Sunday, March 30, 2014

. . . On Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It is now considered a classic by many, particularly by fans of the series. First published in 1991, the book is really a mixture of genres: historical fiction, romance, action/adventure and science fiction/fantasy. Regardless, it won the Romance Writer's of America RITA Award of that year and rightly so. Outlander is all those things, but first and foremost it focuses on the passionate and all-consuming romance that develops between Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall and James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, or Claire and Jamie.

Throughout the past decades, I've read most of the Outlander series, from Dragonfly in Amber (Book#2, 1992) through A Breath of Snow and Ashes (2005), but I never read Outlander. I began with the second book, read forward, and decided to save Outlander for the end so I could reread the whole series at once! Was that ambitious or what? In 2011 when Nath visited me for the first time, she noticed those enormous Gabaldon books on my shelves and asked if I was a fan. That's when I told her my story. Before going back to Canada, she surprised me with an anniversary copy of Outlander! Still, stubborn as I am, I did not read it. With the upcoming release of the mini-series, however, I decided it was time. Sigh . . . I want to watch it!

Catriona Balfe as Claire Randall
I absolutely loved Voyager! That book hooked me on the series. I followed the story quite well, with much of the background information given at some point during other books in the series. But, what I didn't know, of course, is that I missed so many of the little details that begin in Outlander and that Gabaldon carries throughout the series -- introduction of characters, small intimacies, moments that are later referred to, but that don't have the same emotional impact unless read first hand. I missed out on the young, virginal Jamie asking all those shy/bold questions of the older, sexually experienced Claire. Those wonderful, intimate moments rendered by Gabaldon as the two get to know each other and fall in love -- the laughter and the pain, the craziness, the quiet evenings and perennial lust, the bickering and fights.
Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser

Jamie and Claire's adventures are fantastic. They are not only filled with action, but with historical facts and political intrigue that plagued Scotland in 1745. It not only includes the intricacies of clan politics, in this case the MacKenzie and Fraser clans, but also with secret plans for the Jacobite uprising. Gabaldon's details of day to day life as part of an18th Century Scottish clan with all the restrictions, dangers, ignorance and superstitions, are fascinating. As in the rest of the books in this series, the best aspect of reading this information is that the reader mostly views events through Claire's 20th Century eyes. Although she's from another era, 1945, Claire often echoes the reader's thoughts.

I also missed a lot about Frank Randall, Claire's 20th Century husband. There are obvious reasons why I didn't like Frank in Voyager. In Outlander, however, Frank and Claire seem to be a couple happily trying to grow closer after a long separation that occurred during WW II when Claire served as a combat nurse and Frank, now a professor and historian, as some sort of spook soldier.

Tobias Menzies as Frank Randall
Claire accidentally travels back in time to the 18th Century, meets Jamie and basically commits bigamy by marrying him -- admittedly under duress -- and adultery when their marriage is joyfully consummated. However, she spends most of the time confused, attempting to get back to her time and to husband Frank. This even as her feelings for Jamie grow and change.

There are a few points of interest in how Gabaldon deconstructs Frank's character and in the way that Claire and the reader eventually come to perceive the man.

1) Gabaldon begins by making Frank a good, but somewhat distant man whom Claire is obviously fond of but whose personality and personal interests seem to bore her.
2) Gabaldon also plants a small seed of doubt about Frank's fidelity before Claire goes back in time.
3) In 1745, Gabaldon uses Frank's ancestor Jack Randall to slowly vilify Frank by proxy. She achieves this by giving Jack not only Frank's face but his smile and mannerisms.
4) Black Jack Randall is portrayed as an evil, out of control, sadistic English sodomite with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. A revolting man who not only nauseates Claire, but often  confuses/throws her off because of that "Jack/Frank" face, smile, look.
5) By the time Claire makes her final decision to stay and/or return to her own time, who really wants her to go back to a Frank who may or may not be a cheating ass? A Frank who was engendered by an abusive monster like Jack Randall? I know I didn't! Interesting and fascinating developments.
Tobias Menzies as "Black" Jack Randall

Claire lies and attempts to blend in are sometimes good but often get her and those around her in trouble. She has medical experience as well as some general historical knowledge, but her forward attitude as a 20th Century woman dropped in the middle of the 18th Century is what really singles her out. And lets just say that although Claire is a survivor, she is also a poor liar. To my surprise, I found that I like the older Claire much more than the Claire of Outlander -- there's a lot of measurable growth to this character throughout the series.

