Showing posts with label ARC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ARC. Show all posts

Monday, May 13, 2013

Review: Hearts of Shadow (Deadglass Novel #2) by Kira Brady

Kira Brady created a memorable world-building for her Deadglass trilogy in the first book, Hearts of Darkness. I particularly enjoyed the fusion of paranormal romance and urban fantasy that I found there. In Hearts of Shadow, Brady maintains a fine balance between the gritty atmosphere and paranormal elements while focusing on the romance.

Grace Mercer walks on the dark side. She is an angry, traumatized woman who lost much in her life and is driven by that anger and loss. At age sixteen, Grace became Sven Norgard's blood slave and fell in love with the mad Dreki regent. It is clear that although Sven was a manipulative, lying monster, Grace, blinded by infatuation and thoughts of revenge initially became his willing blood slave and bed partner. Later when he abused that bond, she came to resent and hate both him and the bond, cementing Grace's hatred of the Dreki.

Grace needs to continue her work on the streets, keeping humans safe by wraiths by fighting and vanishing wraiths. Leif Asgard may say he's different and not at all like his brother Sven, but along with the regent's crown he also inherited the ring that keeps Grace a blood slave, now tied to him. She's not about to trust another Dreki. That lack of trust becomes a problem when she gets to know Leif and the attraction grows.

Indeed, Leif is not happy about inheriting the position, the blood slaves, or the war that looms in the horizon between humans, the Kivati and the Dreki caused by the Unraveling triggered by his power-mad brother. Now, wraiths, ghosts, and a power-hungry demi-god from the other side of the Gates roam the streets of Seattle possessing humans and causing further havoc. Leif is a scientist and prefers working in his lab developing new gasworks that will eventually light up Seattle. But between the attraction for Grace that drives him to keep her safe and the responsibilities that keep piling up, Leif has no choice but to take the much detested crown.

I didn't have a problem picking up the story where it left off after the first installment, or remembering the already established world. Additionally, Bradley's characters made enough of an impact during the first book that I remembered details about both Grace and Leif, making Hearts of Shadow a quick, easy read. I liked both Grace and Leif. Grace is a kickass human heroine with the training and ability to fight humans possessed by supernatural beings. This "acquired power" is well explained by Brady, it doesn't just happen. Grace is secretive but when revealed she is a determined and willful woman with a soft spot for the downtrodden and a weakness for the gorgeous Leif. She fights the attraction relentlessly and is blind to the differences between Leif and his brother Sven. As a matter of fact, Grace dwells on Sven a bit too long if you ask me! But eventually the romance between Grace and Leif works rather well...

Leif develops an insta-sexual attraction for Grace that begins through the blood slave bond, turns into curiosity about the woman and moves from there. He's younger than his brother and has not yet been affected by the darkness that the beautiful but soulless dragon-shifters are known for, so he's gentler and hopeful. But, Leif is contradictory in his actions (he ruminates about this throughout the story) -- one moment acting the gentleman, and the other playing the overbearing male. Grace pushes him to the edge, though. This back and forth play between the couple makes for good tension, and eventually some hot coupling scenes.

Of course the book is not just about Leif and Grace's conflicted romance. There is a whole complex story arc that began in the first book and ended there with the Unraveling but continues in this installment with the rise of a new evil demi-god. The Kivati and humans are involved in the fight as are the Dreki. Secondary characters abound, but the most notable are the Kivati, of which the Raven Lord Corbette and his intended Lucia make the most impact because of decisions they make that will affect the last book of the trilogy. Although I must admit that I really like Lord Kai.

There are many ins and outs in this story that I enjoyed, and others that were just a bit confusing. The climactic scene in particular is somewhat confusing or muddled. I'm not exactly sure what happened to Grace. I re-read that scene a few times and never came away with a clear answer. Additionally, I had questions about abusive behavior toward women when I reviewed Hearts of Darkness, and Grace's character was my main concern. Although it is made very clear that a blood slave can only become one by his/her own will, the past sexual relationship between Grace and Sven combined with the fact that it was manipulative in nature implies non-consent. In the present relationship, however, Brady clearly goes to great lengths to ensure that Grace maintains the upper hand when making decisions in regards to sexual matters.

Hearts of Shadow is a quick read full of action, paranormal details, and that gritty urban fantasy atmosphere I like so much. The romance is conflicted with a push and pull that creates both friction and sexual tension. Brady follows through quite well with the overall story arc, although I truly found the climactic scene confusing. Corbette and Lucia are not favorite characters so far, but the Kivati as a whole are fascinating to me. I'm hoping that the characters will grow on me as they are revealed in the last book of this trilogy.

Category: Paranormal Romance
Series: Deadglass Novel
Publisher/Release Date: Zebra/May 7, 2013
Source: Kensington Books
Grade: B-

Visit Kira Brady here.

BONUS NOVELLA: Hearts of Fire
There is a bonus novella included with the mass market paperback copy, Hearts of Fire. In this prequel novella, Kira Brady goes back to the time when Norgard first settled in Seattle with a colony of dragon-shifters and Corbette's father was still the Kivati Chief. This is a short but very informative and emotional novella covering the romance between Corbette's sister, Alice, and newly arrived Dreki, Lord Brand. This little romance is quick with a passionate love at first sight developing on both sides, but Alice is an strong female character and Brand a lovely, lovely male, particularly for a dragon-shifter. Additionally, this novella sets the stage quite well for the series and for the next book. Grade C+
Hearts of Darkness, #1
Hearts of Shadow, #2
Hearts of Fire, #0.5

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Review: Changing Lanes by Kathleen Long

Abby Halladay has the perfect life. Or, rather, she will…as long as everything goes exactly according to plan. Abby never leaves anything to chance—not her job as a syndicated columnist, not her engagement to her fiancé, Fred, and certainly not her impending wedding in Paris (New Jersey, that is).

Unfortunately for Abby, even the best-laid plans often go awry—like when Fred runs away to Paris (France, that is), her column is canned, and her dream home is diagnosed with termites. Forced to move back in with her parents and drive her dad’s cab, Abby’s perfect life has now officially become the perfect disaster.

Then a funny thing happens. Slowly but surely, Abby begins letting go of her dreams of perfection. As she does, the messy, imperfect life she thought she never wanted starts to feel exactly like the one she needs.

Poignant and heartfelt, Changing Lanes celebrates the unexpected joys of everyday life—and the enduring promise of second chances.
In the book summary for Changing Lanes by Kathleen Long the female protagonist is presented as a woman whose 'perfect life' unravels all at once so that she must shift gears to accommodate all the changes that come along with the unraveling. The words perfect, imperfect, and planned life are prominently used in the summary. I wanted to know what this woman believed a perfect life would entail. Additionally, a few questions immediately popped up: what drives a person, in this case Abby, to plan the details of her life to the point that she doesn't know the people around her (her fiancé) let alone herself, so than when life's little surprises come along they indeed become disasters?

Abby Halladay is the type of woman who plans her life in minute detail and believes that being thought of as "predictable" is a compliment. Her life goes into a tailspin when she loses her job as a syndicated advice columnist and finds out that the beautiful Victorian home she's supposed to move into is riddled with termites. But as she arrives at her parents home in Paris, New Jersey where she'll be staying temporarily, Abby's life goes from disaster to catastrophe when her fiancé Fred calls to say that he is in Paris... France! The reason he gives for leaving two months before their planned wedding? He is. . . "bored!" This humiliating moment is magnified as it is witnessed by high school friend and next door neighbor, Mick O'Malley. Abby hasn't seen Mick since he left town years ago in disgrace right after a graduation party. Now Mick is back in town to care for his mother Detta.

Abby's family offers temporary solutions to her problems. A place to stay, a job driving her retired father's taxi cab, and 24 hours after getting dumped by Fred her mother begins inviting men to dinner so Abby can "move on with her life!" Abby is in denial, she doesn't want to drive a cab, nor does she want to move on. . . she wants to talk to Fred to find out if he will be back before the wedding! What? Why is she not angry with Fred? But Abby's family doesn't talk things out as a rule. It's a loving family that always kept masks firmly in place. Abby recognizes this, but she herself is very much a part of the family.

