Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Wee Taste of Holiday Spice

Hill, Daisy.  David's Selfie.  Samhain Publishing, 2014.  

As a doctor and a single dad, David doesn’t have much free time to meet people, especially datable people.  A widowed bisexual man interested in meeting a new guy, David isn’t sure he will ever manage to have sex again, let alone find another relationship or someone to help raise his daughter.  Go-go dancer and graduate student Craig meets plenty of people, but his job means that no one really takes him seriously as a potential partner.  He has plenty of dreams, goals, and plans, but it’s hard to get guys to see beyond the body and the dancing, to see him as more than a one-night stand.  Their paths are unlikely to cross, but an attempt at online dating gone wrong, a lost cell phone, and one naughty picture may be all it takes to bring this unlikely couple a Christmas gift of happily ever after.

Daisy Hill’s David’s Selfie isn’t particularly original in terms of romantic plots, but her novella is sweetly charming with plenty of sexy spice to add to the reader’s enjoyment.  Hill manages to avoid being either sappy or trite, instead offering a new twist on romance between the social classes.  David and Craig are both well-developed and interesting, and David’s daughter Maia adds a delightful twist of innocent handicap to the couple’s relationship evolution.  Even given the short nature of the story, Hill takes her time with David and Craig’s relationship, carefully guiding her characters through realistic pitfalls and relationship hiccups to a chance at forever.  If I have a complaint at all about David’s Selfie, it’s that the story is short.  Interesting sub-plots and supporting characters, including Craig’s not-quite-a-villain landlord Joachim, are only shallowly developed, though they have potential to be much more. 

If you’re looking for some holiday fluff to keep you warm during your holiday reading, David’s Selfie is a delicious dash of Christmas cheer, one that is both naughty and nice.

ARC received from NetGalley.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Happy Halloween, a little early

Roux, Abigail, Andrea Speed, Anne Tenino.  My Haunted Blender's Gay Love Affair and Other Twisted Tales.  Riptide Publishing, 2014.

Well, it’s not quite Halloween, but October seems like a fine time for this collection of paranormal romances from Riptide Publishing.  The publisher describes My Haunted Blender’s Gay Love Affair and Other Twisted Tales as “a collection of not-so-chilling tales of love and laughter from three of the genre's masters of pulp,” and indeed these novellas provide evenings of fun reading for the fan of both the supernatural and erotic romance.

“The Bone Orchard,” Roux’s contribution, is an Old West adventure, one in which not even death can stop US Marshal Ambrose Shaw and Pinkerton agent Ezra Johns from stopping a notorious serial killer, or from falling in love.   Speed’s “City of Monsters”  features the haunted blender that gives the collection its title, along with vampires, fairies, shape-shifters, and more, including a sexy were-snake photographer with a taste for danger and a disreputable investigator trying to keep himself and the hot newcomer to the city alive long enough to find out what kind of were-creature he is.  Finally, “Horny” is Anne Tenino’s take on a world in which the Greek pantheon is real, sort of, and Achilles leads a band of demigod enforcers on the trail of Zeus, who is in trouble again for sexual immorality.  Their investigation leads them to Ryan Caulfield’s bar.  A sensitive soul with a troubled past, Ryan isn’t looking for excitement or romance, but that doesn’t mean that Fate isn’t waiting to bring him both in the form of a sexy demigod and a little unknown family history.

Twisted Tales is a delightful collection of romantic misadventures -  sweet, steamy, and laugh-out-loud funny.  Brilliant characters, including a fabulous villain, and a fast-paced Wild West adventure, complete with shootouts and a hanging, combine with a sweet touch of romance and some steamy supernatural sexy times to make “The Bone Orchard” a great beginning to the set.  “City of Monsters” offers an unusual world peopled with monsters of all flavors, each with their own rules and restrictions, in a place where nearly anything is possible and nothing is quite what it appears.  And “Horny” brings a new twist on old stories, reshaping Greek myths into the modern world with a flair for drama and great sex.  Any of these tales would be fun on their own, but as a group, they provide a delightful introduction to three unique authors and to the kind of erotic fiction that Riptide embodies.   Highly recommended for a great fall weekend read.  

