Saturday, May 31, 2014

Short Stories: M.R. Carey, John Chu, Justin Torres

I read countless short stories yearly but I rarely feature them on their own. Today I'm highlighting three single shorts that are not only excellent reads, but also free downloads. Check it out.

"Melanie was new herself, once, but that's hard to remember because it was a long time ago. It was before there were any words; there were just things without names, and things without names don't stay in your mind. They fall out, and then they're gone.

Now she's ten years old, and she has skin like a princess in a fairy tale; skin as white as snow. So she knows that when she grows up she'll be beautiful, with princes falling over themselves to climb her tower and rescue her.

Assuming, of course, that she has a tower."
I read the extended free preview of "The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey" (9 chapters!), and it turned out to be an absolutely fabulous speculative fiction read! I'm not saying much more about the story at this point because I believe it should be approached from a fresh perspective, but know this: if you give this book a try the main narrator and central character, a ten-year old whose name is Melanie, will snare you into reading the whole thing.

I am salivating to continue reading but have to wait until the whole novel releases on June 10th! I have high expectations for the rest of the book. As a teaser this preview is the perfect hook, but it also works really well as a short story. It gets an A- from me ONLY because I know there's more to come. Highly recommended.

In the near future water falls from the sky whenever someone lies (either a mist or a torrential flood depending on the intensity of the lie). This makes life difficult for Matt as he maneuvers the marriage question with his lover and how best to "come out" to his traditional Chinese parents.

I strongly recommend John Chu's The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere, a short piece nominated this year for a Hugo Award. I think what needs to be said about this piece has already been said. But personally what I like most about the story is how effectively, albeit sparingly, Chu uses the falling water. I like how this device affects the characters and plot which main focus is on family, love, and relationships. The writing style is both beautiful and concise, making this SF short story a personal favorite.

This story is also included in Some of the Best From, 2013 Edition: A Tor.Com Original. Also available as a free download.

Reverting to the Wild State by Justin Torres was published in The New Yorker Magazine, August 1, 2011, but I just read it this past week.

Justin Torres is a fabulous writer whose 2011 novel We the Animals was acknowledged widely and garnered positive attention and reviews. This short piece gives the reader a taste of his writing style and a different sort of story.

Reverting to the Wild State is not much more than a broad sketch of a relationship that is related in reverse by the author. That first step as the story goes back in time is confusing but quickly becomes clear. This piece is unique, sad, and rather haunting, and leaves the reader wanting more. Free online read

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou (April 14, 1928 to May 28, 2014)

It has been announced that Maya Angelou: poet, civil rights activist, dancer, film producer, television producer, playwright, film director, author, actress, professor, and renowned author of "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" (1969) died today. A three-time Grammy winner, nominated for a Pulitzer, a Tony, and an Emmy for her role in the television mini-series "Roots," Angelou was a woman whose works are admired, not only in America, but world-wide. On a personal note, Angelou is one of few authors/poets whose written works my daughter and I have shared, loved, and admired throughout the years.

From Maya Angelou's poetry collection I Shall Not Be Moved (Random House, 1990)

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise

I rise
I rise.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

Reading this weekend:
Grunt Life: A Task Force Ombra Novel by Weston Ochse (Military Science Fiction)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Minis: Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon & Scrap Metal by Harper Fox

Here are a couple of minis by two favorite authors. Although one story worked better for me than the other and the authors have completely different styles of writing, both books are notable for their excellent atmosphere and brilliant setting.

Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon: C

I absolutely love how Lanyon can take a contemporary story and weave in such fine retro atmosphere that he takes the reader to another time and place. This time he took me back to Gatsby's Gold Coast and into the dysfunctional lives of an uber wealthy family at their Long Island mansion, and a central mystery plot focusing on a kidnapping ala Lindbergh-baby that includes desperate family members and impostors.

