Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Random Shit: Today's Sing-a-long

I'm about to completely rearrange my personal and professional life. This is not a surprise if you've known me any length of time. It's not that I'm fickle, I just believe that every breathable moment is an opportunity for improvement. No, really, I do believe that. And, it doesn't hurt that I'm disco-dancing my way to age 50 (there should be an echo for that). Change is hanging in the air like a grassy fart from...

Isis the Bitch of BF10 fame
 Anyhoo, I'm switching my career focus from librarian to literary editor. I have a lot to learn, because it's apparent that 2.5 college degrees, lots of beta-reading and a book review blog do not an editor make! I'm starting from scratch, but what else is new? And you know I'll be coming here and bitchin' about every little thing as I stretch and grow towards my goal.

Ok, just a bit more sappy-cheezy shit. Here's a video for my sing-a-long song of the day,  "A Brand New Day" from the Broadway musical, The Wiz.  Oh, and, sorry, this is the best of the YouTube videos of the song I could find.

Happy Earwig... er, I mean...Earworm!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Book review: The Vengeance of Legion by Helen Fields

The Vengeance of Legion by Helen Fields *

My Bitch Factor 10 rating: 4.8

In my review of the first book in the Eve McKenzie's Demons series, I groused that The Immolation of Eve was not quite an "epic" beginning to the tale of a British solicitor who discovers that she is an unwitting part of an otherworldly power struggle. Don't get me wrong, I loved the book, but I felt the scope of Immolation wasn't quite epic-y enough for that claim.  In Immolation's sequel, The Vengeance of Legion,  there is a greater sense that Eve's journey is taking on epic proportions. Eve is suited up as "heroine," as there are demons to slay and despots to overthrow. So, yes, this time Fields takes us on an even more fantastical and epic quest to Eve's origins… and her future.

 Here's the summary of VoL from the book's blurb:

Eve MacKenzie has had a tough year...pursued by an incubus determined to use and control her, narrowly avoiding death in a bloody and bitter demonic war then having to part with the man she loves to avoid a mortal curse. So she did her best to move on, settle into her new life in California and remember how it felt to be normal. 

Unfortunately for her, the incubus she deprived of power is back and he wants revenge and this time he won't stop until she has paid in blood for the humiliation she dealt him. Torture, tragedy and desperation abound in this dark fantasy sequel to The Immolation of Eve.

In my review of Immolation, I talked about Fields' understated writing style. That’s still evident in Vengeance. The writing just seems so effortless-- how does Fields manage this (again!), especially given all the action in the book?  Mayhem seems to follow Eve wherever she goes, even in the idyllic setting of Carmel, California. And this time around, Eve's friends are guilty by association, as the bad guys take the fight to supporting characters, in an effort to draw Eve back into the struggle she had left behind in the first book.

The pace of Vengeance is slightly more relaxed than it was in Immolation, but the plot here is anything but tranquil. In the beginning of Vengeance, Eve has retreated to a "normal" life in Carmel, but soon she is drawn back into the politics and violent upheavals of her native people.  It made sense in Immolation that Eve had  to rely more on James, her otherworldly guide and love interest-- after all, she had been thrust into a world that she didn't even know existed. This time, Eve leads the charge, with her friends as back up. James is distant (in many different ways), but is still very much in the picture. Immolation was as much about Eve's discovery of her sexual self as it was finding out about her birth parents and adoption; in Vengeance, Eve doesn't seem to have the time or heart for love-- though she does manage to get her "sexy on." This story remains more of  a sexy dark fantasy tale, than a romance. Though I have to admit that I'm surprised that there isn't more sex in a book with so many incubi and succubi-- oh, wait, there is that wild party scene in Carmel… nevermind.

As much as I admire Eve, with all her wit, intelligence and  pluckiness, it is the dastardly Perun who interests me most. He is even more sinister in Vengeance, and the veneer of charmingness has worn off from their Immolation encounters. Perun has assembled his dark forces and wants Eve--who is of royal birth, and ruling her people, in absentia-- completely out of the way, and is willing to use any and every ruthless means at his disposal. This makes for several scary, gory clashes.  I totally felt like Perun was channeling Joffrey from HBO's Game of Thrones at the conclusion of this book-- brattily wicked and oh, so deluded… almost sympathetic. Almost.  Loved Perun!

I'm not going to give much away here. I love Fields' writing, love the characters, love the dark places this story goes. Alas, there is no pat HEA here, but then I told you this wasn't really a romance. I can  forgive the cliffhanger, because Fields deftly handles it (thanks for the eggs, Helen!) and does not leave the reader as much frustrated, as really wanting to know "what happens next, what happens next

Helen Fields promised in the blurb for Immolation of Eve that this series would be an "epic adventure of seduction, loss, love and revenge." She has more than accomplished this in this second chapter, and I am eagerly awaiting the next sequel.

