Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: History's Passion: Stories of Sex Before Stonewall edited by Richard Labonté

Richard Labonté is one of my favorite editors of gay erotica for good reasons, he has "the touch" when it comes to gathering the best gay erotica writers out there. I consider myself fortunate in that my early introduction to gay erotica was through some of Labonté's excellent anthologies. To date some of my favorite writers in this category are those I found through his collections. 

With History's Passion: Stories of Sex Before Stonewall, Richard Labonté approached the anthology differently. Instead of quick erotic short stories with 10 to 15 writers, he chose four writers who were then given the opportunity of expanding their stories into erotic novellas. The novellas are all set before Stonewall, giving the writers certain freedoms and restrictions not found in contemporary erotica.

Jeff Mann's novella is an erotic romance focused on one of his favorite subjects, the Civil War. In "Camp Allegheny" Rebel soldiers Shep Sumter and Brendan Botkin conduct a passionate love affair as they survive the Battle of Allegheny in 1861, the Battle of McDowell in 1862, illnesses, and a soldier's terrible existence during war. It's obvious that Mann researched these battles and a soldier's life during that time, however the historical information is integrated seamlessly with Mann's signature erotic scenes and the romance. There's the passion, warmth, love and connection between the characters (older Shep and his boy Brendan) that I've come to expect from Mann. The end is quite appropriate for a war story, and it leaves the reader with a feeling that he/she has just read an epic-romantic war tale.

Simon Sheppard's "Heaven and Earth" is a Depression-era tale reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde or as his main character claims in the story, Leopold and Loeb. The setting is Wichita and the main characters are the bored rich kid Eli and the poor, often filthy, gas attendant Jake. Eli goes on a crime spree and eventually Jake goes along with him. It all turns bloody, lusty, and ends with a gorgeous twist! Sheppard captures those dark times in America quite well in this short novella. There's a desperation and an atmosphere of hopelessness in this story that is carried throughout. His erotic scenes are graphic with an edge of violence. He's in his element in his description of lust with tastes and smells making the scenes come alive.

In "Tender Mercies," Dale Chase focuses her story on Luke Farrow, a failed prospector whose role in an 1800's mining camp becomes that of a 'camp boy.' His fortunes flourish unexpectedly when he sells his body to lonely miners for nuggets and bags of gold dust, while longing for a real touch and true intimacy. He finds both, plus passion, with a stranger who brings trouble to the camp. Luke is the main character and his adventures as 'camp boy' are erotic in some cases and detached in others, but with Luke as the recipient of pleasure or pain these scenes further the character's development. Cullen serves almost as Luke's much deserved reward. Chase is a favorite writer in this category, and in my opinion this is an excellent example of a Chase erotic tale.

David Holly is a new-to-me author, and in "The Valley of Salt" he goes back 3,000 years to the city of Gomorrah to relate a story that takes a young man from a virginal life to lusty desires after he is summoned by the Priests to serve as a sexual sacrifice to the city's male warriors. The story goes on to feature some Biblical characters, although Holly changes names and the chronology of events. Erotic scenes range from a one-on-one with voyeurism included, to multiple partners and even includes an orgy. The erotic scenes are well done and the story is engaging. Unfortunately due to contemporary use of language or terminology, which begins early on and does not mesh well with the setting or characters, there were many distracting instances for me while reading this story. Having said that, Holly's manipulation of historical events and characters are quite creative.

In conclusion, three of the four novellas in this anthology really worked for me. The fact that all four stories, as chosen by the editor, fit the title and the purpose for this collection is a big plus. If you enjoy gay erotica, there is no question that History's Passion: Stories of Sex Before Stonewall is worth reading. Of course now this book is a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award under the Gay Erotica category, so there you go, another good reason to read it. :)

Category: LGBT - Gay Erotica
Publisher/Release Date: Bold Strokes Books/November 2011
Grade: B+

My Reviews of Other Labonté Anthologies:
Country Boys: Wild Gay Erotica edited by Richard Labonté
Best Gay Erotica 2010 edited by Richard Labonté and Blair Mastbaum

Thursday, March 29, 2012

What did I Read? Ritas, Lammies, Hugos...Oh My!

Every year after all the lists of nominees and finalists for the various awards around town are released, I'm always amazed that after reading massive amounts of books, there are just so many out there that I manage NOT to read! No, no, no... I'm not going to list them here, although I will provide a link to each complete list, but, yes... it is time to figure what or if we read any of those books.

First let's talk about RITA -- take a look at the complete list of the finalists at Wendy's blog, The Misadventures of Super Librarian, it's rather extensive. Out of that list, I read a total of 9 books, and have 1 in my TBR. ONE! The rest of the books in that list are not even in my radar!

Books read & reviewed: (click on titles to read reviews)

Contemporary Single Title Romance:
  Slow Dancing on Price's Pier by Lisa Dale
  Summer at Seaside Cove by Jacquie D’Alessandro*

Historical Romance:
  The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne
  The Many Sins of Lord Cameron by Jennifer Ashley
  Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt*
  Silk Is for Seduction by Loretta Chase*

Paranormal Romance:
  Archangel's Blade by Nalini Singh
  Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

Romance Novella
  "Angel's Wolf" by Nalini Singh in Angels of Darkness

Book in my TBR Pile:
Historical Romance:
  Unveiled by Courtney Milan

*All the above books were great reads for me. However, Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt and Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase made it to my 2011 Favorite Books list, and Summer at Seaside Cove by Jacquie D'Alessandro was a favorite and an Honorable Mention. And I'm particularly happy for favorite author Lisa Dale! Congratulations and good luck to all!

Have you read many of these books? If so, which books do you recommend?

