Getting Through the STORM SEASON–Review and Giveaway!

storm-season_fbHi there! I’m so excited to welcome Pene Henson over to chat about her new book, a lesbian romance, set in Australia’s wild mountains and bustling Sydney. STORM SEASON features a trendy culture blogger finding a soul connection with a ranger with a colorful past. I really liked INTO THE BLUE, so I thought I’d give this one a try.

Check out the author interview, and be sure to scroll down and get in on the $25 GC + books giveaway.

storm-season-900px-front-tumblrAbout the book:
The great outdoors isn’t so great for Sydney It-Girl Lien Hong. It’s too dark, too quiet, and there are spiders in the toilet of the cabin she is sharing with friends on the way to a New South Wales music festival. To make matters worse, she’s been separated from her companions and taken a bad fall. With a storm approaching, her rescue comes in the form of a striking wilderness ranger named Claudia Sokolov, whose isolated cabin, soulful voice and collection of guitars belie a complicated history. While they wait out the weather, the women find an undeniable connection—one that puts them both on new trajectories that last long after the storm has cleared.

Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Pene Henson author of Storm Season.
Hi Pene, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your current book.

I’m Australian, extroverted and hard to ruffle. Also I’m pretty tall, mostly lacking in sporting prowess, and way less funny than I’d like to be. I live with my wife and our two divinely awesome kids in Sydney, along with a ferociously loving cat.

I grew up dreaming of being an astronaut or an experimental physicist. I love sciences and mechanics but I’d do a dreadful job of either of those things so fortunately I surprised myself by developing a career in law and writing.

I’ve always written poetry and short fiction. I never really dreamed of a novel until I was writing one. It was delightful to build a whole world, the first in Hawaii and on the ocean, and fall in love with my own characters.

Storm Season is my second novel. It’s set on the Australian East Coast, in land and in cities that I know well. Like my previous novel, it’s essentially a happy queer story. It’s a romance between a bubbly and adorable fashion blogger and a capable park ranger living alone in a remote cabin. As you’d imagine, these women have vastly different experiences. They think they have vastly different priorities. Trapped together by a storm, however, they uncover not just a deep attraction to one another but also all the ways they fit together. And then, of course, the storm breaks and they have to work out what will happen when they return to their ordinary lives.

Is there a character in your books that you can’t stand? (Antagonist for example) And what makes them someone you don’t like?

My books don’t tend to have antagonists. Because I’m writing pretty low-angst romance, the characters just don’t come out that way the same way my life might have irritations but not antagonists.

In this book, Claudie’s ex girlfriend Dani is pretty hard to like. She hurt Claudie; she is self-centred and thoughtless and controlling and still doesn’t recognize the wrong she did. But she is also charismatic and generous in her way. She believes she’s helping queer women reach for something; she thinks fame matters and she wants to see people achieve their best. She’s not someone I’d want to be in a relationship with but she is parts of people I have known and those people have their redeeming qualities.

Are there misconceptions people have about your genre?

I don’t think it’s a misconception to believe that romance can be formulaic, that the power balance between women and men can be wrong, that sometimes you can anticipate plot points and misunderstandings and that characterization can be weak.

But the same can be said for action books, mysteries, high fantasy, literary fiction. I have two answers to that.

  1. Sometimes formulae are enjoyable. Sometimes you want to read something where you know the ending the first time you see the characters names on the page. Whether it’s a mystery or a spy novel or a romance.
  2. The best of any kind of book brings you something new. Perhaps it reaches deeper into characterization, is careful with how it handles humanity. Perhaps it surprises you. Perhaps you see something in its ethics or its leads or the way they describe the scenery. Romance has plenty of talented authors and plenty of strong books. Find the ones that work for you.

Is there message in your novel that you hope readers grasp?

There are a couple of messages *blush*. Both of them are things I’ve come back to in both novels, and will come back to again.

  1. Love is wonderful. It’s life changing. It can be many things. But it’s not everything.

In both of my books it was critical to me that the protagonists had something else going on. I wanted them to have big goals and friends and family. I wanted them to be strong without a partner, but delighted by love.

In Storm Season, Lien has an extraordinary life with a queer family she loves. She has influence in her fashion and music blogging. She has excellent taste. She spends time in the novel developing some deeper opinion pieces, learning to take risks with her writing. With or without Claudie, and some of it is inspired by Claudie, she comes through as someone learning to be the best they can be.

