Katydid in Oz

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Review: Vengeance Born, Kylie Griffin

So check her out. She’s a demon. Pretty hot, huh? Though demons aren’t actually demons in this book. I mean, they’re demons,but not in the Biblical-twisted-and-deformed-to-externally-show-their-internal-sin sense. Consider it a race name. It makes it easier to follow the shift in mythology. Possibly if you never attended a Catholic school, this may not matter so much to you, but I did for a brief time, and it’s had a lasting impression, so that’s the way I get around it.

Also, that’s not necessarily the most helpful way to start a review. It’s more of a peek into the chaotic-but-somehow-sense-making workings of my internal mind. Let’s start again, shall we?

So Kylie Griffin is great. I know. I’ve met her a number of times. What is also great is her book. Which is doubly great, because it really sucks when you know great people and their books just…aren’t. Highly awkward situation, people. Highly awkward.

Luckily, that’s not the case here. There are some spots where the work behind the writing is evident, and some areas where the author over-exerts herself to make sure the reader gets the point, but they’re issues of maturity, and I’m confident that the deeper this series goes, the smoother the writing will become, and the easier it will be to melt completely into the story with no navigation of rough bits required.

And, readers? It’s a fantasy romance. There are just not enough fantasy romances out there. Hear that, publishers?! Send me fantasy romances!

Want to hear about this one? Sure you do.

So Annika is half-demon, half-human, all outcast. She’s basically kept around as a nose-rub to the humans and a whipping post for the demons. She’s managed to hold on to her sanity, and even develop some grace and strength, through her own will and the help of a human servant who treats her with the only kindness that she’s ever known, teaches her a useful skill - and introduces her to the solace that is the Lady.

Here’s the thing that’s really great about this series: the religion. Stop backing away. This isn’t a scary-religious-fanatic fantasy romance. But it is a fantasy romance where religion plays an enormous part in the world, and therefore in the story. And, if you want it to, it can work as a pretty powerful message about the role religion plays in this world too. But it’s never a ‘hey look at me and my allegory! Aren’t I clever with all this allegory I’m doing here?!’ narrative. 

What I’m saying is Annika worships the Lady, and draws her strength from Her, which goes a long way to explaining the serenity she attains even in the face of constant torture and humiliation. It also provides a link between her and the human captive she helps rescue, who later becomes her travelling partner and guide to the human land.

Said Human captive is Kalan, a Light Blade warrior - a human to whom the Lady has gifted certain powers. He was captured during a battle, and subjected to torture under the Demons. He’s certainly not at all interested in trusting one, but it’s his only way home, and he figures he can sort it out when he’s on the outside.

This racism also represents a pretty big theme throughout the novel, and it’s here that you’ll likely see the writing through the story, and the emphasis on the message. It’s exacerbated by the fact that this novel only introduces the two races to each other, and doesn’t have the scope to start the peace process. I’m hoping these issues will be cleared in subsequent novels.

There’s a journey. And, you know, barriers are breached, secrets are told, perceptions are altered. The arrival at the Human city doesn’t solve all problems - in fact, it creates many more. But there’s hope. And some evil people using religion in twisted ways. And maybe more hope. With some potholes along the way, and a good set-up for sequels.

But mostly, there’s the deft handling of spirituality in a way that I haven’t seen in recent times, an acknowledgement that a belief system is a powerful force, even if we try not to recognise it, and that for all the strife it can cause, it can be an enormous force for good as well.

Bottom line: Vengeance Born is a thought-provoker, but you might not necessarily notice, wrapped up as it is in the trappings of an entertaining fantasy novel, with a little road trip romance in the middle.

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Review: Jilted by Rachael Johns

Now that’s what I’m talking about. You want really good Aussie outback romance? Jilted is the book to read.

So ten years ago Ellie leaves her fiance Flynn at the altar, runs clear across the country and becomes one of Australia’s favourite soap stars. Now Ellie’s beloved godmother is ill and needs help, and Ellie rushes back to be by her side. Returning to Hope Junction isn’t ever going to be easy, but Ellie will face it. Some things are more important than pride. But she dreads facing Flynn, and all that could have been if things had only been different.

So, yes, like every other reviewer, I cried. But I also laughed. And I totally feel like a local at Hope Junction. The use of place is often overwhelming when it comes to the spate of Rural stories on the market, but Johns has really used her community organically to first isolate, then welcome Ellie back. It’s easy to understand where she and Flynn came from, and how that continues to be tied really strongly to their identity.

Secondary characters are another real strength, adding to the overall immersion of the reader into John’s world. I really feel like I could walk into Hope Junction as a local, have a pint, visit the Co-op, have a gossip. I was sorry to leave when the book ended.