Jamie is straight forward and impulsive which also tends to get him and others in all kinds of trouble. He has the heart of a hero, even though he constantly negates this and often says that he's just doing what needs to be done. He's adorably charming, hardheaded, a man of his times whose open mindedness and intelligence make him the perfect candidate for learning.

Case in point, the now famous (or is it infamous?) scene where Jamie spanks Claire with his sword belt after she disobeys his orders and almost ends up raped and/or killed, also placing Jamie and his men in danger. "The beating scene." Knowing Claire's character and Jamie's relationship with Claire from the other books in the series, I remember being surprised the first time I heard about THE scene. Frankly, I expected her to clobber him over the head with a 2x4 or with a full chamber pot -- she fights him, but unfortunately that doesn't happen.
"Well, I'll tell ye, lass, I doubt you've much to say about it. You're my wife, like it or not. Did I want to break your arm, or feed ye naught but bread and water, or lock ye in a closet for days---and don't think ye don't tempt me, either---I could do that, let alone warm your bum for you."
Jamie believes that corporal punishment of his wife is not only acceptable but expected -- a man of his times. However, he learns that this behavior is not acceptable to Claire -- and at that point he becomes a man open to change going against upbringing and culture. This is a disturbing scene, but I believe it is one that accurately portrays how things would have turned out in that situation during that place and time in history. Actually, corporal punishment takes place widely and often in Outlander, not just to "punish" women/wives, but to discipline children, to keep clan members loyal and true, and ultimately as torture.

Claire and Jamie
If Gabaldon portrays those violent times with disturbing frequency and uncomfortable accuracy, she also makes time for detailed intimacy. Gabaldon writes intimate moments like no one else. Moments that are hard to forget. In Outlander I loved the beautiful days and nights that Jamie and Claire spend at Jamie's family estate of Lallybroch with the family. The chapters have wonderful names and give an idea of what goes on: The Laird's Return, Kisses and Drawers, More Honesty, Conversations by the Hearth, Quarter Day, Hard Labor.
"Hearing the rustle of footsteps approaching through the grass, I turned, expecting to see Jenny or Mrs. Crook come to call me to supper. Instead it was Jamie, hair spiked with dampness from his pre dinner ablutions, still in his shirt, knotted together between his legs for working in the fields. He came up behind me and put his arms around me, resting his chin on my shoulder. Together we watched the sun sinking behind the pines, robed in gold and purple glory. The landscape faded quietly around us, but we stayed where we were, wrapped in contentment." Chapter 32 -- Hard Labor
In Outlander I also found the kind of secondary characters you love to hate and others you hate to love. I loved hating Black Jack Randall with a passion! I wanted someone to slowly strip his skin off with a rusty knife! On the other hand, I had a soft spot for Dougal MacKenzie and kept thinking that under other circumstances he would make a fantastic central character. I hated loving him on the pages of Outlander, but for some weird reason I did.

This is a fantastic, highly addictive series! There's the delicious romance, yes, but there's also all that action, adventure, history, fantastic characterization, and Gabaldon's amazing gift for portraying intimacy in the midst of chaos. I read Outlander this past week and immediately picked up my favorite Voyager to reread, finished it, and am already eyeing Drums of Autumn! Ohhh… no! Highly. Addictive.

If you haven't done so, check out the latest information, pictures, and teasers about the upcoming mini-series here.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Review: Cub by Jeff Mann

Not every gay teen yearns for fashion and popular culture. Some boys are pure country folk and like the feel of flannel and the smell of the farm. And they're neither lithe nor muscle-bound but stocky boys, the ones who develop hairy chests, arms, and faces years earlier than their peers. One such seventeen-year-old is Travis Ferrell, shy among most of the other kids at school, but proud of his West Virginia roots. He has not yet admitted his passion for handsome guys--and his idea of what handsome is and what handsome does is not much different from him. Soon he'll learn that he's not unique; gay culture has a name for young men like him. Cubs. Lambda Literary Award-winning author Jeff Mann has written a touching romance for the outsider in us all.
Cub is a special gift from Jeff Mann to all young cubs out there. It is written for young adults who feel like outsiders, including the gay mainstream community. My first thought when I began reading Cub was that Mann dug deep into his own history and experience to create this young adult romance, the central character Travis Ferrell, and Travis's journey of self-discovery.

