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.




Somewhere beyond the sea..

Grant Baines runs a specialty-tour company with his sister, Andie. The tour part is ushering frat boys around the Gulf of Mexico in his charter yacht. The specialty is that he’s an ex-military psychologist who does favors for the government. When Grant is asked to spend a week evaluating traumatized FBI advisor Matty Sawyer, he agrees, thinking it will be just another babysitting assignment.
meridian cover
Grant is more relaxed in a bondage playroom than he is going on a date, so he’s amazed at how strongly he’s attracted to the damaged but brilliant man who arrives in his town. Grant’s job is to assess Matty’s stability to return to the FBI after Jaeger Koning— Matty’s former lover— is charged with multiple assassinations.

Knowing Matty’s past poses a danger to his family, Grant is determined to keep his distance, until Matty reveals a submissive side that Grant finds impossible to resist.

Karen: first of all a disclaimer, I beta read this – and I loved it. I am capable of being impartial of course but I may be more exuberant than usual.

So first off the bat I would say that generally I have been disappointed in contemporary romance recently, the paranormal and historical books I’ve been reading have been great, but less so with the contemporaries. Whats I particularly enjoy is when what you think will happen (based on similar type books and you’re own expectations) is subtly changed. And Meridian did that.

For a short book it was both emotional and exciting, and yet you still got a strong sense of characterisation. And for me this was achieved by dealing with a very specific point in time. There was little preamble and no epilogue so all the focus was on what was happening now.

Fra: I thought the writing was elegant and taught and sparse without becoming simplistic and retain a whole lot of evocative power.

I also loved that the book starts and ends in a very tight time frame and without compromising either the plot or the character development. This is a trait of Kirby Crow’s writing I pretty much fell in love with when I read her short stories and that I am looking forward exploring further.

Karen: There were a couple of issues in Meridian which in other books have caused me problems, there is insta love, and there is sexual submission. And for me they were intertwined, alongside the initial reason for Matty going to Grant in the first place. The closeness between the two came about initially because Grant was counselling Matty. Through this process he figured out that Matty was submissive sexually. Then they had to disappear together.

All this created an intense bond between them, which combined with their attraction made the falling in love so quickly very believable.

The submission also worked, now this may be because I am extremely vanilla, and I don’t particularly enjoy books with props and pain, but also because it felt honest and real. These guys weren’t perfect and were actually more attractive for that.

Fra: I loved the writing, the strong characterisation and the narrative ability to tell a complex story in very tight confines – both time line wise and environment wise.

I did have a couple of major issues with my enjoyment of the story though:

First the insta-love: I mean one moment Grant is explaining the morality issues linked to his profession and the next he is “taking liberties” after rescuing Matty – I thought that was slightly unrealistic – but suspension of disbelief and all that.

I am not particularly comfortable with BDSM stories however I must admit that this element did work very well with the two characters as they both gain control over their lives through the shared intimacy and the “scenes” they partake of.

Karen: So the romance worked for me, what about the suspense ? Totally, in Konig KC created a really disturbing villain, amoral and chilling, all the more so when it came to how he ‘loved’ Matty. Given how much manipulation he experienced it was testament to KC’s skill as a writer, that she created a strong and yet vulnerable character.

Fra: The suspense, the thriller aspect of this book is what really did it for me: it was so well done. Konig is the exact image I have of the villain who thinks he is the hero of the story and his presence is malevolent and pervasive.

I found myself drawing parallels to Cape Fear: Kirby Crow builds a world that is contained to the point of becoming claustrophobic, palpable in its oppression.

I agree with Karen re Matty: in fairness with the amount of manipulation he was subjected to one really would have expected much less strength and a whole lot more weakness. The decision he takes to remove himself from the situation was unexpected and therefore made me warm up to him more as a MC.

I also think that KC managed to create two parallel stories in a very short narrative time: Grant and Matty story echoing Grant’s previous experience and offering him a completely different denouement and possibly closure.

