Third Man Out (Donald Strachey #4)

Third Man Out  - Richard Stevenson

This book has a more serious tone than the previous books in the series thus far and Donald is far less snarky. Stevenson used real-day events to craft the storylines that his series took place in, and this was written at a time when public figures were being outed in the media. It would be controversial now to force someone out of the closet, and it was even more so then.


John Rutka is a "journalist" who collects secrets on high ranking public figures and outs them in his paper. Naturally, he's not well-liked. When someone threatens to kill him, he comes to Donald for help. Mild-mannered Timmy loathes Rutka and doesn't want Donald to take the job, and while Don's no fan of Rutka's either, he does it anyway because he wants a peek at Rutka's files. What follows is an ever-unfolding plot. 


We get arguments from both sides of the debate, the right to privacy vs the obligation of those with power to use that power to advance gay rights rather than oppose them. Rutka's an exhausting character, ever unaware of his own hypocrisy. 


In the previous book, Don got pulled into a scheme and ends up acting in ways that seemed contrary to him. That happens again here, and I hope this isn't going to continue to be the case. It makes him come across as gullible, rather than the skeptical smart ass he's supposed to be. He does like to bunk authority though, so at least that part's consistent. Still, I didn't like that

he let Rutka get away with faking his own death, framing an innocent man and then committing insurance fraud to flee the country. At least the innocent man was freed on lack of evidence, and he did tell the police chief what happened, so eventually Rutka's sister will learn the truth, so it could be worse.

(show spoiler)


7 & 7 - Anthology of Virtue and Vice

7&7 - Andrea Speed, Carole Cummings, J. Tullos Hennig, Amy Rae Durreson, John Inman, Pearl Love, Brandon Witt, Sean Michael, Fred J. Cook, Rick R. Reed

This anthology is by DSP Publications, so these stories aren't romance focused. As with most anthologies, this one is a mixed bag. Some were good, others were not, but I didn't find any of them to be great. Overall rating on this one is 2.5 stars, with one DNF.


* = New to me author



The Dark of the Sun by Amy Rae Durreson


3.5 stars


A priest in some remote village is mourning his dead husband when a group arrives wanting to hike up the mountain to see an eclipse from the temple. This conveyed a lot in a short amount of time. This is the second short story I've read by Durreson, the other being The Court of Lightning, which I also really liked. She seems to have a knack for short stories and uses every word and scene to its full effect. It is still a bit rushed at the ending though.


The Bank Job by Andrea Speed


3 stars


A super-villian is overly-impressed with himself and pays the price. Since this was short, he didn't have enough time to be overly-impressed with himself for it to start annoying me like this trait did in Speed's Infected series. There was some humor sprinkled in throughout, but I'm baffled why any super-villian would have that many minions on one job with him. Seems inefficient.


Plus, the gay couple felt tacked on and token-y, which left a bad taste in the mouth.


Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael*


1.5 stars


This was poorly executed. There's next to no world-building. If I hadn't glanced over the little blurb that precedes the story, I'd have had no idea what was going on at the start of it. There are a couple of brief descriptions on Brawn's people and Del's people, and that's about it. I guess "mountain folk" is supposed to be enough to cover everything else. Wu, the apprentice who brings little to the story, makes a comment upon meeting Brawn's people about "all the stories I heard were true" or something along those lines and being told they were. Great. And those stories are? How can you tell by just a single look and zero interaction? And for Del being such an old dude, he sounded more like a petulant teenager while griping about his lot in life.


There were good bones here, and in the hands of the right author this could've been a great story, which just makes it that much more tragic that was so mundane and slapped together.


The Gate by J.S. Cook*


1 star


Speaking of slapped together, was this edited at all? I thought this was a contemporary at the start. But then they mentioned war preparations, and then Hitler. Okay, so it's WWII. Oh, and then we're in Newfoundland. Okay then, sure, why not. Except...


Look, I don't know how buildings are designed in Newfoundland, or what their waste management system is like there, now or in the 1940s. But here in my neck of the US of A, generally, restaurants have doors at the rear or near the kitchen that go pretty much directly to the trash bin, which WM picks up on a scheduled basis. But for some reason Jack's cafe doesn't do that, so when his neighbor next door puts up an iron gate that cuts off access to the alley, it causes this big huge deal with the trash and I had trouble picturing what the issue was. Why are his trash bins so poorly located to cause this dilemma? Could the trash even be picked up with that gate there?