I couldn't understand certain aspects of Abby's rather frustrating personality. She plans everything and for her it is all about doing what is right, being nice and polite, and making sure everything falls into place in her life. Image is key to Abby. Even as the 30 year-old woman who returns to Paris, she won't take responsibility for a mistake if it damages her image. Kathleen Long takes her time with Abby's character growth so that even as this character takes steps forward, moments of doubts and lack of confidence return. Questions: Why does Abby refuse to see Fred's actions for what they are? Why is she still contemplating marriage when Fred returns from France?

It takes a village to help Abby change lanes. First, an encounter with Mick's mother Detta changes her perspective after they share a magical moment. Later, her family -- mother, father, sister, and grandmother -- all contribute to Abby's decisions about her future. As Abby begins to see her family members anew, she also begins to appreciate life's moments and discovers what she wants out of life. This is the bulk of the story with Abby driving the cab, helping her family and others around town see their own happy moments, and using Mick as a sounding board when needed. Question: Why does Abby go around town fixing other people's lives so easily and naturally when she can't figure out how to fix her own?

You wonder if there is a romance in this story? Well, yes and no. Mick and Abby reveal pieces of their lives to each other, but they leave much unsaid in between the lines. Their conversations are always left unfinished or end abruptly with either one or the other not saying what they really have to say. So, although there is a romance and a happy ending, it is not a satisfying one where the characters' feelings for each other are explored in-depth. On the other hand, although as a character Fred has little page time, his presence is felt from beginning to end and drives much of what happens in Abby's life. This off-page secondary character is well done. Question: Why doesn't Abby show her anger when she confronts Fred?

Despite the fact that Kathleen Long introduces some pretty heavy subjects as the core to Changing Lanes, she approaches this women's fiction story with humor and a light touch. It is a quick read and not heavy at all. As a matter of fact, in my opinion, the heavy subjects are treated with too light a touch and not enough substance. Were my questions answered? Some were, others were left unanswered.

Category: Women's Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Amazon Publishing/May 14, 2013
Source: ARC for review
Grade: C

Visit Kathleen Long here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review: Death by Silver by Melissa Scott & Amy Griswold

Death by Silver by Melissa Scott & Amy Griswold is a fantasy mystery with an unquestionable steampunk flavor that does not overwhelm the world-building, yet offers enough magic and subtle details to give this story set in a recognizable Victorian London, a very distinct atmosphere. There is quite a lot to enjoy in this well executed fantasy mystery with its delicious twists and turns, red herrings, murders by magic, personal struggles and a question of the heart.

The story begins when metaphysician Ned Mathey's newly established practice is hired by well-known banker Mr. Edgar Nevett to cleanse his family silver of ancient or modern curses. Ned hesitates as soon as he realizes that Mr. Nevett is Victor Nevett's father, the prefect who bullied him and others throughout his years in boarding school. Nevertheless, Ned accepts the commission and finds that the silver is clean of enchantment.

Unfortunately a few days later, Mr. Edgar Nevett is found in his study murdered by an enchanted silver candlestick. Soon thereafter, Victor Nevett himself offers to hire Ned to solve the murder. Ned accepts reluctantly, after all business is business and his name and reputation as a metaphysician must be cleared. With the aid of his assistant Ms. Frost, Ned and closest school friend and sometimes lover Private Detective Julian Lynes rush to solve a murder, a burglary, and the mystery of the enchanted silver candlestick. Ned and Julian face danger, old and new foes, struggle to come to terms with painful past experiences and with feelings they may or may not have for each other.

The absorbing mystery drives the plot in Death by Silver as Scott and Griswold keep clues and details coming at a fast pace with well-executed red herrings, twists and turns. The mystery is well integrated with the world-building and the relationship struggle taking place between the characters. Most importantly, none of the characters in Death by Silver, including the villain(s), fall into the black and white category. Instead, they all display strengths and human frailty. Scott and Griswold effectively explore gray areas and the humanity of their characters through Ned and Julian's perspectives.

The fantasy details are organically incorporated into the world-building throughout the story and make sense from the beginning. For example, details such as a recognizable London as the setting with true to time Victorian morals, behavior, and lifestyle, are subtly blended in with magic, enchantments, automata-building salesmen, alternate institutions, laws, some rather interesting flora, and religious beliefs.

However, the hearts of this story are our main characters and narrators Ned and Julian. The story is narrated from their alternating first point of view perspectives. As a result, Scott and Griswold give the reader an in-depth look into both characters that include personal history, intimate thoughts, fears, and feelings. They also give an excellent view of secondary characters and different perspectives of the unfolding plot. The shifts in point of view flow well as do the intermittent flashbacks employed to show the characters' pertinent past experiences with bullies at boarding school.

The extent of the bullying episodes is revealed slowly and blends in with the mystery, as Julian and Ned confront personal fears and consequences of those boarding school days while working closely with the man who bullied them. Also slowly integrated are our main characters' depth of feelings and insecurities as they circle each other and wonder where their relationship stands. This is not the main focus of the story, still, I love Ned and Julian's "friends and lovers to romance-in-the-making" conflict.

I loved everything about Death by Silver -- the world-building and excellent atmosphere, the characters and their personal struggles, the twisty well-paced plot and the delicious romantic relationship-building elements, all the way to the great ending. I just hope that Scott and Griswold are planning a series because these characters and world are begging for one! Highly enjoyed and recommended.

Category: Fantasy/Mystery - LGBT
Publisher: Lethe Press (ARC for review)
Upcoming Release Date: May 25, 2013
Grade: A

Visit Melissa Scott at Goodreads, and Amy Griswold at her LJ page or Goodreads.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Review: My Dear Watson by L.A. Fields

My Dear Watson by L.A. Fields
Cover Art: Ben Baldwin
I treasure my volumes of Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, don't you? Needless to say, I was thrilled when I received a copy of My Dear Watson by L.A. Fields for review. This story, however, is not focused on details about the mysteries. Instead, my dear friends, Fields queers the relationship between Holmes and Watson as it evolved throughout the years they worked together as detecting partners.

Fields approaches the queering of these favorite characters from a different and creative angle by utilizing the second Mrs. Watson as narrator. Mrs. Watson's somewhat acerbic narrative voice rivals that of Holmes himself, as do her well-honed powers of observation and deduction -- particularly when it comes to the relationship that existed and still exists between her dear, sweet Dr. Watson and the odious Mr. Holmes. It is most telling that as she begins her narrative, Mrs. Watson casually mentions her acceptance of her husband's flexible sexuality and relationship with the well-known detective, yet when referring to Sherlock Holmes in her journal, she uses the three dreaded capital H's: He, Him and Holmes. What does that tell you?
I can smell a hint of salt from here, so my dear Watson must be overwhelmed with the scent, since he has his face buried in Holmes's shoulder.

They are embracing each other tightly, blissfully, as if they've been a lifetime away from one another. I don't believe I am jealous --- I'm a modern woman, and I knew of my husband's flexible nature before I married him --- but I am rather destabilized by this scene. They just look so desperately happy to be holding one another. It's touching, but it touches one awfully hard.
You see, although Mrs. Watson doesn't openly oppose Watson's relationship with Holmes and says she understands her husband's obsession with the great detective, she believes in her heart that this only came to pass because of Holmes' manipulative nature. Mrs. Watson narrates Holmes' courtship and seduction of an initially unaware, naive Watson who then becomes enthralled and devoted to Him throughout the years. The relationship between the two men fluctuates between happy and deep dark times until their time together at 221B Baker Street ends. The first separation takes place when deeply hurt and disappointed in Holmes, Watson marries his first wife Mary only to be seduced away from her within a short period of time. Mrs. Watson shows sympathy for Mary but understands her sweet Watson, after all "He is rather infectious, Sherlock Holmes. A dark and glamorous thing. "

The story is divided into sections. In the present time Mrs. Watson and her household receive Holmes during his first visit to Watson's home. In other more abundant sections, Fields employs a rather interesting flashback format by having Mrs. Watson narrate the complete history of the men's relationship as it unfolds while they solve mysteries, until the timelines merge in the present. This presentation works rather splendidly as Fields concentrates mainly on the history of the relationship with spare entries dedicated to the present.

And speaking of spare, each chapter/mystery case revealing the building intimate relationship between Holmes and Watson is also short in length. Usually short chapters make for a quick read, however that was not the case in this instance. The relationship as it unfolds between Holmes and Watson and Fields' approach to this story is quite creative. However, while Mrs. Watson's narrative gives the reader an immediate sense of her perceptions and inner emotions, there are sections where it simultaneously creates a certain distance between the reader and the other main characters -- a disconnect -- that slows down the pace.

