Category Archives: Review

29Sep/17

The One Thing I Know by Keelan Ellis

WROTE Podcast alumni, Keelan Ellis, has recently been with us to talk about her new novel, and what happens when media events force an author to change their story. To catch up with Keelan and get links to her work, listen to Episode 131: I Have A Playlist For That!

This first book in the B-Sides series is a change of mood for Keelan Ellis, whose paranormal romances I am familiar with. Set in the 1970’s music scene, it concentrates on the relationship between two men, one a studio musician, Henry, who has been offered his dream job, and Terry, the band’s front man, who is still reeling from the death of Dell Miller, the band’s creative life force.

I wasn’t really sure about this book at first. The lightness of touch which makes this author’s previous books so easy to read is absent, and in its place is something much grittier. It is a romance, but there are dark elements; drug use, addiction, inter-band squabbling, soulless sex just because its available, as well as painful stints in rehab speak true of the rock n’ roll lifestyle, which really isn’t as fabulous as people like to think it is.

I had to read back a few times to remind myself that this book was set in the 1970’s. The sense of period was lost in places, with only mentions of Rolling Stone magazine and the Beatles to pull it back. As both are still relevant today, it wasn’t entirely successful. Also, Henry seemed genuinely sweet and honourable, and I found it incomprehensible that he would just drop his knees the first time Terry demanded it. For me, it was a jarring moment that made it difficult for me to believe they would find their HEA, and it took a while for the romance element to find its equilibrium again.

But despite those elements which pulled my focus away from the central story, it was a very enjoyable read, well-written and researched. It’s so refreshing to read a romance novel that doesn’t make paper cut-outs of its characters. The reader actually sees Henry and the Vulgar Details working, doing their thing, practicing their craft, not just looking great in tight jeans and sweaty hair. It definitely isn’t all about limousines and mountains of coke (although there’s plenty) but about cleaning up vomit, paying for trashed hotel rooms, having to get on stage with crashing hangovers and fighting a grief that cannot be expressed.

And it’s important to note the book also attempted to highlight the attitudes towards gay relationships in 1970’s USA. The general assumption is that the era was free love and peace for all, but in reality, that only applied to men and women. Gay men were tolerated, but there was still a massive stigma that meant Terry had to hide his grief for Dell behind outrageous outbursts, eventually ending up in rehab, and Henry lived in constant fear of his sexuality being found out, therefore jeopardising his career.

So yes, this is a rock star romance, but scratch the surface and it is so much more. I read this book a couple of weeks back but it has stayed with me, which is always a good thing. A meaty, satisfying read for those who want their characters with grit and depth, and a realistic romantic premise. A strong start to the B-Sides series.

BLURB

Talented studio musician, Henry Cole, is offered the dream job of touring with popular rock band, the Vulgar Details. Things aren’t all rosy, though, as he is hired to replace Dell Miller, creative force behind the band, who recently flamed-out in a car accident.

Henry is all too aware that he’s no replacement for someone like Dell. He’s not the only one who feels that way, either. Terry Blackwood, band front man, has been giving him a hard time even before the tour start. He seems to resent Henry’s presence beyond all reason. What Henry doesn’t know is that Terry and Dell’s relationship was both intensely close and fraught with conflict.

Terry’s grief over Dell’s death is overwhelming and threatens to destroy not only the band but his life. It doesn’t help that the new member of the band makes him feel things he doesn’t want to. Worse, when he sings, Henry sounds just like the man Terry cared so deeply for.

With so much at stake, everything could come crashing down around them and mean the end for the Vulgar Details. Or, just maybe, Henry and Terry will find the one thing they need most.

Sometimes redemption comes from the last place you expect to find it.

07Sep/17

When Heaven Strikes by F.E. Feeley Jr.

I was scared to read this one at first. The striking image on the front cover hinted at a plot concerning wild weather, but I could have been wrong. It could have been an allegory for the chaos that religious fervour can wreak on innocent lives. What if I was disappointed?