Then there's the cast-iron gate - during WWII, when iron and steel were in pretty high demand to build ships and planes and such for the war effort. Since there's mention of gas restrictions, I assume there must also be similar restrictions on iron. So where did this gate come from? Then Jack says he's going to go to the city about the gate - but apparently never does. Wouldn't Jack need a permit to put up something like that that cuts off access to common-use throughways?

Maybe it's his mafia contacts cutting through the red tape for him, who knows.

(show spoiler)


Then there's the thankfully brief sex scene, which starts in the cafe after hours but suddenly there's bedsheets? Huh? Where did the sheets come from? They were just sitting at the table in the cafe literally two sentences ago. Don't even get me started on the ending. I know these aren't romance, so I don't expect these stories to fall in with the expectations of that genre, but they still need to make sense. That came out of nowhere and felt more like the author just didn't know how to end the story.

This story was one big logic fail.


Heirs to Grace and Infinity by Carole Cummings*


3 stars


The basic premise of this one is that magic is real, but can be controlled/suppressed by implants and is outlawed, and the Bureau is out to get all magical people. A bunch of people don't like that, including our good guy/magical protag. Think X-Men but with magic instead of super powers. This felt like being plopped into the middle of a story. Literally. The two chapters provided felt like middle chapters to a longer book. Yet despite that, and the use of third person/present tense which always feels awkward, it was an interesting read and did a fairly decent job in world-building.


The Rendering by John Inman




I swore I would never again read another book by John Inman after The Boys on the Mountain, and four paragraphs into this short story I was reminded why. It was repetitive, not to mention borderline offensive (um, sorry, but car seat belts stretch, a lot), and then I started getting flashbacks to that other story and I couldn't continue. Maybe it's a good story, but I'm not inclined to find out.


Beyond the Temperance Effect by Serena Yates*


2 stars


This is an interesting set up to what could be a much longer story. A group of humans set out for a new star system (not solar system; only our star system is called a solar system because our star is called Sol) to find a new world to inhabit. Humans of the future have found ways to control their emotions, making war and violence obsolete (I think?) but as they near their new home world, people start getting all aggressive again. We find out why, and the story just ends there. It's a little non-sensical, but that's probably because it's too short to really do much world-building.


Covetous by Pearl Love*


0 stars


What the fiddlesticks was this? So this dude is jealous of pretty much everyone around him for every reason under the sun. I couldn't stand him and started skimming pretty quickly. The blurb got me wondering if he was going to pay for his jealous ways by becoming vampire kibble, especially after he meets some insanely gorgeous guy and his three twinks at a bar - modern day Dracula, right? Alas, no. In order to save everyone else the boredom and ridiculousness of this very short story:

he goes home with the devil and his three twinks, and literally gets pounded to death and taken to hell for permanent torture. The end. Oh, and there's something with his eyeballs and mouth being sown shut. I don't do eye horror, guys! NOPE!

(show spoiler)

So that was stupid. Glad I skimmed most of it. Probably should have just skipped it entirely. Where's my brain bleach?!


Hope by Rick R. Reed*

3 stars


I thought this was going to be more paranormal than it ended up, given it starts with a haunting, but it's not like that at all. Other than the ghost, this is a normal everyday contemporary about a guy whose mom dies and he moves back to his childhood home to figure out his life after he gets some yet more bad news. He meets the hunky next door neighbor and flirtation happens.

However, this takes place in the last 90s, and after living a life of drugs and unsafe sex, the bad news he gets is that he has HIV. The cocktail that they use now was still in the early days here, so Tom isn't aware of this option when he burns all his bridges and decides to make the least of what's left of his life. He's seen multiple friends succumb to HIV/AIDS and now he'll be another statistic.


I liked that this gave us Tom's despair and hopelessness and didn't do what so many M/M romance writers do and miraculously give their characters an all-clear when those characters haven't been taking care of themselves and having unsafe sex. It's a catch-22. Most readers I know, including myself, feel that AIDS and gay men are just too closely connected to be anything other than cliche if seen too often in books, but it is still a reality for a lot of people. So what do you do? I guess you can give the formerly-irresponsible character an understanding and hunky next-door neighbor who is willing to take precautions and see where the relationship goes. And an overly-concerned ghost.

(show spoiler)


This was a strange mix of elements, but somehow ended up being a decent story, especially compared to others in this anthology.


Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fessenden*


2.5 stars


Set during the cold war, a US spy goes into Russia for a mission that requires him to kill some Soviet for some reason. The details are sketchy at best, but there's eventually enough to piece together what he was supposed to be doing. But of course, his target is absolutely gorgeous and kind and has a really nice smile. What's a spy to do? I liked the characters, but since the details of the mission aren't really explicit, I can't say if I'm upset by the ending or not.

The spy was supposed to kill a Russian who works on a submarine that is targeting US ships, so that the spy can steal the Russian's identity and get on the sub to do something or other. That part isn't clear at all. The spy of course can't go through with it because he falls for the Russian in the course of a night. So lots of unprofessional professional going on here.

(show spoiler)

There are also random Russian words thrown in that I guess we're supposed to figure out the meaning of given context, and some I could, others I couldn't but that didn't hamper the story much.


Red Light Special by Rhys Ford


3 stars


This was a lot more cohesive than the short story Dim Sum Asylum from the Charmed and Dangerous anthology, which was a slapdash mess of a "story," but this still has a lot of similar elements, namely fae/elves and sex statues. What is it with this author and sex statues? Or fae, for that matter? If that's your jam, you'll love this. I mostly liked Seymour, and there was just enough snark that I was able to enjoy the story despite itself. Still, I'm glad I've never bothered with any of Ford's longer stories. I get the impression they'd be a chore for me to get through.


Traitor by Clare London


3.5 stars


A former MI-5 operative gets called in to question a member of a radical neo-Nazi terrorist cell - who is not only a former MI-5 operative himself and also the other dude's former lover. This could have been really angsty and overly dramatic, but London's deft writing prevents it from going there. It was a bit on the predictable side, but considering I've come to expect so little of this anthology, it was nice to find a well-written piece that flowed and had a beginning, middle, and end.


Couches of Fabric and Snow by Brandon Witt


3 stars


The theme for this story was sloth, but I thought the MC was clearly suffering from untreated depression that's worsened when he goes on a school trip with his class and runs across his ex. <spoiler>They have a confrontation, he spies on his ex having sex with one of the trainers, then goes out in the woods to fall asleep in the middle of a blizzard. The story ends there, but it's pretty clearly implicated that he's going to die there.</spoiler> I felt a little uncomfortable that his depression was at times being treated as a personality defect, but it was plain that the MC was pretty darn lazy even before the breakup with his ex; the depression just made all of that worse. Kind of bummer of a story to end an anthology on, but it wasn't the last one I read.


Horseboy by J Tullos Hennig


3.5 stars


This comes between "Hope" and "Train to Sevmash," but I saved it for last hoping to end the anthology on a high note. I love Hennig's series, The Wode, which is a fantasy retelling of the Robin Hood legend. This story could easily be fit into that universe, since there's a Templar Knight, unnamed, and Sabiq, the titular horseboy. They both have secrets to keep and though they're on opposite sides of the Crusades conflict, they form a sort of truce after Sabiq saves the Templar's life. This felt like an intro to a longer story, one that I very much hope the author might write someday.

A Little Side of Geek (Geek Life #1)

A Little Side Of Geek - Marguerite Labbe

2.75 stars rounded up.


This is a case of "I liked this, but..."


This never really gelled for me. The start of Morris and Theo's relationship was supposed to be a fling, because they were both attracted to each other but didn't have time for a relationship. As a result, I never really cared about their first couple of encounters because I didn't feel any chemistry between the characters or have any sense of why they liked each other beyond their looks, which were just barely described. They do quickly realize that they get along quite well and there are some great scenes with them later on, but it took a little too long to get there and I never quite bought into the relationship.


I really liked the relationship between Theo and his younger brother Lincoln, who Theo became guardian of after their parents died a year before. Lincoln was a believable teen, and Theo was over his head at some points but managed to mostly keep it together. He messes up at times, but they talk things out. I would've liked for Jill to be developed beyond "tough sister who works while she's preggers" ... like every other woman in the history of ever.


A couple of other issues I had was the redundancy of information and the time jumps. While the story takes place over several months, there was no real way to keep track of just how much time was passing between scenes. Some things that I wanted to see on page, particularly near the end with some of Theo's other siblings, were skipped over entirely and I can't help but think there would have been more page time for those scenes if the redundancy had been cut down. There were also two chapters that had different POVs from Theo or Morris, and they felt random and unnecessary (except they have to set up the other books in the series). These could also have been left out without missing anything and more time could have been given to Morris and Theo.


