Review: Whispering Wildwood

Whispering Wildwood by Emma Sterner-Radley is a gay YA fantasy adventure about a pair of siblings who, with the help of a glamorous rogue of a pirate, have to go into a mystical forest to retrieve something stolen by a folkloric beast. ‬At first glance, this is a very straightforward adventure story: young protagonists go on a quest to a ”forbidden” place, meet odd creatures, make friends along the way and battle the ”big bad”. Simple, right?

The three main characters — Korinne, Matt and Vicktoria — are absolutely fascinating and all reveal more sides of themselves as the story progresses (I would love to learn more about these people).

There’s also an almost philosophical handling of power, friendship, family and one’s purpose in life, mostly from Korinne’s point of view. This makes the story even better; it’s not all action and adventure.

As for the inhabitants of Whispering Wildwood, there’s a whole multitude of animals and sentient creatures. All are described in a way that made my imagination run so wild, I even attempted a few sketches of them!

🎯🎯🎯🎯🎯

Review: Greengage Shelf

It’s a new Greengage book! It’s a cosy mystery! It’s, in a word, delightful!

Laura’s eccentric uncle is visiting (and nursing a broken heart). A seemingly unimportant book has gone missing and Kit has promised to help out. Laura and Kit try to be stealthy in more situations than one. Guess how well that goes…

There’s trivia and extra info in footnotes (which I loved), more quirky islanders than you can shake a cat at, and while Greengage Shelf by Emma Sterner-Radley isn’t laugh-out-loud funny all the time, it will keep a smile on your face for a long time time after you’ve finished the book.

🎯🎯🎯🎯

Review: Greengage Holiday Cheer

Christmas romcom / cosy mystery, a delightful read about the little island of Greengage and its inhabitants.

Kit has promised to find Pinky, while everyone is getting ready for Christmas. Kit, however, isn’t feeling very festive, what with spending it on Greengage for the first time and her girlfriend Laura being tied up with work.

Frustrations (for Kit), amusing situations, quiet humour – that’s what this story is made of. Perfect snack while waiting for the next installment in the Greengage series! 

🎯🎯🎯🎯

SCLHO from one fangirl’s POV

The South Coast Lesfic Hangout took place on May 4th, 2019 in Crawley.

My travel plans started way back in February with a to-do list and pep talks to myself to Just. Do. It. I made the list public (on Facebook and Tumblr) to reduce the chance of chickening out. Also listened to Seize the Day podcasts (whole lot of positivity, interviews with authors and an important one about conquering your fears).

To do:

  • get photo
  • apply for new passport (old one expired in 2011)
  • book flights and hotel
  • book bus tickets
  • budget for food and shopping (also, cider)
  • take a small suitcase and leave it near-empty (for books)
  • take a backpack, notebook and pens
  • remember charger & adapter
  • don’t freak out when you meet them
  • don’t just sit alone in some corner (it may freak them out)

Jae (my spouse, not the famous writer) added:

  • leave spouse with kids
  • enjoy alone time
  • remember to come back home

I stressed and worried about the silliest things. But hey – twelve years since my last trip to the UK, things had probably changed a bit! And this was only my second weekend trip to the UK (the last one was in 1990, when I went to see Elaine Paige in Anything Goes and there was a fan club meet & greet).

I had, prior to this trip, emailed and chatted online with a few writers, even helped some out a bit (like beta reading, typo hunting etc.) so not everyone was a stranger. Still, nerve-wracking to finally see them face to face!

Things got easier on Friday, 3rd of May when I finally left for Helsinki, and even more when I managed to arrive at the right gate at the airport (Helsinki airport had changed a lot, and not for the better – it was a maze!). As for the flight, I’d completely forgotten how boring it was to just sit for three hours, doing practically nothing.

Gatwick turned out to be not that bad of a maze.. but without detailed directions from Wendy Hudson, I would have taken ages to get to the bus platforms; it’s like they were hidden beyond a secret exit! Got the bus to town centre, found my hotel, checked in, had a quick shower and change of clothes, and went out again. At this point I was pretty much famished, having eaten nothing since before leaving for the airport several hours ago.

