Kindle Originals...all genres


MORGAN KANE - WITHOUT MERCY
LOUIS MASTERSON

WR Films Entertainment Group
$3.99 Kindle original, available now

This book was a Goodreads Giveaway from WR Films Entertainment Group

Rating: 3.5* of five

It's an amazement to me that Louis Masterson, born Kjell Hallbing, is pretty much unknown in the US. His character Morgan Kane, violent gambling sociopathic killer, is the perfect expression of a Western hero. I can only guess American publishers in the 1970s were reluctant to bring a Norwegian author's translated works to a market that was moving away from Westerns as a primary entertainment source.

I don't read in Norwegian, so I don't know if the translation is faithful or not. I can say that the plot is the reason to read the book. It's a revenge story, setting Kane against multiple enemies after he loses a rigged poker hand and is wiped out. He's not mad because he's lost a lot of money...$10,000 was a huge fortune for most folks in the nineteenth century, more money than most would earn in a decade...he's wounded in his vanity because he was set up.

The twists and the turns of his plot to revenge himself are unrealistic, and the details of Texas are pretty much not accurate (I'm being polite, the banks of the Brazos were "almost beautiful" oh dear), and there are some what-the-heck moments like a woman smelling of hibiscus flowers...what? she washed her hair in hibiscus tea or something?...but the reason I kept reading was simple. It's a revenge story set in Texas! This is Western-watching and -reading Nirvana. And the bodies of the baddies pile up with agreeable celerity, I must admit.

The movie shoot-'em-up made from this is a-gonna be a hoot. The production is completely locked down, no one associated with it is talking, and there isn't even a release date for the film that I can find. The fun will include Kane making Bond look sensitive and wimpish around women, too.

All in all, a testosterone-fest and a great chance to make the cash registers ring with twenties from every lonely Clint Eastwood-in-the-movies fan alive. Well spotted at last, Hollywood!

I'll go see the movie.

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THE GREAT GOODREADS CENSORSHIP DEBACLE

Rating: 5 facetious stars of five



My crypto-daughter calls me a "crabby old fustilugs." My LibraryThing friends call me "Mr. Crabby Pants." So just imagine how wondrously perfectly scrumdiddlyumptious this book must be for me, a mean old sourpuss, to give it five whole stars!

And I haven't read a single word of it! And that's okay, because this is a five-star review of a book that doesn't exist yet, and the Goodreads censors don't mind that one little bit! They let the selfies and the fanbots do this all the time. They can't make ME not do it!

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THE GIRL WHO RULED FAIRYLAND FOR A LITTLE WHILE
CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE

Tor.com original
Free online novella, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: In which a young girl named Mallow leaves the country for the city, meets a number of Winds, Cats, and handsome folk, sees something dreadful, and engages, much against her will, in Politicks of the most muddled kind.

My Review: The Fairyland books ROCK. This novella is a prequel to the action in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which I adored. It is quite a lovely tale in and of itself, but reading it after reading the first published book of the series is extra toothsomely yum. The magical occurrences and the source of much of the full novel's wonder is just that much clearer to me after reading this little gem.

As always, there's Valente's simply magical way of saying so much in a few words:
“Tell me about your love,” Mallow sighed, observing form.

Mabry Muscat looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “Oh, it’s a long and exciting story, sure to charm and make you swoon over me. Let’s call custom satisfied and skip the tale, shall we?”

Mallow’s attention sharpened to a point. “It must be a very good story if you don’t want to tell it. Everyone wants to tell theirs. When I first set up my house I could hardly keep Myfanwy Redbean from reciting the tale of the boy she loved for seven years before some kirtle-tying trollop named Janet stole him away. In alliterative verse. With a tambourine.”

