Wednesday, August 28, 2013

LONG ISLAND NOIR, latest in Akashic Books' bestselling short thriller fiction anthologies

Akashic Books
$19.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Stories covering Long Island's extremes, from the comfortable rich to the horribly poor, and all the darkness between.

Launched with the summer '04 award-winning best seller Brooklyn Noir, Akashic Books continues its groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies. Each book is comprised of all-new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the geographical area of the book. KAYLIE JONES, JULES FEIFFER, REED FARREL COLEMAN, SHEILA KOHLER, and others reveal how Long Island has always been a playground for the rich and famous—and while it used to be that only a select few could afford it, now everyone wants a piece of the pie.

The McMansions pop up like mushrooms, limiting resources and destroying an already taxed environment. It feels a little like Rome in its last days—a kind of collective amnesia and blindness to the outside world has taken over. Everyone knows this, but no one wants to do anything about it, because big money is being spent—and made. And as the rich grow richer, the poor grow poorer and more disenfranchised; and greed only breeds more greed and violence.

These stories cover the range of Long Island's extremes, from the comfortably rich, to the horribly poor—people pushed to desperate acts in order to protect what they already have, or to try to take what they don't from those who do.


My Review
: This series of anthologies is always welcome. It's a darn good series, well edited and clever in its conception and execution. Original stories by an array of people from, or who live(d) on, Long Island, all very talented writers though not always of thriller fiction; that did not work perfectly in this anthology's case but hey, it got a lot of great stuff in front of us.

I'm using the Bryce Method of giving a short assessment of the individual stories so you'll be able to assess the whole as well as the parts.

Home Invasion starts us off with a bitter, angry generational bang. The silences within families are probably scarier than anything that a stranger could dream up. 4 stars

The Shiny Car in the Night is probably the best piece in the collection. It's a slightly less domestic, yest still family centered, tale of men whose losses are no less horribly disfiguring for being self-inflicted; a son whose father can't find a way to escape the funhouse-mirror lined labyrinth of rage and regret against his brother, ends up...ending up. 5 stars

Anjali's America is an immigrant woman doctor's story of how narrowly she escaped the horror of being a woman locked in a joyless prison of motherhood and victimhood and subservience to the men who couldn't understand anything she's ever thought. Nor would they try...she exists to serve. Nightmarish, intense, and vivid. 4 stars

A Starr Burns Bright is a grifter's wet dream of The Big Strike, if he can just pull it off. He needs the strike for sure, but he's not the sharpest tool in the shed...the secrets he now knows aren't the best way to stay healthy and alive for a long time. Hijinks, as hey must, ensue...4 stars

Mastermind really made me sit up and take notice, it's by Reed Farrel Coleman and it's got the biggest heart and the scariest fall. When someone knows he's not top-drawer material for his particular corner of the world, and he keeps working his ass off to Make It anyway, it's poignant and it's admirable in a weird way even when he's not a nice guy. But the world knocks the best over, imagine how bad it is when they're not close to the best...5 stars

Contents of House was a bitter pill indeed, bad sex and smashed-up love and revenge all stewed in a heart that simply isn't up to the task of coldness and instead succumbs to shame. 4 stars

Snow Job is hilariously wicked. It's short, but twisty, and it's got the sheer narrative drive of an entire novel...the pace does not let up, the stuff that happens is terrible but you just can't help laughing...schadenfreude, thy name is me, when people who deserve it get come-uppances...and, by the time it's done, I wanted to start over again. 5 stars

The other pieces, eg "Semiconscious," "Blood Drive," "Jabo's," and "Terror," were three or more star decent efforts but didn't rise to the heights the others did. A few, eg "Seven Eleven" and "Boob Noir" by Jules Feiffer, just weren't up to the standard set by the superior works. Still, there are seventeen stories in here, so a few not-to-my-liking ones are more than likely going to sneak in. It's definitely a very good way to spend your Sunday afternoon at the beach! Labor Day has lots of hours in it. Spend some here.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Bywater Books
$9.99 ebook editions, available now

Rating: 4.25* of five

The Publisher Says: Marie Santora comes from a volatile Italian family. But when she inherits her grandmother’s estate and everyone turns nice and caring, Marie knows it’s time to hit the road to Los Angeles, but not before one final family vacation.