The narrator is Griff, a journalist from Wisconsin who has been given the green light by the head of the family to write a book about the kidnapping of his grandson Brian Arlington, heir to the Arlington fortune, with the hopes that this new investigation will bring to light new details that may have been missed all those years ago. Pierce Mather, the family lawyer and family friend, is cold and suspicious of Griff's motives even before he shows up at the mansion. But then someone tries to hurt Griff, and things begin to change as they slowly give in to a mutual attraction.

Stranger on the Shore has excellent atmosphere, setting, and mystery kept me reading. Unfortunately, the most important revelation is foreshadowed early on, so that when the final climax final happens it falls flat. The wealthy, dysfunctional family is too black and white with few of those nuances that I usually expect from Lanyon. There's the good, dead son and his near-perfect wife, and then the rest of the unlikable, parasitic family living under one roof dependent on the ruthless head of the family -- an old man who has become somewhat vulnerable because his health is failing. The timeline for this story is one week, so the romance works only if you are a believer in fate and chemistry and don't mind what felt more like a "happy for now" than a "happy ever after" ending.

Oheka Castle, Historic Gold Coast Mansion, Long Island

Scrap Metal by Harper Fox: B

My first thoughts when reading Scrap Metal : Harper's descriptions of nature in the Isle of Arran are fantastic. I could almost see myself there -- I was certainly able to visualize the place. The story takes place in a generations-owned bucolic sheep farm where reticent grandfather and resentful grandson are fighting to keep the farm going a year after the young man's mother and the brother who  managed the farm were killed in a traffic accident.

Nichol, the grandson, dreams of going back to the University of Edinburgh where he studied languages and the gay lifestyle he lead there, instead of taking care of sheep in a rundown farm and hiding who he is for his grandfather's sake -- a grandfather who has never really liked Nichol. The grandfather is immutable. Everything changes from dark to light after Cam, a beautiful young man running away from danger and full of secrets, breaks into the barn to find shelter and stays to help around the farm for room and board.

The story is haunting and rife with grief and atmosphere. I believe that the setting, Gaelic poetry, and descriptive language have a lot to do with this. I loved the staunch grandfather and the two younger characters who slowly fall in love -- the holding back, the stolen moments and illicit passion, the tenderness and care. There are secrets and layers to the characters that Fox reveals slowly. None of the characters are as they first appear. The action toward the end of the novel is unnecessarily convoluted and a bit jarring compared to the rest of the story. However, all in all this is a solid read by Fox, and one I will probably reread at some point.

Farm, Isle of Arran, Scottish Isles

Saturday, May 24, 2014

New Release: The Full Ride: Bottom Boys Get Play by Gavin Atlas

Does the idea of a naïve young buck who can't stop himself from losing his ass turn you on? Or would you rather experience life as a bottom who is every top's fantasy? Through unquenchable lust or uncontrollable need, these are bottom boys who live to please and wouldn't have it any other way. Gavin Atlas, author of the best selling collection, The Boy Can't Help It, offers a second dose of porn stars, college boys, strippers, acrobats, and athletes taken body and soul by business tycoons, cops, mischievous professors, and other dominant men who won't take no for an answer. Your journey through these stories will offer humor, affection, and true devotion, but please stay seated as you're taken deep into the psychology of sexual mischief. If you enjoy the dazed confusion of youthful studs helpless to escape the penetration of aggressive, powerful tops, come meet a few who will always grant you the Full Ride.
The Boy Can't Help It by Gavin Atlas is one of my favorite gay erotica anthologies. I have been waiting for a follow-up book since I first read those stories in 2010 -- that's a long time to wait! Well, the time has come and Atlas is finally releasing his second collection The Full Ride: Bottom Boys Get Play (Lethe Press).

