Reviewing books is a bastard of a thing

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And many thanks to Nomad Authors for letting me share some musings on it.

Navigating the at-times murky waters of reviewing books has forced me to look more critically at the value of reviews.

I love getting a great review, and yet only rarely consider reviews when deciding whether or not to read a book. Perhaps it’s this ambivalence that feeds my anxiety about writing them.

Anyway, here’s the post. Any of this sound like your experience too?

What I’m not reading — Mar 2021

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

I’ve been good this year. Somehow, I’m managing to read and get my work done, which has not happened so harmoniously in many years. However, while I’m chewing through a hard sci-fi and a sweet romance, my TBR is still giving me puppy-dog eyes. Apparently, one can’t just read today. One must read faster. Oh well~ 😪

Here are the little culprits currently gathering dust in the corner of my mind palace…

Occupational Hazard: An Anthology of Sexy Workplace Stories by Rebecca Chase

A lady in sexy corporate-wear on the cover of Occupational Hazard by Rebecca Chase

As much as I love a good long-read with complex storylines, I’m very keen on what I call “snack reads”—short stories you can enjoy with satisfaction within little pockets of time. That’s what drew me to Rebecca Chase’s 2020 release, Occupational Hazard, an anthology of six sexy workplace stories. Real-life smutty office moments may not be my thing, but steamy workplace stories certainly are.

Open to Love by Lyndell Williams

A woman in a hijab smiles while a bearded man smoulders on the cover of Open to Love by Lyndell Williams

Having just finished watching Vida, I’m in so in the mood for romantic drama and sexual tension, and expect Lyndell Williams’s Open to Love to deliver in droves. I mean, just check out that cover and read this blurb: “Faheem uses all his charms to make sure Hafsah becomes his, but flirting can be a dangerous thing when committing to no sex outside of marriage. The two play with some serious fire that might burn them both.” 🔥🔥🔥

Neon Hearts by Stefanie Simpson

A woman illuminated in pink and blue on the cover of Neon Hearts by Stefanie Simpson

This amazing book is coming out in a few days and I can’t waaaaaaait! Unfortunately, I shall have to wait, but that’ll just give me more time to get excited. Stef Simpson is an amazing writer with a tight writing style that carries so much feeling. She was kind enough to chat with me earlier this month about NEON HEARTS and her other work. You can check it out her interview here.

The Train Guy by Michelle Prak

Cover of The Train Guy by Michelle Prak: A woman pretends to look at her phone while really watching a man reading his book on a train

I’m not sure what to expect from this book, but I love that Michelle Prak’s The Train Guy involves longing from afar and time spent on a train (yeah, I like trains). Oh, and it’s an Australian romance, which means it’ll probably have that special Aussie cheekiness about it too.

A Lover’s Discourse by Xiaolu Guo

A woman's face shown through the silhouette of a bird amidst leaves and flowers on the cover of A Lover's Discourse by Xiaolu Guo

A Lover’s Discourse by Xiaolu Guo 100% won me over with its cover and serious, almost solemn, blurb. It struck me as an introspective love story and in my post-dentist high, I picked up the paperback immediately. Don’t shop for books while on drugs, kids. Or, maybe do…? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

The Queen’s Alliance (Kingdoms of the Ocean #1) by Jessica Gleave

A red-headed mermaid on the cover of The Queen's Alliance by Jessica Gleave

I should be good and press on with Jessica Gleave’s Sky Realms series, especially after finding such a gem of a fantasy romance in Helios and Zelena. But when I found out this author has a merfolk series too, my curiosity was piqued. Neveah will just have to wait. The Queen’s Alliance is the next Gleave book on my list.

Moon — the last edits are in!

Earlier this week, I turned in the final edit of O, swear not by the moon (let’s call it “Moon” for short bc I’m soooooo tired of typing out the full title).

It feels BLOODY GREAT to be on the other side of that WIP. Don’t get me wrong, I had a whale of a time writing it 🐳 but I’ve never created a a piece of fiction that lengthy to a deadline so tight before… Which, in all fairness, wasn’t that tight (and at 12.5k words, my piece is hardly lengthy), but with Christmas and start-of-the-year particulars hitting me at the same time, I consider completing this project a personal achievement.