In Jamaica, Marie meets the woman who could change her life. But will she even talk to Marie after her family tells one too many of Marie’s secrets? Don’t miss this hilarious tale of lesbian love and family togetherness run amok.

Greetings from Jamaica is a runner-up for the first annual Bywater Prize for Fiction.

My Review: What happens when a rudderless, relationshipless, newly rich dyke decides to change her life, leave her hometown, and pursue the unattainable Object of Her Desire, a famous actress?

To put it mildly, hijinks ensue.

Marie hated her rich grandmother, as did anyone and everyone else who ever met the old bat. Unlike all the others in her family, though, Marie was honest in her dislike, and when the old lady kicks, Marie...the one honest person in the old lady's life...inherits.

This is an old-fashioned screwball comedy, a lot like Bringing Up Baby or The Awful Truth. It's a fast-paced, rollicking joy of a book to read.

Oh hell. Here I've got an interesting life and an adorable boyfriend (since become an ex, more's the pity), and I've gone and fallen in love with a lesbian.

Well, can you blame me? This particular lesbian, author of the tome named above, has a wicked sense of humor and a snarky eye for characters and a good sense of timing. She's written, in this her first novel, a laugh-out-loud funny slamming-doors sex farce set in an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica. I mean, really, go fight those odds! I'd fall in love with *Rush Limbaugh* under those circumstances!

(No I wouldn't, not a chance, but it's a good line so I used it anyway.)

Marie, our heroine, is in a miserable dead-end relationship with the once-gorgeous-to-her Jessica, a cold, cheating slime. Then one fine morning, Marie wakes up rich, with a legacy of $21 million - the ENTIRE ESTATE! - from her mean, evil grandmother, whose respect for Marie's honest dislike of her has paid off.

Marie's extended Italian-American family, predictably, goes into hyperdrive debating the use that they will make of (Marie's, and Marie's alone) money. This gets old, so she buggers off to Los Angeles to throw herself at actress Lorn Elaine, hoping to convince the said actress to be in the movie she's written. This fails spectacularly, and Marie slinks off to Jamaica with her entire clan, both to salve her screenwriterly wounds and to announce her decision about the division of the money. That was left to HER, mind.

So who shows up at the selfsame all-inclusive resort? C'mon, guess! Oh, all right...Lorn Elaine! With her mother in tow! It's now that the doors begin slamming, the sex (some pretty sticky stuff there!) begins not happening, and the entire cast runs around at warp speed trying to keep secrets and ending up telling lies.

If you're unsatisfied by the ending of this book, you're a prune-faced old moralizing killjoy. As for the humor quotient...well, the author's email is Go on, say it out loud. I'll wait.

Now, if that didn't make you laugh, don't read this book. Read one on how to get a sense of humor.



Bywater Books
$9.99 ebook editions, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Just when you thought it was safe to pitch your tent, the Santora family shows up. Lisa's taken over a rundown campground, baby sister Marie's been dumped (again!) by the actress, and the Santoras don't know the meaning of minding their own business. When the whole clan decides to fix things for their girls, it's a hilarious recipe for havoc. Camptown Ladies is the sequel to Greetings From Jamaica, Wish You Were Queer.

Mari SanGiovani lives the crazy Italian family lifestyle and writes about it like no one else.

My Review: Okay, see, it started like this. A few years ago, I was having a discussion with an old, old, old dyke of my acquaintance (I mean, born in the first Truman administration! And not dead yet!) about how gay men don't support lesbian writers and publishers of lesbian-themed books, and fewer straight men do this than straight women support gay smexy-time publishers. (I suspect ZERO straight men read gay smexy-time books, they're too skittish about the whole thing, poor lambs.) (BTW, when exactly did you dirty, dirty ladies start using men together as bubble-machine starter? I am shocked, shocked!)

Back to my story. So after a somewhat spirited exchange, containing the words "do not!" and "you big stupid!" rather more often than is seemly for two people whose combined age reaches well, well into triple digits, a challenge was issued: Each of us would buy from InsightOut (GLBTQ book club) a novel wholly and entirely about the other's preferred romantic partnerings. I bought Greetings from Jamaica, Wish You Were Queer.

Oh blessèd day. I snorted, howled, giggled, and generally made unseemly noises the entire time I was reading...make that devouring...the book. My then-love interest, the lamented Mr. Man, got so curious he read it too. He laughed, or the relationship would've ended sooner.

