VAMPIRE ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
Self-published (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$2.99 Kindle edition, available now
Rating: 3* of five, barely
The Publisher Says: Paris, 1914. American adventurer Sam Carter boards the Orient Express, departing France in style after an impulsive decision to desert the Foreign Legion. British diplomat Lucas Avery is already nursing a drink in the smoking car, resenting his assignment to the distant Ottoman Empire. Neither man expects anything more from the next three days and three thousand miles than rich food, expensive champagne and fine cigars.
But something dangerous is lurking aboard the train, hiding in plain sight among French aristocrats and German businessmen. Through fire and darkness, through blood and ice, the Orient Express is bearing an ancient evil across the continent - and not all its passengers will live to see Constantinople...
THIS WAS A GIVEAWAY ON AMAZON. THANK YOU.
My Review: I mean, what Agathite could pass up the chance to read such a blatant homage to her dameliness’s most famous creation? To know it was made specifically to call forth the echoes of a mighty and miraculously made mountain of storycraft made it utterly impossible to resist. (Free didn’t hurt my feelings or slow down my One-Clickin’ finger.) I didn’t try very hard to do so, it must be said.
It is February 1914, and a cold and wet one it is. A loutish criminal American, an effete aristocratic Englishman, and an ancient vampire get on a train. Many deaths will ensue. Paris’s posh purlieus long behind them, Constantinople’s exotic staginess still ahead of them, and them in a hurtling bottle on a trip through the benightèd Mitteleuropan landscape in which (as all civilized people know) anything can happen and usually does. It isn’t rocket science to follow this trail, is it.
But oh the scenery! The author’s delightful evocation of the barely-still-Belle-Epoque world in which his characters are moving (and have moved, in memory flashbacks) is lush and fully immersive. The story’s resonances with Dracula in its vampire strand and with Murder on the Orient Express in its mystery strand are very, very well handled. The deft winding of the two is one of my fullest pleasures in the read.
I am rating it two-and-a-half stars just for that.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Gawd/Religion angles did not work for me, even moreso as they’re used in unpleasant and judgmental ways. Much emphasis on how it’s one’s Faith In Gawd that protects one from the Ancient Evil of the Vampire…the explicitly labeled Jew Doctor who dies while being a good carer for a Muslim girl who survives…the gay guy who’s small and blond ranged alongside the big, bluff, “normal” (and explicitly described as such *by* the gay Englishman) American who comes right out and says “of course I know what you’re hinting at but I’m not interested” at the very end of the book…the male vampire whose gayness deepens his evil.
I don’t like or subscribe to that view of the world, and I’m faintly contemptuous of those who do. I’m also very opposed to them spreading such pernicious and specious claptrap.
Even when it’s well written…maybe more when it’s well-written than when it’s not. So, despite the evident pleasures of the read, I won’t seek the next one in this series.
$1.99 Kindle edition, or free online at the link
Rating: 4* of five
The Publisher Says: Finalist for the World Fantasy Award and Nebula Award, and winner of the Aurora Award
Waters of Versailles is a historical fantasy about sex, magic, and plumbing. In 1738 France, soldier and courtier Sylvain de Guilherand enlists magical help to bring modern conveniences to the court of Louis XV. The innovation sparks a cold war in the hothouse palace environment as the nobles compete to outdo each other. Everyone wants what Sylvain has, but can he control the magical creature who makes it all possible?
I READ THIS FREE ONLINE AT TOR.COM—THANK YOU ALL FOR MAKING SUCH GOOD WORK FREE TO THE INTERNET
My Review: Whenever humans encounter the uncanny, the unexplainable, the magical, their first thought is "how can I use this?" The best among us finish that thought with "to make things better"; the worst, "for my own benefit"; and most of us, "to make a buck."
Author Robson's 2015 novella isn't her first publication (her books are listed here); it's a very assured work, told well, thought through thoroughly, and of a length sufficient to set her scene, convey her tale, then leave us wishing for a bit more to enjoy. It feels *right* that Sylvain, her PoV character here, should be an arriviste at the Court. He, like Author Robson with her reader, has left even his own social cronies without the miracle of his plumbing and flush toilets! Saying "no" is dangerous, and denying someone who has your secrets what they ask for is even more foolish.
But logic dictates that even a magical creature have limits, and the nixie Sylvain has forced into his service isn't able to do everything. The more pressing question for him now is why does the nixie appear to be doing the *opposite* of what needs doing?
Never, in the history of human endeavor, has a system based on scarcity and uniqueness failed to fail. And here is Sylvain re-learning that lesson for the many-bazillionth time albeit his first. And, in the end, the world's delights are as ephemeral as we should all have learned that they are never not by now. What begins badly ends sadly. Again and again and again and again and again.