Travis is a handsome young man from a small conservative town in West Virginia. A bright thinker and budding poet, at seventeen Travis enjoys the quiet life he leads with his grandmother at their farm. Graduation is coming up and that means leaving for University and while Travis looks forward to the freedom this will bring him, he also finds himself wrestling with some deeply confusing sexual fantasies, frustrating desires, and questions about his future.

Travis knows he's gay but he is not like Martin, the one kid who came out in school and was run out of town. Travis is shy, quiet, and self-contained, more so after his best friends graduated and left town. He often feels different, as well as confused and horrified about his sexual desires and recurring fantasies to both control and protect someone of his own, and doesn't understand the intensity of the darkly passionate and tender feelings that turn him on. He is attracted to boys like beautiful mechanic Mike Woodson -- tall, strong, hairy boys who resemble him and enjoy life (and food) the way he does.

Cub is a story of discoveries and firsts -- first love and sexual experiences. Travis and Mike discover that their sexual desires and fantasies are shared, that there are others who feel the same way, and that there is nothing wrong with those desires. Mann handles the boys' introduction to kink, leather, and the Bear community slowly and with an understanding, gentle hand. There are some wonderful scenes where he uses sexual play instead of graphic scenes to illustrate the boys' explorations and sense of wonder. However, it is through conversation that all is explained with a deft hand: their deepest fears, the need to control and protect, to trust and feel safe.

Mann places plenty of realistic obstacles in the boys' way -- hiding their love, fighting school bullies and adults whose conservative views may not allow them to live the life they want, together. For Mike, it is fighting poverty, an abusive father, and an uncertain future. The boys often philosophize about life, they question, look for answers, and come up with their own conclusions. Jeff Mann's young characters have a thirst for knowledge and strong beliefs.

Jeff Mann is so talented that he can write anything and do so successfully. But young adult, you ask? Yes, he can write that too. In this case he does so with the authority of someone who has experience on the subject.  Cub fills an empty space within LGBT young adult reading materials by thoroughly connecting with the outsider, identifying and soothing the fears and opening up a whole new world to young cubs.  Highly recommended.

Category: LGBT/Gay Young Adult Romance
Publisher/Released: February 14, 2014 by Bear Bones Books
Pages: 215
Grade: A-

Visit Jeff Mann here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

TBR Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.
This is not a book I would have chosen to read at this point in my life, but my Internet Book Club chose it as the book of the month read, and once I began checking it out, couldn't stop reading. I've had it in my TBR pile since last year and I haven't read anything by Jojo Moyes, so, it's the perfect choice for this month's TBR Challenge theme -- new-to-me author.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is a great book about life, yes life, and the right to make your own choices. I loved the main characters, the measurable growth we see in Lou, but most of all the emotional ride. However, if you haven't read this book (I think I must be the last one to pick it up and pay attention to the subject matter, but just in case), please note that this is not a romance so don't pay attention to that summary. This is fiction that uses a love story as a device to make a point.

Lou is a young woman who loses her job as a waitress in a coffee shop and has no ambitions. At home, she is the main bread winner but she's treated like a stupid cow. But the worse part is that Lou believes she's a stupid cow. Her life changes when she's assigned a job as care giver to Will Traynor, a quadriplegic whose life is filled with pain, and whose whole focus has become the right to be treated as a person who can still make his own choices, including how or if he lives or dies.

Moyes does not handle the underlying moral questions with a subtle touch. She presents both sides of the right to die question, but I found her approach preachy. As a result what comes is foreshadowed in a big way.

I love Louisa's narrative voice and liked the brief shifts in point of view to that of other characters, but sorely missed Will's which we only get as the prologue. It is as if he ceases to have a perspective or point of view about his life after his accident. But then, maybe that's the point -- his point of view does become crystal clear.