ARC received from NetGalley.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mary: The Summoning Book 1

Monahan, Hillary.  Mary: The Summoning.  Disney Hyperion, Sept. 2014

Horror isn’t usually one of my favorite genres, simply because too often it seems silly rather than scary or trite rather than original.  And Mary: The Summoning could have easily fallen into either the trite or silly category, based as it is on the premise of the Bloody Mary urban legend/slumber party game.  But it doesn’t.  Instead, author Hillary Monahan takes her source material and weaves a tale that is genuinely creepy with characters who are authentic, interesting, and relatable.  Mary is one of the most intriguing examples of young adult horror I’ve read in recent years.

Shauna, the story’s narrator, is a part of a group of four high school friends who are encouraged/cajoled/badgered by group leader Jess McAllister into attempting to summon the ghost of Bloody Mary in a bathroom mirror.  Like Shauna, Kitty and Anna are somewhat reluctant but intrigued, and the attempt is made.  And, to their great surprise, Bloody Mary herself appears in the mirror.  Be careful what you wish for, they say, you just might get it. 

But once isn’t enough for Jess.  “It was supposed to be a cool thing,” Jess says later, “but it went weird.”  Weird is an amazing understatement for the horror that Shauna’s life quickly becomes.

The next summoning attempt is both a success and a disaster.  Mary appears again, but this time she is stronger and much more dangerous.  Shauna is more than physically hurt when Mary escapes the mirror; she’s haunted now, by an angry specter that can appear anywhere there is water or a reflective surface.  And she not only wants Shauna; she wants her to suffer…and everyone she knows is suddenly at risk.  And Shauna is desperate for help, and answers. 

But Monahan is careful to make Mary more than the villain of the piece.  How did this young woman from nineteenth century New England become the monster in the mirror?  And if Mary died in 1864, why do the legends of her hauntings not begin until the 1960s?  Letters written by Mary to her sister, letters about a young girl bullied and abused by the church pastor and others in the church, offer glimpses of a sweet young heart driven to madness, perhaps even dreams of vengeance?  But how did Mary die?  And where does her power come from?  Like Shauna, the reader needs the answers, needs to understand how this could come to be.  Is Mary a demon or a victim?  And can solving that mystery help Mary, and Shauna, find peace?

Mary is brilliantly paced; the story moves quickly as events unfold in a few short days.  Supernatural horror mixes seamlessly with teenage relationship drama, family relationships, and negotiating high school.  Shauna is an excellent narrator, an authentic teenage voice trying to hang on to sanity in the midst of a situation which makes no sense, but which must be endured and raged against if she wants to survive.  The supporting cast – Jess, who is keeping secrets that may prove deadly; Anna, quick to blame and anger, but still willing to fight to help Shauna; Kitty, distracted by her on and off relationship with football hero Bronx but firmly on Shauna’s side; and Cody, the last girl/woman to successfully summon Bloody Mary, whose willingness to help is tempered by a fear of Mary reattaching to her own life – all surround Shauna with actions and opinions that both help and hinder her fight to find the answers that will free her from Mary’s bony grasp.   

If I have a complaint about this novel, it’s the fact that it doesn’t end; it just stops.  Yes, I realize that the Book 1 subtitle implies that it’s part of a series.  I like series.  But, I like authors who write series books like J. K. Rowling.  I like books where each volume is both a complete story AND part of the larger story arc.  As a reader, I need a sense of resolution, some kind of closure to feel the author gave me at least part of the answer.  Cliffhangers annoy me on television, but they’re worse with books because book 2 may be a year or more away.  That’s a long time to wait for resolution, especially since book 2 may lead to book 3…or book 7. 

But, I confess I will be eagerly watching and waiting for Book 2, because I do want to know what happens next.  Monahan convinced me to emotionally invest in her story and her characters, not merely Shauna and her friends but in Bloody Mary too.  I want to know what happens next, and that, in my mind, is the proof of a story well-told.

