Category Archives: Review

10Dec/18

The Taliesin Affair by Steve Turnbull

The Taliesin Affair is an interesting book, a mix of whodunnit, social history and steampunk, a genre I haven’t read before.

I wasn’t convinced at first. The main protagonist, Maliha Anderson, seemed a remote and cold figure, which didn’t bode well when she was the driving force of the plot. But as the story progressed, I began to respect her more. She is of mixed race, with a daily struggle against prejudice and snobbery, and that had given her a hard shell to protect herself. She is also highly intelligent. We see the thoughts going through her head as she tries to unravel the mystery of the body in the library. The victim is a bully who has given Mahila grief in the past, so she isn’t sad about her demise. This is understandable, but Mahila seems unable to show any emotion at all, which led me to believe maybe I had missed a crucial part of her character.

She is ably assisted by a much warmer friend, Margaret, inexplicably known as Sadie, who smoothes Mahila’s path through the social minefield. There is always a danger when major characters have code names and suchlike, as it makes a complex plot sometimes harder to follow. It helps that Margaret (Sadie) has to be reminded from time to time that she is working undercover. She’s a perfect foil to the serious Mahila, and provides a welcome lightness of tone.

There is a subtle humour running through the book, so subtle sometimes I wondered if I was imagining it. As a whodunnit, with definite Agatha Christie undertones and a social commentary, it is an excellent read. Glad to see the women taking charge for a change, and for the author not to fall into the trap of so many stories about privileged boarding schools. I couldn’t find a single overdone stereotype. Mahila’s interest in machinery was an intriguing element as well, and could have been used more in relation to the plot, rather than just providing interesting scenery.

So although I found the main character hard to identify with, The Taliesin Affair was an enjoyable and ambitious read, and an interesting addition to the crime genre. Worth noting the lesbian romance running in the background, handled with grace and dignity.

Beautiful cover as well.

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Boarding school can be hell – sometimes it can be MURDER

So far from her home in India, Maliha Anderson did not enjoy life in her British boarding school, but discovering the school bully murdered certainly made it more interesting.

And when the police chose the wrong person as the most likely suspect, Maliha decides to investigate and reveal the true culprit.

But, as the bodies mount up, the murder becomes a plot, and the plot becomes a conspiracy aimed at the heart of the British Empire.

When Maliha herself comes under suspicion, she realises her only chance lies in a dangerous gambit that risks the lives of herself and the people she’s come to know.

This is Maliha Anderson’s first case but can be read at any point in the series (except perhaps between books 5 and 6).

10Dec/18

The Golden One – Blooming by Hans M Hirschi

Blooming is the first book in the The Golden One trilogy, and gives the series a strong start. I’ve previously read Disease, and wasn’t sure what the author would give to an overcrowded fantasy genre filled with shapeshifters. Disease was a very different book – definitely worth a read, about a pretty gruelling subject.

Blooming is a book with a salutary warning, although it stops short of bashing the reader around the head with its message about human impact on the planet. And that’s why I enjoyed it. At no point I felt as if I were being lectured to, even though the message was clear. Big corporations have a responsibility not only to their shareholders but to the people affected by their activities, not only within their company, but in the wider world.

To reflect this, Hirschi has taken a group of teenagers and given them varying degrees of shapeshifting powers, controlled by the Ohana, The blurb describes it far better than I can so I’ll leave it there. Read it. It’s worth it.

Some members of the Ohana have a conflict of interest, but Mother Nature has also created the ultimate weapon in her arsenal, a golden butterfly with huge powers of persuasion. This time, it is the turn of Jason Mendez, an all-round nice guy who looks after his mother and doesn’t think his life will be very exciting at all, until he is told differently.

Then he realises he can talk to animals, and that’s where the story really took off for me. It was so enjoyable to read, within the bounds of a book written for older teenagers, yet devoid of the teen-speak that a lot of YA authors employ to connect with their readership. No patronising, no trying to get “down with the kids.” This is an intelligent book for discerning readers of any age, who love fantasy and remember the golden age of Spielberg and his epic stories of kids against “the man.”

Jason was extremely likeable. Not perfect, but that was good. It added angst at the responsibility thrust on his shoulders, and showed his character develop as he realised he had to make some important life decisions. His mother was also a great, believable character, with real-life problems many would identify with. There was a possible romance in the offing, and great friendships between people who, on the face of it, had nothing in common.

