Wednesday, September 17, 2014

TBR Review: The Winter Lodge (Lakeshore Chronicles #2) by Susan Wiggs


On the longest night of the year, Jenny Majesky loses everything in a devastating house fire. But among the ashes she finds an unusual treasure hidden amid her grandfather's belongings, one that starts her on a search for the truth, and on a path toward a life that she never imagined. The Winter Lodge, a remote cabin owned by her half sister on the shores of Willow Lake, becomes a safe refuge for Jenny, where she and local police chief Rourke McKnight try to sort out the mysteries revealed by the fire. But when a blizzard traps them together, Jenny, accustomed to the safe predictability of running the family bakery, suddenly doesn't feel so secure. For even as Rourke shelters her from the storm outside, she knows her heart is at risk. Now, following her dreams might mean walking away from her one chance at love.
My choice for the September TBR Challenge read is based on my mood. I felt like getting lost in a small town romance and found this book in my Kindle. I began reading the Lakeshore Chronicles by Susan Wiggs years ago after picking up some of the books at a local pharmacy that to this day carries a limited amount of romance books. Anyway, I read a few of them out of sequence and skipped The Winter Lodge. Once I realized this was the second book of the series, I purchased the Kindle edition where it has been lingering for years.

These romances are set around the small town Avalon, and all are somehow connected to Camp Kanoga and the Bellamy family. Camp Kanoga is portrayed as an old fashioned place where kids and teens went during the summer to learn camping skills and shared life-changing experiences. There is a strong Peyton Place atmosphere to these books with secrets, betrayals, star-crossed lovers suffering because of class conscious families, and children affected by divorce, physical abuse, neglect, poverty and alcoholic parents. Teenage pregnancy is also an issue tied to Camp Kanoga. Jenny Majesky is the result of one such (secret) teenage pregnancy.

The romance in this particular installment is a bit of a mixed bag for me. As in the first book of this series, Summer at Willow Lake, Wiggs uses back flashes to develop the entire story. The couple, Jenny Majeski, a townie, and Rourke McKnight, a wealthy camper, are extremely likable people. They are the focus of the story, however, this is a triangle with Jenny and Rourke loving each other since childhood, but with Rourke believing he is undeserving of her because of childhood abuse and baggage. Jenny is aware of all of this, but dates Rourke's best friend Joey, going as far as becoming engaged to him. Of course this is a recipe for disaster.

Rourke and Jenny were traumatized children from dysfunctional families, and grow up to be dysfunctional adults. Neither can verbalize true feelings for each other without feeling guilt or undeserving until almost the end of the book -- particularly Rourke. It's like they are frozen in time and have a tough time growing up until a mystery is solved and both are set free. Sex is kept behind closed doors, which Wiggs handles very well by infusing the relationship with passionate sexual tension and yearning.

I enjoy how Wiggs works the family dynamics in this series and love the gorgeous descriptions of Avalon and Camp Kanoga. But what I will remember about The Winter Lodge are all the fantastic recipes Wiggs incorporates as part of Jenny Majesky's family history as owners of the Majesky bakery. I drooled, craved breads and sweets throughout most of this read.
Grade: B-

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I want to share a recipe from the book. Here is the shortest, easiest one I could find in the bunch, but there are some fantastic recipes for bread, and Kolaches, Chess Pie, and Irish Cream Cake. I highlighted all of them!

HAPPY CAKE

1 pound cake flour (3 cups)
1 pound eggs (about six)
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (don't substitute)
1 pound (about 2-1/4 cups) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking power

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour Bundt or tube pan. Beat butter until light and gradually add sugar, vanilla and then eggs, one at a time. With mixer on low, add buttermilk. Sift together all the dry ingredients and add slowly. Pour batter into pan and bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, until a thin blade or toothpick comes out clean. Allow cake to cook 15 to 20 minutes in pan. Then gently remove it, and serve at room temperature with fresh fruit or lemon curd. Makes 12 generous servings.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mini: The Winter Long (October Daye, #8) by Seanan McGuire


Last year I read the entire Toby Daye series (Books 1 to 7). I wasn't blown away with the beginning of the series, but somehow both the series and Toby grew on me and I devoured all the books consecutively.

Guess what? Surprise! So far, for me, The Winter Long is the best urban fantasy read of the year. I am really impressed with how beautifully Seanan McGuire weaved threads throughout the series, even bringing in the smallest of details, and wrapping them up in this book, while creating new ones. There are answers that go back to the first book -- remember when Toby was turned into a fish? Expect answers to those events and more.

