Monthly Archives: April 2014

Book Review: In a House In Yemen by @bcheers

In a House in Yemen by Brenda Cheers – 4 stars

In one day, Australian publishing icon Annie Delaney loses both her daughter and husband in separate incidents in Sana’a, Yemen.

The local police captain is proving unhelpful, so with failing health and nowhere to turn, she allows herself to come under the protection of Rían, a local businessman who she suspects is more than he seems.

Annie becomes a pawn in a confusing game of international politics. With the help of her daughter’s boyfriend, Nicholas, she learns the truth and then has to draw on badly depleted reserves of energy to fight for the ones she loves. Then she proves she is a force to be reckoned with.

Set in Sydney and Yemen, this is a fast-paced and absorbing story that will keep you engrossed from the first page to the last.

This book is about a woman having issues with work-life balance. She’s tossed into a crisis and through dealing with it, achieves a kind of equilibrium. Although the story is about a kidnapping (mostly), it’s not an action tale – it’s a cerebral exploration of character. I enjoyed this book, it kept my attention and interested me in the characters. The plot and pace are well done except for two points.

One, Annie gets a letter from Steve in the later parts of the book. The revelations in it are not precisely major, in the sense that none of it comes as a surprise. They are still important. However, Annie’s reactions to it are largely blank. I felt she got the information, then tossed it aside without reflection. By then, she’s forged a new path, and has no second thoughts about it. Although she’s a firm, take-charge kind of person, it felt off. I would have liked to see her work through the tangled emotional landscape of her life more.

The second point is the ending. I found it unsatisfying and even a little weird. Some time gets skipped for the conclusion without any sort of explanation for the way things actually worked out. Of the three main secondary characters, it’s completely unclear why they were resolved the way they were (or weren’t, as the case may be). It’s fine, it just didn’t cap the story right for me.

Despite its minor flaws, I did enjoy reading this book, and recommend it for anyone who likes literary fiction from a woman’s perspective.

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

This Is What Busy Looks Like

A blank page, that’s what.

Since I finalized Damsel In Distress two months ago, I’ve been casting about, trying to decide what to work on. A few posts ago, I listed out six projects I was actively pursuing, which probably seems like a lot. It is. Normally, I have, at most, two active at a time. One of them is my primary, and the other is what I work on when the primary isn’t gelling for whatever reason. My brain has been a little messy and scattered, wanting to start things without finishing them.

I’ve had other stuff creep in to my writing time, which hasn’t helped. Spring is just starting to spring, which means gardening. I love gardening. When I go outside to tend my yard and flower beds, I imagine myself as a dragon, out to destroy the vile weeds that threaten my herd of docile yet needy flowers and vegetables. I save the fire breathing for things that truly need it, like an infestation of poison ivy I had to nuke from orbit to be sure about a couple of years ago. (Side note, I’m wretchedly sensitive to poison ivy. A lot.)

Shadow & Spice was someone else’s idea, and it worked to focus me down on something. Once I finalized it, my brain went back to scattered and messy. Until last week. I sat down and really thought about what kind of a book would come after Dragons In Flight, and who should be the main character, if it ought to be a series or a standalone, or a collection of short stories or novellas.

Back when I finished DIF, I had a thought that I ought to take one of the female supers for another book or trilogy. So I gave it a shot. I picked one – Andrea, if you’re interested – and ran with it for a bit. After a chapter, I decided to go back and do a prologue with Bobby, to show why Head Cowboy wasn’t going to be the main character. A funny thing happened.

Bobby flowed out of my brain and hands like melted butter. I know him. I love him, dearly. He’s part of me. I gave up on Andrea, started writing Bobby, and haven’t looked back. I have no idea what this next book will be called yet, but it’s a split, like Dragons In Flight, following Bobby and a different character as they each pursue a separate piece of the same issues. Head Cowboy has saddled up, and he’s learning more about himself and where they all came from. It’s a doozy. I don’t even know where my head gets this stuff.

The second character is Sam, short for Samantha, who plays a minor but pivotal role in both Chains and Flight. Her superpower lets her control computers and devices that run on electricity. She’s a geek and a little awkward in most ways imaginable, but like the rest of the supers, when push comes to shove, she gets the job done and freaks out later.