Turns out, it is both, and I wasn’t disappointed. First off, it is books like this one that make me love my job. After an easy-going start, the author draws the reader into the lives of Ted and Anderson, before focussing on the aftermath of a homophobic attack that has totally unexpected results. Both parts of the book are cleverly interwoven, yet easing towards an inevitable and dramatic climax.

As an inveterate storm-watcher, I was waiting for the tornado to hove into view, and it does, but I’m not saying when. Everything I was expecting to happen, didn’t happen. I really hoped the author wouldn’t succumb to the normal romantic tropes, and he doesn’t. I was expecting a book full of rage against the religious machine, but the outcome is more one of forgiveness.

This is such an elegant book. The sex scenes are beautifully choreographed, the progress of Ted and Anderson’s relationship feels totally real. Yes, love does happen at first sight. Then the reader gets sucked in by the secondary characters, the most surprising of which was the fire and brimstone preacher and his son. Again, expectations confounded at every turn.

In fact, this book IS like a tornado, throwing the reader into a spin. I loved that the ending made me cry. That is what books are supposed to do. Entertain you, anger you, make you feel. This book has all the feels, and much, much more. A masterclass in how to craft an MM romance, and support it with a plot that is so much more. A strong contender for my Book Of The Year.

BLURB

Artist Ted Armstrong lives a solitary and eccentric life. The survivor of child abuse disguised as religion, Ted has cut himself off from the world.

Then Ted meets Anderson Taylor, and it’s like being struck by lightning.

Anderson is a cardiac surgeon whose passion for his work has consumed him. He fears he’ll never find a partner—until he sets eyes on Ted. It’s happening fast, but both men know what they feel is right.

Confronted with an angry preacher, a scandal, and an act of God that threatens to destroy everything, their relationship will face its first true test.

04Sep/17

King Of The Storm (The Godhead Epoch: Book 1) by B.A. Brock

You can find out more about the mythical B A. Brock and find links to his work on Episode 124: Renewal, or Handsoap For The Masses.

REVIEW

Don’t be put off by the “Book One,” subtitle. This is a standalone story, told in the first person by Perseus himself.

Oh Perseus! You are a total fox, with an innate ability to stumble into trouble. The Perils of Perseus, perhaps? Lightning bolts from his talented fingers don’t save this young man from getting trashed at various points throughout this great re-imagining of a familiar tale. Yes, it has the obligatory recounting of Perseus fighting Medusa, and conquering the Kraken whilst rescuing Andromeda from the waves. Those tales are essential to the story of Perseus. But here it is expanded, as we follow our favourite demi-god from callow youth to warrior hero and devoted father.

Then the fantasy part kicks in, and this is where the real fun starts. Perseus is also a hard-lovin’, hard-drinkin’ guy, who falls in love with fellow student Antolios, and their love story weaves throughout this well-researched and lovingly-crafted novel. There is a LOT of meaty, succulent M/M sex, great well-rounded characters, and a a faithful adherence to familiar legends, as well as giving Perseus his own demons as he struggles with the responsibilities of being a demi-god.

The LGBT stance is solid throughout, even though Perseus does love Andromeda, and even (gasp!) enjoys sex with her. (FYI, MM romance fascists, this is plausible fantasy, so untie your knickers) but his heart and mind belong to Antolio. Perseus steadfastly refuses to accept his destiny for the sake of love, only to find that Destiny has a habit of rearranging things the way they ought to be.

This book had the ability to catch my breath, break my heart and make me laugh. There was an almost gleeful meddling with the normal romance tropes. This is no ordinary love story. The hero swashbuckles, screws and drinks his way through the pain of continually having to part with his true love, but he is also determined to be a good father and decent husband to Andromeda. It is when the human world and godly world collide, there are bound to be storms overhead. It is a complex story, handled with intelligence, and entertaining as hell.

The modern language (“no shit!” “Seriously?”) sits surprisingly well in the Ancient Greek setting, rendering this novel devoid of the pomposity that is sometimes found in stories of the Ancient Greeks.No doubt some scholars of the Ancient Greek myths will have a conniption at this.

And I say, good, because they are just myths, and we are at liberty to play with them as we please. I would hazard to guess that Zeus himself would be highly amused at the way his son is portrayed; as a sometimes drunken, lecherous, fiery and obstinate Demi-god with just as many problems as humans have, and an equal propensity for  trouble. Rather like his father, I’d imagine.