There are also some terrible betrayals leading to heartbreak for Toby. However, loyal friends do step up to the plate as Toby battles an old powerful frenemy and seeks answers to a personal history that gets more complex by the minute. She gets some much needed answers, but McGuire simultaneously creates new threads by raising new questions and dropping clues to maintain the reader speculating and waiting for more adventures. Toby still ends up bloody and broken, she is still the hero jumping to the rescue, but in The Winter Long she slows down long enough to finally pay attention.

This installment has just enough action, mystery, revelations, and the right pacing to keep the flow going to the beautiful surprise at the end. Great execution. I love this installment.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review: The Bears of Winter ed. Jerry L. Wheeler

What can you expect? Bears, Bears, & more Bears . . . Muscle-bound beauties, sexy Daddies, adorable cubs and strong bears experiencing life, adventures, and enjoying each other in stories featuring rough play, erotic moments, the consumption of orgasmic feasts, everyday life issues or those all-important connections. Bears hibernating in past, present, and future winter settings ranging from the North Pole to Antarctica, isolated cabins in mountain ranges to ski resorts, and on to far away planets.

This collection flows beautifully with variety instead of sameness. It kicks off strongly beginning with the erotically enticing contemporary foodie piece "Don't Feed the Bear" by R.W. Clinger, Jeff Mann's vampire tale of domination and submission, control and surrender courtesy of a forceful but loving hunkalicious biker in "Snow on Scrabble Creek," and 'Nathan Burgoine's exquisitely executed speculative fiction piece "Psychometry of Snow."

Frank Muse's amusing "Little Suzie" with an erotic Santa – think snicker doodles and black leather jockstrap -- as the ultimate winter Daddy bear fantasy is followed by “Snowblind,” Jeffrey Ricker's creative science fiction tale set in a distant frozen planet, and Max Vos’ extremely heated “Mountain Bear,” a story set in the cold mountains of Tennessee featuring gay bashing southern style, as well as raw lovin' between a writer and a reclusive bear. Serving as a heavy contrast, Jay Neal's reflective poet/writer sets off in an adventure to research early Antarctica explorers and finds hot romance with a devious bear in "Miles, of the Antarctic."

Up next is Xavier Axelson's fabulous speculative fiction/horror tale detailing a bear's quest for justice in the chilling "Sleeping Bear," followed by the emotional roller coaster "Feast of January” by Roscoe Hudson with a wickedly funny beginning and romantic cookfest that quickly turns into a reflective piece about a past loss and grabbing that second chance at life. And Daniel M. Jaffe serves a different sort of romantic holiday treat as his Jewish sex angel finally finds the love of his life at Christmas time in "Romancing the Pole."

The reader is then transported to 1878 and big, hairy lumberjacks and ice harvesters toiling, bunking together, and tenderly caring for each other in "Truckee," one of Dale Chase’s deliciously raw, bearishly hot and gritty stories. It is a smooth transition to contemporary times and a fabulous bear erotic fiction piece by Lewis DeSimone who with his finely tuned insight into men needing hope or a way to move forward utilizes friendship and a new acquaintance to pave the way for that to happen in "The Bears of Winter." This grouping ends with the futuristic "Thaw" by Hank Edwards, a short story memorable for its excellent world-building, fantastic atmosphere, and a dystopian frozen earth that serves as the perfect setting for a dangerous cute-meet between two surviving bears.

In Phillip Williams' rough and tender erotic tale "World of Men," a young, isolated cub desperately wants to experience the world of men and gets his wishes (and then some) when a bear gives him a few lessons in desire. Everything shifts when a man faces reality when friends help him come to terms with his beloved partner's long illness in Charles Hopwood's truly touching "Cold Comfort." And, the anthology ends with a contemporary piece that relies on the character's fantasies and fixation on a bear for most of its eroticism. "The Balaclava" by Nathan Sims is a story that surprises the reader by ending just as it should for the character.

I usually read anthologies in slow motion -- one, maybe two stories at a time -- but with The Bears of Winter it was different. I read one story after another without stopping for a breath in between. It is true that I am a sucker for stories about bears and that in my estimation Jerry L. Wheeler is a fabulous editor, but in this case the proof is in the pudding. All 16 stories meet the required theme, hibernating bears in all sorts of winter landscapes, however, it is quality writing by the contributing authors and the variety and caliber of the stories chosen by Wheeler that keep this anthology fresh and engaging, driving the reader forward until the very end. Highly recommended. Enjoy.