“It is the very best of stories. She left me for a cat and a cloud, ring down the bluebells-o. She left me for a storm and a coat of green. Down fall the lilies-o.” His voice was so sad and gentle that Mallow felt tears coming to her eyes all unbidden.
There's Valente's sheer, audacious, unstoppable descriptive brio:
The buildings of Pandemonium must have been lovely once, must have been diamond towers and golden storefronts and winding wrought-vine balconies, open flowers and briars and mosses genteelly drooping trees, violet peony-windows and blue lobelia-doorsteps. It must once have bloomed, the whole city, fruits and flowers with gem-spires and silver streets winking and glittering through the fertile, greening riot of the living capital. But no longer. Leaves had gone brown, vines had shriveled, flowers shrunk and wrinkled up, thorns gone dull and mosses gone grey. Where stone and jewel and metal showed through, the flank of a bakery or terrace of a bank or clerestory of a grand theatre, huge, gaping holes showed through, as though some awful giant had taken bites out of the city itself, in its highest and deepest and most secret and most open places. Applemas approached, high summer, and yet Pandemonium seemed to live in the dregs of autumn, when the brilliant colors have gone and left only brown sticks waiting for snow.
But most of all, there is Valente's clear-eyed character analysis, precluding falling in love with her creations and making falling in love with her creations inevitable, and daring you not to give every bit of your heart to someone who just might not deserve it:
Mallow looked him levelly in the eye, and hardly a soul in the world has yet to be half-smitten and half-frightened by a level look from that girl. She told him the truth. “I have never lost a love and I do not intend to. One can only lose love if one is careless, and I am never careless. You might say, really, that of anything I am best at caring, at paying close attention and minding what I’ve got. The King says I must go to the Foul—very well, I shall go. And I hope to find a Wet Magician or two while I am there, and learn, and buy several new books if I can.”
I can't force you to read this free online novella, but if I could...I probably wouldn't...you can't make your heart open like a cherry blossom, waiting for just the right bee to come make it a cluster of red, beautiful, sweet gifts ready to give to an unmet magical love.

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MAD MOUSE (John Ceepak Mysteries #2)
CHRIS GRABENSTEIN
Carroll & Graf
$0.99 Kindle edition, available now
Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: It's almost Labor Day, and the end of summer could mean the end of someone's life in this exciting sequel to Chris Grabenstein's Tilt-a-Whirl. Young Danny Boyle, the part-time summer cop "down the shore" in Sea Haven, New Jersey, gets taken on a wild ride when he and his longtime beach buddies become the unwitting targets of a mad-man's twisted scheme for revenge. Fortunately, John Ceepak, the cop with a soldier's unshakeable code of honor, stays at Danny's side to help him negotiate the quick twists and turns that threaten to destroy his life, his friends, and everything about the world he loves. Whipping from the boardwalk to the beach and back again, Mad Mouse keeps zigging and zagging at a breakneck pace, all the way to the surprising finish.

My Review: Second verse, same as the first/Coulda got better....

I enjoyed the time off from the troubling events I'm seeing develop at Goodreads. I hid myself in this enjoyable, light-weight read...

...and *whammo* got the boom lowered on me. Every one of us has done things that, had we known what we were doing at the time, would never have been put into action. Fortunately for most of us, the people we've hurt or mistreated don't come after us with sniper weapons in hand and murder at heart. Danny Boyle, the cool kid from school who never left the town he grew up in, has some of those and here they come with guns and murder all at the ready.

Grabenstein's writing is smooth, very easy on the eyes and ears, and carefully crafted. He chooses the scenes of his story with a very practiced and able eye. He offers an interesting angle of view. But the impact of the story is never in doubt, since his main character is the one in the sniper's crosshairs. Readers of Tilt-A-Whirl are already invested in Danny, and those who start here are probably not that far behind.

In the end, though, after going on the ride with Danny, it's the perp that leaves one almost breathless in horror, pity, fear, loathing. It's all so, so pointless. Except to the unhappy victim. And I don't, this time, mean Danny or his friends.

Very affecting.

What worked less well for me was the grafted-on feeling that the romance, which apparently blew up overnight, left me with; the Ceepak presence was deployed in an oddly spotty manner, feeling not exactly perfunctory but less personal than in the first book; and the new character Buzz was, well, here I can say it, perfunctory. Quick strokes, convenient presence, but not integral or maybe integrated, into the action.

A series I will pursue, no doubt, and with pleasure. Just a few clouds in the sunshiney sky. Nothing to suggest even a rain shower, still less a storm. I like finding myself in Sea Haven, and that says a lot.

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TILT-A-WHIRL
CHRIS GRABENSTEIN

Carroll & Graf
$0.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: There isn't much sun in the fun when a billionaire real estate tycoon is found murdered on the Tilt-A-Whirl at a seedy seaside amusement park in the otherwise quiet summer tourist town of Sea Haven. John Ceepak, a former MP just back from Iraq, has just joined the Sea Haven police department. The job offer came from an old army buddy who hoped to give Ceepak at least a summer's worth of rest and relaxation to help him forget the horrors of war. Instead, Ceepak will head up the murder investigation. He is partnered with Danny Boyle, a 24-year-old part-time summer cop who doesn't carry a gun and only works with the police by day so he has enough pocket money left over to play with his beach buddies at night. In the first novel in a new series written in the spirit of Carl Hiaasen's work, the Tilt-A-Whirl murder pushes Ceepak's deep sense of honor and integrity to the limits, as unexpected twists and turns keep the truth spinning wildly in every direction.