Amazon Media (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$3.99 Kindle edition, available now
Rating: 3.5* of five
The Publisher Says: Something is wrong in the small outback town of Morgan Creek. A farmer goes missing after a blue in the pub. A teenage couple fail to show up for work. When Patrick and Sheila McDonough investigate, they discover the missing persons list is growing. Before they realise what’s happening, the residents of the remote town find themselves in a fight for their lives against a foe they would never have suspected. And the dry red earth will run with blood.
THIS WAS A BIRTHDAY PRESENT!
My Review: Good, violent fun from an Aussie horrorista with a Twitter cadre of loyalists who all have excellent credentials as writers. I hadn't considered one of Author Baxter's tales for my own entertainment before chancing on a well-loved writer's tweet encouraging all and sundry to do so. I did; I'm glad.
Quite a ride! Curses, death wishes, and a lot of rage. Gore galore and the weirdest monster yet. But all in all, a sad take on the prevalence of hatred in the world. Roots go deep, cures don't. Author Baxter wrote a touching Afterword, one that says more in fewer words than any sermon ever could. The cover of this story is just about the coolest thing on my Kindle. Elderlemon Design (aka horror biggie Kealan Patrick Burke, who appears in the text as a publican) made it; what I love about that is the origin story that Author Baxter tells us...a joke, a cover, a story, and now a fictional exploration of the ungovernability of hate let loose.
Plenty of gore, lots of rage, and throughout the proceedings, a steady heartbeat of caring, kindness, and acceptance. Not what I expected, in the best possible way.
THE LENDING LIBRARYALIZA FOGELSON
Lake Union Publishing
$4.99 Kindle edition, available now
Rating: 3* of five
The Publisher Says: For fans of Jane Green and Loretta Nyhan, a heartwarming debut novel about a daydreamer who gives her town, and herself, an amazing gift: a lending library in her sunroom.
When the Chatsworth library closes indefinitely, Dodie Fairisle loses her sanctuary. How is a small-town art teacher supposed to cope without the never-ending life advice and enjoyment that books give her? Well, when she’s as resourceful and generous as Dodie, she turns her sunroom into her very own little lending library.
At first just a hobby, this lit lovers’ haven opens up her world in incredible ways. She knows books are powerful, and soon enough they help her forge friendships between her zany neighbors—and attract an exciting new romance.
But when the chance to adopt an orphaned child brings Dodie’s secret dream of motherhood within reach, everything else suddenly seems less important. Finding herself at a crossroads, Dodie must figure out what it means to live a full, happy life. If only there were a book that could tell her what to do…
I RECEIVED THIS BOOK VIA NETGALLEY. THANK YOU.
My Review: SO, in this #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo moment, why on *EARTH* pick up a privileged white lady's story of how Becoming A Mother and fulfilling the needs of her wacky New England neighbors for light reading and doing it all by herself dammit!!?
Because it was deeply silly and mostly fun and, while *extremely* not in step with the moment, I needed it right now. No, I don't have a lot of patience for Motherhood Completed Me stories. And she named her victim, I mean adoptee, TERABITHIA for fucksake, which is as cruel a piece of child abuse as anything I've ever heard! But Dodie's the kind of silly little child in a woman's body that would, in fact, feel that way.
That said, Dodie's actually kind of a cipher, not a fully-rounded character, simply moving the pieces of the plot from A to B then D after that L and screw all those other letters, they're probably Not Our Kind. It's set in 2008, which made Dodie the biblioholic's ignorance of ebooks puzzling. I think, though, that it was more ignoring not ignorance, so I got as far past that as I could. And her nesting instinct, her deep and ongoing self-criticism that she can not manage a busy life, wifehood, motherhood, the library, etc etc as effortlessly as she thinks she should be able to? Well, she's never a wife and no one made you a mother and let's face it, Muffin, no gold stars for Doing Your Best in this our life. Still, she feels these negative things about herself for no very good reason (abandonment issues can be overcome, Do, and it's not like someone in your place can't access the resources).
Dodie's past as an "artist" in New York City was risible. As described, her art (based on her supposed friends' responses to it) wouldn't get her a Brooklyn café's wall-space, still less a reviewed show in a gallery. I don't think giving Dodie's sister a Black husband was all that relevant to the story; like giving Dodie herself a lesbian BFF, a soul-sibling whose death in the first part of the book leaves little apparent mark on her life. Just more window dressing, more pieces of plot to make into plotsicles.
