Review: Alexandra Rowland – A Taste of Gold and Iron

A Taste of Gold and Iron
Alexandra Rowland

Arasht is known for its pure currency that is determined by touchtasters. A plot with counterfeit coins could threaten the whole realm, and Kadou needs to solve it. Kadou is a bit of a mess, so it’s a good thing that he has a beefy bodyguard to keep him out of trouble. Will there ever be something more between them?

It took me ages to read this novel because 1) I thought it was the first in a series and I didn’t want to commit and 2) I didn’t notice that it had gay protagonists. Unfortunately the plot was lacking. I’m not sure why I kept reading it – maybe I got too attached to poor Kadou and his panic attacks? Then again, I hated Kadou’s ex- who was just a comical steriotype of a gay man calling everyone ‘darling’ and ‘sweetheart’. Evemer tries to be the hard counterpoint to the ex- but never really becomes a 3D character.

The plot of this novel was quite weak, and it was very easy to see where the book would end up. It was obvious who the villians were from the start, and it was clear that it didn’t actually matter if they were caught! I mean, there was a moment where they couldn’t trust anyone, but it was all good! They just pulled in a truth-seeker.

What I loved most was the use of another non-binary gender in a way that the author just created a new term. The author just rolled with it and didn’t give the reader a chance to be transphobic. The role of male partners was also curtailed by body-father (basically sperm donor) and women only giving another person law/love control over the offspring if they wanted to. Seliha is a bit dopey, but gets there in the end I guess.

This reminded me a bit of Ash Princess in the way that it had a (to me) traditional feel of bodyguard falling for a princess/prince/whoever. It was inevitable that they would fall in love, because why else would the book exist? I’m giving this a generous 4 stars since I did keep reading it, but the plot was just pathetic.

Pan Macmillan | 30 August 2022 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Karelia Stetz-Waters – Satisfaction Guaranteed

Satisfaction Guaranteed
Karelia Stetz-Waters

Cade never expected to inherit anything from her family – it’s not like she’s ever fitted in and she’s always privately thought that she must have been adopted. Serena on the other hand hasn’t been able to plan for the future after her last falling-out left her with nothing. Thrown together to try to save a sinking sex toy store, will Cade and Serena be able to save the shop, their sex and their lives?

Cade and Serena are great examples of characters that some people will recognise themselves in (I graviated towards Cade) and others may think are just too stereotypical. The good news is that you don’t have to like them both to enjoy the novel! You also don’t need to like sex toys (it’s perfectly ok if you don’t like or need sex) or art to appreciate the novel.

Karelia and her publisher kindly provided me with a eBook copy – which I promptly failed to review (darn, I hate eBooks). I then waited patiently until my physical copy arrived in the mail, and then began reading it aloud to the other two lesbians in my household. Unfortunately, I was really REALLY invested in the story again, and so I wanted to read ahead of them. So… I finished it without them. My copy is actually looking a little beaten up, which I guess shows how much I love it.

I then wrote a review… and WordPress ate it! Grah! I’m back again now considering my third re-read because I loved it so much. I thought it was much better than the previous novel in this ‘series’ which was Worth the Wait. I’m now waiting impatiently for the next book, Behind the Scenes. If you’re a person who identifies as queer, know someone who identifies as queer (which is surely just about everyone?) – this author is for you.

I passionately recommend all of Karelia’s novels to the Queers in your life. Karelia writes a really enjoyable romance style where the sex is a bonus rather than expected. I find that most of her characters come alive for me, and even though I know what the ending will be, I still feel certain that I might be tricked and there won’t be a happily ever after.

Review: Jodi McAlister – Can I Steal You for a Second?

Can I Steal You for a Second?
Jodi McAlister

Amanda is keen to get over her last relationship – surely a break in a house full of other women and a single Romeo is the way to go? She has nothing to lose and everything to gain from a potential relationship. Or maybe she’ll find love? There’s two Dylans to choose from after all!