My Review: A first-person narrative by the brilliant, damaged sleuth's awestruck sidekick. A murder richly deserved, a plot cleverly sewn to established behaviors of irreproachable characters, and a very dark and twisted resolution that provides restitution for many past wrongs, all for the price of an insalata caprese on a baguette with taro chips.

I started reading this free Kindle edition this afternoon, nursing a sore back and a bad mood. I stopped a few minutes ago, drew a deep breath, and said, "golly gee willikers, that was a corking experience!" (Ceepak rubbed off on me a little. It's only temporary. I hope.)

I was rather constantly reminded that Ceepak was modeled on Sherlock Holmes, in fact a wee bit heavy-handedly (the cigarette butt, the musical obsession, the lighthouse), but honestly it never made the story less enveloping. The town and the townie-sidekick made me appreciate Ceepak's character's Sherlockian traits. The more Danny, out narrator, talks, the more Ceepak learns and, importantly, teaches. The specific information Ceepak seeks about the locations of stuff around the little resort town is less important than is the lesson that Danny is being offered at every step. It's so well-done that I suspect readers can whip right past that piece of subtext and lose no speck of pleasure in following Ceepak around as he pulls threads and worrys knots and always, always obeys his orders. Even when they come from people who have no idea what they're doing.

The crime scene team at the scene of the murder is led by a revolting slob instead of a brilliant, world-renowned forensic scientist, who happens to be away on vacation when this crime is committed...the murder of a billionaire. Hard luck! It's so awful how things don't happen the right way, although the sloppy lead forensic guy probably gets a come-uppance offstage. Which kinda sucks, I'd really have enjoyed seeing him suffer...though I have some hopes he'll reappear to be a thorn in the side of our Dudley Dooright detective, this shell-shocked love child of Sherlock and Adrian Monk.

I'm all ready to be a big fan. I'm hoping I'll be as happy after I read the next one. Because I read this on the !*&$^^!%%#% Kindle, I can't quote the nice, dry asides and observations that Danny, our Watson-meets-Archie Goodwin, makes, but I smiled a lot, chuckle a good bit, and laughed out loud at least three times.

Yeah, four stars. That's fair. The extra fractions of a star get deducted for a few small breaks, like an attitude shift on Danny's part that goes from up to down to up again a bit too quickly; the resolution of the original red herring being a smidge on the done-and-dusted side; and a bit at the end with Ceepak doing something I found, well, forced and unnecessary.

None of which should even slow you down in your sprint to the Kindle store to spend a *whopping* ninety-nine cents to procure your lease on access to the file. Five hours happily spent making a new bestie? For a lousy buck? Be a devil, risk it!

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THE GOODREADS KILLER: A Revenge Fantasy
DAVE FRANKLIN

Baby Ice Dog Press
FREE!!

Rating: 4* of five

...what, was I stoned, only FOUR?! Silly old faggot, make it five! Five, or what the hell, make it an even six!!

Just please, please, please let me live. I don't want to be tied to chair in an abbatoir with pig testicles slapping me and a pig's penis slithering down my my my oh gawd I can't even

So yes yes, all you lovely lovely writers out there, yes I shall only write praise and happy-clappy sixteen-star yodels of rapture I swear double swear and cross my parts and hope to die!

The dark and deeply disturbed mind of the Dave Franklins out there should never be discommoded, lest the revenge cease being a fantasy. This ebook is free, and fun, and funny...but not without its sharp little point.

Don't miss it. It's short. The price is right. And whaddaya know, it's got a message we all do, joking aside, need to heed.

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WHEN YOU WERE PIXELS (Syntax, #0.1)
JULIO-ALEXI GENAO
Romance Group
Free downloadable short story

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Author Says: An assassin has come to Tower Oh-Seven-Two, and no one can keep him from his target.

Only minutes from escape, he suffers a violent seizure, collapsing in a service corridor.

A lonely surveillance operator becomes the only person in the building to see him fall. Antho is no murderer, but in watching the killer stumble he recognizes something that links the two of them together.

When he rescues the assassin in secret, he finds the monster on his screen is only a young man, cursed with the effects of a trauma as outsized as his deadly skill—and somehow linked to the stirring of a terrifying power. Unable to walk away, Antho makes a choice that could cost them both their lives.

He takes the assassin home.

My Review: TERRIBLE! Just AWFUL! I hated it, hated it, hated it!

Because it's not long enough. Because I want to know more about Antho, about the Undertown, about the world of Syntax. Because this lovely evocation of the power of longing, the majesty of giving yourself to longing and need, made me want to immerse myself more deeply in its bittersweet satiny-smooth sweetness.

