House of Dragons

House of Dragons
House of Dragons Book One
Written by Jessica Cluess
Fantasy, Dragons, Magic, Romance
Published June 16th 2020
448 Pages
Add to Goodreads
Five royal houses will hear the call to compete in the Trial for the dragon throne. A liar, a soldier, a servant, a thief, and a murderer will answer it. Who will win?

When the Emperor dies, the five royal houses of Etrusia attend the Call, where one of their own will be selected to compete for the throne. It is always the oldest child, the one who has been preparing for years to compete in the Trial. But this year is different. This year these five outcasts will answer the call.

The Liar. Emilia must hide her dark magic or be put to death.

The Soldier. Lucian is a warrior who has sworn to never lift a sword again.

The Servant. Vespir is a dragon trainer whose skills alone will keep her in the game.

The Thief. Ajax knows that nothing is free, he must take what he wants.

The Murderer. Hyperia was born to rule and will stop at nothing to take her throne.
The five eldest children of the royal estates of Etrusia will answer The Call, their kingdom seeking a worthy competitor to succeed the Emperor, chosen by the Great Dragon and overseen by Their Graces, high priests of the temple of Delphos. Except the second born, the servant, the bastard child and the pacifist are chosen in their stead, those untrained and ill prepared. In the kingdom, the eldest member of each royal linage is conditioned and trained to take part in a series of tests known as The Calling, where the mythical Great Dragon chooses a child and their dragon mount to compete. The narrative is told from five points of view, each character easily distinguishable and a glimpse into their lives before and after The Calling, as they struggle with the expectations placed upon them.

Emilia has lived in isolation, her parents believing she is dangerous and concealing her illegal ability. Being chosen for The Call is an opportunity for Emilia to escape her confines, she hadn't expected to find former childhood friend Lucian also competing in the trial. Lucian has conquered lands and its people alongside his father and warmonger sibling, leaving the young man traumatised and vowing to atone for his brutality and using a pacifist approach to conflict. Emilia and Lucian are both wonderful characters, gentle, compassionate and both wanting to avoid the brutality of the trials. It was lovely to see them reconnect as tentative friends and watch their subtle attraction develop.

One of my favourite characters is Vespir, the servant and dragon keeper. Vespir is a servant within one of the royal houses, treated with contempt and seen as less than human. Her true companions are the dragons within her keep until she falls in love with the boss' daughter. Vespir shouldn't be underestimated, she's a survivor, she's resourceful and deliciously crafty. Although in a gentle, totally non backstabby kind of way unlike Ajax. Ahh Ajax, the bastard son, among a sea of bastard children, created from a sexual assault and tormented by his noble father and his legitimate children. Ajax has always struggled to fit in, surviving through any means necessary. He's well aware his lack of attractiveness means he can slip under the radar, a little like a cheeky cat burglar, although not as slick as he pretends to be.

A fair warning about our last competitor, she's ruthless and bloodthirsty beyond compare. Hyperia isn't a young woman to be played the fool, she's cold, calculated and will allow no one, absolutely no one to stand in her way of becoming victor. Oh my goodness, this girl makes Mia Corvere look like a Catholic school girl. She lives for her kingdom, the admiration of her father and the fear she instils in others. 

The world building is breathtaking. Spiralling cities steeped in history and grandeur, rustic villages and desolate woodlands, beautifully atmospheric and wonderfully imagined. And the dragons! When a dragon hatchling is born, they choose their human companion, connecting to their spirit as dragon and rider become one. When their human companion passes, their dragon eats them which wouldn't be an altogether bad way to go. I loved Dog especially, Ajax' companion. He's playful, loyal and befitting of his name. 

House of Dragons was glorious and left me wanting more! The brutality, the loyalty, companionship and moments of friendship among the fierce competitiveness is entwined so beautifully, shades of a young adult Game of Thrones that even reluctant fantasy readers will enjoy. Best be off, need to see a man about a dragon.


Written by L.C. Rosen
Contemporary, Romance, LGBT
Published July 2nd 2020
384 Pages
Thank you to Penguin Books Australia
Add to Goodreads
Sixteen year old Randy Kapplehoff loves spending the summer at Camp Outland, a camp for queer teens. It's where he met his best friends. It's where he takes to the stage in the big musical. And it's where he fell for Hudson Aaronson Lim, who's only into straight acting guys and barely knows not at all straight acting Randy even exists.

This year, though, it's going to be different. Randy has reinvented himself as Del, buff, masculine and on the market. Even if it means giving up show tunes, nail polish and his unicorn bedsheets, he's determined to get Hudson to fall for him.