I had a really good writing day yesterday, bringing this one up to about 25% complete, give or take. This and a trip to see family and such has put a dent in my reading time. More book reviews will come. More Baker of Brennan, too. Soon!

Wake Up (Content warning: disturbing)

Billie’s slippers made no noise at all as she padded across the Oriental rug in the rich wood-paneled foyer. They matched her gown, a lovely ecru confection with soft pink ribbons and lace. Clutched in her hand – covered by a long eggshell satin glove with pink stitching – was her invitation to this party, a heavy white card with delicate calligraphy. It had only two words: her name. She couldn’t remember how she got here, or how she knew to come.

A large woman in a strangely drab uniform and lab coat blocked her path, hand held out. Billie handed her the invitation. As the woman took it, Billie saw new words flash across the back in a familiar scribbling scrawl: ‘wake up’. She blinked and looked again, but the card had gone blank as the woman read it, glanced at her, then tucked it away in a pocket and stood aside.

Music began in the middle of a song as if it had been playing all along. Billie thought she recognized the classical piece, but couldn’t recall the name or composer. Mozart, perhaps, or one of those other long-dead men worshiped for their brilliance. She went towards it, wanting to find the source, or perhaps someone who could tell her what it was. More than anything, she wanted to dance to it.

She turned a corner and had to rub her eyes as the patterns in the rug formed those two words again – ‘wake up’. It returned to normal when she opened her eyes again, and she found herself in a grand ballroom, full of other woman wearing dresses just like hers in a dazzling array of colors and fabrics. Was her brown hair swept up and forced into curls that dangled around her face like everyone else’s? Why didn’t she know?

Lifting one hand, she patted her hair. Yes, she had curls, thick ringlets dangling all around and held in place by some kind of thick headband or scarf. Strange, she didn’t remember styling it or sitting for someone else to do it.

“Is this your first time?” The woman approaching her had a soft yellow gown with real slices of lemon decorating it. She held out a matching satin glove to take Billie’s hand with a gracious smile that didn’t reach her dull green eyes.

Billie nodded, too confused to find words. Something about the veined marble floors and crystal chandeliers felt wrong, but she couldn’t figure out what. Thinking about it was difficult, like trying to walk through knee-high mud. She slipped her hand into the woman’s.

“This is my fourth party. Let me show you around. I’m Claudia.” The woman squeezed her hand gently and walked her around the room. They picked up delicate glass goblets edged with gold and filled with sweet wine. Billie sipped at it while Claudia pointed out absurd details, like flying buttresses and carvings in the woodwork. She didn’t even know what a flying buttress was.

Claudia pointed to a dark wood chair with eagle claws for feet, gesturing for Billie to sit. The maroon upholstery on the cushion had a white fleur-de-lis pattern that changed to show the words again, this time scratched and urgent: WAKE UP. She didn’t feel tired, but sat anyway. Just as her bottom touched the chair, she felt a painful ache in her womb and blinked.

Bright lights filled her vision, and she was cold and naked, lying spread-eagle on some kind of metal slab. Her heart raced and she didn’t understand anything, except that someone was forcing something inside her and it hurt.

A man’s voice said, “Stop! She’s rejecting the program. Andy, fix that, now!” The pain in her lower abdomen eased, but not soon enough to stop her tears. As her eyes adjusted, she made out tubes snaking down into her arms and torso, and realized her wrists and ankles had been bound.

She heard the unmistakable sound of office chair wheels on industrial tile, then a figure slid into sight. He wore a face mask and cap like a surgeon, with large glasses distorting his eyes. “It’s okay, honey. Just relax. Don’t struggle.” This was a different man, and his latex-covered hand brushed her forehead tenderly, then slid to the back of her head. “You’ll be fine. You’re doing your part for your country, remember? You were chosen for this, it’s a special honor. Everything will be fine.”

“I want to go home,” Billie sobbed. She wasn’t chosen, she was conscripted. This wasn’t what they said it would be like, either. They said she’d be taken care of, and everything would be as painless and pleasant as possible.

“Soon, honey, soon.”