Because it's a goddamned PDF, I can't quote the passage on p22, about the smell of fabric and warm skin, that made me gasp. But trust me, I'm a tough room, and Genao sold me, made me completely buy in to the dreaming desperation of longing and the titanic power of need.

This is a gay male Fifty First Dates set in the Bladerunner dystopia and made as powerfully sexy as it's possible for a story to be. There is a sex scene, but it's very sensual and it's very sweet...a lovemaking scene, really, not a sex scene in the oof-grunt-thrust sense. How lovely it is.

This one's a keeper, ma.

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MURDER AT THE RESORT
NATHAN GRANT
Kindle Original
$2.25, 68pp, available now

Rating: Two IRRITATED stars of five

The (Self-)Publisher Says: Jake Grayson and Chris Barrington were together for over two decades when suddenly Chris found himself alone as Jake had fallen for a younger man, ending their long term relationship. Two years later the financial and emotional dust had finally settled when Loretta Bryce, Chris's young aunt and best friend proposes a business venture; a run-down resort just north of Sedona Arizona.

Loretta and Chris viewed many properties together, with Chris returning from the Bay Area when the perfect deal was finalized. While briefly at the resort he met Loretta's other business partner and dear friend dark and brooding Cal Hudson; the unstoppable attraction was instant and soon the sexual sparks began to fly between Chris and the muscular sexy man. Just before Chris left to say goodbye to his life in Northern California, Cal stole a tender kiss and the stage was set for Cal to steal his heart.

Months later when Chris returned to start the new chapter in his life north of Sedona, he learned his former partner Jake was due to arrive soon along with his young lover Kim Shore.

Over the past several months Jake had badgered Chris with emails and references to their past relationship much to Chris's dismay, and now hinted at the possibility of an unwanted reconciliation, at least on Chris's part.

Not wishing to have a scene but not willing to reconcile with Jake, Chris has a confrontation with Kim and storms out of the resort's bar going for a walk to cool off. Still too upset to join the others he visits his newly renovated home to view the changes and instead finds a vicious murder; soon realizing he may be next.

My Review: This is a decent first draft of a charming romantic mystery. An editor and a copyeditor badly, nay desperately, need to work it over. But the reason I give it two stars, a mingy total, is simple: PUNCTUATION. CAPITALIZATION. They have rules. Learn and follow them. Slavishly.

And what a pity it is to write that. There is a really, really sweet and yet still exciting story in here. The writing can definitely use assistance, but the basics are there, and the storytelling eye simply needs a bit of direction.

I fear the day when the art and craft of editing have died.

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WEST OF BABYLON
TED HELLER

Lakeland & Barker
$12.99 trade paper or $7.99 eBook, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: The Furious Overfalls came together in the sleepy, mundane suburbs of Long Island in the seventies and, with their gritty, bubbling gumbo of rock, blues and country music, sold millions of albums and toured the world to packed, adoring houses. But then, almost as quickly as it began, it all stopped: Music changed, the world changed, everybody got older, the cigarette lighters went out, and the records stopped selling. Still, all four band members—now in their mid to late fifties, their hair thinning and gray, their bodies slowly breaking down—stay together and play.

Each player in the Overfalls band has his own demons: Danny Ault, the group's founder and lead singer, has his corrosive anger and his two teenage daughters; Jules Rose, the lead guitarist, is a notorious womanizer who's losing the power and urge to womanize and who is haunted by the one woman he ever actually loved; Howie Grey, the bassist, worries he might be going insane by worrying too much; and Joey Mazz, the band's drummer and certainly not the sharpest tool in the shed, has now fallen seriously ill.

Danny cannot take the road anymore and has decided to break the group up for good. The Overfalls will go out for a final goodbye tour, though, a grueling journey across the country playing shabby, boisterous, booze-soaked, often dangerous clubs. Will this last tour bring them together or pull them further apart? Can Joey, his health failing daily, make it? His wife has urged Danny to bring Joey back home alive, but each show the band plays takes its toll. But this is what Joey wants to do, and this is what the band HAS to do. Because without the music and without each other, they just don't know how else to live.

My Review: I read a tweet from Salon magazine about a writer who was self-publishing his fourth novel, after three with regular old publishers that got nice reviews, reasonable sales...so why go it alone, I wondered, and read the piece. It made me smile, so I tweeted the author and offered to review his magnum opus for him.

Within moments, he had a PDF (ugh) of the book in my inbox. With an apology for not getting it there sooner. (Like before I said I wanted to read it? What?) This, laddies and gentlewomen, is the sign of someone who wants your attention.

Four hundred PDF (ugh) pages later, I'm glad I gave Ted Heller my attention, because what I got in return was a damn good read.

