Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hilcia's Weekly Reads & Updates

Hello everyone! I hope those living in the U.S. will have a fantastic Thanksgiving! And wish you all a wonderful holiday weekend with family and friends. I've been missing in action again and won't go into a long story, but I've been reading. These are the books I've read within the past week or so:

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (Reread)

Reread an American Classic, The Sound and The Fury for a discussion with my brothers. I'd forgotten about how fabulous and incredibly confusing that first section narrated by Bengy can be… the "stream of consciousness" or loose association style of writing is just fantastic in this novel. It still amazes me how Faulkner manages to change narrative (writing) styles throughout all four different sections in this book to such great effect. And, of course, the negative, almost nihilistic, views of modern man and society are overwhelming. Thank goodness for Dilsey!

I will be hitting more Faulkner in the near future. ;P

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

This contemporary fiction/romance has received some attention. I enjoyed that Simsion uses the first person point of view from the male's perspective in this romance. It makes for a great change and it's kind of refreshing. And the fact that Don's point of view is skewed because he suffers from Asperger's Syndrome makes this novel an even more interesting read. Simsion uses humor, tenderness, warmth, and the main character's personal frustration to develop the romance. The reader sees Rosie from Don's perspective and, in my opinion, this distances her from the reader to a certain degree. However, Simsion does a fairly good job of letting the reader "see" Rosie. I understood Rosie's need and insecurities, but frankly when it came to Rosie falling in love with our man I found there to be a disconnect... and hmm... maybe that was on purpose. I mean, if Don could not figure out what being in love felt like, how could he recognize it in her? Is an adult with Asperger's stereotyped in this romance? I wouldn't know, but, I do know that Simsion's novel is an enjoyable read all the way from beginning to end. Don, if not necessarily Rosie, makes it so.

What the Bride Didn't Know by Kelly Hunter

This category romance was enjoyable in the middle of all my other reads -- pure contemporary romance. It has a friends to lovers theme, which I love (and enjoyed), likable characters, and Kelly Hunter's way of rolling out a story. I was happy when Trig and Lena got their happy ever after, they loved each other openly but never told each other that they were "in love," and that was beautiful. I also loved Istanbul as the backdrop to the romance. I was not happy with the amnesia situation, the obsolete, action-less spy situation, or the fact that after a while I began to get that "kitchen sink" feeling when it came to devices thrown in for good measure. So this is a book that began with promise and a great premise, but along the way more or less became an average read.

The Birthday of the World by Ursula K. Le Guin

I haven't finished this collection of short stories by Le Guin yet, but the two stories I read, "Coming of Age in Karhide" and "Paradise Lost" were so good that I stopped reading the collection and went on to read my first complete novel by this author. Le Guin is one of those authors whose science fiction works I've been eyeing forever, but I never got around to reading. I'll be writing a post on her work so I won't go into detail now, but these two short stories are distinctly different. In "Coming of Age in Karhide," Le Guin returns to the Gethenian world-building she established in The Left Hand of Darkness and focuses on one particular aspect of what makes these people unique, "Paradise Lost," on the other hand, is a space voyage that takes place in a generational ship. Neither turned out to be what I expected, but were much more. I am definitely going to finish this collection and will write about it.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

This book? Well... this book is fantastic! I will definitely write a review for it, but basically it is about a man who is sent as the Envoy or first alien to contact the Gethenian planet to convince them, not only that there are other humans in space, but also to join their union of traders. Now, if you haven't read this book yet and think this is your run of the mill "first contact" book, then you'd be wrong. It's a magnificent study of humans as a whole. I relished reading this book slowly, and Le Guin's prose made every second worth the read.

I am a fan, and already have The Dispossessed in my Kindle. I can't wait to read it!

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

This non-fictional collection of accounts about princesses behaving "badly" throughout history is an ARC I received from Quirk Books. The summary really caught my attention with mention of pirate and warrior princesses from different historical periods and parts of the globe. It turns out that the sections about these princesses are rather short and written in a chatty, very mod style which of course would not take away from the content if the accounts had in fact some meat on the bones, or the author's attempts to make this a feminist piece had been truly successful. I think that perhaps for readers who are not quite interested in history but want to read a book with facts and  "girl-power" flavor, this book might be fun with its light tone. Unfortunately, this collection did not hit the spot for me.