Releasing: June 7, 2014
230 pages
Print and Digital editions available here and here.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

TBR Review: Motorcycle Man (Dream Man #4) by Kristen Ashley

I had problems with WiFi and internet access in my area yesterday, and couldn't post my TBR review -- but decided not to give up and I'm posting it today. May's theme for the TBR Challenge is: more than one book by an author in your TBR. I have a few books by Kristen Ashley and decided to read and review her much lauded Motorcycle Man, a book that has been sitting and gathering dust in my Kindle for a long time.

I think I will always remember Motorcycle Man as one of the most cringe worthy romance reads ever. Yet, I read it in its entirety. There is something to it, that's for sure, but I don't even know where to begin explaining what it is. I'm stumped.

The characters in this romance live an alternative lifestyle that takes place, for the most part, within the narrow confines of a motorcycle club and the homes of its members. Tyra falls into this world after quitting her job and finding one at a body shop owned by the Chaos Motorcycle Club. The Saturday before she starts her job, she parties with the Club members and ends the night by having sex with Tack, the president of the MC. During the aftermath, Tyra daydreams that Tack is 'her dream man' but is quickly disabused when he dismisses her from his bed. On her first day at work these are Tack's words to her:
"I do not work with bitches who've had my dick in their mouth," [...]
Because she's desperate for a job at this point, she stays and the sexual harassment begins. They go back and forth;
"I am not going to warm your bed!" I fired back.
"Oh yeah you are," Tack returned.
"You don't even know my name," I retorted
"Nope, and I didn't before when you sucked my cock, I ate you, you fucked me hard and I fucked you harder. Didn't bother you then."
"I thought you knew my name?"
Tyra fights back and continues to feel a combination of deep attraction and fear for hawt, scary biker dude Tack as they play his game until she succumbs and becomes his biker-babe  -- because he colors her world.
"I like everything about you, honey. Everything. Lived in black and white seems like all my life. Never noticed. Not until you colored my world."
He finds her irresistible:
"Every day, somethin' new. Will I ever get to the heart of you?"
There's are kidnappings, screeching fights with a disgusting ex-wife who must be the worst mother ever, a battle with the Russian mob, blood, and lots and lots of hot, sex, love, misunderstandings, and well... more sex and love. And they live happily ever after:
"Sometimes it happens in weird ways that included fights, blood, drunkenness, kidnappings and pregnancies. But dreams came true." Tyra
In Ashley's MC world, women fall into categories: "babes," "bitches," "the Club's whores," and wives/girlfriends="old ladies." These women are not supposed to worry their gorgeous little heads about their men's business in the club or the danger they may be exposed to (after all their men are taking care of it and keeping them safe), and for the most part they accept it all without question.

The men are an uber-alpha variety of scary biker dudes who "claim" women when they are interested, and have a problem communicating in full sentences. Some of them are married and cheat while others are monogamous, and while some are portrayed as having soft hearts, all have that extra bit of over-the-top alpha DNA that doesn't always sit right because the balance of power in relationships and respect are severely lacking.

So here is where I go back and forth: As you see from the quotes above and my summary, Tyra and Tack fall in love. While lust and sex remain the central focus that drive intimacy, this is a romance and Ashley works hard to make it work. Because, despite all those cringe-worthy moments and objectionable language, Ashley also includes touching if rough-edged romantic moments between Tack and Tyra. The evolution of Tack as a romantic protagonist is rough because he learns how to treat Tyra so she won't leave him, but the all-around lack of respect for other women is highly questionable. Tyra's ultimate acceptance of her "place" as a woman in Tack's world (because although she "fights" it, she also accepts it), made this a tough read. I know Ashley is portraying an "alternative lifestyle," I'm just not sure how accurate it is, and it's not one that it's easy to relate to -- at least not for me, not if I get to be called someone's "bitch." It can't be denied, however, that even as this is a grating, button-pusher type of romance, Ashley has a way of keeping the reader going.

I'm glad that I finally read Motorcycle Man because every time a book by Ashley releases, fans compare it to this book. I wanted to know what that was all about. Personally, and going against the tide, I'm really happy that my first book by Ashley was The Will.