I'm over 50. I live on Long Island, a much-maligned place of suburban peace and quiet. I spent a chunk of years (twelve) living in Manhattan, and loving it...though a little less each day by the end of that time. If the Frumious Bandersnatches or whatever the faux band's name is (I never could tell, it read differently for me every time) had played in Manhattan, I probably would've been in the audience. I am, in short, the audience that Heller was writing for.

Which is why he's self-publishing this novel. I am labeled Not Wanted by the publishing industry by virtue of my X chromosome, the duration of my possession of the said chromosome, and general culpable lack of young-womanness. Heller's book won't appeal to someone graduating from Twilight to more meaty fare, it will appeal to those of us, male and female, who remember The Twilight Zone on prime-time three-network TV.

Why, I ask in annoyed frustration, does that make this book undesirable? When did we, entering our recliner-and-book-is-fun years, stop being a coveted market segment? Most of us have Kindles, tablets, smartphones, and the like, or we'd never see or hear from our kids, or be able to redeem our Father's Day iTunes gift cards. We're still able to read through the trifocals. Social Security isn't bankrupt yet, and a book isn't so expensive that we can't manage one or two.

But the cult of the teenaged girl runs rampant in the halls of publishing companies, and if it can't be marketed as YA (ugh), it is at best marginal. Which means, by extension, I and the several million other male babies born the year I was are now marginal.

So here's a bulletin from the margins: The adventures of Danny, Jules, Joey, and crazy-ass OCD loon Howie are just the ticket for cutting through the acne cream and enjoying an adult pleasure. One of the characters (I could find out who in a tree book) muses, "When did I stop drinking Old Grand-dad and become one?", which so exactly encapsulates my own and many others' experience of aging that I chuckled while weeping. (Main reason I hate PDFs and Kindlebooks for reviews: Can't find highlights. Yes, I know I put one on; howinahell do I get back to it?! UGH!)

Living on Long Island, I appreciate the local color; being of an age with the band, I appreciate the humor; and liking books that make me smile, chuckle, wince, and blanch at the antics of the good guys doing their best and making their peace with their lives, I liked this read. I'd like to meet up with the men I spent 100,000 words with, drink some Old Grand-dad, play some John Mayall and a side of Spirit.

If none of that meant diddly-squat to you, this book will be like hieroglyphics. But if it resonates even a little bit, go and get acquainted with the boys in the band. Ted Heller's relaxed, easy storytelling makes this a single-malt quality read that deserves your attention.

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LONDON'S OVERTHROW
China Miéville

Saqui Press
Free online, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: London’s Overthrow is a potent polemic describing the capital in a time of austerity at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Award-winning author and essayist China Miéville cuts through the hyperbole of our politicians to present a view from ordinary London – of the inequality, oppression and indignity and the hidden, subversive sentiment pervading throughout our streets.

My Review: An essay on economic justice, on political reality, and on a leftist's fears for a world slowly being strangled and dismembered by corporate efforts to change the game to phase out all control over and opposition to their eternal pursuit of more more more more more more more. Illustrated with Mr. M's own photos of London at night, the essay makes for some damned good and grim reading, though as always with His Chinaness, the sonority and especially the ubiety of his word choices and similes and metaphors makes the experience of reading the essay much like paying a visit to London yourownself.

There is a major sea-change happening in the world today. The corporate interests are making it ever more difficult for ordinary people to survive, still less make their own worlds better. There is some backlash from the tiny remnants of the left. What there is not is any assurance that the outcome will favor the majority. Read this:

London, buffeted by economic catastrophe, vastly reconfigured by a sporting jamboree of militarised corporate banality, jostling with social unrest, still reeling from riots. Apocalypse is less a cliché than a truism. This place is pre-something.

The Olympics are slated to cost taxpayers £9.3bn. In this time of ‘austerity’, youth clubs and libraries are expendable fripperies; this expenditure, though, is not negotiable. The uprisen young of London, participants in extraordinary riots that shook the country last summer, do the maths. ‘[B]ecause you want to host the Olympics, yeah,’ one participant told researchers, ‘so your country can look better and be there, we should suffer’.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate her 60th year on the throne this year, and the Conservative government is making sure that the world she leaves for William to reign over (does anyone believe Charles will say yes to being king if his wife can't be queen?) is vastly worse for the average Briton than it was when Her Majesty ascended the throne:

The pay gap between the highest and lowest paid in the UK has grown faster than in any other developed country, spiking since 2005. In 2008, average income of the top 10 percent was 12 times that of the lowest. Their riches grow. We others are told to tighten belts. Tax rates for the wealthiest have dropped, even as the gap between the merely rich and the utterly wealthy has grown.

