshing altogether.

Miki: I agree. Even if for me the love story is secondary, and that I didn´t relate with Lars paganism or Rhys “false atheism” (LOL), the way each element of the story is written and put together is clever, intelligent and very captivating.

Fra. Friendship and finding your “tribe” are also a central theme to this novel.

Lars’ narrative journey is not only underlined by the romance arc; in fact it starts with Lars joining the Queer Witches group. Alone after leaving his original Pagan group, Lars conveys a need to belong in a very subtle manner. In a way I think the difference between Lars’ original Pagan group and the Queer Witches is the same difference between the institution of the “church” and the more spiritual approach to faith of the early “monastic orders”. In the first Lars is shunned for being queer, in the latter Lars is welcomed and somewhat “recognised” immediately as belonging.

The friendship that develops between the members of the new group felt natural to me and very close to real life in the way sometimes you just “click” with other people as if you have always known them irrespective of a variety of backgrounds and previous experiences.

Moreover the eclectic mix of secondary characters with the rather splendid Julian in the lead will take centre stage in the next installment of the series.

Overall we felt that Lars, Witches of London is a gorgeous book that effortlessly mixes mythology and ordinary daily life in a delicate and elegant manner. It introduces us to a completely parallel reality in the most prosaic of settings, London’s suburbs, and it does so gently, without preaching and without offering any miraculous solutions to the issue of Rhys’ medical condition.

The absolutely stunning cover! It is a rarity to see a cover so beautiful and so very representative of the novel matter itself. In Tiff, Voinov has found a cover artist who  can interpret his narrative in a different medium without compromising her artistic endeavors, and it’s a lovely thing to see two creative people who are in tune with each other. The final product is objectively stunning and in this case – totally judge this book by its cover: the quality you see on the outside is well matched by what you will find on the inside.

Buy the book here

More about the author here

Le jeu perdant

losing game coverWinchester Crown Court, October 2035: Richard Shaw leaves, a free man.

Grief-stricken and angry, Lucas Green is hell-bent on revenge against Richard Shaw, who killed his sister. Lucas has heard of a man who can help—the handsome and urbane owner of a boutique sex shop with a head for planning crimes. But Dante Okoro has a past he’s desperate to keep buried. Though Lucas piques his interest in more ways than one, Dante turns him away. Still, he wonders if he made the right decision….

An unexpected death brings Dante and Lucas together once more. This time they can’t ignore the chemistry between them. But courting a lover with lies is a dangerous game. Dante has been spying on Lucas, convinced he has plans to kill Shaw. Lucas has been spying on Shaw, waiting for the right moment to strike. If Dante admits his suspicions to Lucas, he’ll surely lose him. If he doesn’t, Lucas might do something reckless—and end up losing everything.

Fra: I have very ambivalent thoughts about The Losing Game. On the one hand I absolutely loved the writing. Lane’s gift for words that are evocative and convey strong emotions is undeniable. On the other hand the feeling of melancholy and oppression never ever lifted for me.

“The sun hadn’t exactly risen – more poured itself languidly over the night, washing the darkness into a milky shade of gray….the air felt oppressive” this sentence right here exactly describes my somewhat inconclusive feelings about this novel.

There’s that evocative language – I mean how good an image is “the sun pouring itself languidly over the night”. And yet there is not light after the darkness but a “milky shade of gray..the air is oppressive” and to be completely honest it never ever lifts up.

Talking about Losing Game with my co bloggers I said that I find the mark of an excellent writer when the mood of the characters transports itself into the mood of the reader: my challenge here though is that I ended up absorbing both Lucas’ grief and anger and Dante’s  mid life crisis and I couldn’t see any light at all.

Karen: I agree with you Fra, I can’t remember being this conflicted over a book for a very long time. The writing was totally evocative of the grief of Lucas for me, and at times beautiful. Lucas himself as a character was a terrific portrayal of man literally weighted down with grief . The feeling of loss is palpable at times. And while I really appreciated the skill of the author in bringing this to life, it was actually quite difficult to read.