Other quick notes: There's a nice two paragraph prologue that will clue you in if you haven't read Immolation of Eve before The Vengeance of Legion. Also, the third book in the series isn't coming until 2013 because Helen will be working on a legal novel.

*The author of The Vengeance of Legion requested this review and provided an ARC for that purpose. This review represents my personal opinion of the book, and I was not influenced by anyone as to what to write in my review. Which should be obvious by how rambling it is. No author was harmed in the process of writing this review-- well, not physically, anyway.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book review: Hawaiian Gothic by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane

Hawaiian Gothic by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane *

My Bitch Factor 10 rating:

The title of Violetta Vane and Heidi Belleau 's new novel may first conjure up images of leis and scowly-faced tiki gods , but Hawaiian Gothic is not a book of kitschy pop culture design or the stereotypes that immediately come to mind when one thinks of a story with a Hawaiian backdrop. And no, I wasn't expecting a light-hearted, laid-back tale of two guys who fall in love while hanging ten-- any self-respecting English major knows that "gothic lit" means something very different than common notions of gothic-ness. Vane and Belleau take the main characters in Hawaiian Gothic to some very dark and horrific places in their quest for reclaimed love.

Let me start off by saying that HG was a very intriguing read. So much so that I've had the damnedest time trying to write a review. The book touches on so many themes and topics that interest me: folklore, returning veterans with PTSD, euthanasia, multi-cultural representation in the M/M genre, polyamory-- just to name a few. It takes really gifted writers to successfully blend so many divergent elements together in one novel, and Vane and Belleau clearly have this talent.

Before I get too cart-before-the horse-y, let me blurb you:

Ori and Kalani were childhood friends too afraid to be lovers. Now in their darkest hour—Ori disgraced and Kalani a wandering spirit—they’ll fight the world and death itself for a second chance.

Gregorio “Ori” Reyes thought there was nothing left for him in Hawaii. A former Army Ranger and promising MMA fighter, his dishonorable discharge turned him into the family disgrace, and his childhood best friend Kalani never could love him back--not the way Ori needed to be loved--even before Kalani’s doctors declared him to be in an unrecoverable coma. Ori’s return to Hawaii seems fated to be a depressing reminder of every chance he never took... until Kalani himself impossibly welcomes him home.

Kalani’s body is bedridden, but his spirit is free to roam, and it turns out it’s not just Ori who had unspoken yearnings. Kalani is eager to prove that he can still savor all the pleasures of this world. Together, they remember all those years of surfing, wrestling, touching and aching but too afraid to act; now, they cross that final barrier and struggle against each other in an entirely different way.

Passionately but tenuously reunited, the pair must solve the mystery of Kalani’s unlucky life, sorting through dark family history and even journeying to the Hawaiian ghostworld. And the greatest terror of their journey is that Ori might have to put Kalani to rest.

Now to some particks (and yeah, this might get a bit spoilery):

The Characters-- Kalani, Ori and Hawaii

We know from the blurb that Kalani is in a coma. I know some readers may be hesitant to approach a romance that has one partner non-responsive. And I have to say that during my first read of HG I kept thinking, man, when does Kalani get to have an active part in the story. A second read, however, showed me that Kalani is really all over the story-- beginning to end. He is never far from Ori's thoughts, dreams, or his heart. Non-linear storytelling allows us several glimpses into Kalani's life-- from a childhood where he first met Ori to his nearly-static state in the hospital.

In spite of the insight that the flashbacks give us, throughout, I still don't feel that I know quite as much about Kalani, as I do Ori-- but then I've always been the best company for the most miserable of characters. And boy, Ori knows misery. He has returned from two tours in Iraq and a stint in Leavenworth to find the man he has loved his whole life, unreachable-- languishing physically and with very little indication that anything mentally has happened in a long time. I found myself comparing Ori to the gothic heroes. Did he feel alienated from society, from his loved ones? Absolutely. This comes across from the very first pages and continues until he is reunited with Kalani. Was he brave? Yep. Steadfast? Most certainly. Self-sacrificial? Perhaps too much so… Saying that Ori's decision-making leaves a lot to be desired is a gross understatement; but all the same, Ori, and his fanatical/fantastical love for Kalani, makes the story for me.