Similarly, while Lien makes it easier for Claudie to use her talents and rebuild her indie rock career, Claudie would be okay by herself. She’s still who she is, she’s happy with her life. Lien’s a bit of a catalyst for change, but she’s not the change herself.

No one can be everything to everyone.

  1. Being in a new place that’s out of your comfort zone can change you in ways you did not anticipate. Whether that’s lost in the bush without Internet access or connecting with a stranger in the cabin you wanted to live in alone, big changes force you to recognize what’s really important to you. And also sometimes give you an openness to falling in love.
  1. Don’t be afraid of Australia. We might have spiders, snakes and bats but we also have striking wilderness rangers who know their way around.

Here’s a little nibble of the book…

“Come out here,” calls Claudie from the deck.

Claudie’s leaning on the railing looking over the vast expanse of nothing. “Come and stand at the edge here,” she says. “It’s like the edge of the universe.”

It’s dark; there’s nothing out there. The world smells rich and wet. Lien holds herself still and looks out with the cabin lights behind her.

“Wait a sec,” says Claudie.

She steps back toward the house and reaches inside the cabin door. Everything goes dark.

“Hey—” Lien can’t see a thing. They haven’t had lights in days, and now Claudie’s turning them off. The blackness seems complete.

“You’re okay,” says Claudie. “It’ll take a moment for your eyes to adjust. I figured—It’s been raining so much. You haven’t had a clear night up here. I wanted to show you.” She moves beside Lien against the railing.

And as Lien’s eyes accustom themselves to the dark, the sky opens up above them. The Milky Way sweeps a path of light across the great black bowl. Around that the night extends from one clear horizon to the other, lit by a thousand layers of stars on stars, dazzling bright in the dark.

The universe goes on forever. It’s huge, and Lien’s tiny and breathless in front of it.

In that moment nothing is worth thinking about beyond that sky, nothing but the huge universe and Claudie’s hand, steady and close beside Lien’s on the railing, Claudie’s warm body so near. Lien twines her pinkie around Claudie’s. They stand under the stars, still and silent.

When Lien turns, Claudie’s cheekbones are traced in blue-white and her eyes reflect a thousand pinprick lights. She’s beautiful. She’s from a whole other world.

My Review:
Lien is a fashion and entertainment blogger in Sydney off on a camping adventure with her collection of friends before they his a week-long music festival. She’s not a camping gal, actually–this trip was the idea of her best friend and housemate, Beau, a transman who fancies Lien’s other great friend, Annie. Lien’s been casually dating Nic, but it’s not serious on Lien’s side. She’s just not sure about settling down.

Camping is meant to be rough, but Lien and her friends have no idea what’s about to hit them. The forecast is for rain, but it’s nearly a monsoon. Lien is out hiking and takes a fall, just before the rain starts. It’s dark, and the only person who finds her is the park ranger, Claudie, who lives in the park in a cozy shack. Lien’s knee is too injured to allow her to hike back to camp, so Claudie brings Lien to her own cabin–and it’s a situation of stranded together. THe rain is so fierce over the next several days that Lien’s friends are forced to leave the park and take refuge in a nearby town, meanwhile Lien’s still to hobbled to make herself useful. Plus, Claudie’s grown accustomed to the solitary life, now that she’d given up on her soured rock-n-roll dreams. The more time Lien and Claudie spend, the closer they grow–sharing secrets, stories and eventually Claudie’s double bed. It’s all platonic at first, but, yeah, they start to fall for one another.

Thing is, Claudie’s been burned by a woman before, Dani–her first love–and that’s a lot of why she’s pulled herself out of society and taken a ranger position. Connecting with Lien isn’t her plan–and it’s hard for her when that happens because Lien’s only supposed to be there for a week. Whiling away the hours with no exit and no power, Claudie plays guitar to entertain Lien. The rapport they build is hard for Lien to leave behind, too. So much so that when she must go, she seeks out a way to bring Claudie with her–hunting out her early recordings and sending it to Claudie with encouraging notes about her music and how she might fashion herself a new career.