There was a Pizza Express nearby so I ate there, then headed out to the evening’s destination: Bar 7. It’s a small bar but easy to find, and I was there in no time. Saw familiar faces already from the door – at least two tables were occupied by SCLHO people. I said hi to Claire, Carol and Jenn and went to the bar to get a drink.

There were two people standing at the bar – a tall one, facing me, whom I recognised instantly as Wendy (at this point my knees started to shake a bit) and a shorter one whom I saw clearly only when I was right next to them: A.L. Brooks. Cue shaky voice and knees! I said hello, shook their hands, said something else, and got that drink. Wendy said the handshakes would turn to hugs before the weekend was over.

The rest of the evening was spent in excellent company (Kit Mallory and Lise Gold being completely new acquaintances, both lovely even though I immediately confessed I hadn’t yet read anything by them), talking about books and loads of other stuff.

Carol and I occasionally reverted to fangirl mode – hope the authors didn’t mind too much! I sneaked a few pics and sent them to Jae, had a few more drinks – six in all before finally leaving for the hotel. Tipsy but happy and relaxed – the good night hug from Wendy certainly helped! Went to bed after a few more messages to Jae, woke up very early in the morning, dying of thirst, drank some water and slept for two more hours.

In the morning, I messaged a bit back and forth with Angela about breakfast plans. As the place I’d planned to go to wasn’t open yet, I went downstairs for a Full English with Angela and Kit *). Besides, it was ”unlimited”.. and I ate a lot! Had planned to skip lunch so this was perfect.

The venue.

Kit offered us a ride to the Crawley Horticultural Society and we accepted. At the gate we spotted Wendy. I stayed with her for a bit while the others went to set up. I just wanted to keep out of the way.

Inside, I got my name sticker (name and pronouns! Cool!), watched as people arrived and set up their tables, said hi to few more people, donated a bunch of queer books (only to fill up my backpack later) and well, sort of waited a bit. Jenn was the first one I approached about books; bought Hooked on You and a crocheted rainbow-coloured guinea pig.

At first I was nervous as hell and only hung out close to Wendy, Carol, Kit and Angela.. also, got some tea and puzzled looks when I asked Chris to fill the cup (no milk), and make it strong, without sugar. I took pics of the authors, tables, raffle prizes, my growing pile of books.. Chatted with a few more people and just enjoyed. Bookish fangirl heaven, seriously.

Every now and then an author got up on the small stage to read an excerpt of their book – and everyone else listened quietly. There was also a short but very informative talk about audiobooks. I took notes, it was that interesting. Sometimes people disappeared for a bit into a corner of the stage, where Jenn had set up a Calm down zone, complete with colouring pictures & pens, fidget toys, stuffed animal toys and the like.

The Radley sandwich!

At some point I finally got up the nerve to say hi to Emma Sterner-Radley and A.E. Radley and to buy some of their books. Later, at Jae’s insistence over Whatsapp, and with Carol’s help, I got the fan pic I wanted.

Managed to talk to Kiki Archer, who was quite a bit less intimidating when she was sitting down. She distracted me and I never did get to gush about her YouTube stuff or anything else; instead I ended up on her video clip, talking with Emma – in Swedish (her dialect is adorable)!

Another surprise came when I saw the audiobook narrators. I’d just finished a book that Jessica Jeffries had narrated and talked with her about that, and found out there’s a new one in the works.. and then I of course had to talk to the author – Emma Nichols – too (cue shaky knees all over again).

Arizona X. Tape

Coolest T-shirt of the day was probably that of Arizona Tape, another unknown writer to me. I talked with her a bit, got a pic of her and that awesome shirt, and of course bought a book. Not an unknown any more!

There was a raffle to benefit Allsorts Youth Project, for local LGBTQ youth. The profits from sales of coffee, tea, cakes etc. went to Allsorts, too, and I later heard that in all, we’d raised about a hundred pounds! Never mind that I didn’t win anything. Just being there was a win in my books.