I sent the book to another friend, and she howled her way through it. She sherpa'd the sequel, recommending it to me, and keeping me abreast (!) of developments in Mari SanGiovanni's personal life. The fact that I'm finally reviewing the book is due to the fact that I need to get it in the mail to yet another friend who read the first one after several of us pummeled him into reading the first one (he's a straight boy, poor thing, so it took a wee tiny bit of coaxing). Having done so, he's fallen for Marie, Lisa, and Lorn just like the rest of us, and is looking forward to reading more about them.

Little does he know. (Close your eyes, Mark! Spoilers from here on out!)

Mari has made Marie's life easier in this book: She's broken up with Lorn, whose career as a movie star means more to her than her love for Marie, she's got money, and her lunatic out-there Italian family (a lot like several Italian families I know, all up in each other's business and as full of questions and demands as any police interrogator) go to work together. Marie gets to leave Lorn's orbit and lick her wounds, Lisa the older sister who's also a dyke gets to hit on the girls around and about, and so does Vince the youngest child, a straight boy (such a pity, that).

Vince does bring Erica, his girlfriend, into the picture.

Oh well, so much for family harmony. Erica falls in love with Marie, Marie goes back to Lorn, Erica leaves for Italy, and there's a romantic ending that made me mist over. Not before, however, I'd snorted and guffawed a lot. There's the clamdigging scene, with Lisa at her inappropriate best/worst. Think I hurt myself laughing, retching, laughing, and shuddering.

So anyway, off this book goes to its new daddy. I hope he hides it from his wife, there is a goodly amount of lesbian sex of the detailed sort in it. I skimmed. Fast. Now if I can just read this address...I find it improbable that he lives in "Olympus Mons, JI" since we haven't colonized Mars yet. I must've written the address down while still laughing about the clamdigging scene.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ninth Jay Lake Pre-Mortem Read-a-thon Review Up

After causing myself needless terror and pain by losing the post, and some of the review, I've got the last novel that's likely to be published by Jay Lake before his demise reviewed and appreciated at Shelf Inflicted, a group blog.

His own blog, Jay Lake, Writer, has a post today about "Special Dying Person Wisdom." He says something the Buddha said, in a different way. That so many teachers say, and so many students nod at, but still it remains something we all need to hear again, and again, and again: "But in any case, be kind. It costs you nothing and makes the world around you a better place."

Well, that's it, really. That's the whole deal in a nutshell. Even if my take-away from the entire experience of encountering Lake and his fiction was that, it was a transformative one. Reading these nine novels, reviewing them, and making the reviews as much about the experience as the book and saying thank you to the creator of the books pre-mortem, remind me to be kinder so I can make my corner of the world a bit better than it is now.

KALIMPURA brings Green's saga to its stopping place. In the end is the beginning; in the beginning is the end. It's a hard thing to do, to read a novel of maturing that comes from a person whose perspective is The End. But then again, if he's got time to tell the story, who am I to ignore it because I feel sad about how it's coming about?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

New Suspense Novel Review 21 August 2013

I give CLOSE MY EYES from St. Martin's Press a going over at my thrillers page & like what I see 4 stars worth! An excellent rating for a debut suspense novel.

I get St. Martin's Press's Criminal Element newsletter...lots of good stuff comes my way from that...and won this ARC from the entry made there. Good book, promising start, and I hope a good long career for the author.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Three new reviews for the August 2013 Blue Moon

I reviewed a collection of essays for The Small Press Book Review, called MEATY. It's by a blogger called Samantha Irby, a Person of Size whose blog is called Bitches Gotta Eat. That made me snicker, so I asked the publisher for a copy to review.

I wasn't sure about these essays until I hit the one on diets and dieting, when I started laughing so hard I scared the dog. Read the review, see why. I quoted the (to me) funniest one of them.

Then I re-read Mary Renault's THE PRAISE SINGER on the Literary Fiction page, and gave the old girl four stars out of sheer luxurious pleasure in her use of language.

Lastly, my friend and co-blogger Dan Schwent writes an appreciation of the Grand Master Mysterian at our group blog, Shelf Inflicted. From Get Shorty to Maximum Bob and all points in between, I enjoyed Elmore Leonard's work. I will miss anticipating his latest foray into inspired silliness.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Eduardo del Valle Seduces Me

I read a poetry book. I liked the poetry book I read. No, really, go see:

It's about a man, an architect, who works at Ground Zero while it's being rebuilt. That should tell you how much I liked this book: It's a dead art-form that I don't much like, about a subject still raw enough to me that I don't like people yim-yammering about it.