There was one point where it started tilting into drama llama territory, and it felt completely out of character. Thankfully, it didn't go full-tilt and managed to pull it together just in time, but the scene still felt manufactured.


It was a strange reading experience. When I was into it, I was really into it. But when I wasn't, it all fell flat and felt uninspired. I don't think I'll be reading the next one. I'm not really endeared to Felipe after this book so I'm not really looking to read a whole book about him and his love interest. I'm guessing the third will be about Brenden and Dakota, who I'm also not interested in, so this'll probably be it for me and this series.

Barracoon (Audiobook)

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” - Zora Neale Hurston

This is an odd one to rate. This is a short piece and once you get into the narrative, it's a series of interviews that author Zora Neale Hurston did with the last survivor of the last "black cargo" Kazoola, renamed Cudjo Lewis by his master.


The interviews start with his life as a free man in Africa and goes over his life from the tribal wars that decimated his country and resulted in him and his other tribespeople being sold into slavery. He tells about his stay in the barracoon, awaiting transport to an unknown country. This was in 1860, long after the transport of human cargo was made illegal - not that this resulted in his freedom of course. Nope, just a fine for his buyers! He tells about his freedom, and how he and his other former tribespeople founded Africa Town, now called Plateau, Alabama. He gets married, they have several children

who all die through illness or violence or accident before their parents.

(show spoiler)


He had a fascinating life and getting to hear it through his own words and vernacular was really amazing. Hurston was right to insist that she keep his words intact. It could be difficult to read, but listening to Robin Miles's narration made it very easy to understand him.


What fell short for me was everything else. The running time on the audiobook is just under four hours, and only half of that is Cudjo talking about his life. The intro goes on for about an hour and details the accusations of plagiarism on Hurston's initial essay, published in 1928, before the majority of the interviews took place. The last forty minutes are Cudjo telling folktales or about games he used to play as a child. It was nice, but not really what I wanted to listen to. 


While I'm glad that Cudjo's words remained intact, I would've also liked for his testimonies to be expanded on with historical data. Being told that everything he said was verified isn't quite enough. We're not even told when he or his wife died. If we can be given an introduction that goes on and on about the plagiarism allegations, we can also get an afterword with supplementary information about Cudjo's life.


Still, this is an invaluable piece of history, and a remarkable man who lived through more trials than any one person should.

Arrow's Flight (Heralds of Valdemar #2; Valdemar #2)

Arrow's Flight - Mercedes Lackey

I liked this one more than the first but I still found some things unsatisfying. 


I liked that we got a more contained story than the first one, and things are still being set up for the intrigue at court even though we don't spend any time in court during this book, since Talia's starting her internship which means a year and a half on tour in one of the border sectors. They don't leave court behind entirely since some rumors about Talia's Gift follows them, and this causes problems for Talia and her mentor Kris. It was good to see the ethical and moral implications of Talia's Gift addressed but the conclusion to all that was sort of a letdown since the book spends pages on Talia's struggles with it and then very little time on how she eventually improves. Then there's the whole 

mind rape of a rapist, making him see through his victims eyes. No sympathy for the rapist or anything, but Talia served as judge, jury and executioner without even at least conferring with Kris first.

(show spoiler)


Then there's the weird direction Talia and Kris's relationship takes, all the while they're worrying about Dirk, who Talia likes and who likes her. It just really didn't seem necessary. I did really enjoy their friendship though.


If the ending hadn't been so rushed, I would've given this a full four stars, but for now, the issues with Talia's gift seems to have either been put off for later or resolved in an uncomfortable way. Since a lot of the conflicts in the first book were solved off-page in the first book, it could go either way.

Yellow Crocus

Yellow Crocus - Laila Ibrahim

DNF @ 27%


This wasn't actively offensive or anything like that, but it was such a sugary-sweet watered-down version of slavery that I couldn't buy into it. Add on the simplistic writing style and this was a no-go. I was already getting tempted to skim, but decided to DNF instead after learning more about the ending.

Another Country (Audiobook)

Another Country (MP3 Book) - Dion Graham, James Baldwin

Once again, I find myself not really sure what to think of a book. It was undoubtedly well-written and an interesting examination of liberalism in the 1950s, the struggles between the races and how the anger and confusion and incomprehension of everyone's varying struggles and outlooks can make a group of friends - if you can even really call them that - do pretty horrible things to each other. 