Category: LGBT - Gay/Bear Erotic Fiction/Anthology
Publisher: Bear Bones Books
Release Date: Digital Ed. August 23, 2014 / Paperback: November 1, 2014
Grade: A-

Other anthologies ed. by Jerry L. Wheeler
Tented: Gay Erotic Tales Under the Big TopRiding the Rails The Dirty Diner: Gay Erotica on the MenuOn The Run: Tales of Gay Pursuit and Passion


Thursday, September 4, 2014

August 2014 Recap: Favorite Reads, Old & New

Summer is over and my reading was great! I did not read all the books on my list, but my hot streak held in August 2014 with lots of excellent books. I'm going to have a tough time choosing personal favorites. Frankly, I was not sure how to go about doing that -- so many of my choices exceeded expectations. My list is a combination of brand new and older releases, so I decided to just separate them this time around. Check them out:

AUGUST 2014 BOOKS READ: 14
Contemporary: 1 (Erotic Fiction)
Urban Fantasy: 2
Fantasy: 1
Mystery: 1
YA Fiction: 1
LGBT:  8 (Speculative Fiction: 1, Mystery: 3, Gay/MM Romance: 4)


Top Reads from old releases:
Broken by Megan Hart: A
The Dark Horse (Longmire #5) by Craig Johnson: A
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: A-
The Affair of the Porcelain Dog by Jess Faraday: A-
Lessons in Love (Cambridge Fellows #1) by Charlie Cochrane: B+

Top Reads from New Releases:
The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga #1) by Kameron Hurley: B+
Visions (Cainsville #2) by Kelley Armstrong: B+
Wilde Stories 2014 ed. Steve Berman: B+

Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron: B
Think of England by K.J. Charles: B
The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black: B-
I enjoyed this book much more than expected. So subtle and quiet and beautiful. John and his baby. John and his horse-lord. Great mature romance and father-son story. I even understood where the mean ex was coming from. A pleasure. (M/M Romance)
Let It Ride (Pickup Men #2) by LC Chase: C+
I liked this second installment in the Pickup Men series by LC Chase. It was emotionally gratifying, both joyful and angsty, with a conflict that combines sexual exploration and learning to accept real love when it comes your way. (M/M Western/Romance)
If Wishes were Horses by Silvia Violet: D
This M/M Romance did not work for me. This is a case of insta-lust with feelings of quick love following, lacking the intimate moments or friendship to build up to that love.
Upcoming Review:
Home Fires Burning by Charlie Cochrane

Reread: Omens (Cainsville #1) by Kelley Armstrong

AUGUST 2014 OTHER REVIEWS & POSTS:
Books: August/September 2014 New Releases!
July 2014 Recap: Favorite Reads + Minis
Review: Magic Breaks (Kate Daniels #8) by Ilona Andrews
Review: The Girls at The Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine



Monday, September 1, 2014

Hilcia's Minis: YA Wallflowers & Dark Horses + LGBT Mysteries: Porcelain Dogs, Cambridge Fellows & Think of England

In August I craved mysteries and urban fantasy. Today, however, I begin my minis with the young adult fiction book chosen by my Internet Book Club. All of the books below are either highly recommended or recommended reads, and four out of the five are old releases with only one 2014 release in the bunch.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an excellent YA fiction read written in epistolary style. First published in 1999, this short coming-of-age novel is as pertinent today as it was during that time. Chbosky's narrator and main character is young fifteen-year-old Charlie whose personal isolation and awkward social skills are only rivaled by his brilliant mind. The story begins when Charlie is about to start high school and finishes at the end of his freshman year. During that one year, within 213 pages, Charlie undergoes quite a few changes, (character growth) and makes some good as well as some pretty disturbing discoveries about himself. Along the way, he makes some great friends like Patrick, Sam and a few others, but Charlie's family (parents and siblings) are also there in a meaningful way.

