Tag Archives: contemporary

Glitterland by Alexis Hall – quick thoughts

Glitterland cover art

The universe is a glitterball I hold in the palm of my hand.

Once the golden boy of the English literary scene, now a clinically depressed writer of pulp crime fiction, Ash Winters has given up on love, hope, happiness, and—most of all—himself. He lives his life between the cycles of his illness, haunted by the ghosts of other people’s expectations.

Then a chance encounter at a stag party throws him into the arms of Essex boy Darian Taylor, an aspiring model who lives in a world of hair gel, fake tans, and fashion shows. By his own admission, Darian isn’t the crispest lettuce in the fridge, but he cooks a mean cottage pie and makes Ash laugh, reminding him of what it’s like to step beyond the boundaries of anxiety.

But Ash has been living in his own shadow for so long that he can’t see past the glitter to the light. Can a man who doesn’t trust himself ever trust in happiness? And how can a man who doesn’t believe in happiness ever fight for his own?

This is a book that I could appreciate, in terms of writing and construction, but I didn’t love it. For technical merit, I give it a 4.5/5; for my personal enjoyment factor, 3/5.

1. Sometimes the prose in this book is lovely and striking. (I loved the game of Nabble, and dinner being prepared, and other scenes.) While other times it edges past lovely and veers into purple.

2. I really hate when pronunciation is spelled out to match dialect/accent, and the spelling of Darian’s Essex accent was extremely distracting.

3. The narrator was a pretentious twit and not a very sympathetic character. Writer struggling with mental illness — should generate sympathy, right? But I spent most of the book wanting to smack him for being a snobbish jerk. Is it ableist to think that being ill doesn’t excuse him from common courtesy?

4. The blurb tells me that the narrator was the golden boy of the literary scene but nothing in the text showed me that. It just showed me a writer with some commercial success.

5. Another personal taste quirk: the bubble graphics used to accompany the time shift markers were twee.

6. Dear editors: the country in South America is spelled Colombia. People who come from there are Colombian. That famous Spanish-language mystical realism writer is not Columbian but Colombian. That’s not a UK vs. US spelling difference but correct usage in both BrE and AmE, and it was missed here. (And, yes, it’s another pet peeve of mine. Even though I appreciate the shout out to Gabo.)

 

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Review: But My Boyfriend Is

Title:  But My Boyfriend Is

Author:  K.A. Mitchell

(c) 2012, Samhain Publishing

Source:  eARC

Excerpt here.

Available for purchase August 21, 2012 at the usual electronic outlets.

Part of Mitchell’s Jacksonville-set series…even though it’s set in Austin, Texas.  A reader could pick up this book and understand all the action without reading the earlier books of the series.

Dylan Williams is not gay. Sometimes he gets off with other guys, but so what? He plans to get married someday—really married, like with a wife and kids. And he’s determined that his future family’s life will be the normal one he and his brothers never had.

Mike Aurietta is gay, but his job keeps him in the closet. He doesn’t usually risk frequenting infamous cruising places like Webber Park. But when he’s cutting through one night, he finds himself defending a victim from gay bashers.

It’s all Dylan can do to process the shock that anyone would want to hurt his quiet twin brother. At first he needs Mike’s eyewitness report to satisfy the gut-wrenching desire for revenge. Then he finds himself needing Mike’s solid, comforting presence…and the heat that unexpectedly flares between them.

 In the aftermath, Mike quickly learns not to expect too much from his conflicted lover. Though he never thought his good deed would come back to bite him in the ass. Or that hanging on to the possibility of love could force too many secrets out of the closet—and cost them both everything.

This book in PDF is 270 pages, including all the usual book contents – cover page, copyright page, author info, etc.  And there is a lot of action and heavy stuff packaged into the pages:  inter-racial dating…when you’re bisexual and not even out to yourself, becoming an adult abruptly, and separation anxiety, all mixed up with a healthy dollop of guilt.

The book opens with Dylan rushing into the ER, having learned that his identical twin, Darryl, was jumped as he walked through Webber Park, an area known for its cruising.  Except Darryl isn’t gay, Dylan is certain.  Dylan, on the other hand, is not unfamiliar with the park, which has provided him with string-free orgasms that don’t impinge on his fantasy future.  So what was Darryl doing in the park?  And who is this Mike dude who rescued him?  This sets up the external conflict for the book, catching the gay-bashers who bashed a straight guy by mistake, and the internal conflict in which Dylan is attracted to Mike but utterly resistant to the idea that he’s gay or bisexual, because that would mess up the perfect life he has planned.  Both characters have their lives set up the way they like them, with certain people and activities in separate boxes, and Daryl’s assault ultimately makes them dismantle the boxes or at least blur the lines separating the different areas of their lives.  What’s different from a lot of other m/m romances  in the internal conflict is that Mike, for all that he calls Dylan on his I’m not gay bullshit, isn’t an advocate for him to come out, just for him to accept himself as he is.