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Dream Man
Grade: C = Because Ashley really works the romance in this book and I finished it even as my comfort zones were severely challenged.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Review: It Happened One Wedding by Julie James

This book has the perfect beginning. I loved it! Sidney Sinclair is in the middle of a date gone bad when Vaughn Roberts, FBI agent and first class player, hits on her. First she profiles him down to a "t" and then gives him the heave-ho in two seconds flat. Sidney is looking for Mr. Right, she's not up to dealing with players no matter how gorgeous, particularly after she was burned badly by one just like him! Sidney leaves happy because she got rid of one more player and Vaughn upset because she made him and recognized all his moves. The surprise comes when five minutes later they meet again at a restaurant where Vaughn's brother Simon and Sidney's sister Isabelle announce they are getting married and want their siblings to be best man and maid of honor.

The wedding has to take place in three-months time, and Sidney and Vaughn will be seeing a lot of each while they help their siblings prepare. Oh boy! The relationship begins on hostile terms, but James uses that hostility to stoke passion, and contact to develop a strange kind of friendship that leads these two oblivious people to fall for each other.

Early on Sidney decides that Vaughn will do as Mr. Right Now but throughout most of the story continues to go on dates looking for Mr. Right, and that's when things get hot and confused. Vaughn talks himself into believing that he is fine with the arrangement since he remorselessly enjoys the single life, and Sidney is convinced that, great sex notwithstanding, Vaughn is not the right man for her -- but what about the intimacy, understanding, and friendship that develops as a result of all the time shared and hot sex?

For most of the novel there's this snappy, witty dialog and humor that keeps the story moving forward -- fabulous texting bits and phone calls between Vaughn and Sidney, personal interactions, hot sex, and conversations between them and secondary characters. The pacing is only interrupted during those times when Sidney is at her job or Vaughn is at his. But these scenes are few and far in between, as romance trumps outside focus in this fifth installment of Julie James' FBI/U.S. Attorney series. This focus is most apparent in the contribution made by secondary characters which James utilizes, along with their story lines, to deepen characterization and relationship building for our couple. Simon and Isabella, parents and friends, are there to push and help our protagonists process feelings, but do not distract from the relationship.

It Happened One Wedding by Julie James could have done with a few extra scenes at the end to cement the love and happy ever after because let me tell you this is one oblivious pair. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this contemporary romance -- it is fun and sexy -- and ended up loving Sidney and Vaughn as well as the secondary characters. Highly recommended.

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: FBI/U.S. Attorney
Publisher/Release Date: Jove/May 6, 2014
Grade: A-

Visit Julie James here.

Something About You, #1
A Lot Like Love, #2
About That Night, #3
Love Irresistibly,#4 (read, not reviewed)
It Happened One Wedding, #5

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Upcoming Release: Fairs' Point (Aestreiant #4) by Melissa Scott

During Dog Moon, the chief entertainment in the great city of Astreiant, for nobles and commons alike, is the basket-terrier races at New Fair. This year, with spectacularly bad timing, the massive and suspicious bankruptcy of a young nobleman has convulsed the city, leading to suicides, widespread loss of employment, and inconvenient new laws around the universal practice of betting on the races. As well, a rash of mysterious burglaries seems to suggest a magistical conspiracy.

Pointsman Nicolas Rathe is naturally in the midst of all these disturbances--as is his lover, foreign former mercenary Philip Eslingen. When Eslingen receives a basket-terrier puppy in the redistribution of the bankrupt's household goods, he makes the best of it by having the pup trained for the races, an action that draws him and Rathe deeper into the coils of a mystery somehow involving New Fair's dog races, bookies and bettors, the bankruptcy and its causes and fallout, burglaries, and a new uncanny form of murder.

Fourth in the Astreiant series, Fairs' Point once again demonstrates Melissa Scott's mastery of fantasy world building, detective-story plotting, and the provision of sheer delight.
Fairs' Point is the continuation to the classic Astreiant fantasy series by Melissa Scott. I adore the world-building, characters, and mysteries in this series!