This is a smart read, not just a quick one. Chbosky packs in key young adult and family issues, some quite serious, in very few pages while keeping his characters young and fresh as they "discover" and process issues and ideas in their own unique way. While Charlie is the narrator through the letters he writes to "Dear Friend," all the main characters involved in Charlie's life are very well rendered. I was touched by a few them: Charlie, of course, Sam, Patrick and Brad, Charlie's teacher Bill (I wish all teachers were like that!), Charlie's sister and his parents. This is a highly recommended YA fiction read. If you've read it, then you know why. If you haven't, give it try. (1999, Pocket Books)
"In the hallways, I see the girls wearing the guys' jackets, and I think about the idea of property. And I wonder if they are happy. I hope they are. I really hope they are."

"We accept the love we think we deserve."

"[e]ven if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them."
I read this book for my Internet Book Club. Thanks to Mariana, Lili, Maria, Christine, and Yinx for the recommendation and discussion.
---------------
CONTEMPORARY WESTERN MYSTERY:
The Dark Horse (Walt Longmire #5) by Craig Johnson

I decided to go back and read books #5 through #7 of the Walt Longmire mystery series so I can catch up with some of the past installments I'm missing. The Dark Horse was first published in 2009. In this one a woman admits to shooting her husband six times after he burned down the barn while all her quarter horses were inside. Alive. But even with proof, a witness, and her confession, Walt doesn't believe she is guilty and sets out to prove it. The Dark Horse is my favorite book of the series so far. The mystery is fantastic and the action is even better. Good ole Walt just keeps surprising me with what he is willing to do to solve a mystery as well as for other people. What a fabulous character and what a great series. I'm picking up the other two books ASAP, and then I will be up to date. Highly recommended. (2009, Viking Adult - Kindle Ed.)

***By the way, the end of the third season for the A&E Longmire television program was fantastic! I'm still breathless.
---------------
LGBT GAY MYSTERIES/ROMANCE:
The Affair of the Porcelain Dog by Jess Faraday

The Affair of the Porcelain Dog is the first book in a mystery duology by Jess Faraday that I picked up from the "books recommended" list in Goodreads. It is not a romance, it contains sexual involvements that lead to the mystery and action. Set in the crime-riddled streets of 1889 London, the main character Ira Adler is an orphan and former pickpocket, thief, and male prostitute from the mean East End streets, presently living in luxury under the patronage of powerful crime lord Cain Goddard as payment for an exclusive sexual relationship. Ira has become selfishly spoiled with luxury, but that begins to change after Cain asks him to steal the statue of a porcelain dog containing evidence that under the sodomy laws may send him and others, including Ira, to prison. Ira retrieves the porcelain dog only to loose it to another pickpocket, and the hunt begins in earnest leading to a friend's death, opium traders and more dangerous discoveries.

The setting, characters, atmosphere, action and plotting all come together to create an excellent historical mystery. I appreciate that the sodomy laws in place during that time are not taken lightly or dismissed by the Faraday, instead they play a crucial role in the mystery, drive how the characters' conduct their lives and the actions they take in order to survive. I could not stop reading this book and will pick up Turnbull House, Book #2, to find out what happens to Ira, his detecting partner and ex-client Dr. Tim Lazarus, and Cain. Highly recommended. (2011, Bold Strokes Books-Digital Format) 

Lessons in Love (Cambridge Fellows #1) by Charlie Cochrane

First published in 2008, this is the first book in an 8 book mystery/romance series by Charlie Cochrane. There is a great mystery in this introductory book to the series and addictive characters that I want to know better. Set in St. Bridges College, Cambridge in 1905, it all begins when the outgoing, good looking Jonty Stewart joins the teaching staff at the college and catches the attention of stodgy, but brilliant, Orlando Coppersmith. A man whose whole life is wrapped up in the school and mathematics. Their relationship slowly changes to intimacy and a forbidden romance. But the murders of young students interrupt their small world of personal discovery, and soon they are caught up in a dangerous position acting as the police's eyes and ears within the college where any one of their students could be the murderer.

The atmosphere in this book is just fantastic, and I fell in love with both Jonty and Orlando. Much tenderness goes into Orlando's seduction, and there is much more to Jonty's character than his outward outgoing, jolly personality. The gay themed mystery is well integrated with the developing relationship between the main characters. I already picked up Lessons in Desire, Book #2. Recommended. (2009, Samhain - Digital Format)

Think of England by K.J. Charles

"Lie back and think of England…"

This is another turn of the century mystery/romance. Set in England, 1904, the majority of the story takes place at a house party in a country home. Captain Archie Curtis lost fingers and friends to a military accident that he believes was the result of sabotage. The only reason he is at this country home is to find proof that the wealthy owner is responsible. He meets the guests and immediately dislikes foreigner Daniel da Silva, an obviously queer poet with the kind of effete mannerisms and sophisticated wit Archie always despised. But as Archie begins to investigate, he finds that Daniel is conducting his own investigation and they join forces. As the danger grows so does the sexual tension, particularly after Archie and Daniel find themselves in a compromising situation with blackmail and murder becoming a real possibility.