There is only one teeny-tiny little thing that really bugged me, so I rewrote it in my head, and it made it all better. I’ll rewrite it here for you, just in case it bugs you too. I’m keeping it as spoiler-free as possible.

The Setting: Ellie finally reveals the true reason behind her flight to Flynn.

this is what really happened:

Ellie: here is my emotionally and physically traumatising reason for leaving you at the altar.

Flynn: Me. me me me. Me me me me me me me. Let’s make this about me. Here’s what Iwould have done in your emotionally and physically traumatised state. Me. Me me me. Now I’m going to run away for a week, not let anyone know where I am, and freak you all out, just to make this even more about me.

Ellie: *is guilty*

Flynn: *returns* I forgive you for not making your emotionally and physically traumatising event about me. I’m going to love you anyways, and try not to blame you for not making everything all about me.

Ellie: Yay!

Kate’s rewrite, from Flynn’s return, because, really, his initial reaction is believable, if not commendable.

Flynn: *returns* I’m a douche. I’m sorry for acting like a douche. I’m sorry for douchily making your emotionally and physically traumatising event all about me, which is a very douchey thing to do. I love you, and hope that you still love me, even though I’m a douche. Will you marry me if I promise to work really hard on my douche-bag tendencies and never be such a douche ever again?

Ellie: Yay!


Bottom line: This is a great example of Aussie Rural Romance, with an organically created setting and fully realised characters. Sure Flynn is a bit of a douche in one part, but, really, aren’t all real-life heroes occasionally?

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What men can really learn from romance novel sex

When I tell people I’m not only a romance novel reader, but an active advocate for the genre, I tend to get met with silence. Most people, after all, don’t want to be rude to your face. But there are some, and contextually, it’s often after a few drinks, and it’s almost exclusively men, who will come back with ‘isn’t that porn for women?’

And I tend to answer, ‘well, kinda’. It’s not the porn they’re thinking of, but porn exists on a number of levels, and romance novels do tend to fulfil their readers’ emotional fantasies. But that’s not what this post is about. 

If the conversation continues, my inquisitor generally only wants to talk about one thing: the sex. I will normally try and explain that sexuality in romance novels is varied and can be nothing more than holding hands, but, let’s face it, that’s not what people want to hear. So we talk about the dirty stuff.

And it’s funny, because I’ve had this conversation a million times over, but I can never get through to my conversational partner that, honestly, in romance novels, size doesn’t matter.

Now I’m not saying that romance novel heros are not well-hung. It’s a fantasy, people, and if you’re going to write a fantasy, then damn, you write that fantasy. And it includes a good length and - more importantly - girth, no gag reflex, no pubic hair in the teeth, and multiple orgasms. After all, good fiction is good fiction. No point in pulling your punches.

But that’s not the important part of the characters’ sexual experience. I mean, it’s a good start. But what is true of romance novel sex can be true of all heterosexual sex (and homosexual and menage, but I’m mostly talking heteronormative here, as men seem to be constantly baffled by women).

Men: sex is really easy to make time for when you know 99% of the time, you’re going to get off. Women don’t have that guarantee. Except in romance novels, where their partner makes damn sure that they enjoy themselves. Here’s how:

  1. he pays attention. Not just in a ‘pant pant that feels good doesn’t it baby pant pant’ way. He notices her breath, the flush on her cheeks, the way her body reacts, her involuntary movements. He takes the time to learn her own personal turn-ons, her unique erogenous zones, the way she likes to be touched. He is with her, not just some nameless, faceless vagina, and he makes sure she is there with him.

  2. he takes his time. After all, he knows he’s going to get off, so there’s no rush to the finish. His ending is guaranteed. So he can be patient and thorough about making sure that she can join him. He takes the time to do all the above in 1, which means that next time, if they want it fast and dirty (and who doesn’t like to mix it up?) he knows how to get her off fast.

  3. he talks to her. I don’t mean post-coital ‘where is our relationship going’ talk. During. He talks to her before, during, and after. It’s been said a number of times that a woman’s most potent erogenous zone is her mind, and our hero makes sure to activate it. It doesn’t have to be dirty - shy women may find that a turn-off - but it does have to be intimate. Letting a woman know that you’re incredibly attracted to her is pretty much a universal turn-on. (just a hint though - shoving your erection into her backside on the dance floor isn’t. It’s all about context)

  4. he learns from her. I have read a lot of women’s magazines in my time, and they all say pretty much the same thing: men want you to show them. Romance Heroes embody this - they don’t take it as a slight against their bedroom skill, they don’t assume that they know everything about her body because they’ve seen a couple of clips on RedTube. First, they make her comfortable enough to give her the confidence to share the secrets of her body, then they take the time to listen and learn. The added bonus to this is the more comfortable and confident the woman is in the bedroom, the better the sex will be. Sexual risk-taking can be a huge phobia for women. Building trust (and then taking that trust seriously) can pay huge dividends. (that’s what she said)