What I’d planned to buy:

  • Wendy Hudson: Meant to Be Me
  • Claire Highton-Stevenson: The Dollmaker
  • Emma Sterner-Radley: Greengage Plots, Tinderbox tales 1-2
  • Amanda Radley: Second Chances
  • Kiki Archer: The Way You Smile
  • Jenn Matthews: Hooked on you, guinea pig, keyring?
  • Emma Nichols: Forbidden
  • Lise Gold: French summer
  • A.L. Brooks: (any book, signed)

What I got:

  • Wendy Hudson: Meant to Be Me
  • Claire Highton-Stevenson: Forget it
  • Emma Sterner-Radley: Greengage Plots, Tinderbox tales 1-2
  • Amanda Radley: Second Chances
  • Kiki Archer: The Way You Smile (e-book; my backpack was about to burst at the seams)
  • Jenn Matthews: Hooked on You, guinea pig
  • Arizona Tape: Not today
  • Kit Mallory: Blackout
  • Lise Gold: Northern Lights, French summer
  • A.L. Brooks: Write Your Own Script
  • 2 bookmarks (from Emma Wallis)
Fangirling with Claire

When the event was winding down and people started gathering their stuff, Claire, Organiser Extraordinaire was already gathering a list of people for a dinner reservation. I gave my name and tried to help out with the chairs and tables, but Claire’s Crew (aka Chris, Lou, Elaine and Nic) had it all under control. So after saying goodbye to Kit, who had to leave for home, Wendy, Angela and I walked back to town centre.

Angela and Wendy went elsewhere for dinner but we agreed to meet at Bar 7 again afterwards, and after a quick detour I joined the main group at Bella Italia. The place was packed but we fit well enough, ate our fill, talked and talked – about books, languages, life, food.. everything important. This went on for the rest of the evening, including at Bar 7, where I had a few drinks but mainly just continued soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the company.

When it was time to go, it was hugs all around and I probably declared my undying love and respect to everyone (if I did – a bit hazy on the details – I meant every word and still stand by those words). Walked to the hotel, packed, went to bed, couldn’t sleep, read something like two chapters of French Summer (by Lise Gold) before finally conking out.

Bye, Crawley. We’ll meet again.

The way back next morning was uneventful, except for bloody Helsinki airport where there were long lines everywhere and masses of people who had no idea of how to move in a place with masses of people (i.e. they didn’t). Missed my bus and got the slow one home; glad the driver still accepted my ticket.

Stella the Drama Queen (our dog) was beside herself with happiness when I got home, The Bear Cub (human child) loved his guinea pig and immediately made a house and a bed for it, Jae liked the loot but soon(ish) got tired of me talking about the Hangout. I didn’t shut up for hours.

So many people have already blogged about the event.. like Jenn, Amanda, Claire, Kit Eyre.. Carol (LESBIreviewed), of course, did a video about it. This one’s a long ramble but hey, it was my first event of this type and I’m clearly still quite not over it.

*)Still can't get over the fact that I was on a first-name basis with all these cool people, eek!

Review: Greengage Plots

Kit Sorel is new to the island of Greengage. The island is a bit different from what she’s used to: here kittens can race, fruit can be sexy, wheelbarrows can be menacing, straight women might not be so straight after all, the owls are not what they… oh wait, that was another place! Anyway, when Kit tries to use her talents for plotting to help a friend, she soon discovers that on this British island anything can happen.

Kit tries to stay diplomatic and calm among the quirky locals, feuding families included, all the while working at the local library and not being interested in love or anything like that at all.

Greengage Plots by Emma Sterner-Radley has a whole bunch of funny characters, great lines and dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place in a 40’s screwball comedy (if it was made in Britain), hilarious and sweet moments. Especially the budding romance is a lovely mixture of cheesy and cute – sort of like in Tinderbox Tales, where tropes are simultaneously put to use and made fun of.

Really loved this story – I’m smiling even as I’m typing up this review – and will definitely recommend it to anyone who’s willing to listen (and even if they aren’t).

I wouldn’t mind reading more about the island of Greengage and its inhabitants, especially the co-owners of Pub 42!

🎯🎯🎯🎯🎯 

Review: Coffee and Conclusions

Coffee and Conclusions by Emma Sterner-Radley is the second, concluding part of Midninght Coffee. If you liked the first part, you’ll like this one even more!

Erin and Isabella move on from chats and phonecalls to meeting face to face. The awkwardness of their first meeting was so real I found myself grimacing! Erin moves on and up with her job, Isabella gets settled in to her new place and they meet again. And again… and soon they’re in a “real” relationship and have to start planning accordingly.