Going on to the LAMBDA Literary Awards! Take a look at the complete list at the Lambda Literary Review Blog. When we talk Lammies my percentage is even lower. There's a good reason for that as the Lammies include some sub-genres that I have yet to explore -- but dang! However, although I didn't read most of the books on that list (many of my favorites didn't make it to the finals), it makes me feel better that a couple of my favorite reads made the final cut, and I already had a few on my TBR. :)

Books Read and/or reviewed:

  LGBT-SF/F/H: The German by Lee Thomas*
  Bisexual Non-Fiction: The Horizontal Poet by Jan Steckel
  Gay Erotica: History's Passion: Stories of Sex Before Stonewall Richard Labonté 

Books in my TBR Pile:
  Gay Fiction: Leche, by R. Zamora Linmark
  Gay Fiction: The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov by Paul Russell 
  LGBT-SF/F/H & Bisexual Fiction: Triptych by J.M. Frey

*The German by Lee Thomas made it to my overall 2011 Favorite Books list and my LGBT 2011: Favorite Books and Authors list. Congratulations and good luck to Lee Thomas and Jan Steckel whose books brought me hours of enjoyment!

Have you read any of the books on this list? If so, which books do you recommend?


The Hugo Award nominees won't be announced until April 7, 2012. However, I can tell you that I read two excellent science fiction novels last year that are worthy of a nomination and both could make the cut:

Possible Finalists - Books Read:
  Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
  Embassytown by China Miéville

Possible Nominees - Books in TBR: (Must reads)
  Grail (Jacob's Ladder Book #3) by Elizabeth Bear
  Vortex by Robert Charles Wilson

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for James S.A. Corey and China Miéville!


Congratulations to all the finalists!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Review: Woodrose Mountain (Hope's Crossing #2) by RaeAnne Thayne

Evie Blanchard was at the top of her field in the city of angels. But when an emotional year forces her to walk away from her job as a physical therapist, she moves from Los Angeles to Hope's Crossing seeking a quieter life. So the last thing she needs is to get involved with the handsome, arrogant Brodie Thorne and his injured daughter, Taryn.A self-made man and single dad, Brodie will do anything to get Taryn the rehabilitation she needs…even if it means convincing Evie to move in with them. And despite her vow to keep an emotional distance, Evie can't help but be moved by Taryn's spirit, or Brodie's determination to win her help—and her heart. With laughter, courage and more than a little help from the kindhearted people of Hope's Crossing, Taryn may get the healing she deserves—and Evie and Brodie might just find a love they never knew could exist.
Woodrose Mountain by RaeAnne Thayne is a small-town romance. Small-town romances are popular at the moment and they all seem to have a few things in common: the small-town atmosphere, the town's occupants become an integral part of the romance, and kissing or petting are the set boundaries for sexual contact between the protagonists. All of the above mentioned apply to the Hope's Crossing series.

The romance in this second installment is between Evie Blanchard and Brodie Thorne, however I would say that there are actually three main characters. The third and very important central character is Taryn, Brodie's daughter. The central plot to this story revolves around Taryn, and the romance between Evie and Brodie, although integrated, takes the place of a secondary storyline.

Evie and Brodie dislike each other. Brodie's daughter Taryn is coming home and needs special home care and a physical therapist is a most. Evie is licensed physical therapist, but she no longer practices for personal reasons. She has found peace and a new passion in designing bead jewelry for the String Fever Boutique. When Brodie asks Evie to help him with his daughter, she turns him down flat.

Evie's reasons for turning down the job offer from Brodie are understandable, but Brodie's mother Katherine convinces her to help them set up a treatment plan for a two-week period. Taryn received severe brain injuries during a tragic automobile accident that left her severely incapacitated, one teenage girl dead, and Charlie Beaumont the town's pariah. Eventually Evie caves in, setting the stage for the romance and the story.

Most of the story that follows is all about Taryn and the physical and occupational therapy that eventually help her overcome some of the obstacles presented by her disabilities, plus the final emotional resolution to the accident that caused it all. The town and its inhabitants are all affected by Taryn's injuries, Layla's death and Charlie Beaumont's actions. As I've come to expect from this author, this section of the story is well executed, researched and developed by Thayne. Plus, if you are like me, you will find this storyline quite emotional -- a tear jerker! I recommend keeping a box of tissues by your side.

Unfortunately, the romance between Evie and Brodie takes a back seat and that lack of focus on the couple is felt throughout the story. Evie has personal baggage and she's reluctant to shed it for Brodie. Brodie is a bit of an enigma even at the end. We know that he cares for Evie because of his internal dialog and he seems to forgive her mistakes rather easily along the way. There's mention throughout the story that he suffers from ADD, but there's little proof of this. We do know that he's a concerned and loving father, but that sizzle and connection that the reader feels when a man loves a woman is lacking.

Woodrose Mountain is the second book in RaeAnne Thayne's contemporary romance series, Hope's Crossing. I have enjoyed category romances by this author in the past, and when offered this full-length novel for review could not pass up the opportunity of reading it. Although for me the romance is lukewarm and the couple lacks connection, as a small-town contemporary romance this story succeeds in that the town and its occupants become characters that the reader wants to know. As a big plus, the plot is well researched and interesting to the end.

In the end, Woodrose Mountain is one of those books where I love the writing and execution but wished for a bit more when it comes to the romance. A mixed bag.

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Hopes Crossing
Publisher/Release Date: HQN/April, 2012
Source: ARC PTA, Ruder Finn
Grade: B-

Visit RaeAnne Thayne here.

Blackberry Summer, Book 1
Woodrose Mountain, Book 2

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

TBR Review: Dalton's Undoing (Cowboys of Cold Creek #3) by RaeAnne Thaynne

TBR Challenge 2012 Theme:  Series Catch-Up

I have lots of series to catch up on. However since I already read the first book in the Cowboys of Cold Creek series by RaeAnne Thayne for this Challenge, I decided to end my curiosity about these brothers, and just read Dalton's Undoing, the third book in the original trilogy. I've had this book in my digital TBR for over a year, so it's about time!