Fields' characterization of Holmes is notable in that it reveals the man behind the legend by overtly magnifying his weaknesses while subtly depicting strengths. Watson's characterization is not as well defined as that of Holmes, but the portrayal is just as subtle. Fields portrays Watson as an extremely sympathetic character, but look under the surface and you'll find that this depiction is deceiving. On the other hand, our narrator Mrs. Watson becomes as fascinating a character as Mr. Holmes. A contradiction, she's a woman to be reckoned with -- astute and intuitive, possessive and giving, protective, strong and vulnerable -- and I do believe that in the end Mrs. Watson has the last word!

To summarize, I enjoyed My Dear Watson, particularly L.A. Fields' subtle execution and creative approach to building of a complex queer romantic relationship riddled with conflict, jealousy, resentment, love, tenderness, and understanding -- one that involves two of my favorite fictional characters of all time. A solid read.

Category: LGBT/Queer Historical Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/April 4, 2013
Source: ARC Lethe Press
Grade: B

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Red-Inked Retablos by Rigoberto González

Red-Inked Retablos by Rigoberto González
Cover Illustration:
The Song that Traverses a Tenebrous World
(oil on wood 10" x 16", 2008)
by Tino Rodriguez
In the Mexican Catholic tradition, retablos are ornamental structures made of carved wood framing an oil painting of a devotional image, usually a patron saint. Acclaimed author and essayist Rigoberto González commemorates the passion and the pain of these carvings in his new volume Red-Inked Retablos, a moving memoir of human experience and thought.

This frank new collection masterfully combines accounts from González’s personal life with reflections that offer an in-depth meditation of the develop of Chicano literature, gay Chicano literature and the responsibilities that being a Gay Chicana/o writer carries.

Widely acclaimed for giving a voice to the Chicano GLBT community, González’s writing spans a wide range of genres: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and bilingual books for children and young adults. Introduced by Women’s Studies professor Maythee Rojas, Retablos collects thirteen pieces that together provide a narrative of González’s life from his childhood through his career as a writer, critic, and mentor.

In Red-Inked Retablos, González continues to expand his oeuvre on mariposa (literally, “butterfly”) memory, a genre he pioneered in which Chicano/a writers openly address [non-traditional] sexuality. For González, mariposa memory is important testimony not only about reconfiguring personal identity in relation to masculinity, culture, and religion. It’s also about highlighting values like education, shaping a sex-positive discourse, and exercising agency through a public voice. It’s about making the queer experience a Chicano experience and the Chicano experience a queer one.
The thirteen essays included in this collection are presented as retablos that frame different periods of González's life and where his passions and beliefs are conveyed through prose. Red-Inked Retablos by Rigoberto González is a creative nonfiction piece that draws the reader with its honest narrative style.

In his introduction, González states: "My purpose is not to claim Truth, but to provide perspective -- mine -- and invite a response to that flawed, imperfect point of view. In the end, that is what nonfiction writing, like a cherished retablo, does best: inspire contemplation." Throughout the book, González struggles with, and confronts that imperfect point of view and flawed memory, and through his own observations and experiences invites the reader to his/her own contemplations.

González begins the first section of the collection, "Self-Portraits," with five essays based on intimate family and personal details that formed the man, organically moving on to those that formed the poet and writer in "Studies," and in "Speeches" we meet the defined gay Chicano activist and educator. The excellent conclusion to the collection, "Trinity," is an homage to the mariposa memory genre -- its past, present, and hopeful future. This section only contains one essay, "Toward a Mariposa Consciousness," divided into three parts, Butterfly (A)jar, Mariposa Lit, and Mariposa Prayer.

As a Latina who grew up as part of an immigrant family, I found myself connecting with Mr. González's experiences and thinking deeply about the "bi" of all things -- the duality that comes along with 'the bilingual and bicultural' for a young immigrant -- and the sense of not belonging here nor there. The long search for a place to belong to a place where the self feels grounded and not as if it were the eternal foreigner or passing tourist standing on the outside looking in, trying but unable to find the heart of a place instead of the superficiality that feeds a tourist's disorientation. Searching for understanding and connection through study.

It was easy then for me to understand and/or connect González's immigrant experience (and my own search for personal identity) with his passion for expanding the mariposa memory, as well as his passion for promoting education and responsibility among the Chicano/Latino and LGBTQ Latina/o communities of writers and educators to continue to use their voices. "For González, mariposa memory is important testimony not only about reconfiguring personal identity in relation to masculinity, culture, and religion. It’s also about highlighting values like education, shaping a sex-positive discourse, and exercising agency through a public voice. It’s about making the queer experience a Chicano experience and the Chicano experience a queer one."

There is little else that can be said about Red-Inked Retablos and Rigoberto González that hasn't already been said in the extremely accurate and detailed summary quoted above. I can tell you that in his collection of retablos, González's journey is written in such an honest, 'tell-it-like-it-is' style that it inspires the reader to both action and contemplation.

Category: Literary/Creative Nonfiction
Series: Camino del Sol: A Latina and Latino Literary Series
Publisher/Release Date: UA Press, March 14, 2013
Source: ARC from UA Press
Grade: B+

Visit Rigoberto González here.
To give you an idea of a few books within the mariposa memory genre category so passionately promoted by Rigoberto González, you can find my reviews and/or impressions of 4 books listed in his essay "Toward a Mariposa Consciousness", Part II. Mariposa Lit. (Click on titles to read posts)

From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction ed. by Charles Rice-González & Charlie Vázquez
Chulito by Charles Rice-González
We the Animals by Justin Torres
Slow Lightning by Edward C. Corral

Sunday, March 3, 2013

In Search Of and Others by Will Ludwigsen

In Search Of and Others

Do you think of romance when you hear the term speculative fiction? There is a kind of romance that goes along with reading speculative fiction. It's true. I believe it happens because readers, or fans like me, fall a little in love with the what ifs and why nots, the unexplained, the unexpected, the twists and turns that sometimes push edginess into the weird. The wonder.

The title of Will Ludwigsen's collection, In Search Of and Others is a take on the 1970's television program In Search Of hosted by Leonard Nimoy. That program specialized in debunking myths and legends, in other words as Ludwigsen says in his foreword, they in fact specialized in killing the imagination. However, this collection is his answer or the antithesis of all that: "What am I "in search of"? I'm looking for any signs of imagination in the universe, and if I don't find any, I'm willing to create some of my own. The truth that paralyzed me twenty years ago has come full circle: you don't find magic but make it." When I began reading this collection of 15 stories, I went in my own "search" for magic, the unexpected, those what ifs and why nots that keep the romance of speculative fiction alive and kicking for me.

In his first story "In Search Of," Ludwigsen creates his own version of the television program where he goes from giving general answers to well known events shifting to personal, more intimate moments and building tension until it ends with an edge. The collection continues with "Endless Encore," a fun story with a somewhat predictable outcome, followed by the brilliantly executed "The Speed of Dreams" which has one of those stop-on-your-track endings, and "Nora's Thing" with its excellent plot and beautifully organic finish. As I kept reading, I found that with stories about moving old houses, rednecks, canny realtors, and clowns, this collection just kept getting better and more consistent as it moved along.

At the back of this collection there is a short section where Ludwigsen explains what inspired him to write each story. In his witty explanation as to what inspired him to write "Universicule," he uses the phrase "coaxing meaning out of meaninglessness" while referring to language. This phrase brought to mind how we, as readers, bring our own baggage and imagination to the table, and sometimes "coax meaning" out of stories that may in fact have an entirely different meaning or no meaning at all to someone else. This is true of all stories, but then again that is the beauty of reading. In this case, what I found in Ludwigsen's stories seemed to touch on the personal.

For example, in reading "The Ghost Factory" I made an immediate connection between the eerily fictional circumstances presented by Ludwigsen and real life past job experiences, giving this piece a significance that goes beyond the obvious. This is a story set in a mental health institution narrated by an unethical psychologist. The narrator shifts from events that took place in the 1990's to his present position as the only resident at said institution. The one passage that made this story gel and snap for me is: "The whole world's a ghost factory. We all fade like the paint on these buildings, sometimes from too much sun, sometimes from too little. We blur and blend to the murky shades left behind when something vivid dies." At times the atmosphere in this story is oppressive and immediate which Ludwigsen juxtapositions quite effectively against the coldness of his disconnected characters, and at other times the sense of disconnect and distance is all encompassing. This excellent story is precise in its execution.