Me Before You is a good story notable for its controversial subject matter. As a new-to-me author, Moyes hit a few good spots. She kept me reading, I liked her characters, measurable character growth and the emotions that she was able to wrench from me as a reader. On the negative side, I didn't like the foreshadowing or the feeling that I was being preached at, regardless of what I believe personally. Will I read more books by this author? Yes, now that I know she writes good fiction I will definitely give her other works a try.

Category: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher/Release Date: Pamela Dorman Books/Viking/December, 2012
Grade: B-

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book/Author Highlight: Scruffians! Stories of Better Sodomites by Hal Duncan

Are you prepared to enter acclaimed author Hal Duncan's world of scruffians and scamps and sodomites? Beware, for it is filled with the gay pirate gods of Love and Death, immortal scoundrels, and young men who find themselves forced to become villains. But who amongst us does not adore a gamin antihero? These fantastical tales from the fringes of an imaginative realm of supernatural fairies and human fey will captivate the reader. Light a smoke, raise a cup of whiskey, and seek a careful spot to cruise the Scruffians!
About the Author: Scottish author Hal Duncan's debut novel, Vellum, garnered nominations for the Crawford, Locus, BFS and World Fantasy awards, and won the Gaylactic Spectrum, Kurd Lasswitz and Tähtivaeltaja awards. He's since published the sequel, Ink, the novella Escape from Hell!, various short stories, a poetry collection, Songs for the Devil and Death, and two chapbooks, The A-Z of the Fantastic City from Small Beer Press and the self-published Errata.

Speculative Fiction
Releasing: April 18, 2014
Publisher: Lethe Press
Pages: 201

Thursday, March 13, 2014

February 2014 Recap: Reads, Minis + Link

I didn't read a lot of books during February -- either because I didn't have the time or because I wasn't able to concentrate. However, the majority of the books I was able to read were highly enjoyable.

Contemporary Romance: 2
Science-Fiction: 2
LGBT: 2 (Young Adult)

Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy #1) by Jeff VanderMeer: A-
Annihilation is one of my two top reads of the month. The emotionless, distant, disconnected voice of the biologist as she narrates the fantastic setting and weird events that occur in Area X swept me away to another world and kept me on edge to the end. I'm now both dreading and waiting impatiently for the continuation of this story in the next installment Authority.

The Unwanted by Jeffrey Ricker: A-
The Unwanted also made it as one of my February top reads. I finished it on the 1st and it was the best way to begin my reading month. I really loved this LGBT young adult fantasy by Jeffrey Ricker who created a great adventure filled with wonderful characters and relationships.

Honor's Knight (Paradox #2) by Rachel Bach: B+
I liked the second book in Rachel Bach's science fiction Paradox series even more than Fortune's Pawn! And I liked that first book. Devi's space adventure continues, her budding romance goes through some changes, and the overall story arc takes some twists and turns that you wouldn't believe. I'm having a lot of fun reading this series.

Too Much of a Good Thing? by Joss Wood: B
Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing when everything clicks in a new relationship? Apparently so. Lu chose to give up part of her youth and a career to become a full time mother to her twin brothers when their parents died. Now that the boys are grown and leaving home maybe it's time to catch up on what she missed out -- things like clubbing and dating. Ex-rugby player, now rugby coach Will Scott is in town temporarily and after meeting him under unusual circumstances, Lu decides he is perfect for a temporary, fun relationship. But complications arise when they click perfectly, in every way.

Will has more than a bad boy reputation, he was a bad boy during and after his failed marriage to another athlete. He really likes Lu and would prefer to spend time and have fun with her as a friend/companion instead of having a temporary sexual affair or a couple of romps in the sack. Lu, on the other hand, really wants that romp. The problem? They become friends who have fun together and genuinely like each other and neither wants to mess that up, but when they are together the sexual tension and desire takes over.