Dylan is twenty-two, a line chef at The Cheesecake Factory, living with his twin while he finishes up an engineering degree at UT.  Mike is an assistant athletic trainer for the Longhorns.  UT alumni and football fans are fanatical in their loyalty, so his devotion to his job and living on the DL to keep it seem pretty consistent to me:  Austin is a pretty laid-back place and is relatively liberal, but it’s still Texas and collegiate and professional sports remain one of the biggest bastions of homophobia.

In addition to the Dylan/Mike push-me-pull-you, there’s Dylan’s relationship with his twin.  This part of the story is very interesting to me (disclosure: I am a twin).  Because Darryl is absent for most of the book, readers don’t get to see the two interact much.  He isn’t a POV character so their relationship is viewed only through Dylan’s perspective and the snippets of information provided by other characters.  Darryl is a huge part of who Dylan is, and Dylan is clinging to that even as they are reaching a point when their contemporaries are going their separate ways, starting new careers, etc.

Given their ages and the content of the book, the New Adult label might be appropriate.  (Also, the fact that I wanted to give Dylan a sharp smack to the head, much the same way I want to deal with some of the 20-22 y.o. interns I work with. Technically adults under the law but really not so much.)

Recommendation:  very much enjoyed this book, would recommend it especially to readers looking for younger heroes.

I’m a fan of K.A. Mitchell’s work:  her voice and humor suit my taste.  There are a couple of books in her backlist that I have not *loved*, but as a rule her books are auto-buys and comfort re-reads for me.  Top three favorites:  No Souvenirs, Bad Boyfriend, Collision CourseBut My Boyfriend Is would come next on the list:  good stuff, not my favorite of Mitchell’s work but close to it.

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How hardcore are you if you keep getting rescued?

SPOILERS FOR THE QUEEN & COUNTRY SERIES AHOY.

I finished Greg Rucka’s The Last Run the other night.  It’s the third Tara Chace thriller novel; there’s also a graphic novel series that fills in her backstory and some of her adventures as a covert agent for Britain’s SIS.  Overall, I have really enjoyed the three books and the scattered graphic novels I’ve managed to find, the books more so than the graphic novels mostly because I prefer word to drawing but that’s just a matter of taste.

Tara Chase is an expert; at this point, five years have passed since A Gentleman’s Game, and she is Minder One, agent in charge of the team of three in her Ops group, and apparently fairly well-known within the espionage and intelligence community.  She gets the job done, even if in the end the outcome isn’t exactly as planned; she’s always moving, planning, thinking, reacting to changes in the situation.  And yet in both the second and third books, she’s caught and either tortured or in a very bad position, and has to be rescued.  She does a good job of evading capture for a while, and maneuvers to the point that she can be extracted or exfiltrated by her service (rather than be abandoned)…and yet she’s still being rescued.

On one hand, Rucka does a great job of demonstrating how operations never go as planned, and the outcome is often not what was anticipated, resulting in possibly horrendous blowback.  And Chace is a great character, if a little underdrawn outside of professional accomplishments.  On the other hand, are there male spy protagonists who have to be rescued in the end?  I haven’t read a lot of espionage thrillers, not since back before Tom Clancy and Jack Ryan jumped the shark, so I can’t really compare.  And the ending of The Last Run makes sense in terms of the larger plot for the book and the story arc, assuming this is either the last book or a transition book.  But hovering in my mind is the question:  how often to badass spy heroes have to be rescued in the end, and would the story be different if Tara were Tim or Tom instead?

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What I’ve read lately

I meant to write full reviews for these two books, but the further I get from reading them, the less likely that becomes.  Instead, here are quick thoughts.

Indian Maidens Bust Loose by Vidya Samson

Borrowed this via Kindle Lending after it was reviewed by Sunita & Jayne at DearAuthor.  The first chapter didn’t immediately draw me in, so it wound up just sitting on my Kindle for a few weeks; when I was clearing out samples, I found it and decided to read it before returning.