"Universicule" on the other hand provided me with quite a few chuckles regardless of the ending and great passages interspersed throughout the text. "[...] but here in person, smelling this loamy garden of a book --- God, you could plant seeds inside it and they'd grow trees of glass with absinthe fruit." In this story, a bibliophile writes letters to Charlotte to keep her informed of his progress as he obsessively studies and attempts to decipher the contents of a rare book. It builds to an unexpected ending, but in reality this story is an elaborate farce. "They miss the fluidity of language qua language." Hah! Written in letter form, Universicule is creative in writing style, development and content. I absolutely loved it.

"She Shells" is a great example of the diversity of stories found in this collection because this story borders on the creepy-horror category. It freaked me out! Again, this could be interpreted as a personal reaction since I suffer from deep-water phobia. I always blame my personal fear on the movie "Jaws" and that awfully effective music (not true, but it sounds better than the truth). In this story, Ludwigsen uses a seemingly simple narrative style and a very short story format heavy in atmosphere to great effect.

And the excellent "We Were Wonder Scouts" brought back memories of days when as a girl my imagination was the best entertainment and I believed in such places as Ludwigsen's fictional Thuria, and of one particular moment when cold reality interfered. But, there is always a place for Wonder Scouts like Harald; boys and girls who are willing to explore and look for the unexplained and the unexpected, the what ifs and why nots. I love that even after reality creeps into this story, Ludwigsen imbues it with enough imagination that the magic lingers to the end.

If you haven't figured it out yet, then I will tell you. In reading In Search Of and Other Stories, I found that Mr. Ludwigsen was quite successful in "making his magic." He took me along for a ride of the imagination and I loved every minute of it. Highly recommended.

Category: Speculative Fiction
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/March 1, 2013
Source: ARC Lethe Press
Grade: A-


About the Author: Will Ludwigsen's fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Asimov's Science Fiction, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, and many other magazines. His first collection of short fiction, Cthulhu Fhtagn, Baby! and Other Cosmic Insolence, appeared in 2007. A 2011 MFA graduate from the University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast program in popular fiction, he teaches creative writing at the University of North Florida. He resides in Jacksonvile, Florida, with writer Aimee Payne.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Poetry: Natural Takeover of Small Things by Tim Z. Hernandez

Natural Takeover of Small Things
by Tim Z. Hernandez
Natural Takeover of Small Things by Tim Z. Hernandez is an intimate portrayal of life in California's San Joaquin Valley with all its beauty and exposed flaws. Mr. Hernandez's poetry is personal and while some poems are rendered with deeply moving, lyrical and rhythmic prose, others are rather straight forward, raw and cutting in nature. There is no real place for nostalgia in Hernandez's memories of "home;" instead there is realism filled with love and care in the shaping of moments, places and people who live and die in the valley -- from campesinos who work the land to those who become collateral damage.

The culture of the West and Western Latino culture permeate Hernandez's poetry. Readers experience the pride embodied by hardworking men and women, as well as substandard living conditions, wasted lives, and personal loses. But there is also taste and smell to savor in Hernandez's poetry: menudo, lengua, the fruits of the valley, the earthy smell of the campo -- the beauty and the tragedy.

This 80 page book is divided into three sections: The Arms in Dead Heat, San Joaquin Sutra, and Natural Takeover of Small Things.

I. Arms in Dead Heat includes memories of life in the San Joaquin Valley beginning with the poem that hooked me, Home:
Fresno is the inexhaustible nerve
in the twitching leg of a dog [...]
II. San Joaquin Sutra describes the beauty and the tragedy;
San Joaquin Valley,
where tired faces water quaint gardens with cut hoses,
bending to bury
the corn next to the sugarcane, reaching
for the avocado on the highest branch,
the melon's elusive fragrance
in all directions toward all the windows in all the houses on all the streets,
sweet invisible nectars drifting
in vastness of big sky
where taunts a kite
broken free
of its

☀ ☀ ☀
San Joaquin -
where sickly bodies of old Texan mothers draped in aprons of sunflower
and waning seasons sit idly by, waiting for some slick cancer to escort
their last days to proms of disintegration, while the souls of
amputated limbs
twitch anxious habits for workloads of the waiting day, [...]
III. Natural Takeover of Small Things is full of reflections on those little details that make up life and bring eventual death, the letting go of one life to begin another. Adios, Fresno says is all . . .
Adios, Fresno
You could use more letters of love.
Here, take these. You owe me nothing, except back pay.
But I won't mention it again.
Trust me when I say I'll have no regrets leaving you. [...]

About the Author: Tim Z. Hernandez is a poet, novelist, and performance artist whose awards include the 2006 American Book Award, the 2010 Premio Aztlan Prize in Fiction, and the James Duval Phelan Award from the San Francisco Foundation. He is the author of a previous book of poetry, Skin Tax, and the novel Breathing in Dust. In 2011 the Poetry Society of America named him one of sixteen New American Poets. His novel of historical fiction, Mañana Means Heaven, based on the life of Bea Franco, will release in Fall of 2013. He holds a BA from Naropa University and an MFA from Bennington College.

Category: Poetry
Series: Camino del Sol: A Latina and Latino Literary Series
ARC provided by Publisher: The University of Arizona Press
Publication Date: February 21, 2013

All poetry quotes taken from Natural Takeover of Small Things by Tim Z. Hernandez. © Tim Z. Hernandez, 2013.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review: Taking the Reins by Kat Murray

Taking the Reins by Kat Murray
Taking the Reins by Kat Murray in a contemporary romance set in a ranch with a feisty heroine and a loner for a hero. This is my kind of romance.

Peyton Muldoon has been working the M-Star all her life. She inherits when her mother dies only to find out that her long absentee siblings Trace and Bea each co-own one-third of the ranch. She must get in touch with them to make big decisions but needs a horse trainer now. Redford Callahan is that man.

Red's reputation with ranch owners as a horse trainer is impeccable and now that he is free to accept a new contract he can pick and choose. His head tells him that accepting a job at the badly mismanaged M-Star is a mistake and shouldn't even consider it, not with the beautiful Peyton as its manager, but when Peyton personally offer him the job, his gut tells him otherwise. Red accepts, but knows he is in for a bumpy ride.

Peyton is one of those feisty heroines with a stubborn streak a mile long. She carries lots of personal baggage caused by neglect from a mother with a reputation too busy sleeping around with anything wearing pants and no knowledge of how to run a ranch, and a loving father who died too soon. To Peyton the ranch and family always come first and her needs come last, if that. She is attracted to Red big time! And slowly that attraction turns to lust and need. But she's not willing to trust or better yet place her reputation and that of the M-Star on the line for whatever it is that is going on between them. The ranch comes first.

Red on the other hand can't help but admire Peyton's hard work and business sense as well as her beauty. He lusts after her, yes, but everything about Peyton seems just perfect to him, even her feisty and sometimes over the top pride and stubbornness. Red falls in love with Peyton. He is a sweet and sexy man memorable for his patience and heartwarming nature -- because believe me, Red had to be patient with Peyton! The thing is that while working the ranch Peyton is the boss who rules (sometimes she's a bit too insecure about this point), but in bed Red and Peyton together are hot! I like how by the end this relationship slowly balances itself out in and out of bed.

Murray's conflict in this romance is mostly internal between the two protagonists, but aided in part by external circumstances. The internal conflict is excellent, creating the necessary push and pull or tension that makes the happy ending worth it at the end of a romance. The external conflict although used as a device to advance the storyline seemed weaker throughout with a predictable resolution.

Murray creates great atmosphere in this story by providing the necessary ranching details that place the reader right there on that barn with the horses. I really enjoyed that aspect of this novel. The secondary characters are also a contributing factor, although they do not take the focus away from the main couple. The ranch hands become more than just characters as do some of the townspeople, and Peyton's siblings Trace and Bea are key figures in this story that stay enough of a mystery in preparation for their own upcoming romances.

