Hard Luck Girl

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Topshee Johnston and his mystery/thriller novel Hard Luck Girl.

Author’s description:

Hard Luck Girl is a mystery about prostitution in a location better known for gardens than gangsters — Victoria, British Columbia.

Rose’s life has never been easy. When she finds her pimp murdered it gets a whole lot harder. At first, she sees it as an opportunity but discovers the status quo has been disrupted and she’s not at the top of the food chain, not even close.

Avoiding psychopaths, police, and friends like thieves, there is no one she can turn to for help not once she discovers a pimps life is cheap, a prostitute’s even cheaper.

Stuck between the desire for a better life and holding on to hers, is a needle she’s not sure she can thread. But maybe Hard Luck is better than no luck at all?

“A gritty novel with a surprising and strong female lead. Johnston offers all the expected hard-boiled elements in this mystery—including shady characters, near misses with the police, rampant sex, drug use, and violence.” – Kirkus Review

My Review:

In Hard Luck Girl, Topshee Johnston tells the story of a young prostitute who finds her drug-dealing pimp dead on page one. More importantly, he manages to  keep the reader (or at least this reader) cheering for this unlikely hero as she deals with the body, the customers, the other girls, the rival dealers, the cops, the slimy hotel manager, the nosy cleaning lady and the real money behind the entire sordid mess. No small feat, Mr. Johnston. Well done.

I appreciated how this book contained enough description to make it seem as if I was there, riding on the ferry, or there, in the run-down lobby of the hotel, and yet it never bogged down. The initial characters were all believable and their actions made sense, giving the plot an urgency that felt like real life. Honestly, I had trouble putting it down.

The book stumbles when it nears the end, however. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll only say the major villains didn’t ring as true as the other characters, and their motivations remained murky to me even after the last page. Parts of the ending were were confusing, and threads that mattered (to me at least) were left hanging.

Yet, it was a heck of ride up to that point. So, I recommend Hard Luck Girl to to anyone who enjoys hard-boiled crime novels and to other mystery fans willing to be a bit morally flexible with their story’s hero. This book will also appeal to those who like novels about women finding inner strength they didn’t know they had, and to people who enjoy tales of the downtrodden triumphing over those with more advantages. That’s a pretty good market share, I think.

About the Author:

Topshee Johnston, author of Hard Luck Girl, writes because it’s the only way to get his characters to stop talking to him. He lets them tell their story and trusts their voice. Once a story is finished, he moves on to the next in line.

He lives in Victoria, B.C with his wife and daughter and when he’s not writing, he’s skateboarding, playing guitar, or fly-fishing.

Connect with Canadian author Topshee Johnston on Goodreads, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or on his website.

Check out the book on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, and Indigo/Chapters!

Yes, there is a giveaway.

Topshee Johnston will be awarding a $20 Amazon/BN gift card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

My Favorite Excerpt:

As I closed the door, the squeaky wheels of the cleaning lady’s cart came around the corner. A sound I’d heard many times, disregarded until now. In my rush to get here, I’d forgotten to put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the handle of my room. To run back upstairs and take care of it would look crazy. Instead, I shut the door, because to neglect Linden Aubrey for a second was a second too long. The door’s latch clicked shut, extinguishing the daylight, my chance to make it back to my room before the cleaning lady, and a clean way out.

A Personal Note:

Besides enjoying this book, I got a kick out of reading Topshee Johnston’s reason for writing. I have a similar problem, and a queue of people in my own head, insisting their stories be told.

I hope he makes his way through all of his characters before he’s done, and I wish him and the stories he’s compelled to tell the very best!

Rock House Grill

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author D. V. Stone and her romance/suspense novel, Rock House Grill.

Author’s description:

One man’s choices—One woman’s impact

Aden House, successful but driven chef and TV personality, refuses to slow down. His life implodes one night, damaging him both physically and emotionally. He’s rescued by a woman he thinks of as his angel.

Shay McDowell has rebuilt her life after her divorce. She juggles volunteer EMT duties and her job, while dreaming of becoming a chef. She finds her way to Rock House Grill and back into the life of the man she helped save.

Can love be the ingredient needed to survive the many obstacles they face?