There’s no romance on the page, although there are marital machinations, so the blurb about waiting for Prince Charming is misleading and not great marketing IMO.  Pretty standard for chick lit, even with the Indian aspect.  The pacing was a little wonky:  it could’ve used some editing or trimming; as the end of the book approached, it felt like a string of slapstick moments strung together.   Despite very slow pacing through the middle, the end arrived very quickly and wrapped everything up a little too neatly.  Over all, an enjoyable read by an author I would try again, but not a keeper.

Lessons for Survivors by Charlie Cochrane

This is another Cambridge Fellows Mystery, set post WW1.  It’s published by Cheyenne Publishing; the series had been with Samhain for the last several books, so I’m kind of curious about what prompted the publisher change.  Price-wise, it was a little expensive ($6.99) for the length (185 pages) compared to earlier editions.  I enjoyed the book as I read, because I like The Adventures of Orlando and Jonty, and yet in some ways it felt needlessly convoluted and also as if some opportunities were wasted.  The blurb mentions the huge threat of the sleuths being outed by a rival, yet that aspect of the story didn’t get much attention.  Not bad but not the best installment of the series IMO.

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SBD: Bared to You by Sylvia Day

Beth has declared the SBD!  I must post!  Must!  Also, the further I get from reading Bared to You, the less likely it is that I’ll write about it, so here goes.

Short version:  derivative work with unsympathetic MCs

Long version:

Title: Bared to You

Author:  Sylvia Day

(c) 2012, published in paperback by Berkley, although I believe the ebook was originally self-published.

Cover art:  blandly reminiscent of Fifty Shades of Grey‘s coloring & positioning of masculine accessories.

POV:  first person from the perspective of Eva Trammell, recent college grad who has just moved to NYC to be an administrative assistant in a PR/ad firm.  Her roommate:  Cary, bisexual model with issues of his own.

Love (or just hot sex) interest:  Gideon Cross, ridiculously young bazillionaire entrepreneur who knows what’s best for Eva, is a controlling, domineering, emotionally stunted jerk.  AKA a Roarke knock-off.  Or an escapee from a Harlequin Presents…except he’s not really ethnic enough for that — those billionaire magnates are usually Italian or Greek or sheikhs.

The writing:  not terrible.  Not lyrical or memorable, but not awful.  Except when it came to the sex, which was repetitive and somewhat boring.  How many times did Eva need to describe how large Gideon’s penis was?  Apparently many times.  And each time she also described how it split/spread/pounded her.  Blech.  Quite purple IMO.

What was good about the book:  the NYC atmosphere.

What was bad:  pretty much everything about the relationship, which struck me as being profoundly unhealthy and dysfunctional.  The creep factor of Gideon cannot be over-emphasized:  he took pictures of Eva while she was asleep.  Without her consent.  And he also recreated her bedroom in his apartment so she would have her own space there and not want to go home.  That screams control freak to me.

Okay, now, if you’ve read Glory in Death, you’re probably asking how this is any different from what Roarke did.  And I guess for me it comes down to character and execution and the stage in the relationship.   Roarke came across as being romantic, while Gideon just comes across to me like a stalker.

And Eva isn’t any better.  She whines about her mother and stepfather being too controlling and involved in her life, but is being supported by them.  Bitch, please: if you are living under their roof and wearing their clothes and using their cellphone, etc., then you aren’t independent.  Ovary up and pay your own way or get over your complaints about their over-involvement in your life.  (No, I don’t think Eva’s history gives her or her parents an out or a pass in this area.)  She also seems profoundly isolated — where are her other friends and/or acquaintances or colleagues?

They spend a lot of time talking over each other and at each other, yet at the same time Eva seems to always be running away from Gideon rather than talk to him.  And then buckling under to whatever he wants despite her stated relationship requirements.  Gideon seems to just say whatever is necessary in order to get what he wants.  Plus, after a week or two of dating, they are already in need of couples counseling.  That’s just…strange.

What else?

There’s a frightful lack of subtlety in the foreshadowing of plot points.

Is anal the new oral?

The atmosphere felt sort of soap opera-ish, or like a Judith Krantz or Jackie Collins novel for the young and hip of the 21st century.

The BDSM pronouncement by Gideon as the end approached felt forced and out of left field.

As I understand it, at least one more book (or two) is planned, but I’ve wasted enough time and money on the series.   If this is what Fifty Shades is like, then I find its success all the more perplexing.