One of capitalism’s defences is the outrage-fatigue it engenders.

We’re approaching Victorian levels of inequality, and London’s more unequal than anywhere else in the country. Here, the richest 10 percent hold two thirds of all wealth, the poorest half, one 20th.

It isn't that there are no alternatives, it isn't that no one has another idea, it isn't that there are no voices crying shenanigans out there in the public sphere. Far from it. What there is most decidedly not is any ear turned even slightly away from the more more more more more me me me me me greed that finances government officials' elections and their cushy retirements:

We slump under sado-monetarism. There are other ways. For years Alan Freeman was an economist with the Greater London Authority, working with both mayors. He leans forward in his chair, explaining what’s wrong with London’s still-massive economy, and how to fix it. He bullet points. ‘Build two million homes ... Edufare in the place of workfare ... Invest in innovation. Quintuple government funding of R&D, extend R&D to the arts. ... Put growth back and (it’s easy to show) the tax coffers will overflow.’

But perish forbid that the tax coffers overflow, because then the Scum of the Earth might think they should get some of the swag. Can't have that! Those saggy-pantsed loud-music-listenin' dark skinned creeps better not get the idea that they're as good as old white men:

In 1998, Tony Blair ushered into being ASBOs, Antisocial Behaviour Orders. Sharp laws, the better for society, like Cronus, like a traumatised hamster, to eat its children. These startling civil orders criminalise legalbehaviour, individually, tailor-making offences. A 17-year-old is banned from swearing. Another told he could go to jail if he drops his trousers. A 19-year-old barred by law from playing football in the street.

Catastrophe generates the beasts it needs. In London, in the UK, the term ’feral youth’ is absolutely routine. Media and politicians deploy it without much controversy. As if such a spiteful, shocking, bestialising phrase does not disgrace every mouth from which it spills. Its utterance is not a diagnosis, but a symptom.

And this is how it is in London. It's worse in New York. As for the real America, the mind boggles and the spirit quails upon considering how clueless, how apathetic, and how pusillanimous the typical American is; he sees no need to protest, because 1) won't do any good, 2) things're fine like they are, we have enough to eat, still have the house, leave me in peace, and 3) goddam commie pinko fags from Jew York who needs them tellin' decent folks how to live.

This last is a quote. A quote, mind you. Someone I once thought of as a friendly acquaintance said this to me. She is not alone in her thoughts, though I'd hope others are less thoughtless in expressing them.

Then I watched Fox News, and that hope died. I wonder if my country's ideals will too.

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THE ZONA
Nathan Yocum

Curiosity Quills Press
$4.99 Kindle, $12.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.25* of five

The Publisher Says: The Storms came, and with them disease and blight like mankind had never experienced. Most died, and those who didn't were quick to scramble for weapons, wealth, and control. Petty lords gave way to new societies, and from the ashes of old came the Reformed Arizona Theocracy, or simply put, the Zona. The laws are simple, all sins are punished swiftly and violently. The enforcers, otherwise known as Preachers, roam the lands hunting disgraced men and women. But what happens when Preachers stop killing? What happens when men of honor take a stand against their rulers?

The Zona is the debut novel by award winning screenwriter Nathan L. Yocum. Cover art by Peter Schumann.

My Review: Lead is a Preacher in the service of the Reformed Theocracy of Arizona...The Zona...which means he seeks out those lost in sin and error and delivers them, either to Purgatory or to Heaven. No trial is needed, no expiation is offered, the Church has decreed them marked (the Mark of Cain) and so Lead (so nicknamed because he was in Lead Group Two during the Battle for Las Vegas, which ended in nuclear conflagration thanks to the Mormons attacking The Zona's foot army and the People's Republic of Northern California's air force, all supposed allies in the cleansing of sin from the face of the earth) may execute his duty with impunity and without stain on his soul.

He shoots them dead on the spot, or he takes them to the foulest prison imaginable, there to die. In God's name let it be done.

You will by now have perceived that this is not the world of 2012. It is a post-Apocalyptic world, one in which The Storms have ended technological civilization, and the survivors of the initial climate apocalypse next faced catastrophic pole shift, then myriad plagues. In the space of about thirty years, humanity's glittering edifice of civilization has utterly vanished. In its place are a few shattered remnants of humankind, struggling to eke out minimum survival and to make some tiny degree of sense out of this tragedy. Up rears the Church, using its time-tested lies and bullshit to harass and hector the shocked walking wounded into a herd, dedicated to the preservation and future wealth of...the Church. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

So Lead hunts down Preacher Terence, for reasons he doesn't know...he's never told why he's going after a mark, it would only confuse his purpose...and the unthinkable happens. Lead talks to Terence, Lead listens to Terence, and Lead, for the first time since his plague-victim mother dropped dead in the fugee camp and left him to starve or not as best he could, Lead thinks. Why, he thinks., Why, he wonders. Why, he asks, am I killing people to save them? Am I saving them, or damning myself? Is this what God wants of me? Terence, who traveled this road before Lead, answers, “It's what the Church wants, and the Church is not God.”