I can't really say I liked any of the characters. They were all self-involved assholes who could only see their own pain, but then, that was also the point of the story, so I guess it was successful, lol. But people who cheat because they can't figure out what they want -and everyone here cheats at one point or another - are just not very good people. They're dishonest and unfaithful, to themselves as much as their partners and families. I could sympathize with some of them, especially Ida. The constant misogyny made me uncomfortable, even more so than the brutal examination of racism and internal homophobia.


The interpersonal relationships of the various characters were used to examine the larger world these characters lived in, to really look at what it meant to be alive in this time and place. What did it mean to be white? To be black? To be male or female? To be queer? And how was this group of people going to meet these challenges, how would they struggle with the old ways while trying to create new ones, if that was even possible?


It's an uncomfortable read, and it's meant to be, but not being able to really connect with the characters prevented me from really getting into the story.


The narrator, Dion Graham, was very listenable and did a good job with all the voices, male and female. I listened at 1.20 times and it was perhaps still just a tad too slow.

Devotions: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice

Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice - Adam Makos

I started this one with the audiobook which I borrowed from my library. For those of you who complain about audios that are performed, this is the audiobook for you. Hoffman's narration was technical and dry with zero emoting at all. It was incredibly difficult for me to listen to. I found my mind often wondering and having to rewind several times, and even then I couldn't keep my attention on the story for very long.


I got to about 75% and gave up, switching over to the paperback. I spent most of yesterday skim-reading the first 340 pages to pick up all the stuff I missed while listening, and finished up the last few chapters last night and this morning and looked at the various photos and maps that the audio obviously doesn't have. The writing flowed much better once I was reading it.


The Korean War is known as the Forgotten War, or as the veterans of that war call it, the Forgotten Victory. Many of them were already veterans from WWII, and many others had been too young to fight in WWII but were now fighting in this war. I didn't know much about the Korean War before going into this, so it was interesting to learn more about it, what forces were involved, what the stakes were and all that. 


This war also started just a few years after Pres. Truman desegregated the military, but there was still Jim Crow in the south, and segregation laws throughout much of the US, including D.C. and California. The book gives some accounts of the early lives of Tom Hudner, a white man from a wealthy New England family, and Jesse Brown, the navy's first black officer, from a poor sharecropper family in Mississippi. They would become friends once they both got assigned to the U.S.S. Leyte. It also focuses on a number of the other pilots in their squadron, and how they all bonded in their first year together.


Once the book gets to North Korea and the battles that took place there in the first year of the war, up to the battle of Chosin, it includes accounts of the Marines that the pilots of Squadron 32 helped to defend. There's also an account about a third of the way into the book of their stay in Cannes where many of them met a young Elizabeth Taylor, and I felt that part was rather meandering and didn't really amount to much.


Makos doesn't stray into dramatics. He reports the facts and relays them in an approachable manner. He interviewed many of the men he portrays here, as well as their friends and family, and even went to North Korea to interview veterans there when Hudner returned there years later, which is true dedication. The writing is simple but not unmoving when it needs to be. 

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Wisehouse Classics Edition) - Frederick Douglass

There are two introductions preceding Douglass's autobiography, one by a journalist William Lloyd Garrison and one by an abolitionist Wendell Philips who knew Douglass. They're not really crucial to the narrative itself and they can easily be skipped, but I did in the end appreciate reading them if only because of their core message which I kept in the back of my head while reading the atrocities that Douglass had to endure while a slave: he had it easy.


Baltimore might be in the south, but it's a far cry from the Deep South and the cotton plantations that comes to mind when most people think of slavery. To be "sold down the river" was equated with death because of how much worse slaves were treated in the Deep South, but the slaves in the rest of the south were hardly treated kindly. There are instead degrees of cruelty.


Douglass details his life growing up in Maryland, the various masters and slave bondsmen he served, how he learned to read and write and use that to his advantage and how that knowledge also made his enslavement that much harder to deal with. He describes the abuses and murders he witnessed in his young life and some of the whippings he endured himself. He's unflinching, eloquent and starkly honest about it, and his observation of the hypocrisies of the southern "Christians" who were Christian in name only but not in deed.


He doesn't give any details of his escape, citing the desire to keep those details from the slave hunters who would use that information to capture other slaves running for freedom. He even admonishes some of the Underground Railroad participants who were so proud of themselves they bragged about their deeds, thus endangering the very people they were supposed to be helping to save. (Why does there always have to be people like that?) There are a few details of his escape here, along with more details of his life after arriving in New Bedford, CT, and coming to the notice of the abolitionist party.


