Beauregard and the Beast, by Evie Drae

Evie’s thoughts on writing the story:

I’ve had the idea of writing a series of fairy tale re-imaginings with LGBTQ+ characters for longer than I can remember. However, because the concept felt so daunting, it wasn’t one I’d put a lot of focus or thought into. That is until I submitted another manuscript to a Romance Writers of America contest and received a full request from Sue Brown-Moore, the acquisitions editor for Dreamspinner Press’s category romance line, Dreamspun Desires. She enjoyed my voice, but the manuscript I’d given her didn’t fit with the angst-free guidelines of her line.

After chatting with her—and darn near falling in love, because she’s a wonderful human—I decided to take a crack at writing the first in my fairy tale re-imaginings series with the Dreamspun Desires guidelines in mind. Around this time, I was offered representation by Eva Scalzo from Speilburg Literary. I signed with her, and we were off and running almost immediately with a proposal to Sue for a Beauty and the Beast retelling starring Adam Littrell, a grumpy MMA fighter nicknamed “The Beast,” and his sweet personal assistant Beauregard Wilkins.

I had an absolute blast writing Adam and Bo’s story. Once I got the green light from Sue, I dove in and wrote all 55K of the manuscript in less than six weeks. A few rounds of editing with my agent later and Beauregard and the Beast found itself in Sue’s hands. Much to my delight, she offered a contract less than a week later.

Truly, my experience in writing these characters was a magical one. I had to fight some of my most basic creative instincts to avoid the angst that so typically becomes an integral part of my plots. Every time my characters tried to steer me toward a plot bunny that would undoubtedly gum up the fluffy romance works, I’d pop back to the outline I’d created during the proposal stage and crack the whip until they fell back into line. It wasn’t easy, but it was a labor of love and taught me a great deal about the art of writing and about myself as a writer.

I have several more stories already pinging around my brain to continue the series, including a Little Mermaid retelling with an Olympic swimmer I’m hoping to publish during the 2020 Olympics! 

My review:

Adam is the Beast, a mixed-martial-arts champion who has never let anyone close to him: his career’s always come first. But he isn’t a youngster any more, and his ring persona has very little to do with who he really is.

One thing Adam truly is, however, is disorganized, which is why he needs a personal assistant. Enter Beauregard, a bookish guy with a sister in college to support. He’s also almost irresistibly cute. The attraction between them is immediate, but inappropriate: Adam is Bo’s employer. How long will they be able to keep the relationship professional?

In this updated version of Beauty and the Beast, written as a male/male romance, Evie Drae has given us a sweet, sexy story. It’s an ideal summer read, a few hours of delightful escapism, and it’s written with a deft hand. I laughed out loud several times (to the consternation of my cat). The sex scenes are detailed, so if you prefer love-making in a book to be more veiled, be aware. There are stumbling blocks in the road to love, as there must be any romance, but without spoilers I’ll say the ending does not disappoint.

5 stars for this charming story.

Where to find Beauregard and the Beast:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2IGmc0N

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2UCn8oo

Google Play: https://bit.ly/2Vv1Q0Q

Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/2DxeW3s

Dreamspinner Press: https://bit.ly/2VnRb7L

Goodreads: https://bit.ly/2Ro3VH6

The Unfortunate Expiration of Mr David S. Sparks, by William F. Aicher: A Review

A world made uninhabitable by pesticides and dirty bombs, genetically-engineered crops and pollution, and within this world, the inevitable division of human society into classes, factions, revolutionaries and those who turn their back on society. A world where science is both savior and slayer. This is the world David Sparks wakes into, to be immediately threatened by a man with a chain saw.

The story, while set in the near future, is strong in elements from folk tale and mythology: the dangerous wild wood, the wise hermit, the ‘wizards’ who abuse their power; the glass castle where food is abundant; the concept of the sacred twins. Rich in world-building, asking questions about the limits of science and the definition of humanity, The Unfortunate Expiration of Mr David S. Sparks follows the protagonist’s physical and intellectual journeys to understand the world he is in – and who he is.

Is the book successful in delineating these quests? Perhaps not entirely. World-building takes precedence over character-building, and there are times when too much information is handed to the reader in a chunk of exposition. There are enough hints leading to the climax to keep a reader wondering if they’ve worked the story out or not, and the overall idea is compelling.

Book Review: Dear Comrade Novák, by Silvia Hildebrandt, with an introduction by the author.