Not recommended.

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Frog by Mary Calmes

Title:  Frog (a tired prince/frog allusion)

Author:  Mary Calmes (new to me)

Publisher:  Dreamspinner (against my better judgment)

Why this book?  I liked the cover art and the idea of a modern day cowboy hero.

Frog by Mary Calmes eBookWeber Yates’s dreams of stardom are about to be reduced to a ranch hand’s job in Texas, and his one relationship is with a guy so far out of his league he might as well be on the moon. Or at least in San Francisco, where Weber stops to see him one last time before settling down to the humble, lonely life he figures a frog like him has coming.

 Cyrus Benning is a successful neurosurgeon, so details are never lost on him. He spotted the prince in a broken-down bull rider’s clothing from day one. But watching Weber walk out on him keeps getting harder, and he’s not sure how much more his heart can take. Now Cyrus has one last chance to prove to Weber that it’s not Weber’s job that makes him Cyrus’s perfect man, it’s Weber himself. With the help of his sister’s newly broken family, he’s ready to show Weber that the home the man’s been searching for has always been right there, with him. Cyrus might have laid down an ultimatum once, but now it’s turned into a vow—he’s never going to let Weber out of his life again. 

The long and short of it:  tell tell tell with very little show, and all told by a Gary Stu.  Includes the insta-family trope along with unprotected sex as demonstration of true love.

More specifically:

The book is narrated by Weber, an over-the-hill cowboy — he’s not old, relatively speaking, except for his chosen profession, in which he has not been successful.  He’s broke and on his way to a possible job in Alaska (not Texas) when he looks up his ex.  Cyrus, readers are told, is a very successful neurosurgeon who gave Weber an ultimatum the last time he drifted into town, but who still desperately loves Weber.   Cyrus is wealthy and handsome and at the top of his profession — he’s very much like a category hero, although unlike most categories, which have the wealthy, handsome hero be the one who does the leaving and steering of the relationship, he’s the needier, more passive partner, taking whatever time Weber has been willing to give him in the past.  Cyrus’s profession really isn’t relevant to the book, except as a reason in Weber’s mind for them not to be together — it affords him a nice lifestyle but otherwise doesn’t impinge on the plot in any way; he could have been any name-a-high-profile-and-pay profession.

At the same time as Weber’s return, Cyrus’s brother-in-law, the villain of the piece, runs off with the nanny, leaving his sister without child care.  And of course she immediately entrusts her three children to a random stranger because he’s dating her brother and therefore must be trustworthy.  Forget looking for someone whose qualifications run beyond ranching and rodeoing.  But of course Weber has the magic touch when it comes to children, getting the mute to talk and  instilling manners effortlessly.  (There’s one exchange in the book that I think was supposed to highlight Web’s courtly, cowboy manners (standard good manners to this reader), but which came across to me as backhanded criticism of Carolyn’s parenting.)

Since Weber is the narrator, his reliability is key.  I found his judgment to be less than reliable and verging on TSTL when it comes to the relationship, with his hesitation and wibbling about how Cyrus only loves him for his cowboy persona despite the fact that Cyrus says outright that isn’t what he wants/loves about Weber.  [It was never really clear to me what they loved about each other beyond the sex.]  As an extension of this, the lack of a sense of place or setting contributes to the disconnect:  Cyrus is willing to relocate and nothing about the plot seemed fixed in San Francisco, yet Weber is hung up on the distance between Texas (apparently the only place in the US where he can get a ranch hand job?) and San Francisco.  Aren’t there jobs for neurosurgeons in Texas?  Surely there are ranches near Dallas and other large cities in the Lone Star state.  That excuse just seemed weak to me.

The difference between Weber’s “cowboy” grammar and speaking style is jarringly different from his POV/narration style and vocabulary, which seems more sophisticated.  Also, the use of “loving on” to describe affection between adults and children seriously squicked me, even though I confirmed via Twitter that it is normal, colloquial usage in rural, eastern Texas.

The vast majority of the information about Cyrus and their relationship is told rather than shown.   Readers learn that Cyrus is a completely different person when Weber is around…because Cyrus’s dad says so.  Readers learn about Web’s history and family through, “As you know, Bob,” conversations.  Even Weber’s realizations about “what-made-a-man-a-man” happen off stage and are just described as having occurred rather than shown, which is disappointing since his is the only POV readers get.

