Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood

Last week I finally finished reading The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood. To clarify, this series is young adult fantasy.

Maia, the protagonist, and her brother Darian are both coming of age and hoping to get their own dragons. Every year their family's aerie provides the Empire's Dragonry or armies with the best they have to offer. Unfortunately for Maia and Darian, due to a conflict that has devastated the majority of the aeries, the Dragonry requisitions their entire clutch and a pair won't be available to them. Everything changes when the mythical Summer Dragon, a harbinger of change, appears to Maia and Darian. They believe it is a sign that good things will come and that maybe each will get a dragon after all. Unfortunately, religious and political entities interfere and their interpretation of the sighting becomes a catalyst in Maia's and her family's lives and livelihood.

Maia becomes the center of the controversy, attracting the attention of the highest religious, political, and military powers. They decide to take her to the imperial capital for interrogation in order to verify the sighting of the Summer Dragon. Instead, Maia makes a decision and sets off into the wild to find her own wilding dragon. The adventure really begins.

There are different angles to this story, beginning with multiple questions about historical facts and the religious beliefs of the people in Maia's community vs. Empire's religious beliefs and historical records. These differences are addressed throughout the book and become the main conflict in this novel. Another angle is the deep bond between a girl and her dragon. This part of the story has a deeply emotional, touching beginning that makes quite an impact, which leads the reader to become invested on the close relationship that develops between them later on. And of course there is a matter of war and the effects it has on Maia, her village, the neighboring communities, and Empire as a whole.

This is a wonderful coming of age story with a strong young female as the central character, and the added bonus of having dragons as more than sidekicks. These dragons bond with their riders, love their mates, and well… you would have to read the story to find out what else they can do. They have distinctive personalities and become characters on their own right. There are battles with fantastic action scenes where both dragons and humans are key to the outcome. Additionally, although Maia is our central figure, her own dragon becomes indispensable in her life. She is also surrounded by family, friends, a community, and a cast of secondary characters who contribute to her adventures, provide balance to this story, and a solid base for the rest of the trilogy.

Lockwood's descriptive style is particularly notable, as he makes it easy to visualize the setting, the dragons in all their glory, as well as those fantastic aerial battle scenes which took my breath away! Truly, some of them were absolutely stunning. Main and key secondary characters show character growth, with some two dimensional characterization found within the vast tertiary cast. Pacing was slow in some sections, although when the action scenes came along the pace became quick and exciting. And, of course there are a few conflicts left unresolved as the story is set up to continue.

Todd Lockwood is an illustrator and artist, and The Summer Dragon is his debut novel. I am happy to report that I found this first book of The Evertide trilogy to be a highly enjoyable book all around. Besides the characters, world-building and plot, I also thoroughly loved the magnificent illustrations that Mr. Lockwood included throughout the book.

Evertide Trilogy, Book 1
Publisher: DAW
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Category: Young Fantasy
Grade: B+ (4.5 Stars)

Monday, June 13, 2016

'Nathan Burgoine⎪Bonus: Triad Blood, Connected Shorts

BONUS POST: Click on Title to read Review: Triad Blood by 'Nathan Burgoine

Triad Blood is based on characters and world-building created by Burgoine for four short works previously published in gay erotica anthologies. Please note that it is not necessary to read these short stories in order to make sense of the book. Additionally, although the short stories are erotic, Triad Blood's focus is on urban fantasy with minimal erotic content. However, the short stories are useful to readers interested in further character interaction and world-building information.

In order of publication: (click on titles for BSB website) 
(1) "Three" - Released as a single short story. Originally in Blood Sacraments: Gay Vampire Erotica ed. Todd Gregory

The events that take place in "Three" are narrated from Luc's perspective. This is where Burgoine first introduces his characters when they initially meet at a bar on the night of the full moon while the coteries, the packs, and the covens are busy renewing their bonds.
"We few who walk alone are safe these three nights. Safe enough to hunt on our own. I'd been caught by another vampire once before, and did not relish the thought of repeating it. Made and abandoned. I am a slave to the will of nearly all other vampires -- if they told me to step into the sun, if only for their own amusement, their will would force me to act. These three nights were all I had to call my own, and I was loath to give up even one of them." -- Luc
The triad is formed between Luc, Anders, and Curtis during a steamy sexual encounter, in a ceremony involving the exchange of blood, soul through sex, and magic. This is a fabulous short story showcasing one erotic moment between three lonely men. It not only fits the Blood Sacraments anthology to perfection, but it serves as an excellent introduction to this world and characters.