He was known as a major player who'd left a swath of broken hearts across the Teton Valley. Yet when single mother Jenny Boyer saw the tenderness in Seth Dalton's eyes when he looked at her children--not to mention her--it was impossible for her to believe it was all a game.


She was new to this small town, a school principal who needed to be respected. The last man she should be getting involved with was the Hunk of Cold Creek! But every time Seth came near, Jenny could feel herself all of the women who'd come before her. So why did she hope that her story would have a different ending--as in, happily ever after?
Trope: The Womanizing Charmer and The Prissy School Principal

Dalton's Undoing is Seth's story. Seth is the youngest Dalton brother, and if Wade is serious and grumpy and Jake known to be studious, Seth is the charmer of the lot. He has a reputation in Cold Creek as a womanizer, date them and leave them, although of course he's not exactly a dog either. He's also a hardworking man, kind, giving and sensitive. But, that's not what Jenny hears when she eavesdrops on a conversation between two women at the school where she's the new school principal and immediately forms a negative opinion about this man.

Jenny Boyer recently moved to Cold Creek with her two children. She went through a terrible divorce that left her and her son traumatized and troubled. Moving to this new place in Idaho is the answer to her prayers, particularly for her troubled teenage son, but that doesn't last long. Her son steals Seth's GTO and goes for a joy ride, crashing the car. Jenny is surprised when Seth makes a deal with her, and instead of pressing charges, suggests that the boy pay for the damages to the car by working at his horse ranch. This agreement brings these two very different people together, as well as the Dalton/Boyer families.

Jenny is not Seth's type, but still finds himself attracted to her. He does what he has always done and tries to charm her. On the surface it doesn't work and Jenny rejects him even though she's attracted right back. Initially she becomes a challenge for Seth, but slowly he falls in love with her and with her children. Jenny is attracted to him from day one, however interestingly enough her concerns are not that she's a bit older than Seth or that she's not "good enough" for him, her concern is what "people might say/think" because he's the town bad boy and she's the school principal, God forbid!

This of course doesn't preclude Jenny from having a fling with Seth later. But even when she sees with her own eyes that Seth is a great man with her, her children, neighbors, and family, it doesn't make a difference to her. She rejects and hurts him over and over again, ashamed of being seen or connected with him. This is the real conflict of the story.

This is a HSP, and as such the story is very well developed. The background stories for both Jenny and Seth are well documented, and the children are given a great many pages in this story. This romance is a family affair. Seth develops a relationship with the children first while he plots Jenny's seduction, and although it is clear that he is to blame for his reputation, Thayne doesn't make Seth into a black/white, two dimensional character either.

Jenny on the other hand is pretty standard fare when it comes to heroine material. She is the classic prissy, judgmental, type of woman who jumps to conclusions and won't trust herself or her own eyes even when she says she loves, instead she trusts only when reassured by others. Her love is conditional and as such it doesn't really impress me as real or abiding. So, although Seth shows personal growth throughout the story, Jenny does not. The secondary characters are wonderful, the children in particular are excellent in their characterization, and they also show excellent personal growth in this story.

So how to rate this romance? I again enjoyed Thayne's rendering of her characters, they are flawed and in some ways realistic. I appreciate that. The horse ranch as part of the setting gives this story that wonderful contemporary western flavor I love and that's always a bonus. As the end to the original trilogy, Dalton's Undoing does a marvelous job of taking the whole family and closing a circle. I loved Seth's characterization (his undoing) and the way he falls for Jenny, for that alone this book is worth reading. So I do recommend the trilogy with Book #1 being the weakest, Book #2 the strongest, and this book, #3 falling in between.

Theme: Series Catch Up
March Review
Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Cowboys of Cold Creek
Publisher/Released: Harlequin Special Ed/Jan 1, 2006- Kindle Ed.
Grade: B

Visit RaeAnne Thayne here

Light the Stars #1
Dancing in the Moonlight #2
Dalton's Undoing #3

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Quotes: March Favorite so far...

You all know I love my quotes. Here are a few I've chosen from the books I've either read, or I'm reading this month. The reason behind choosing them? Well, these either made me laugh, smile, or think, plus they will give you clues about the characters or the stories.

Family... it is a bitch. [...] Summer vacations...if you thought about it, what kind of people actually gathered together at a lake with cabins and all that crap anyway? Hadn't they ever watched Friday the 13th? Jason? Hockey masks? Machetes? A good time for me, yeah -- oh hell yeah -- but not as much for the members of your average Prius-driving middle class. 
Stupidity is everywhere. [Cal - Doubletake by Rob Thurman]

How could I be so petty? he wondered. It's only a word, right? He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but the word seemed to be imprinted on his eyelids in flowing, femmy script.
His balls recoiled, drawing up into his body as if he'd just been plunged into a cold swimming pool. [Waafrneeaasuu!! from Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits by Jerry L. Wheeler]

Even if you're not attracted to a woman, something in your blood compels you to conquer her, to find her weaknesses and exploit them until she surrenders to your charm like every other woman. 
That wasn't true. He didn't need to charm every female he came in contact with. He just happened to be a sociable kind of guy. [Seth - Dalton's Undoing by RaeAnne Thayne]

A man's fate, as you no doubt feel deeply in your present circumstances, is rarely in his own hands. But you have already shown, again and again, that you put duty before desire, as a man must. [Father - Purgatory by Jeff Man]

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Latest Book Haul!

How's everyone this Sunday?