“Moon” is also the first story that pushed me hard on both the science fiction and romance fronts. In all my published work to date, I’ve taken the sci-fi elements fairly casually. Yes, even though It Starts With A Kiss has that “engineers in space” thing, the science is still incidental to the characters’ respective journeys.

With “Moon”, I wanted to explore how technology empowers human connection, similar to how it enables our relationships today. We often blame the Internet and social media for weakening our in-person relationships, but I’d like to know… how robust were these relationships to begin with if they could be threatened by a tool that offers us more opportunity to connect?

We now have the ability to bypass chance. We’re no longer “stuck with” the pool of people who happened to be around us when we were born. We have the means to intentionally seek out and nurture relationships with others who might understand and know how to appreciate us. That, I feel, deserves acknowledgement.

There are other things “Moon” gave me an outlet to explore, but because they’re a bit spoilery, I won’t discuss them right now. I’d prefer for you to explore them with me through the story.

It comes out 26th April in Fedowar Press’s Star Crossed anthology of romantic science fiction.

Fresh Find: Neon Hearts by Stefanie Simpson

Today, I’m so very excited to feature Stefanie Simpson and her upcoming release, NEON HEARTS. She is without a doubt one of my top romance authors of all time. Everything she writes makes me reflect on life, people, society. Her books are thinking, feeling books, couched in her insightful perspective on modern romance.

Love isn’t neat. And Stefanie Simpson’s work captures this so very well.

Pink and blue lit promo for NEON HEARTS by Stefanie Simpson. Text reads: Danger brought love, but hope? 29th March

An interview with Stefanie Simpson

JL PERIDOT: Stef, I understand your writing journey is more like an odyssey. Tell us a bit about that.

STEFANIE SIMPSON: Thank you for having me on your blog, JL! I’ve been disabled for about 20 years, but ten years ago I had a TIA. Up until then I’d been a painter as well as working full time. I had to listen to my body and change how I lived and stopped fighting it.

What happened creatively was I could no longer paint, and as I recovered, I was flooded with ideas. I think my creativity shifted from a physical visual medium to one of words. I went back to work part-time and started writing.

In 2015 my health deteriorated to the point I thought I was possibly not long for the world. I had a real impetus through that to finish and publish something to leave a record of my existence in the world.

I made every mistake possible but through the last six years, I’ve learnt a lot. My approach is that I sit with an idea, think about it almost obsessively, and work through the scenes, all in my head on repeat, then churn out a messy draft. I do endless rounds of edits from big dev to line edits. Often I’ll sit on books for several months, rotating projects depending on how I’m feeling and how well I am.

JL: Tell us a bit about your latest book.

STEFANIE: Neon Hearts is pretty special to me. Writing disabled characters, especially ones that I share a commonality with, has been a long process to feel able to articulate that truth, and I’ve been working on Neon Hearts on and off for about four years. It’s taken on many different versions until I realised what I’d never done was explore acquiring a disability, in particular, a brain injury.

So I shifted the focus from being full suspense to suspense lite, where the action mainly takes place off-page. And what we see is a character exploration of self-love and acceptance through the dynamic of romance.

The hero is also disabled, to a point, and has facial differences through surviving a fire. This trope is not uncommon in romance, and I don’t like how it’s generally treated. It falls into a twisted beauty and the beast mentality, and that backwards superficial concept is usually dehumanising. So I wanted to have this guy who is very scarred and really handsome. He understands trauma and medical trauma, and I think it falls into hurt/comfort in many ways, where he supports the heroine.

 

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Most of the book is drawn from my experiences and existing knowledge of working in the medical sector for a decade, but I tried to get a relatively accurate approximation of how the UK legal system works regarding impact statements and liaison officers and how survivors move through and navigate the system. It makes people relatively inactive. The agency is in the choice to participate.

Bea often finds herself as an inactive protagonist because people have to do things for her, medically or legally, and she’s within a well-developed system one uses rather than dictates. It goes against most writing conventions, so articulating her form of agency within that was a challenge.

JL: NEON HEARTS is part of a bigger body of work, isn’t it? Actually, you have two main bodies of work. What should new readers know about them, and do you have a favourite book of all time?

STEFANIE: The key difference is that NEW CITY SERIES are novels or short novels, in third person and dual perspectives.