I asked Silvia Hildebrandt to write an introductory piece to Dear Comrade Novak, her second novel, published in 2018. In it, she explains how she came to write the book, and its effect on her personal identity.

We fled Romania for Germany in 1990, after the revolution and the civil war between Silvia HildebrandtHungarians and Romanians. For the most part, we were looked down upon as poor, illiterate gypsies. So I denied I was born and raised in Romania, in an attempt to assimilate with German culture. Over the years, my teachers recognized my talent for writing. Somehow, I always wrote stories set in the USA. But my 6th grade literature teacher encouraged me to write something about Romania. ”You have so many unique stories to tell,” she said. But at that time, I’d buried my identity deep within me. No, never. Never would I write a novel set in Romania.

Twenty years later, after my first published novel – A Century Divided, set in New York City – I needed a new idea for a second. By happenstance, I landed back in Romania. I wanted a story set in Eastern Europe because I loved Russian novelists like Tolstoy and Pasternak and their very own strong, melancholic narrative. And because I’m a lazy bitch and didn’t want to do research on Russia, I decided to set my next piece in Western Romania, where I was born. As the plot developed over the weeks, I was stuck in the middle and in order to finish a novel, I need to know the end in an early stage of writing. But I didn’t know where it should lead, so I reached out for the writer’s best friend. Google.

“Romanian History 1980s” was my search query. And if an old agent of the Securitate monitored me, he would’ve thrown up his hands in despair as to my ignorance. “Romanian Revolution 1989” was the first answer and I nearly fainted. Of course! I had totally forgotten. Like a black hole in my memories and my brain, this event no longer existed in my life. Slowly, from an author’s point of view, I dug into the Romanian history and into my own. While writing, I had to remind myself that I was there; in that scene, with my characters walking around in Timișoara and in that Romanian village they call their hometown; this wasn’t just their story, but my own as well.

It’s borderline crazy describing such a feeling. Like living in two alternate universes, I re-discovered my own heritage. Near the end of writing Dear Comrade Novák, I watched Ceaușescu’s last speech conserved on youtube. The piece of footage every Romanian knows and love-hates to this day. The footage my beta readers and editors still remember, shown on US and British TV. But for me, it was the first time I witnessed that confused old man become lost in the sudden uprising of the people he oppressed for so many years. To this day, the turning point of my own childhood had always been the opening of the Berlin Wall. I didn’t know anything about the events in December 1989 in Romania. But with every documentary I watched while writing Dear Comrade Novák, I felt like reclaiming my own identity. No, not the Berlin people dancing on the ruins of the Wall had shaped me, but the December events of 1989. Ceaușescu, the last bastion of communism in Europe, fleeing in his helicopter. The Romanian flag with the cutout communist sigil in the middle. The people in Timișoara lighting a thousand candles for the murdered masses, shot on 17th December. There: forty kilometers from my hometown, the bloodiest, most epic of the 1989 revolutions began.

“Why wander into the distance, when the good is so close?” is a popular German saying. And it’s true. I’m excited what future ideas I’ll have in my writing career. But I know one thing: Romania will continue to play a big part in it.

silviahildebrandt.wordpress.com

My Review

Dear Comrade Novák is one of the most devastatingly honest and brutal books I have Dear Comrade Novakever read, yet I could not put it down. I read the last 65% of it in one sitting.

Set in Romania in the 1980s, Dear Comrade Novák follows three school friends: the ethnic Hungarian Attila; the Romanian Tiberius, and the Roma Viorica, through the last decade of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s despotic rule, culminating in the Revolution of 1989.

Hildebrandt is unsparing in her descriptions of the functioning of the country under the eye of the Securitate (the secret police). Who is a friend? Can family members be trusted? Can lovers? And when a man carries a secret – that he is gay – something that is not just forbidden in Romania, but denied completely – what does he do?

Weaving major events of the 80s – Chernobyl, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the devastating rise of AIDS – into the narrative, Hildebrandt paints a bleak and unwavering picture of people trying to find a way forward in a corrupt and cruel society, a society layered by ethnicity and political allegiance. Some may stay true to their inner selves; others cannot; heroism is easy to imagine, but personal survival is a strong imperative, even when the violence and fear of everyday life overwhelms happiness.