Mandie is such a sympathetic character. She has low self-esteem and her list of things that she is good at does at least get a little longer during the course of the book. Unfortunately, I didn’t really feel like she had made real progress. She’s definitely just fallen for a person too quickly. Being trapped with someone during COVID lockdowns in Melbourne forces quick relationships (a great example is 56 days if you are looking for a psychological thriller).

I think that the author creates understandable characters but I am left wanting more substance. I know it’s just ‘fluffy romance’ and I should be grateful for non-Caucasian, non-heteronormative relationships at all, but I wanted to see more convincing character growth in general. The marketing brief is so proud that the author is a Lecturer, rather than ‘just’ a romance writing – but I still expected more.

This book is to be read in parallel with Here for the Right Reasons. I actually think you should read this one first, as there would be less spoilers that way (but of course there’s still a happily ever after). I’ve read another romance book from this author (Valentine), and it’s clear the author has a ‘type’. But the end of this one promises that there will also be a Lily and Murray book. WHY? Move on, deliver me a new story!

I’m giving this four stars, which is perhaps a bit generous. I did definitely have some real laugh out loud moments (not a spelt-out lol) and there were several bits where I needed to share the text with someone else! Worth reading, but perhaps not worth owning unless you want to relive reality TV during a lockdown more than once.

Simon and Schuster | 5th April 2023 | AU$22.99 | paperback

Review: Lily Lindon – Double Booked

Double Booked
Lily Lindon

Georgina doesn’t want to get married. Or at least, she doesn’t think she does – she doesn’t like change. She’s happy with her same old routine dependable boyfriend, shared calendar and best friend SophieSlob. George’s a single night out at a gay bar as a favour to Sophie turns out to be an unexpected foray into revisting her musical roots and being not-straight. Cue chaos of Georginas’s life quickly deteriorating.

I was so invested in Georgina, and she felt like a real character with some interesting flaws. Most of the time I found myself genuinely laughing, rather than thking ‘what an idiot’. Let me say though that perhaps the reason I understood how Georgina treated her friends is because I viewed her through a lens of trauma. Georgina just doesn’t seem to have processed her own father’s death. Thus, her relationships and the horrible way she treats her family and friends is, if not justified, certainly understandable.

Being bisexual is no joke, even though the ‘B’ has been a part of LGBTIQA*+. We do have to talk about a little bit of privilage here – although Gina isn’t rich, she does have her mom to fall back to, she has a stable housing situation (with backups) and she also isn’t a person of colour. If you are looking for a protagonist who doesn’t already have these things going for her, then step past this novel.

I felt like everything was perfectly mapped out by the author. However, a couple of things just seemed a little too neat. Seriously, a wedding after all that? Trust me when I say that isn’t a spoiler. I also wasn’t 100% on board with how a panic attack was treated, and how open relationships / cheating were sort of ok-ed.

Well, I know how this novel turns out now, so I’m not sure I’d read it again. I’d recommend it for those who are perhaps considering their sexuality that are past Keeping You a Secret. Or, just wanting a fun story of finding your sexuality.

Head of Zeus | 30 August 2022 | AU$24.99 | paperback

Review: Helen Hoang – The Heart Principle

The Heart Principle
Helen Hoang

Anna Sun had a moment of fame performing unexpectedly at a concert where the original main attraction had had a car accident! What came from that moment was fame to a level she doesn’t know what to do with, and pressure to perform. A blind-date one-night-stand with Quan, a tattooed and dangerous-looking guy, will be just the thing to get her life back in order, and show her boyfriend that she’s not just going to accept an open relationship.

Hoang reports that she had problems completing this novel, just as her protagonist struggles to continue with her music. I’m so sorry, Helen, if I may be so familiar with you to use your first name. I didn’t find The Heart Principle to be as good as The Kiss Quotient or The Bride Test. I wanted fresh new characters and situations that didn’t feel so convenient.

You don’t need to read either of Hoang’s first novels to place this one in context. That being said, it kind of contains a spoiler for The Kiss Quotient – but not really as you kind of expect all romances to have a happy ending? I’m really keen to read more from Hoang, provided that she steps away from the characters she has already plotted with.