Karen: I also loved the latter part of the book, there is a tendency to have all the ends tied up, characters married and about to adopt a baby, but Meridian was a little open ended on a couple of counts.

Fra: Yes! I also appreciated the open ending especially in view of the initial insta love.

Karen: Overall an intense and enjoyable contemporary romance, which as a result of reading made me go out and buy the entire Scarlet and the White Wolf series, as well as Malachite. I love KC’s style of writing and look forward to more books !
Fra: So did I Karen. All in all I think Kirby Crow’s talent in world building and characterisation will take a whole extra dimension in a fantasy setting and I am really looking forward discovering more of her writing.

Risk Return (aka The Billionaire’s not so secret Boyfriend)

rrSix years ago, young and bright investment professional Martin David got exactly what he wanted—a relationship with Francis de Bracy, his boss at investment fund Skeiron Capital Partners. Having now started their own business in Germany’s banking capital Frankfurt, Martin and Francis’s life is sweet and easy.

Until the Jesuit Emanuel, Francis’s former mentor and teacher, shows up unbidden and unwelcome. Emanuel brings with him a devil’s deal: Charles de Bracy, one of Francis’s most unforgiving enemies, has sent the Jesuit to broker peace between himself and Francis. And Emanuel does not come empty-handed—Charles is offering Francis the family fortune if Francis travels to the US and reconciles with his estranged father.

Martin knows how proud and headstrong Francis is. No amount of money will bend his will. But as toxic as the past is, maybe facing it will finally give Francis peace. Yet, if Charles is anything like his son, he’s a formidable foe, and Francis’s scars and bitterness run so deep a billion might not be enough to even the scores.

Karen: Although this was published in April this year we’ve waited a little to review, and in the spirit of full disclosure should say that we all know the author, and Fra and I beta read Risk Return.  However we all bought the book as well.

I will also admit to being one of the people who encouraged Aleks to write a sequel to ROI, a book which I feel stands head and shoulders above most contemporary romances I have read.

Fra: I must say that waiting to review Risk Return was – perhaps unwittingly – a very good move. Beta reading and reading for pleasure are two different things and although I loved this book from the very first time I read it, I needed a while to separate my overly positive feelings about it and to objectively consider it, savour it and review it.

And I agree Karen this is indeed way ahead of many contemporary love stories out there at the moment. It is quietly romantic and subtly subversive and I am delighted that my first impression as a beta was reconfirmed reading the published version.

Miki: So, I didn’t BR it, obviously (and that idea should be considered as a crime taking into account my horrible english O_o). I was a fresh reader from page 1. I wasn’t expecting a continuation, I felt ROI ended perfectly, leaving many points to the imagination of the reader, the kind of ending that i enjoy because are mostly a risk (readers don’t like open endings). But that book was different from the start so that was absolutely logical. Book #2 was a surprise in a certain way. But I trusted his author to deliver something worth the risk. And, again, as usual, he totally did it. It´s a romance but not as you usually read it, it’s subverted, it’s original, it’s sweet, it’s smart. It´s Voinov.

Karen: My first thoughts about Risk Return  were that it was less of a romance than Return On Investment, but then I realised that it actually takes some very recognisable tropes and subverts them quietly and subtly. Billionaire and boyfriend? Established couple? Family friction? But rather than making this a hollywood-esque drama it felt so real and honest.

At the end of ROI Martin and Francis appeared to be a couple, very new , and it was difficult to see how the disparity in their situations could get them to a place where both could find balance.

And yet Aleks did it, and with such emotional depth to the story as well .

Fra: Strangely enough I actually found Risk Return way more romantic than Return On Investment. For me ROI was more about the breathtaking plot, the atmosphere of an adventure novel set in a completely different environment – like you say Martin and Francis relationship was just a beginning and I too was left feeling wanting to know more about how these two would carry on a relationship with even a semblance of balance.

Miki: I agree with Fra. RR was pure romance but everything was so delicate, so precise,  so intelligent in the way the narrative takes form, that it’s clearly not the kind of book that you can find in your library under the “romance” sign.

