Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words





A picture is worth a thousand words, but as few as 100 will get an author posted with links, news, and covers. Who has something to say about a man with a dragon?All the previous pictures are fair game, too.

In breaking news, I've heard that another TWTh story grew right out of the word count and had to find another home. And she didn't let me read it yet. *pouts at PD Singer* Our first TWTh-inspired full length story will be out on Saturday -- watch for A Gentleman and His Jockey from JM Cartwright on the Torquere shelves.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wild Passions (anthology) edited by SL Armstrong


Wild Passions by S.L. Armstrong
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Genre: M/M, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Length: 188 pages



Summary: Authors: S.L. Armstrong, Cornelia Grey, Elizabeth Hyder, Wayne Mansfield, K. Piet, Angelia Sparrow, & Cari Z

Editor: S.L. Armstrong

Other worlds, other planes of existence, other places where humans are not the only type of creature to walk and talk. Human-like animals populate the pages of Wild Passions! These are not shifters, but humanoid animals that experience love and lust in their sometimes wild, sometimes civilized worlds.

Meet Liam, a half-fox in a world where 'urban jungle' isn't a metaphor. When trouble comes in the form of an organized militia looking to experiment, Liam must put his trust where he never expected -- in the hands of a human.

Koit is a Shterpi, a reptilian alien with a reputation for womanizing. A dare from a friend has Koit changing his target to other men, and he finds that variety really is the spice of life.

Alec and Nahale are feral-Maith, genetic offshoots from a fantastic race. Under pressure, Alec challenges Nahale for leadership of their clan, threatening to destroy the relationship they'd been building for years.

Panos only wants to live a normal life, free from the secret that's kept him isolated from others. However, he still needs a roommate, and his attraction to the other man has him wondering if opening up might not be so bad after all.

Ferran is making his last trip away from his home planet of Perelan before duty calls him back. But a rakish spaceship captain tosses a wrench into his finely crafted plans, and his world may never be the same.

Gordon and Leo work in the freak-show at a traveling carnival, wowing audiences with their half-animal physiques. But when animal constructs are second-class citizens and legal property of others, falling in love is the most dangerous act of all.
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Wild Passions provides several fine takes on what love and sex might be like for other beings, alien or animal. The worlds vary from Earth to Earth-like, to not-Earth, and humans figure as everything from enemy to owner to non-existent, which means the variety editor S.L Armstrong put into these pages is really wide.

Cornelia Grey's 'City of Foxes' features a dystopian future where animal-people live in the cracks of society. Life is harsh, trust is rare, and when it does happen, it can bring everything down. This is my second sample of Grey's fine atmospheric writing; I could taste the grit of the city and feel the shards of betrayal. The love story plays against an exploration of man-as-animal and man-worse-than-animal: we humans need our shining individuals to have any claim to worth as a species.

'Trust Me' from Elizabeth Hyder takes us into space; several races co-exist in sufficient harmony to have joint ventures such as space stations and higher education, in a very easy-going society. A meddling friend of the half-Shterpi Koit prods him in the direction of same sex encounters – his blundering along is humorous because it has the feel of an elective class in a subject that has to grow on the student. His eventual partner is a really delightful pain-in-the-butt. Much is made of a Shterpi attribute that ended up feeling tacked on rather than integral to the story, but perhaps there will be other stories in this setting that utilize it better.

Co-authors S.L. Armstrong and K. Piet bring us 'Alpha's Pride,' which looks at authority and complacency as well as the relationship between two strong males. The power struggles between Alec and Nahele come from their different views of what is good for the tribe and branch into the personal; I bled with them because neither is entirely right or entirely wrong. The "other" here is not well defined, leaving them feeling more like aliens than part animal, but it's still a fine story.

Panos, from "I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside" is more closeted by what he is than by his sexuality, so trust is his huge issue. He fears, rightly, what could come from trusting Jason, because he could easily become the center of much horrible attention. Fortunately Jason's a good man with some useful skills, if not enough empathy early on. Given his situation, Panos had to either be inexperienced or have trusted before, but author Wayne Mansfield doesn't address either option, leaving me wondering.

Cari Z has drawn a love affair between the human captain of a passenger freighter and a scion of a great family from another planet. 'Opening Worlds' unfolds the relationship between Captain Jason Kim and Ferran, an empathic, be-quilled Perel, who doesn't have as many options in his life as he comes to wish for. Why this should be is doled out in small tragic bits, giving their love a special piquancy. The story is very tender and the resolution is cause to rejoice.