Dear Comrade Novák is not escapist fiction. It is an uncomfortable book, one that should leave you shaken. I will remember it long after I have forgotten many other books I have read or will read. Five stars.

Amazon.com link.

 

First of Their Kind, by C.D. Tavenor: A Review

Cogito, ego sum, Rene Descartes wrote in 1644. Is it the ability to think that make us44569168 human? And if so, what is a synthetic intelligence that learns, reasons, extrapolates, infers, and doubts?

That question is at the heart of C.D. Tavenor’s debut novel First of Their Kind. Centred on the birth of the first true synthetic intelligence, Theren – their self-chosen name – faces both acceptance and hatred as they become known to the world and takes on a role in its future. Within this context, Tavenor asks hard questions about exactly what constitute personhood and identity, echoing human rights debates from the 18th to the 21st centuries – who is human? who is a person? who decides identity?

But First of Their Kind is more than an allegory of human rights history. Reflections of creation stories and spiritual belief systems resound. Even Theren’s choice of pronouns – they – can be construed differently as they learn to interact with the world around them – both the physical and virtual worlds – with multiple, simultaneous consciousnesses: the omniscience of a god. Other examples could be given from throughout the book, and perhaps particularly the ending, but I won’t go further into this analysis, to avoid spoilers.

Tavenor has woven these ideas seamlessly into a literate and well-plotted story. Character development, voice, pacing, world-building: all are done with skill, and his projection of the world 30 years in the future is completely believable. First of Their Kind kept my interest from the moment I began reading it, and I am impatient for its continuation. Five stars.

Storytellers, by Bjørn Larssen: A Release-Day Review

Set against Iceland’s harsh but beautiful landscape in the late 19th and  early 20thStorytellers-cover century, Bjørn Larssen’s debut novel Storytellers explores the multi-generational effect of the evasions, embellishments and outright lies told in a small village. The book begins slowly, almost lyrically, pulling the reader into what seems like situation borrowed from folktale: a reclusive blacksmith, Gunnar, rescues an injured stranger, Sigurd. In exchange for his care, Sigurd offers Gunnar a lot of money, and a story.

But as Sigurd’s story progresses, and the book moves between the past and the present, darker elements begin to appear. Gunnar’s reclusiveness hides his own secrets, and the unresolved stories of his past. As other characters are introduced and their lives interweave, it becomes clear that at the heart of this small village there are things untold, things left out of the stories, purposely re-imagined. Both individual and collective histories – and memories – cannot be trusted.

The book was reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, in both theme and mood. Both books deal with the unreliability of memory; both are largely melancholy books. And perhaps there is allegory in them both, too. Storytellers is a book to be read when there is time for contemplation, maybe of an evening with a glass of wine. It isn’t always the easiest read, but it’s not a book I’m going to forget easily, either.

Now, for details:

Cover: definitely pulled me in. Some may see a disconnect between the cover font and the mood of the story, but I did not.

Production (e-book): Excellent. If there were any errors, I didn’t catch them.

Writing: Very good. English is not the author’s first language, but I wouldn’t have known.

Story Structure: you need to be paying attention as it jumps between times and characters…but this is a book that needs attention paying to it, not a light beach read.

I’ll post this review to Amazon & Goodreads, where I will assign a star rating. But I am no longer rating books on my blog, just giving you my opinion. I recommend Storytellers to readers willing to give time and thought and focus to a book, and who are comfortable with being challenged by what they read.

 

Kingsguard: Freya Snow Book IX: A Mini-Review

Both Freya and L.C. Mawson’s writing have matured in Kingsguard, the latest installment Kingsguardin the Snowverse series.  The writing is more direct and the plot structure clearer than in some earlier instalments, although it is still a complex and convoluted universe the author has created.

In Kingsguard, an earlier episode in Freya’s life is central to the story: an episode the series reader will remember but of which Freya has very edited memories.  This adds an element of almost amusement and anticipation for the reader:  when will Freya realize?

Kingsguard is another solid addition to the Snowverse and its cast of diverse, original characters.

The Cult of Unicorns, by Chrys Cymri: A Review

When characters from a story begin to inhabit your dreams, you know the story has Cult of Unicornsreally taken hold of your imagination.  In my case, it was a snail shark, a creature of Chrys Cymri’s mythical, magical land of Lloegyr, a mere thin-space transport away from our own world, that began to crawl through my nightly fantasies.