Something solid on the back of her head clicked and she blinked again. Back at the party, she sat on the chair with an empty goblet in her hand. She was supposed to be here, and she was having fun. The music sounded nice, it made her want to dance. She looked all around, but didn’t see any men to dance with, only women. How strange.

Claudia bent over her glass with a pitcher, filling her glass. Her mouth opened and her lips moved, but Billie only heard a whisper in her own voice. “Wake up.” She stared at Claudia, who looked at her expectantly.

Billie rubbed a glove across her forehead, confused and tired. Her fingertips came away with smears of blood that formed the words again, WAKE UP. This time, they didn’t go away. The words stared back at her, daring her to think and remember.

She blinked again and was back in the bright lights with a new ache in her lower parts. “Dammit,” that voice said again. “Andy, you said you fixed it. She’s conscious again!” Billie’s cheeks were still wet. She started crying again.

The man with the glasses rolled back into view. “Honey, if you don’t relax, this is going to fail. You don’t want to be a failure, do you?”

“If she comes back out again, we’re scrapping her.”

What did that mean? Billie fixed the glasses man with a fearful, questioning look. He sighed and shook his head a little. “Honey, if you fail, you’ll never go home. Take a deep breath and calm down. You’re not even impregnated yet.” He coached her to breathe several times, then she heard the click again and opened her eyes in the ballroom.

All she could see were letters of those two words, stacked in the shape of people, colored like their dresses. “No, I have to calm down. I have to relax. These are people. I’m having a good time.”

###

Andy looked down at the girl’s face as she opened her eyes again, for the last time. “I’m sorry, honey. I really am.” He didn’t need to be told what to do. She was the fourth failure from this batch. Covering her eyes with one hand, he pulled the spike out of the back of her head with the other. Such a waste. Her body went limp and the life left her.

“I’m taking a break.” He fled the room as quickly as he dared, ignoring the looks his coworkers gave him. In the bathroom, he splashed water on his face and stared at the sink. In the old days, people just had sex. This was the best way, everyone said. Had to protect fetuses from their irresponsible mothers. But we aren’t monsters, they said. Let them eat cake inside their heads.

Thank God he had two kids the old fashioned way before all this became mandatory. He protected his daughter from the lottery, too, so she’d never be on one of those slabs, at a party in her mind while her body was nothing more than an incubator.

He stepped out of the bathroom just as they wheeled the corpse down the hall without the dignity of sheet to cover her up. Someone downstairs would probably play with her before incineration. Turning away from the accusing stare of her blank, glassy eyes, he saw his boss watching him.

“The next one is ready. Let’s get through this batch today if we can.”

Andy nodded and rubbed his face. There was no point to delaying. Another girl with enough of her brain scraped out to die without the AI spike lay across the slab. The only thing to clean up was the paper record of the last girl’s brainwaves. He picked up the end and folded it for storage, only stopping at an oddity in the feed towards the end. The lines formed squiggles he had to peer closely to see.

Book Review: Friends With Partial Benefits by @lukeyoungbooks

Friends With Partial Benefits (Friends With Benefits Book 1) by Luke Young – 4 stars

Disillusioned in the wake of a divorce, best-selling romance novelist Jillian Grayson can’t seem to write a chapter without unjustly throwing her hunky male heartthrob into a near-death scenario. Brian Nash is a tennis-obsessed college senior who is unlucky in love despite his six-pack abs. When Jillian’s son, Rob, brings Brian home with him for Spring Break, Brian meets the surprisingly young and beautiful Jillian, and their shared interest in tennis quickly develops into an intense mutual attraction. After almost giving in to their feelings one warm Miami night, they hatch a plan – a plan to be Friends With Partial Benefits, complete with a strict set of rules to define the boundaries. Will the lonely pair adhere to their rigid relationship rules, actually explore their growing desires, or discover all of this is just a really bad idea? And will Jillian finally have the inspiration she needs to give her hero a happy ending?

The most important things to know going into this book are: 1. It’s silly. 2. It’s got adult content. However, although it has adult content, it’s not erotica. I’d characterize this, overall, as an R-rated romantic comedy. Sex scenes are done obliquely – as either an overview or a fade to black. Body parts, on the other hand, are discussed at length by the characters, and it includes plenty of what would be full frontal (and rear) nudity in a movie.