ARC received from NetGalley.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bombs Over Bikini

Goldsmith, Connie.  Bombs Over Bikini.  Twenty-first Century Books, 2014.

For most children and teenagers today, the drama of the Cold War and fears of imminent nuclear war are mostly just historical mumbo-jumbo.  Even harder for them to understand are the terrible fearful immediately post-war years, when the US and the Soviet Union were locked in a feverish race for better and more deadly weapons, explosive power that would make even the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki seem insignificant.  In Bombs Over Bikini, Connie Goldsmith helps to make that time, and the consequences of the combination of fear and arrogance, real for today’s youth by focusing on the Bikini Atoll bomb tests and the terrible damage done to man and land alike by men playing with forces that they had no hope of understanding or controlling.

Careful to keep the likely age of her readers in mind, Goldsmith is nevertheless frank as she expounds on the actions of the American navy and its associated scientists as they exploded a series of ever more powerful atomic bombs on Bikini and surrounding atolls.  Photographs give life to the naval authorities, common sailors, and island peoples, even the animals who too were victims of the bombs tests as Goldsmith details how many were exposed to horrific levels of radiation both during and after the tests.  Inset boxes within the texts offers additional information on key individuals or further explanation of mentioned topics.    Chapters are short and the narrative accessible; the book is carefully paced to keep the reader engaged and to prevent the boredom often associated with reading history textbooks.  Footnotes, a rich bibliography, glossary, and suggested list of additional resources confirm the veracity of Goldsmith's text and encourage the reader to explore the topic further for greater understanding of the American nuclear program, the dangers of radiation and radioactive fallout, and the peoples of the Marshall Islands.

History classes, in my experience, often fail to address America’s failures and mistakes at both the national and international level.  Books like Goldsmith’s are important for young readers because they shine a light on the darkly shadowed elements of our history that we would perhaps be happier to forget, but which must be known so that they cannot be repeated.  Bombs Over Bikini is a brilliant introduction to this sad chapter of American military and scientific history, a straightforward condemnation of the indifference with which the people of the Bikini Islands have been and continue to be treated by the US Government, and a warning for those who would pursue knowledge without careful consideration of both the current and future dangers.  

ARC received from NetGalley.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate

Berrisford, Kay.  The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate.  Less Than Three Press, July 2014.

I admit it; I picked up this book because I thought the title was hilarious (still do, for what it’s worth).  I was expecting a cheesy, but hopefully very hot, bodice-ripper of story, possibly with some interesting human/merman naughtiness. 

And I was wrong, brilliantly wrong.

Kay Berrisford’s novel is a fabulous combination of coming of age, romance, and adventure.  Raef is an innocent young merman, raised by a single mother on fairy tale love stories, stories where lords are good, pirates are bad, and lovers live happily ever after.  Forced to leave his mer tribe when love is outlawed and arranged marriage required, the romantic-minded Raef seeks out the coast of England, searching for the human lord to be his perfect love.  When he spots the handsome young Lord Haverford on the beach one night, Raef is sure he’s met the man who will make his dreams come true.  But his plans to show himself to his would-be lord are disrupted by an attack by the feared pirate Jon Kemp, who not only ruins Raef’s intended rendezvous but forces him to reconsider everything he thought he knew about lords and about pirates.

Jon Kemp, on the other hand, is bored and jaded, a successful pirate who has lost interest in treasure and instead has become a kind of Robin Hood, using his skills at banditry to help the weak gain justice against the strong.  A love-em and leave-em type, uninterested in commitment despite his fondness for love poetry, Kemp has no desire for a relationship, certainly not one with an innocent and mysterious young man who might stand in the way of his current quest for justice against Lord Haverford.