And there it is, the basis of heresy, and it lights a rocket in Lead's soul that propels the plot into its fast, furious, fiery hot trajectory as Lead and Terence form a little family, attempt to escape the Church and its hideous, hateful strictures, share their horrific pasts (each was, in his own way, part of the Cleansing at Las Vegas, and it left them both irredeemably scarred), and evade their Crusader pursuit team.

The journey to redemption is never easy. It takes its toll on the heartiest and healthiest of men. It leads Lead through the Purgatory he sent other men to, and it sends him, naked and frightened and covered in filth, on a pilgrimage through the desert seeking New Pueblo, a purported Land of Milk and Honey, where the Old Ways still exist.

The first paragraph of the book is what did it for me. I mean, completely hooked me like I was a marlin and it was the goddamned Old Man from that Hemingway farrago.

Lead woke with the sun peeling his eyelids back like the tips of God’s fingers.  His vision shifted to focus on the haze of brown earth and the beige nothing of sand and grit.  His wrists were bound together on the other side of a sandstone boulder, pulled to an excruciating limit, shoulders popped and throbbing.  His beaten face felt like a mask worn off-center, swollen and repugnant. – Kindle Locations 12-14, Kindle Edition.

I like post-Apocalyptic literature, and this novel is some good-quality stuff for my fix. It's a lot like The Road meets A Canticle for Leibowitz to produce a bastard Earth Abides. Author Yocum has a lot to be proud of in this book, and its periodic infelicities of punctuation and occasional lapses into wrong-worditis are readily overlookable because, for heaven's sake, this story is SCARILY PLAUSIBLE. Like “where did this dude get the time machine” plausible. And it's written quite well. And it's paced to maximize excitement. And it's character-development arcs are beautifully calculated to give the minor characters depth and major characters motivation and not bring the bus to a juddering halt during the info-dumps.

Applause, applause, Mr. Yocum, and may you get a mini-series contract from Starz to develop this into a multi-episode successor to The Stand yesterday at the latest. I downloaded the Kindle freebie at about 11am and did not stop reading until I was done. That's how exciting I found this book.

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MASQUERADE
Susanne Alleyn

Kindle Single
$0.99 historical fiction, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: An original short story from the author of the Aristide Ravel Mysteries and A Far Better Rest.

When handsome young Duke Ludovik gives a ball at the palace, Eleyna will let nothing--including her stepmother and stepsisters--prevent her from dancing with the duke, in her mother's ravishing court gown. But her stepmother, mindful of her own daughter's chances, has other ideas...

Sound familiar? Attend the ball, wait for midnight to strike, and you may be surprised!

My Review: Eleyna is a lovely young woman, bereft of family and only grudgingly allowed to exist by a stepmother she abominates and whose attitude towards Eleyna is not that of a fond parent. The ducal ball is coming up, and Eleyna does not even feel a moment's surprise that she alone does not so much as warrant a token of intent to attend with her ghastly stepsister Michaela and the probably not so bad Sophia. After all, they have a shot at making matches,,,Eleyna is twenty-one, teetering on spinsterhood!

Eleyna's secret weapon is her own true mother's gorgeous, ancient ball gown, cleverly modernized by Josefa the seamstress in secret, the two colluding to put hateful Michaela's nose as far out of joint as it can be put. When she shows up to attend the ball in this gorgeous gown, Sophia is thrilled and offers her stepsister the loan of some aquamarines; Michaela is vengefully determined to get that gown for herself, to replace her own shabby-genteel number.

Of course, this is how it all plays out, and the ball is a bust for Eleyna until Michaela needs her help in fixing up the damage she has carelessly done to Eleyna's gown.

Hijinks, as the saying goes, ensue. Can't say more. No spoilers!

I'll read whatever Alleyn writes. She retells Cinderella for the umpty-umpth time, and still manages to find an angle unused. That, laddies and gentlewomen, takes an imagination to be reckoned with!

The fun thing about this short tale is that it showcases Alleyn's trademark deftly limned characters doing totally believable things for comprehensible reasons, and still manages to surprise the reader into an arched eyebrow more than once. I've never ever had any sympathy for the stepmother before reading this story, for example.