My Review:

In Rock House Grill, D.V. Stone has written a novel sure to appeal to those who enjoy stories about good people who face challenges and ultimately enjoy happy endings.

What I liked best:

Although the suspense part of the novel plays second fiddle to the various romance stories, it is well done and engaging. There were enough creepy moments to create goosebumps and to keep me turning the pages, and the resolution of the suspense elements was satisfying.

I’ve worked in restaurants over the years, and I also enjoyed the accuracy and detail with which the food service industry was presented. They author knows her stuff. There was nice attention given to the descriptions of food and cooking techniques, as well as to the decor of various places.

What I liked least:

I’ve heard we all consider anyone who drives slower than us to be an idiot and anyone who drives faster than us to be a maniac. I wonder if there is a parallel for how we feel about behavior in novels. I’ve been known to complain about casts of murky characters in which no one has a moral compass and everyone cusses like a sailor. Explicit erotica makes me cringe and I like some happiness in my endings.

However, this is a book in which people don’t cuss at all (bat crap crazy is actually substituted for bat shit crazy) and they don’t even have implied sex, at least within the pages of this novel. Everyone except for the few designated bad people are more upstanding than the best people I know. (And I do know some really good folks.) It was interesting for me to discover I have a zone of behavior in which characters seem believable yet likable, and this book was outside my zone. I at least appreciated having them outside the zone in the less usual way.

I do recommend this book to all who enjoy sweet romances. I think such readers will appreciate the added bonuses of a well-done suspense side-plot and of fine attention to background detail.

Buy Rock House Grill on Amazon.

About the Author:

Born in Brooklyn, D.V. Stone has moved around a bit and even lived for a time on a dairy farm in Minnesota before moving back east. Despite her wandering, she always considered herself a Jersey Girl. She met the love of her life and moved, this time to Sussex County. Her husband, Pete, is a lifelong Sussex County man. They share their home with Hali a mixed breed from a local shelter and Baby a small gray cat who bosses everyone around.

She’s had varied career path from working with the disabled led to becoming a volunteer EMT, which in turn led to working in hospital emergency rooms and then in a woman’s state prison. After a few years, she took a break from medical tasks and became the owner of Heavenly Brew, a specialty coffee shop in Sparta NJ, and small restaurant in Lafayette. Life handed some setbacks, and she ended up back to medical field, but this time in a veterinary emergency hospital.

During the poor economy, she was laid–off from a long-time position she cared about. Devastated, D.V. wondered what to do with her life. Finding comfort in her love of reading, she realized it was now time to follow her dream of writing. It’s been a long road but worth every minute of it. Now a published author she also works in a people medical office again.

V. D. Stone says “Thank you for taking the time to read about me. Each time you open the pages to one of my books I hope you’ll be swept away by the story and to, never in the real world give up on hope.”

Find the Author on Facebook, Pinterest, or on Twitter. 

Visit the Author on her website.

 Yes, there is a giveaway.

D. V. Stone will be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift certificate to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour..

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

My Favorite Excerpt:

“Easy, you’re going to be okay.” A soft voice eased through the chaos around him. The owner of the voice grabbed his arms and held them in a firm but gentle grip. “I’m right here with you. You are not alone.” “Can hardly m-move.” His voice slurred. “C-can’t see anything.” “You’ve been in an accident. I’m an EMT with the ambulance squad,” the velvety voice calmly explained. “You can’t see well because we’re under a tarp. Hold still, okay?” “‘K.” A small light flickered at the edge of his vision. It shone into a bag next to him. Penlight. “You’re restrained to a board. It’s to keep your head from moving and causing more injury.” She continued to talk to him. The voice reached down somewhere inside him, calming and peaceful, so he focused on it. A glow from spotlights on the outside lit whatever covered them. The shadow gave the woman the appearance of a halo—like an angel.

The Kronicles of Korthlundia

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Jamie Marchant and her Epic Fantasy The Kronicles of Korthlundia.

Author’s description:

“Magic, love, hate, torture, heroes, and a story that will never stop blowing your mind!”  Cheree~For Love of Books

The three volumes of The Kronicles of Korthlundia plus The Ghost in Exile: A Korthlundian Kronicle brought together for one low price. In addition to the novels, the collection features several bonus short stories, previously available only to members of my readers’ club.