I started writing in first person as an exercise and ended up with a bunch of shorter works in single POV. I felt the need to distinguish them as slightly separate but akin with lots of character crossover, so went with A NEW CITY STORY as a spin-off series which also works completely standalone. They felt more immediate, and I think they work out kinkier as a whole series, though that wasn’t intentional.

I can never pick a favourite, it’s usually whatever I’m closest to at any given moment. So that’s NEON HEARTS right now.

JL: So, you’ve had these incredible stories in the works for years and if I’ve heard right, you’re nearing the end of the books you had originally planned? How are you feeling at this point?

STEFANIE: This has been increasingly difficult for me to be honest, my health peaks and troughs and this is the last book in this series, and there are some things I want to do for A NEW CITY STORY if I’m able. I say I’m retiring, but I don’t think I will, what I’m doing though is stepping back from this cycle.

I intentionally chose self-publishing because trad and many presses are not accessible to me. The accommodations I might require, and my health’s instability mean that I have to be flexible for my wellbeing. There’s a lot I can’t do that I’m told I’m supposed to, and it keeps my reach small, and that’s fine with me.

What’s difficult is that I’ve struggled with each publication’s stress versus returns ratio and taken steps back or paused or taken pressure off myself throughout this process, and I’ve been burning out for just over a year now. So to preserve my health, I’m getting off that roundabout.

I might get back on it, and I’m definitely going to keep working, but I’ll have to decide what that looks like when this is finished, but I want to see it out to say, this is what I’ve achieved. I’ll feel disappointed if I don’t.

 

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JL: Now, I have to ask—what has writing been like for you throughout lockdown?

STEFANIE: Pretty much the same as before! I’m housebound and require assistance if I need to go anywhere, and my husband is also my carer. He’s made the garden accessible for me so I can be outside more now.

Usually, we’ll take short trips to places, so obviously, we’ve not been able to do that. Being at home for very long periods is difficult, and the stress that goes with the circumstances is probably the biggest factor. I have lots of coping mechanisms for it, such as designating a weekly routine versus a daily one and keeping it flexible depending on my health.

JL: Finally, what is one thing you hope readers will take away from NEON HEARTS?

STEFANIE: That being disabled is normal. It’s ok. Disabled is not a dirty word. That we deserve love and happy endings. Disabled people are people.

Anyone can become disabled, and society is so fixed on its narrative of us, we’re immediately dehumanised and reclaiming that and making us visible and mainstream is monumentally important.

We’re often reduced to an inspiration meme to make non-disabled people feel better and what I hope comes across in NEON HEARTS is that finding our new normal and the best quality of life we can is important. How that manifests, and accessibility is a struggle, but nobody needs to overcome anything, other than ableism. We are not the villain, we’re not better off dead, and we don’t exist to teach non-disabled people a lesson.

I didn’t write this book with an abled gaze, it’s not important to me, I wrote this for me and other disabled people because giving disabled people a happy ending is radical.

Neon Hearts by Stefanie Simpson

Pink and blue lit promo for NEON HEARTS by Stefanie Simpson

Danger brought love, but hope?

Bea strikes up an online friendship with Josh, the mod of her disability support group, as she adapts to her new disabled reality after a serious accident. When the danger that’s dogged her for months closes in, she flees to Josh’s home during a terrible snowstorm, knowing he’s the only one she can go to.

Josh needed to cut ties with his security job and life in Chadford, to seek solace in the hills and valleys of home. His intense connection and friendship with Bea made him second guess his isolated life. He could protect her, but it would take him back to a dark place. Yet letting her go is impossible.

Being apart only makes them see how much they need each other, finding that they don’t have to be strong or alone. They are enough, disabled and scarred, and beautiful.

This romance contains a happy ever after.

Content warning. Depictions of medical care, including coma. References to past medical trauma. References to and a brief description of a car accident. Moderate threat and peril. Suspense-lite, mostly off-page references to crime. PTSD. Brief court case appearance. Challenged ableism. Strong language. Explicit sexual content, including a soft femdom dynamic, masturbation, oral, penetration including pegging.

Available 29th March. Preorder NEON HEARTS.