The insta-family is problematic for me on a couple of levels.  First, it makes me uncomfortable, the way the children’s mother is relegated to a secondary parental role in favor of a near-stranger.  You could argue that her role is similar to the more traditional male/father role, in that she remains employed and leaves the child-rearing to someone else, even if that someone else is a sort-of-paid caretaker.  (Except, wait! Weber doesn’t take money for being a nanny.  He’s basically a SAHD for his nephews.)  Second, the immediacy of three children plus a sibling living in the same home as the new couple seems awkward for that early stage of their relationship.

Other quibbles:  Weber’s age and the age of his brother when he died don’t really quite work out right.  The use of direct address commas is intermittent, which is more irritating than not using them at all because it’s just sloppy.  There are also several instances of commas being used instead of periods — based on context and the paragraph breaks, a comma could not possibly be the appropriate punctuation there.  Also, “giving up” child support — a giant pet peeve of mine, because authors seem to use this as shorthand for post-marriage independence, but it makes me question their grasp of the economic realities of single parenting and also equates all parental responsibility with treats economic responsibility — the two are not identical.

In the end:  there is some awkward phrasing and punctuation abuse that should have been fixed at the editing stage, but the larger problem for me is the tell rather than show style and the waste of an opportunity to explore gender role expectations (if you can get over the unlikelihood of a rodeo rider turned nanny).  Ultimately, it all comes down to taste:  other readers have enjoyed this book, but the irritations overrode the enjoyment as I read.

Would I try this author again?  Maybe if I found one of her books on sale or as a Kindle giveaway, but not at DSP’s standard prices.  Otherwise, no.

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SBD: romance for a book club?

Today’s mission for SBD, if you choose to accept it:  recommend a romance novel, erotic romance, or erotica for a book club.  Contemporary or urban fantasy, please.

The recommendations aren’t for me personally but for TheBiochemist.  Here’s a summary of my email to her when she asked for suggestions.

LGBT, which is the bulk of my contemporary reading (other than categories, which are not eligible, okay?):  Josh Lanyon (ex: Fair Game, Come Unto These Yellow Sands in ebooks; the Adrien English series which is available in print).  James Buchanan writes good BDSM that isn’t formal or stylized.   KA Mitchell.  JL Merrow’s books (all ebooks, no print) are relatively short but have a great sense of place (England), and Muscling Through made me think of Flowers for Algernon, because it had heroes who had vastly different IQs and backgrounds.  Jordan Castillo Price’s PsyCop series is more paranormal/procedural than romance although there is a relationship involved in the series.  

Possible UF:  Meljean Brook’s The Guardian series, which has a lot of dense world building and kind of needs to be read in order.  The series begins with a novella prequel that isn’t really necessary to understand and the first book is Demon Angel.   Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax futuristic series is well-reviewed, but I happen to like her Corine Solomon series (first book Blue Diablo) better.  Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten (keeper).  Patricia Briggs’ Mercedes Thompson series (beginning with Moon Called) has a thin romance thread but really isn’t romance.  JR Ward has a huge following for her Black Dagger Brotherhood series but I would not recommend them except to demonstrate rabid fans, a cracked out author who believes in her persona too much, cultural appropriation, and a series that needs to be seriously edited.  JD Robb’s Naked in Death, which I probably should have listed first.
Possible Steampunk:  Brook also has begun a steampunk series that has been fairly well reviewed.  The first book being The Iron Duke
Possible contemporary authors:  Louisa Edwards — cooking/chef series; Julie James, Chicago, legal settings; Victoria Dahl, Colorado.  I’ve read something by each of them and didn’t LOVE them, but the conventional wisdom is that they are all good.  Dahl has one heroine who writes erotic romance for a living, and has published a short BDSM historical that purports to have been that fictional author’s work.  Other readers love Susan Elizabeth Philips, especially her football series, but I find the subtext to be way too preachy and conservative. Kristan Higgins’ books are widely loved (but I loathe them). Jennifer Crusie’s Anyone But You is a little dated but good, and her Welcome to Temptation and Bet Me are very, very good.  Rachel Gibson’s See Jane Score maybe. Nora Roberts’ Born in Fire or Montana Sky.  Brockmann’s Over the Edge.  Linda Howard’s older stuff but nothing more recently published than 2000 (Now You See Her, maybe, which has a paranormalish thread).  
If YA is a possibility:  Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever.  All I’ll say is “sa-woon”.
Romance related nonfiction:  Beyond Heaving Bosoms

Which authors or titles have I missed?

 

 

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