The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This is a 1992 release by Tartt. I've never read a book by her, but my brother A. just read it and recommended it to me, so I picked it up. Anyway, I'm about 60% through it and I'm find it an interesting read. It's set in a Vermont university with six young students of ancient Greek as the main characters. They are a snobbish and self-contained group with a snobbish professor who inspires them to go far beyond their explorations of the language and culture. The result of these explorations lead the young group to commit murder, and the story is the progression of how it all evolves as well as revelations of what truly lies beneath the surface of each character and relationship. I will come back with more about this book because I haven't reached the meaty section yet. The story is quite arresting.

I'm hoping to read some uplifting holiday books this weekend -- romance! I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'm in the mood for them. :)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Six Minis: Fabulous Erotica, Tales of Queer Villainy, A Tilted World & Murder

Now or Never (A Last Chance Romance #1) by Logan Belle (Moxie Books, 2013) Grade: A

Claire goes to the YMCA to attend a support group after having been diagnosed with breast cancer, instead she ends up at a group for erotica writers -- this is a fabulous beginning! She meets Justin, a younger man who tells her he's there attending the AA group, not because he's an alcoholic, but to pick up women. Claire is a 40 year-old, divorced woman who dedicated her whole life to raising her son Max who just left for college. She never made time for sex or herself, and now that she's ready to begin, feels that her body has betrayed her. Justin convinces Claire that before she goes through surgery, she needs to make a wish list of sexual fantasies and go through with it, ergo the "Now or Never List" is born. Now, let's get this straight, Justin doesn't plan on being part of Claire's sexual explorations, he is to be her wingman. He plans and helps with fantasies, and in the process they become friends.

Now or Never is short, but what a fantastic short it is! I've previously enjoyed Logan Belle's works, but this is different, it's more a combination of contemporary fiction with erotica than straight up erotica. There is depth in Claire's story, a 40 year woman who has been a "mother" for so long she has forgotten what it is to be a woman. She comes off as a woman with real fears, doubts and lacking in confidence -- all of this resonated with me, like part of a normal stage that women go through at some point in their lives. Justin is the mystery here. The male who you want to throttle one moment, but really makes you think the next. I cannot wait to see what happens next in Now and Forever (A Last Chance Romance, Part 2) coming out January 2014. Thanks to Wendy for the heads up on this one!

Crack Shot by Dale Chase (Bold Strokes Books, 2013) Grade: A-

When it comes to writing gay western erotica and Dale Chase the expression  "she ain't no daisy, she ain't no daisy at all" doesn't apply. In her hands, the American West comes alive as she mixes fine details and gritty characters with raw and downright dirty erotica. Crack Shot is one of Chase's latest releases (she has released a few new books lately), and in this collection I enjoyed all five stories: Brazen, Thyself a Man, Gandy Dancer, Crack Shot, and Picture Show. Favorites: "Gandy Dancer," and "Crack Shot."

Out of Dale's new releases, I'm in the process of reading Takedown (Bold Strokes Books, 2013) an erotic prison tale filled with outlaws and violence. So far it's an interesting read due mostly to Dale's exquisite research which makes the prison and men come alive for the reader. In October, I also read Lonely as God (self-published, 2013), a short story about two men who click on the trail through poetry, but don't get "at each other" until they reach the end of the trail at which time they ride off together. This story is hot, Chase style, a bit less raw than her usual pieces, but just as solid. (Grade B)

The Silent Hustler by Sean Meriwether (Lethe Press,2009) Grade: A-

I've had The Silent Hustler, a collection of twenty-six stories, in my TBR for a long, long time. I can't tell you how fantastic this collection is! It begins with two gorgeous stories about fathers and sons "Things I Can't Tell My Father," and "Ice Water." These two contemporary/lit fiction stories are brilliantly written with intimacy of thought and emotion. The collection is then divided into three sections: Frankenstein, Alone in the Country, Boys in the City, and Sax and Violins. Each section contains stories that take young gay men from early sexual discovery, through young adulthood and the discovery of the gay lifestyle, and on to adulthood.

There is nothing conventional or pedestrian about Meriwether's writing skills or the edgy, erotic, and emotional stories in this collection. Meriwether hooked me with the first two stories, but he kept me reading to the end by way of his talents, and by challenging comfort zones while making it all seem easy and fresh. A fantastic read (and a gorgeous, gorgeous cover)!

The Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy! ed. by Tom Cardamone (Northwest Press, 2013) Grade: B+

I enjoyed the stories in this anthology -- after all, it contains a favorite tale of queer villainy, Hal Duncan's "The Origin of the Fiend" -- but can I just say how much I absolutely loved the introduction by Tom Cardamone? We don't say enough about introductions and how they affect a reader (the "hook" they become), or what they mean to a collection or anthology. So to give you an idea of what this great collection is about, I will quote Cardamone:
"Queer kids identify with the monsters in the movies, empowered outcasts, bogeymen bursting out off the closet; villains are cool. They wear their shadows well and if you're going to be expelled into the darkness, you might as well flaunt it."

"We can't just be heroes and victims -- that would create a fictitious reality, one where we are more vigilant in our denials than in our quest for equality."
So yes, as an editor, Cardamone reached his goal in choosing writers with just the right tales of "queer villainy" for this collection.

The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly (William Morrow, 2013) Grade: B

I picked up The Tilted World because of the setting and time period. The whole story takes place during the "Great Mississippi Flood of 1927" in the fictional town of Hobnob, by Greenville, Mississippi. It's really a love story (a romance with a happy ending) that takes place between a bootlegger and the government man who came to town to make an arrest. There's murder, betrayal, saboteurs, an orphaned baby, and a flood that would change the course of history.

What I loved and remember the most are the historical fiction details in this book. There were also times when I enjoyed the suspense and different characters, plus the joint writing by Franklin and Fennelly is quite good. However, there was a lack of plausibility to the story as a whole that kept it from becoming more than a solid read for me. On the other hand, the romance, for some reason, worked for me. It is one of those warm love stories that seem to fit with time and place. I recommend it if you're looking for something different that will keep you reading. I read it in one sitting. :)

Still Life With Murder by P.B. Ryan (Berkley, 2003) Grade: B

The first book in the Nell Sweeney historical mystery series turned out to be really good! I know I'm giving it a B (or solid), but that's only because well... it's the first of a series and I don't usually give first books higher grades unless they are fantabulous. Nell is an Irish governess working for a wealthy Bostonian family. The time is just after the American Civil War has ended and the mystery? Nell's employers, Augustus and Viola Hewitt are shocked and appalled when they are informed that one of two sons, William Hewitt, declared dead at Andersonville, is not only alive and in Boston, but is accused of committing a violent murder while under the influence of opium. While August wants Will to hang, Viola asks Nell to help Will in any way she can. The investigation takes Nell from Irish slums to Chinese opium dens, and worse. But, is Will really innocent? And will Nell be able to hold on to her job after all this is over?

I love the setting and time period for this mystery. Nell is a wonderful main character and Will and Detective Cook both serve as great foils for her. Ryan takes a chance with this series, I think, as she begins to build a series with a woman who has a bit of a mysterious, but checkered past, and includes the beginning of a romance (?) with someone who is a long way from perfect. There is less of the "upstairs/downstairs" atmosphere to this first novel than I expected, but there is a marked difference between the clean, wealthy life that Nell leads with the Hewitts, and the life of those she encounters while investigating the murder. Ryan's descriptions of life in the impoverished sides of Boston are riveting. I can't wait for more. The end to the mystery was a total surprise for me and I really loved how it turned out. And yes, I bought the second book to the series, Murder in a Mill Town, as soon as I finished this one. :) Thanks to Li for the recommendation.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Review: Duke of Midnight (Maiden Lane #6) by Elizabeth Hoyt

In Duke of Midnight, Elizabeth Hoyt follows through with her portrayal of sensual women who make their own choices when it comes to their sex lives even when they are virgins, as opposed to women who are "ravished" or seduced by the men they fall for. It has become a trademark of the Maiden Lane series. Most of the female protagonists to date feel caged by the societal roles imposed on them and manage to break free of those cages by making decisions that are not always traditionally accepted including the how and when intimacy with their men takes place. These women take the lead in such matters. The exception, of course, is Silence who, although embroiled in a public scandalous situation, plays a more traditional (historical romance) female role.

Artemis Greaves is one of the strongest female protagonists of this series. She has to be in order to go from the gray, invisible companion to her cousin, the spoiled Lady Penelope, to the woman who not only catches the passionate attention of the Duke of Wakefield, but becomes his ideal of what a woman should be. Artemis doesn't accomplish this with physical beauty or superficial seduction, she captures Maximus's attention, sparks his passion, and wins his heart with bravery, strength of character and will, passionate honesty, and intelligence. Artemis is loyal and fearlessly passionate in her defense of those she loves and has no scruples when doing so. She chooses to become Maximus's mistress and like the goddess of the hunt Artemis of mythology, she becomes his private goddess, his fearless Diana.