Fra: My absolute favourite thing with Risk Return was how Voinov conveyed the relationship through small gestures, familiar conversations. How he sets the scene for the plot development against the solid foundation of Martin David and Francis De Bracy – established couple.

The characters agency is solid and the narrative tension comes – in a very realistic manner – from family pressure and the strain of Charles De Bracy imminent passing.

Karen: While there is so much to admire in RR, it’s Francis and Martin as a couple who are the focus of the book, how their relationship has grown and developed. From the almost hero worship of Francis in the first book, to a balanced relationship of equals here. They talk to each other, pretty much all the time, they don’t miscommunicate – they actually act like human beings. So where does the tension come from ?

Fra: You are so right Karen the lack of the “de rigour” miscommunication was a very welcome breath of fresh air indeed.

I loved the way the relationship was portrayed with the simplest of gestures, a touch, a word which conveyed the intervening six years between the two books. It felt realistic and well drawn out; it also places Voinov way ahead of many other authors in the genre. There is the maturity of an author who is comfortable with both his writing skills and his subject matter and who doesn’t spend his time justifying his reasons for writing a certain subject in a certain way. And this confidence shows in the novel.

I felt the fact that there is no angst in the couple’s dynamics left a lot of space for Martin and Francis growth together.

Martin retains his sense of wonder but gradually relinquishes both his self doubt and  his idolising of Francis, Francis, in turn, thaws out and becomes more human. There is no monumental plot explosion to signify these changes – they are the plot development. Again the subtlety in which this is achieved is rather masterly done: it is confident, articulate writing that does not rely on shocking (or, as it is alas the norm in the genre, the waving of a certain body part in readers faces) to grab the reader’s’ attention but on actual accomplished narrative development.

Miki: *nods vigorously* Yes, absolutely. RR shows how you can construct a story without the typical plot devices

Karen: Having a pretty irredeemable bad guy in a book , and a father, is a really common device and they usually come off utterly one dimensional. And yet here Charles, is utterly contemptible and yet recognisably human – his relationship with Francis is fraught but has clearly defined Francis , to the extent that if he hadn’t met the all too human Martin  (and Carsten) whose humanising influence you sense all over the book it’s quite possible that he would have ended up the same.

Fra: My favourite scenes were  both the De Bracy and the David family’s interactions. It was good to see both characters at large in environments that weren’t constrained to their work lives. The De Bracy family scenes were particularly well done and I think that Francis stayed completely true to character while dealing with Charles dying. There is no facile reunion and forgiveness but there’s certainly closure in the sense that  what needed to be said and done was so.

It is also subtly evinced that a Francis without a Martin would have in fact very easily turned into another version of Charles: repressed, focus on monetary value and success and not altogether human.

Karen: I loved how Martin had ‘worked out’ Francis, and the super clever Francis hadn’t realised this, how Francis was a little jealous at martin and Carstens friendship, how Francis and Martin’s relationship empowered Francis’ brother.

All in all this was a blueprint for how to write an intelligent, moving, articulate and sexy romance.

Character driven and underscored with  great romantic moments like  the rings, the reciprocal support with each other families, the touches which convey a strong and steady relationship in a realistic setting – this novel is a strong offering and a highly recommended one from us.

My Make Do and Mend Summer

In thmake do and mende middle of May I bought my 20th paperback in 2 months, and added it to the collection on my windowsill at work. At the same time I found a package under my desk containing a pair of sandals, some CD’s and 4 bottles of nail varnish. I got home and counted up the majority of my unread bought books and discovered that I had 78. In my wardrobe I had clothes I have never worn, some still labelled.

A week or so later, as I was about to ‘one click’ on a new book I thought – what am I doing ?  Most of my adult life I have railed against consumerism, I take my eye off the ball, and here I am inching closer to a lifestyle I really don’t want.  I’m  also starting to practice Buddhism, and all this collecting of things makes me feel uneasy spiritually, not to mention the money I have spent !