The ending was also a surprise, being unpredictable, and led neatly to the next book. No cliffhanger, which I liked, just a good, solid, rounded story which took time to introduce the reader to the characters and understand their world.

BLURB

Earth is threatened by humankind. A long time ago, in an effort to help protect her creation, Mother Nature created the Ohana, a worldwide league of shapeshifters, to restore and maintain the natural balance. During particularly troublesome times, she deployed her ultimate defense, a delicate yet powerful golden butterfly, to change the odds in nature’s favor.

Blooming is the first book in the trilogy about Jason Mendez, a seventeen-year-old living a normal teenage life in a small town in the American Midwest. One day, Jason’s world is turned upside down when he realizes the dream he had the night before was in fact reality and that he was flying through a nearby meadow.

Jason is the Golden One, called upon to avert a major crisis threatening Earth. With no golden butterfly sighted since the final days of World War II, will Jason be able to walk in his predecessors’ shoes? Will he be able to replicate their historic achievements and save the planet from all but certain disaster? And what exactly is threatening Mother Nature to call upon the Golden One?

The Golden One is an exciting new fantasy trilogy dealing with urgent topics affecting humanity today.

12Nov/18

Earthly Pleasures by Sera Trevor

 

Sera Trevor was a lovely recent guest on our show. To find out more about her and get links to her work, check out Episode 185: Ugh Reality!

There are some books you feel comfortable with right away. After the first page I knew this book and I would get along just fine. It was something indefinable, accessibility to an author’s writing or put another way, this seemed a friendly, approachable book. It welcomes the reader in and assures them that a good story is about to be told.

Prince Paurick is a bit a tool, to be honest. He’s reckless, spoiled, libidinous and vain, with little sense of duty. When he has to be joined with an acolyte to an all-powerful Goddess, to ensure his family’s royal lineage and bring fertility back to a starving land, he does it ungraciously. The monk isn’t to his taste at all, swarthy, shy fellow who he finds desperately unprepossessing.

Brother Laurel is loyal to the Goddess and will do his duty whatever it takes, but he doesn’t have to like it. After Paurick’s unflattering response to him, he just wants to get it over with, but the machinations of the Goddess and his own feelings complicate matters, especially when he finds he is enjoying the luxury the Prince takes for granted.

So that’s the premise, and it’s told with humour, wit and sparky dialogue. Laurel is sweet, and has a bit more about him than his subservient manner would first suggest. There are some comic moments, but also an underlying theme of the damage caused by brainwashing by cults, greed and duty over love. I thought the pace of the story was terrific and not once did I feel the story flagged. It was a joy to read, with Laurel being a perfect foil for the profligate Paurick. Their burgeoning relationship was sweet, the love scenes and language used within them helping to create the atmosphere. It’s a magical kingdom where the prince had to sleep with someone he doesn’t like in order to appease a power-hungry regime, but written with flair and comic timing so it never felt dark and gloomy.

This was a book I could sit back and enjoy, knowing that nothing truly nasty would happen. A bit of angst, some hot sex between two lusty lads, and a feel-good plot verging on the ridiculous (although this isn’t the first time I’ve read a book with magical bodily fluids) and this was a huge amount of fun. It’s well-written too, with a knowing glint in the author’s eye. Yes, I could see where she was coming from with this. I’d definitely read another book by Ms. Trevor.

BLURB

Prince Paurick is a hedonistic degenerate—or at least that’s what his father and the rest of the royal family thinks of him, and he’s happy to live down to their expectations.

But when the crops of their kingdom start failing, the king commands that Paurick be joined to Brother Laurel, a monk, in order to combine Paurick’s royal magic with that of the Goddess, and thus bring fertility back to the land.

The union is only meant to be temporary, but Brother Laurel is so ugly and prudish that it might as well be an eternity. However, as they get to know one another, Paurick realizes he has misjudged Laurel and finds himself falling for the thoughtful and sensitive young man.

The fate of the kingdom relies on their sexual union, but as time goes on, it becomes clear that the fate of their hearts is in jeopardy as well.

