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.

6 comments:

  1. Hey Hils - so pleased that you enjoyed the PB Ryan! Like you, the setting/period really worked for me - it's one of the more unusual ones for a historical, IMO. I definitely plan on checking out the books she writes as Patricia Ryan.

    It sounds like you had an excellent run of anthologies. THE LAVENDER MENACE definitely sounds interesting - great cover as well.

    Li

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  2. Li, that PB Ryan mystery was really enjoyable all around -- it reminded me slightly of Molly Dobbs but set in the US during the Civil War. I also looked into Patricia Ryan's backlist and I'm thinking of exploring her works since I really enjoyed her writing style. Thanks again for the rec!

    You are right, Li. I've read some fantastic collections lately: Desire, Tales of New Orleans by Walker is filled with gorgeous writing and stories, Crack Shot by Chase is short, but excellent, and some of the shorts in The Hustler by Meriwether floored me (they were so good), and as a whole it is fabulous. Oh, and Dear Life by Alice Munro is bound to become a classic lit/fic collection, believe me! And yes, The Lavender Menace has some great pieces! I agree that the "graphic-novel" cover is really eye-catching. I highly recommend all them and am going to have a tough time choosing favorites at the end of the year. LOL!

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    1. CORRECTION: The Silent Hustler by Meriwether.

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  3. OK Hils you've convinced me.

    I just moved the Silent Hustler up on my to read list (like you I've had the book for a long while). Also, I've been aware of Dale Chase for years but haven't been able to get to her work - so many books, so little time. But, will definitely make time for her cowboy erotica in 2014.

    Thanks for the reviews and the recs.

    Indie

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    1. Indie, I've been staring at that fabulous cover for The Silent Hustler forever! I can't believe I waited so long to read the book. I'm glad you're going to read it, believe me, you're going to be looking for more books by Meriwether right after you're done. (I'm going to reread some of these stories first).

      And, Dale Chase? Well, you've heard me go on and on about her western gay erotica (and her bear erotica) short stories already. I hope you enjoy her works as much as I do. Her cowboys are real cowboys! You'll have lots to choose from these days, Bold Strokes Books has been publishing different collections and books by Chase, some of her works have been published by Lethe and Cleiss, and she currently has a few self-published pieces available in amazon. Sooo, enjoy!

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    2. PS: Indie, I have GOT to recommend to you Desire: Tales of New Orleans by William Sterling Walker. I think that collection of gay fiction stories is right up your alley. My friend if you haven't read it yet, please do. It. is. gorgeous!

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