Oh, desserts! Yes, let's not forget one of today's most popular light-fiction tropes: Lots and lots and lots of sugary stuff described in lingering, sensual detail. This was, I admit without shame or blushes (he blushed shamefacedly), a big reason I kept going with the read. Well, that and the fact that I wanted Shep-the-love-interest's big secret to be he was a big ol' 'mo like all Dodie's buds back in Brooklyn were. The sort-of-stupid references to the male gaze that Dodie craves and invites in terms of desserts is less charming, though...and I am guilty of telling my Young Gentleman Caller that he's sweeter than condensed milk. (In his defense he mimes vomiting every time I do.)
Why would I recommend you read it? I would honestly say that it's an undemanding read that will, without meaning to or even wanting to, cause the least reflective among us to question our assumptions and the more Woke to examine our privilege, looking at how very, very deep it is from the outsider's vantage of an unchallenging-for-privileged-white-folks, like me, of an afternoon's read.
MORGAN KANE - WITHOUT MERCY
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.
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!
THE GIRL WHO RULED FAIRYLAND FOR A LITTLE WHILE
CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE
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.There's Valente's sheer, audacious, unstoppable descriptive brio:
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.
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.
THE GOODREADS KILLER: A Revenge Fantasy
Baby Ice Dog Press
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.
WEST OF BABYLON
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.
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.
$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.
M/M Romance, Paranormal
Pronoun Publishing (NON-AFFILIATE Amazon link)
$3.99 eBook editions, 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…
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.
I've decided to do a Lois McMaster Bujold re-read, this time with added reviews. I'll focus on my favorite series, Miles Vorkosigan/the Vorkosiverse.
I was inspired to do this because Author Bujold is going to have to move her internal-chronology list from Goodreads, as they're shuttering some very useful features because...because they can, I suppose. So here, from Author Bujold's 9 August 2022 Goodreads post, is the Vorkosiverse internal chronology:
The Vorkosigan Stories
Many pixels have been expended debating the ‘best’ order in which to read what have come to be known as the Vorkosigan Books (or Saga), the Vorkosiverse, the Miles books, and other names. The debate mainly revolves around publication order versus internal-chronological order. I favor internal chronological, with a few adjustments.
It was always my intention to write each book as a stand-alone, so that the reader could theoretically jump in anywhere. While still somewhat true, as the series developed it acquired a number of sub-arcs, closely related tales that were richer for each other. I will list the sub-arcs, and then the books, and then the duplication warnings. (My publishing history has been complex.) And then the publication order, for those who want it. (NB I didn't copy it because I don't care about it.)
Shards of Honor and Barrayar. The first two books in the series proper, they detail the adventures of Cordelia Naismith of Beta Colony and Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar. Shards was my very first novel ever; Barrayar was actually my eighth, but continues the tale the next day after the end of Shards. For readers who want to be sure of beginning at the beginning, or who are very spoiler-sensitive, start with these two.
The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game (with, perhaps, the novella “The Mountains of Mourning” tucked in between.) The Warrior’s Apprentice introduces the character who became the series’ linchpin, Miles Vorkosigan; the first book tells how he created a space mercenary fleet by accident; the second how he fixed his mistakes from the first round. Space opera and military-esque adventure (and a number of other things one can best discover for oneself), The Warrior’s Apprentice makes another good place to jump into the series for readers who prefer a young male protagonist.
After that: Brothers in Arms should be read before Mirror Dance, and both, ideally, before Memory.
Komarr makes another alternate entry point for the series, picking up Miles’s second career at its start. It should be read before A Civil Campaign.
Borders of Infinity, a collection of three of the six currently extant novellas, makes a good Miles Vorkosigan early-adventure sampler platter, I always thought, for readers who don’t want to commit themselves to length. (But it may make more sense if read after The Warrior’s Apprentice.) Take care not to confuse the collection-as-a-whole with its title story, “The Borders of Infinity”.
Falling Free takes place 200 years earlier in the timeline and does not share settings or characters with the main body of the series. Most readers recommend picking up this story later. It should likely be read before Diplomatic Immunity, however, which revisits the “quaddies”, a bioengineered race of free-fall dwellers, in Miles’s time.
The novels in the internal-chronological list below appear in plain text; the novellas (officially defined as a story between 17,500 words and 40,000 words) in quote marks.
Shards of Honor
The Warrior’s Apprentice
“The Mountains of Mourning”
The Vor Game
Ethan of Athos
Borders of Infinity
“The Borders of Infinity”
Brothers in Arms
A Civil Campaign
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance
"The Flowers of Vashnoi"
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen
The novella “Weatherman” is an out-take from the beginning of the novel The Vor Game. If you already have The Vor Game, you likely don’t need this.
The original ‘novel’ Borders of Infinity was a fix-up collection containing the three novellas “The Mountains of Mourning”, “Labyrinth”, and “The Borders of Infinity”, together with a frame to tie the pieces together. Again, beware duplication. The frame story does not stand alone.