Category: Fantasy
Publisher: Lethe Press Books
Release Date: May 20, 2014

Point of Hopes
Point of Dreams
Point of Knives (Novella)
Fairs' Point #5

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Will (Magdalene #1) by Kristen Ashley

The Will by Kristen Ashley has all of the necessary components to make a warm family story into a passionate romance, and in this instance, although the circumstances are not always pretty, the premise works.

Forty-five year-old Josephine "Josie" Malone's whole adult life has been devoted to her job as assistant to globetrotting fashion and music elite photographer Henry Gagnon, as well as to the man himself. After a nightmarish childhood, the only two people she loves and trusts are her Gran Lydia and her boss Henry. She has become a woman disconnected from the everyday world, obsessed with masking her inner self by wearing the perfect fashion accessory, projecting an icy look, and using a prissy, antiquated vocabulary. Her Gran's passing comes as a blow. Meeting Jake and his family, strangers Lydia obviously loved dearly, comes as a disconcerting and life-changing surprise. Her favorite word: alas!

Gorgeous Jake Spear is a rough talking, soft hearted, retired boxer. Owner of the local strip joint and the single father of three children Conner, Amber, and Ethan, Jake married and divorced three women who stand out for their questionable character and lack of maternal feelings toward their children. Lydia Malone and Jake and his family have adored each other for eight years. They know all there is to know about Josie and are about to meet her in person. His favorite word: fuckuvalot.
“My most precious possession, the thing I treasure above anything else in this world […] I hereby bequeath to […]”
Lydia Malone's death brings Josie home to Magdalene, Maine and Lavender House. It all begins when Lydia's Will is read and she bequeaths to Jake what has always been most precious to her: Josie. Although Lydia is deceased, her presence is strongly felt throughout, and to the end of this romance.
“She wanted me for you.”
Of course it's not legal to bequeath a person in one's Will, but it was Lydia's last wish. Josie doesn't accept this for a while, mainly because she doesn't understand why, loving Jake and his family, her Gran kept them a secret from her. Jake, however, persuades Josie that they should at least get to know each other, specially since Josie has no family left. What comes next is character growth and the evolution of Josie, and strengthening bonds and the blooming of Jake's children as one influences the other. Together, they slowly become a family filled with expected and unexpected conflicts, warmth, and the love that three children and two very different adults, falling in love and lusting after each other, can engender. Conflicts, however, are not all confined to the family, they also come from outside intrigues that affect the characters personally or the family as a whole.

This is a multi-layered contemporary that involves a family comprised of children who are adored and cared for by their father but who have been more or less discarded by their biological mothers, with a romance between two people who although very different on the outside, are perfect for each other. Josie and Jake have past histories that become key to understanding their inner conflicts and how those affect the overall romance. The children are extremely well-developed characters that I adored to the end: teenagers Conner and Amber, and the younger, adorable Ethan. All of these factors are well blended together, however, this was not a perfect read for me by any means.

The Will is only available in digital format and at 375 pages for the Kindle, I found it to be needlessly burdened with repetitive scenes. Language titters back and forth between the very prim, proper and antiquated vocabulary used by Josie, and the rough and vulgar language used by Jake and secondary characters. These extremes make both pop and seem more jarring to the reader than they should. The sexual scenes are graphic (which I don't mind in the least), but high in quantity which brings into play the repetitive factor. After a while, I ended up skimming quite a few of them.

It is important to note that although Jake is an alpha male -- protective, possessive, etc. -- he is not an asshat or over the top aggressive with Josie. The Will is my first novel by Kristen Ashley, but I've since read "Motorcycle Man” whose male protagonist has been touted as the quintessential Ashley alpha. Jake is rather rough around the edges, but just as Josie's character gains depth by using her grandmother's wisdom to make up for her stilted speech pattern and lack of connection with the everyday world, Jake's character is strengthened with down to earth warmth, sweetness and a big heart capable of loving a whole bunch. His passion, love and respect for Josie are never in question. The fact that Josie is honest, forthright and not a doormat makes the romance and relationship work.