Berrisford takes her time, and that slow build-up gives Raef the chance to grow up and the reader the time to care about his happiness.  Raef starts out as an almost annoyingly innocent young man, the male version of the princess in the tower who has never experienced life other than through books and stories, desperate to find someone who will give his life meaning and completeness.   But the as story builds and Raef begins to develop his own sense of personhood, to build relationships with people rather than fantasies, and to stand up for himself against those who would control him, he becomes his own champion, and in that he is able to become a champion for others as well.  
And Berrisford does not sacrifice her story for erotic fan service.  Instead, romance and adventure share the center stage, and Raef’s relationship with Kemp develops slowly rather than merely exploding in instant sexual contact.   Little details give the story both unexpected depth as well as a sense of realism.  Raef’s confusion when faced with the realities of being human – clothes, whiskey, even sexual arousal – perfectly captures the oddness of trying to be something you’re not, and Kemp’s wonder at his lover’s mer form seems natural for a man who has spent his life at sea and long heard legends and stories of the sea folk.  With an interesting supporting cast, a well-drawn villain, and some excellent swashbuckling adventure mixed with delicious eroticism, The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate is a delightful read, perfect for beach or poolside.  For readers who prefer plot to porn in their romance, this sea story is an unexpected pearl. 

ARC received from NetGalley.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Saddle Up for a Naughty Ride

Chase. L. C.  Let It Ride.  Riptide Publishing, May 2014

I loved L. C. Chase’s Pickup Men (see review here), and I was definitely excited to see that she’d added to this series with Let It Ride.  Pickup Men introduced Kent, Marty, and Bridge…a trio of rodeo cowboys bound together by a lifelong friendship…one totally straight, one openly gay, and one who might be somewhere in the middle.  Pickup Men was the story of Marty and his cowboy lover Tripp Colby; Let It Ride is Bridge’s story. 

Like Marty, Bridge Sullivan works the rodeo circuit as a pickup man, corralling the animals after the competitors ride.  Bridge is mostly straight, he thinks.  He has one gay relationship in his college past (that his friends don’t know about), but he’s dated women since then, and he’s been mostly happy that way.  But, then he meets newcomer Eric Palmer, a gorgeous paramedic who has left the city behind to work the rodeo circuit.  Eric makes Bridge want things he’s not sure he can have, but never let it be said that the cowboy is afraid of a challenge.  But Eric has demons of his own, demons that may be harder for Bridge to wrangle than your average bucking bull or bronco…

Eric Palmer is New York born, but he’s fled the city and his own rocky past to start a new life among the rodeo cowboys.  Marty’s injury on the circuit introduced him to this tight-knit group of friends and gave him his first real taste of acceptance and relationships when the boys welcomed him into their comradery.  Eric is willing to acknowledge his attraction to the handsome and charming Bridge, but he’s not sure he wants to risk his new life and friendships on a cowboy who might just be experimenting on the wild side.  But it’s hard to keep saying no when Bridge seems to be offering everything he’s ever wanted…

Let It Ride lacks some of the drama and depth of Pickup Men; the only thing standing between Eric and Bridge are their own secrets and issues, not the violence and injury that threatened Marty and Tripp, but that’s not a bad thing at all.  More romance than social commentary, Let It Ride is deliciously sexy and unexpectedly sweet.  Indeed, its contrast to the darker Pickup Men moves the series forward nicely.  Every romance may have its challenges, but sometimes those challenges are more within than without.  Let It Ride unfolds at a steady pace, keeping the reader emotionally invested and eager for a happy ever after.  Bridge and Eric’s journey is perfect for beach or poolside, or any reading time requiring romance and plenty of hotness.  Plus, Chase introduces newcomer Cory Ackerson, who features in the third volume of this series coming in the fall.  I can’t wait.

ARC received from NetGalley.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sorry the absence, but

So, it's been a while since I managed to review here.  Life sort of got away from me, and I added reviewing for another site to my list of things to do.  But, I'm back and eager to work on getting a more regular reviewing schedule happening here.

In the meantime, if you want to see the graphic novel reviewing I've been working on, check me out at No Flying, No Tights.