 

02Nov/18

The Rotten Rancher by Frank W. Butterfield

Frank W. Butterfield was recently a returning guest on WROTE. This prodigious writer has a new novel out, but to find out more about him and get links to all his works, check out Episode 187: My Gay Perry Mason

I rather like this engaging series, with lovable millionaire PI Nick Williams and his hunky sidekick, Carter. Set in the 1950’s, they battle prejudice and bigotry whilst people from all walks of life try to kill them. And despite this, they seem to maintain a surprisingly upbeat approach to life. Of course, money helps, which means Nick really doesn’t give a screw, but he’s a lovely, generous fellow for all that.

The sixteenth book in the series, The Rotten Rancher, reeks of 1950’s America. I was expecting cowboy boots and lariats, but it isn’t quite like that. I can almost smell the gasoline and leather of Nick and Carter’s massive and impractical soft-top as they cruise down Highway 1 to spend some time on the coast, in Nick’s father’s ultra-modern (for the time) cliff top home. You just know it won’t end well.

For a book with a twisty plot, I would have appreciated a bit less tell and and a bit more show. There’s lots of dialogue and some of it kind of gets in the way, causing me to backtrack to remind myself what just happened. That’s really my only niggle.

I can’t fault any of the characters. They were all drawn really well. For a book with a lot of characters, they all seemed relevant and all had a part to play. There was a good sense of atmosphere, sometimes really suspenseful, other times cringeworthy (when one of the characters was spouting their hate, I really wanted to slap them.) The story could also have worked well as a ghost story, and there was a bit of that at the end, which I found slightly confusing when it didn’t seem to go anywhere.

In the end, the book is popcorn entertainment with bite, not shying away from the serious issues of the time (and of now, sadly.) Yes, the plot and dialogue could have been tightened up, which would have given the action a bit more impact, but it was a fun read. Listen to Duayne Eddy when reading it to really get into the mood!

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Friday, November 11, 1955

It’s Veteran’s Day, and a gorgeous one at that. Parades of flying flags and grizzled old soldiers marching to the tunes of John Philip Souza are definitely in the works.

Meanwhile, Nick and Carter are heading south on Highway 1 for a relaxing week down in Big Sur, just south of beautiful Carmel-By-The-Sea. They’ll be staying at the home of one Dr. Parnell Williams, Nick’s father. It’s a modern sort of thing, made of wood and glass, and perched right on the cliff’s edge with dramatic views of the ocean and the incoming banks of fog.

But when the power goes out late at night and the newly-installed generator kicks on, it’s not long before Carter is dragging a bewildered Nick to the front door because, it turns out, someone intentionally disconnected the vent and the house quickly fills up with deadly carbon monoxide.

As they search for their would-be murderer, Nick and Carter quickly discover all sorts of secrets, hidden away among the verdant valleys and stands of Monterey pines. Secrets that go back twenty years, or more, and stories of wild times that would deeply shock the gawking tourists from Topeka and Des Moines, if they only knew.

Will Nick and Carter uncover the killer before he, or she, strikes again?

To find out, jump into the nearest convertible and follow the narrow, twisting highway that takes you through the land of towering, ancient redwoods and mountains that crash into the bright, blue ocean below.

It’s gonna be a wild ride!

18Sep/18

Irresistible by Andrew J Peters

Andrew J Peters has very recently been a guest on our little show! To check out his work and listen to his interview, check out Episode 180: A Very Spoofy Rom-Com

This was a difficult one to review fairly. I decided to go in and start reading without checking the blurb first, liking the element of surprise. The cover is gorgeous and I was expecting a fairly standard romance, if I’m honest.

I liked Brendan, although he clearly has issues with falling in insta-love and not learning his lesson when it all goes horribly wrong. He’s a modest guy, still reeling from the latest romantic disaster, when his head is turned by a gorgeous blond antique seller in New York. It must be love!

From there, the cynics will be gnashing their teeth. Insta-love, a Big Misunderstanding caused by the iffy-est of circumstances. And then it gets really weird. Suddenly I’m reading about lecherous drug dealers and a military coup.

I can’t actually say more about the plot without giving it away. It’s a real mixed bag, with dilemmas that kept me turning the page to find out what on earth was going to happen next. There were also some sweet moments (Faraj!) And some frankly ludicrous ones. (If I was escaping kidnap from gun-wielding terrorists, I wouldn’t stop to give my rescuer a blow job, however cute he was.)