Taking the Reins by Kat Murray is a solid contemporary romance read. I enjoyed the pacing and writing style, but most of all the atmosphere and characters that Murray creates in this romance. Now I'm really curious to find out how cowboy Trace really ended up as a single father, and why Bea left behind her career as an actress and is now sneaking out on those midnight rides!

Category: Contemporary Romance/Western
Series: Roped & Wrangled #1
Publisher: Brava/January 1, 2013
Source: Kensington Publishing
Grade: B

Visit Kat Murray here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Jamie Brenner: The Gin Lovers (Books #1 & #2)

Prohibition, flappers, bootleggers, illegal booze, speakeasies, jazz jam sessions, illicit love affairs, fashion, society matrons, politics, and money. . . lots of money. The gilded, repressed world of New York's high society meets and collides with the sophisticated, liberated, and seedy world of flappers, bootleggers, speakeasies and jazz in Jamie Brenner's new soap-opera style serial, The Gin Lovers.

The Gin Lovers (Book #1) 

The Gin Lovers
Book #1
It's 1925 and New York City is mourning the passing of society leader Geraldine Delacorte in a grand funeral attended by upper echelons of society that includes the Vanderbilts and Astors. William is now the head of the family and his wife Charlotte Delacorte better make sure everything goes without a hitch. Unfortunately, his sister Mae shows up at the funeral in full flapper regalia driven by Jake Larkin, a most inappropriate escort whose presence and manner intrigue Charlotte. Not about to let Mae embarrass the family, William kicks her out of the funeral. Mae runs to her lover, Fiona, with whom she is conducting an openly hot and heavy affair.

Charlotte tries her best to play hostess at the funeral, but can't seem to impress her controlling husband or exacting social nemesis, the high and mighty Amelia Astor. Almost as soon as the funeral is over, however, William departs for Boston leaving Charlotte in charge of the troublesome Mae. When Mae sneaks out of the house late at night and Charlotte follows her to the Vesper Club, Charlotte ends up getting a taste of the illicit world of night clubs and speakeasies, and to her surprise not only meets Mae's lover Fiona, but ends up enjoying the evening and Jake Larkin's company more than expected.

I was hooked on all the drama when I was done reading the first episode of this serial! There is Mae's impulsive behavior and passionate love for money grabbing Fiona, which causes havoc for everyone. Fiona making a play for a bigger role at work when her boss Boom Boom asks her to find a new source of liquor after she loses her suppliers, and sexy bootlegger Jake Larkin who has his eye on Charlotte. Charlotte surprises herself by enjoying the underworld nightlife and becoming protective of Mae, while recognizing William's controlling streak and discovering one of his secrets.

The Gin Lovers serves as a good set up for this serial, as well as an introduction to the cast of characters. The atmosphere is excellent in this first installment, particularly in the clubs where Brenner uses fashion, music, and dancing, plus contrasting (liberal vs. conservative) societal attitudes and moral beliefs of the times to take the reader to a different time.

Little White Lies: The Gin Lovers (Book #2) 

Little White Lies:
The Gin Lovers
Book #2
I thought I was hooked with The Gin Lovers. However, Little White Lies is when things really begin to get good! This is where the story as a whole begins to take shape.

Charlotte's world is spinning out of control. She finds out that William has been keeping some darn big secrets from her. Suspicious already, she catches him talking on the side with the high and mighty Amelia Astor, who Charlotte suspects is after her husband, and yes. . . William is off to Boston. Again!

Well, that's fine with her because she takes the time to go off to the clubs with Mae where she can wear her new dress by Coco Chanel and spends the night listening to music at a Harlem speakeasy with sexy Jake where their mutual fascination with each other grows by the minute. But just as Jake and Charlotte's feelings are growing, Amelia and William scheme and plot, and after key revelations from William these two make decisions about Mae's life behind Charlotte's back.

In the meantime, Boom Boom promotes Fiona to "hostess" at the Vesper Club and she accepts. This means more than just keeping men in the club, and Fiona takes it a step further -- maybe a step too far. To top it all off? The D.A. has an agent hoping to get at Boom Boom working undercover inside the nightclub. Fiona wants/needs money and since Mae's inheritance is frozen her passion has turned to icicles. Poor Mae is desperate, heartbroken, and reacts accordingly. Oh, the drama!!

Little White Lies is a great second episode ending in a cliff hanger that left me wanting the next installment immediately! The Mae/Fiona melodrama and the possibilities that seem to be opening up for Charlotte and Jake were high points for me, and curiosity about William's secrets is killing me. Plus, I'm really taken with William and Charlotte's butler, Rafferty! What is it with him? More!

Category: Historical Fiction/Romance
Series: The Gin Lovers
Publisher/Release Date: St. Martin Griffin/October 8, 2012
Format: Digital (ebook)
Episodes 1 & 2 - Grade: B

The Gin Lovers, #1
Little White Lies: The Gin Lovers, #2

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Review: Faun by Trebor Healey

Faun by Trebor Healey
Cover Art & Design: Niki Smith
Categorized as queer urban fantasy, Trebor Healey's latest release, Faun,  comes fully equipped with a confused young adult as main character and a sexually charged atmosphere. In Healey's world, Greek mythology, the Catholic religion, and Mexican culture collide in an urban setting where by focusing on ethnic characters and the Los Angeles Latino culture, his tale gains a distinct West Coast flavor.

Introducing Gilberto Rubio, a boy known for his angelic beauty throughout childhood, unfortunately Gil and his mother Lupita are in for a shock when puberty hits the boy hard. One day Gil looks like an angel and Lupita's hopes that he'll go into the priesthood are still viable, and the next the boy literally oozes testosterone and needs a razor. Lupita is afraid the girls will lust after her son, but more than anything she's afraid of her own son's strange, compelling beauty. Gil on the other hand has other, more pressing worries.

Poor Gil! A razor to shave his face is nothing, what the boy really needs are loads of hot wax for legs that every day look more like hairy shrubs. But that's not all, his feet are changing into hooves, and what the heck is it with the pointy ears, the nubs growing from his forehead, the tail, and the umm... new impressive package? What kind of monster is he turning into? The physical changes are bad enough, but confusion intensifies when as he grows older people and animals around him react to those they love or desire by experiencing sexual ecstasy and uncontrollable arousal. He tries to hide behind hoodies and dark clothing, however eventually things get seriously out of hand and adults begin to notice him, even his own mother! Freaked out, Gil runs away and on his way out of LA meets old man Walt, an online acquaintance claiming to have answers to most of his questions.

To begin this review I have to mention what impressed me the most about Faun, and that is how Healey really captures the essence of an immigrant household that still holds beliefs intrinsic to their culture. In my opinion that is key to this story and Healey nails it. I also love how he sets the overall atmosphere by using contrasts in settings as he moves the story between the urban Latino populated neighborhood, Los Angeles as a whole, and the mountains.

Throughout the first few chapters of Faun, Healey introduces his characters and gives them depth by using background details and personal histories to establish distinct personalities, giving the reader a well-rounded idea behind motives that drive the characters' actions. Initially, Healey concentrates on Gilberto and Lupita's perspectives to establish his world. Later, however, other perspectives are also shared with the reader. The result is a somewhat slow beginning frontloaded with pertinent information, but one that sets the rest of the story quite well. After those first couple of chapters the action picks up and flows through to the end.

This is only my second encounter with Trebor Healey's works. The other is Trunk, an edgy short story where he addresses religious beliefs, sexual orientation and the gay lifestyle. In Faun, through Gil's search for his place in the world, Healey explores the confusion that comes from being different, religion, ignorance, and queer themes. He features various characters and relationships -- straight, gay, trans, polyamorous, and both young and mature love. Along the way, some experience or battle lack of control and confusion, others, however mistakenly, attempt a reconciliation between deeply held religious beliefs and love, while most search for acceptance, knowledge and that all illusive happiness.

Woven throughout the story there are highly amusing moments and some favorite scenes. Chupacabra? Poor Gil! There's a high school classroom scene that became a favorite, and well... there's the whole "nutting" bit which was a bit over-the-top and had me in stitches -- now you must read the story to find out what this is because I'm not about to explain. And talking about favorites, from the secondary characters my favorite is old hippy dude Walt, and the moments Gil spends with him on the mountains surrounded by nature are some of the most beautiful in the book.