BLURB

In Epiro, a kingdom in Greece, Perseus is prophesied to be a great demigod hero and king, with a legacy that will shape the world of Gaia. When he was born, his grandfather exiled him, and his mother brought them to Seriphos, where she created an academy for demigod youth. Perseus trains there and waits for the day when he will be able to take the throne of Argos.

Despite potential future glory, Perseus’s fellow students think he is weak. By the time he reaches manhood, he has given up the hope of having any real friends, until Antolios, a son of Apollo, takes an unexpected interest in him.  Perseus and Antolios fall in love, but Antolios knows it cannot last and leaves Seriphos.

Perseus, grief stricken and lonely, rebels against the Fates, thinking he can avoid the prophecy and live his own life.  But when the gods find him, he is thrust into an epic adventure. With his divine powers, he fights gorgons and sea serpents, and battles against his darker nature. Perseus strives to be his own man… but the gods have other plans.

29Aug/17

The Stark Divide (Liminal Book 1) by J. Scott Coatsworth

REVIEW

WROTE alumni J. Scott Coatsworth has recently been on our show! To hear more about his collaborations with other authors and get links to his work, check out Episode 124: Renewal – Or Handsoap for the Masses.

The author gifted an ARC of this novel for an honest and fair review. Publication date October 2017.

Sci-fi can be a little po-faced at times, or quirky to the point of artifice. It can be difficult to strike the balance between intelligent story-telling and dumbing down the science-y bits for the masses. This author has been on my radar for a while. I’ve read some of his short stories, but never a full-blown novel.

Basically, this is a story split into three parts, threaded together by three generations of the same family. In the first part, we are introduced to the mothership, Dressler (or Lex, in ship-mind form, so the humans can relate to it.) Lex is critically wounded by a fungus that may or may not have been introduced intentionally, entailing a heart-stopping race to save her cargo from destruction before she is destroyed. Her cargo is the seed which will create a new world for humans wanting to escape Earth, which is slowly being torn apart by wars, big business and human fallibility.

Each part of the book is set a few years ahead from the next, so there is a real epic quality, a sense of journey, as humans attempt to start again, having screwed up the planet they were originally put on. Inevitably, the same old problems rear their ugly heads even in this Utopian worldly (called Forever.) This is a potent tale in an era where the problems the characters are coming up against are very familiar. Namely, the refugee crisis, capitalism and politics, power play, and wars that escalate, causing mass devastation. The fate of the dying Earth is very dark indeed.

In contrast, it is wonderful to see the birth and development of Forever, borne out of the asteroid Ariadne, where the seed was planted. And whilst this could easily be a bleak tale of a dystopian future, it isn’t, due to the ingenuity, compassion and generosity of the characters the author has created. The potential villain appears near the end, and is bound to have his day further down the series.

I loved the diversity of the characters, all without the common angst over who they are, or the usual mutterings of those around them. Some are gay, some are straight, some are trans. Get over it. It’s so refreshing to have a character that just happens to be trans, and yes, it is inevitable that their personal circumstances have a bearing on how they act around other people, but it isn’t a big thing. And the gay couple are in a long term, loving relationship. Again, that’s it. Accepted. Move on. We should have more characters in mainstream novels like this, which would go a long way to aid acceptance in the wider world.

Anyway, soapbox time over. This is a great science-fiction novel, and a cracking start to a gripping series. There is also a helpful glossary at the back. I’ve said this before with books. I just wish I had known the glossary was there before reading the whole book first! This would have been helpful to either, a) have it at the front or, b) mention it at the front so I know it’s there. It isn’t as easy to flip back and forth with an e-reader, but anyway, I was grateful for the added information. Not that there are a lot of unfamiliar words, but it does help to enrich and understand the world the author has created.

Finally, there are elements of everything here. An adventure, a rescue, the creation of a new world, machines with organic elements and Artificial Intelligence. The Lex character may or may not have the humans’ best interests at heart. That’s all I’m saying. In a word, this is a great novel, with awesome world-building and a plot that satisfies the sci-fi buff in all of us.