It's a good thing the boys are in Hawaii, because the only hope for restoration and redemption either of them has lies in the mythical and mystical, and Hawaii provides that in spades. So much of the story is infused with the spirit(s) of Hawaii that I think it's appropriate to think of "place" as "character," here. I am not sure this story would have worked as well in a different locale. Thankfully, this is a different Hawaii than the touristy claptrap that many of us know from past visits there. Vane and Belleau's Hawaii is gritty, spiritual, off-putting and welcoming; it is difficult to know if Hawaii will serve as protag (bringing the lovers together) or antagonist (forever separating them). Hawaii is the first main character we meet in the story, newly surfaced from the ocean depths--already beautiful, and bespoiled (much like Ori and Kalani's relationship). Hawaii is home to Ori, ethnically Filipino (though considering how Ori ties his very existence to Kalani, perhaps it is, "home is where the boyfriend is"), and quite possibly a final resting place for Kalani, an indigenous Hawaiian; but more importantly (to me, at least), ubiquitous Hawaii contexualizes Ori and Kalani-- shaping their history, their culture, their beliefs, their love.

The 'Lore

 Props to Belleau and Vane taking out the nice tea cups and steeping the reader in Hawaiian/Pacific Islander culture-- especially folklore, mythology and legend (and, accordingly, I can forgive them for making the boys surfers-- just once I want a story with a Hawaiian who neither surfs nor swims, hehehe). I feel like I got a few too many dips in the cups where language was concerned, because I only previously knew "mahalo" and "aloha." I felt I was missing out on some of the meanings of Hawaiian and Pidgin words in the text-- but I did discover, after my 1st reading, that the authors have included a glossary on one of their HG websites (https://sites.google.com/site/hawaiia... so don't let any language barriers deter you from enjoying HG. I must admit I know next to nothing about Hawaiian deities, and I still haven't done enough research to find out where the authors borrowed from traditional lore and what was of their own highly-creative making. I will tell you this, though, the fantastical elements in Hawaiian Gothic definitely meet the horrific standards for gothic literature. Throughout the story there is a tug-o-war between the natural and supernatural worlds. It would be clichéd to say that Ori goes to hell and back to save his lover. It would be more accurate to say that Ori goes to a place that almost makes a heaven out of our usual ideas of hell. Yikes! so much of the otherworld imagery in this story gave me the creeps! Oh, and, Ori and Kalani take loving to a whole 'nother plane-- literally! Thankfully, there are deities and humanly entities to guide the lovers, on both sides of the divide.

The Romance

I hope you'll indulge me on this next part-- the alternative relationships represented in Hawaiian Gothic. I love that Ori and Kalani come from different ethnic backgrounds, but also share a Hawaiian heritage (it sure comes in handy for the boys). Thank the Goddesses (in this case, Violetta and Heidi) that we aren't dealing with two haoles! (look it up) That would have been as unwelcome as an uncoordinated, "hippy" Minnesota housewife doing interpretative Hawaiian dancing.

We know this is a friends-to-gay lovers relationship, and as is often the case in these stories, Ori and Kalani must each deal with homophobia, in addition to other challenges. Ori goes to great lengths to unravel the mysteries of Kalani's family, as a means of restoring Kalani to physical and emotional balance. And, as Ori strives to make sense of Kalani's painful and lonely childhood, a polyamorous aspect enters the story (in spite of tagging to the contrary, I see this as more polyamory than ménage) -- but I really don't want to give too much away. But it seems that the "real" world in Hawaiian Gothic is much too dangerous for many expressions of love-- whether that love is parental, homo- or bi-sexual. For the most part, Vane and Balleau handle the relationships with affection for the characters and sensitivity, when needed. HG is also quite scorchingly erotic, when appropriate (er, when is scorchingly erotic ever not appropriate?).

Tiny Quibbles

Ok, as much as I loved this story-- and I loved this story, there were a couple of things that left me scratching my head. I was totally onboard with Ori having to work through his issues with his military service in Iraq and the resulting PTSD-- that all seemed to be part and parcel with his guilt over his perceived abandonment of Kalani and any potential their friendship had to go other places. The MMA thing, though, seemed superfluous-- kinda kewl, but superfluous. One might argue that Ori was going to need all that MMA-bad-assery for future ordeals, but I think everything he had already experienced in Iraq was probably sufficient preparation for what he would encounter. And… there's Kalani's shark adventure (remembered in flashbacks, but still…). Between that hospitalization and his coma, that Kalani seems to invite extreme misfortunate. I fear for whatever future those two might have together!

And hmmm. The magic realism in this story is a bit heavy on the magic in parts, but it never get so out of hand that Vane and Belleau cannot manage to reel it in. But I still don't get what all happened with Saul's bungling magic, why he even went that route? Saul is a tragic character, and I do appreciate how he seeks redemption in helping Ori and Kalani-- but I wouldn't put faith in such a character in the story-- and as a reader, I don't entirely trust him, either. And magic aside, I really don't get Malia's final actions-- but hell, now that I think about it, I've done similar things, in a similar situation, so maybe I shouldn't judge her too harshly.


Let me wrap this up, because, really, I could go on and on. I didn't even get on my euthanasia soap box! Anyhoo, so much of Hawaiian Gothic was heartrending and heartwarming. It had just the right amount of action-- of the horrific/fantastical variety. It was a very touching love story that I know I will revisit again and again.