Miki: I’m with you about the conflicted feelings. Absolutely. But the sensations I felt were different. I didn’t feel personally depressed. It didn’t reach me that way. Personally, I found the book dense and heavy in the writing style and the way it conveys emotions. I understand that the intention was to give that kind of *mood*, but despite that I didn’t like the way the book flows. It’s not natural, it doesn’t go smoothly, it’s dense to read in some way.

One thing is to construct a book that is heavy with the emotional intensity but one very different is to think that the writing should be equally heavy.

And I was thinking that maybe this is because of our different cultures and background, the way we lived and grew up. And how that affects the way we see or feel everything. I mean, you´re European, I´m Latin American…

Fra: Yes, that is me also: completely and utterly conflicted on how I feel about the novel.

And you make an excellent point Miki: one thing is to expertly build a mood; conveying an emotional status using language and the other is to actually affect the mood of the reader.

Dante’s melancholy is not only palpable it is encompassing and, oh my gods, Lucas’s grief and anger are tangible – but I ended up feeling all of those things.

In a way the writing is relentless in the pursuit of its end and in a way that became too much for me to accept as credible.

Miki you made an excellent comparison when we were talking about the book: you mentioned French movies and the way they are oppressive and never let up. I thought that pretty much summed up my experience with this story.

I understand the emotional and psychological predicament of both characters but I wasn’t able to either use it in a cathartic way or to be detached from their feelings and not be dragged under by them.

Karen: On the massive plus side I really liked the female characters, none of whom seemed to be add ons, but were interesting and vital. Avery in particular, in fact I wanted to read her story. Lois and Kit, Dantes adopted daughters could easily carry a book as well. And in my reading experience having one well fleshed non stereotypical woman in a book is a bonus, but three , with a possible fourth in Lily, was terrific.

Fra: Oh yes Karen, absolutely. It is so refreshing to see vital female characters in this genre: women who you can see as women rather than as the female archetypes (in the best of cases and stereotypes in the worst) in the protagonist journey.

I fell in love with Avery and would love to know her story – so much power in one lady.

Same with Lois and Kit, there’s a story there that I would love to be told.

I also will say that Dante’s relationships with his daughters – and in a way – with his friends felt very natural to me and very well developed.

Miki: And they were natural characters. Not something put there just to satisfy the ingredients of a trope

Fra: hear hear Miki! I read a book recently where the women wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test!

Karen: I also think that Lane Swift was trying, and on levels succeeded, in doing something different, but some of that got lost in the romance/ other things balance – and by that I mean that I felt the book wasn’t quite a romance nor was it quite a psychological thriller, although there were strong elements of both there, primarily it was a romance.

Fra: You might be onto something there Karen and Miki: the narrative did feel somewhat disjointed as if the author found it difficult to tie up the story into one continuous flow and I am starting to wonder whether it is due to this tension between the psychological thriller that is undoubtedly happening here and the romance tropes.
So, we found the book incredibly well written, undoubtedly  Swift has a gift with words and can evoke strong emotions through very close character study, but eventually the oppressive emotional characters’ landscape and the unresolved tension between psychological thriller and the more conventional romance left us conflicted. That being said, kind of looking forward to a sequel !

Buy it here:


My, what gorgeous words you have – The Scarlet and The White Wolf Series so far

scarlet coverScarlet of Lysia is an honest peddler, a young merchant traveling the wild, undefended roads to support his aging parents. Liall, called the Wolf of Omara, is the handsome, world-weary chieftain of a tribe of bandits blocking a mountain road that Scarlet needs to cross. When Liall jokingly demands a carnal toll for the privilege, Scarlet refuses and an inventive battle of wills ensues, with disastrous results. Scarlet is convinced that Liall is a worthless, immoral rogue, but when the hostile countryside explodes into violence and Liall unexpectedly fights to save the lives of Scarlet’s family, Scarlet is forced to admit that the Wolf is not the worst ally he could have, but what price will proud Scarlet ultimately have to pay for Liall’s friendship?