He wrote a couple other autobiographies, and I hope to find time to read them one day. 

The Color Purple

The Color Purple - Alice Walker

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”


I still remember the first time I saw the movie The Color Purple. It was at home, when it was on TV, and I was probably around 7 or 8. I only understood about half of what was going on, but it spoke to me. Celie's love for her sister Nettie and her strife living with Mr and her friendships with Sofia and Shug, all being filtered through Celie's open and loving heart caught hold of my own heart.


It wouldn't be until my late teens I finally read the book and fully comprehended everything that went over my head years earlier, and to reread it now nearly two decades later I see the themes here in a way I couldn't back then. But at the heart of it, it's still that same story of self-discovery, of love triumphing over hate - if not injustice - and learning to be comfortable in your own skin, learning to listen to your heart and the hearts of those around you. It's learning that even when you lose all hope, there's still more hope left to discover, that bad things will happen but good things will happen too. 



The book also examines the racism in the deep South that existed after the end of slavery, during the Jim Crow years, but doesn't stop there. It examines, through Nettie and her missionary work, how it also tore apart the African tribes at the start of the slave trade and continues to damage it to the present day. It doesn't let anyone off the hook. It examines the struggles of people of color, and especially women of color in a time when no one cared about them. 


It could be a very depressing book with all the issues it tackles, not just racism and gender inequality but also rape, incest, injustice, domestic abuse and cheating - nearly everything I don't like reading about all in one book. But from the POV of Celie, as she prays to God and later writes to her long-lost sister, the story flows with a strange mixture of innocence and knowing that helps sooth over what would otherwise be very difficult passages to read.

Around the World in 80 Days (Extraordinary Voyages #11) (Audiobook)

Around the World in 80 Days - Jules Verne

This started off a little slow, with all the boasting and detailing of bets of whether Phileas Fogg actually can make a trip around the world in eighty days. But once he got going and he got framed for stealing money that put Det. Fix on his trail, it got more interesting. Fogg also picks up a French servant, Passepartout, who is quite endearing and faithful to his employer. Fogg starts spending money like a politician on the campaign trail in order to win his bet, and the various obstacles he meets along the way are met with a cool head. A little too cool. Fogg was a hard nut to crack, but I still found myself more engaged with this story than with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This one does have the same broad generalizations and stereotypical portrayals of any culture not English as 20K Leagues did, so fair warning there.


I actually didn't know much about this one before going in. Like with 20K Leagues, I knew of it and the general idea of what it was about, but not much else. The various methods Fogg takes to get around the world were interesting, if not downright absurd. There's this weird passage once they get to America where Passepartout listens to a Mormon elder lecturing about the church. Weird for me anyway, since I never expect to see Mormons portrayed in things yet I keep stumbling upon them in older works like this. I keep thinking that my Mormon upbringing gave me a skewed perception of how influential the church was at that time, but I guess not if first A.C. Doyle and now Jules Verne felt compelled to throw something in their books about the church for absolutely no reason whatsoever. 


I thought the character of Aouda was pretty pointless, and it makes me wonder if Verne just didn't have much exposure to women. Also, the narrator Frederick Douglas, could not do a woman's voice convincingly at all and settled for talking in a falsetto for her parts. Thankfully (or offensively? LOL) she didn't have much to say so I didn't have to put up with it much. Speaking of the narrator, he read pretty slowly, but once I sped him up to 1.20 times the reading went more smoothly. (What did people do when books were on tape and couldn't be sped up except to fast forward, making it sound like the Micromachine man on helium? Progress, y'all!)

We Go Forward

We Go Forward - Alison Evans

This was cute. Rather light on plot, but still a nice read. There's no romance at all here, which I actually liked. It's so rare to find a book that features a friendship at the heart of it. It's as it as a society we're saying that friendships are less important than romantic love, and that's nonsense. Especially for those of us who have never had, nor want to have, romantic love.


This is the story of two women from Australia who meet up in Germany. They're there for different reasons, but both just needed to get away for awhile. Christie is ace aro and embraces it. She's also plus-sized and makes zero deals about it. Roslyn is bisexual but after a bad breakup is not looking for another relationship. They meet shortly after Roslyn touches down in Germany and has no clue what she's doing. Christie helps her out, and they quickly become friends, and over the course of the book they become best friends as they tour Germany, Belgium and Austria. Along the way they meet up with another pair of girl friends (it's not defined if they're romantically involved or not) and really, when was the last time you read a book or saw a movie about girls on a road trip? Boys, yes. Girls and boys, yes. But just girls? I honestly can't think of one. 