(2) "Intercession" - Wings: Subversive Gay Angel Erotica ed. Todd Gregory

"Intercession" is narrated by the incubus demon, Anders, who gives an insight into a change that comes over him after meeting an angel, as the triad battle demons attempting to destroy them.

(3) "Possession" - Erotica Exotica: Tales of Sex & Magic ed. Richard Labonté

In "Possession," the narrative comes from Curtis' perspective and highlights his confrontation with the Families who rule the wizard covens.

(4) "Necessary Evil" - Raising Hell: Demonic Gay Erotica ed. Todd Gregory

And, in "Necessary Evil," we again experience the story from Anders' point of view, as Burgoine introduces a couple of characters whose 'special circumstances' are addressed in Triad Blood.

Conclusion: There is a certain continuity to these short stories if read in order. As I mention above, it is not necessary to read them before reading Triad Blood, however, they do give the reader insight into the characters, as well as into certain events. The other side effect of reading these short stories is that you want to know more about the characters… about the world… so I'm glad the book was written. Note that my focus above was on "Three," and that is because it was the introductory story. However, all the short stories are excellent, particularly (and this is a personal bias) the ones with Anders as the narrator. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

June 12th: Mourning Sunday

This is a heartbreaking Sunday. A day we mourn for the 50 who died, and pray for those injured, during the massacre that occurred at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, as a result of a horrific hate crime committed against the LGBTQ community.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Review: Triad Blood by 'Nathan Burgoine

'Nathan Burgoine is a favorite writer. I read Triad Blood as soon as it released, and was not disappointed, but then, that was never an expectation.
The law of three is unbroken: three vampires form a coterie, three demons make a pack, and three wizards are a coven. That is how it has always been, and how it was always to be.

But Luc, Anders, and Curtis—vampire, demon, and wizard—have cheated tradition. Their bond is not coterie, pack, or coven, but something else. Thrust into the supernatural politics ruling Ottawa from behind the shadows, they face Renard, a powerful vampire who harbors deadly secrets of his own and wishes to end their threat. The enemy they know conjures fire and death at every turn. The enemies they don’t know are worse.

Blood, soul, and magic gave them freedom. Now they need to survive it.
Characterization and world-building make this urban fantasy a success. The characters, however, are the first to ensnare the reader, as Burgoine first establishes the all-important emotional connection and continually deepens characterization throughout the story. Additionally, the personalities are different and provide a balance between the characters.

Luc is an old-world, suave, sensual vampire with a cynicism and ruthless toughness built through centuries of living as a lone vampire not allowed to feed except during the full moon. He brings power and the experience of dealing with vampire coteries and their politics to the triad. Rejected and continually beaten by the demon packs because he is gay, Anders is a brash, crass, in-your-face sexual, incubus demon. He is a complex, contradictory character whose tattooed muscled-bound body hides a sensitive side, and whose sarcastic humor overshadows a wicked intelligence and caring personality. Curtis is a young, cute, lovable, powerful wizard, and the center of the triad. He is beloved by Luc and Anders for his pure soul, kindness and naiveté, but rejected by wizard covens for having been born to 'non-magical' parents. For that reason, Curtis is considered an 'Orphan' and banned from using magic. He is the catalyst to this story, and the character whose good decisions and/or mistakes drive the plot forward.

Burgoine's sets his urban fantasy world in Ottawa, Canada where he resides. I love the setting and that he utilizes the fact that Ottawa is a 'government town' in the world-building and plot. First, we have the ancient, powerful, cold-hearted vampires and their coteries. They are expert manipulators and merciless killers when seeking power among themselves or fighting against others. Then, we have the wizard covens living by strict guidelines set by mob-like "Families" who don't hesitate to murder in cold blood when their rules are broken. And last, there are the obviously homophobic demon packs whose main purpose is to procreate by stealing souls to gain power. Note: although demons (incubus and other) as individuals are drawn in an excellent fashion, in this world, the demons as packs were not as clearly defined.