Spoiler Warnings for all 4 books in the series below.

We bought our copies of Books 1-3, but received Book 4 from the author.

Karen: After reading Meridian I realised that I had bought all 4 books in Kirby Crow’s Scarlet and the White Wolf series, and as I was on my make do and mend summer (no buying of books and clothes June- August) thought that these would be my next reads. I coerced Fra and Miki to join me, admittedly they didn’t take much coercion.

Fantasy is fast becoming my favourite genre, especially if it has some romance in it as well, and I really liked Kirby’s writing style.

My hopes were high.

I was not disappointed.

Fra: Well coercion is a bit strong there Karen. I think it took less than 10 seconds to sell me reading this series while on my holidays. And man am I glad I did it.

I think Kirby Crow is one of my best discoveries of 2016 in terms of quality queer novels. And let’s face it, Fantasy is one of my favourite genres and I was never going not to read this.

With gorgeous writing, engaging plot and marvellous and extremely well developed characters this series is well up there in my 2016 fave reads.

Karen : I found the basic premise of Scarlet, a variation on the theme of Little Red Riding Hood, clever, and the first book is pretty much focused on that retelling. We meet Scarlet, our red caped pedlar, and Liall a bandit leader and the White Wolf. This book is all about getting to know part of the world they live in, and also the characters for me. While there is the hint of a romance it is just a hint, and there is just one kiss. In no way did the first book suffer from the lack of sex, in fact for me it strengthened the bond between Scarlet and Liall, and my investment in them.

Fra: If there is anything more satisfying than getting sucked into a book from the very first page I have yet to discover it. The Pedlar and the White Wolf is one of those books.

Crow frames her world building and  her characterisation into the known parameters of Red Riding Hood while at the same time turning the story on its head and exploiting some of its more apparent tropes.

Little Red Riding Hood is a cautionary tale about straying from the familiar and embracing the unknown. Scarlet’s wanderlust is a complete break from his family and people’s traditions. He ventures outside of the confines of the Hilarin culture, he explores, the author builds up both on the wanderlust and on Scarlet’s sense of adventure. Through his eyes we discover the world he wanders and the one he returns too. And there’s a constant sense of wonder to the world building which makes this book a joy to read.

Straying from the known path into the symbolic “forest” leads not only to increased knowledge but also to many dangers. In Little Red Riding Hood the protagonist ends up putting her family in jeopardy and almost falling prey to the Big Bad Wolf – in The Pedlar and the Bandit King Scarlet encounter with Liall sets a series of events in motion which will challenge every single one of Scarlet’s cultural references and will eventually force him to acknowledge that notwithstanding all his wandering his thought process really needed a good shake up. Interestingly enough I think it is telling that Scarlet’s introspection occurs not while he wanders aimlessly as a pedlar but while he is confined to the Rshan palace by an endless winter night.

I thought the tension between Scarlet and Liall was particularly well conveyed. It is deliciously slow, it pushes and pulls and develops naturally through several fortuitous encounters.

There’s undeniable sexual tension which is never forfeited in favour of a quick denouement of the relationship. In fact there’s the whisper of a promise of a relationship by the end of book 1 and the tension was building so intensely that I basically catapulted myself into book 2, Mariner’s Luck, the instant I finished the first.

mariners luckKaren: After the first book I was intrigued to see where the series was going, and I thought the way that Scarlet and Liall’s journey moved from being something relatively sweet to a much more complex story about loyalty, honesty, familly,  truth  lies and love. I found Book 2 very strong. Often a second book in a series is weak and acts as a link. But not this one

Fra: Yes Karen Mariner’s Luck is what many call a bridge book – it brings, in this case quite literally, the story and the characters from point A to point B and readies them for the next challenge. Many say that bridge books lack action and plot tension and for some books that might well be right but in this case? I didn’t think so.

Most of Mariner’s Luck takes place on board a ship – this shouldn’t make for exciting reading times and yet I found it as equally engaging as book 1. First of all one momentous realisation on Scarlet’s part – namely the realisation that really it wasn’t wanderlust that was propelling him on the road – is what places both protagonists onto said boat.