Without exception all the books I have bought, and sadly only most of the other things, I actually wanted. So why I am buying more books and clothes (we won’t mention the nail varnish, which I almost never wear) Am I so conditioned to want the latest shiny new things ?  I know that they are not the route to happiness, and still I carry on. So I decided to take a break from it all.

This Summer I’m not buying any new: books, clothes and clothes related items and stationary (we won’t go down the washi tape road) . Also any physical books I read I’m going to give away at the end of August, I need to amend my list to show what books are in paper but the list is here, so let me know if there is a book you’d like.

I am seriously hoping that the mend part doesn’t really happen, as I haven’t sewn anything since I was at school in 1986 , so anyone with stitching skills (Fra) may be called upon.

My current read is Oryx and Crake, and then going to read Light, both if these are in print format.

i would really like to hear from anyone who is interested in make do and mend as well.


Silver, Read and Gold – a review of Ariah


Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00009]Ariah’s magical training has been interrupted. Forced to rely on a mentor, Dirva, who is not who he claims to be, and a teacher who is foreign and powerful, Ariah is drawn into a culture wholly different from the elven one that raised him.

As his friendship with Dirva’s brother blossoms into a surprising romance, and he slowly learns how to control the dangerous magic in his blood, life finally appears to be coming together for Ariah—but love and security are cut short by a tyrannical military empire bent on expanding its borders.

War, betrayal, passion, and confusion follow Ariah as his perilous journey leads him beyond the walls of the Empire, and into unfamiliar territory within himself. Along the way, he’ll discover just how much he’s willing to give up to find his place in the world, and he’ll learn what it means to sacrifice himself for freedom—and for love.

Karen: Despite reading some reviews of this book, I didn’t really have a defined view of what it was going to be about when I suggested that we read it. I loved the look of the cover and the blurb was intriguing. Also I had read pretty much nothing but romance for ages, and I kind of needed a break.

So, I came to this book via a romance route, and I think if I read more fantasy generally my reactions and responses would have been a lot different, and I am very intrigued to see if Fra and Miki, who read outside romance a lot more than I do, has any klnd of the same reactions that I had.

Simply put Ariah is the story of Ariah’s life, over about 20 years  so it’s quite epic in construction. When we first meet him he is 30, a child by elvish standards, a virgin and also unable to really control his magical gifts.  He is taken as a pupil by Dirva, who is to train him in his gifts, but of course, things don’t go to plan.

Ariah is a shaper, not actually the gift he’s being trained in, shaping allows him to absorb the emotions and feeling of others. And it’s this gift that actually shapes  him as he moves into adulthood.

Fra:  Karen’s recommendation and that gorgeous cover totally got me into this novel; the fact that was fantasy had a lot to do with my interest also as was the blurb. I grow bored easily with romance – don’t get me wrong there are some great stories and writers in the genre, but my real book love is in fantasy and YA.

I love fantasy for the world building and the fact that almost inevitably it takes you on an epic journey along with a whole chorus of characters.

Ariah is most definitely in the high fantasy space and yet it isn’t necessarily a typical fantasy novel.

Stripped of the critical element of fantasy – the quest for the magical/historical/mystical object that coincides with the growth and self awareness  of one or more characters – Ariah reads more like character driven novel than anything else.

Karen: If, like me, you’ve been a bit indoctrinated by the almost unwritten rules of romance in the early 21st century – must be fast paced, ideally less than 200 pages, if it ends on a cliffhanger the sequel must be out on 3 months. Initially you may find this book a challenge, because obviously Araiah has  none of those things- although that’s not to say that the pacing is slow, because overall it isn’t. Ariah also challenged the one person for one person romantic ideal. Once I got over this, I immersed myself in this book. Although we discussed the book as we were reading it, I’m intrigued to hear what, if any, preconceptions you had ?

Fra: I was intrigued for the most part, and because the setting was fantasy like i guess I suspended disbelief pretty earlier on in the story.