  5. he knows that an orgasm isn’t the be all and end all of sex. Don’t take this as permission to overlook her orgasm. That’s a rookie mistake. But there’s a lot more to good sex than mutual orgasms, and our romance hero knows that. He gives good game in the lead-up, during, and after, remembering that his heroine is not only a person, but her, a unique person different from every other person he’s slept with, with different experiences, feelings, and needs. So whether she needs to be seduced, she needs to be held, she needs to laugh, she needs to be in control, whatever, he recognises it, and attempts to make it happen. It helps that he’s done 1 through 4, which has provided him with vital information.

Now not every romance hero does all of the above, and certainly not the first time - after all, if all sex was great, emotionally fulfilling sex, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of conflict to flesh out a novel.

However, a great many do, barring those who automatically know how to make the heroine see stars (see fictional fantasy). And these novels are insanely popular with a great many women.

It might not be exactly causation (there’s a lot going on in romance novels for people to love), but there’s a heck of a lot of correlation. So why not? I mean, if an improved sex life is the worst that can happen, you’re in a pretty good place, right?

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List of books I need to talk about…

I moved interstate. It played havoc on my blogging.Buthere are the books I’ve read that I need to talk about, and will be blogging about soon!

  • Joan Kilby,Gentlemen Prefer Nerds
  • Nicola Marsh,Busted in Bollywood
  • Rachel Bailey,What Happens in Charleston
  • MJ Scott,Blood Kin
  • ylie Griffin,Vengeance Born
  • Kristin Higgans, Somebody to Love
  • Julia Quinn,About Last Night
  • Karina Cooper,Tarnished
  • Sarah Mayberry, Her Best Worst Mistake
  • Sylvia Day,Bared to You
  • Rachael Johns,Jilted
  • Shannon Curtis, Guarding Jess
  • Fiona Palmer,The Road Home

Some books I read, but don’t really feel the need to elaborate on:

  • Charlaine Harris,Deadlocked
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Aussie Romantic Suspense vodcast reading list

Link to the vodcast.

Bronwyn Parry

Helene Young

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Kat from Bookthingo and I explore thrills and chills in our Romantic Suspense vodcast for Aussie Author Month

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Erotic romance vodcast reading list

Ann Somerville

Cathryn Brunet

Jess Dee

Lexxie Couper

Rhian Cahill (goodreads/booktopia)

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Is it getting hot in here? Kat from Bookthingo and I talk Aussie Erotic Romance…

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Favourite authors - not always technically the *best* authors

So, in his amazing interview with Stephen King (which everyone should go read right now), the equally amazing Neil Gaiman says, ‘After that I bought everything King wrote as it came out. Some books were great, and some weren’t. It was okay. I trusted him.’

And I tumbled even more into love with Neil Gaiman right there because he absolutelynailedthe way I feel about some of my favourite authors. Sometimes their books don’t quite hit those lofty heights. But it’s okay. I trust them.

Like Julia Quinn. I just finished her upcoming release, A Night Like This which comes out the end of this month. It’s continuing her Smith-Smythe quartet about a family in the upper echelons of regency society that produce a staggering number of musically disinclined daughters. In this book, we meet Daniel, the Smith-Smythe heir, who gets himself into a spot of bother, and has to flee the country for three years. The novel proper starts on his return to London, as he tries to step back into his family and his life, and adjust to all the changes. Including the procurement of a new governess that he can’t seem to get out of his mind.

The governess (Anne) has quite the past of her own, however, and is unlikely to risk everything she has built for herself on a fling with the family’s son. That is a first-class ticket to the work house. Even if he is so very tempting.

This novel starts out darker than any of Quinn’s others since When He Was Wicked,one of the Bridgerton novels. But it falls quickly into Quinn’s trademark light-hearted charm, with lots of banter and the ridiculous that comes with close families.

But it never really sparkles. And, more damaging, the characters never really become real - like they do in other Quinn novels. There’s a lot of inconsistencies (Daniel is supposed to be a good guy, but he continues to pursue Anne even though all the danger is on her side). There’s one big problem that’s just brushed aside (an Earl, marrying a governess? To quote 90s slang: as if!). There’s a obvious set-up for hero #3. But there’s no spark, no flame, no belief that these two characters are willing to risk it all.

In short, it’s not one of JQs best. But it’s okay.

I trust her.

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Book list for category romance

Want to know what books we talked in our category romance vodcast? Kat from Bookthingo and I can tell you:

Kelly Hunter 

Fiona McArthur

Fiona Lowe

Amy Andrews

Carol Marinelli

Leah Ashton

Sarah Mayberry

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