A bit of Depression-era steampunk closes the anthology. Angelia Sparrow's constructs, part animal, part human, are property, and as such their lives can be so awful they have to look up to see down. Arthur, the bear-boy, and his bear-mother are fortunate to be loved by Daddy Frank, who goes along with the charade of ownership only to keep them safe. Gordon, the lion-boy, is not so fortunate – his owners are abusive and predatory. 'Songs for Guitar and French Harp' has by far the darkest themes but is one of my favorites in this anthology. Arthur is both teen-aged boy and bear; his view of society is the outsider's view for both reasons, and he may be the only one in the world who can really be there for Gordon.

The stories here vary from good to very good, and are more imaginative than the inaccurate blurb-writing would suggest. The theme wobbles a little, in that several stories feature out and out aliens, but it's worth sampling their animal magnetism. 4 marbles


Friday, July 22, 2011

Thousand Word Thursday Story by Lee Benoit



These two lounging in the trees made Lee Benoit think of characters from her recent release, Servant of the Seasons, and she’s provided us an excerpt.  Mèco and Tywyll, one of his Novigi companions, have just returned from encountering a small pack of canid predators in the woods, an encounter that frightened Mèco but has quite a different effect on Tywyll and his bonded lover, Lys.

********************
We reached home to find Lys atop the turvy, hard at work on a chimney. I had helped him to design something to conduct smoke out of the house so that we could have a hearth inside but not admit the elements. He made and fired small bricks and set them with sticky mortar made from clay mixed with sand. I looked forward to a warmer winter than the one I had passed alone.

When he saw us, Lys scrambled along the berm and ran down the slope to greet us.

He gave me a quick kiss and a squeeze, and then turned to Tywyll.

“Vjellja?”

Tywyll lifted his chin to show his small wound. Like the navdi had done, Lys whimpered softly and tucked his face into Tywyll’s neck, licking.

I felt as supernumerary as I had when Tywyll had been with the navdi. I started to walk toward the kitchen, but Tywyll pulled away from Lys and grasped my shoulder.

He pulled Lys and me into the turvy, the rumbling sound in his throat thrilling me.

“Oh, vjellja, you smell--” Lys broke off to take a long, noisy sniff of Tywyll’s neck. “You smell good. Like pack. Were they kettu? Nyma?” He trailed off to sniff again, pressing his body close to Tywyll’s and rubbing.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Picture is Worth...


Ah, yes, back to our regularly scheduled Thursday pictures. The recent getting connected with Dark Divas left us all a little off, and sigh, I have other pictures that have yet to see their stories. Authors, let your muses take their pick! One hundred to 1000 words, please and thank you. Then I'll post the ficlet, your news, covers, and links.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Few Changes Around Here

Now that I am affiliated with Dark Divas, some things are a little different. The reviewing silence of the last month should be a thing of the past -- I didn't think it was right to post elsewhere before reviews appeared there. Now my work is coming out consistently, so the posting here (there will be a lag of hopefully not more than a day and perhaps not that much) will follow.

I have an avatar there:

Ain't I cute? Wish my RL waistline looked like that.

The slideshow has been updated; the book covers for upcoming reviews have replaced random cute guys. Don't read anything into the order of appearance.

Reviewing at Dark Divas in addition to here requires a policy change -- where before I could exercise some latitude in posting if an author requested review was low, now, once I agree to a review, it has to go up unless the spork is actually in my eye. So while I still respond to requests, once I say yes, we're all committed to whatever I find once I read, and I calls 'em as I sees 'em.

There was an unfortunate hiatus of a week on Thousand Word Thursday posts, and even sadder, we have three pictures that don't have ficlets. Authors, that offer is open! One hundred to one thousand words  post with covers, news, and links. We should be back to our regularly scheduled pics this week.

In really good news, one Thousand Word Thursday ficlet grew into a complete short story; JM Cartwright has a TWTh-inspired Sip coming from Torquere on July 30th! The complete news is here; be on the lookout for A Gentleman and His Jockey.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cowboy Rubies by Azura Ice and Maria Moonstar


Cowboy Rubies by Azura Ice and Maria Moonstar
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: GLBT, M/M, Fantasy, Paranormal, Western, Steampunk
Length: 203 pages


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After years of fighting, a tenuous treaty has been established between the Moon Wolves and the Life Drinkers. Kyle Vanderbelt’s job is to keep the peace—a job that gets much more difficult when Kyle’s fellow agent and former lover is accused of stealing the ancient Moon Rubies that are said to sustain the balance of power between the two peoples.