Faun by Trebor Healey is categorized as queer urban fantasy, but with its excellent characterization, atmosphere, and blend of Greek mythology, religion, and Mexican culture, by the end of the story I thought of it as a beautiful contemporary urban fable. Now, if I could only hear Gil really play that flute, again. . .

Recommended for mature young adults and adults.

Category: LGBT/Queer Urban Fantasy
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/October 1, 2012
Source: Lethe Press
Grade: B+

Visit Trebor Healey here.
About the Author: Trebor Healey is an American poet and novelist. He was born in San Francisco, raised in Seattle, and studied English Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He spent his twenties in San Francisco, where he was active in the spoken word scene of the late 80s and early 90s, publishing 5 chapbooks of poetry as well as numerous poems and short stories in various reviews, journals, anthologies and zines. He received both the Ferro-Grumley Fiction Award and the Violet Quill Award for his first novel, Through It Came Bright Colors, and his story "Mercy Seat" was named one of the top ten online stories of 2004 by StorySouth. He lives in Buenos Aires.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Minis: Sidecar by Amy Lane + Don't Say A Word by Beverly Barton

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend. I'm late with my wishes since I haven't had a chance to really chat lately. Mine was quite nice! Nath, her sister Emilie and a couple of their friends came all the way from Canada and stayed over for a couple of days, and that's always fun for me. :) Then we had the opportunity to meet Christine and Mariana for dinner on Saturday evening and that rounded up the goodness of it all! We had a great time! Talked and ate, ate and talked! Of course I don't have any pictures! Nath and Christine took pictures because, unlike me, they are good at that. Maybe they can share those with you all later. :D

Anyway, I didn't really make the time for blogging, preparing my reviews for the week, or reading much during the weekend. However, here are a couple of mini-reviews about two books that I read recently.

Sidecar by Amy Lane (Click on title to read summary)

Sidecar by Amy Lane is a good story spanning a 25 year period of time. I really like the way Lane captured the time period (80's and on) by incorporating music, fashion and attitudes without overdoing it. The relationship between Casey and Joe was wonderful. I like that Lane features a bisexual character with some of the conflicts that present themselves along the way for a man like Joe who doesn't like to be labeled and who has needs that are different from Casey's. There are emotional moments galore in this story. Some of the conflicts are dramatic and a bit over the top at times, and the story is a tad over long. However, all in all an emotional and enjoyable read with great characters. (Dreamspinner Press, June 2012): Grade B-

Don't Say A Word by Beverly Barton (Click on title to read summary)

Don't Say a Word is Beverly Barton's last book, as sadly she passed away earlier this year. A romance suspense, it is part of a series, but as I found out it can easily be read as a stand-alone.

What impressed me the most about this story is how Barton had me guessing until the end as to whom the serial killer turned out to be in this piece. There are multiple murders to be investigated and the murders are gruesome! The story is told from three points of view, the heroine who just moved to town as a policewoman, the hero who is a member of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and a few chapters as seen from the killer's perspective. There are clues along the way, but there are also red herrings and they are good ones. So watch out for those!

I found that the romance was incorporated unevenly. It had a good beginning, a tough middle with little to no forward momentum, and then it moved rapidly toward the last third of the book with good results, although not with great sizzling moments. Overall, I enjoyed this book and consider it a solid read that I enjoyed on both fronts, but leaning more toward the suspense.  (ARC Kensington - Zebra, July 31, 2012) Grade: B

That's it for this Thursday. Ohhh, wait! Since I'm catching up, I'll let you all know what I'm reading. I'm all excited because I'm reading the latest western by Jo Goodman, The Last Renegade. I'm really enjoying it so far, but then I love my westerns and Jo Goodman is one of those authors that does it for me. Review to come! :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: Hearts of Darkness (Deadglass #1) by Kira Brady

In the first of a dazzling new romantic trilogy, one woman’s courageous search plunges her into a millennia-old supernatural war—and an irresistible passion…

Nurse Kayla Friday has dedicated her life to science and reason. But for her, Seattle is a place of eerie loss and fragmented, frightening memories. And now the only clue to her sister’s murder reveals a secret battle between two ancient mythologies…and puts Kayla in the sights of lethally-sexy werewolf mercenary Hart. He’ll do whatever it takes to obtain the key to the Gate of the Land of the Dead and free what’s left of his soul. But seducing the determined Kayla is putting them at the mercy of powerful desires neither can control. And as the clock ticks down to hellish catastrophe, the untested bond between Kayla and Hart may lead to the ultimate sacrifice.
Hearts of Darkness: A Deadglass Novel by Kira Brady is her debut novel, and the first in a planned trilogy. A fusion, it is an excellent blend of paranormal romance with the grittiness found in urban fantasy.

Kayla Friday arrives at a morgue in Seattle to identify the body of her murdered sister. Having just flown in from Philadelphia and unaware that she's in a city where magic reigns, ghosts and wraiths are loose, and an ancient battle is waged by supernatural beings, Kayla steps in the middle of it all as she tries to find clues to her sister's murder, and an ancient artifact that in the wrong hands might mean the end to civilization and hell on earth for all.

Her arrival at the morgue places her in Hart's path. A mercenary werewolf, Hart has been cast out by the Kivati and is blood slave to Lord Drekar. He only has two more jobs to perform to obtain his freedom, he has hope for a future. Unfortunately for Kayla, he is also searching for the key to the Gate of the Land of the Dead. Hart is willing to go along and help the trusting Kayla find her clues and the key, but knows that in the end he will do his job. He must. The cold hearted, sexy werewolf, however, never counted on the warmhearted Kayla to make such a long-lasting impression on his body or what is left of his hardened soul.

I really liked Kayla. She's a nurse with heart and warmth. Clueless as to the supernatural world, she learns about it from Hart, a man that she sees as dangerous but trustworthy and has no choice but to follow. Kayla is not necessarily a kickass heroine, instead she's more of a protective heroine who kicks ass without using physicality to do so. I liked that.  Hart is tough and rough. He's also truly angsty and torn in this story. I like the fact that he's not a black and white character in this story, but has flaws with redeemable qualities. He's sexy and protective with alpha qualities, but tender and oh so wounded and loving. Yes, I liked him. Together, Kayla and Hart make a really great couple.

The secondary characters are great. I loved both the Kivati and the Drekar characters introduced and developed in this story. I liked even more the fact that the reader really doesn't know who is good or evil, but that there are gray areas all over the place, maintaining a sense of anticipation throughout.

This paranormal romance turned out to be a good read for me. As a matter of fact I began reading it and after the first few pages, which I read slowly because the author initially throws the reader right into her world, couldn't put it down until the end. The world building is based on Native American mythology, however, later on Brady incorporates bits of Norse and Babylonian mythology into the mix. Although initially the reader is thrown into her world and this is the first book in a trilogy, fortunately this book does not suffer from "first in a series syndrome" where chunks of info dump are thrown at the reader, instead the rest of the world building is incorporated slowly as the story progresses and Kayla and Hart go on their hunt. There is enough revealed about this world to satisfy readers, however there should be more revelations in future books.

Hearts of Darkness has great atmosphere from the beginning. Brady uses Seattle as her setting, but it's a gritty, dark place where unbeknown to humans magic and a supernatural world filled with ghosts, shifters, dangerous and scary dark places exist. Between the mythology-based plot and the grittiness of the Seattle streets, Hearts of Darkness has an urban fantasy "feel" from the beginning. However, the romance between Kayla and Hart is absolutely central to this story, so definitely a paranormal romance with a happy ever after. It's a great fusion of both of these genres, as Brady almost effortlessly weaves them into one.

I did have a few problems throughout and at the end of the story where I was taken aback by the character used to solve a particular conflict. I didn't see that one coming! Thoroughout the story there's also a sense that the females in this story have either been or are about to be abused that made me uncomfortable more than once because it concerned more than one female and in more ways than one. However to be clear, there is no rape in this story.

Hearts of Darkness by Kira Brady is a paranormal romance with excellent atmosphere, interesting worldbuilding and great characters. It was a surprisingly fast read for me, the quick pace and intriguing plotting kept me glued to the pages. With some excellent Native American-based mythology, a few unusual shifters thrown in for good measure, and with a few problems that did not necessarily influence my ultimate enjoyment but that I will keep my eye on in future installments, this debut novel is a solid read.