This novel again approaches the topic of how women’s autism presents differently to those in males. I didn’t resonate with Anna’s character or quirks at all, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t be a role model for another human diagnosed with autism or even just being on the autistic spectrum. I’m happy to see more accessible neuro-diverse novels being offered and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any type of romance reader.

I might reread this one, but if I’m looking for a standard male-female romance, I will definitely reach for the other two first. 4 stars from me.

Review: Helen Hoang – The Bride Test

The Bride Test
Helen Hoang

Khai doesn’t need relationships – he’s not lonely. Esme doesn’t think she needs to get married, since she has her daughter already. But both of them could be happier if they had someone in their lives. Esme can stay in the USA if she can marry him – but can she love him as well?

Ah, I wouldn’t have called this The Bride Test. Is Esme really tested? Or is it Khai who has to decide what he really wants? I loved reading their different perspectives and how the times almost overlapped, and that arg! How could they both think such different things about the same interactions? Well, since Khai identifies as having Autism, yes, it’s clear how that can be the case. It’s nice to see a non-neurotypical writer commenting and writing on a topic that she is surely intimately familiar with.

This novel has some HOT sex scenes that surprisingly didn’t make me cringe too much! Khai’s first time is adorable. There’s a lot of time spent thinking about penises because Khai is sexually frustrated, so if that’s not your thing, perhaps don’t pick this novel up. Esme is so comfortable with her body that it’s really freeing to read about.

GoodReads has this tagged as ‘The Kiss Quotient #2′ but it has NOTHING to do with Helen Hoang’s other novel. Yes, they both have autistic protagonists and are hot romances, but that’s it. They don’t contain any of the same characters.

You know, I read this the moment it got inside my front door like a ravaging maniac. Then I didn’t review it because I went on holidays. So then, oh, poor me, I had to read it again! And so I’ll give it 5 stars. I can’t wait for Helen Hoang’s next novel.

Allen & Unwin | 1st July 2019 | $33.99 | paperback

Review: Paige Toon – Five Years From Now

Five Years From Now
Paige Toon

Nell wants to sleep on the bottom bunk when she visits her dad – there’s no way she’s giving up ‘her spot’ for Vian. But Vian’s mum is really nice too – and Vian and Nell have the beginning of a great friendship, or maybe more than just friends. But is there actually a spark? And what does it mean that they are as good as brother and sister?

No, I don’t care about your relationship, Nell and Van. Yes, I think you’re pathetic. Move on already. It might be a ground breaking romance but that doesn’t mean that without it you’re worthless. It could be ‘one true love’ or it could just be you poking a sore because you’re too afraid to move on. Oh, and not to mention that the cheeky Piskies just seemed to be a complete setup.

I hated the perspective in this novel. The novel starts out with Nell telling her son Luke a story, but then somehow at the end jumps into the future. It’s not clear where Nell’s memories begin and end. This novel reminded me of City of Girls, where the main character just seems to float around in her own mind and already knows the outcome and takes foreshadowing shots into the dark to confuse the reader. Except that at least in City of Girls the main character had a spine. I’m not sure Van does.

What I enjoyed about this novel was that it showed the hardships on divorced parents, not just their children. No, just because you’re having a baby doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to get married (or offer to get married). What about an abortion? It didn’t seem to cross any of their minds. Sometimes there isn’t a one right path – and that’s ok too.

I started and finished this novel reluctantly – my phone battery was dying and I couldn’t be bothered getting a different book from my suitcase to read. 2 stars from me. Don’t bother with it.

Penguin Random House | 30th April 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Rebecca Serle – The Dinner List

The Dinner List
Rebecca Serle

Sabrina has invited one person to her 30th birthday dinner, yet when she arrives there are five people at the table. One is her best friend and another her college professor, but also three dead people. Over wine and conversation, Sabrina is invited to reflect on her life so far, and what she wants to do next.