By jumping onto the boat Scarlet moves the action forward; he takes a real leap onto the unknown and I personally think that to place this actual movement in a very confining environment is a credit to Kirby Crow’s writerly skills.

All world building in book 2 is character driven. The language barrier and open hostility to Scarlet leaves a lot of the novel to be carried by Scarlet’s observations and thought process.

At the same time the Voyage is one of the founding blocks of any Epic fantasy – we move to another world and the slowest the voyage the deeper the character’s development.

There are secrets not being told but there’s also an incipient (and obviously forced) closeness between the two main characters which lets the author build on the sexual tension she initiated in book 1.

The illness that  plagues both MCs at one point or the other in the book also serves to increase the closeness and in a very traditional way also as a sort of purging exercise.

I did find the lack of communication – especially on Liall’s part – very frustrating; I mean the least he could do is tell Scarlet the purpose of the journey and what is going to happen. And yet, and yet the fact that Scarlet is untouched by Liall’s mollycoddling and figures much of what is happening around him on his own strengthens the fact that Scarlet is way more than his good looks and sense of adventure.

This is not to say that Scarlet doesn’t feel like a fish out of water the moment he sets foot on Rshan na Ostre. If the sea voyage gave him a taste of what Liall’s people would be like, arriving at the palace, surrounded by smiling scheming courtiers, forces him to confront the actual scope of Liall’s responsibilities. Scarlet falters a bit, questions his decisions and yet he sticks to the decision he has made. Scarlet character is honourable, brave, adventurous but most and foremost he is loyal and willing to question many of his own cultural boundaries.

Karen: Confining Scarlet and Liall on a boat really focuses their relationship, in Book 2 it’s clear that these two are in love, and are committed to each other. The attitude of th crew to Scarlet, and his ability to win them round does much to show the strength of will of Scarlet, and how in many ways he has developed in the first 2 books. The relationship on one level was solidified, but  you can feel the tension, especially in Liall as he wonders what will happen to Scarlet in his land, and also when Scarlet discovers his secret.

Like Fra I also felt frustration with Liall, and his inability to communicate, and saw problems ahead!

land of nightFra: The Land of Night is another splendid chapter in this Epic fantasy: there’s court intrigues, Liall’s fighting between his urge to atone, serve and protect and the need to go back to  the freedom he has known for many years as the White Wolf.  I particularly appreciated that on the reveal of Liall’s true identity and name there is no sudden change in the character himself. He takes on the burden, he very reluctantly accepts unto himself the situation but doesn’t falter in his core. I liked that. I liked that under the court finery Liall is still the White Wolf.

Where Book 2 counted heavily on the characters’ development to carry the plot and strengthen the world building – book 3 catapults the reader into an extremely well executed and action packed story.

Crow spent a lot of time coaxing Byzantur to life in book 1 – it is Scarlet’s continent, it is the background to his ceaseless wandering and the theatre of his first encounter with Liall and of Liall’s freedom. Now she applies the same skill into bringing to life Rshan Na Ostre and does so mostly by describing it from the inside of Liall’s palace.

The contrast between the two worlds is staggering: open roads and clement weather on one side, forbidding landscape and seemingly eternal night on the other. Most of the action in Byzantur takes place outside whereas most of the action in Rshan Na Ostre is inside. Pretty much the perfect counterpoint to Scarlet character’s growth. In Rshan Na Ostre Scarlet asks constantly whether he is going to be enough for Liall, he bristles at the malicious attention of the people surrounding him, he questions his place in the palace and yet never falters in what is his very core. He has made a decision and he will see it through. He also slowly makes friends and finally the sexual tension changes and transforms itself into a full blown loving relationship.

I must say that I wish Liall would have shared his past and worries with Scarlet slightly earlier on in the book as it would have been good to see more of how these two face challenges together.

Which is what I enjoyed most about The King of Forever, the fact that we see Liall and Scarlet as an established couple with very real challenges to face together.