I'm still not ready to post reviews. It has been a long week and I'm still going through a reading slump! This is not good for me, or for my wallet. When I don't read, I buy! (Good news for retailers, of course). So my post today is about all the books I've added to my Kindle (as if I needed more books). Plus a few of the books I received for review.

These are the 10 purchased additions to my TBR from this last week:

Contemporary Romance:

I Want Candy by Susan Donovan
Perfect Partners by Carly Phillips*
Solitary Man by Carly Phillips*
The Right Choice by Carly Phillips*
Donovan seems to be a hit or miss with me as an author, but the books I like by her I really like. I hope to like I Want Candy. And, well... Carly Phillips has been releasing lots of her books lately and I haven't been reading them! I need to get back on that horse.
*(All three books by Carly Phillips are re-releases, but I have not read them)

Urban Fantasy:

Discount Armageddon: An InCryptid Novel by Seanan McGuire
Rosemary and Rue: An October Daye Novel by Seanan McGuire
This is an author I've had on my list for a couple of years now. I've had Rosemary and Rue in my hands at the book store and placed it back for later. Well, this is it, this is the year I'll be reading McGuire. Discount Armageddon was reviewed by KMont and the book looks good, so I'm going to give it a try to see how it goes.


The White Knight (The Dark Horse) by Josh Lanyon
Gay: A New Path Forward by Nicholas Janovsky
Moontusk: Rendevous in a Ruined City by Bruce P. Grether
Between Dances by Erasmo Guerra
I didn't have The White Knight by Josh Layon and that means I'll be reading it, somehow I missed this one. Gay: A New Path Forward is an educational book about the gay culture (gay/lesbian). And, Moontusk: Rendevous in a Ruined City by Bruce P. Grether is the beginning of a fantasy series. The second book just released and I'm curious. :) Between Dances by Erasmo Guerra is gay erotica.

For Review:

Touch of a Rogue (Touch of Seduction #2) by Mia Marlowe
Logan's Outlaw by Elaine Levine
My Lord Vampire (Immortal Rogues #1) by Alexandra Ivy
Simply Carnal by Kate Pearce
I also received a few books for review this last week. Of these four authors, I've read books by Elaine Levine, Alexandra Ivy, and Kate Pearce. I recently enjoyed Leah and the Bounty Hunter by Elaine Levine, and have Rachel and the Hired Gun in my TBR, so I'm looking forward to reading Logan's Outlaw.

Hmm... I need to start reading again!

Friday, March 16, 2012

... On Erotica: Reading + Recs (LGBT / Het / Ménage)

While posting my thoughts about Jeff Mann's Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War I noticed that although I read plenty of erotica throughout the year, I have not been posting regularly about my erotica reads. As a matter of fact going through my blog and list of reads, it seems that sometimes I even neglect to list as read some of those books or novellas.

I think I stopped blogging regularly about erotica sometime in 2010?  I'm not sure if this happened because I tend to read this sub-genre in the form of collections or anthologies. I read anthologies slowly (short stories in between other books), and sometimes it takes me so long to finish them that by the time I'm done, I just don't post a review, or maybe it's something else altogether, but I DO read and enjoy them.

Gay Erotica:

For example, right now I'm reading Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits by Jerry L. Wheeler, his latest collection of erotic reads. Wheeler did a terrific job of editing Tented and just seems to have such a great handle on erotica that I couldn't pass up reading his collection. I don't have it up under the "Currently Reading" list of books on my sidebar, but I'm about 25% through this book already. Wheeler also edited another anthology recently (December 2011) that I want to read, Riding the Rails: Locomotive Lust and Carnal Cabooses. That book includes some of my favorite erotica writers: Jeff Mann, Gavin Atlas, Jay Neal, Dale Chase,William Holden, Rick R. Reed, 'Nathan Burgoine, Jeffrey Ricker and Erastes! A great group of writers.

And, I've read the following gay erotic anthologies or collections, but either never listed or blogged about them here.

Frat Boys: Gay Erotic Stories edited by Shane Allison (Cleis Press)
My Name is Rand by Wayne Curtois (Lethe Press)
Bearotica: Hot & Hairy Fiction edited by R. Jackson (Bear Bones Books)
The Back Passage by James Lear (Cleis Press)
The Secret Tunnel by James Lear (Cleis Press)
A History of Barbed Wire by Jeff Mann (Bear Bones Books)
Tented: Gay Erotic Tales From Under the Big Top edited by Jerry L. Wheeler (Lethe Press)

I've read more in this category, but am not going to list them all. Of the books listed above, I highly recommend  A History of Barbed Wire by Jeff Mann and Tented: Gay Erotic Tales From Under the Big Top edited by Jerry L. Wheeler. Also for those who enjoy the unusual, My Name is Rand by Wayne Curtois is a trip and a half!

I actually recommend all the stories listed above: Frat Boys: Gay Erotic Stories edited by Shane Allison is hot and sexy and it has a great mixture of stories about college boys and their sexual adventures (Lambda, Lambda, Lambda). Bearotica edited by R. Jackson has some favorite writers of erotica in there: Jay Neal, Dale Chase (love Chase!), and Thom Wolf . From the James Lear books I recommend The Back Passage over The Secret Tunnel. These are fun erotic mysteries set in England -- BUT, expect lots and lots of sex in these stories. Note that "erotic" comes before "mysteries," so don't be surprised at the amount of sexual scenes in the books.

Erotica and Ménage/Multi-Partnered Erotica:

I'm still reading Samantha Kane's Brothers in Arms series. I read the last two books in that series at the end of last year, and I also read my first book by Megan Hart:

Love's Surrender by Samantha Kane
Love's Fortress by Samantha Kane
Tempted by Megan Hart

The Brothers in Arms series is long and one that I believe tends to be repetitive because in some ways they all end up with the same or similar (M/M/F) type of happy ending. However, those first few books are so good that the whole series becomes addictive, particularly once the characters become familiar and readers connect with them, and that's something that Kane does quite well. She establishes that connection between the reader and her characters. So read on... I know I will!