I hated this novel. I finished it, but I completely skimmed the last half of it because I was impatient with the slow action and boring protagonist. Passing between the present dinner and past memories could have added some momentum, but instead just served to push me out of the narrative, and wonder why the dinner table format had been used if the novel was going to contain flashbacks anyway.

I get that this could have been a sort of thought experiment, but honestly why was Audrey Hepburn there? I could understand her ex being there, and her dead father, but ugh, the rest could have been the waiter talking for all I cared, interjecting with random suggestions of how to think about ideas.

How is that ending useful? I didn’t experience any closure, or any sense of why the ending was logical. I’ve tagged this novel under ‘romance’ because that’s what GoodReads advised me, but I don’t think it’s a romance. It’s a tragedy of a novel that had potential but failed to perform. 1 star from me.

Allen & Unwin | 29th August 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Uzma Jalaluddin – Ayesha at Last

Ayesha at Last
Uzma Jalaluddin

When does Ayesha get to choose her own path? As a high-school substitute teacher with little interest in getting married, she feels pressure to meet her extended family’s expectations. This includes looking after her cousin Hafsa, who is determined to have 100 marriage proposals before settling down. When her path intersects with Khalid, the two must decide for themselves how much they are willing to sacrifice – and gain.

You can tell that this novel is written by someone who actually understands Muslim culture, and isn’t just writing a novel in the ‘genre’ because it’s ‘popular’. Often I find in novels that there is a lot of going on about hijabs, when really most of the time it’s not anything out of the ordinary for the woman in question. Ayesha is comfortable with her faith even as she rebels against some of the requirements and expectations of her family.

I envy them their faith. I hope that people who do not understand or do not want to understand Muslim culture can read this novel and have their views changed. The sad fact is that many people are like Sheila the Shark – out to tarnish everyone of a religion/culture/group/minority with the sins of one person. This novel hopefully starts poking holes in those assumptions. Ayesha is a believable character that I found it easy to relate to.

Now, given the hassle of organising my own wedding lately, you’d expect that I felt indifferent or fearful of this novel. But my own life is far removed from this one. My parents certainly have never considered arranging a marriage for me (and I’d be pretty surprised if they did). Many people see arranged marriages as old fashioned and stuffy, but others of my friends who are older and having trouble finding a life partner feel differently. I guess it also depends how close you are to your parents.

Um, this is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice? Ugh, suddenly my star rating wants to go down a bit… No, I think this novel stands fine on its own and shouldn’t be compared to a stodgy Jane Austin novel. It’s a clean, touching romance novel that still had some bite and edge to it. I’m giving it 4 well deserved stars because I found it really difficult to put down, and I found myself second-guessing the story right up until the last 3 pages.

Allen & Unwin | 4th February 2019 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Victoria Schade – Life on the Leash

Life on the Leash
Victoria Schade

Cora is a successful dog trainer who thrives on organisation. Her rescue pit bull counts as the man of her life, and she’s content writing a blog about best-practice training techniques. However a run in with an incredibly sexy client who she just can’t seem to say no to, as well as a dog-in-need with a cute guy in tow means that Cora is starting to rethink her priorities.

This is a lighthearted romance with a spot of dog-loving thrown in! Cora’s a likable enough character who creates laughter with her descriptions of dogs-gone-wrong. There are sad parts to the novel too, but nothing particularly cry worthy. If you’re looking for a beach-side read, this novel could be it. This novel is decidedly chaste, so don’t go looking for sex scenes.

From the blurb, I expected that this novel would be all about how Cora copes with being a dog trainer on TV, but it’s not that at all. Most of the novel is taken up by her escapades with her clients and her friendship with the irrepressible Maggie. When I tried to explain the plot to my fiancee I found myself struggling for relevant details of the plot – because normally I wouldn’t go for a romance that doesn’t have a unique protagonist (eg. The Kiss Quotient).

Go into this novel expecting a light read that will take you around 2-3 hours. You might even get some dog training tricks out of it – the author is a well known dog health expert, so you can trust what is written here. I’m giving this 3 stars.

Allen & Unwin | 1st December 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback