Category Archives: Books

Review: Kitty Takes a Holiday

Kitty Takes a Holiday

So the actual time I finished reading Kitty Takes a Holiday was March 7th, but thanks to my Goodreads updates and some page skimming I think I recall my overall feelings on this installment of the Kitty Norville series. This is my third time reading this book, and it’s getting three stars from me (one star drop from the original rating I gave it.)

Basically, I was coming off of a high from Kitty Goes to Washington. The previous book had such a tight narrative. The pacing was good, and interesting things were happening just about all the time. In Kitty Takes a Holiday, that changes a bit. You see, after Kitty’s traumatic experiences in Washington, she decides to take a break from the public eye and hide out in a cabin in the middle of nowhere to write her memoirs. Naturally things don’t go as planned, and her writer’s block is interrupted by a dramatic visit from Cormac and Ben. Something terrible has happened, and Cormac needs Kitty’s help to keep Ben alive. I’ll avoid spoilers, but basically this is one of my favorite moments in the series.

What follows is a really interesting couple of days as Kitty works to handle this incredible dilemma the boys have set in front of her. She tries to keep everyone’s morale up, but of course, tempers flare and fur gets rubbed the wrong way. Eventually, things sort of plateau, and a calm point is reached–until that calm is once again shattered, as another problem demands Kitty’s attention: since she had arrived at her cabin, someone has been leaving dead animals on her porch–likely in an attempt to curse Kitty. Cormac brings in his witch doctor friend, and as that whole issue unravels, things seem to climax in my opinion.

I say seem to, because the trouble is this “climax” occurred around 190 pages in. After that? Things drastically slow down as we see Ben and Kitty wrestle with a legal battle in an attempt to keep Cormac out of jail for his latest actions. As they do that, feelings are wrestled with as an attraction that had been developing between our chatty werewolf and bristly lawyer sort of comes full circle. I really, really struggled with these remaining 110 pages. After enjoying the first half of the book so much, I was very disappointed by the sudden drag in pace.

Ultimately, my feeling is that, while Kitty Takes a Holiday is still a worthwhile read for any Kitty Norville fan, it just isn’t as good as the second book. Ironically enough, I feel this book is probably the most fitting (so far) of the “paranormal romance” tag that everyone seems so eager to attribute to the series.

If you like this review, please check out my other reviews on Goodreads!

And while you’re at it, why not give my own fantasy romance novel a try? It’s available on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes!

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Review: Kitty Goes To Washington

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As with the first book in the Kitty Norville series, this is my third time reading Kitty Goes to Washington. That said, I am very familiar with this series, and my thoughts on this book are glowingly positive–even more than the first time, and I’ll list the reasons below.

In this book, Kitty Norville has fled from her home in Colorado and has taken her radio talk show on the road. She lives her life now as a werewolf without a pack, and she’s coping, but unhappy. Then she gets a surprising summons to speak at a congressional hearing regarding the Center of Paranatural Biology, or some such thing. She goes for it, of course (free publicity!) but as you might imagine, things go awry when she meets an arrogant vampire underling named Leo, and a bible-thumping senator, Joseph Duke.

My original rating for this book had been four stars, but I decided to change this to five because I really, just immensely loved reading this book. I was at the edge of my seat, turning pages like a madman. And the ending! What a great climactic ending! After three times around the track, that says a lot about a story. Carrie Vaughn, like any prolific writer, has her “good” stories and her…well…not so good stories. Dare I say crappy stories? Well this second installment in the long running Kitty series is definitely one of the better ones. Certainly better than the first book!

I even remember complaining about the Church of the Pure Faith story arc, which I mentioned in my first review. It finds its conclusion in Kitty Goes to Washington, and the first time I read the books, I thought its ending had been…anti-climactic? But I thought the fallout from Elijah Smith’s demise was fairly interesting, and it also served as a way of introducing Jeffrey Miles, TV personality and psychic. Jeffrey is a recurring character in the series. It also helped to deepen the character of Roger Stockton, the exploitative weird news journalist. Once I took these things into account, I looked on the Church of the Pure Faith story arc more favorably. It still isn’t one of my favorite Kitty adventures, but it certainly isn’t the worst.

That’s really the only complaint that I have for this book, and as you can see, it’s not really a complaint. Kitty Goes to Washington has a fairly tight plot. The action was fast paced. The mysteries were intriguing. I have stated that the Kitty Norville series has this side to it that I likened to nerds at D&D night, that side where the story goes down weird “what-if” avenues and paints a broad and colorful view of how the supernatural might exist in our world. In this book, I think the best example of that is displayed in Fritz, an old German werewolf with a sad and violent past. This is really important for people to realize about the Kitty Norville series: it tips its hat to old fantasy pulp magazines, wherein strange and speculative stories were published. Why else would Carrie Vaughn use the tongue-in-cheek title convention of “Kitty and the…” I sort of chuckle when I see people whine about Kitty’s ironic name, and the funny book titles. They’re missing the joke, and it’s a shame!

But that leads to my next point: this series is not for everyone. It revels in its pulp fiction qualities and giggles at the ironic situations it presents. It’s self-aware humor. Kitty’s narrative voice is witty and humorous, and she isn’t shy to point out the stereotypes that populate her world. She can get whiny at times, and she really, really loves to run her mouth. Her idealist beliefs might frustrate some readers too. Another thing that might turn people off is its lack of smut. As paranormal fiction goes, there isn’t as much romance as you might expect in the Kitty Norville series. I’d still classify this series as PNR, because I think the target audience is still the same, but I’d do so with the caveat that not all the Kitty books are smut-laced adventures so much as just…adventures with some occasional sexiness. This book is just such a case. Kitty Goes to Washington has a very sexy love interest in Luis, the were-jaguar, but he isn’t really a central character in the book (even if he is a recurring character in the series.)

The climax to this installment is leaps and bounds better than the last, so that’s another good point for it. Once I got to the end, I couldn’t stop reading. It feels satisfying, it feels significant. If you were frustrated by the downer ending of Kitty and the Midnight Hour you’ll be happy to know that Kitty Goes to Washington has a much more kick ass conclusion.

I’m actually surprised by how much I liked this book a third time around. Despite enjoying re-reading the first book, I was afraid this one would be stale, or perhaps just not be as awesome as I remembered it. Thankfully, this was not the case. How reassuring to know I had such great taste as a teenager!

If you like this review, please check out my other reviews on Goodreads!

And while you’re at it, why not give my own fantasy romance novel a try? It’s available on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes!

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Review: Kitty and the Midnight Hour

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This is my third time reading this book. I first read it back in high school in 2006, when I was in the 11th grade. That was just a year after it was published. I’ve been following the series ever since, and these characters have become some of my favorites. That said, I obviously love the series, but I’m not blind to its flaws.

Since the series is almost finished (the final book releases this summer) I decided to read the entire thing from the start. It’s been a few years since I last read the first book, so it felt fairly fresh to me. There were a lot of things that I had forgotten. Kitty grows so much as a character, but right away I could remember the reasons why I liked her so much. In Kitty and the Midnight Hour, she was a submissive wolf on the bottom of the pecking order. She was timid and abused all the time, but when she accidentally starts a nighttime radio show talking about the supernatural, she discovers success, and with that success comes new confidence. Little Kitty doesn’t want to get pushed around anymore, and this disrupts the status quo.

Witty characters in PNR is hardly groundbreaking–in fact it’s a trope–but with Kitty it’s a little different. In many similar stories, a character might crack a joke, but it’s with too much gravity and disconnect from reality. It’s usually, I’m a “three dimensional character” wisecracking about the supernatural, but hey take me serious at all times because I’m in a dark and gritty world, and my story is art, understand!?Kitty, on the other hand, is a character who recognizes her own flaws, and is not afraid to comment on the absurdity of some of the typical situations you encounter in PNR. It’s self-aware humor, and this book pulls this off because the author herself is a great big nerd (and that’s a compliment!) All you have to do is go to Carrie Vaughn’s blog to see that she is the kind of person who loves all aspects of sci-fi and fantasy, not just the mainstream bits. She’s the kind of nerd who prefers Johnny Mnemonic to Elysium. The kind who recognizes how much Guardians of the Galaxy owes to the original Star Wars trilogy for its success. In short: she’s old school. And old school nerds know one thing: campy humor and fantasy easily go hand-in-hand.

Which is why Vaughn writes such great material. Kitty’s discussions on her radio show sound like the kinds of things fantasy nerds shoot the shit about over drinks on D&D night: “What does life imprisonment mean to a vampire? How can a human maintain a relationship with a werewolf?” These portions of the book are really fun and bring a lot to the story. Kitty utilizes her radio show as a source information at times, hoping to find answers to personal problems. Other times, the show is what introduces plot threads that Kitty finds herself wrestling with throughout the series. It’s really great, because it creates a sense of spontaneity that makes me think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In that example, Joss Whedon often had multiple plots and subplots running concurrently in his show. For the Kitty Norville series, this keeps things fresh and interesting, allowing Vaughn to focus on interesting material and constant action instead of having to make us suffer through awkward filler.

But readers might find themselves frustrated by the basic concept of the book to begin with. Maybe the random radio talk show discussions might annoy you? After all, it’s essentially nerd-talk, and not everybody’s into that. Or perhaps Kitty’s initial submissive nature and gullible decisions might frustrate you? Like any well-rounded character, Kitty has less than admirable traits–including running her mouth and being overly idealistic. The introduction of so many sub-plots so early on might frustrate readers as well. It’s always been my belief that this show would function great as a television show, partly because it already feels like one. So many things are happening, and so many characters are getting tossed into the mix, that fans of the series have come to name and recognize certain story arcs (like my least favorite: The Church of the Pure Faith, which starts in this book.) Another thing that might discourage people is this book’s ending. It’s a bit sudden, and it can be frustrating. To this day, I’m surprised Vaughn decided to begin her series on the note that she did. It was definitely a risk for a first book.

If you think you can forgive some of those things, or if you think they won’t bother you at all, then definitely give Kitty and the Midnight Hour a read. These days, you can get the second book used pretty cheaply, and believe me, you’ll want to immediately after finishing this one!

If you like this review, please check out my other reviews on Goodreads!

And while you’re at it, why not give my own fantasy romance novel a try? It’s available on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes!

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Recovering From a Bad Review – When One Person’s Opinion Hurts Your Sales

TL;DR: One bad review is hurting my book sales. I need to make a comeback, so I’m offering free copies of my novel to anyone who will post an honest review on Amazon. To get your free e-book of my LGBT fantasy novel, click here and submit your request!


“Bad reviews happen to everyone.”

I’ve seen this all the time from writing sites and author blogs that try to offer some comfort to authors who have received negative comments on their work on such sites as Amazon. “Don’t take it personal and just move on.” I’ve even seen a few articles that claim bad reviews can be a good thing–that they might have the curious effect of “boosting sales”, or they could contain good advice about what not to do with your next book. For the obviously trollish reviews, the best advice I’ve seen is “just ignore it.” (Removing an inappropriate review from a site like Amazon is notoriously hard, apparently, even if that review violates guidelines.) Obviously, I’ve received negative and mixed reviews before for my unpublished writing. I took what I could from those and moved on, as all the articles have recommended.

But one thing I don’t see these writing sites discussing is what to do when you get a bad review, and have little to no reviews to balance it out. What do you do when one negative review impacts your sales so severely as to cause a virtual flat line? We’re talking about a kiss of financial death here, not just hurt feelings.

I’m in one such position right now. Currently, Amazon is where I’m selling the most units of my first and latest release, Tributaries, which came out just a short month ago. My planning was a bit rushed. It was one of those live-and-learn experiences. I set aside just one short month for promotion before releasing the book. I sent free copies to dozens of blogs, made announcements on all my personal sites, advertised tirelessly on sites like Twitter and Tumblr, launched a Project Wonderful campaign, entered a Halloween book contest, and gave away ten free copies in a promotional raffle. I did manage to get some pre-orders, but naturally, one month is too short a time to generate any real buzz, so when my book came out, it was basically a blank slate. Anyone buying it was taking a risk on me as an unknown author.

What all that meant was that any reviews I received from the incredible diverse (and often unprofessional) reading masses was going to determine my sales. Scary, right? Especially considering the trolls that haunt the internet. But for the most part, I got a handful of mostly good reviews, with one or two mixed reviews tossed in. The problem? Most of my positive feedback was on Goodreads, where people are known to add books to their lists and virtually forget about them. I’m guilty of this myself, having I think over a hundred books on my “to-read” list. And on Amazon, my primary seller? I managed to snag one glowing 5-star review one month after the book’s release. “That’s great!” I thought. Then three days ago, I got a scathing one-star review from a guy who said my book was “pointless” and who apparently didn’t think too much of my books “rare vocabulary.” He even took a shot at the fact that I have a bachelor’s degree, like I was trying to lord that over everyone. Ouch!

And I could’ve ignored this review for what it was–the spiteful opinion of one guy who wasn’t even part of my targeted demographic. This was written by an older white man who has only bothered to review seven other books aside from mine, and only one out of those seven got four stars from him. A picky reader. Certainly not a crime, and it’s not like his review violated guidelines.

But his scathing comments had a huge impact on my sales. The effect was almost immediate. He posted his review on December 17th. You wanna know what my sale chart looks like on Kindle Direct Publishing now?

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Ouch, ouch, ouch! What happened? Can one man’s negative comments really have such a devastating effect on an author?

In my particular case…yes. You see, when you have such a small pool of reviews and a small publishing history to go with it, the fact of the matter is that unless I’m wowing people with tons of stellar reviews, no one is interested. It’s the insane hurdle that new indie writers have to overcome. This man’s one-star rating dropped my book’s average from five-stars to three. Even if I got another five-star rating, I’d only get half-a-star back of what I’d lost. Hardly the kind of thing that boosts confidence in potential customers, right? It’s particularly frustrating as I have a 4.2 star rating on Goodreads (at the time of this post) based on multiple reviews, but most of those who might actually purchase my book only ever see the feedback on Amazon. Talk about skewed perception!

So the question is: how do I come back from this?

The short answer? I honestly have no idea. Right now, all I can think to do is wait and have faith that someone who has already received the book will be kind enough to post a more positive review. What’s excruciating is that, until I get some better ratings to off-set this one bad rating, my sales will continue to look like the one above. I’ve already sent out free copies to tons of people prior to this latest set-back, specifically requesting a review on Amazon. I’d do a free sale if I was enrolled in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, but I’m not. If this keeps up, I might have to resort to editing the base price to see if I can encourage more people to try the book. Over a hundred people have purchased it since its release, and I have no idea if any of them will bother to say anything about it–good or bad.

And in the meantime? I guess I can just put my head between my knees and try to breathe. Publishing a book is rough, but it can be even rougher when one person sets out to destroy what little chances you already had. I don’t know that reviewers realize the kind of impact their comments have on writers like me. For me, this isn’t a hobby. I’m trying to make this my livelihood. The thing that hurts the most? It’s most likely that this person doesn’t give a damn about any of that.

…All that said, for the next few weeks only, I’m offering my novel for free to anyone who is willing to post a review on Amazon. This is for an HONEST review, and you don’t have to feel pressured to write something positive just because of my woeful tale. I know my book isn’t perfect, I wrote the original manuscript when I was just 19 for heaven’s sake, and it’s my first attempt at writing a major novel. BUT I’ve also made significant improvements since then, and I’m confident my work isn’t a one-star affair. All you need to do to get your free copy of my book is go to the contact page of my book’s site by clicking here, and submit your request for a copy. After that, I’ll personally send you three formats of it: PDF, MOBI, and EPUB. I realize that any reviews posted on Amazon will have to state that you received the book for free, and that it won’t be a “verified purchase”, but anything is better than what I have right now.

So I implore you. If you like independent books and/or LGBT fiction, then please consider reading my work and posting your feedback on Amazon! Don’t let this one person have the final say on what has taken over six years for me to accomplish!

I’ll be doing this until the end of the first full week of January. (That’s the 10th.) Spread the word about this, even if you feel you can’t read the work yourself! Every little bit helps.

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Review: Dragon Age – Asunder

Asunder

David Gaider is the lead writer for the fantasy game franchise, Dragon Age. Up until Asunder I had been unaware that there were any books published for the game series, but as I understand it, none of the other novels were as directly important to the main storyline as this one. Not only does it feature several characters from the first game, Dragon Age: Origins, it sets up the events of the latest installment in the franchise, Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Since Asunder was written by Gaider, the novel maintains an authentic “Dragon Age” feel to its writing. The setting, the characters, the plot–all feel like something you might encounter if you were playing the actual video games. But the game series has been lauded for its writing, and this strength carries over well in prose-form. In this tale, we hop between characters as a mystery and mission are laid out in parallel: Wynne, one of the companions from the first game, has gone to the White Spire in in the Orlesian city of Val Royeaux to retrieve her son, Rhys, for a mission to rescue a mage friend who was researching something of great importance elsewhere. Rhys, meanwhile, is wrongfully accused of murder. The actual perpetrator is a lonely, misguided young man named Cole, whom no one seems able to see or remember aside from Rhys. Evangeline, a templar under the orders of the strict Lord Seeker Lambert, accompanies Wynne and Rhys on their mission. What they discover has the potential to throw the balance of the world upside down.

The beginning was slow for me, and I remember skimming pages as I ground my teeth in frustration. Much time was spent introducing the large cast of characters and the various circumstances that both cast them together and complicate their relationships. It wasn’t until halfway through the book that I started to feel more invested. It was quite an uphill battle to get to that point, taking nearly a year to hit over %50 completion. But once I made it over all the exposition and dramatic set up, Gaider started dropping bombs. They came one after the other, and while I found myself trying to wrap my head around the implications of one thing, he would sling another at my face at high speed. It was exhilarating, and just the kind of stuff I’d wished he’d opened with, but for a story of this complexity, I know Gaider was taking his time with things, and I’m glad I had the patience to let him work his magic. The thing about Asunder is that it’s as much about the politics as it is the action. None of the stakes make any sense until you understand why, for instance, the Rite of Tranquility is such a disturbing practice, or why the Lord Seeker might seek to act directly in opposition to the will of his religion’s leader (the Divine), or why a mage might still feel the need to support the Circle of Magi.

The stakes are high, the world an unforgiving place, and the plot twists delicious. I enjoyed this book, and I might even try and read the rest of the book series now.

If you’re a die-hard fan of the Dragon Age franchise, you may as well read this. It’s fairly interesting, and as I mentioned earlier, this book acts as the prequel to Dragon Age: Inquisition.

If you like this review, please check out my other reviews on Goodreads!

And while you’re at it, why not give my own fantasy romance novel a try? It’s available on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes!

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TRIBUTARIES NOW ON SALE!

My LGBTQ fantasy novel, Tributaries, is now on sale! Regular price is $3.99, but  Amazon seems to want to keep it at 2.99–perhaps due to price matching as I wait for the other retailers to update the price. So get it while that lasts! And please leave a review if you do get it. Reviews are the life blood of a writer’s career.

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Review: The Eternity Cure

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This book picks up about four months after the first. If I recall correctly, I think it takes a bit for things to pick up as Allison reminds us of the importance of her current mission: Save Kanin, her vampire sire. She also muses for a bit about the fact that she left her dubious human love, Zeke Crosse, back at the human settlement known as Eden. As she goes, she closes in on the vampire holding her creator captive, a bat crazy vamp (pun intended) known as Sarren, who is apparently so powerful even Master vampires are wary of him.

Allison’s search brings her to the remains of D.C. where she suspects (without knowing the significance of her surroundings) that Sarren is being held in the White House. But when she manages to get there, she finds instead her blood brother, Jackal, the former raider king and antagonist of the first book. Naturally she isn’t happy about this, but Jackal explains that he had called Allison to him on purpose (using a sort of psychic blood link she had been using to track Kanin) because he wants her help to investigate a lab underground. She refuses at first until he persuades her by reminding her of just how dangerous Sarren is. Since he’s going after the psychotic vampire too, they should work together, he reasons. Reluctantly, Allison agrees.

And that’s how things start, essentially. Eventually we see some familiar faces, including the dreamy Zeke Crosse. (That isn’t really a huge surprise, but I’ll refrain on saying how he makes his return anyway.) The stakes are raised in this book when a new mutation of the Red Lung virus that had wiped out millions is released, thus threatening to wipe out what’s left of the world’s population. What at first was a race to save Kanin becomes so much more, and it’s such a riveting read.

In the first book, the major question of the story seemed to be, “How can Allison maintain her humanity when she has become a monster?” That question still hums through The Eternity Cure, but it takes a back seat to the new theme: Loss. More specifically, coming to terms with it. Allison finds herself fighting to save two of the most important people in her new undead life, but she stands to lose them both in a tragic fashion that threatens to completely demolish her spirit. Can she let them go without losing what little grip she still maintains on her hope, sanity, and humanity?

Since Allison finds herself in the company of a number of vampires in this book, we get to see more of what vampires are like. I remarked in my review for The Immortal Rules how Kagawa’s vampires, while very much traditional in style, are very satisfying. They are violent and ruthless. They remind me a lot of Anne Rice’s idea of vampires, though I’ve never read any of Rice’s books (only seen the movies). Some might not be too impressed by that, but given the saturation of vampires in the reading world today, I think Kagawa was smart to take the tried and true approach, and do it well.

In my reading updates on Goodreads, I talk about how Julie Kagawa manages an efficient and focused plot by wasting no time with unnecessary details. Just about everything, from her world building, to her scene setting, to even her character descriptions, serve a greater purpose. I admire a story with such a tight and focused narrative, and I take my hat off to Kagawa for her accomplishment. The Eternity Cure is certainly a bigger and better book than The Immortal Rules, but it it’s bigger in the way of a massive tank–solid and powerful–and less like a giant squid–slippery and confusingly branching.

So do I recommend this installment of the Blood of Eden series? Yes! A thousand times, yes! It’s got so much going for it, including a hot romance, a wise cracking vampire, and a fantastically evil antagonist. You really have no reason to skip out on this book if you liked The Immortal Rules. Even if you didn’t like the first book somehow, the second book is an improvement of the first by leaps and bounds.

Bottom line: get this book. I don’t give out five stars all that often, but this was certainly a five star book!

If you like this review, please check out my other reviews on Goodreads!

And while you’re at it, why not give my own fantasy romance novel a try? It’s available on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes!

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Review: The Janus Affair

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Sometimes I wonder if I’m a little too generous with my stars given (in this case it’s a four), but I can’t deny that the Janus Affair was skillfully written with great depth and attention to detail. Any annoyances I suffered came as a result of my very niche tastes, and I know not everyone will agree with my views. I also tend to avoid giving reviews for any books below four stars, partly because of professional courtesy, and partly because I just can’t be bothered to finish anything less than a four star book these days anyway. I think I can even count on one hand the number of times I went so far.

First the positives: This is a very strong steampunk adventure novel. The world is rich and vibrant with imaginative technology. The characters are oh-so-very British (or colonial, depending on who we are focusing on) but it’s all great fun. I wonder why the authors insist on calling Eliza a “colonial pepper pot” when the story keeps focusing sympathetically on a feminist movement. I mean, wouldn’t she object? But the description is used less in this book than the last, I think. I read the first book right when it first came out, so I’m late to the party on the second. I actually like the plot better in The Janus Affair than Phoenix Rising, mostly because it maintains a level of fantastic adventure without somehow getting into an almost sleazy pulp-fiction quality I felt from the first. (Rutting nobles in a pseudo-cult out to dominate the world? Sure. I know you just wanted to write in an orgy, guys. It’s okay. We’re all adults here.)

Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris really do achieve a level of epicness in their books, both in the scope of their plot and characters. Their antagonists are decidedly villainous, and their schemes indeed both clever and dastardly. They weave in details with care, timing things to such a degree that you feel a sense of admiration at their story-weaving. What’s great about their stories is that you can envision them as blockbuster movies with their larger-than-life characters striking poses and making funny quips, while at the same time managing a depth and fallacy in their being that feels both sympathetic and real.
Now for the…possible negatives? Depends on if you’re like me, really. If you don’t care about these things, then The Janus Affair is really a five star book for you, and you should check it out. But me? I like to focus on the subjective. The sticky, tricky, icky relationships that people have with each other are important to me. It doesn’t matter if it’s a romance or a mystery or a horror. It’s the relationships of the characters that allow me to best relate and sympathize with them. Not how they solve problems or how freaking clever they are. I will say this though: if I AM reading something that is going to bother with romance, then damn it, I want the romance to be central in some way, not a hanger-on to the “action packed plot”. Otherwise, don’t bother. I don’t like canned romance, like the variety you get from action movies. “Every cishet hero needs a girl to kiss at the end!” No thank you.

I don’t like it when stories go in between The Notebook level of romance, and the amount of romantic focus you get out of Big Trouble in Little China either.

Sadly, I feel this is exactly where The Janus Affair falls on the romance quality spectrum.

The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Book 2 picks up roughly close to where the first ended (apparently there was an interlude that I missed, but it seemed hardly important.) In the first adventure, Phoenix Rising, Books and Braun definitely exhibit signs of a mutual attraction to one another, but because of their adventure and their personality differences things just don’t get happenin’. In the second book, safe to say, we see a bit more movement there. I just wished there had been more…passion? Emotional connection?

For instance, and I’ll try not to spoil things, there is one portion of the book where Eliza does a pretty selfish, ditzy thing to Books, and though she realizes her mistake, there is NO RECONCILIATION for it, whatsoever. Nope, in Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris’ book, we just pull up stakes and keep moving, missing a prime moment to really stop and focus on the developing relationship of our two lead characters. I mean sure, we get there towards the end with some catharsis, but would it really have killed the authors to inject a little more focus on the budding romance? It’s a major part of Books and Braun’s dynamic, I certainly don’t think it would have harmed their precious plot if they had.

But I digress. You see? This is a niche issue. Not everyone wants the same thing like I do. Some might accuse me of trying to squeeze blood from a stone. I’ve made my point, though. I still think The Janus Affair is a damn good steampunk story. MoPO was the first of the genre I read, actually. I’m glad I did. Looking forward to starting the next adventure!

If you like this review, please check out my other reviews on Goodreads!

And while you’re at it, why not give my own fantasy romance novel a try? It’s available on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes!

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Queer Lit, New Zines, and More LGBT Market Musing

So I received my first official review for the new Tributaries e-book, and it was four stars! But interestingly, it was one of those positive reviews that seem to lack…positivity? The reviewer wasn’t mean or discouraging, but her review had a tone of bemusement to it. Like she didn’t inherently “get” the book, and I don’t mean “get” as in a surface understanding, but “get” as in…she just didn’t get it! Apparently the reviewer (who was very kind to read my work when it was clearly something she wouldn’t have read had I not asked her to) was confused by the “lesbian romance” aspect of my story. She said the main characters, Nyx and Elmiryn, made her think of Frodo and Samwise from the Lord of the Rings, two close but otherwise “platonic” friends. I sent her an email thanking her for her honesty, but also included a tongue in cheek YouTube link of the (in)famous TBS LotR spot that poked fun at Frodo and Sam’s relationship.

I can’t really say that it’s because she was “straight” that she didn’t get my work. I’ve received emails from straight readers, some of them women, who remarked on how much they enjoy Eikasia (the name of my fantasy series) and how they’re surprised at how much they relate to Elmiryn and Nyx as people. Not lesbians. PEOPLE!

Fancy that!

So then I wondered, “Was the reviewer somehow expecting more…gayness? Was my story not alternative enough? Did she expect the characters to hem and haw about their homosexuality? For them to go through a ‘coming out’ process? Or did she think lesbian women would have been more romantically aggressive?” Because (with all due respect to the reviewer) I was equally confused by her perception that the story lacked a real sense of lesbian romance. Numerous times, Elmiryn propositions Nyx. Numerous times, Nyx displays a fascination and attraction toward Elmiryn’s body. They are close and physically intimate in a way that two women who only met each other wouldn’t typically allow so soon (if at all).

But the reviewer didn’t see how the characters could be gay! She even felt like the kiss at the end of the book was a surprise. I could only laugh, I was so bewildered.

Which then got me thinking (and worrying) that perhaps I’m at a further disadvantage than I had previously believed. Tributaries is a romance story, and the growing relationship does play an important role in the plot, but the romance is secondary to the fantasy adventure. I actually feel apprehensive telling potential lesbian readers about my book, because I don’t want to lie and say there’s RAGIN’ SEX in it (that doesn’t come for at least two more books, ha!) but I wonder if I don’t say that will they be interested at all?

Recently on this blog, I discussed a very small market for LGBT books and a severe lack of support for lesbian fiction. But maybe the problem is more than that for me? Maybe, it is isn’t just a lack of lesbian fiction, but a lack of queer lit. I don’t want to get too attached to terms, as people seem to have different ideas of what to call these small niche markets, but in this case, I’m talking about stories that just so happen to have central LGBTQIA characters in ordinary stories. Stories where the main focus isn’t how gay or alternative the protagonist is, how they struggle with their identity, or how they struggle with society’s perception of their identity.

To reiterate: We’re talking stories where the characters just so happen to be LGBTQIA. Queer Lit. Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? Say it with me: QUEER LIT!

And I realize now that I’ve been writing in an even smaller niche than I could have imagined. Nearly ALL of my writing to this day (Eikasia, Kliff’s Edge, and Akumu Love Panic!) fits into this curious little sub-genre. And why is it a sub-genre? Why, when the queer characters in these stories are having the same kind of adventures as such famous characters as Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and Buffy Summers? How can we make queer lit not a sub-genre of a sub-genre? By publishing more queer lit stories! The problem? Many publishers aren’t interested, and that includes many LGBT publishers.