This book was recommended to me by Li from Me and My Books, and she was right. I really enjoyed this story for its turn of the century English atmosphere. Particularly Archie's stiff-upper-lip British attitude juxtaposed with the entertaining, tongue in cheek moments provided by Daniel. Oh, the horror! These great characters make a wonderful romantic couple, -- "Can I call on you?" *snort* -- and the mystery and action are a plus. The sodomy laws are taken into consideration, and Charles works through that in the building relationship as well as the mystery plot. I would want to see how she works with an established romance and the complications presented by those laws in a sequel. I would definitely read it. Recommended. (2014, Samhain - Digital Format) 


Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: The Girls at The Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

I so enjoyed this book! Flappers, bootleggers, speakeasies, drinking, dancing, cross-starred lovers, and a villainous father!
"Jo guessed even then that Mother's purpose was to have a son, and she was kept from all other causes. Them included."
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is based on The Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale but this is not a fantasy piece, it is strictly fiction set in 1920's Manhattan. The story loosely follows the same structure as the fairy tale with twelve sisters born to a wealthy Mr. Hamilton who kept his wife pregnant in the hopes of having a son to carry on the Hamilton name until the wife died. He confines his twelve daughters to the second floor and attic severely neglecting them. The girls' one and only outlet is dancing. The four eldest daughters, Jo the "general," vivacious Lou, gorgeous Ella, and down-to-earth Doris sneak out at night and hit the Manhattan speakeasies at age fourteen until they find a home at The Kingfisher Club. After that, as the rest of the girls come of age and under Jo’s watchful eye, they dance their nights away at the only place where they feel safe and taste precious moments of freedom.
“The girls were wild for dancing, and nothing else. No hearts beat underneath those thin, bright dresses. They laughed like glass.“
I love how well Valentine integrates the fairy tale and her own version with the Hamilton daughters as 1920's flappers. It is a great story with a controlling father as the ultimate misogynist who attempts to sell his daughters to men like himself as a solution to financial troubles, and how his daughters outwit him and make their way in a world they don't recognize by daylight.
“The girls could hope that these husbands, wherever her father planned to find them, would be kinder and more liberal men than he was. But the sort of man who wanted a girl who’d never been out in the world was the sort whose wife would stay at home in bed and try to produce heirs until she died of it.“
There is a romance of sorts between the eldest daughter Jo and bootlegger turned club owner Tom, but Jo emerges as the mistress of her own destiny and throughout and to the end controls her own happiness.
"You can't expect people to give you the things you love, unless you know how to ask."
Of the sisters, Jo is the best developed character with Lou, Doris, and Ella following in importance. The rest of the sisters are sometimes distinguishable only by the dances they prefer or key characteristics. Of the secondary characters, Mr. Hamilton, Tom, and Jake, The Kingfisher Club's bartender and loyal friend make the greatest impact.

There is a certain awkwardness to the writing style or structure as a result of long paragraphs containing thoughts or commentary placed between parentheses. Although after a while I became used to this ongoing style, there was always an awareness at the back of my mind that interrupted the reading flow throughout the novel. However, the story itself is engaging and a quick read with excellent Roaring Twenties atmosphere and gritty details of Manhattan's underground speakeasies as the setting. The descriptions of dancing in seedy or glamorous clubs are gorgeous. The heartbreaking moments, Jo's sacrifices for her sisters, the sisters' escape from captivity into the real world, and the final payoff, all make for a magnificent tale by Valentine.
“She was still trying to discover how people related to each other, and how you met the world when you weren’t trying to hide something from someone. It was a lesson slow in coming.“

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wilde Stories 2014: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction ed. Steve Berman

The Wilde Stories anthology series edited by Steve Berman features gay themed speculative fiction short stories published during the previous year. This year all the short works included in Steve Berman's 2014 Wilde Stories: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction are written by new contributors. The collection begins with an introduction by Berman, an interesting one at that, however today I am concentrating on a long review that includes all the stories.