BLURB

The Earth is in a state of collapse, with wars breaking out over resources and an environment pushed to the edge by human greed. 

Three living generation ships have been built with a combination of genetic mastery, artificial intelligence, technology, and raw materials harvested from the asteroid belt. This is the story of one of them—43 Ariadne, or Forever, as her inhabitants call her—a living world that carries the remaining hopes of humanity, and the three generations of scientists, engineers, and explorers working to colonize her. 

From her humble beginnings as a seedling saved from disaster to the start of her journey across the void of space toward a new home for the human race, The Stark Divide tells the tales of the world, the people who made her, and the few who will become something altogether beyond human. 

Humankind has just taken its first step toward the stars.

24Aug/17

Welcome To Crash by Lina Langley

REVIEW

The magical Lina Langley was recently a guest on our show! To find out more about Lina and get links to her work, check out Episode 123: Why Is There Magic In it?

No doubt the M/M romance fascists will get their panties in a knot over this one, featuring as it does a man caught between two lovers, a scenario in which the ending will always be bittersweet.

Yes, hunties, the main character CHEATS on his boyfriend. Get over it and move on, because this is a wondrous treat, an effortless read that I couldn’t wait to get back to. I read it over the course of three evenings, and was immediately in love with the characters. Damien and Levi’s relationship feels so incredibly real. Levi wants to keep their affair discreet because of their tutor/student relationship. His character felt familiar, a dreadlocked, groomed and decent man who has been chased and seduced by the Pan-like Damien, only to see the boy/man begin to crumble.

Damien is of age but eyebrows would still be raised if people found out. He accepts Levi’s insistence on secrecy but grudgingly. At times he seemed fairly young in attitude and speech, and then I realised that was because he hadn’t quite shed the arrogance of youth, and was unable to see the effect his actions would have on others. I liked him, though, because he was willing to accept that he had faults, and grow with them. His vulnerability and sense of guilt made him human, and who are we to throw the first stone?

Photographer John, wavering between gay and straight, is blown away by 21st Century Damien, although he does not know that Damien is out of time. John is suitably grungy, a tortured, grubby artiste fighting for recognition under the dominating wing of his mentor, a man who should be dead, but somehow isn’t.

This book wasn’t all about the love triangle, but about the circumstances around it. And what circumstances! The way the reader finds out what is happening to Damien, via his attempt to tell Levi about John, the time-bending twist; the horrible realisation that everyone around you thinks you are going insane; it was all wonderfully simple to understand but elegantly told. I really wanted all these characters to succeed in getting what they wanted. In less capable hands, a plot like this would be a hot mess, but without giving spoilers, I can safely say I enjoyed it right to the very last word. Definitely an author for those who are looking for romance with a piquant flavour of realist fantasy.

BLURB

At first, Damien feels lucky to land a job at an influential art studio, but it soon becomes obvious that something’s not right. His gorgeous boss, John, is interested, and he’d be the perfect man for Damien—if Damien wasn’t already in a relationship. It isn’t long before Damien is at the center of a love triangle, forced to choose between hot, punk John and his secret affair with his professor, Levi. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because something impossible is happening to Damien—and it’s having a drastic effect on his health as well as his perception of reality. 

Each time Damien goes to work, things grow more bizarre, starting with Sam—an artist who has been dead for years and now somehow… isn’t. Damien’s unusual circumstances also free him from the restrictions of monogamy—or so he thinks. Levi, who cannot believe Damien’s claims, fears for his sanity. John also has strong doubts when Damien reveals knowledge of a catastrophic event looming in John’s future. Whether the men he loves believe his wild claims or not, neither can deny Damien is languishing, and if they cannot save him, he’ll be lost. More importantly, they must convince Damien to save himself.

01Aug/17

Shax’s War (Brimstone Book 3) by Angel Martinez (Audiobook)

REVIEW

For the purpose of review, this is the second series I’ve started in the middle, and as such, I have to make the assumption that most readers will have already read the first books.