Then I heard on Twitter of this really cool, amazing project. Vitality!

Vitality Magazine is meant to be a Queer Lit zine that focuses on stories with gay characters. Not erotic vignettes. Not coming-out-stories. Not dramas focusing on the struggle of the gay identity. Just…stories. Such a publication is VITAL in proving to publishers (and even readers) that Queer Lit is worthwhile. That it can be enjoyed by a universal audience if people just gave it a chance.

The goals of Vitality Magazine, as listed on their website–

The heart of Vitality can be broken up into five parts:

  • Positive portrayal of queerness
  • Casual integration of queerness into the lives of our characters
  • Interesting works of art and writing
  • Quality works of art and writing
  • Diversity is wonderful

So pardon the long introduction, but I wanted to share why I think this thing is (personally) so important. Why I pledged $100 to help get this magazine out to the world. And I hope that you support it too, for all that I’ve said. They are currently accepting submissions for their first issue early 2015, and entries must be sent by December 15th. They are accepting fiction, art, poetry, and comics!

If you still aren’t sold, you can give Vitality’s minizine a shot. It’s essentially a sample of what they intend to do!

Visit Vitality Magazine’s Kickstarter campaign!

Visit their official website!

And while you’re at it…

Please check out my new lesbian fantasy romance novel, Tributaries, on Smashwords!

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Review: Gone Girl

Gone_Girl_(Flynn_novel)
I’m a huge fan of Gillian Flynn. I first read Sharp Objects, then Dark Places. Loved both. I saved Gone Girl for last, not necessarily because I felt it would be the “best”, but because I wasn’t really sold on the story’s premise. Not even the fact that it was Flynn’s most popular work and being turned into a movie could move me either. I didn’t feel like reading about some narcissistic character (an erroneous descriptor attached to Nick I later learned, the fault of some random review I glanced at on the internet. Nick isn’t so much narcissistic as a bit self-involved and hyper-aware of how others perceive him.) But then, after I read the deeply haunting Dark Places I saw Gone Girl on sale at Costco and thought, “Oh to hell with it. I may as well.”

And boy am I glad I did.

I don’t know if my family can say the same.

You see, I lost myself in this book. I neglected chores, became a couch barnacle, barely ate, and turned into a grunting conversation partner, my eyes always stuck on this…damn…book! Finishing this story was like an exorcism for me, and I knew it. I had to get it all out as swiftly as I could. And I did. And my god, I want to go back and experience it again!

Okay. The back story and fan-girl gushing is done. Now to get to the important details. First, Flynn is an amazing writer with a very modern voice and an uncanny ability to catch nice succinct vignettes that have you nodding your head (“Yeah! That’s totally how it is!”) For example, here’s an innocent bit from the beginning:

A group of loudmouthed white-haired ladies, each trying to talk over the next, a few of them texting, the kind of elderly people who have a baffling amount of energy, so much youthful vigor you had to wonder if they were trying to rub it in.
And even if you haven’t seen this in real life, you can just SEE it, because Flynn sets scenes and characters so effortlessly (sometimes in just the space of a few lines, a few words) that it takes hardly any effort on your part at all to catch on to her thinking and envision what she does.

I’m trying to write a spoiler-free review, but I know many people who have reviewed the book must have commented on whose “side” they were on. Nick or Amy’s. Well since you’re reading myreview, I want to be more coy about my thoughts, because if I really got into how or when I started to sympathize with either character (or both) I might ruin things just enough. This story is really too good to be allowed such a horrible act. Suffice it to say, like ALL of Flynn’s work, things are not always as they seem, and you may very well find yourself changing your mind about things…more than once!

There was even one point where I felt like Flynn was poking fun at me as a reader. “Oh-ho! You thought things would turn outthis way, didn’t you?” Cue loud wet raspberry sounds.

Last point, and again, I have to be vague, but wow. The ending was amazing. I’m almost certain the film just doesn’t do the story justice. Overall, Gone Girl is just an amazing examination of marriage, connection, perception, and even identity. I mean, it had me looking very honestly at my life. It was disturbing and unnerving, and like any of Flynn’s books, the story just stays with you long after you close the cover.

Read this book. Just read it. You owe it to yourself.

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