He's made quite an achievement.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Two New Mystery Reviews! 13 August 2013

My Mystery Series section.

I finally got around to writing a review of THE LAST KASHMIRI ROSE but wasn't all that interested. Too bad, too. I wanted to be blown away!

Less good than that was the first "Trash'n'Treasures" Mystery, ANTIQUES ROADKILL. Just...~meh~ Halfway between good and bad. Nothing to remember, no desire to pick up another one, just...~meh~

The books themselves have gone off to my friend Kath's library, there to be shelved.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

THE RAVEN'S GIFT, fast-paced Alaska-set thriller


$18.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 3.8* of five ***LibraryThing Early Reviewers ARC***

The Publisher Says: John Morgan and his wife can barely contain their excitement upon arriving as the new teachers in a Yup'ik Eskimo village on the windswept Alaskan tundra. But their move proves disastrous when a deadly epidemic strikes and the isolated community descends into total chaos. When outside aid fails to arrive, John’s only hope lies in escaping the snow-covered tundra and the hunger of the other survivors—he must make the thousand-mile trek across the Alaskan wilderness for help. He encounters a blind Eskimo girl and an elderly woman who need his protection, and he needs their knowledge of the terrain to survive. The harsh journey pushes him beyond his limits as he discovers a new sense of hope and the possibility of loving again.

My Review: That summary's pretty generic. Here's what I think you should know: Expect to flip pages fast enough to fan yourself cool on a hot day. Expect to invest real interest in the characters. Expect to spend at least one too-late night as the ending draws nigh.

Don't expect to learn the culture of the Yup'ik, or get inside the heads of any Yup'ik people. Don't expect the plot to do more than propel the real story forward. Don't expect to slip mentally naked into a pool of sweet-scented prose-water. Don't expect to think about these characters for days, weeks, after the deeply satisfying ride is over.

This is chapter 42:
He swore he would keep track. He would record each day forward from the day she died. Never forgetting. Never losing count. That day was the day he awoke with {her} cold in his arms. The day he could not stop trying to imagine being a father. Of {her} finally a mother. He just couldn't do it. He had no images in his mind of what that son or daughter might have looked like. Would he or she have his grandmother's eyes? The eyes he never looked into?
But worse, it would be the day he would have to start trying to keep his word to {her}.
And on that day, he knew in his heart, he couldn't keep it. She had whispered into his ear and asked him to do the unthinkable. And he said he would. He would have told her anything she needed to hear. And he did.
{She} whispered her dying wish into his ear, "Promise me you will love again...Promise me."
"Promise," he replied.
Asking him to promise he would keep on living would have been too much in and of itself, but to love again?
That's it. The entire chapter. So now you know what you're looking at: Short chapters made of short sentences piled atop each other, building thorny defensive walls against loss and loneliness and the icy freezing cold of being irretrievaby, irrevocably left behind. Sometimes you're inside, sometimes you're outside.

If that style fails to appeal, pass on. But Pintail, a Canadian division of Penguin, should find plenty of people happy to visit the amazing, beautiful Alaskan tundra with John and his dependents. I'm very glad I spent the time I did with this promising, exciting debut thriller.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


New Review! One big issue I have with science fiction is its relative absence of gayness. Today I read an excellent short science fiction story WHEN YOU WERE PIXELS by Julio-Alexi Genao. It's a kind of gay male Fifty First Dates set in a Bladerunner-y dystopic future. This is what I've been looking for! Try it out.

I so often find that the SFnal setting in more-or-less romantic fiction is pretty lame. Not this time. It's got depth and it's got breadth. I am so so pleased! It helps that I'm Goodreads friends with the author, since I got to hear about the book that way. It's free to all comers, though, so I'm not unique!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My Public Thanks to Jay Lake

I have a Guest Post at SFSignal, a science fiction/fantasy/horror blog,about my Shelf Inflicted project the Jay Lake Pre-Mortem Read-a-thon. Please go give it a look. Lake's work is a pleasure, and I think we should say so before he says his final goodbyes.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Another Review of a Gaiman Book, Oh BOY!

I posted my take on THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE.