I enjoyed the writer’s style, and found the book amusing. The only unfortunate issue is the strange way it hovers between being hardcore and softcore. I felt like it was meant to be full-blown erotica, but every time it goes there, it pulls out too soon, leaving an awkward moment before scrambling to put its clothes back on. (See what I did there?)

Taken in the light of romantic comedy, which is a very important caveat, everything that happens in the book is completely reasonable. The characters cracked me up. The tennis angle is good for a laugh.

I recommend this as summer beach reading for people who like romantic comedies and aren’t offended by reading about sensual nudity.

Damsel In Distress + Cover Wars = Fun

I’ve come to enjoy the promotion that is Cover Wars on The Masquerade Crew’s site. Damsel In Distress is up for consideration until the end of May, which is a long time. The entire point of this ‘contest’ is to put the cover of a book under the noses of all kinds of new people who’ve never seen it before, and winning isn’t really that big a deal. In some respects, I kind of wish I’d known this would be delayed so much, as the Shadow & Spice cover is more fun and better suited to the season!

At any rate, please take a few seconds to check out Cover Wars (and the rest of the site, if you’re so inclined). Vote for Damsel In Distress! It takes roughly three seconds, and no login is required, just cookies. Anyone can vote as often as once a day, and I appreciate each and every single person who is willing to blow three seconds for nothing in return except the warm, glowing feeling of helping a total random stranger whose stuff you enjoy reading.

Book Review: Fairy, Texas by @MargoBondCollin

Fairy, Texas by Margo Bond Collins – 4.5 stars

Fairy, Texas. A small town like any other. Laney Harris didn’t want to live there. When her mother remarried and moved them to a town where a date meant hanging out at the Sonic, Laney figured that “boring” would have a whole new meaning. A new stepsister who despised her and a high school where she was the only topic of gossip were bad enough. But when she met the school counselor (and his terminal bad breath), she grew suspicious. Especially since he had wings that only she could see. And then there were Josh and Mason, two gorgeous glimmering-eyed classmates whose interest in her might not be for the reasons she hoped. Not to mention that dead guy she nearly tripped over in gym class. She was right. Boring took on an entirely new dimension in Fairy, Texas.

I flew through this book. It’s cute and silly and fun, a charming beach read with a sassy, hilarious narrator. The story is an unconventional romance with connections between the characters that form some sort of shape I can’t begin to describe. Or maybe just a lot of intersecting lines. Which is to say, it’s about teenagers in a small town.

The thing that surprised me the most about this book was how light and cheerful it is despite being about demons. They aren’t true demons, creatures of depravity and brimstone, but that’s one of the terms used to describe them, and it seems more or less apt.

Laney’s voice is incredible. I want a sequel! It did confuse me a little at the end, marring this epic tale of awesome with a lot of stuff crammed into a small space. The final confrontation just felt off somehow, like the lead-up didn’t really prepare me for all the stuff that would happen. Regardless, it wrapped up well. The resolution left a lot hanging, suggesting a sequel may come without making it clear if that’s true or not.

The ideal audience for this book is probably Young Adult. Anyone who enjoys a snarky narrator and isn’t put off by teenage shenanigans will probably enjoy it. Buckle up for a fast-paced paranormal romp.

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

Shadow & Spice is now available

Cats! Shadow & Spice is a short story about cats. Familiar cats, specifically. Shadow, who was born in Damsel in Distress, isn’t just any old cat, and it’s actually kind of sad, in some respects. He can’t just hang out with regular cats anymore, because they’re dumb. He’s been gifted with human level intelligence, among other things. Aside from his pet human Connor, he has no one to talk to.

Until now.

This story was a joy to write, and I hope it’ll be at least amusing to read. Unlike Damsel, this tale isn’t dark or particularly poignant. It’s just a lonely guy, trying to do some good in a world that doesn’t notice or care much. That lonely guy happens to be a cat, so he’s got some peculiar ideas, and some unusual limitations – like not having thumbs.

Now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and Inkbok.