Megan Hart is a writer whose works came highly recommended. Unfortunately Tempted just didn't do it for me. I didn't really find this story erotic, and although I enjoyed her writing style it felt more like a women's fiction book that attempted to be erotic but failed -- at least it did for me personally -- perhaps because I was expecting the story to be geared towards erotica. I think I gave it an average grade because Hart's prose is excellent and as something besides erotica, the story works well enough. However, I have not given up on Megan Hart. I have Dirty in my TBR and have been told that this is THE book. So I will give Ms. Hart one more shot.


I also have quite a few books in my TBR and I'm always buying new books (old and new releases).  For example I just purchased two old releases, Between Dances by Erasmo Guerra, a gay Latino writer who has two interesting books (different genres) that I want to read -- this book is a Lambda Award winner for erotica, and Tales From The Sexual Underground by the prolific and ever-popular writer Rick R. Reed.

And I have ménage and het erotica in droves, and a few polyamorous stories too. I have books lying around the house all over the place, plus quite a lot in my Kindle -- some of them are PNR erotica which I tend not to read. I also have a couple of series to catch up on --  Lorelei James. However, I do have other types of pretty raw erotica from authors whose works are well known and others whose works I've never read and whose names I've never heard before. Maybe I'll just post about my erotica reads once in a while again, some of them are pretty wild, while others are tamer than you might expect, and depending on taste, most of them can be lots of fun to read! :D

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: The Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

Here's a book I read last year as soon as it released. I also wrote this review last year, but for one reason or another never found the right moment to post it. Well, since I loved the first book of this series so much, right moment or not... here it is, The Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear.

In Iskryne, the war against the Trollish invasion has been won, and the lands of men are safe again…at least for a while. Isolfr and his sister, the Konigenwolf Viradechtis, have established their own wolfhaell. Viradechtis has taken two mates, and so the human pack has two war leaders. And in the way of the pack, they must come to terms with each other, must become brothers instead of rivals--for Viradechtis will not be gainsaid.

She may even be prescient.

A new danger comes to Iskryne. An army of men approaches, an army that wishes to conquer and rule. The giant trellwolves and their human brothers have never hunted men before. They will need to learn if they are to defend their homes.
The Tempering of Men is the sequel to A Companion to Wolves and it picks up right where that book ended. As such, it works quite well in my opinion, however, this is not a book I would recommend anyone read as a stand alone as it would not make much sense to the reader. It would be like beginning a story in the middle. And that is exactly what The Tempering of Men is, a middle book without a real beginning or a true end.

The Tempering of Men is told from three different points of view, that of Vethulf and Skjaldwulf, Isolfr's wolfjarls and Brokkolfr a new wolfcarl from whose perspective we observe Isoflr. Although the first book focused on exploring the relationship and balance between man and wolf, this book's focus is centered on relationships between the men themselves. The wolves are still at the heart of the story, just not as central as they were in that first book. This was accomplished by eliminating Isolfr and Veredectichs point of view and therefore the pack sense as the focal point.

The title very much reflects the story, as counterbalancing or neutralizing situations that arise from relationship between men seems to be its main purpose -- whether it's the relationship between wolfjarls Vethulf and Skjaldwulf, conflicts between the packs or the ever growing and rather delicate relationship between wolfcarls and wolfless men -- tempering is the key word. The new introduction of an invading army of men from a different culture adds to the mix.

I thoroughly enjoyed the in-depth look into Vethulf and Skjaldwulf's characters. The way in which the individual characters develop together and apart is a central thread throughout this book, even as events climax and other characters are introduced. However, although I found Bokkflr's view of Isolfr quite interesting and informative, as we get to see him from the perspective of someone who is on the outside looking in I found that Isolfr's perspective is sorely missed in this story.

Having previously read Elizabeth Bear's works (I've never read Sarah Monette), I'm familiar with her use of gender bending. That's present in this installment, for example: there is a female character who is a "son" and the head of his clan, but role reversals are found throughout also, one small example of that is the male who is referred to, and takes on the role of, "mother."

A new female character is introduced in this story, a captive who on the surface appears to be a woman without power. Yet, she is the one who holds the knowledge that men will need to defeat the incoming invaders. Skjaldwulf rescues, adopts her as his daughter and brings her back to the wolfhaell. Again although she is not a central character, she ties in to that underlying thread I mentioned in my post for A Companion to Wolves about women's roles in this male-centric series. She is also an interesting addition to the cast of already vast characters.

That cast of vast characters is one of my problems with this book and series so far -- that and the unpronounceable names. It takes a while to remember all the players in this series, between the wolfcarls, wolves, wolfless men and the rest of the crew. Additionally with the invaders, the authors have introduced new culture(s) (Britons and Roman) on top of the already established Norse (Viking) culture in this series. I'm not sure how or if that is going to effect the overall series.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this book and loved the further in-depth development of already established characters and their relationships, world building, and men's perspective. The wolves as the central focus are missed, and I have some concerns about the addition of new cultures to this already complex world building. The Tempering of Men is a middle book and one I don't recommend read on its own. However I recommend the series as a whole, and do recommend that A Companion to Wolves be read first. This is a fascinating series with excellent world building and characters, and I won't miss the next book.

Category: Fantasy (Spec Fic)
Series: Iskryne World
Publisher/Release Date: Tor Books/August 16, 2011 - Kindle Edition
Grade: B

A Companion to Wolves, #1
The Tempering of Men, #2

ETA: Please do not judge this series by the covers. Unfortunately, in my opinion in this case, the covers do not do justice to the stories -- the one for this book in particular.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My new precious is here!

New computer time, people! My new iMac is here, I got it yesterday. It's shiny and delicious and everything an apple should be. Now I don't have an excuse not to blog, although I'm still getting it all set up (my way), and don't have a review ready yet. But, since I've been whining for a couple of weeks and I do miss all of you, I figured I would give you an update. :)

This puppy is bigger than my old one (it feels huge), and well... I guess because it's newer there are lots of great updated features for it -- so this geek is excited. I'm still playing and finding out what it can do.

In the meantime, I've been reading. Yes, Purgatory pulled me out of that reading slump. I hope it holds. Later!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

This n That: Computer Woes + Jeff (the) Mann

Okay my friends it's official: my computer is dead and ready for a funeral. There's no saving it this time. I've been without my trustee friend now for almost two weeks and am going through severe withdrawal symptoms.

I do have an old laptop at home that's so old and slow it is more frustrating than worth the time to try using it for anything. And for posting here, I've borrowed my daughter's laptop a couple of times, but that doesn't really work out on a regular basis. So, yes... time for a new computer. [sigh]  Barring unforeseen complications, I will have a brand new iMac in my hot little hands by Wednesday of this week. Thankfully, hopefully!


My reading has suffered too, people! I've been flitting like a bee going from flower to flower, back and forth between books. I haven't been able to concentrate for long on one book lately, and that's not due to the books I assure you, it is ALL me! The best I've done so far this month is finish two complete novels, and the rest have been novellas (a couple of them re-reads). The good news is that the two novels I finished were excellent. The first one was The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh, which I loved and already reviewed.


The other novel I finished was Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War by Jeff Mann. Yes, I read that book yesterday (the Kindle edition. I'm still waiting for the print edition to arrive so I can pet the gorgeous cover, but couldn't wait to read it), and it was worth it. 

The novellas that I read during the week were also mostly by Jeff Mann. I re-read some the short stories from his Lambda Award winning collection A History of Barbed Wire, and also read his novella "Camp Allegheny" from the anthology History's Passions edited by Richard Labonte which I've had ever since it released back in November 2011. Reading both the novella and re-reading some of the short stories served as a refresher in Mann's style before reading his latest release, Purgatory.

Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War (Bear Bones Books, 2012) turned out to be terrific blend of historical fiction and BDSM erotic romance. Jeff Mann has studied American Civil War history  -- I think he eats it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with some of that excellent Southern cooking he loves -- and in Purgatory the reader can smell and taste war, as well as the hatred, desperation, hunger, and even the ambivalence that the soldiers in this story experience in camp or on the run as they march toward Purgatory Mountain.

I love that aspect of Mann's writing, just as I absolutely appreciate the fact that he is the one author that can really make me understand why his characters need to be part of the gay BDSM bear sub-culture. He is part of this community, and his own passion and understanding for it come forth clearly and powerfully through the pages of this novel, as well as through all his previous works. I love the unabashed passion he conveys for both the gay bear sub-culture and for his Southern roots.

But coming back to Purgatory, Mann blends aspects of BDSM seamlessly in this novel. I wondered how he would approach it in a realistic way because of the historical setting, and was not disappointed. Instead of forcing the issue, Mann beautifully uses the historical setting as a platform to develop this aspect of the story. He does a terrific job of separating and showing the reader the differences between torture and the passionate, erotic, and loving aspects of BDSM. I was particularly taken with his rendering of the captive's character. Understanding his motivations as the submissive in this story is key, and Mann makes certain this is unquestionably clear to the reader. Kudos all around.

Besides the highly recommended Purgatory, and the other stories I mention above, if you're interested in reading and understanding a bit more about Jeff Mann and his writings, I strongly recommend that you also read Binding the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South.

ETA: I highlighted the cover for this book earlier because I love it so, and I wanted to add that the cover fits the story and characters perfectly! 

Well my friends that is it for me on this Sunday. I am hoping to have that computer and some reviews that are long overdue for all of you this week! I'm also hoping to finish a few books that I began reading and have not finished: Songs for the New Depression by Kergan Edwards-Stout, Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction edited by Grace L. Dillon, The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne by Madeline Hunter, A Promise of Spring by Mary Balogh, Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits by Jerry L. Wheeler, Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold, and Doubletake by Rob Thurman.

Wish me luck with my reading mojo! I need to get it back!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh

The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh is the first story just re-released under one cover with the titles The Temporary Wife/A Promise of Spring (Dell). This title was first released in 1997 by Signet and I've really been looking forward to reading it for the first time. I decided to review the stories separately  instead of reviewing both at once. Here's the short summary for this story from the back of the book:
Miss Charity Duncan has no illusions about Lord Anthony Earheart's proposal. The arrogant aristocrat has made it painfully clear what he wants: a wife who will enrage the father he despises and then disappear from his life. In exchange, Charity's family will receive the money they desperately need. But after Charity agrees to this mockery of matrimony, she soon discovers a startling fact: She has fallen for Anthony, and breaking their marriage vows may also break her heart.
The summary is succinct and accurate up to a point, however there is so much more to this romance. Balogh's initial portrayal of Anthony is that of an arrogant, unpleasant, and bitter man whose lust for vengeance against his father has turned him into a cold and unfeeling human being, or as Charity later describes him, Polar ice.

After eight years of estrangement from his father and family, Anthony's father the Duke of Withingsby summons him home to formalize an engagement that he has been contracted to fulfill by his father, plus the duke is ill and possibly dying. Anthony's plan is to advertise for a governess so he can marry a woman below his station, just so he can humiliate his father and prove that he can and will live his own life on his terms. There are two more requirements this woman must meet, she must be a "mouse," and be willing to act as only a temporary wife, thereafter disappearing from Anthony's life. After a few interviews, Charity Duncan fits that role.

Charity Duncan is the daughter of a country gentleman. Unfortunately her father died leaving the family deeply indebted and in poverty. She is in London with her brother Phillip attempting to find a position as a governess hoping to help pay those debts. During her interview with Anthony Earheart when he proposes marriage, a yearly income for life, plus a house and carriage of her own instead of offering a job as a governess, Charity negotiates for more and agrees to his terms without asking questions. After all she figures she will take the money to take care of her family and although marriage is for life, it is fortunate that she won't have to live or deal with the disagreeable Earheart for more than a couple of weeks.

It is interesting to me that during this time these characters are strangers to each other, but Balogh also infuses a certain detachment onto the characters that is translated to the reader. I was certainly not emotionally involved with either Anthony or Charity at this point in the story. It is on the night of their wedding that things begin to change between the couple and also for the reader.

Plans to maintain a personal distance are unexpectedly changed when Anthony and Charity have to share a bed at a roadside inn and their marriage is consummated. This is a wonderful scene. Not necessarily because it is a sexual scene, although that's good enough, but because this scene sets up the building block for their future relationship. Anthony glimpses the real Charity and she in turn begins to learn her way around Anthony. They are both up front about what they want and need from each other and this is where it all really begins.

From there the story continues and this couple confront the Duke of Withingsby and Anthony's siblings together. Balogh not only develops Charity into a wonderful female protagonist that is far from an easily manipulated "mouse" and instead has enough character to spare, but she also develops Anthony into a character of depth whose personal growth is measurable from beginning to end. Needless to say I became emotionally involved with this couple, and as the story moved along with Anthony's whole family.

Having now read quite a few of Mary Balogh's back list titles, The Temporary Wife did not necessarily manage to surprise me, however what it did was reinforce the reasons behind my love for this author's books. Why is that? Well as in many of Balogh's romances, The Temporary Wife is character driven, and yes the characterization is fabulous, both that of the main couple and the very important secondary characters.

The plot device is not original if you take into consideration Balogh's works, she seems to like this trope: the marriage of convenience. Except that I've yet to read one of her romances where she repeats her approach to developing the romance, and as always those characters make the romances worth reading and in this case I was glued to the pages and read this story in one sitting. There was not one moment when I felt that the story flagged, nor was there disappointment for me along the way, and that of course is rare. So without a question The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh moves up on my list of favorite reads by this author. 

Category: Historical Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Dell/February 28, 2012
Grade: A

Visit Mary Balogh here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Impressions: The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

I read The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan in February for my Internet Book Club. I mainly enjoyed it for two reasons: it has a unique format as it is a story told in dictionary format, and the story itself becomes so compelling as it moves along that I needed to find out how it ended.

There are other positives to the story as well, the prose is quite engaging at times, after all this book is all about "words" and their significance -- not necessarily the meaning of words, but the significance that particular words have for the narrator of the story. There were words that stood out for me, and you can see a few of them here. Of course, as I read along others were added to that list.

It was also of particular interest to me that although there are a couple of entries that are deceiving in their meaning, the gender of the parties in this story is never clarified, and as I read along it became clear to me that the author purposely cultivates gender inclusion by keeping the reader out of balance and uncertain in that respect. "You" and "I."

There is a disjointed sense to the story as Levithan uses a non-linear first person narration, and realistically the reader does not find the end to the story at the end of the physical book. The jumping back and forth between what the reader imagines is the present, the past, or what could possibly be the past, can be disorienting at times.

The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan is a quick, fast paced book. It has some beautiful prose in places with a story that keeps the reader going, and although there are some gorgeous romantic passages in the story be warned that there is also that touch of reality that places this book firmly into the fiction category. Interestingly enough although the format is quite unique, for me, the author walked a fine line. I could not make up my mind about that aspect of it, particularly because the result was that disjointed narration I mention above. However the positives do outweigh my concerns, and in the end I was left with an overall feeling of having enjoyed a good, solid read.

Internet Book Club
February Read
Category: Fiction (Romantic)
Series: None
Publisher/Released: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux/ January 4, 2011
Grade: B

Visit David Levithan here.

ETA: Our Internet Book Club  March Read will be Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. :)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Completing: The 2012 Science Fiction Experience

The 2012 Science Fiction Experience hosted by Carl V. of Stainless Steel Droppings was a quick, short term non-challenge that I joined for a period of two months, from January 1st through February 29, 2012.

Carl V. made this a cool experience by giving the participants the choice of discussing everything science fiction: from movies to books, to well... anything. It was fun! I participated by watching quite a few movies, more than I posted about, and reading quite a few books, again, more than posted on my blog. I also ended up purchasing MORE books for that ever growing TBR pile after reading some of the reviews posted by my fellow participants, and adding some old favorites for re-reading purposes in ebook format.

At the beginning of this experience I had in mind two series and authors whose works I wanted to read, but was not sure which one I would choose. I ended up finishing one series, and began the other. So not too bad! Here they are:
Below is a summary of my posts for The 2012 Science Fiction Experience. I've also listed the titles of all books read, and movies that I remember watching.

  1. Science Fiction "B Movies"
  2. The Butcher of Anderson Station: A Story of the Expanse by James S.A. Corey - Mini
  3. Overview: Old Man's War by John Scalzi (Old Man's War #1, The Ghost Brigades #2) 
  4. Impressions: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
Books Read:
    1. Old Man's War (Old Man's War, Book 1) by John Scalzi
    2. "Quiritationem Suis." (Metatropolis Anthology) by John Scalzi
    3. The Ghost Brigades (Old Man's War, Book 2)  by John Scalzi
    4. The Sagan Diary (Old Man's War, Book 2.5) by John Scalzi
    5. The Last Colony (Old Man's War, Book 3) by John Scalzi
    6. After the Coup (Old Man's War 4.5) by John Scalzi
    7. The Butcher of Anderson Station: A Story of the Expanse (Book 1.5) by James S.A. Corey
    8. Shards of Honor (Vorkosigan Series, #1) by Lois McMaster Bujold
    9. How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story by John Scalzi
    Movies Watched (watched more!):
    1. The Matrix
    2. Pitch Black
    3. Soldier
    4. Push
    5. The Chronicles of Riddick
    6. Star Trek (2009, directed by J.J. Abrams)
    7. Priest (spec fic)
    8. The Andromeda Strain
    Thank you, Carl V., I had a blast!