I’m reviewing this because it is the audio version, narrated by Vance Bastian. It doesn’t take long to realise that I have to give this audiobook my full attention. NB: It isn’t a book to be listening to with your kids. The voices of Shax and Ness are immediately captivating, so much so that even driving is probably inadvisable, especially during the love scenes which, though infrequent, are S-T-E-A-M-Y.

Martinez writes good sex, that’s for sure, but she also creates memorable characters, cracking dialogue and fantastic story-telling, bought to life by Vance’s narration. A cocktail of caramel, cream and tequila, garnished with jalapeño is probably the nearest you will get to tasting the audio delight of this book. As a novella, it is a fairly quick read, but as an audiobook it is a fat n’ juicy 3 hours plus.

The story is basically a rescue. Shax the demon and Ness the angel are an established, loving couple, despite their obvious differences. When Shax plays dirty during a Trauma Ball game, it sets in motion a chain of events that leads Ness into danger and Shax on a desperate mission to rescue him from bad humans who want to harvest various angelic parts for their own purposes (eternal youth, etc.) Meanwhile, Ness is getting through his ordeal with the aid of a friend called Leopold, a sweet, pink hedgehog….

Anyone who loves Vance Bastian’s voice may find it hard to concentrate on what he’s saying, as opposed to how he is saying it. The audio quality is excellent and his narration first class, but because his voice is like a duvet made of honey and gossamer, seducing your ears, it almost upstages the book.

Almost, but not quite, because Martinez’s observations and comedic timing are pin-sharp and brilliant, as well as hilarious. I loved curmudgeonly Shax, angelic Ness and queenly Ivana, as well as Leopold, who may or may not be a figment of Ness’s vivid imagination. There are a few too many characters for me to follow properly, making the plot a little more convoluted than it probably needed to be. The problem with an audiobook is, it isn’t as easy to re-read if there is confusion, as you can with an e-reader or novel. But it’s a small quibble, because there is so much to enjoy here, it is almost an embarrassment of riches.

I recommend you listen at least twice, because you’ll find a lot to enjoy, not only from the sci-fi-tastic plot, action, adventure and colourful characters, but to wallow in the audial delights of the US’s male answer to the Cadbury’s Caramel Bunny. When a dream-weaver meets a cunning linguist, the result will always be a smorgesbord for the ears.

BLURB

Brimstone Series: Book 3
Next Book: Beside a Black Tarn
Preceded by: Fear of Frogs

The boys desperately need a vacation. With the not-quite-ill-gotten gains from the Frog incident, Shax takes the Brimstone’s crew to the exclusive resort planet, Opal, for some much needed rest and relaxation. The resort has everything a demon prince and his crew could want, but an incident on the Trauma Ball court sends Ness stalking off in anger and sends events swiftly spiraling out of control.

Shax will need every bit of his cunning and his legendary luck to save his Ness as he’s drawn into a web of criminal experiments and…pink hedgehogs?

Novella: 40,500 words/178 pages

THE BRIMSTONE SERIES
Potato Surprise: A Brimstone Prequel
Hell for the Company
Fear of Frogs
Shax’s War
Beside a Black Tarn

01Aug/17

Town & Train by James K. Moran

Speculative realist writer, James K. Moran, has been chatting to Vance on our show! To learn more about him and get links to his work, give Episode 122: Horror Is My First Love a listen.

REVIEW

A slice of small-town Americana, spliced with horror, is always going to be a satisfying mix. The two seem to compliment each other, as they do here when various characters who want to escape their hum-drum existence, accidentally summon a snorting demon from the gates of Hell.

The author has an interesting style, letting the reader get to know each character in short, sharp well-observed snippets, so you care about them before he starts killing them off. There is David, new-to-the-area cop and closeted bisexual, who is tasked with solving the mystery of the train and the disappearance of various townspeople. He’s seen it, but no-one seems inclined to believe him. And there is teenage dirtbag John, a bullied, wannabe metalhead who refuses to be a victim, courting his chief tormentor’s girlfriend. That tormentor is Cutter, soon-to-be undead metal freak responsible for most of John’s miseries. John wakes up by the rail tracks to see Cutter and his pals being whisked away to undoubtedly certain death.