I liked that they're both adults and frank about their desires and objections. This is a really sexy couple even when they are not having sex. A few things niggled. One: Lu chose to give up her career, etc., (she didn't have to) to take care of her brothers, but seems to spend an awful lot of time feeling sorry for herself about it. Two: It is true that people change and are affected after a failed marriage, but Will sure gives his ex and that failure a lot of power over his life for a long period of time -- too long if you ask me. Regardless, those niggles didn't take away my enjoyment of the overall romance between Lu and Will. The push and pull and sexual tension, the friendship and adult relationship that develops, all serve to make this an enjoyable, solid contemporary romance. (Harlequin/KISS/ November 19, 2013, Kindle Ed)
The Last Guy She Should Call by Joss Wood: B
This is another solid contemporary read by Joss Wood. In The Last Guy She Should Call, Wood uses a "friends to lovers" device where the main characters go from fun, hostile, bickering interactions to a hot, "OMG, I have to have him/her" lust filled relationship. Wood develops this one well, particularly since both the male and female protagonists have family issues to work on. I like that those issues are not wrapped in a neat little bow at the end because in real life that's not always possible. Yet, the romance is still the focus and quite enjoyable. I'll be reading more books by Joss Wood. (Thanks to Nath for her review and recommendation).
Mark of the Demon (Kara Gillian #1) by Diana Rowland: DNF
It is never easy for me to DNF a book, unfortunately as it turns out this popular book was not meant for me.

Cub by Jeff Mann
Cub is a young adult LGBT contemporary by the talented Jeff Mann that released in February. I'll be telling you all about it soon.

LINK/COMMENTARY: I am an avid science fiction reader and a huge fan of the science fiction genre. As such, I've been following the latest controversy involving the Hugo Awards and Jonathan Ross. There is a great post written by Ana at The Book Smugglers that resonated with me, particularly since my love of SFF, speculative fiction, and magical realism first came from reading books written in the Spanish language by authors from different cultures. I'm still thinking about her words. Check it out: Smuggler’s Ponderings: History, Fandom and Masters of Science Fiction .

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Murder of Crows: A Novel of the Others (Book #2) by Anne Bishop

I really enjoyed Written in Red, the first book in Anne Bishop's character driven, edgy an humorous fantasy (UF) series. Needless to say the second book quickly became a highly anticipated read and thankfully it did not disappoint. In Murder of Crows Bishop expands the overall story arc and world-building, continues to develop already established characters, and introduces fresh, interesting faces.

Meg has become an integral part of the terra indigene community in the Lakeside Courtyard. Loved and cared for by all, she is also more confident when standing up for herself. That potential I hoped for when I read Written in Red is slowly coming to fruition for this character and although she is still sweet, Meg is not as compliant. After the events that occurred a few weeks back, the Courtyard's leader Simon Wolfgard is not only an overprotective best friend who cares deeply for Meg, but her own personal bodyguard. He is there, in her bed, when her dreams bring an unexpected vision about death and blood.

Meg is having visions and those prickly feelings without the necessity of cutting her skin, but the urge to cut overwhelms her more often. She sees black feathers, blood, and snow. When crows and members of the Crowgard become targets, violence breaks out nearby between a human town and terra indigene Courtyard, and again in the Midwest. Investigations lead to the involvement of the Humans First and Last (HFL) organization and the two addictive drugs, "feel good" and "gone over wolf." The terra indigene from Thaisia won't take these attacks lightly, and as the incidents snowball, Simon, Meg, human policemen, Captain Burke and Monty, along with the rest of the crew find themselves in the center of the upcoming storm. Particularly after an incident reveals that the Controller and cassandra sague may be part of the problem. Simon won't stop until the evil man is found and his Meg is safe.

There is so much going on in this book! First, the relationship between Meg and Simon shifts from a caring to a deeper friendship that is quickly turning into more, but doesn't quite get to romance. I'm glad this relationship hasn't been rushed. I like the way Bishop handles Meg's confusion about what is going on with Simon -- after all she is pretty naïve and needs time to process new information. And, Simon's reactions and almost complete ignorance about his growing feelings for Meg are priceless. They are SO cute together. So cute!!
"Simon leaned against the back wall of the Liaison's Office.

Done. Simple enough since Meg had done most of the work of setting boundaries around a friendship that had had none before. He should feel grateful, but what he wanted to do was raise his head and howl the Song of Lonely."
The growing relationship between Simon and Meg is wonderful, but overall Murder of Crows is a darker than Written in Red. There is carnage interspersed throughout the story from beginning to end, and gruesome scenes with seriously horrific villains. And please note that the shifters in this story are not the worse "monsters" you will find. There is more tension and less of the humorous everyday life scenes that I so enjoyed in Written in Red. Don't get me wrong there are a few quiet scenes and fun, amusing moments that made me laugh, but for the most part there seems to be a shift in focus.