The Goddess’s Choice–In a world where the corrupt church hides the truth about magic, the fate of the joined kingdom falls on the shoulders of two young people from opposite ends of the social hierarchy.

Crown Princess Samantha’s life begins to fall apart when she starts seeing strange colors around her potential suitors. She fears that she’s going insane–or worse that she’s defying the Goddess’s will. Robrek is a lowly farm boy with incredible magical powers. He has been biding his time waiting to get revenge on those who call him a demon.

Thrown together by chance, they must overcome their differences to fight their common enemy Duke Argblutal, who, with dark magic, is slowly poisoning the king’s mind and turning him against his own daughter. Time is running out for those chosen by the Goddess to prevent the power mad duke from usurping the throne and plunging the joined kingdoms into civil war.

The Soul Stone– A match made by the goddess is threatened by an Ancient Evil.

As Samantha and Robrek prepare for their marriage and coronation, they are met with opposition on all sides. Not all believe that the peasant sorcerer is worthy to be king, and the young couple must perform delicate political maneuvers to prevent the joined kingdoms from breaking apart.

As the church splits over opposition to their union, an unseen force is poised to release an ancient evil that was last defeated a thousand years ago. When the Soul Stone is broken free of its bonds, all life in its path succumbs to its power. How much will the new royal couple have to sacrifice to free the joined kingdoms of its evil?

The Ghost in Exile—A special Kronicle outside of the series that tells the story of Darhour. The novel takes place at the same time as The Soul Stone. The Ghost is going to hell. Not even the goddess can forgive his sins: assassin, oath-breaker, traitor (an affair with the queen earned him that title). No one can ever learn the princess is his daughter. To keep this secret, he flees to the land that turned him from a simple stable groom into an infamous killer.

His mission now? To find evildoers and take them to hell with him. But when an impulsive act of heroism saddles him with a damsel who refuses to be distressed, her resilience forces him to question why he really ran from his daughter.

The Shattered Throne– Queen Samantha’s spirit brightens as the festival of renewal approaches. The Ancient Evil that drained life from the land has been destroyed, and life is returning to the joined kingdoms. The birth of her heir gives her even more reason to celebrate. But a coup orchestrated by the unlikely alliance between a freedom-loving count and a fanatical church shatters both her plans and the ancient throne itself.

With her infant daughter missing and death and destruction spreading, Samantha finds herself faced with an impossible choice: save her daughter or her people. Already torn between a mother’s love and her duties as a queen, Samantha learns that an even greater danger threatens: the goddess herself is fading. What sacrifices will Samantha have to make to stop an evil god from taking Sulis’s place?

My Review:

In The Ghost in Exile, Jamie Marchant has written a book that is both character driven and action filled. It’s sure to delight fans of her The Kronicles of Korthlundia, and equally sure to please those who enjoy her genre.

This book is really two related stories told simultaneously. In one story, a kind and naive young man is taken advantage of and finally abused in so many ways that he is gradually lured into becoming one of the world’s great assassins.

In the second story, this same assassin is an older man who has said good-bye a daughter he only met recently. His heart is filled with sorrow, and he unexpectedly helps a foreign woman forced into prostitution. He decides to teach her to fight before he takes her back to her homeland.

What I liked best:

I much preferred the second story, although both are equally well told. In the second story, we meet Brigitta, the intelligent mother of two who is forced into prostitution and trained by the Ghost to fight. Yes, I have a great fondness for stories of women who rise far above the expectations of their society, and she joins the ranks of characters I truly enjoyed.

I also liked the back and forth approach between two related tales. In both stories, Marchant keeps her plot moving, and she keeps the interesting characters coming. I also appreciated that the hero known as the Ghost is, in his heart, a genuinely good guy, in spite of spending his adult life as a killer.

What I liked less:

I chose to review The Ghost in Exile, thinking it would be better to review a stand alone story  than one volume of a three book series. It wasn’t a great choice on my part, because I think this book would be best appreciated by those already introduced to The Kronicles. It’s a complicated world, here, and juggling two stories with strange places and names was daunting.

The tale of a kind boy turned into a killer by dire misfortune is a well-established and much beloved troupe, but it isn’t one of my favorites, because if the protagonist is truly good, then the events forcing him to behave in such a way have to be truly bad. Marchant delivers. The things that happen to this young man are every bit as horrific as they need to be, and while others may have an easier time reading such atrocities, I found myself tiring of the awfulness.