And for ninety-nine cents, a pittance! pittance, I say!, one has a half-hour's respite from the irksome modern world's irksome modern demands. Immerse yourself in 1765, hear the rustle of fine watered silk, see the soft, feminine glow of seed pearls in candlelight, commiserate with a charming young wallflower as she loses her one date to a boy in cream satin's Verboten charms.

Ninety-nine cents doesn't even buy coffee these days. And this charming retelling of a fairy tale, dark edges and all, will linger longer in your memory than that six-dollar latte.

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BOMBER'S MOON (Under the Hill #1)
Alex Beecroft
M/M Romance, Paranormal
Samhain Publishing
$5.50 eBook, available now

Rating: 3.6* of five

The Publisher Says:The faeries at the bottom of the garden are coming back—with an army.

Under the Hill, Part 1

When Ben Chaudhry is attacked in his own home by elves, they disappear as quickly as they came. He reaches for the phone book, but what kind of exterminator gets rid of the Fae? Maybe the Paranormal Defense Agency will ride to his rescue.

Sadly, they turn out to be another rare breed: a bunch of UFO hunters led by Chris Gatrell, who—while distractingly hot—was forcibly retired from the RAF on grounds of insanity.

Shot down in WWII—and shot forward seventy years in time, stranded far from his wartime sweetheart—Chris has been a victim of the elves himself. He fears they could destroy Ben’s life as thoroughly as they destroyed his. Chris is more than willing to protect Ben with his body. He never bargained for his heart getting involved.

Just when they think there’s a chance to build a life together, a ghostly voice from Chris’s past warns that the danger is greater than they can imagine. And it may take more than a team of rank amateurs to keep Ben—and the world—out of the elf queen’s snatching hands…

Product Warnings
Brace yourself for mystery, suspense, sexual tension, elves in space and a nail-biting cliffhanger ending.

My Review: Exactly and precisely as the book description says it is. Now, anyone who has ever interacted with me knows I'm no fan of fantasy, but there is nothing on earth more useless than a hermetically sealed mind so I tried this out. Fantasy plus men having sex with each other *must* be better than the straight kind.

Well, yeah, of course.

But there isn't any serious sex in here, so unwad your panties you breeders. One little scene, nothing even close to explicit. The point of this novel isn't the zeal of the organs for each other, it's the Hero's Journey. And the Hero has a wonderful journey, from WWII to 1995 in a blink, then living through the birth of our 21st-century world, and meeting someone whose own Hero's Journey is crossgrained to his own. Ben is Indian, living in Bakewell, and working in a bank; Chris is as English as spotted dick, living in Bakewell, and fighting the forces of supernatural invasion as he once fought the Luftwaffe. They aren't instantly obviously going to fit together. And that's the fun, romantic part of the story.

But then there's the fantasy bit, complete with German fairies invading and occupying English Elven territory; an ancient prophecy that demands an English bomber crew be brought to the other world; an air force of modern fighters in the elven lands, ready to rain destruction on...well, anyone; and a princess hostage damsel in distress to satisfy the conventions, one whose seductiveness can straighten the crooked path of a lost navigator.

I've read Beecroft's Hearts-of-Oaky smexy romances, and so I knew what to expect from the prose. It's direct, it's unfussy, and it's effective. (It also needs copyediting, but that's not Beecroft's fault, it's Samhain's...I mean, calling someone "died-in-the-wool"? It's DYED and that should have knocked the publisher's eye out!) I had sort-of hoped for the Age of Sail's smut content, since I like that kind of thing, but was steeled for the mildness of the entry by previous reviews.

The issues for me, apart from the copyediting, were focused around the hanging-together-ness of the plot's big points. Why, I wondered, does it not occur to modern-day Ben (20s) to ask why Chris (late 30s) is SO old-fashioned? It's right completely out of the modern day, the way Chris behaves towards Ben, even after Chris comes out to him. How has Chris managed to live almost 20 years in the modern era and not had more of it rub off on him? How on earth does he live, I mean money-wise? They're niggles. But they're niggles about big points.

But, and this is why I rated this book at least a full star above any other with issues that size, this is a thumping good read, with lots of very interesting urban-fantasy takes on old fantasy tropes, and characters whose happiness I actually care about. Yes, yes, teenaged girls are people too, but I don't care about their Special Uniqueness and Awesome Powers even a little bit. I do care about Ben's. And Chris's. And I want them to have a happily ever after.

Because they're man-lovin' men. For once someone is talking to ME. And I like it. Thanks, Mrs. Beecroft, for doing your usual solid job of entertaining me.

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