I'm glad that I chose The Will as my first Kristen Ashley read. It provided me with hours of reading pleasure. It is a passionate contemporary romance that I enjoyed for its characters and family atmosphere.

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Magdalene #1
Release Date: April 2014
Grade: B

Visit Kristen Ashley here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Review: Scruffians! by Hal Duncan

---I was born under a bad signpost, says Foxtrot Wainscot Hottentot III.
---I was stolen from bypasses, says Puckerscruff of the urchins.
---I was raised by werewolves, says Flashjack of the hellions.
---I ran away from the circus, says Joey Picaroni.
---I bought me soul from the Devil, says Nuffinmuch O'Anyfink, king of the tinkers.
---I was a teenage virgin mum, says Bananastasia Roamin-hopper, rightful Princess of Russia (allegedly).
---I took the King's shilling and died in all his wars, says Ratatat Dan. But not for the likes of you.
---You see, says Gob, a Scruffian's story needs a hook.
I fell in love with Hal Duncan's collection, Scruffians! as soon as I read the first story. How can that be? Well, as Gob would say, that one story is the hook. It got me to read the whole book in one sitting.

Hal Duncan's work can be dense, non-linear, and highly imaginative along with extraordinary writing skills that always impress. With the addition of his homoerotic fantasy-based Scruffian stories, mythology-based fairies and pirates, and other fun adventures found in this short story speculative fiction collection, readers get a well-defined sense of what makes Duncan such a fine story teller and weaver of dreams.

The Scruffian pieces are connected primarily through world-building and recurring characters. In "How a Scruffian Starts Their Story," "How a Scruffian Gets Their Name," "Scruffian's Stamp," "An Amfabetcha of Scruffian's Names," and "Jack Scalliwag," Duncan weaves fantasy stories of lost boys and girls, some very young and others older, that after having been used or abused through the ages, gained semi-immortality and banded together in order to survive. Duncan's Scruffians are outsiders, rough and tough fighters and survivors who stand up for one another, and others, when nobody else will. In "Behold of the Eye," a recurring character, this time appearing as a fairy, inhabits the eye of a boy and experiences from the inside the changes, anguish, and terrors that take place as the boy grows into a teenager and realizes he is gay. This is a coming of age fairy tale like you've never read before.
Orphans, foundlings, latchkey kids.
Urchins, changelings, live-by-wits.
Rascals, scallywags, ruffians, scamps.
Scoundrels, hellions, Scruffians STAMP!
The characters alone make these stories stand out, but what really captures the attention is how Duncan mixes fantasy with raw reality and urban contemporary language. It is a rough reality that he depicts in the guise of fantasy. However, Duncan's boys, sodomites or not, are sexy, sly, and playful, and his stories are also filled with a high dose of fun, as well as homoeroticism, adventure, quests, and strong underlying emotions.

The collection slowly shifts to other speculative fiction pieces such as "The Disappearance of James H---," a twist on Peter Pan and Captain Hook, "The Island of the Pirate Gods," a fun, mythology-based piece with two pirates and Oberon's fairies that is filled with adventure and a fantastic narrative, and "The Shoulder of Pelops," another twist, based on the Tantalus and Pelops myth. There are also three unique pieces, the art-focused "The Bizarre Cubiques," the western-style "Sons of the Law," and my favorites in this group "The Angel of Gamblers," a story that I loved for its excellent pacing and suspenseful narrative about a gambler who sells his soul to an angel and then attempts to gain it back.