About Stefanie Simpson

Author Stefanie Simpson wears glasses, red lipstick and her wavy ginger hair in a long, asymmetrical style

old goth. 5 raccoons in a trench coat. anxiety. disabled. she/her. bites. taken. switch. smol dragon. TYPOS #romance #author. Filthy deviant harpy ♡

Fresh Find: Sips & Strokes by Sarah Skye

I am over the moon about the cover reveal for this book. Sips & Strokes is the whisky-flavoured, fake-relationship delight by Sarah Skye, the debut book collaboration between two of my favourite romance authors, Sarah Smith and Skye McDonald from Quick & Dirty Romance.

And because it’s by these two troublemakers, you know this book will be full of gushy lovey-dovey moments, stunning sexy exchanges, and a great attitude and writing style. Here’s the scoop:

Sips & Strokes
Sarah Skye
Publication date: April 20th 2021
Genres: Adult, Comedy, Contemporary, Romance

Lily Maldonado is screwed. The people-pleasing art professor has been roped into attending her ex’s wedding by her overbearing, image-obsessed parents. Even worse? The woman her ex is marrying is Lily’s childhood bully. She can’t back out, but she’s not sure she can face this nightmare solo.

Enter Calder Ross. The sexy Scot’s abs have graced the cover of many romance novel bestsellers, but the reformed playboy needs a more serious image if he wants to land his dream job as the spokesman for Sonce Whisky. Modeling for Lily’s figure drawing class is step one in the right direction.

After their very adorable—and very naked—meet-cute, Lily and Calder realize that they can be each other’s saving grace. Lily can bring Calder to the wedding as her fake boyfriend to ward off pitying stares. Calder can bring Lily to Sonce events as his fake girlfriend to show he’s the responsible, relationship-minded guy that execs want as the face of their brand.

But the longer Lily and Calder play pretend, the harder it becomes to deny the very real chemistry between them. Will they play it safe and stick to their fake roles? Or will they throw out the playbook completely and risk it all for love?

Add to Goodreads / Pre-order

 

 

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Star Crossed — coming soon

Psst! I have a new story coming out in a couple months.

O, swear not by the moon is a romantic science-fiction short story, appearing in the Star Crossed anthology published by Fedowar Press. You may have seen excerpts already if you follow me on Instagram, but here’s a little taste nonetheless:

This is the tale of Tanith, Faruk and a neurally entangled love that crosses the boundary between worlds.

Star Crossed comes out 26th April 2021.

Star Crossed — an anthology of romantic science fiction coming soon. Follow @fedowar for the cover reveal this week!

Does failure start with a big F?

In case you missed it, Facebook banned the sharing of news in Australia last week. The new ruling was rolled out very clumsily, with the public suddenly unable to access swathes of essential information services. Look, I won’t re-hash the story. That linked article gives a pretty clear rundown of what happened.

I feel like I should be righteously indignant about this, but I’m not. I’m concerned and I’m curious. We, the users of giant “free” social media platforms, are subject to decisions made by opaque corporations and governments scrambling to keep up with changing technology. In this unexplored social, technological and legislative territory, these decisions amount to large-scale experiments with us as the lab rats.

And the two questions we may not ask ourselves enough remain:

  1. Are we okay with this?
  2. And, what’s the alternative if we aren’t?

What would communication look like if you were to give up social media? What would you miss out on if the rest of your social network stayed on there? Could your small business, hobby, desire for connection flourish without it?

As usual, I have more questions than answers. I know no one’s forcing us to stay on these big platforms, but I also realise that everyone’s situation is different. Some people depend on social media because other avenues are inaccessible to them. So to get all high and mighty about the choices people make is very often an exercise in projection.

There are flaws on both sides of the fence. Neither Facebook nor Australia’s news media have a clean track record, and the optimist in me wants to believe this is part of the shake-up needed for everyone to figure out a smart way forward. And still, I worry about those of us who would become “collateral damage” in the process. I worry that we’re the frog in the water and whoever’s turning up the temperature won’t know when to stop.

Is that paranoid and overly dramatic? I hope so. I hope that’s all it turns out to be.

Hobbies that feed my fiction

Throughout my life, I’ve been prone to minor obsessions (and many not so minor), some of which have been finding their way into my writing. I think the best part about being a bit of a hobby junkie is how much one can learn without it feeling like work.