I did get a bit annoyed at Roslyn's constant tweeting and going into fits when she has no internet connection. The constant tweets to her sibling Jalen, who is genderqueer and uses the pronouns they/them (which just confuses the hell out of me; I'm used to "they" being plural), but since we never meet Jalen those interactions - if you can call them that - doesn't resonate much. 


This also needed another pass by an editor. Words were either missing or were misused a bit more than I can overlook, though it's not overwhelming. A good example is when one of the MCs is trying to have a conversation in German and not understanding anything, she says the other person notices their "incomprehensible faces." Erm, that should be "uncomprehending." I'm not sure what it would take for a face to be incomprehensible. Nose upside down? Mouth where the ears should be? 


Overall, a fun little story. I got a good chuckle at some of their TSTL antics (few and far between). I did wish it had a bit more depth, but for a light read it worked.

The Wayward Prince (Mind + Machine #2)

The Wayward Prince (Mind + Machine #2) - Hanna Dare

The first book showed a lot of promise, and this one continues to build on that. It still reads a lot like Firefly fanfic (with some Skynet shenanigans thrown in) but I'm enjoying it. Capt. Sebastian is still firmly rooted as Capt. Malcolm Reynolds in my mind, and Mags as Zoe and Simi as Kali. The other characters I have no issues seeing as themselves, but they also don't get as much page time, though we did get to know Lydia a bit more in this one. We also get to see Rylan and Jaime, but the focus of this book is Sebastian and his one-time lover Ren, from whom he stole his ship. Ren has a job for Sebastian and his crew - stealing back the Heart of Arcadia, the literal family jewel and heirloom to the monarchy. 


Of course, things go wrong and there's much hijinks, and that was all fun. But I mostly enjoyed seeing more into Sebastian's head and getting to know Ren, who we meet here for the first time. Sebastian's got a lot of guilt over stealing the ship and running out on Ren the first time and is determined to make it up to him. Ren's trying to figure out where he fits in the 'verse, since finding the Heart of Arcadia will throw some complications into his life he'd rather avoid. The romance is pretty standard as far as M/M goes, but the MCs are engaging.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Audiobook)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - Michael Prichard, Jules Verne

Wow. Captain Nemo be cray-cray.


And he must be mega rich to have the Nautilus built. And super genius to figure it all out in the first place.


So like I said, cray-cray. :D


All the numbers and "math" thrown around over this vessel was rather ridiculous, but the action was fun and the ordeal that Dr. Aronnax, Ned Land and Aronnax's servant have to endure being imprisoned on the Nautilus by Nemo, who is so in love with his independence living under the sea that he can't fathom letting them go free lest they tell anyone else about it, was intriguing. I felt especially bad for Ned Land who, as his name suggests, rather prefers hard earth under his feet. 

Still, the story tended to meander and then the ending kind of peters out. There's also the adventure on the island of Paraguay (I think?) with the "hostile natives" that doesn't age well at all. 


I liked the narrator, Harlan Ellison, for the most part but I did think he performed a little too much, which is not something I tend to complain about. I just wanted him to calm down a little during the action scenes and not be quite so awed by the discoveries Aronnax made while on the Nautilus.

The Silver Music Box (Silver Music Box #1) (Audiobook)

The Silver Music Box - Mina Baites, Alison Layland

From the blurb, I thought this was going to be about Lillian finding out about her roots and trying to research where her family came from and what happened to them during WWII, but that part of the plot doesn't come in until a little over 2/3s of the way through the book. Instead, it starts out with Johann Blumenthal fighting in WWI for Germany, then follows through to his son Paul at the dawn of the Nazis taking over power and Paul's eventual attempts to get his family out of the country. When things are looking grim for them, it then drops that storyline and jumps forward to the 1960s to Lillian, where I thought the story was going to start.


It was a bit jarring to start off, since I wasn't expecting the story to be so linear, but in the end, I found it more effective getting to know the Blumenthal's and seeing their attempts to stay in Germany as long as they could before realizing - perhaps too late - that they needed to flee to save themselves. It was disheartening to see them doing everything they could to be good Germans, in a Germany that cared about them less and less, and to see the small steps that began to segregate the Jews from the main populace more and more until the Nazis were in power and didn't care about being quite so subtle anymore. 