Because I hadn’t read the blurb, I didn’t realise this was a comedy of errors, so there were a few “wait, is he serious?” moments, before I decided to sit back, enjoy the ride and not take it too seriously. The problem with labelling a book “comedy” is that people will expect funnies, and what’s funny for some won’t be for others. I found the balance between serious and comedic a little bit lumpy in places. If a laugh is unexpected, that’s one thing. But when the reader can see the set up a mile off, knowing they’re expected to find the situation funny at the end, it loses something for me. This book shows why comedy is so hard to write.

But comedy is subjective, and what I find funny (the darker the better) isn’t going to be the same as someone else’s. The long-running theme of Cal being “irresistible” was pretty funny, as was some of the dialogue between him and his ardent suitors. I winced a bit at the racial and cultural stereotypes, but having thought about it, I’m wondering if that really was the whole point. No one is safe. And yes, I did pick up on the irony of the line, “You can’t just buy people. At least, not in America.” (Trump, anyone?)

Also, the book mocks the stereotypical MM Romance expectation on so many levels: insta-love, Everyone Is Gay! The bitchy mother-in-law, rich man/poor man dynamic. I could list quite a few of them.

So while the book didn’t quite work for me, I applaud the boldness of it, the big fat one-fingered tribute to those who like their tropes in narrow straight lines with no diversions, and the courage to throw the reader headlong into unexpected WTF situations. If I did a star system, I would award an extra star for the FUCK YOU element, especially one delivered with such a sweet, mischievous grin.

BLURB

Brendan Thackeray-Prentiss is an Ivy League-educated trust-funder who Gotham Magazine named the most eligible gay bachelor in New York City. He lives for finding his soulmate, but after walking in on his boyfriend of three transcendent months soaping up in the shower with an older female publicist, he’s on a steady diet of scotch, benzodiazepines, and compulsive yoga. Men are completely off the menu.

Callisthenes Panagopoulos has a problem most guys dream of. With the body and face of a European soccer heartthrob, the vigorous blond hair of a Mormon missionary, and a smile that makes traffic cops stuff their ticket books back in their utility belts, he’s irresistible to everyone. But being a constant guy-magnet comes with its discontents, like an ex-boyfriend who tried to drive his Smart car through Cal’s front door. It makes him wonder if he’s been cursed when it comes to love.

When Brendan and Cal meet, the attraction is meteoric, and they go from date to mates at the speed of time-lapse photography. But to stay together, they’ll have to overcome Cal’s jealous BFF, Romanian mobsters, hermit widowers, and a dictatorship on the brink of revolution during a dream wedding in the Greek isles that becomes a madcap odyssey.

A gay romantic comedy of errors based on Chariton’s Callirhoe, the world’s oldest extant romance novel.

 

 

29Aug/18

A Mage’s Power by Casey Wolfe


Casey Wolfe was a recent guest on our show. To find out more about them, check out Episode 135: Weird Stupid Kid Stuff

This book is a nice work of magical realism, where ancient meets modern, and spells abound in a city seething with magicae, werewolves and humans leading an uneasy co-existence.

I enjoyed this right off the bat. Rowan and Shaw were likeable characters with relatable issues. Shaw is a cop of sorts, working for the sinister-sounding Inquisition which keeps the peace amongst the co-existing races, and Rowan is a master mage who runs his own enchantment shop, together with a feisty stray cat. Rowan’s best friend is Caleb, a werewolf who is consistently bothered by the Inquisition so there is conflict between him and Shaw, whom he doesn’t trust.

The best parts of this story for me are the magical spells, beautifully written and described. There is a real sense of other-worldliness here, and great world-building in general, with the ancient city streets filled with dynamic young people wielding modern devices such as laptops and mobile phones. I liked that sense of familiarity in an unfamiliar environment. In fact, this book has made me want to explore the magical realism genre further.

The author wrote the three leads well, giving them distinct personalities and vibrant dialogue. I instantly sensed the connection between Rowan and Shaw, and Caleb’s incipient jealousy and mistrust. There were some good dynamics between them, and the dialogue was believable and fun at times.

The veering off into the woods for some icky violence was a surprise, but I didn’t mind it at all. Until then the story had begun to pootle along somewhat, so it was good to have a change of pace. As is so often with fantasy books, the ultimate goals do not immediately become clear, and I sometimes have a problem with that. There’s so much emphasis on world-building and character development, the story’s motivation can take third billing at times. I felt a bit like that here, but because the writing was entertaining, the characters engaging and the sections where Rowan casts his spells so gorgeously described, I was entranced. For me, this was a fun and accessible fantasy/magical realism novel that was very enjoyable to read.