    Friday, March 2, 2012

    February 2012: Reads + Updates

    February has been an eventful month. This month usually spells love for me... all types of love, and I think that was reflected in most of my posts, reads, and reviews in February. Whether the books were good old contemporary romance with a happily ever after, a poetry collection about love found and loss, or a story about a dysfunctional family whose love was nevertheless fierce and all encompassing, love was at the center. I read few books though, and that was basically due to my obsessive poetry reading.

    Highlighted this month were two poems by the poet Konstantinos P. Kavafis or C. P. Cavafy (the English translation of his name). I was introduced to this poet by one of my brothers who happens to love Kavifis' poetry and I must thank him for the introduction. We now share the love.

    I was inspired to read Kavafis' poetry while reading He Will Laugh by the gay poet Douglas Ray. There's a bit of buzz going on about poetry within the LGBT community. I reviewed two LGBT poetry books this month which is unusual, and have seen the increase in published collections. An interesting development. Yes? You'll ask, how does that tie in with Kavafis? Well, we all know about Oscar Wilde, and (as I found out in another site) not everyone knows about Walt Whitman, but did you know that Kostantinos P. Kavafis is considered one of the early modern authors to write openly about homosexuality?

    Konstantinos P. Kavafis (April 29, 1863 to April 29, 1933) was born in Alexandria, Egypt of Greek parents. Although Kavafis was Greek, he lived in Alexandria most of his life and didn't write most of his most acclaimed poetry until he was in his 40's. His poetry is considered Hellenistic, and although history can be found sprinkled throughout the core of his poetry, for many the allure of Kavafis' poetry really lies in the direct and open way in which he portrays sensual pleasures, his prosaic use of metaphors and the repeated use of themes such as the uncertainty of life and/or the future, and that fatalistic nostalgia that just seems to pour out of some of his works.
    Two of his most important poems are "Waiting for the Barbarians" (1904) and "Ithaca" (1911). However, for purposes of this post I will be highlighting two additional poems that, like the ones I've already posted -- "Days of 1903" and "I've Looked So Much" -- exemplify the poet's sensual style, usually leaden with nostalgia for youthful encounters or loves found and lost, all of them unmistakably homosexual.

    One Night by Konstantinos P. Kavafis

    In the Dull Village by David Hockney
    (1966) etching and aquatint print
    Illustrated a selection of poems by
    C. P. Cavafy
    The room above the bar
    was the cheapest we could find.
    We could see the filthy alley
    from the window, hear the shouts
    of the workmen at their card-games.

    Yet there on that narrow bed
    I had love’s body, knew its red lips;
    those lips so full, so bloody with desire
    that now as I write, after so many years,
    in this lonely house... I’m drunk with them again.

    The Boat by Konstantinos P. Kavafis

    This little pencil sketch –
    it’s certainly him.
    It was made quickly, one long
    charmed afternoon
    on the Ionian. Yes, I’d say
    it caught his looks –
    though I have him more handsome;
    so must the sensualist, you’d say
    he was lit up with it... Yes, he looks
    so much more handsome,
    now my heart calls him
    from so long ago. So long.
    All these things are very old – the sketch,
    and the boat, and the afternoon.


    February Reads: 11 
      Contemporary Romance: 2
      Historical Romance: 2
      Fiction: 2
      Science Fiction:2
      LGBT:  3 (Poetry: 1 Mystery: 1 Historical/Mystery/Romance: 1)

    1.  He Will Laugh by Douglas Ray: A-
    2.  Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie: B+
    3.  Shards of Honor (Vorkosigan Saga #1) by Lois McMaster Bujold: B
    4.  Crimes on Latimer: From the Early Cases of Marco Fontana by Joseph R.G. DeMarco
    5.  The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman: B
    6.  Matthew (The Circle Eight #1) by Emma Lang: B
    7.  My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander: B
    8.  The Master of Seacliff by Max Pierce: B
    9.  The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan: B
    10. Hell Yeah by Carolyn Brown
    11. How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story by John Scalzi: C
    12. Snowbound by Larissa Ione: DNF - Not for me

    Upcoming Reviews:

    Reading at the Moment:

    Walking the Clouds:
    An Anthology of Indigenous
    Science Fiction
    In this first-ever anthology of Indigenous science fiction Grace Dillon collects some of the finest examples of the craft with contributions by Native American, First Nations, Aboriginal Australian, and New Zealand Maori authors. The collection includes seminal authors such as Gerald Vizenor, historically important contributions often categorized as "magical realism" by authors like Leslie Marmon Silko and Sherman Alexie, and authors more recognizable to science fiction fans like William Sanders and Stephen Graham Jones.
    From the University of Arizona Press, this is a fascinating read so far! It released in March, but I wish I had received this book in February so that I could have read it as part of my participation in the 2012 Science Fiction Experience. I will let you all know how these stories turn out, but I can tell you that so far the introduction alone has me excited. :)


    That's it for February, it was a month of poetry and love. Next I will be summarizing my reads and posts for the 2012 Science Fiction Experience. However, please know that my computer at home crashed again! So unless I can somehow repair it this weekend, this will be my last post for a couple of days.

    How was your February? Any great reads?