Kyle sets out to find the thief but is sidetracked by a brutal enemy... and a newfound ally. Shades Hallowvale, a Moon Wolf, is mostly dead from a Life Drinker’s attack when Kyle finds him, but nursing him back to health is a career move Kyle can’t walk away from because Shades has information on the rubies, the theft, and an insidious plot deeper than one man’s greed.

Shades soon becomes more to Kyle than a means to an end, but even as the two men track down the thief, Kyle fears their tenuous connection may not survive and the rubies really will destroy everything they love.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There's a lot going on in Cowboy Rubies by Azura Ice and Maria Moonstar: there's Old West, vampires, werewolves, steampunk, ancient prophecies and a quest. There's so much going on that the story struggles to contain all the chunks, and gives a distinct feeling that had it been divided in two and published separately, the results would have been much stronger. The prophesies and quest parts sit very uneasily with the rest.

The world building is fun – why shouldn't the American West be populated with werewolves and vampires along with the humans? The three races seem to get along reasonably well, mixing in the saloons without fighting and choosing a werewolf for sheriff. No one tries to hide what they are, and no one seems terribly afraid of a group with the fearsome name of "Life Drinkers." In such a world, I know who I'd hire to herd my cattle. The steampunk elements are interesting – jaunting cars don't seem to need roads to get about in the desert and airgraphs transmit both code and sound.

Unfortunately, the fun stops there, because of the lack of internal consistency. The quest to find the stolen Moon Rubies has the very short time limit of three days and the stakes are extremely high – without them, we are told, there will be total war between Moon Wolf and Life Drinkers and the entire world is at risk, but the main characters have time for leisurely dinners, hookups with strangers to deny the attraction in each other's direction, and crude banter with a so called spy who really does not blend in. Anastasia the spy is actually the most interesting  character; she's unabashedly rude, crude, and socially unacceptable, as well as the deepest thinker of the lot.

The main characters are so distractible that they lose any sympathy their difficulties might have gained them. Resolution Agent Kyle tells himself to keep a clear head and a watchful eye, but thirty words later he's downed a tumbler of whiskey and followed a sexy stranger to a bedroom. Sheriff Shades can actually hold his sister's severed head and still think about sex. While Kyle occasionally recalls his main mission, though without actually doing anything about it, Shades is more completely led by his cock. Disaster looms from several directions, but he's ready to have wild sex. Without lube—Kyle never once uses it.

Both characters have heightened senses of smell – Kyle can identify the animal by the scent of its old spilled blood, but since neither wolf nor vampire applies this ability to a major problem, discord and violence increase. Other elements are set up and then either disregarded or contradicted, and Life Drinker Kyle is at one point described as being a Moon Wolf. A major character is brought to death's door but is in perfect health a paragraph later with no explanation at all.

The ending does wrap up a number of these issues, but unfortunately the resolution gives the same satisfaction as "and then he woke up."

This could have been two very satisfying books of two very different types, but it's trying to be all things at once. Even with all the elements left in, it could have been a tongue in cheek romp. When someone uttered that classic line: "You'll never leave this tent alive!" I thought I might have been missing the joke, but there are too many bodies and too much gruesomeness for laughter along the way.

While I applaud the authors for the varied story elements they've created, the combination does not work as well as it needs to for an enjoyable read, and I cannot recommend this book. 1.5 marbles



Monday, July 18, 2011

Fanning the Flames by Eden Winters


Fanning the Flames by Eden Winters
Publisher: Torquere Press, Single Shot
Genre: Erotic Romance, M/M, Contemporary
Length: 58 pages

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Summary: The man of Barry's dreams has gone from a sugarplum fantasy to sweet reality, thanks to the GLBT dating site GetaDate.com. Introducing a new boyfriend to the family and settling into coupledom isn't the easiest thing in the world for a man with little dating experience, but the romantic demands of Valentine's Day are beyond Barry's imagination. His piteous cry for help brings all kinds of suggestions from family and friends.

