Thursday, March 27, 2014

Review: Ruby Red Booty Shorts & A Louisville Slugger by Lexi Ander

Can you say HOT? (and would you look at that cover?!) 4 stars

Ruby Red opens with a steamy sex scene, runs headlong into trouble, and leaves me craving more. Diego and Beck are vulnerable and utterly loyal to each other. It made them very easy to root for. I like the strong bond Diego has with his family, though I found some of the backstory clunky to read.

There's a flashback written entirely in past perfect which gives it the tone of an aside rather than putting the reader deeply into a traumatic situation. I also wanted to see more of why Diego decided to move farther away from family.

Lexi does a great job setting the scene and shifting from a standard contemporary story into one invaded by paranormal creatures. Beings that have always been there, hiding. But Denise, a friend of both Diego and Beck, seemed to be tacked on awkwardly. There's a brief conversation with her at the start, then she shows up mid-way through the story and doesn't interact with Diego at all. Not even a glance in his direction. Diego doesn't attempt to interact with her either despite multiple references to their friendship since kindergarden.

TL;DR: This story grabs by the collar and throws you along. It's fast and hard, just the way I like it. 4 Stars.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review: A Matter Of Disagreement by E.E. Ottoman

Entertaining afternoon read, 4 Stars

I can always count on E. E. for an uplifting romance and this story had me grinning throughout the hour it took to read. Yet, the craft plays it safe. It's easy to read without changing sentence structure or taking character voice farther with adventurous verbs.

 The characters were solid, their romance (and disagreements!) believable, and the world engaging. I wanted to see more of the mechanical birds. They made a big appearance at the start then played no part in the story in the second half.

 But that's a minor concern when E. E. consistently provides characters finding their way in the middle of the male/female dichotomy. I love the blend of traits that make it clear these people do not identify fully to one side or the other- but somewhere between.

TL;DR: 4 stars. A quick jaunt for a lazy day.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review: Careful Flowers by Kieran York

A slow build with a satisfying resolution, but lacking in technical skill. 3 stars.

Careful Flowers starts out awkwardly in the middle of a conversation. A case of taking en medias res a little too far. Context arrived quickly but my investment in the story took much longer. I enjoyed the extended supporting cast in this novel, from former hippies to the estranged extended family; everyone was believable and colored the conflict well.

My biggest disappointment in this story came from the craft. Pacing worked well, but the sentences didn't vary much. There's also constant jumping between simple past (I ate food) and past perfect (I had eaten food) that muddied the enjoyment of reading.

I appreciated both the resolution of the mystery and the romantic conflict. I worried that the romantic conflict would resolve by forcing only one party to change rather than compromise from both, and I'm glad to see I was wrong!

TL;DR: 3 stars. This is a solid book with excellent characters, but it's lacking a few style points.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Review: Song of the Spring Moon Waning by E. E. Ottoman

A lovely short story that left me wanting more. 4 stars.

First, I adore the cover of this book. It's so well matched to the contents and that leaves me so excited.  Second, this is a sweet love story between a eunuch and an intersex person that unfolded so beautifully, I want to know more!

Without giving away any spoilers, I wish there had been more exploration of intimacy between the two main characters. It came up briefly and I don't believe an intense scene like that would fit in the story's current format, but there was much emphasis put on Wen Yu's intersex nature and I wasn't satisfied with what little screen time that received.

However, the main reason I give 4 stars instead of 5 is due to the resolution of the story. The ending is not derived from the character's actions, but would have occurred regardless of the events that unfold from the main character's POV. There wouldn't be a love story, but the major conflict was rendered irrelevant when Mei Hua arrived.

But regardless, the craft of this story is so strong otherwise, and the characters so completely complex, that I would pick up a sequel without hesitation. Also, I just want to sit here and pet the cover.

TL;DR: 4stars. Deus Ex Machnia ending that's almost forgiven by such strong characters.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review: In His Command by Rie Warren

A dystopian military adventure with a great supporting cast. 5 stars.

Don't let this boring cover fool you. In His Command has a strong military/political clash set in a post-plague dystopian world where homosexuality is a crime against humanity. The main characters are gruff, opinionated, and have more walls than a military base.

The supporting characters in this book do as much to reflect the main characters as they do to move the plot along. Backstories are woven together in this broad net of relationships that is revealed over time, tying people to each other even if they don't want to be.

Romance is the main thread, of course, but the political/personal clash of beliefs is a strong second place contender. Government propaganda, childhood baggage, and military expectation all fight in a wonderful chaos.

I love a great story that doesn't skimp on the erotica and In His Command is exactly that. It took a while for the main characters to figure themselves out, but once they did the sex was hot, heavy, and often. Perfect for the kind of intense men they are.

TL;DR: 5 stars, military/political clash. Hot, hot, hot!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review: The Way Home by Anastasia Vitsky

A piece of art as much as a story to enjoy, 4 stars.