BLURB

Built on the bones of an ancient city, modern-day Everstrand is where master mage, Rowan, has set up his enchantment shop. When not hanging out with his werewolf best friend, Caleb, or studying, he dabbles in herbology and the controversial practice of blood magic. A prodigy who has already earned two masters, Rowan’s bound and determined to reach the distinction of grandmaster, a mage who obtains a masters in all five Schools of Magic.

Shaw works for the Inquisition, the organization charged with policing the magical races collectively known as magicae. Recently, it has come under scrutiny as magicae begin to disappear and reports of violence increase. With secrets of his own on the line, Shaw is willing to risk everything to find out just what is going on behind all the locked doors.

When Rowan and Shaw are entangled in each other’s worlds, it becomes evident that their hearts are as much at risk as their lives. They must find the truth and stop a conspiracy before it’s too late.

23Aug/18

Drumbeat by A M Leibowitz

As the blurb suggests, there are some issues here that need delicate handling. Psychological abuse and eating disorders are not plot devices suitable for bandying around in the usual MM romance fare. As one with personal experience, it’s one thing guaranteed to p**s me off faster than a pube on a toilet seat, so I was just waiting, tensing myself for the moment when it all began to slide downhill.

Thank goodness then, for the author’s sensitive and balanced handling of the tough issues, without being all earnest, lurid (or worst, inaccurate) about it. This is a wonderful story of two men, each with complicated lives which don’t conform to what is generally construed as “normal,” who gradually find their way to each other despite several false starts and well-meaning but ultimately clueless friends.

There’s a lot of diverse representation here, with two polyamorous relationships, Jamie is deaf, Trevor is a big man so not your usual heartthrob in an MM romance (unless it’s specifically aimed at bears.) There are people of colour and ex-drag queens, yet it didn’t feel “topic of the month.” The focus was always on the dynamic between Jamie, Cian and the people around them, with all the awkwardness, bickering, love and support complicated families deal with every day. The book felt real, especially with regard to Jamie’s issues. The plot device with Jamie’s ex sounded the only iffy note as it was concluded, but that was easily forgiven because of how the eating disorder was dealt with. Sadly, I know a lot about eating disorders, and everything Jamie suffers from sounds authentic. Kudos to the author for handling it so well.

And it has to be said, the book is also entertaining, a great read with real tension and not an obvious way through for Cian and Jamie to resolve their issues and differences. The secondary characters were warm as well, yet not too perfect. Trevor, the one unwittingly playing havoc with Jamie’s emotions, is so well-drawn. We all know a Trevor, be he straight or gay or anywhere in-between. The delicacies of navigating a poly relationship are interesting as well, for people (like me) who cannot see how it works. I finished the book well-informed and with eyes opened just a little more, which is always a good thing.

BLURB

Jamie Cosgrove is doing his best to recover from a break-up after years with an abusive boyfriend. All his usual coping strategies have failed, and he’s fallen back on things that make him feel safe: drumming, food, and his friend Trevor. The trouble is, two of those are still secrets, even from those closest to him.

Cian Toomey has it all. He has loving relationships with his partners and a fulfilling, creative career. The one thing he’s missing is someone to go home to at night. When sudden changes occur at one of his jobs, he’s faced with a choice to find something new or move in with his partners in a different city.

Well-meaning but pushy friends seem to think Cian and Jamie are the answers to each other’s prayers. They couldn’t disagree more. A series of random events thrusts them into each other’s lives, and they find they have more in common than they thought. But when all of Jamie’s carefully constructed walls crumble at once, both of them will have to depend on the support of their friends and family to strengthen their fragile bond.

23Aug/18

Worth the Wait by Karelia Stetz-Waters

Karelia Stetz-Waters was a recent guest on WROTE! To find out more about her and get links to her work, check out Episode 174: Rest Your Heart For A Little While!

This book was a new experience for me; my very first lesbian romance. I dove in with no expectations, other than hope it would be a good read.