Category: Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy
Series: Deadglass Novel
Publisher/Release Date: Zebra/August 7, 2012
Source: Kensington Books
Grade: B

Visit Kira Brady here.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Review: Green Thumb: A Novella by Tom Cardamone

Mutability blooms in the Florida Keys after the Red War and the genie boxes. King Pelicans with the brains of scientists and a single human hand in place of one webbed foot rule the ruins of half-drowned Miami. Slavers roam the deep waters offshore, taking captives to feed the voracious Kudzu Army and the human aqueduct bearing fresh water from Lake Okeechobee. On the last stretch of the Overseas Highway still standing, an albino seeress slowly becomes her name: White Flamingo. ''You,'' she says. ''You will reach for the sun while staying rooted to the ground. But I fear your shadow will be much too long.''

Transformed by his father's genie box in the late days of the Red War, Leaf has lived for decades or centuries alone in a collapsing Victorian house on a desolate sandy key, misunderstanding time, feeding on sunlight and dew. When at last he meets a boy like--but so unlike!--himself, Leaf understands he has met destiny and sets out on a long, strange journey. A post-apocalyptic, psychoactive, polymorphous-perverse pastorale, Green Thumb will startle you with its utter strangeness and break your heart with its fragile beauty.
After the Red Wars are over and scientists used their genie boxes, what is left of earth's inhabitants have mutated in different and unexpected ways. In a sliver of sand in the middle of the ocean by what was once known as the Florida Keys, a boy of undetermined age lies on a sandy beach as his emerald color skin soaks the run rays that give him life. Nanny died long ago and Leaf's only companion is his friend Skate, a two-dimensional sting-ray-like boy who dwells in the sea. He is Leaf's only friend until Scallop arrives on the island and thereafter visits him daily.

When Scallop's father is taken by slaver ships to forcibly join the Kudzu Army, Scallop is determined to save him and Leaf joins him on his adventure. Their journey will take them through overcrowded islands where Leaf will encounter what is left of humanity and the surviving culture for the first time. He'll meet Hardy, a strong, hard skinned green boy, the Albino White Flamingo, a seeress who will foretell his future, and along the way the boys will encounter hardship, betrayal, heartbreak, love and their ultimate destiny.

Cardamone is slow to reveal details of his world while initially focusing on Leaf and the immediate world around him, taking the reader on a journey of discovery and adventure by slow increments as he reveals the wider world and the full scope of his world building.

His characters balance each other out. Leaf is the main character and it is through his perspective that the story is narrated. There is a certain sense of detachment from the world about Leaf, yet he very much wants to be of the world and particularly yearns for Scallop. Leaf is both knowledgeable and naïve. His introspection gives his narrative voice an almost lulling quality that contrasts heavily with the progressively desperate and violent scenes in the story making those moments pop and linger.

Scallop is very much a part of the world and brings life and energy to Leaf's life and to the story, but Scallop gives only a small part of himself and seeks the impossible. Skate, the constant in Leaf's life, represents the unreachable. And then there's Hardy, who entrenched and thriving in the world of dive boys, becomes a teacher of pleasures, guide, enforcer, and bodyguard for Leaf and Scallop as their adventure takes them closer to slaver ships, the Kudsu Army, the ruined shores of what was once Miami and the world ruled by Pelican Kings.

This is speculative fiction, so the story takes some unexpected twists and turns from what initially seems like a boys' adventure into a progressively darker, complex world and into the weird. I particularly liked that Cardamone's characters are not set in stone and that they are not just mutants, but mutable. The queer themes in the story are part of the overall story arc with some dark, grand scenes, and also part of the lovely and intimate connection that Cardamone creates between his main characters.

In his post-apocalyptic novella Green Thumb, Tom Cardamone explores the darker side of humanity, as well as the environment, through a delicate character filled with beauty and a dense world building with heavy narrative and introspection. Cardamone's imagination and talent for the unusual are in full display as he combines incredibly tender moments, raw desperation, and violence with a delicate touch that at times become breathtaking. With an excellent story, memorable characters, and an ending that lingered with me for a quite while, this creative novella is most definitely highly recommended.

Category: LGBT - Queer Speculative Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: BrazenHead/August 2, 2012
Source: eARC Lethe Press
Grade: A

Visit Tom Cardamone here.

About the Author: Tom Cardamone writes queer speculative fiction. His short story collection, Pumpkin Teeth, was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. He is the editor of The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered, and author of the erotic fantasy novel, The Werewolves of Central Park.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Review: It Takes Two by Elliott Mackle

It Takes Two is a gay historical romance/mystery set right after World War II in the Southern town of Fort Myers, Florida. In his first novel, Elliott Mackle tackles bigotry against homosexuality and people of color, PTSD affecting veterans of World War II, and a 'why-done-it,' all while building a romance-in-the-making between the two central characters, Dan and Bud.

U.S. Navy veteran, Lieutenant Dan Ewing has suffered from survivors’ guilt and nightmares ever since he lost his best buddy and sexual partner of 18 months when his ship was sunk by a submarine and the majority of the men were lost at sea. In Spencer 'Bud' Wright, he finally seems to have found the man whose company helps him find solace. Unfortunately, Bud fights the reality of their attraction and relationship. Sergeant Bud Wright, veteran and ex-sharpshooter, is now a Lee County detective. He and Dan are having what he thinks of as a friendship with occasional sexual benefits. Bud is not beneath playing a little grab-ass, but a homosexual? No. He is confused and scared of the consequences, but most of all afraid 'mixing it up' with Dan might be more than just the fulfillment of a teen-age fantasy. What poor deluded Bud doesn't understand is that sooner or later Dan always gets what he wants.

Managing the Caloosa Hotel with its private club where gambling, drinking and loose behaviors are only acceptable behind closed doors becomes a dangerous proposition for Dan, especially after he inadvertently becomes involved in one of Bud's murder investigations. In a hotel room located at the edge of 'Colored Town,' two men are found shot: a colored soldier and a white man. The white man is husband to the daughter of the most influential man in town. All hell breaks loose when the white man's widow shows up and shoots up the scene, almost shooting Dan in the process. Bud and Dan get mixed up in a whydunit that involves powerful players, bigotry, the KKK, civil rights advocates, and corruption.

It Takes Two is written in the first person narrative from Dan's perspective. In Mackle's hands the first person point of view becomes quite effective as he creates a quick, intimate connection between the reader and the narrator's emotions. The result is that he reeled me in from page one. However, (and this has become one of my favorite aspects of Elliott Mackle's writing style), Bud and the secondary characters, as seen through Dan's point of view, are just as fleshed out as Dan is himself.

The story must be read and the characters viewed from a historical and not a contemporary perspective. These characters have just been through war, seen the world and experienced situations that vastly changed their lives and their points of view. Yet, with few exceptions, when they return home America remains much the same as before these soldiers went to war, particularly in places like Fort Myers. The time is right after World War II and Mackle certainly succeeds by using the right historical touches and creating an atmosphere that transports the reader to place and time. Personally, I love the way language is consistently used throughout to maximize all of the above.

Mr. Mackle utilizes the whydunit aspect of the story as a tool to enhance the historical elements, Southern atmosphere, and to develop the budding romance between Dan and Bud. Mackle also weaves in the subject of PTSD seamlessly and with authority, and by using ex-servicemen and women as central and secondary characters gives this story a wonderful military-on-leave atmosphere outside of the military environment that feels true to time and place, making It Takes Two an excellent read.

Last year, I fell a little in love with Elliott Mackle's writing style after reading Captain Harding's Six Day War because of the way he drew me into the story, but along the way found myself falling rather hard for his characters. Fortunately for me It Takes Two was reprinted and re-released because this time I fell rather hard for both his writing style as well as with his wonderful characters -- I loved Dan and Bud! This is a book I will re-read, so it is definitely highly recommended.

Category: LGBT - Gay Historical/Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/June 1, 2012
Source: ARC from author
Grade: A

Visit Elliott Mackle here.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben H. Winters

What would you do if the world was ending in six months? Would you make it to the end, or would you check out? These are the questions that plague the reader while reading The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters. These are the questions that plagued me while I quickly read this intriguing pre-apocalyptic police procedural.