I previously read three stories included in this collection, all chosen as favorites in years past. "Sic Him, Hellhound! Kill! Kill!" I absolutely loved for its unique, fun, first person narrative from the hellhound's perspective, but for me, "Oneirica" and "The Nature of the Fiend" stand out for the distinct ways in which Duncan takes characters and readers from one plane to another. In "Oneirica," Duncan lulls the reader by using smooth dreamlike sequences that begin when a man looks into a grain of sand and travels through the ages experiencing the evolution of man and civilizations, while in "The Nature of the Fiend," the changes are surprising, abrupt, and a shock to the reader, as time evolves and a boy's recurring losses and cumulative grief bring out the darkness in him. This is a simplistic way of summarizing these stories because with their complexity and beauty they both garner strong reactions from the reader and are worth a reread or two.

To date, Scruffians! is one of my favorite single-author collections of the year -- I've already read it twice. It is the first compilation of Hal Duncan's short works and includes 15 previously published speculative fiction pieces. They are all of the upmost quality, bearing the distinct Duncan signature: a mixture of mythology and urban contemporary, fantasy and raw reality, as well as beautiful, often complex and thought-provoking plotting and characters. I find that Duncan's short works leave me gasping with excitement or reaching for better understanding, and always wanting more. Highly recommended.

Category: LGBT/Speculative Fiction
Series: None - Single Author Collection
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/April 19, 2014
Grade: A

ADDITIONAL INFO: Lethe Press is offering a Deluxe edition of Duncan's first short story collection. Hardcover, with dust jacket, full color art and text on heavy stock paper. Scandalous cover, too. This edition has an original story not to be found in the regular edition as well as over 40 photographs that complement the homoerotic tales. Click here for more details.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

April 2014 Reads: Recap, Favorites + Minis

April was a cold, rainy month. Spring arrived, but winter decided to stick around (it snowed in April) and we are still experiencing some very cool days around this part of the country. I can't wait for some sun and heat! Anyway, April was also a very busy month around my house. Family came to visit from Seattle, my husband is still at home recuperating, and I've worked some late nights! My reading and blogging schedule has gone out the window, but at this point I'm hopeful because my end-of-month and beginning of May reading has been great so far!

Total April reads: 6
 Contemporary Romance: 2
 Paranormal Romance: 1
 Science Fiction: 1
 Fantasy: 1
 LGBT: 1 (western historical romance)
 DNF: 1

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison: A-*
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison is, without a doubt, my favorite read of the month. It is also on my list of favorite reads for the year, and Maia is on my list of memorable characters. If you like fantasy, court intrigue, and a hopeful, if intricate, plot with a fantastic main character, I urge you to read The Goblin Emperor. It's a refreshing change from all the dark fantasy reads around.

A Shiny Tin Star by Jon Wilson (Review to come)
I received an ARC of A Shiny Tin Star by Jon Wilson from Lethe Press in April. The publisher is due to re-release the book in July 2014. I know it's early, but I began to skim the first few pages, ended up reading the whole book, and actually began rereading it as soon as I finished it. My review will be posted closer to release, but just so you all know, this gay western historical romance is also a favorite read for the month of April.

Heaven's Queen (Paradox #3) by Rachel Bach: B
This is the final installment of Bach's Paradox science fiction trilogy. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed riding that roller coaster through space with Deviana Morris and the rest of the crew. This is a solid, entertaining, and well written science fiction trilogy with a memorable central character and a romance. Some readers have called this trilogy "UF in space," and have compared Devi to Kate Daniels. I don't know if I would go that far, but Devi does have a fabulous voice, and the action is fantastic. The romance is a slow build that becomes central in this book and the story as a whole ends well. I recommend the whole trilogy -- the first and second books having the most action, conflict, and filled with mystery, and this one a slower pace, romance, and all the answers.

Sex and The Single Fireman by Jennifer Bernard: B
Sabina and Roman are a great couple that made Sex and The Single Fireman a solid, enjoyable, and entertaining contemporary romance read. What's not to like about a gorgeous Italian fireman who just happens to be a great single father, a fantastic cook, and who has a touch of the alpha male, and although brooding, knows how to turn a woman's knees to water? Sabina, a firefighter herself, is no slouch. She's a strong character with a mysterious past, sexy and hot for her man, but not a pushover.