This is a sweet and quiet romance, and I liked the slow build. The isolation was an interesting part of the book–with it being a shelter, at first for both Claudie and Lien, but then becoming less so–as they find themselves feeling the pain of separation. And, the love of a good woman will drive many to make life-changing decisions. Including Claudie. Including Lien.

Interested? You can find STORM SEASON on Goodreads, Interlude Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, Book Depository, and IndieBound.


Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 Interlude Press Gift Card or one of FIVE first prizes of an e-copy of ‘Storm Season’ by Pene Henson.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Pene Henson has gone from British boarding schools to New York City law firms. She now lives in Sydney, Australia, where she is an intellectual property lawyer and published poet who is deeply immersed in the city’s LGBTQIA community. She spends her spare time enjoying the outdoors and gazing at the ocean with her gorgeous wife and two unexpectedly exceptional sons. Storm Season is her second novel.

You can find Pene on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

More Than Love INTO THE BLUE–Review and Giveaway!

ITB-BannerHi there! Today I’m so excited to share a review and giveaway for a New Adult M/M romance from Pene Henson. INTO THE BLUE is a sweet and tender tale of two surfer best friends who fall harder than a breaking wave.

Catch the excerpt and be sure to enter into the book and $25 gift card giveaway below.

Into The Blue 1600px FRONT (Smashwords, Amazon)About the book:
Tai Talagi and Ollie Birkstrom have been inseparable since they met as kids surfing the North Shore. Now they live with their best friends in a pulled-together family, sharing life and the saltwater in their veins.

Tai’s spent years setting aside his feelings for Ollie, but when Ollie’s pro surfing aspirations come to fruition, their steady world shifts. Is the relationship worth risking everything for a chance at something terrifying and beautiful and altogether new?

How about a little taste?

Across from them, one of the Brazilians plays guitar. Ollie doesn’t recognize the song even when a couple of others sing along. The beach is wider and the sand finer than on the North Shore, but every beach is a little like home. Ollie misses the Blue House; he misses the surf and the palms and the shoreline he knows so well. He misses Jaime and Sunny and Hannah. Still, though he’s as far from home as he’s ever been, Ollie’s comfortable. These are his people, too. He leans back on his arms and looks up into the dark.

He’s watched the night sky since he was a little kid, but down here in the Southern Hemisphere he doesn’t recognize the hundreds upon hundreds of stars. The Southern Cross is up there. Ollie tries to orient himself.

Tai shifts toward him, then looks up and follows Ollie’s gaze. The warmth of Tai’s body settles into Ollie’s heart, grounds him. Ollie leans into him a little, and their arms brush to the elbow. The contact simmers in the air between them.

Unexpectedly, Ollie knows what he wants. “Come back to the hotel,” he says quietly to Tai. He pitches his voice low. It hums across the tiny space between them. No one else can hear him over the pounding surf and the sound of the music. It’s easy to be bold in the dark of a beach where Ollie’s never been before. He’s shocked by that same boldness.

Some thoughts on writing from Ms. Henson

Do you pay attention to literary criticism? If so, how do you handle it?
This is my first book and I’ve only had a few reviews so far. Those have been positive which is a joy, but with negative comments too, of course. Like every human I find it hard not to obsess over the negative and ignore the positive. I’m working on having a thick skin and being more realistic as I read. I am also trying to take those criticisms on board rather than thinking of them as insurmountable. And when it gets hard I ask my greatest cheerleaders to give me a pat on the back.

How do you come up with your titles?
This one started as OUT OF THE BLUE which was honestly an attempt at something sort of bright and a bit cheesy. I just threw it in as a working title. INTO THE BLUE started to seem more natural as barely anything in the book is a shock, but a lot of it is about being willing to let go and go deeper.

My next book had a long song lyric as a working title but a bit of brainstorming about the setting got me a lovely new title.

What new authors have grasped your interest?
I hate to mention some authors and not others, but I’m choosing the authors that captured me most quickly: Jude Sierra who has such a complex and soft-hearted understanding of humans alongside a poetic ability to describe the physical. And Michelle Osgood who writes women in love with women and whose characters are hilarious and strong.

What is the hardest part about writing?
Sometimes I find myself stalled and I think it’s lack of interest and battle with myself but then a few days later I realise there’s some critical plot or character point that I haven’t worked out properly. Those days are tough. And then also the daily grind of getting something from my head onto the page. I love it, and some days my fingers fly across the keys, but it can be hard some days.