Fully believing he's found the perfect ways to charm his sweetheart, Barry isn't prepared to hear "Achoo!" at every turn. Adam's allergic to what? And will sneezes and welts wreck Barry's painstaking plans for fanning the flames?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Barry's back for another round of misadventures in love – we first met this adorable but romantically inept man in Eden Winters' The Match Before Christmas, where he found his delectable Adam. It's Valentine's Day, Barry's wild to make Adam feel loved and appreciated, but without a clue of his own, every suggestion he takes has the possibility to go wrong, and in Fanning the Flames, it does.

It's not for lack of trying – there's so much trying that Adam would feel overwhelmed if Barry's planning all came off. We don't see a lot of Adam in this story, aside from his descent into misery, poor thing, but you just know he's a great person if someone as good-hearted as Barry wants to please him so badly. Comic writing is hard to pull off, but Ms Winters does it well, with her characters at cross-purposes until all of a sudden they're on the same page. It's Adam's philosophy that guides Barry at last, and gives us the great big Aw! moment.

There are a lot of secondary characters, most of them introduced in the first story, but they all have their parts to play here. They appear with enough detail to know who they are without having read the first book, though I wouldn't recommend passing up that treat. One or two seem like they should have their own story – we can hope.

Some holiday-themed stories are best enjoyed in their season, but the humor and sweetness of this story make it welcome all year round. 5 marbles


Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Legend of the Mountain Ash by Ruth Sims


The Legend of the Mountain Ash by Ruth Sims
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Romance, GLBT, M/M, Gay
Length: 14 pages




Summary:

Ethan is a Doughboy wounded in the battle for Belleau Wood. Davy is a reviled British conscientious objector serving in a military hospital. Two young men drawn to each other in the midst of the horrors of the Great War. Neither has a family, for the soldier's has all died and the CO's has cast him off in disgust for refusing to take up arms.

The bond of love that grows between Ethan and Davy takes them to Ethan's beautiful Appalachian hills, where they build a home and make a life. It is there they find that their love is strong enough to conquer everything, even time and death.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The opening lines of Ruth Sims' short story puts the reader at the feet of a storyteller swaying in a rocking chair on the porch of a log cabin such as Ethan and Davy live in. The Legend of the Mountain Ash mixes the eeriness of myth with a story set in a time we can recognize.

In a few brief words, Ms. Sims captures a hideous time for the young men in World War 1, the fighters and non-combatants both. Ethan and Davy, the wounded and the medic, find love in the horror and a refuge in the Appalachian Mountains where Ethan was born.

The outer world intrudes on them again, when the drought of the early thirties brings destitute, thirsty strangers through. Davy lives his beliefs with every breath, and will not turn anyone away, though they have barely enough for themselves. Ethan, a good man but more pragmatic, stops arguing about it, but looks at the empty sky, saying he'd give anything for rain.

Sometimes, someone or something will take you up on that kind of offer, particularly in the Appalachians. Ethan got his rain.

The story goes in waves of disaster followed by quiet happiness, described in language simple and poetic. There's years of background covered in a few pages at the beginning, with no dialog. It's a common structure in a folk tale though frowned on in modern romance, so let the opening set the right sort of expectations. Ethan and Davy are almost archetypes of good men and devoted lovers, but the setting and situation make them unique, and keeps the story anchored in time. Stating dates created a weak point; it pulls the reader out of the flow of legend. I think we could have been well enough anchored from knowing the events of the Great War and the Dust Bowl. The ending explains almost a little too much, but it's still mystical. And happy.

The love between Ethan and Davy comes through wonderfully clearly, not needing any explicit descriptions of their lovemaking, and I don't want that kind of detail from the storyteller in the rocker. This is a love story with a folk tale feel, and I will sit at Ruth Sims' feet any day. 4 marbles



Monday, July 11, 2011

Good manners with an odd cost

I was asked recently what I thought of authors contacting me to respond to a review. An author who is one of the most gracious correspondents I've ever had the pleasure to meet wanted to know: do it? Don't do it? Do it but privately? The right answer is – it's complicated.

I can see reasons for each of those ways, and I’ve had all three sorts of responses. None that’s led to an author meltdown, thank God. On one hand, when the review was positive, it was very pleasant and I enjoyed the exchanges with the author and was left thinking what a very nice person, and if it wasn’t a totally glowing review, I was thinking gee I wish I’d been more positive about her book. Or I wish I could have been more positive about her book.