The real villain of the piece is the titular demonic chuff that turns up at seemingly random times, after the sultry conductor “hears the townspeople’s call.” This was a bit tenuous, to be honest. I didn’t get a sense of rhythm or a build-up to when this would happen. The reason for it to turn up in the first place is also a little thin. After all, surely wanting economic wealth and growth for a town isn’t a bad thing? But doing anything to get it, including protecting odious individuals from just punishment IS a bad thing, which made sense. When people start disappearing, it is obvious that something strange is going on. When one person seems to be alive and normal, but isn’t, that is an idea that could have been expanded further before the confusing finale.  Yet the train is genuinely menacing, and there are some great atmospheric scenes that make up for hiccups in the plot.

Which was a little hit and miss. The subplot of Grant and his mistress ended somewhat unsatisfactorily, as most affairs do, and I couldn’t see the tie-in with the main plot. It was all a little too neat. The town pedo also didn’t seem to get the reward he was no doubt entitled to. Interesting that there was some attempt to make him sympathetic, but we make our choices, and for me, that didn’t work. In places, I found the denouement to be a little incoherent, especially towards the end, necessitating a couple of reads to make sure I understood it – I’m still not sure I do. Some major characters just seemed to disappear, without the neat ending. This seems a contradiction, but there are times when tying everything up is okay, and times when it isn’t. In this book, the lines are blurred.

Having said that, I loved the inventiveness of the plot, the building of atmosphere, the genuinely scary moments a la James Herbert or Stephen King. There are Koontz-esque scenes of banal normality set against an increasingly glowering backdrop, and a sense of impending doom as both David and John independently try to figure out how to prove that the town is being haunted by a ghost train from hell. And the characters, apart from the nasty ones, are genuinely likeable. Although David drinks WAY too much and still seems to function perfectly well.

So, a little uneven in places, but with characters to care about, and a genuinely frightening antagonist, set against the backdrop of a dying town overshadowed by  a stinking paper mill, this has atmosphere by the bucketload and enough scares to give a late-night shiver.

BLURB

In a small Ontario town, seventeen-year-old John Daniel wakes by the railroad tracks with no recollection of how he got there. Something called him from his bed. Officer David Forester, a recent transfer from Toronto, struggles to fit into the local police force, despite resistance from established circles. Both soon suspect a more pervasive and menacing collusion occurring in town when an antique steam train arrives late in the night. At the phantasmal engine, a conductor promises the desperate locals escape from their town dying with so many closed stores and shattered dreams–but there is no denying what the stranger really brings is the stuff of nightmares.

 

25Jul/17

Remains by J. Warren

Scholastic author J. Warren has recently been on our show! To find out more about what makes him tick, and get links to his work, listen to Episode 121: So That’s a Thing!

REVIEW

Told in the first person, this is a deep, dark and compelling book. Mike Kendall is a troubled man, on meds and having therapy to untangle the torments of his past, when he is told to go home to his folks for Thanksgiving. At the same time, bones have been found, which might belong to a boy he was friendly with in his teens.

The author has been very clever, as the whole way through the book, I wasn’t sure whether Mike was a good guy, or a bad guy trying to cover up past crimes (no spoilers.) For a while, I didn’t actually like him very much. He didn’t seem that caring towards his girlfriend, forever waiting for him to call her, or particularly sympathetic towards his sister, whose lesbian affair was alienating her from their parents. But I know that people with mental health issues can sometimes come across as unlikeable, so the author had hit the mark with Mike dead on. When we find out the reason for all his past torments, it seemed a little too easy, but there was enough to keep the mind ticking over with everything else going on around him.

It’s difficult to say much more without letting slip some of the many secrets the small town of Placeville holds, but I can say that there are many, and they are very dark indeed. I genuinely did not see the denouement coming, and I wasn’t expecting the satisfaction I felt at the very end. In fact, I read it twice to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

Anyone fascinated by the “small-town America seething with murky skeletons in the closet” genre, will love this. It is a Salinger-esque character study of one man, but also one place, the town, and the lengths it will go to, to remain normal on the outside. Again, I’m choosing words carefully, so as not to spoil anything. There are elements of horror, of murder/mystery, of sex (and one extremely well-written intimate scene, blooming into a fledgling relationship) and social commentary, as well as the complicated dynamics within a fragmenting family. Half-way through Remains I realised I didn’t want to put the book down until I’d finished it. It was a slow burn, to be sure, but well-worth the effort.