Maximus, the Duke of Wakefield is quite different from Artemis. He also has a strong personality, but tends to be overbearing and overprotective of those he loves. Outwardly, he is a stiff, humorless, and rather intimidating Duke. However, as Artemis and the reader get to know him, Maximus is revealed as a man who has been overwhelmed by grief, guilt, and duty since he was nothing but a boy. In his personal life Maximus is always a Duke and doesn't know how to be "just a man" until Artemis comes along to show him he can be both. Once she does so, he is as passionate about her, and much more romantic than I expected, as he is obsessed with what drives him to roam the slums of St. Giles.

Hoyt again works with two different threads, the romance between Artemis and Maximus and the adventures of the third Ghost in the slums of St. Giles. The romance is riddled with a few conflicts: first, Maximus decides early on to make Lady Penelope his wife, which places Artemis as her cousin and companion in an awkward position when her personal relationship with the Duke evolves. Second, Artemis wrestles with the unfair incarceration of her twin brother Apollo in Bedlam and will do (and does) anything and everything to help and keep him safe. Apollo's "madness" is a deterrent and one of the biggest conflicts confronted by the lovers in this romance. As the third Ghost of St. Giles, Maximus is obsessive in his search for one particular murderer and his hatred of the gin mills. There is good reason for both, but this obsession effects his life, personality and all the choices he makes on a daily basis. Hoyt weaves all these threads together seamlessly to drive the romance to its expected happy conclusion.

There are old and new secondary characters that make an impact in this romance. Phoebe, Maximus's younger and almost blind sister is delightfully present and right on point as always. Captain Trevillion whose role has changed so radically that his presence makes me wonder, and Apollo, the most intriguing new addition to the already large cast of characters in this series. I, however, was quite happy to see the tiny appearance at the end of the remaining single Makepeace sibling, Asa. I am hoping that his story will take us back to St. Giles where I think Hoyt makes these romances come alive with the grit and atmosphere of the slums.

Despite the fact that this is the third book featuring a Ghost of St. Giles plot, Duke of Midnight is not predictable, and both the romance and the Ghost's story felt fresh within the Maiden Lane series. With central characters who are equally strong, intelligent, passionate, and balance each other out in and out of the bedroom, the romance between Artemis and Maximus is an excellent historical romance read and a fine addition to the Maiden Lane series. Highly recommended.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: Maiden Lane Series
Publisher/Release Date: Grand Central Publishing/October 15, 2013
Grade: A

Visit Elizabeth Hoyt here.

Wicked Intentions, #1
Notorious Pleasures, #2
Scandalous Desires, #3
Thief of Shadows, #4
Lord of Darkness, #5
Duke of Midnight, #6

Friday, November 8, 2013

October 2013 Reads: LGBT Month & More

October is usually one of my favorite months of the year. There's Halloween, of course, and then there are quite a few birthdays in my family to celebrate too. But this year I spent most of the month in bed with a flu that turned into bronchitis which turned into bronchial asthma. I'm just now getting over the whole sorry mess and am back to work.

I missed everyone, as I didn't get to blog much and frankly I was not in the right frame of mind to sit down to write, but I did read quite a lot while in bed and in between naps and such. I finished a few books from various genres, but if you look at my list the bulk of my reading was taken up by LGBT reads.

Anyway, I read some fabulous books, as well as some that were not so great, but then that's the chance a reader takes when reading so many books in one month, and that's fine with me. I read a few new releases that will probably make it to my "best of" list at the end of the year, some memorable B+ books, and one with such an interesting introduction that I actually wanted to write a post about it. And let's not forget about those amazing older releases that were lingering in my TBR that turned out to be fantastic.