The first thing that struck me about The Way Home was the format in which this story is told. There's a very non-traditional series of time jumps that, at the start, can be hard to follow. The blurb description does this story an injustice. It sets up a plot expectation that the format doesn't fill, and the novel is so much more than that.

At the heart of the narrative is a friendship-maybe-more that grows over the kind of timespan you simply do not encounter in most romance books. And this is a romance, make no mistake. There is a domestic BDSM aspect (power exchange, spanking) that hints at some sexual overtones near the end of the story that I thoroughly enjoyed.

[trigger warning: major self-harm]

The major critique I had of this story surrounds the dominant conflict. Kat has depressive tendencies which culminate severely in two suicide attempts via sleeping pills. Either the format or the writing or both got in the way of my fully understanding this aspect of Kat. I didn't see a build-up to this kind of behavior so it caught me off guard. I'm not sure the first attempt was on-screen-- if it was then I didn't recognize it for what it was.

Anyone who enjoys the craft of writing, if you're into Tolstoy and Hemingway for their format as much as their content: read this book. If you're on vacation lounging for hours with nothing to interrupt you: read this book. There are beautiful scene pairs and excellent pacing throughout.

TL;DR: 4 stars. Beautifully written and as such, requires focus to enjoy.

Monday, February 10, 2014

P2P: Give Your Ending Room To Breathe

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The ending of your short story or novel is what will stick with your reader the longest. Nailing the ending is how you evoke the catharsis feeling of a great story and there are some concrete ways to get there.

A good ending needs two things:

  • inevitability (the feeling that this is what everything leads up to)
  • offers closure (the satisfaction feeling)

And a great ending needs one more:

  • unexpected (the 'what? I didn't see that coming!')

Inevitability is the momentum you've built up over the course of the story into your climax and ending. It's the feeling in the reader that this is the only way things could have worked out. This means the 'easy' solutions to conflict are dealt with in some logical way. If the problem can be resolved with a frank conversation between the right people, you don't have a solid conflict.

Stay in tune with your protag's motivations: also known as staying 'in character.' The protag and antag of your story have their own histories, their own wants and desires. They need to constantly strive for those desires or the reader can't root for them. If Jimmy wants juice but keeps asking for water and then complaining about it, your reader has no sympathy for him. Replace 'juice' with anything your character wants: love, recognition, power, a puppy, revenge- as long as he strives for his goal throughout the story, you'll build the momentum necessary for an inevitable ending.

Reflect the beginning of your story in the end. Either mimic or oppose the situation you started with to evoke either coming full circle or growing beyond one's starting place. Your protag's motivations can help you identify which of the two would feel better. If your protag wants something back the way it was, a circular ending will feel conclusive. If she wants something to change (and gets it) an opposite ending will reflect that.

The protag's direct actions need to result in the ending. Have you ever read a book where at the very moment of crisis something comes out of the blue to save the heros? This is a technique called Deus Ex Machina- a latin phrase for 'god in the machine.' It means, essentially, that the protag hasn't caused his own ending which means all of that momentum you've built up means nothing. Of a cascade of coincidences solves the major conflict of the story, your reader will be cheated of their feeling of satisfaction. The protag needs to kill the king himself, needs to rescue the little girl, needs to master his power through his own force of will. Arbitrary coincidence can't do it for him.

Bring conflict to its full conclusion. The easiest way to cheat your reader of a satisfying ending, is to skip over consequences. Getting characters in trouble is the fun part, but if there are never any consequences to those actions, what do any of them matter? If your protag kills someone and it doesn't effect him in any way, if his sidekicks don't seem to care, what weight does that action hold? None at all. If the climax of your story involves a deadly battle with a werewolf and he barely survives but then you skip right over how he gets help and lives so you can show happily ever after, you've cut your reader out of half of the emotional arc. Gunshots leave holes, death leaves trauma, marriages are extended relationships- not one-time events. Make sure all of your protag's actions have consequences, good or bad, that you're not skipping over.

If you have everything above, a reader can come away from your story satisfied, having enjoyed the experience. But they may have been able to guess your ending, which leaves some people less-than-thrilled. It's still a good book, but they're not going to rave to their friends about it.

To be truly great, an ending must be unexpected. One way to twist the ending is to defy traditions: genre, age, gender, sexuality, caste, and more. The fantasy genre tends to bring the protag and most of their sidekicks through the plot alive. Kill them all off. Romance sub-plots end where the guy eventually wins over the girl. What if she's asexual or lesbian? The hero's usually the one saving the princess. What if the princess saved herself to rescue the hero? Twists on the inevitable ending your plot drives you toward will surprise your readers. If you plant three or four subtle clues throughout the book, your more astute readers will be very pleased they figured it out.

Throw in your voice below. What other ways have you seen endings twist for that 'wow!' feeling?