Having said that, one of the aspects of Murder of Crows that I enjoyed is that although the perspective of the Others -- Simon, Tess, Vlad, Henry, etc. -- toward certain humans have changed or are changing through daily interactions, they still retain that certain wild darkness that makes them unique among shifters in other books. However, with the latest human communities introduced by Bishop in this installment and Simon's plans for training terra indigene in the future, it is clear that already not all humans are just "meat." So I do wonder where Bishop is headed. Probably balance, but, will these shifters retain their uniqueness by the end of this series? We'll see.

The outcome of this book is not wrapped in a tidy little bow, but the way in which the most immediate threads are resolved work for me. I am certainly looking forward to reading the next book! There are more than enough threads left open to continue with the world and relationship building. Who was the man on the train? Will there be war? Will Monty get his daughter Lizzy? I hope so! I'm also hoping for more character growth all around, as well as more growth in Meg's and Simon's relationship. I want to know more about the human cities in the old world, the newly introduced Intuits, and even more about the cassandra sangue. Bishop addresses the cutting -- how it began and the consequences -- but I'm still hoping for possible resolutions. Placing all my hopes and questions aside for now, that final, sweet scene is definitely a winner. Sigh . . .

Category: Fantasy (UF)
Series: The Others
Publisher/Release Date: Roc/March 4, 2014
Grade: B+

Visit Anne Bishop here.

Written in Red, Book #1
Murder of Crows, Book #2

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Honor's Knight (Paradox #2) by Rachel Bach

Honor's Knight by Rachel Bach was an even better read for me than Fortune's Pawn, and I enjoyed that book. I wasn't expecting that, because second books are usually known as the meaty but tame ones in a trilogy and often leave you hanging -- but not this one.

Honor's Knight begins exactly where Fortune's Pawn ended, with Devi digging a grave for her security partner Cotter and still suffering from the mind-wipe that was performed on her, not remembering any of the events that caused his death, left her mortally injured, and the Glorious Fool so damaged they need two days of repairs before taking off. Devi has also developed an aversion for the cook whose name she can't seem to remember and whose face she can't stand to look at without feeling revulsion and bouts of nausea.

The mind-wipe left holes in her memory that slowly begin to bug her, but it also leads her to cling to Captain Caldswell and act like a good little soldier who follows directions to a "t." And although reluctant, she even considers telling him about the glowing bugs she sees floating around the ship and the blackness that spreads over her fingers and sometimes her whole hands like ink. This state of affairs goes on for a while, with Caldswell hiring another experienced merc to help Devi with security. During this time Rupert and Devi share moments filled with angst and tenderness. They both suffer because she can't even stand to look at him or for him to look at her. She doesn't understand the aversion and constant awareness she feels around the man, or the fact she sometimes wants to hug him. It's really sweet and I felt for Rupert . . .

All that changes when the ship is attacked and it becomes clear that an attempt was made to kidnap Devi. Why? The mind-wipe is reversed and once she remembers everything we get our gloriously brave, impulsive Devi back -- and she is furious! Thank goodness because I couldn't stand that tame rather lost girl. And . . . let's just say that a furious, fully armored, and armed Devi is not a good thing for those involved, particularly after she reveals what really happened to her before she was injured. At this point, Caldswell's decisions and Rupert's actions force Devi to get away from the Glorious Fool. When she finally discovers the whole truth, she realizes that her life will never be the same and sadly, her dreams may be lost forever.

It is undeniable that Devi is the center of the overall story and she is a fantastic central character who keeps the reader's attention. That continues in Honor's Knight as her adventures expand away from Glorious Fool into unknown territory, allowing Rachel Bach to introduce new characters, expand her world and slowly reveal political undercurrents, hidden agendas and the terrible monsters (nature's monsters and those created by men) hiding "under the bed." The monsters that Devi may have to deal with since she has become the "savior of the universe" to some, and "a weapon" to others. A lot happens in this book, with the xith'cal, lelgis, Terrans, Paradoxians, the mysterious phantoms, the secret Eye organization and the "daughters" getting involved.