Total Books Read in October: 35
Literary (Mainstream) Fiction: 2
Historical Fiction/Romance/Mystery: 3
Graphic Novella: 1
LGBT: 23
Rereads: 6

Top Reads:
In His Secret Life by Mel Bossa: A
Boystown 4: Time for Secrets by Marshall Thornton: A
Boystown 5: Murder Book by Marshall Thornton: A
Crack Shot by Dale Chase: A-
The Silent Hustler by Sean Meriwether: A-

Dear Life by Alice Munro: B+
The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley: B+
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy: B+
Light by 'Nathan Burgoine: B+
The Padisah's Son and the Fox by Alex Jeffers: B+
The Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy! ed. by Tom Cardamone: B+

Little Boy Dead: A Boystown Mystery by Marshall Thornton: B
Boystown: Three Nick Nowack Mysteries by Marshall Thornton: B
Boystown 2: Three Nick Nowack Mysteries by Marshall Thornton: B
Boystown 3: Two Nick Nowack Mysteries by Marshall Thornton: B
The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly: B
If Angels Fight by Richard Bowes: B
Still Life With Murder by P.B. Ryan: B
Lonely as God by Dale Chase: B
Master of Dreams: Sleep of the Just (Sandman #1) by Neil Gaiman: B
Zombies: Shambling Through the Ages ed. by Steve Berman: B-
Desert Run by Marshall Thornton: C
The Christmas Visit by Marshall Thornton: C
Meet Me in the Middle by L.A. Witt: C
Long Tall Drink by L.C. Chase: C
Pickup Men by L.C. Chase: D+
No Going Home T.A. Chase: D+
Duncan's World by T.A. Chase: D
The Ranch Foreman by Rob Colton: D

Reading the Nick Nowack Mysteries led me to reread the Adrien English Mysteries and I went on one of those never ending loops of rereading the series for a few days. I loved every minute of it. I forgot how much I enjoyed each of the mysteries, the gorgeous retro atmosphere in this series and how much I really love Death of a Pirate King. What I found in the end of this cycle was that I kept looking for more from or for Jake and Adrien, than what is actually on the pages of those books. And because I needed some chicken soup (contemporary romance), I picked up My Best Worst Mistake by Mayberry and gobbled it up while sniffling and taking my temperature. It was as great a read this time as it was the first time around.

The Adrien English Mysteries by Josh Lanyon: Fatal Shadows #1, Dangerous Thing #2, The Hell You Say #3, Death of a Pirate King #4, Dark Tide #5
My Best Worst Mistake by Sarah Mayberry

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Review: In His Secret Life by Mel Bossa

I fell in love with Mel Bossa's story telling and writing talents when I read her debut full-length romance Split, and then that was reinforced when I read her second novel, the magnificent Franky Gets Real. This year? This year, it is In His Secret Life, the romance between Allan, a gay man who falls in love with Davinder, a bisexual man struggling with his life's choices.

Allan and his sister Elsie are alone in the world and very close to each other. He is very protective of both Elsie and his young niece Faye. It's not surprising then that he's happy but a bit taken aback when she falls in love with Dayton and plans to marry soon follow.

Allan's life really becomes complicated when he meets Dayton's bisexual older brother Davinder. There is an immediate, strong, mutual attraction when they meet and the two begin a secret, passionate affair, but the real conflict comes from the fact that Davinder is married with two children, and he's also about to become Elsie's brother-in-law. Allan continues the affair believing that Davinder is on the verge of ending his marriage, while all along Davinder is conflicted between his feelings for Allan and the responsibility he feels toward his marriage and children. As is the case with secret affairs, there are lies, betrayals, and broken hearts.

When Elsie becomes aware that the affair is going on, she tells Allan that Davinder is really working on his marriage and that he should do the right thing by leaving. Allan ends the affair, sells his condo and moves away, refusing all further contact with Davinder. Years later, a family member in need of clarification brings it all back.

In her romances, or romantic fiction, Bossa focuses on relationships from the perspective of both gay and bisexual males. Her couples find a happy ever after, which places her books firmly into the "romance" category. However, Bossa also presents issues and conflicts confronted by the couple as they enter into a relationship as well as how those issues affect each individual, from both gay and bisexual perspectives. Her characters are three dimensional, human and flawed, which I personally love. This includes her secondary characters and interpersonal relationships that occur between the main characters and those very important secondary characters.

In His Secret Life is a fantastic romance with forbidden love, sexual tension, intense yearning, and angst. It's one of those all-encompassing, sweeping, lasting romantic love stories between two men who are also selfish enough to cheat and lie to be together. They pay a high price, but in the end find their way back to love. The execution in this romance is fantastic, as Bossa follows through with all the characters, the choices, consequences, life and love. My favorite LGBT romance of the year to date... I highly recommend it.

Category: LGBT-Gay/Bisexual Romance
Publisher/Release Date: Bold Strokes Books/May 14, 2013
Grade A