The world and its people have six months left to live until the massive asteroid known as Maia or 2011GV1 makes impact and sets off a chain of destructive events that will rapidly overwhelm the whole planet. As people decide what to do with the last days of their lives, civilization begins a slow collapse as many leave their jobs to fulfill lifetime dreams or spend time with family, and while massive amounts of people across the globe turn to religion looking for hope, others find the answer in suicide. So at six months to impact, civilization's real collapse is near as most have physically or mentally 'checked out,' and what was once important has become incidental. That is to everyone, but Detective Hank Palace.

Our story begins as Detective Hank Palace is called to investigate what appears to be a suicide by hanging in the bathroom of a McDonald's in Concord, New Hampshire. In his short career as a detective, all the deaths Hank has investigated have been suicides, and since Concord is known as a "hanger town" because that is the popular suicide method, at first it appears that is also the answer to Peter Zell's death. However, as Hank observes the scene in detail, something doesn't seem right. Hank declares Peter Zell's death suspicious and begins a murder investigation. This becomes a source of disbelief and amusement to everyone Hank comes in contact with throughout his investigation, including his co-workers who, although still on the job, have already checked out psychologically.

One of the aspects that makes The Last Policeman gripping as a pre-apocalyptic science fiction story is that Winters sets it in what seems to be contemporary times and not a futuristic or unreal world. In other words, these events could happen... anytime. Of course that makes the circumstances in this book realistically bizarre and unsettling for the reader. I found this to be one of the most effective aspects to the story. What would you do?

In this case, Hank Palace is Winter's case study. Hank is a most interesting character too. A man whose way of dealing with the upcoming apocalypse is to concentrate on the daily grind, on the here and now -- at least on the surface. Frankly since this is the beginning of a trilogy, there is still much to be learned about Hank and what drives him. I personally can't wait to see where his emotions take him as the final time approaches.

However in The Last Policeman, in his own anal and obsessive way, Hank serves as a microcosm of humanity's conscience when there is no real conscience left -- he is what is left of civilization when civilization is crumbling around him. When nobody cares whether Peter Zell committed suicide or was murdered, Hank does... and later when Hank's sister calls him to investigate his brother-in-law's disappearance and events culminate unexpectedly, Hank once again proves where he stands on this question.

Winters uses the police procedural aspect of the novel to drive forward the overall story arc and to develop a subtle, detailed and very effective pre-apocalyptic atmosphere. However besides the gripping pseudo-contemporary setting in this science fiction novel, it is Hank's character that makes the most impact, as it is through his first point of view perspective that the reader experiences the apathy, depression, desperation, resignation, and even false hope of those who surround him. Winters combines all those elements in The Last Policeman beautifully, and most importantly because this is the beginning of a trilogy, the story ends at the right moment. Personally, I can't wait to find out what happens to Hank next, or where Winters will take the story.

Category: Science Fiction/Mystery
Series: The Last Policeman Trilogy, Book 1
Publisher/Release Date: Quirk Books/July 10, 2012
Source: ARC Quirk Books
Grade: B+

Visit Ben H. Winters here.
About the Author: Ben H. Winters has written plays and musicals for children and adults; all sorts of magazine and newspaper journalism; and six novels: Bedbugs, Android Karenina, the New York Times bestseller Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, the middle-grade novels The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman and The Mystery of the Everything, and the upcoming mystery The Last Policeman.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Review: Starlight (The Christies #2) by Carrie Lofty

Passion sparkles forever . . . in the shining eyes of a true love.

An esteemed astronomer, Alex Christie, the eldest and most steadfast of the Christie siblings, has never possessed his late father’s ruthless business drive. But to protect his frail infant son from his cruel father-in-law’s bid for custody, the young widower must undertake Sir William Christie’s posthumous million-dollar challenge: to make a Glasgow cotton mill profitable. At sea in an industrial world of sabotage and union agitation, Alex meets Polly Gowan, daughter of a famed union leader, who hopes to seize a mysterious saboteur without involving the police.

Because a sympathetic mill master would aid her cause, Polly becomes Alex’s guide to urban Scotland. From soccer games to pub brawls, Alex sees another side of life, and feels free for the first time to reveal the man—vital and strong—behind his intellectual exterior. Polly is utterly seduced. Their ambitions, however, remain at odds: Alex vows to earn the mill bonus to save his child, while Polly fights for the needs of her people. Is there strength enough in their sparkling passion to bind them together in their quests—and in a lasting love that conquers all?
In Starlight, Carrie Lofty successfully combines all of the ingredients that I love about her romances. The atmosphere created by the gritty setting in this novel serves as an excellent backdrop, giving this romance the perfect historical touch. The characters that populate the story, both central and secondary, also make it happen, beginning with Polly who definitely belongs in the setting, and ending with Alex whose character grows by leaps and bounds right before our eyes.

Alexander Christie is the late William Christie's eldest son. In his controversial will, the industrial mogul leaves Alex the Christie Textile Mills in Glasgow, Scotland with the proviso that he must manage the cotton mills and make a profit within two years in order to receive a $1M bonus, however if he fails, his inheritance will be reduced to $500. Alex is not a businessman, but an astronomy teacher at a Philadelphia university and a widower with a sickly infant son. He resents the situation and doesn't care about the money until his powerful and unbalanced father-in-law threatens to take his beloved son Edmund away, giving Alex the resolve to fight for a future and make a success of his endeavors in Glasgow, Scotland.

Glasgow 1881 is a hotbed of trouble. The cotton mills masters are all powerful, uncompromising and always looking to make the biggest profit, as a result, masters don't care about poor workers' conditions. Mill masters certainly don't negotiate with workers' unions, and when crossed their wrath is often violent and deadly. Polly Gowan is a mill worker and has taken her father's place as the respected leader of the peaceful workers' union. She works at Christie's Textiles where after a suspicious explosion, workers are blamed, the usual suspects rounded up by constables and goons alike, and she meets the new master Alex Christie under difficult circumstances.

Reluctantly, Polly becomes Alex's guide through the troubled political situation with an eye on bringing him over to the union's side. But pretty quickly these two people from different worlds, who stand at opposite ends of this explosive situation, become passionately attracted to each other. Alex and Polly act on that attraction and begin a torrid and passionate affair that has all the hallmarks of a disaster in the making, where each keeps information from the other and trust is gained and broken on both sides.

I loved Polly's character, flaws and all. The first thing you notice about Polly is that she understands her people and selflessly cares about them. She is giving, passionate and tough as nails. Initially, Polly falls in lust with Alex and is willing to take a chance on taking just a few moments for herself (having a little fun), until her feelings for him begin to complicate matters and loyalties are questioned. Her feelings reflect Alex's who also becomes torn between what he feels for Polly and what he has to do to keep his son safe from his father-in-law.

Alex, I adored. Alex almost has a split personality. In Flawless, he is described as an astronomy teacher and that led me to visualize his appearance as that of a rather refined and sophisticated young man. Reading A Little More Scandal prior to reading Starlight, helped me visualize the differences in Alex's physical attributes and physicality. Lofty beautifully captures the duality to his personality and even to his physical appearance in this novel -- both Alex's rough side, the one that comes from William Christie, and the astronomy teacher or New York society gentleman.

Alex is basically sexually starved after what was practically a platonic marriage to a woman he knew since childhood. He is such a beautiful man in so many ways -- passionate, tender, rough, tough, protective and even sexually naive. Alex's attraction to Polly is instant and his passion is boundless. It's interesting because Polly loves Alex's protectiveness, but simultaneously resents his propensity for playing the 'knight' who rescues ladies in distress. I understood Polly!

Together, Alex and Polly are explosive, heartbreakingly tender, frustrating, and loving. Polly is really the aggressor in their sexual relationship. He is passionate but whenever he tries to be a gentleman, she is the one who repeatedly drives and pushes him to the next level in their sexual adventure. Polly is no coy miss! Alex and Polly do resolve their immediate differences as master and textile mill worker in a big climactic scene, although unfortunately there are no scenes showing how the changes affect Calton.

I loved Starlight. The setting, atmosphere, characters, conflict and passionate romance all drew me and kept me reading. There's no way I will miss reading the next installment in The Christies' series. Highly recommended.

Category: Historical Romance
Series: The Christies
Publisher/Release Date: Pocket/June 26, 2012
Source: eARC Novel Sidekick
Grade: A-

Visit Carrie Lofty here.

Series-The Christies:
Flawless, Book #1
A Little More Scandal, Book #1.5
Starlight, Book #2