This is compounded when they end up in Capetown in South Africa - they're safe there, but all around them is apartheid - which was implemented based on Aryan propaganda and laws.

(show spoiler)


I did feel at times that the characters were there more to serve as plot points, and Charolette suffers the most from this since she mostly just reacts while Paul is making all the preparations. Knowing how many women worked in the underground and resistance forces during WWII, I would have liked to see Charolette take a more active role. 


I also would have liked more time to get to know Lillian so her story arc could have more weight, but seeing her so driven to find out everything she could about where she came from and what happened to her family was touching nonetheless. 


The narrator, Jane Oppenheimer, who I first heard narrating The Moonlit Garden, was an odd choice I think for this story. She has a very mellow and soothing voice, which dulled the tension from a story that really should have been tense.

Widdershins (Whyborne & Griffin #1)

Widdershins  - Jordan L. Hawk

Reread review 1/20/19:


No wonder I couldn't remember some of this. I read it three and-a-half years ago! ;) Time flies.


Whyborne and Griffin are the best. <3 I really enjoyed revisiting them at the start of their relationship, and seeing how much they've both changed and grown in confidence and strength since this first outing. Whyborne's so used to abuse and bullying that just Griffin being nice to him is enough to endear Griffin to him. And Griffin is so used to being abandoned that Whyborne sticking by him in times of trouble is enough to make its own impression. They're exactly what the other needed. <3


Christine's as great as ever. I still think making Ms. Parkhurst

fall for Persephone is a retcon. She's clearly crushing on Whyborne this whole time, but suddenly she's into a squid monster. Ooookay. Sure.

(show spoiler)

I'm going to try to be more open-minded about Niles, since as of book 10 I still have reservations about him. He was somewhat less awful here than I remembered him being - though he's still plenty awful, no question.


Original review 6/7/15:


I held out on delving into this series for the longest time, because historicals, especially in M/M are almost never done to my liking. They're too contemporary, or they're costume dramas, or they've got the sickly waif, or what have you. I've really only enjoyed Tamara Allen's works because she gets into the mindset of the time and doesn't try to modernize them. Ms. Hawk doesn't quite come up to that standard, but she comes incredibly close. The characters sound like they're from the turn of the century, more or less. They don't go gaga over the dress of the times; there is no more attention paid to anyone's garb than there would be in a contemporary fiction. So I liked this book just for that right from the start.


Then the plot starting picking up. Historical AND paranormal? Two genres I'm usually picky about. I'm trying to get into shifters, but so far I've only read THIRDS and that fell flat. Vampires? Even if I hadn't had my fill with Anne Rice in high school and with Buffy/Angel right after that, I do believe Edward Cullen has ruined the genre for the rest of humanity and all of time. Harry Dresden works for me because it's from the POV of someone working to oppose those forces and it doesn't get overly angsty, and that's more or less what Ms. Hawk does here as well. There is some angst, thanks to that Big Misunderstanding, but I wasn't bothered by it because of the way it was resolved. The paranormal element takes front and center, and I liked seeing Whyborne struggle to understand it and resist its lure. I thought the family conflict was resolved a bit too neatly, but I'm willing to see if it's resolved for good or just put on hold due to traumatic circumstances. 


I really enjoyed Whyborne and Griffin. They're not as cut and dry as they appear to be. They both have past struggles to contend with and past regrets that haunt them, but they're a good match for each other. You could see Whyborne slowly growing more confident in himself as the book progressed. Griffin too gets some development, but as the story is told through Whyborne's POV, we only get to see it secondhand, but we do get to see it and experience it. Then there's Christine, who in my mind looks and acts much like Marvel's Agent Carter. She's the perfect woman and I hope she becomes a regular character and a part of their team. 


There were a few typos, words repeating where they should have been edited out (no, not the stutters), and a couple of other minor instances but nothing overly glaring. There was just the right amount of sex, at least for me. And while this isn't quite instalove, they do fall for each other fairly quickly if you pay attention to the timeline. Still, with the focus being primarily on the investigation, that didn't bother me all that much. I'm much more forgiving of that trope when the characters are able to get over themselves and focus on the actual plot instead of getting sidetracked constantly by feels and horniness. Not that there isn't some sidetracking, but it's not on every single page and they're able to act like mature adults.


Overall, I really enjoyed this one. I can see myself becoming a fan of this series if they continue to hold up to the standard set by this one. Plus, Widdershins sounds like a place that can get Hellmouthy, so I'm looking forward to what their future adventures might entail. 

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