But as he and Hudson grow closer, Randy has to ask himself how much is he willing to change for love. And is it really love anyway, if Hudson doesn't know who he truly is?
Randy Kapplehoff is a self proclaimed theatre connoisseur, gentle, compassionate and fabulously queer. Each summer, Randy escapes small town Eastern Ohio for Camp Outland, a camp for adolescents identifying as queer to celebrate their identities and individuality within a supportive environment. Randy has undergone a transformation this year, a masculine and muscular version of himself in the hope of snagging himself a boyfriend. Not just any boyfriend but the manly man of men, Hudson. Gone are the unicorn bedsheets, the showtunes and nail polish in a lovely shade of Unicorn Trampocalypse and hello to sportsball, highfives and friendly arse patting. Strictly in a that was a great thing you did with that sportsball kind of way.

Randy is a brilliant character, sixteen and crushing entirely too hard on Hudson. After a small and totally normal amount of internet investigation, Randy learns that Hudson only likes masculine, straight presenting men, feminine or androgynous people need not apply. Hudson is an interesting character, his enthusiasm and tenacity is intoxicating but beneath his audacious manly man exterior is a scared young man and casualty of his environment. When Hudson came out to his parents, they were less than accepting so for Hudson, playing the straight presenting, various sportsball loving son was a coping mechanism to feel accepted. Supportive, understanding Randy gently helps Hudson to see that feminine or androgynous people are not stereotypes, having a preference for Unicorn Trampocalypse nail polish and being gay is not mutually exclusive.

Camp Outland is a wonderfully supportive environment and employs predominately queer counsellors and team members, understanding the issues facing queer teens. I imagine that many queer teens who are facing upheaval and adversity in their lives would benefit from having someone to talk to who understands and has been through similar experiences and it was a lovely touch to see the camp adults interacting with campers so positively and compassionately. The counsellors arrange activities so the campers don't have many opportunities to get it on but are incredibly sex positive and well aware that large groups of teens are going to get frisky and encourage safe sex, even providing protection for those hooking up. It's just another aspect of L.C. Rosen's novels that I absolutely love, acknowledging that some teens are sexually active and consent and education on being safe are so incredibly important. 

Although Camp is a hilariously fun read, it also discusses toxic masculinity, prejudice, self esteem and mental health, both Randy and Hudson express feelings of isolation and feelings of erasure as both young men feel they need to conceal their identities to be accepted by straight, often queerphobic society. It highlights the need to create inclusiveness within our communities and as allies, to boost voices within the queer community to educate and spread awareness. 

It was absolutely brilliant! L.C. Rosen is a remarkable author creating brilliantly entertaining queer young adult novels with heart and a side of jazz hands. Superb! 

It's Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake

It's Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake
Written by Claire Christian
Contemporary, Romance, LGBT, Adult
Expected Publication September 29th 2020
288 Pages
Thank you to Text Publishing and Netgalley
Add to Goodreads
Noni didn’t expect to be starting over again at the age of thirty six. But eighteen months after the end of her long term relationship, she knows it’s time to find out what’s next.

While an encounter with a sexy blonde firefighter is a welcome entry back into the dating world, Noni soon realises she’s looking for more than just a series of brief, if pleasurable, encounters.

That’s how she finds herself travelling to Europe to track down the one that got away: the alluring, elusive Molly. But Europe has other surprises in store, not least of which is Beau, a tall, sexy, tattooist from Edinburgh...
Noni Blake lives her life in shades of beige, she's dependable, steadfast and on the verge of embarking on a pleasure quest throughout Europe. Noni is a formidable woman, we first meet Noni as she's healing from the breakup of her nine year long relationship with Joan, sharing a mortgage and child of the four legged variety. The split was amicable but while Joan has seemingly moved on, Noni uses the opportunity to step out of her beige comfort zone and take life by the balls.

Leaving her fabulously gay best friend behind in Australia, Noni departs for London, a to do list in hand, quite literally. Molly is the one that almost was but neither she or Noni could get their shit together and hook up. So rather than always wonder, Noni plans on making the next six months count.

Sexy times, horrendous sexual encounters, new lingerie, posing nude, drinking, indulging and one incredibly sexy viking later and Noni finds herself the embodiment of female empowerment. The new sexy and confident Noni lives her life to the fullest and I absolutely adored her. She's plump, a bit of a bogan and responsible for her own orgasms. She's bright, outgoing and is learning to embrace her imperfections and find comfort in her own body. I loved Noni's authenticity. She's insecure and vulnerable and completely relatable. She owns her sexuality and after years of teaching and putting others happiness before her own, she's finally finally putting her own needs first.