Honor's Knight is all about world-building through revelations, as Devi and the reader discover everything together. Many of those details that were painted with broad strokes in Fortune's Pawn are detailed in Honor's Knight, and most of the questions are answered satisfactorily. The fun adventure, the great dialog, excellent action and pacing, the romance, and those relationships with questionable characters that come in all different shades of gray that I so enjoyed in the first book, are still very much part of this book, with the addition of a couple of provocative threads addressing moral choices. And, if you like exciting, action-packed endings with an emotional impact, well, Honor's Knight has that too.

With so many revelations in Honor's Knight, now I can't wait to find out how everything is resolved in Heaven's Queen (Paradox #3). With Devi in the middle of everything, things will not be easy, and I'm absolutely rooting for Rupert and Devi. I'm just glad that I won't have to wait too long to find the final answers!

Category: Science Fiction/Action Adventure
Series: Paradox
Publisher/Release Date: Orbit/February 25, 2014
Grade: B+

Visit Rachel Bach here

Fortune's Pawn, #1
Honor's Knight, #2
Heaven's Queen, #3 (Releasing April 22, 2014) 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Updates + Congrats to Lambda Literary Award Nominees

How is everyone doing this Friday? It has been a hard Winter and it is still cold in the Northeastern part of our country. Brrr... I'm longing for Spring and milder, easier days. On the good side, things are better at home and my husband John is recuperating nicely. :) I'm also back at work, catching up with a mountain of files.

I haven't had a chance to read a slew of books, but I'm reading some good ones. This last week I finished Cub by the talented Jeff Mann, a gay young adult romance that not surprisingly he aced. I also read Satisfaction by Sarah Mayberry, her latest self-published contemporary romance. I like.

What am I reading now? I just began the much anticipated Murder of Crows (The Others #2) by Anne Bishop . I've been itching to start it but decided to wait until today so I can just savor it and finish it in one sitting if necessary! And, I am also slowly making my way through the gay fiction anthology With edited by James Currier which I'm thoroughly enjoying.

To read, in print, I have Half-Off Ragnarok (InCryptids #3) by Seanan McGuire, and waiting in my Kindle, I have a few science fiction additions: The Waking Engine by David Edison, and two illustrated freebies from, Burning Girls by Veronica Schanoes and Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages .

Changing the subject, I finally got a chance to go around the web a bit to visit a few blogger friends and other favorite websites. I missed that! Anyway, yesterday I found that the list of nominees for the 26th Annual Lambda Literary Awards was released. I'm an avid reader of LGBT books and have been following these awards for years. I love to see which books I read and loved make it to their list, what I missed, and often make lists of new books (and authors) to try.

I would like to congratulate and wish luck to everyone whose books are on that list. Particularly to favorite author Alex Jeffers who is nominated for The Padisah’s Son and the Fox: an erotic fairy tale(Lethe Press), a book I loved, but didn't have a chance to review, and for his novel Deprivation; or, Benedetto furioso: an oneiromancy, (Lethe Press). And to those authors whose books I loved and so thoroughly enjoyed in 2013 that they made it to my list of favorites for the year:

The Rest of Us: Stories by Guy Mark Foster (Tincture/Lethe Press)In His Secret Life by Mel Bossa, (Bold Strokes Books), Boystown 5: Murder Book by Marshall Thornton (MLR Press), Death by Silver by Melissa Scott & Amy Griswold (Lethe Press), Dust Devil on a Quiet Street, Richard Bowes , (Lethe Press), and Light by ‘Nathan Burgoine (Bold Strokes Books)!! And yes to My Dear Watson by L.A. Fields (Lethe Press).

Congratulations and good luck to everyone!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

DNF Read: Demons & Cops

I promised myself that this year I would blog more about books I don't finish for one reason or another. Unfortunately, Mark of the Demon (Kara Gillian #1) by Diana Rowland is one of those books. After 4 or 5 tries last year and finally getting through 100 pages in February, I gave up on this book and decided that despite the fact that so many people love it, it is just not for me. Let me explain.