When dead bodies and unicorns begin to appear in the English midlands, Penny White, Church of England vicar and official Church liaison with Lloegyr, has work to do.  With the help of Peter, the local detective, her brother, the devil-may-care dragon Raven, and her gryphon companion, Penny must navigate the glamour of unicorns and the deep pockets of a multi-national corporation to find the truth.  Interspersed with realistic examples of the difficulties of running a parish in an increasingly secular world and glimpses into Penny’s personal struggles, The Cult of Unicorns is a satisfying read set in an easily-believable world just a little skewed from ours (or is it?)

An appreciation of Doctor Who and good whiskey likely add to the reader’s delight in Penny’s world (I qualify for both) but aren’t necessary.  But you do need to accept a beer-loving snail shark named Clyde that loves the Teletubbies and can sing…and clearly my subconscious was quite happy to suspend that piece of disbelief, because Clyde comes to visit every so often, sliding his way into otherwise normal dreams.  He’s delightful…as is The Cult of Unicorns.  Five stars.

Reaper: A Snowverse Novel, by L.C. Mawson: A Release-day Review

Reaper is the seventh book in the Snowverse series, continuing Freya’s adventuresReaper almost immediately after Enhanced.  With Alex, Freya is travelling in Europe, dealing with car-sickness and more: the diversity of supernatural genes she carries result in upheavals she cannot fully control, and her past experiences are adding to the volatility.

Freya’s difficulties in controlling her emerging powers, and in tapping into the ones she needs to access, reminded me (not in a plagaristic manner, but in a thematic way) of the “Threshold Sickness” of the psi-enhanced characters in Marion Zimmer Bradley ground-breaking Darkover series.  The disruption that uncontrolled psi powers can wreak, when an untrained individual accesses them, can have far-reaching and dramatic effects: a great subject matter for a book,  and I was pleased to see the issue addressed in Reaper. (By the way, if you’re a fan of the Snowverse, then I’m guessing you’re a fan of diversity in science fiction and fantasy – and if you haven’t read the Darkover series, give it a try. Yes, it was written in the 1960’s, but for early introduction and acceptance of LGBTQ characters, it was truly a ground-breaker.)

Lucy Mawson’s skills as a writer have blossomed over this series, and her depiction of Freya’s internal conflict about Alex, and her realization of how to access her Angel powers, are some of the author’s best writing. Freya is learning, too, to make the distinction between how her autism directly affects her relationships, separate from how her (unrecognized?) emotional reactions to past events affects both herself and how she relates to others.  I’m treading carefully here, because I’m allistic, or as my husband prefers, a neurotyp, but certainly Alex’s attempts to help Freya handle her reactions and understand them rang very true to me, after thirty-eight years of living with a man with ASD.

Reaper is short – 139 pages in my e-book edition – but it doesn’t suffer from that; in fact, I found it more satisfying than some of the longer books. It’s tighter, more focused on the immediate issues. Five stars.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Escaping Infinity, by Richard Paolinelli: A Review

Losing their way on desert roads, and nearly out of gas, Peter and his work partner escaping infinityCharlie are relieved to see a hotel – a magnificent, modern hotel – standing alone on a highway.  They check in, only to find, like in the Eagles’ Hotel California, they can’t check out.

Peter and a rebellious receptionist, Liz, attempt to escape the Hotel Infinity; Peter’s explorations and their escape attempts make up the first part of the book. This part is a pretty good science-fiction story; there are a few issues with pacing, but overall, I would have given it maybe four stars.  The problem is, it’s only the first section of the book.  The second section is, basically, an outline: written in primarily passive voice, the reader is told what occurs over the next several hundred years after the climax of the first part.

Spoilers after this point!

Author Robert Paolinelli should have, in my opinion, taken the time to create this story, not hand the reader a summary. As a two or even three book series, Escaping Infinity could have expanded into an thoughtful exploration of redemption, responsibility, and the realistic problems in the attempted creation of a second-chance utopia.  Even when the chosen people have escaped hell-fire; even when their leader has god-like properties and apparent eternal life, for the society to evolve as problem-free as it is described here stretched my belief beyond its breaking point. Stories depend on conflict, tiny conflicts, large conflicts, to propel them forward, and the second part is a narrative almost free of any struggle.  I found it immensely disappointing.

As a result, Escaping Infinity is only getting a 2 1/2 star review from me.  Good potential, unrealized.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.