*The authors of Hawaiian Gothic requested this review and provided an ARC for that purpose. This review represents my personal opinion of the book, and I was not influenced by anyone as to what to write in my review. Which should be obvious by how rambling it is. No authors were harmed in the process of writing this review-- well, not physically, anyway.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Random Shit: Dishing the Soaps-- Boxer Falls

I guess it's ok to admit this here: I come from a family of soap opera lovers. Mom watches them. Sissy watches them. Daddy, does?!?!! My father says that he got hooked on soap operas when he started working nights. Apparently there wasn't much on tv during the day for men, back in the sixties and seventies, so Daddy started watching soaps. I think Dark Shadows was one of Dad's faves; I think my mother and Sissy have watched every single soap on the air, one time or another. My father got to put his carpentry skills to greater use by building bookshelves-- for all the VHS recordings of  various and sundry soaps (I think my family alone kept the VCR industry afloat until the new millennium with their soap opera recording obsessions).

I was never really big on soaps. I was real snobby about my entertainment from a really young age (yeah, Monty Python and Benny Hill were more my speed) and was not hooked on soap operas like the rest of my family. But I married and had a baby really young (I probably would have known the pitfalls of that had I been watching soaps, hehehe) and found myself with nothing to do each day once I sent hubby off to play on his submarine and the baby had been fed, bathed and diapered. The little Mississippi town we lived in did not have a book store and I hadn't met any of the neighbors, so I was forced-- forced I tell ya!-- to start watching soap operas. I told myself I was only watching so that I could see if I could keep up with the plotlines, and so that I could lampoon them on the occasions I felt up to walking Junior to the nearest payphone so I could call home to my family.

Since we seemed to get only two channels in our first apartment (ABC and TBS, which seemed to be the only choice for that new fangled thing called "cable tv"), I started watching All My Children,  One Life to Live and General Hospital every Mon-Fri afternoon.  While I never fell in love with any of them, I guess I could mostly tolerate All My Children-- since it had Af-Am teenagers (gasp) in the cast. I did get to where I could put actors' faces with their character names after awhile-- but you know, it was ultimately just one big, ridiculous jumble. Well, with one exception-- General Hospital had that Luke'n'Laura rape/not rape story line. That was it for me. I thought I was better off reading the classy stuff I found at the drugstore like Clan of the Cave Bear, The Thornbirds and Chances by Jackie Collins.

I would catch a soap opera glance every now and then when I visited my folks back home. Mom, Dad and Sis are still soap opera watchers-- only they are now recording their soaps on the DVR instead of VHS. Is it just me, or have soap plots gotten even more ridiculous? Space aliens, witches and Pinocchio-wannabes? I thought the plots where kids were born one year, and in college the next, were bad! But you know, I've kinda mellowed, and I'm more accepting of cliched, cheesy entertainment, so I no longer rag on the folks. Rolling my eyes seems to suffice.

You know, though, I've got plenty of time for soaps now that Junior and the three brothers that followed are grown and out of the house. The fact that I haven't been gainfully employed for a couple of years also helps free up my schedule for watching soaps. But you know, I think WATCHING soaps is way passé-- internet soaps is where it's at now, man. 

Well, ok, you can catch some soaps on Youtube, but right now I'm having fun with a text-y internet soap opera called Boxer Falls. Why does this soap appeal to me where so many others have made me gag? Boxer Falls is a gay soap opera. And it's hilarious, so tongue-in-cheek. Literally! And there's hot sweaty mens-- and what's not to like about that?

 Ok, I need a milk and cookies break, so why don't you read this blurby bit about Boxer Falls that is on their website:

Boxer Falls is a weekly homoerotic soap opera being posted at the M/M Romance Group at Goodreads. Penned by a group of fan favorites and new voices, a roster of unparalleled talent brings this "gaytime drama" to life with high camp, low blows, and intense sexiness.

Our writers produce episodes as interconnected short stories about the ongoing adventures of the residents of a tightknit Berkshires resort town with a queer reputation as it gains a reputation as a homo hot spot for the discerning traveler. You should expect sex, scandal, secrets, and happy endings that come at a high price.

Every week a new guest star will take up the pen. Join Ellis Carrington, Poppy Dennison, and Damon Suede along with a host of your favorite gay romance scribes as they cut loose with suds and studs in abundance. And since Brita Addams has joined the team, Boxer Falls has been churning like never before. 

 I'm back. Nutrisystem Chocolate Chips cookies aren't half bad. But actually, I've rattled on enough. Why don't you follow the links and check out Boxer Falls. This week's episode is written by Sara York and sponsored by Yours Truly. Oh, and be sure to sign up for the Boxer Falls newsletter so you'll be able to keep up with all the naughty bits.

All for now!

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