The upshot is this. Avery is a successful TV presenter with a long-running show, working with her on-screen-only romance interest, Alistair, who is asexual. They are friends, and both have a lot to lose if Avery come out as lesbian. She’s harbouring a fifteen-year secret longing for the girl she was very friendly with at high school, so of course she does the sensible thing and goes to a reunion in the hope of seeing her again.

Merritt has also been nursing a broken heart for fifteen years, trying valiantly to forget Avery, and failing. She has a hardware shop in Portland, where the story is based, and her life is fine thank you until Avery turns up and basically throws her for a loop.

Cue clandestine meetings and a lot of angst. I’m not telling you how it turns out. That would spoil it.

This chunky book is so close to being a perfect love story for me, and yet I did struggle in places. It could have been more tightly edited to stop the slight meandering of dialogue and navel-gazing. It took a lot of words to keep the story, which was actually quite straightforward, on the right track. I’m sure it could have been a third shorter, and been an easier read for it.

I think my main problem is I have very little time for reality TV shows (which are anything but) and manipulating TV audiences for ratings, so there were times when I was thinking, “for God’s sake, why is this so difficult for them?” I think making it clearer how much Avery stood to lose would have helped nearer the start. Her work colleagues, including Alistair, weren’t very sympathetic, and she came across as a bit of a flake, so I didn’t empathise with her problem for a while. I was just wondering why she was still working with these arseholes.

Once I cottoned on though, I could see her dilemma, if not totally identify with it. People in the public eye don’t just have their own reputation to think about, but the careers of all the people around them. One false move can spell disaster, especially when the whole programme is built around the chemistry and romance between Avery and Alistair, and people are expecting them to conform to hetero norms. Fall in love, fall out of love, bond over soft furnishings, get engaged, get married, have a baby….

I have to ask this. Would people in real life be more resentful of the fact they had been sold a lie, rather than the fact that Avery is gay and Alistair is asexual? It’s a sticky subject. I would rather people lived their truth and I suppose that’s why I had a problem with the premise in the beginning. I know others wouldn’t.

However, the chemistry between Avery and Merritt was unmistakable, the sex lush and gorgeous, not gratuitous at all. There were some wonderfully-drawn side characters, especially Lei-Ling and Iliana, and love surrounding the two main characters. Portland sounds like a place I’d like to visit, and I’d definitely read more by this author.

Will they, won’t they? Do they, don’t they? Don’t ask me. Read it yourself. Believe me it’s Worth the Wait (sorry, couldn’t resist it!)

BLURB

For fifteen years, Avery Crown tried to forget her best friend Merritt Lessing. The late nights studying, the whispered confidences, and the little touches that never turned into something more. Unfortunately, her efforts have not been as successful as her TV career as the queen of home renovation. So when she runs into Merritt at their high school reunion, Avery asks for one night with the woman she’s always wanted . . .

Merritt spent high school pining after Avery, but never made a move-their friendship meant too much. The one time it seemed things might change, Avery chose her budding career. So Merritt did the same, throwing herself into her remodeling business. Now Avery’s back, and while Merritt still hasn’t forgiven her for walking away the first time, they can’t keep their hands off each other. But when their professional paths cross, and it seems like Avery is choosing her career once again, Merritt will have to decide if she’s willing to let go of the past and give herself a second chance with her first love.

 

17Jul/18

Magic or Die (Inner Demons 1) by J P Jackson

J. P. Jackson has recently been on our show to tell us about Magic or Die. To find links and support his work, check out Episode 169: Put Strange Things In Your Mouth

Nice bit of world building from J.P. Jackson, author of Daimonion, and a great addition to the horror/fantasy genres. This is his second novel and it shows, with a surer hand and confidence in the writing. It’s unfair to compare the two books because they are so different. Daimonion was a good, gory read, but with Magic Or Die, the self-assured plotting, scene-building and dialogue make for a book that is more accessible to people unused to the demon genre.

In a nutshell, we have James who has his own demons, namely guilt, grief and alcohol. The blurb describes him as an alcoholic, but I wouldn’t have gone that far. Yes, he uses drink to numb his pain, but he seems to function perfectly well once he has his five students on-side and they are fighting for survival. He only has a few months to get them under control and able to use their powers in a way convenient to a sinister organisation (CMRD – read blurb). If he fails, it’s curtains for all of them. I won’t say more because this is a review, not a synopsis, but you get the idea.