Quite a bit happens before the (inevitable) happy ending, and it’s not all ice-cream and balloons for the protagonists. Both Erin and Isabella have to face some demons, and eventually Erin, who constantly thinks of Isabella as the adult one, begins to understand that she is no loser (silly head, the reader knew all along you’re great!).

The characters are all very real – funny, silly, occasionally irritating, and in the case of one Mrs. Martinez, completely infuriating.

🎯🎯🎯🎯🎯 

Review: Long-Distance Coffee

Long-Distance Coffee by Emma Sterner-Radley is the first part of Midnight Coffee, the story of two people who meet online, become friends and then more. Both are women, both have trouble sleeping, both love coffee.

Isabella, a CEO turned full-time mother and aspiring writer, spends her nights (and days) trying to write a book while taking care of her baby. Erin is an insomniac who works as a personal trainer and is more than a bit of an introvert.

The characters are funny yet realistic, the dialogue believable and the story flows beautifully. It would seem that there isn’t very much action, but if you’ve ever been a part of a long-distance relationship (friendship or whatever) you’ll know how much can and does happen over text, e-mail and video chats.

I loved this book and couldn’t put it away until I’d finished it. Then I read the best bits again (having bookmarked them on the first round)!

🎯🎯🎯🎯🎯

Review: Tinderbox Under Winter Stars

Part two of The Tinderbox Tales, Tinderbox Under Winter Stars by Emma Sterner-Radley, continues right from where Making a Tinderbox ended. New country, new climate, new friends, new everything for our heroes.

Less booze, more adventures this time. Part of the story is from the villain’s point of view, which brings a nice change. There are (of course) new supporting characters, one of whom really stands out – would love to read more about her!

As the characters are now familiar to the reader, this story seems to move along more smoothly than the first one. But same as before: plenty of humour, playing with clichés, lots of intrigue and some suspense… yeah, I think I like this even more than the first book.

🎯🎯🎯🎯

Review: Making a Tinderbox

Making a Tinderbox (The Tinderbox Tales #1) by Emma Sterner-Radley is a fantasy novel set in a land on the brink of the industrial revolution. There are queens, kings and knights, peasants and city-dwellers – but also printing (books, newspapers), small industry and rumours of steam trains. The author calls this Gaslamp fantasy (as opposed to Steampunk).

Lady Elisandre, soon to be wed to a prince, wants out of an arranged marriage. Nessa, a farmer’s daughter, is in search of a better life and a new profession – not what her parents want. Together these two leave the small village for the nearest city, to find their fortunes, and to live on their own terms.

At first everything seems to go smoothly – despite a slight tension between the two young protagonists – but of course nothing is ever too easy. Nessa and Elise are both headstrong people, which naturally will cause some problems. The author promises “sexual tension, humour, looming danger, unique characters and booze-soaked adventures” and that promise is well and truly fulfilled.

At times the book felt like it was based on a tabletop role-playing game, with the main characters as player characters and others as non-player characters. One character especially could have been the game master, playing the helpful NPC who moves the story along, sometimes getting close to a deus ex machina. This didn’t really bother me (I love RPGs!) but the “helpful NPC” should maybe have stayed more in the background.

I love it when a fantasy story doesn’t take itself too seriously but plays with tropes and clichés, while still unabashedly using them. I’m also a sucker for sweet slow-burn romance so when someone combines these two, I’m a very happy reader indeed. Extra points for creating a world where gender or sexual identity can be just about anything without it being a big deal.

🎯🎯🎯🎯

Review: Life Pushes You Along

Life Pushes You Along by Emma Sterner-Radley is about a young woman, Zoe, who is seemingly stuck in a dead-end job, in a dead-end life, where nothing interesting ever happens… until her best friend and brother intervene.

This story reads like a romantic comedy, flows beautifully and is so enjoyable you wish it was a little longer. On the other hand, there’s nothing extra and no filler bits. No need to wait for the action!

Like a good romcom, it also has its touching moments, but – no spoilers!

The main characters are not perfect, which was nice; at times the things they do are embarrassingly realistic.

Life Pushes You Along is definitely a feel-good book, something to return to. I finished it with a smile on my face and immediately recommended it to my friends.

🎯🎯🎯🎯🎯