The anthology begins with three very good stories that quickly engage the reader, particularly with the short but highly effective contemporary piece "Grindr" by Clayton Littlewood in which text messaging, infused with edgy horror, is utilized as the spec fic element. In "The Ghosts of Emerhad" by Nghi Vo ghosts play a role in a fantasy setting with eerie atmosphere, yet it is not a chilling read, instead this is the redeeming war tale of a man coming to terms with personal loses. And with "How to Dress an American Table" by J. E. Robinson, the collection shifts to a contemporary tale with an unsettling "human monster" at its center, the kind that is often more disturbing than stories about fictional monsters hiding under the bed.

"Caress" by Eli Easton is just an excellent, complete steampunk sff romance piece filled with outstanding details, world-building and "graphic novel" atmosphere. I visualized a graphic novella while reading this romance between a young man with a clockwork heart whose genius and skills save a soldier from a fate worse than death. Following is another excellent story. "57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides" by Sam J. Miller strongly stands out with a unique format that flows effortlessly, and memorable young adult characters, outstanding speculative fiction elements, gay theme, and a plot focused on friendship, bullying, revenge and betrayal.

The collection continues the young adult theme with "Happy Birthday, Numskull" by Robert Smith, a piece that is so freaking interesting because the spec fic elements come from a sensitive, imaginative child’s perceived horrors as he experiences the adult world surrounding him. Everything changes with "Right There in Kansas City" by Casey Hannan, the only story in the anthology that veers into the realm of the weird with dense speculative fiction elements that hit the reader from its inception. There is an obvious sub-text to the story, but take it from me this one is very good and out there.

"The Water that Falls from Nowhere" by John Chu won the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. A reread, this story stands out for the subtle approach with which Chu uses rain as the speculative fiction element while the main thrust of the story is focused on a committed gay couple attempting to gain understanding and acceptance from the narrator’s traditional Chinese family. I have enjoyed Damon Shaw’s work in the past, and he did it again with "Seven Lovers and the Sea." This is a story I loved for its unique twist on both vampiric and seafaring mythical tales.

Although "The Brokenness of Summertime" by R. W. Clinger may be considered a contemporary horror tale by some or perhaps contemporary with a rather sharp edge (pun intended) after all it depicts ye ole green-eyed monster at its best, my totally warped sense of humor turned it into a highly amusing, insane, demented sort of read -- so, so enjoyable! It was then surprising that "Lacuna" by Matthew Cheney gutted me with its ending and not necessarily with the speculative fiction details. Let me explain, in this story there is a running narrative by a writer as he creates a speculative fiction piece. So, there are two stories at once, one interrupting the other's flow and ending in the writer's reality with a shocking revelation and the reasons why "words are not magic." I must be particularly susceptible at the moment because after this story I stopped reading the anthology for a bit before picking it up again. That's a good thing, it means that the story made a strong impact.

"Super Bass" by Kai Ashante Wilson is a fantastic tale with magical aspects of ancient African religions utilized as the root for the speculative fiction elements. In his story, Ashante Wilson amplifies those magical aspects within a high religious ceremony in which two lovers participate, with one transforming into the Most High Summer King and the other giving him strength through loving. The islanders traditionally marry in threes -- two men, one woman -- creating an organic same-gender, gender-mixed society. This aspect of the world-building is not deeply explored. Rather, it is an organic part of its creation and left open to the reader for further thought and speculation.

The last piece with young adults as central characters is a mythology-based story by Cory Skerry, "Midnight at the Feet of the Caryatides," that focuses on a arrogant click of students that choose to abuse the weak and different. I enjoyed the gothic atmosphere and gargoyles, but for me the most memorable aspect of the story is the combination of darkness and tenderness found in the narrative. And the anthology ends with "The Revenge of Oscar Wilde" by Sean Eads, a zombie story with Oscar playing the forceful and introspective knight avenging his lover Bosie's honor to the horrifying, bittersweet end. This is a short story worth reading for its beautiful writing and excellent alternate perspective into Wilde's last days in Paris. . . and on. "If there is a god to them now, he walks this earth and his name is Oscar Wilde."

This anthology ebbs and flows with short works that include contemporary, fantasy, steampunk, magical, and mythology-based speculative fiction – some action-filled, others quieter and more introspective, going from dark to light, and darker yet. Horror-based speculative fiction tales reign supreme with some excellent otherworldly pieces and plenty of stand outs. Personally, I found quite a few favorites as I made my way through this year's edition of Wilde Stories.