I was cautious at the beginning of the story but overall I thought the exploration of polyamorous relationships really gave depth to both the story and Ariah’s development and journey of self discovery.

Karen: I think using a fantasy setting allowed Sanders to explore ideas of  race and relationships in a very clever way. The elves judge each other by the colour of their skin , and often by where they live (like ‘we’ would do that shit) yet as Ariah gets to know the other elves, he realises that each culture brings richness to his life. Writing this it seems very ‘finger waggley’ but I did not find the book so at all. For me one of the strengths was that Ariah started off quite judgmental, and almost ruins some relationships with this. But the more he experiences the more open he becomes. Because of the length of the book this happens very organically.

The same with the sexuality and relationships, instinctively I wanted Ariah to find the ‘one’ , and in a way he did, he found himself via several relationships.

I found that this book challenged some preconceptions for me, but with a great deal of humanity and grace.

Fra: Spot on Karen! At the beginning of the story Ariah is still very young and very set in his preconceptions. His point of view is all inwards and based mostly on the stark differences he notes between himself and others and his ingrained respect for the societal norms of the environment he grew up in.

My favourite part of the book overall is the way Ariah pushes at his own limits – not always willingly – and comes out with a little more in depth understanding of himself and the world around him. This Sanders does incredibly well.

Ariah’s journey is one of the mind and self awareness rooted in specific places and supported, if you will, by the people he is with at any given time.

The truth of the matter is that for me at least Ariah was not one of the most lovable characters: he is is so set in his preconceptions, bent on denying change and differences while at the same time constantly setting himself apart as different from all other that I did take a while to warm up to him.

Although I must admit that this very crystallised starting point did make the lengthy journey to self discovery rather entertaining.

Like I was saying earlier on, the book lacks the classic epic quest which is typical of most fantasy novels; however the narrative does place Ariah in different locations with key people  to correspond with major character developments.

Ariah’s solid beliefs are rooted in his home country and family life in Ardijan. The move to Rabhata kicks start a journey of self discovery that goes from denial of difference to the embracing of it via discovery same sex and multi gendered relationships. And final acceptance not only of the gift he has been repressing for a long time but also of his love for both Sorcha and Shayat and ultimately recognition that change and differences are a good thing.

The thing I thought this book did very well was conveying the idea that place, society and family do not have to make us the people we are – it is the people we choose to love,  the society which we choose to abide to and the family we pick for ourselves that makes us the people we are.

Moreover the novel delivers a complex and delicate portrait of the main character development throughout a long period of time and by using a fantasy setting invites the reader to suspend disbelief and take this journey with Ariah.

Karen:   I think Sanders overreached a bit and ended up throwing a whole lot of themes at the underlying story which did not necessarily got explored to their full conclusion.

Fra: I agree – my biggest gripe with this novel is mainly to do with the very apparent use of narrative devices to move the plot along and place Ariah in the next critical place/besides the next critical person. It worked the first time when they go to the City to be with Dirva’s dying father; it almost worked the second time when Ariah goes to Alamadour to further his training and reconnects with Sorcha; but – at least for me – starts losing strength when Dirva calls him back to Rabhata.

That said, this was a book I enjoyed. It pushed some of my boundaries and I appreciated the scope of the artist intent: I did eventually warmed up to the main character but I admit that Sorcha is one of the most memorable romantic interests I have read for a while. One that interestingly enough ends up on the epic journey Ariah never went on and is able to bring the family they have chosen for each other back together again.

I wanted to mention the outstanding cover for this book. It beautifully captures the story and that is such a rarity nowadays that I feel compelled to acknowledge how good it is. I enjoyed this book, it was intelligent and very different, even challenging in a way – I didn’t quite love it though as I am notoriously picky when it comes to very visible narrative devices.

Karen: We actually started this review some time ago, and for various reasons did not manage to get around to finishing it. In tidying it up , and reading the review again much of the book has stayed with me and while I too did not love it, I did enjoy it, the writing style and the desire to do something differently.