During all those tries, neither the story nor Kara grabbed my attention. Every time I picked up the book, I would get distracted within the first 25 pages and began looking for something else to read. I always thought it was me (my "mood" was off) and kept placing the book back in my pile of books "to read later." The other reason? Well, I love my demons and strong females in urban fantasy are usually a plus, so this book should be right up my alley.

Unfortunately, once I finally got through the first 100 pages of Mark of the Demon, I found an excess of repetitive information about Kara's background and the training she received as a demon summoner -- this quickly bored me. The rest of the set up also bored me, and Kara's narrative voice irked me for some reason.

Then two things happen: a horrible crime takes place and Kara is given the lead even though she's an inexperienced crime investigator and her only knowledge about similar crimes comes from reading old files -- arcane powers are used on this crime. And, following almost immediately is a sexual scene between Kara and this unknown super-powerful angel/demon creature she summons by mistake. This creature first uses compulsion to get Kara to have sex with him and then agrees not to when she stops him. Kara has monkey sex with him anyway. I believe she is supposed to know better than to place herself in such a vulnerable position, particularly since she is a cop investigating a heinous crime and doesn't know what type of creature this is, where he comes from, who he is, or even his real name -- apparently she doesn't know better. Her reason for having sex with the angel/demon? He's beautiful and she's lonely . . .

After a long sigh I closed the book. I began searching for something else to read and quickly came to the conclusion that if after reading 100 pages the set up, main character, and plot were making me sigh with enough frustration and boredom to close Mark of the Demon yet again, then the book is just not for me. I tried!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Review: The Unwanted by Jeffrey Ricker

I read The Unwanted by Jeffrey Ricker in two sittings, the pacing and adventure are that good! The story begins in a mythology-based contemporary setting that surprisingly ends in the mythological world with a bang and a surprise.

The three main characters in this book were introduced in the short story "The Trouble with Billy," which first appeared in the Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up anthology. There, we met short, skinny Jamie, the only out gay kid in his high school as he was relentlessly bullied by Billy and defended by best friend Sarah. The Unwanted begins with Billy punching sixteen year-old Jamie on the nose at school, Sarah coming to the rescue, and Jamie going home with a bleeding nose without first asking for permission from school authorities. Poor Jamie is in for a surprise because when he gets there his mother is waiting. The mother that was supposed to be dead.

Jamie's parents have a lot of explaining to do -- one of them is the winged horse hanging out in his backyard! Once everything is explained, Billy and a bleeding nose are the least of Jamie's worries. It turns out that his mother is one of the mythological Amazons. As we know from Greek mythology, Amazons do not keep their male children and Jamie's mother left him to be raised by his father. Now there is big trouble brewing and the Amazons may be wiped out by an angry god. However, they have one chance, the Oracle's prophesy clearly says that a male child will save them. Jamie's mother believes that he may be that boy, and hopes he will go back with her to save her sisters and her home.

This is an adventure full of risks and danger! There is a romance, but there are also fantastic friendships, great magical moments, and dangerous battles filled with deadly villains. I enjoyed all of it. Jamie's personal situation captures the reader, but the slow-building danger and revelations really keep the reader going. I was surprised at how well the pacing works in this novel. It doesn't lag even when there's a lull in the action because there is that expectancy that something is about to happen.

As narrator, Jamie's voice is fantastic. Ricker hits the right young adult tone, so that Jamie comes off angsty, sarcastic, and humorous at the most unexpected of moments even as he deals with very serious situations. He's not a know-at-all or the big muscular hero who can do it all. As a matter of fact, he's small for his age, can't really fight, and doubts his abilities all the time. Young adults can relate to him as a character, including when it comes to his handling of family and friends.

Family issues are definitely on the forefront for Jamie: his father's and his own confused feelings for an absentee mother. Additionally, Billy the bully also becomes a key character in this young adult fantasy/adventure. The development of Billy's character, the issue of trust and the growing relationship with Jamie carries to the end of the story.

I loved The Unwanted. I found it to be both fun and highly relevant with central and secondary characters that young adults can relate to, and will enjoy seeing on the page. Additionally, Ricker takes some overwhelming risks with characters and story at the end that I believe give this read a unique touch. Highly recommended!

Category: LGBT/Gay Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher/Release Date: Bold Strokes Books/March 18, 2014
Source: eARC for review
Grade: A-