Noni is bisexual and after her nine year relationship ended, a one night stand prompts her to pack up her life and travel. It's inspirational, not to mention incredibly brave. In much the same way that Marie Kondo asks, does it spark joy, Noni is seeking pleasure through travel, friendships, lovers and finding moments of happiness. Temporary pleasure comes at the hands and mouths of people she meets along her journey, from a female firefighter, high school principal, magician, the one who could have been and the Viking, the gentle and kind tattoo artist Beau. Her sexual misadventures are hilarious, even kinky in some instances but Noni takes each experience in her stride and along with her close circle of friends from home and abroad, is discovering she prefers unbridled, adventurous Noni.

The Viking was delightfully unexpected. On a whim, Noni decides to get herself inked while in London, walking in off the street into small tattoo studio where she meets artist Beau, bearded, burly and gentle and as he marks her skin, she's fantasising about getting on on the table and girl, merry orgasm to you my friend. Beau isn't just a conquest, he could very well be the love of Noni's life but beyond her pleasure quest, her new life of saying yes, of friends and parties and painting the town not quite red because she's still a responsible adult, Noni has her friends, family and career in Australia and Beau seems content to enjoy their fling while it lasts.

Oh how I loved It's Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake! It's fun, flirty and outrageously funny but beneath the surface lies a book about falling in love with yourself. There's a little bit of Noni in all of us. 

The Dark Tide

The Dark Tide
The Dark Tide Book One
Written by Alicia Jasinska
Fantasy, Witches, LGBT, Romance, Australian
Published June 2nd 2020
336 Pages
Thank you to Penguin Australia
Add to Goodreads
Every year on St. Walpurga's Eve, Caldella’s Witch Queen lures a boy back to her palace. An innocent life to be sacrificed on the full moon to keep the island city from sinking.

Convinced her handsome brother is going to be taken this year, Lina Kirk enlists the help of the mysterious Thomas Lin, her secret crush, and the only boy to ever escape from the palace after winning the love of a queen. Working together they protect her brother but draw the queen's attention.

Queen Eva cast away her heart when her sister died to save the boy she loved. Now as queen, she won't make the same mistake. With the tide rising higher than ever before and the islander's whispering that Eva's magic is failing, she's willing to sacrifice anyone if it means saving herself and her city.

When Thomas is chosen as sacrifice, Lina takes his place and the two girls are forced to spend time together as they wait for the full moon. But Lina is not at all what Eva expected, and the queen is nothing like Lina envisioned. Against their will, the two girls find themselves falling for each other. As water floods Caldella’s streets and the dark tide demands its sacrifice, they must choose who to save: themselves, each other, or the island city relying on them both.
The tides begin to rise over the city of Caldella as the eve of Saint Walpurga approaches, the Queen choosing a sacrifice to appease the dark tide.

Lina lives within the village of Caldella, a passionate performance artist who after an altercation with brother Finley, is unable to dance in the festivities. On the eve of Saint Walpurga, Finley evades Lina and despite pleading with her brother to remain at home, Finley escapes into the village to entertain the revellers. Lina and Finley have an interesting sibling relationship, Lina tolerates his temper and possessive arrogance and Finley indulges in the attention of the villagers. Lina is a capable young woman and although she exudes confidence while performing, she is subservient within their sibling relationship.

Throughout the township, Eva and her companions meander the streets in search for a sacrifice, luring an unsuspecting young man back to the palace where he will be sacrificed to the dark, rising tide. Eva is the new Witch Queen, inheriting the title from her late sister, a Queen who sacrificed herself to the tides after finding love with villager Thomas. Thomas returned home to his family and now Eva is seeking retribution. Eva is a formidable young woman, fierce, determined and effortlessly debonair in her pantsuits, until Lina volunteers as the dark tide sacrifice to save Thomas, her beloved.

The final day of the winter season and the eve of Saint Walpurga, the village of Caldella is illuminated under the enchantment of the festivities, witches converse with villagers. The enchanting Caldella is reminiscent of the idyllic waterways of Venice, romantic and romanesque. Emerging over the village is the palatial home of the reigning Queen, where Thomas is being held as a sacrifice, Caldella is beautifully illustrated throughout The Dark Tide, a community swelling with liveliness and vivacity.

Lina and Eva are characters of contrast, Lina is compassionate and considerate, Eva is brusque and detached and although Lina is held captive as the dark tide sacrifice, their attraction is smouldering. As the narrative progresses, Lina and Eva blossom and flourish as individuals. Lina's confidence and fortitude is a beautiful aspect of her journey of discovery and self realisation, discarding her naivety and desperation to please others. Eva is conflicted by her ambivalence, undermined by her closest adviser, the village community and herself, believing the dark tide has been enraged by the sacrifice of her sister and former Queen.

The Dark Tide is formidable and meticulously imagined, a mesmerising read of sacrifice and redemption, atmospheric and beautifully lyrical. Alicia Jasinska has created an exquisite debut novel, unequivocally enchanting. 
© Diva Booknerd. Design by Fearne.