BLURB

J. Warren’s Remains is an insular story, almost claustrophobic as we first join Mike Kendall where he lives: walled up in his own mind. As the book progresses, Kendall is drawn back to his hometown of Placerville, when the remains of a long-missing boy are finally found, a boy Kendall had shared a complicated history. No matter how much Kendall tries to resist the underside of the mystery behind Randy McPherson’s disappearance, he must confront the lies that he has built his life upon.

24Jul/17

Oliver & Jack at Lodgings In Lyme by Christina E. Pilz

REVIEW

I was gifted an ARC of this book in return for an honest and fair review.

I don’t usually start a series in the middle, but I wanted to read Lodgings in Lyme as I know the area reasonably well. Also, I would be reading the book at the very time I would be staying there.

I had no idea what to expect, going into the series completely cold. This is the continuing saga of two young men who love each other, but haven’t acknowledged it physically yet, an audacious, yet not terribly serious, tale of what it was like to be young, gay, and the wrong side of the law in the 1880’s. Jack and Oliver (Jack “Artful Dodger” Dawkins and Oliver Twist – all grown up) are on the run and have to get out of London after a crime that would see Oliver hanged if he was found out. Jack has some nebulous plan to head to Lyme Regis to find out more about his long lost family, but before that, they have to stay one step ahead of the law. Jack is also injured and getting more unwell by the moment, and spending hours in a creaky, leaky coach isn’t doing his health any good at all.

First off, one minor niggle to point out and put aside. The cover, stunning as it is, but the picture is not of Lyme Regis! Call me petty, but it did make me question the quality of the book before I had even opened it. Some readers might then start picking holes in the fabric of the book on this point alone, but that would be a shame, because aside from the artistic licence given to the photograph, the author has obviously researched her subject with forensic detail. The historical setting and language is convincing. She hasn’t tried to ape Dickens; not at all, but put her own spin on two well-loved characters and in doing so, made them her own.

Oliver is still the golden boy, possibly able to get away with murder, and Jack is the wild card, still not able to let go of his thieving ways, missing the “craft” of what he does best. He is ill-mannered, even to those who want to help him, which doesn’t make him that sympathetic. It seems as if Oliver’s charms aren’t rubbing off on him yet. I hope they do, because at the moment, I don’t care for him very much at all. Considering the precarious position they are in, relying on the charity of strangers, his behaviour seems self-destructive at best. His only redeeming feature is his obvious love for Oliver, and the lengths he will go to, to protect him. Oliver, on the other hand, seems very capable of looking after himself, and his doe-eyed innocence does not seem very convincing after a while. They are an odd couple but somehow, it works.

I loved the authentic voices, the descriptive scenes and historical detail, all given a lightness of touch which saves this series from being weighty and full of its own importance. Instead, there is a mischievousness to the dialogue and tenderness during the intimate scenes. The sex, when it happens, is not lengthy or lurid, but is well-written and cleverly dealt with. Sexy, yes, but not gratuitously so.

In the end, I would be very intrigued to discover the fate of these two men. History shows us that a HEA isn’t really feasible, but this is MM historical fiction, and anything can happen. It will be interesting to find out. I just hope that Jack relinquishes his uncouth ways before they lead both him and Oliver to the gallows.

 

BLURB

An ex-apprentice and his street thief companion flee the dangers of Victorian London and the threat of the hangman’s noose in search of family and the promise of a better life.

After Oliver Twist commits murder to protect Jack Dawkins (The Artful Dodger), both must flee London’s familiar but dangerous environs for safety elsewhere. Together they travel to Lyme Regis in the hopes of finding Oliver’s family. Along the way, Jack becomes gravely ill and Oliver is forced to perform manual labor to pay for the doctor’s bills.