I finished Triad Blood in two sittings only because I couldn't stay up all night reading, the plot was that good. Burgoine did an excellent job of pulling everything together: the characters, world-building, and plot. Luc, Anders, and Curtis just want to live in peace but someone or a few someones cannot let such a powerful triad stick around, particularly such an unorthodox one. The attacks and murder attempts begin small, but soon they gain momentum and get more violent in nature. All three investigate, and with help from a few friends and frenemies, they slowly begin to make sense of what is happening. There are unforgettable secondary characters, including a couple of villains, but mostly characters that I would love to see again. The book ends with an action-packed climactic scene, a few unanswered questions, and what I think of as a great beginning.

Do you know what I loved about this book, besides the characters, world-building and plot? The theme(s): Outsiders: three people who don't belong where they should. Diversity: three people who are so different it should be impossible for them to be anything more than careful enemies. Family: Having been rejected by their own, they forge a strong friendship and become a loyal family. Additionally, despite the use of the word "triad" on the title, this urban fantasy does not focus on erotica or traditional romance. This is UF and although there is loving, sexual scenes appear only when necessary -- no gratuitous sex.

'Nathan Burgoine is a talented writer. He has the right touch whether he chooses to write his exquisite short works or full-length novels, speculative fiction, romance, fiction, erotica or urban fantasy. Burgoine's first novel, Light, and most of his short works appear all over my favorite books lists. I can safely say that Triad Blood is highly recommended. And, hopefully, this is the first of an urban fantasy series.

Category: Urban Fantasy - LGBT
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Release Date: May 17, 2016
Grade: B+
Upcoming short, informative post: 'Nathan Burgoine⎪Bonus: Triad Blood Connected Shorts

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Want to Read in June: LGBT, Sci Fi, PNR, Fantasy

The following is a short list of June releases on my radar. I am trying to stay focused on reading books from my already bulging TBR, but will definitely be reading at least two of the books highlighted below: Best Gay Stories 2016 ed. Steve Berman (a yearly tradition), and Nalini Singh's Allegiance of Honor (my favorite PNR series). Additionally, note that previously highlighted is another June release that I will definitely read, the LGBT Gay Fiction novel Homo Superiors by L.A. Fields.

BEST GAY STORIES 2016 ed. Steve Berman
Publisher: Lethe Press
Release Date: June 2, 2016
Category: LGBT Gay Anthology

Editor Steve Berman delivers another fine volume in the Best Gay Stories series. As the rights and privileges of gay men expand with each passing year, the demand for stories grows--stories that rouse the reader to step out from the shadows, to abandon the role of outsider, and to take his place in the community of all men. And so here are tales of intimacy and longing, haunts and passion, coming out and coming together hand-in-hand. Featuring short fiction and essays by award-winning authors and exciting voices of the field.

SUPER EXTRA GRANDE by Yoss (Author), David Fry (Translator)
Publisher:Restless Books
Release Date: June 7, 2016
Category: Science Fiction

With playfulness and ingenuity in the tradition of Douglas Adams, the Cuban science fiction master Yoss delivers a space opera of intergalactic proportions with Super Extra Grande, the winner of the 20th annual UPC Science Fiction Award in 2011.

Set in a distant future, after the invention of faster-than-light space travel has propelled a still-immature mankind into the far corners of the Milky Way, the novel features creatures of immense variety—amoebas that cover entire worlds, sensual females that feed on substances from their males’ reproductive systems, talking reptiles, and other creations drawn from the classics of Cuban and international science fiction—all of which serve as colleagues, fellow adventurers, sex partners, teachers, or members of the military high command in the Galactic Community governing this part of the universe. Our protagonist, Jan Amos Sangan Dongo, has a special role in this otherworldly menagerie: He is a veterinarian who specializes in treating enormous animals across the galaxy. When a colonial conflict threatens the fragile peace between the Galaxy’s seven intelligent species, Dr. Sangan must embark on a daring mission to enter a gigantic creature and find two swallowed ambassadors—who also happen to be his competing love interests.

Coupling his own extensive studies in (earthly) biology with his vast curiosity and wild imagination, Yoss brings us a rare specimen in the richly parodic tradition of Cuban science fiction.