You know, the words "master" and "groundbreaking" are fast becoming vigorously waved red flags for seldom is the subject an actual master and even more seldom is the work in question "groundbreaking." Virginia Woolf broke ground. So did Faulkner, Beckett, even *shudder* Djuna Barnes...Robert Pinget...but Neil Gaiman? C'mon.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Latest review at The Small Press Book Review!

Another four-star review, this time of a short novel set in New Orleans: THE WISDOM OF ASHES from small press Lavender Ink, based in New Orleans. The book is a short 100pp. By page 10, I wasn't tasting anything but Mississippi water as I submerged in the reality of New Orleans and its many many broken pieces that still knit together.

Jonathan Kline, the author, is a poet. Don't let that scare you off. He's a very talented prose stylist, too. Now $9.99 on Kindle:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

THE WASP FACTORY: An Appreciative Review

The late, great Iain (M.) Banks's passing inspired a number of group reads of his books in different Internetty places. I joined one for THE WASP FACTORY over on LibraryThing. A lot of people had ewww-ick responses; my response is here.

This is one great, as in LOLITA-type great, book. It will long, long outlive most (maybe even all) other books published in 1984.



Simon & Schuster
$16.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: Frank--no ordinary sixteen-year-old--lives with his father outside a remote Scottish village. Their life is, to say the least, unconventional. Frank's mother abandoned them years ago: his elder brother Eric is confined to a psychiatric hospital; & his father measures out his eccentricities on an imperial scale. Frank has turned to strange acts of violence to vent his frustrations. In the bizarre daily rituals there is some solace. But when news comes of Eric's escape from the hospital Frank has to prepare the ground for his brother's inevitable return--an event that explodes the mysteries of the past & changes Frank utterly.

My Review: Much has been said in disgust and even anger about this polarizing book. Some have called for it to be banned. Others have written the equivalent of a silent finger-down-the-throat mime.

You are all entitled to your opinion. Here is mine: This book is brilliant. It will be remembered long long after the pleasant entertainments of the day are more forgotten than Restoration drama. (Hands up anyone who knows who Colley Cibber is. And don't front. Or use Wikipedia.)

I'm also an ardent partisan of Lolita, that deeply disturbing and very beautiful book by a pedophile about his pursuit of the perfect lover. I loved Mrs. Dalloway, the chilling, near-perfect narrative of a wealthy woman's desperation and crushing ennui.

So here's the deal: Frank, and his brother Eric, aren't role models, aren't people you'd want to be around, aren't amusing compadres for a jaunt along the path to the Banal Canal. They are, like Hum and Lo and Clarissa and Septimus, avatars (in the pre-Internet sense) of the raw, bleeding, agonic (unangled, in this use) purposelessness of life. They are the proof that salvation is a cruel ruse. These characters rip your fears from the base of your brain and move them, puppetlike, eerily masterful withal, into your worst nightmares.

And all without resorting to the supernatural.

Humanity comes off badly in this book. The truth of what made Frank the person he is will leave you more chilled than any silly evocation of a devil in a religious text. Frank's very being is an ambulatory evil act. But the reason for it, the motivating factor, is the absolute worst horror this book contains. All the animal-torture stuff is unpleasant, I agree. It's not as though it's lovingly and lingeringly described. And it pales in comparison to Frank's raison d'etre.

So yes, this book is strong meat. It's got deeply twisted characters enacting their damage before us, the safely removed audience. It's making a serious point about human nature. And it's doing all of that in quite beautifully wrought prose, without so much as one wasted word.

But it's essentially a warning to the reader: Don't go there. Don't do the pale, weak-kneed versions of the rage-and-hate fueled horrors inflicted on Frank, and even on Eric. Pay attention, be mindful of the many ways we as lazy moral actors condone the creation of Erics and Franks in our world.

Pay attention.

The Jay Lake Pre-Mortem Read-a-thon Continues! Sixth review

It's that means it's time for another JAY LAKE PRE-MORTEM READ-A-THON REVIEW! You lucky people you. Anyone who has paid attention to me these past 40 or so years knows that I'm no fantasy fan...Tolkien and Lord Dunsany break me out in hives...but the current book, MADNESS OF FLOWERS, is fantasy done right. Four-plus star review over at Shelf Inflicted, a group blog.

Have a wonderful time in New Zealand, Jay Lake! *vibrates with envy*