While Oliver struggles to balance his need for respectability with his growing love for Jack, Jack becomes disenchanted with the staid nature of village life and his inability to practice his trade. But in spite of their personal struggles, and in the face of dire circumstances, they discover the depth of their love for each other.

07Jul/17

Review of Daimonion by J. P. Jackson

The dark n’ sweet J.P. Jackson visited our show just last week! To hear his interview with Vance and find out more about his debut horror fantasy novel, Daimonion (The Apocalypse Book 1), published on July 10 2017, follow this link! Episode 119: I Like Flirting With The Darkness

REVIEW

I was gifted an ARC for an honest and fair review.

Daimonion is many things. The first book in The Apocalypse trilogy, a debut novel, and a blood-spattered, gory quest for one demon who struggles with the whole “killing kids” thing. The book is told in the first person, and has more than one protagonist, but it works because they are each given a chapter, clearly marked. This can go horribly wrong, but not in this case.

Dati is the main character, a demon who is a bit hapless, to be honest. Despite his his job description, he seems to have a human side, which gets him into all sorts of trouble, especially when he tries to save one special person who eventually ends up in a cocoon. He just seems to have the kiss of death about him, but I liked him because he was obviously struggling with unfamiliar feelings. Obsession, rather than love, but for a demon, it’s a start….

I couldn’t fault the writing at all. There were no faltering mis-steps at any stage, so I felt I was in good hands, which was essential as urban fantasy horror is not a genre I’m familiar with. I usually like my horror to to have a human heart, allbeit one that has been dragged across a gravel road, still beating. This was unfamiliar and it took me a few pages to really get into it. But I did because the author has obviously had a huge amount of fun, throwing in satyrs, vampyres (not sparkly ones), shape-shifters and blood-thirsty demons, and a succubus so sexy I almost fancied her myself.

At first, I thought I was going to miss the human set-up before realising that it was there, but told from the demon’s side, something I’ve never experienced before. The most memorable human was the girl, untrained witch, Jenae, also a stroppy teenager, which I loved. Her voice was en pointe, a thoroughly modern witch, without resorting to stereotype. The dialogue was sharp and there was a lot of humour, but not in a slapstick way. The book didn’t take itself too seriously, as some of these books about an imminent Apocalypse can be. The bombastic horror is inescapable, but balanced with a lightness of touch. It’s an interesting concept and a risky one, but it works.

One quibble would be that the plot was slightly confusing, as books with lots of characters and unfamiliar names always are (to me.) With first books, there is a tendency to throw in the kitchen sink, just in case you never write another one, and I sensed an element of that, even though the book is part of a trilogy. Now that everyone has been introduced, it will be really interesting to see how the plot develops. With a less frantic pace, the reader will have more breathing space to sit back, relax and enjoy.

As well as the icky parts, the descriptions were fantastic, steeping the reader in a post-modern, urban world with utter conviction. Monster dogs, magic, creatures of fantasy move around an indeterminate city, scenes of torture are gut-twisting but never seem gratuitous. The characters all had some element which kept them from being unsympathetic, apart from Master, who is badass (but then, he has to be…) Alyx, Dati’s potential/possible love interest, did get more interesting as the book unfolded, as well as Dati’s inner conflict over unfamiliar feelings for him.

To round up, this is a steaming, visceral debut novel for those who like their urban fantasy steeped in blood and gore, and demons wrestling with human dilemmas.

BLURB

Dati Amon wants to be free from his satyr master and he hates his job—hunting human children who display demon balefire. Every hunt has been successful, except one. A thwarted attempt ended up as a promise to spare the child of a white witch, an indiscretion Dati hopes Master never discovers.

But Master has devilish machinations of his own. He needs human-demon hybrids, the Daimonion, to raise the Dark Lord to the earthly realm. If Master succeeds, he will be immortal and far more powerful.

The child who was spared is now a man, and for the first time in three hundred years, Dati has a reason to escape Master’s chains. To do that, Dati makes some unlikely alliances with an untrained soulless witch, a self-destructive shape shifter, and a deceitful clairvoyant. However, deals with demons rarely go as planned, and the cost is always high