That’s multiplied by about a zillion times when the review wasn’t very enthusiastic. Sometimes really nice people produce less than fabulous stories. I had the horrible experience recently of writing a very low-ranked review on a book by someone I know through social media. That's all the closer the contact is but still it's kind of hard because I’m pretty sure she’ll read it. It's not like I enjoy hurting anyone, but sometimes there just isn't a lot of positive.

So, yes, responding is polite, and I’ve seen it done very graciously but in a weird way, it gets in the way of the next review, because honesty and politeness get all mixed up. The practical aspect is that if someone's kind to me, I'd like to return it, and at the same time, I am reviewing books, not personalities. What happens when I read the next one and can't be enthusiastic? Do I hurt someone's feelings? There are people on the other end of this reviewing thing who can be hurt or happy because of what I write. This happened once, the author was charming, and I couldn't give her next story a glowing review and still be honest. So it ended up costing her a review.

My understanding with Dark Divas is that you can hand a book back without finishing it only if the spork is already stuck in your eye. I could be wrong on this, but "you chose it, you complete the review" isn't unreasonable. It does mess with the "back away slowly" option. This is where I have to grow a thicker skin.

I have reviewed stories where the authors have contacted me privately, which seems like the best response, because they weren’t having to put on their public face. They could be just honest. We could talk a little about the points I didn’t care for and no one else had a reason to chime in, which is where it seems like trouble starts in the big internet messes. If I've made an error of fact, I'd like to know it, I have great respect for facts. I have learned things from authors' comments, and I am always glad to do that. Some of the most charming people I've met on the internet have come to me just this way.

I've also had authors mix some scoldings in with the thank yous, because I "didn't get it." Thank you very much, I got it just fine, and calling a leg a tail doesn't make it so. I read what's on the page, not what's in the author's head. While not planning to commit the 'nincompoopery' (I have been reliably informed that this is the correct term) of attempting lit-crit when not qualified, I can and do notice logic fail out loud. A discussion is welcome, a brow-beating is not.

There’s a review on Smart Bitches Trashy books that was middle of the road, and the author showed up in the middle of the discussion, maybe 30 posts in, and said something really witty and gracious and all of a sudden the comments went from 'I’ll pass' to 'I have to read this just because she had such a nice attitude.' The author had everyone eating out of her hand before the thread ended. That was something I really don’t think everyone can manage. We've all seen when responses go wrong.

So I don’t mind if authors comment, either publicly or privately, but it does affect the detachment between the reviewer, the author and the book. But I really think I’d rather get an email.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Picture is Worth...


Sorry darlings, RL is cleaning my clock and Dark Divas and I aren't quite meshed yet, so posting has been sparse. Just for apologies, I offer you a whole lotta naked guys to look at here!

In some related news to our Thousand Word Thursday posts -- I just heard from an author that she got inspired by the jockey picture and wrote. And wrote. And kept writing. The piece ran way over 1000 words for here -- she sent it into her publisher, who said Yes! Oh Yes, like publishers should do when offered a fine story. So keep an eye out for JM Cartright's A Gentleman and His Jockey to come out later this summer! More news as it comes available. Gee I'm excited that JM got so inspired.

So, anyone inspired by our swimmers? A hundred to a thousand words about it (for some reason, no one writes drabbles, why is that?) will get your news, covers, and links up here.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Picture is Worth...


It was Thursday, and somehow I managed to not hit "publish". Better late than never, so here is our prompt pic for the week.

Our last picture (of Mr. Rumpled and Confused) inspired a darling fic from Tam Ames, well worth the read. I am just so boggled by the talent that wanders by here.

This week's picture comes from the very talented Carole Cummings, who writes amazing epic stories and draws wonderful pictures. She also may possibly juggle flaming batons, a skill hard to translate to the internet, so we'll read and admire.

Dream, Carole's second installment of Aisling, is out from Prizm Press (also available at Amazon and All Romance eBooks), and it is a most worthy followup to part one, Guardian. I'm still writing the review, but let me just say, it was a "read straight through" read for me, and phoo on RL for interrupting.

Carole also has a short coming out from Dreamspinner in the not too distant future, and they used some of her artwork for the cover. Is this woman fabulous or what?

An author who has a story to tell on these two handsome gentlemen will have it posted here with news, covers, and links. Who's inspired?