Wow. I can relate to A LOT of that!

My Review:

Ollie and Tai have been best friends since childhood. They live together in a house with Ollie’s teen brother Jaime and two women, Sunny and Hannah. They’ve made their own family, as Ollie and Jaime are orphaned, and Ollie is Jaime’s guardian. Tai is an out gay man, and Ollie has no problem with that. They live on O’ahu in a run-down beachfront house that each adult chips in to afford, and many times in the past five years they have had trouble paying the rent and the electric.

Ollie and Jaime have a strained relationship; it’s not easy being the parent of a 16 year old. Tai, mediator and confidant, is the glue that holds them together most days. Add to that stress, Ollie’s career is in question. He had been set to join the pro surfing circuit two years ago, but an injury beached him. He’s rehabbed as much as he can, while working full-time at a resort, and knows that he’ll have one shot to regain his dream career:  to win one of two wildcard entries into the Bonzai Pipe Masters competition. If he makes that tourney, he could win some serious money–otherwise, he needs to enter the hospitality training program, so he can securely support himself and Jaime.

This is a romance, but it’s very quiet and develops over the course of several months. Ollie has virtually no sexual experience. By choice, it seems. He’s an introvert in the extreme, even has trouble allowing his closest friends to touch him, or be around him. Except Tai. Tai has always been there, and they have a very strong friendship. Tai makes surf boards, and helps train Ollie–has for years. Ollie’s on the cusp of greatness, and Tai can’t be more proud, but he could be more, for Ollie. He’s always been Ollie’s best friend, but Tai has held a serious love to Ollie for many years now.

I don’t want to give away too much plot, because a lot of it relates to Ollie’s successes or failures in surfing. That said, Ollie has some success, and his prize money is sufficient to pay the bills. He gets Tai to come along on a competition tour. Tai’s so good at relating to people, and calming Ollie, too. In fact, Ollie can’t conceive of a life without Tai in it. While his last several years have been a morass of grief and injury, scrabbling to make ends meet, being with Tai on tour gives Ollie the space he needs to see that his affection for Tai is more amorous than he’d ever noticed. He’s so awkward, however, that he struggles to make this clear to Tai. Tai knows that going along with the “tour romance” will break his heart completely, but he also can’t resist the opportunity to make love to the only man he’s ever loved.

There are some steamy, and tender, bits, with Tai educating Ollie in the ways of sex. Naturally, when the tour ends, life gets pretty complicated. Ollie doesn’t know how to be in a relationship, and doesn’t think free-spirited Tai even wants one. Tai steps back, so he doesn’t hurt himself, or Ollie, any more than he already has. Their lives are changing; Ollie’s success brings experiences and opportunities that were unforeseen and are unwelcome, to some degree. Tai’s surfboards are gaining interest with pro surfers, thanks to Ollie’s performance. It means long hours and new partnerships–less time for hanging, or training, Ollie.

Can their friendship survive this new status quo? It doesn’t look likely. Nope, because Ollie wants more than Tai would have given any of his other hook-ups. And Tai’s scared to hand over his heart, if Ollie isn’t willing to love him completely. Spoiler alert: this book is an HEA, and it’s a fantastic one, at that. This make-shift family is so interesting, and the romance is so tender, I didn’t want it to end. The writing is lyrical and paced much the same as island time–we get there when we get there, mahalo. It gave the prose a lilting feel, and I adored the surfing terms and experiences, because this was a whole new world for me. Also, I liked the interracial romance, and the strong community that surround Ollie and Tai.

Interested?  You can find INTO THE BLUE on Goodreads, Interlude Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, AllRomance, Book Depository, and Indiebound.


Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 Interlude Press Gift Card or one of FIVE first prizes of an e-copy of ‘Into the Blue’ by Pene Henson.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Pene Henson has gone from British boarding schools to New York City law firms. She now lives in Sydney, Australia, where she is an intellectual property lawyer and published poet who is deeply immersed in the city’s LGBTQIA community. She spends her spare time enjoying the outdoors and gazing at the ocean with her gorgeous wife and two unexpectedly exceptional sons. Into the Blue is her first novel.

You can find Pene on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.