Psy/Changeling Series
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: June 14, 2016
Category: Paranormal Romance
A staggering transformation has put the Psy, humans, and changelings at a crossroads. The Trinity Accord promises a new era of cooperation between disparate races and groups. It is a beacon of hope held together by many hands: old enemies, new allies, wary loners.

But a century of distrust and suspicion can’t be so easily forgotten, and it threatens to shatter Trinity from within at any moment. As rival members vie for dominance, chaos and evil gather in the shadows and a kidnapped woman’s cry for help washes up in San Francisco, while the Consortium turns its murderous gaze toward a child who is the embodiment of change, of love, of piercing hope: a child who is both Psy…and changeling.

To find the lost and protect the vulnerable—and to save Trinity—no one can stand alone. This is a time of loyalty across divisions, of bonds woven into the heart and the soul, of heroes known and unknown standing back to back and holding the line. But is an allegiance of honor even possible with traitors lurking in their midst?

Publisher: Tachyon
Release Date: June 14, 2016
Category: Fantasy

Featuring three brand-new stories and an original introduction by Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn.

Bestselling author Patricia A. McKillip (The Riddle-Master of Hed) is one of the most lyrical writers gracing the fantasy genre. With the debut of her newest work, Dreams of Distant Shores is a true ode to her many talents. Within these pages you will find a youthful artist possessed by both his painting and his muse and seductive travelers from the sea enrapturing distant lovers. The statue of a mermaid comes suddenly to life, and two friends are transfixed by a haunted estate.

Fans of McKillip’s ethereal fiction will find much to delight them; those lucky enough to be discovering her work will find much to enchant them.

UPDATE: From my Want to Read in May list, (5 books total) I read 3 books: Only Beloved by Mary Balogh, Triad Blood by 'Nathan Burgoine, and Sleepless in Manhattan by Sarah Morgan. The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood is in my TBR and I intend to read it. However, I'm not sure that I will be purchasing / reading All Fixed Up by Linda Grimes as it is part of a series already in progress, and I haven't read the previous installments.

What are you looking forward to reading in June?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunday Weekly Update June 5th

During this past week, I posted the last of my challenge reviews and a few book-related posts. Now, the real challenge begins -- maintaining the discipline of reading, reviewing, and posting. Don't get me wrong, I still want this experience to be fun. That's what I learned this past month, it is still fun to share.

Monday, May 30th
Photo: Pink Hydrangea Bush
  • This pink hydrangea bush is right outside of my brother Alex's place. It was blooming and bursting with color and breathtaking beauty. The bees agreed!
Book Recommendations: Military Content
  • May 30th was Memorial Day, and I celebrated the day by posting a favorite list of books, with military content, heroes and/or heroines, read and reviewed throughout that past few years.
  • Unfortunately, my favorite SF/Romance series, Dock-Five by Linnea Sinclair, was missing from my recommendation. BUT, I realized that I did review the last book of the series, Rebels and Lovers (Dock Five #4), as well as her fabulous stand-alone book Games of Command. I edited and added both books to my initial list. Now, I'm happy! 
Tuesday, May 31st
Review: Only Beloved (Survivor's Club #7) by Mary Balogh
  • This is the last book of Mary Balogh's Survivor's Club historical romance series. I missed two books in this series that I will go back and read now, but I found at least two books I seriously loved! 
  • Only Beloved capped off the series quite nicely, with a giving man and a joyful woman willing to reach out to each other to achieve happiness in their lives. Romantic and beautiful. 
Wednesday, June 1st
30 Day Blog Challenge: Done!
  • A wrap-up post for the 30 Day Blog Challenge, with a huge thanks to Ames who began it all! 
  • Here, a big thanks to every one of you who added your support. Believe me, that made the past month of daily posting worth it! 
Thursday, June 2nd
Highlighting: Homo Superiors by L.A. Fields
  • A new June release by Lethe Press, Homo Superiors by L.A. Fields, grabbed my attention as soon as I read the summary! It's a modern day retelling of the 1920's real-life case of Leopold and Loeb. Check out their picture (Leopold on the left, Loeb on the right). 