Karen: I have to say that In Book 3 my frustration with the lack of communication began to get the better of me., while I understood the reasons for this (on both sides) and also that it was actively encouraged by the couple’s detractors it was at times too tense for me. Mirrored by the intrigues and lies at court it was like navigating a labyrinth. And all credit to Crow, while at times I actively disliked the characters and how they were behaving, at all times I wanted them to pull through.

And I totally agree with Fra, the world building is amazing. I’ve said before that the books that truly work for me have the ability to transport you to another time and/ or place and you can feel, in this case, the cold and the warmth of the fur, the lack of sunlight and the vague feeling of sadness that seems to permeate the climate.

Fra: In book 4 the change of season also signals a change of pace in the action – where most action in The Land of Night was scheming and and courtiers’ plotting, in book 4 the consequences of these signal the advent of war and even more challenges for the two lovers.

king of nightKaren: Book 4 leads us into even more machinations, and empire building by those who want to use Liall, I was worried that the constant tension would take it’s toll on both Scarlet and Liall – but I felt that in many ways they had turned a corner, and now they were actually talking to each other. As we were back on a journey again, this brought into play new places, and thankfully removal from the Court, which seemed in many ways a poisonous place.

My only criticism of this series is that Book 4 ended so suddenly, I was bereft.

Fra: In conclusion: this series is expertly written, it has all the markings of epic high fantasy: a quest, a journey, magic and a myriad of references to fairy tales and folklore – from fairies to Red Riding Hood, Vikings and magicians to ancient divinities; unexpectedly it also has a sci fi twist to it which left me wondering how this great author can carry the story forward.

Kirby Crow not only created a complex and detailed world to immerse her characters in, she surrounded them with appealing and well fleshed out secondary characters (many of whom I’d love to see star in their own novel at some stage), immersed them into a tight web of conflict and intrigue and propelled them into the oncoming war at the edge of one hell of a cliff hanger.

She also managed to create a strong couple not by throwing them into the throes of instant lust but by building up the sensual and romantic tension.

Karen : Well said Fra, I couldn’t agree more. I so enjoyed the way that everything enfolded so beautifully, and with each book there are layers of subtlety. These are books that you can take your time with, and I know that I will read again.

All in all we highly recommend this series and will be pining away in this corner over here waiting for the next book (hint hint)


Make do and mend- June update


darningWhen I started MDaM, it was partially to save money, partially to curb my consumerism, and also it was going to be fun, or so I imagined. I certainly had enough books to keep me going, and more clothes than I can wear. A couple of other people joined in, and I was having a good time, while feeling vaguely superior, a win win.

Then on 23rd June we had referendum regarding staying as part of the EU, and despite all the polls and the views of almost everyone I knew, we voted to leave. While it wasn’t an overwhelming majority, it was a majority, and within a week the UK seemed to facing momentous changes. The PM resigned, the architects of the leave campaign back pedaled on most of the claims that they made during the lead up to the referendum, and the Labour party – the only serious opposition party is in disarray.There does not seem to be any cohesive plan from any side, and the overwhelming feeling that comes across from everyone I have spoken to is that once again our politicians have let us down. While I don’t know what will happen, I do know that if the last few weeks have taught us anything we need to be more politically aware, and hold our politicians accountable for the claims they make. And push for some real change to the political landscape in Britain. I would also say that I think of myself as a tolerant person, but racial hatred and race crimes are offensive and devalue us all. Don’t stand by.

Anyway this somewhat curtailed my reading activities, and as one of the last books I read was the very dystopian Orxy and Crake, made me wonder if MDaM may possibly have to be more that a 3 month experiment, and become a way of life.I also read the very wonderful Scarlet and the White Wolf series, which did manage to distract me from time to time, and we will be reviewing the series later here on the blog. I didn’t buy any books, or clothes – but I did see a coat, vastly reduced, that I persuaded Mr W to buy for me.

I’m planning to update next month as well, who knows what may have happened by then.