It is work, of course. As they say, we never get to skip eating the shit sandwich, we can only choose the flavour it comes in. But if that sandwich happens to be a flavour we enjoy, then it seems appropriate to count our blessings.

So, here are a few of mine 💜💜💜💜

Birdwatching 🐦

Did you know that birdwatching is such a serious pursuit, they have a different name for the truly committed enthusiast? I’m definitely more on the casual end of the spectrum, though I do own a pair of binoculars bought specifically for this hobby. In our home, it’s not about snapping photos or filling out a catalogue. We just try to say hello to as many birds as possible when we’re out on a walk. Bonus points if we can identify the species, imitate the bird call, or whip out a fun fact on the spot.

We’ve had odd encounters with our local birds. They can be real friendly once they get to know you, and some just aren’t afraid at all as long as you seem non-threatening. We found an owl in our driveway a couple summers ago, staring at us like we were the weirdos out of place. Once, I sat for ages next to a cormorant who pretty much snubbed me the whole time (tbf he was probably asleep). And then there was that well-orchestrated bird heist

Anyway, even as just a casual hobbyist, this interest popped up in an early writing exercise. Birdwatchers, an erotic short story, ensued.

Book cover for Birdwatchers by JL Peridot

Martial arts 🥋

Up until a couple years ago, I studied a shōtōkan-based martial art with my partner and some friends. I originally got into it as mental-health management and body awareness practice, but ended up going as far as a brown-belt grading. Really, it was a “just for fun” grading, as I’d recently graded and was rocking a sprained ankle from something unrelated. A proper brown-belt grading would have flattened me.

I had a love-hate relationship with this sport, but learned so much from doing it. The experience of sparring was especially useful to the work I do now. It’s not the same as a real-life fight situation, and I only ever did it at a beginner level, but it gave me a taste of those on-your-feet things your brain thinks and registers when you’re in the moment.

Most importantly, it showed me the things you don’t take notice of. This dramatically changed my approach to writing action scenes, culminating in the fights that appear in Chasing Sisyphus.

Book cover for Chasing Sisyphus by JL Peridot

Partying 👯‍♀️

I spent my twenties as “one of the bad kids”, frantically making up for a youth squandered amidst strait-laced negativity and toxic conformity. I partied with a variety of goodies, sometimes every night, and today thank my lucky stars that a) it never hindered my ability to work and function, and b) I’m not biologically or psychologically predisposed to addiction.

Ironically, that lifestyle ended up being good for me at the time. It helped me unwind in ways I never knew how to before and helped me think about things with a different perspective. It let me develop some artistic confidence and practice self-awareness under unusual circumstances—both early-days skills I could take back with me to Sobriety City. It’s for this reason that I feel certain illicit substances shouldn’t be outlawed, but studied and regulated with care and pragmatism, and with a body of education developed around them.

I wouldn’t recommend this hobby for everyone—even a short stint of deep research will come with risks—but well, it was certainly a time in my life, and the experiences from it factor a lot into my writing today.

Arduino programming 🤖

For a brief period, I was very into microcontrollers. Arduino, to be specific. I’ve always regretted skipping the hardware units at school, thinking stuff like logic gates and resistance calculations would never come up in my work. Getting into this hobby filled a huge gap in my computer science education, which I’d never missed in my web development career, but definitely ended up yearning for in life.

The obsessive phase for this hobby was short, but I learned just enough of the concepts, principles and vocabulary to develop Celeste’s character for It Starts with a Kiss. Even though it’s a soft sci-fi romance that’s light on the tech, I’m glad I got to write an MC who talks nerdy like it’s normal, not too unlike many of the beloved nerds in my life.


How about you? What hobbies scratch your itch right now? How do you feel when you see one of your interests appear in the books you read? If you write as well, what hobbies have played into your work? Leave a comment. Let’s chat ☺️

My favourite traits in a romance hero

Photo by awar kurdish on Unsplash

Today, I’m visiting the Nomad Authors blog to talk about my favourite traits in a romance hero.

Pretty sure I’m not alone in loving these attractive and very down-to-earth characteristics. To me, they are realistic relationship-improving qualities vital to the success and happiness of any long-term partnership.

Read the post:

Thank you, Nomad Authors, for letting me pop in!