The story takes place in a station where hot firefighters have been the subject of unwelcome media attention due to a curse. This curse is a bit of a weak storyline, but the setting and circumstances make for a fun moments, cute situations, and great dialog. Bernard weaves in 9/11 and the impact it had on firefighters all over the country. A New York City native, Roman was personally affected by the terrible events, however, Bernard doesn't overwhelm the romance with that situation. On the contrary, she handles it beautifully. I picked up this book after reading Sonia's TBR review, and am so glad I did. I agree with her, Sex and The Single Fireman is not perfect, but it is an enjoyable contemporary romance. I look forward to reading more by Jennifer Bernard.
A Light at Winter's End (Cedar Springs #3) by Julia London: B-
My TBR review of the month, A Light at Winter's End was a very good read with two unlikable characters (the sisters), facing some seriously bad circumstances and dealing with deeply rooted family dysfunction. A combination women's fiction and romance, this book made think hard about how detrimental labeling children's personalities can be: the "smart," the "pretty," the "lazy" child -- how this labeling may or does affect how those same children see themselves (often through a narrow lens) throughout their lives.

Shadow Spell (Cousins O'Dwyer #2) by Nora Roberts: C
I wish I could say that I loved this book by Roberts. I am a long-time fan after all. With Shadow Spell, Nora Roberts continues the story of the cousins O'Dwyer by weaving the romance that develops between Connor O'Dwyer and childhood family friend Mara Quinn, and the cousins' efforts to defeat evil Cabhan who, although weakened, regains enough strength to attack both Connor and Mara. My favorite parts of this book are the flashbacks that take the reader back to the story of the original three and the connection that is established between Connor and Emmon through dreams. The dream connection is a new element added to this trilogy, but the rest is pretty much more of the same found in the first book: the three couples working together to defeat Cabhan by getting together, cooking, discussing how to do it, with a few weak attacks taking place throughout the story and a big one at the end. Additionally, how Cabhan is defeated at the end is foreshadowed in this book -- that was disappointing.

I love when the friends to lovers device is used to build a romance. Unfortunately although we're "told" that Connor always felt that Mara was the right woman for him, I didn't feel that at all. Instead, it felt as if they were very good, caring friends even as a kiss leads to more. It all comes about abruptly and moves from there with few personal conflicts coming from Mara affecting the relationship. In other words, the romance between Connor and Mara lacks spark and heat -- passion.  I'm hoping that the last romance will add a bit of punch, and/or passion to this passionless trilogy, but at this point I doubt that will be the case. So far this is a predictable series with comfortable "chicken soup" moments, and likable characters, but for me this particular book has nothing that raises it above an average read.
DNF: Did not finish (not for me):
My one DNF of the month was The Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James, a book I've had in my TBR for years! I read as far as page 143 or 48% in my Kindle, and couldn't continue. I know the reason behind that is because I could not stand Jason, the male protagonist. Taylor, the female protagonist, says of him at one point, quote "The man was a total penis." And he was. . . really full of himself. Additionally, I didn't enjoy the back and forth that went on and on between the characters, and Taylor was not exactly endearing either. Oh, well. Although this book was not for me, I'm glad that I finally attempted to read it, and I'm also quite happy that my first book by favorite author Julie James was Something About You followed by my favorite to date, A Lot Like Love!


In April I read few books, but I enjoyed the majority of them. I also reread my two favorites of the month: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison and A Shiny Tin Star by Jon Wilson.  They are very different reads, yet they have something important in common: memorable protagonists who continue to visit or stay with the reader after the story is done.

How about you? How was your April reading? Did you find a fantastic book or a memorable character? 

Just Read:  The Will by Kristen Ashley