Friday, June 3rd
Saturday, June 4th
  • Family Day: Attended my niece's 1st Communion! Afterwards, there was a big friends and family party to celebrate. It was a joyful day, and a fun, late, exhausting evening! Loved it! 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Highlighting: Homo Superiors by L.A. Fields

Two college seniors: Noah, frail like the hollow-boned birds he enjoys watching, caged by his intellect, and by his sense that the only boy as smart as himself is his best friend; Ray who has spent years aping leading men so that his every gesture is suave, but who has become bored with petty cheats and tricks, and now, during summer break in Chicago, needs something momentous to occupy himself.

Noah’s text says, I’ve found some candidates for murder. Ray chuckles and knows that Noah sent the message to cheer him. Both boys realize they stand apart from others their age. One lacks social graces, the other has perfected being charming. Both are too willing to embark on a true challenge of their superiority but neither realizes what such a crime will do because no matter how they see themselves, how they need one another, they still possess the same emotions of H. sapiens.
A modern day retelling of the Leopold and Loeb story from the author of Lambda Award Finalist My Dear Watson.

Publisher: Lethe Press
Publication Date: June 1, 2016
$15.00 Paperback; Electronic edition available
176 Pages, 6 x 9

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge: Done!!

It's June 1st and I completed the 30 Day Blog Challenge. Ames idea for this challenge was to blog for 30 consecutive days during the month of May with the goal of getting herself back into the habit of blogging again. I needed some incentive to get back to blogging and decided to join her for the same reason. And what do you know? I was successful in completing the challenge. Yay!!!

Okay… I did miss a few days here and there, either due to migraines, the old-fried-brain syndrome from working late, and once because I was away from home and my scheduled blog post didn't post… but, I made up for them by double posting [grin]. I joined the challenge late, so with today's post it's 30!! It counts!

Seriously though, it's amazing how tough it was at the beginning to get going again, and how it all began to flow as the days went along.

Here is the breakdown of my posts:

Book Reviews/Mini-Reviews/Overview/Poetry Reviews: 11
Book Related Posts: 10
Weekly Updates: 3
Photos & Video: 3
Holidays: 3

Now that I know it's all about making the time, and I'm back in the groove, it will be easier to get back to my regular scheduled program.

Thank you Ames! This was a fantabulous idea!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review: Only Beloved by Mary Balogh

Only Beloved is one of Mary Balogh's quiet romances.

In this last book of the Survivor's Club series, 48 year-old widower George Crabbe, The Duke of Stanbrook, decides he is ready to find a companion, a friend, a wife, a lover of his own. The only woman who comes to his mind is Dora Debbins, a 39 year-old spinster and music teacher he met over a year ago. George visits Dora at her little cottage and to her utter amazement, he proposes. She accepts.

During the rest of the novel, we discover the characters. There is Dora's capacity for hope and joy, her vitality and willingness to accept the opportunity to be happy with a man she respects, admires, finds attractive, and slowly comes to love. George will do anything to make Dora happy -- to keep this woman he fully admires at his side. He's almost perfect, but not quite. George gives, and has given so much of himself to others, but has never learned how to accept support from friends. So sad, so hardheaded, so darn huggable!

Most of Only Beloved is focused on relationship growth and characterization. The details about the marriage, how George and Dora get from companionship and attraction to love, are all fabulous. This couple develops a mature relationship with few, if any, misunderstandings. I love that about them. And, although this is not the most sizzling, sexual of couples, there is intimacy, love, and passion between them. Of course there are a couple of personal conflicts thrown in for good measure.

Dora's main problem is her estrangement with the mother who abandoned the family when she was a teenager, creating a scandal and robbing her of a future. Balogh does not rush the resolution to Dora's conflict, as it takes almost the whole book to conclude satisfactorily. George's conflicts, on the other hand, are more complicated. Having read the other books from the Survivor's Club series, we know that George's son was killed during the Napoleonic War, and that his first wife committed suicide afterward, but here we find out that there is more to both incidents. George has never revealed his secrets to anyone. A nemesis is revealed, and it all concludes in high drama.

There are two epilogues: one for the book and one for the series. I don't usually mind epilogues at all, however this time around, the epilogue to the series seem to be a bit much! So many children… I couldn't make out whose child belonged to which couple even when Balogh used the last names! Regardless, it was a sweet ending for them all.

Only Beloved was a lovely ending to this series. A quiet, joyful, happy, romantic ending. Recommended.