I love the way the author has made everything very clear. From the start, I knew what the modus was, and the problems James has to overcome in order to achieve it. I understood the difference between Arcanes and Elementals because all that information is right there, and so often in these genres it just isn’t. He manages this without patronising the newbie or alienating readers experienced in the genre. In short, it’s a bloody good, enjoyable read.

The students all had their own demons (surely an allegory for real life.) I was waiting for the poison pill, the one to screw things up for everyone else. There is a candidate, but I won’t spoil it. The real boo-hiss villain is Miriam, a cross between Cruella de Ville and that evil witch from The Emperor’s New Groove. Maybe she is a little too much of a caricature, but it’s a small point in a book of interesting characters and curious dilemmas, all set within the confines of a strange, maze-like building without any obvious means of escape. The students are a lively bunch, honey-toned Isaiah and his lascivious, blue-eyed demon, enraged Chris, unable to fully control his inner fire wolf, the anime-like Ning and ethereal Camila and Annabelle. All have spectacular skills which, if not harnessed, are a threat to civilisation. The atmosphere is eery, with beautiful descriptions as each display their power. The sexual tension between James and Isaiah is subtle rather than full-on. It was a fun, spooky, tense mix, with a good building of atmosphere and an exciting finale. A solid start to a promising series.

BLURB

James Martin is a teacher, a powerful Psychic, and an alcoholic. He used to work for the Center for Magical Research and Development, a facility that houses people who can’t control their supernatural abilities, but left after one of his students was killed, turning to vodka to soothe his emotional pain. The problem is he still has one year left on his contract.

When James is forced to return to the CMRD, he finds himself confronting the demons of his past and attempting to protect his new class from a possible death sentence, because if they don’t pass their final exams, they’ll be euthanized.

James also discovers that his class isn’t bringing in enough sponsors, the agencies and world governments who supply grants and ultimately purchase graduates of the CMRD, and that means no profit for the facility. James and his students face impossible odds—measure up to the facility’s unreachable standards or escape.

 

03Jul/18

Mouschwitz by Kevin Snow

Kevin Snow talked to our hosts back in March 2018. To check out his story and get links to his work, listen to Episode 153: The Price of Admission. http://www.wrotepodcast.com/kevin-snow/

To start, I had to look up “gonzo journalism.” For those who, like me, have no idea, it was a genre first associated with Hunter S Thompson and later, Norman Mailer. The author himself describes it as a “highly fictionalised reconstruction of reality.” Basically, it deals with true stories, presented as fiction. I hope that clears things up.

Despite the seemingly light and snarky tone, this book hasn’t been written for shits and giggles. In fact, at times it is hard to stomach, to be honest. There is a dark side to the entertainment industry that people are only recently beginning to face up to, even though everyone knows it’s been that way since the days of silent movies. Women are speaking out, but members of the LGBT community, especially men, still find it almost impossible to get their voices heard. At the time of this review, the court case is still pending, so the veracity of the statements in the book are still being reviewed by the judicial system. This means I cannot say too much more, but for anyone in the LGBTQ community who feels marginalised by their chosen profession, it is a witty, savage and important read.

BLURB

A lonely queer staff member in Michael Eisner’s Disney empire can’t seem to get the break his career needs. Instead, the executive officers he works under seem more focused on selling him into prostitution and pornography, buying his used underpants, showing up to work without clothes on, and keeping him on staff to exploit his medical marijuana license.

A psychedelic Bush-era flashback, laced with cynical humor and pop culture pastiche, “Mouschwitz” takes the reader on a dizzying journey through every nook and cranny of the entertainment industry, through multiple characters’ perspectives, as the author Snow blends pointed social commentary on sexual harassment, gender politics, and anti-LGBT discrimination in the industry with the dark and terrifyingly surreal.

“Mouschwitz” is “The Devil Wears Prada” meets “Moulin Rouge”, while they both get sucker punched by “Mulholland Drive”, as Slavoj Žižek watches in hysterical fits of laughter.

Based on Snow’s real life experiences working for the Walt Disney Company, Snow’s “Mouschwitz” uses his signature black humor, gonzo parody, and dark satire to expose the real-life systemic sexual harassment of LGBT employees stemming from top executives at Disney.

“Mouschwitz” is the third novel in Snow’s 16-part gonzo journalism series. A paperback version is planned for released in February 2018 with illustrations by John-Ross Boyce and design by Alex Alchwikani.
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