Category: LGBT/ Gay/ Speculative Fiction / Anthology
Series: Wilde Stories Anthologies
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/August 2014 - Kindle ed.
Grade: B+

Series:
Wilde Stories 2011
Wilde Stories 2012
Wilde Stories 2013

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: Visions (Cainsville #2) by Kelley Armstrong

Omens was more of a thriller with an edge of horror and a small dose of fantasy than urban fantasy. I personally loved it. However when reading Visions, it quickly becomes evident that Omens is a very important base whereupon this urban fantasy stands. Key questions and clues are there, while Visions is where the urban fantasy aspects of this series strongly emerge. More importantly, in Visions the main characters take shape, emerging stronger and more intriguing than in the previous book.

Visions begins the day after Omens ends with Olivia finding the dead body of a woman in her car. While waits for help from Gabriel, the body disappears, and she questions whether it was a death omen. Their brand new partnership is broken when Olivia distances herself from Gabriel after learning about his deal with her ex-fiancé James. Feeling hurt and betrayed by Gabriel, Olivia re-establishes contact with James who wants her back, while at the same time beginning a sexual relationship with the young biker and son of the Satan Saints' gang leader Ricky Gallagher. Yet, as the story progresses, Olivia continues to reach out to Gabriel, and it is from Gabriel that she seeks intimacy and with whom she feels complete, settled and happy. That seems to be mutual as Gabriel and Olivia become quietly but fiercely protective of each other.

Armstrong develops the urban fantasy aspects of this series through events unfolding around Olivia's investigation into the disappearance of a local Cainsville girl, a girl who looks just like the dead body she saw in her car and coincidentally a lot like Olivia. Cainsville and the townspeople become central in Visions and the exploration into the mythological side of the series begins in earnest. Olivia's powers are no longer restricted to reading omens, and she experiences dreamlike visions when she stumbles into a mysterious empty house in Cainsville. New players are introduced as Olivia, Gabriel, and even Ricky and James get pulled into an increasingly dangerous game with both Olivia and Gabriel becoming the main targets of some powerful otherworldly beings. But how is all this related to the Larsens? And why? Clues abound in this installment if, as Gabriel says, "you just pay attention."

Visions is driven by the characters and evolving relationships: Olivia, Gabriel, Ricky, and James, and Gabriel, Olivia and Cainsville residents (Rose, Patrick, Ida, Walter, Veronica). The characters and the relationships they establish are the most compelling aspect of this novel. And it is through them that everything else comes to fruition, including the mystery that surrounds the murders and the Welsh folklore Armstrong utilizes to build the magical aspects of the urban fantasy -- omens, visions, horses, hounds, ravens, fairy circles, and more. So far, I am enjoying her modern twist on the folklore. The mystery in Visions is weaker, or let's say less complex, than the one in Omens, however, by the end Armstrong beautifully ties it to the main story arc.

Most of the novel is again narrated from Olivia's first point of view perspective, intermingled with key chapters written in the third point of view from different characters, with Gabriel's chapters providing the most interesting personal views of himself and Olivia. His character is the most attractive and mysterious of this series so far. Olivia ironically refers to herself as a "special snowflake" at one point in the narrative. Well, with Gabriel, Ricky, and James fighting for her attention (and others courting her favor), she certainly fits the description.

I hate triangles even when there is only a possibility of romance involved as is the case between Olivia and Gabriel. I simply love Gabriel's character. James is a dangerous whacko who is being influenced so he doesn't count, but the highly lusty relationship between Olivia and Ricky is surprising. Having said that, I find Armstrong portrayal of both Ricky and Gabriel as males who don't judge Olivia for her personal relationships extremely refreshing. I do wonder if that will last? And, yes, Olivia is strong, intuitive and trying to figure out who she is, but at times I find her to be somewhat immature and impulsive with a touch of arrogance.

I love the ending. There is a step forward for Gabriel. It seems like the main story arc will pick up some momentum now that we have some major players and know a bit more about Cainsville. A new character will be added to the mix and I can't wait to see how that will play out! Do I really have to wait another year for the next book? Sigh…

Category: Urban Fantasy
Series: Cainsville
Publisher/Release Date: Dauton/August 19, 2014
Grade: B+

Visit Kelley Armstrong here..

Cainsville Series:
Omens, Book #1
Visions, Book #2