Also, this book felt more like background to a larger story. It lacks a grand sense of purpose (an giant evil to be stopped, a vexing problem to be solved) and seems like more of a biography on one hand, and a tale of a journey on the other.

That being said, they are both well done tales.

I do recommend this book to all fans of The Kronicles of Korthlundia, and to those who would appreciate following the adventures of an ambiguous hero trying to survive in a horrible world.

About the Author:

Jamie began writing stories about the man from Mars when she was six, and she never remembers wanting to be anything other than a writer. Everyone told her she needed a back up plan, so she pursued a Ph.D. in American literature, which she received in 1998. She started teaching writing and literature at Auburn University. One day in the midst of writing a piece of literary criticism, she realized she’d put her true passion on the backburner and neglected her muse. The literary article went into the trash, and she began the book that was to become The Goddess’s Choice, which was published in April 2012. Her other novels include The Soul Stone, The Ghost in Exile, The Shattered Throne, and The Bull Riding Witch. In addition, she has published a novella, Demons in the Big Easy, and a collection of short stories, Blood Cursed and Other Tales of the Fantastic. Her short fiction has also appeared in the anthologies Urban Fantasy, Of Dragons & Magic: Tales of the Lost Worlds, and Waiting for a Kiss. She claims she writes about the fantastic . . . and the tortured soul. Her poor characters have hard lives. She lives in Auburn, Alabama, with her husband and five cats, which (or so she’s been told) officially makes her a cat lady.  She still teaches writing and literature at Auburn University. She is the mother of a grown son.

Find her on Facebook, Goodreads, or on Twitter. 

Visit her on her website, or email her at jamie-marchant@jamie-marchant.com

Buy her books on Amazon.

Yes, there is a giveaway.

Jamie Marchant will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN gift certificate to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

 

 

 

Once Upon a Time, Bitches

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Branden LaNette and her self-help book Once Upon a Time, Bitches. Author’s description of the book:

That’s Branden on the cover. Yes, she has a boy’s name, a Mom bod, and her tattoos are not photo shopped. She doesn’t look like your typical author and she sure doesn’t look like the next self-help Instagram sweetheart.

However, besides being a wife, mom to six kids (plus others with fur), coach and business owner, Branden is the author of the new book, Once Upon a Time, Bitches. It’s a fast paced, in your face, expletive laced, nothing held back message to women everywhere: There is no magic fairy tale, but if YOU work at it enough you can come pretty close to creating your version with a happily ever after.

But first, no more whining and no more damsel locked in a tower, bullshit. Is it possible to design a fairy tale life? Control your destiny? Be the hero in your story? Branden thinks there is and she wants to help you.

A personal note from me:

I don’t generally read self-help books and I’ve never reviewed one. But given this a blog about empowering women, this particular book seemed a fine fit. I’m so glad I took the chance.

My Review:

In Once Upon a Time, Bitches, Branden LaNette has written a fast-paced, funny book so good you will hardly realize you’re being given advice to improve your life.

My own advice to you is to (1) read this book, (2) laugh while you do it and (3) wake up the next day with your life a little better on track. Then (4) buy a copy for someone you love.

Best things about this book:

1. It is solid advice told in funny and entertaining way.

2. There is just enough about the author to make you like and believe her and not so much that it becomes all about her, not you.

3. This should only be a 100 page book and guess what? It is.

4. Her humble I’m-no-better-than-you-are-at-this-shit approach is endearing and convincing.

The worst things I can say about this book:

1. The foul language is a shock. It reminded me of the musical “The Jersey Boys.” I spent the first minutes thinking wow, I didn’t know people could use the word fuck that many times in a sentence. Then I got used to it and loved the show. In a similar fashion, by about 10 pages into this book, I loved it, too. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had to acclimate first.  

2. There is no giant revelation here, but that’s not the author’s fault. There really isn’t one to reveal. We know the secrets to a good life are the easy-to-say and hard-to-do things like take responsibility, forgive others, and love yourself. I, at least, struggle to do these things on a good day, so I certainly benefited from hearing them again, and appreciated them being stated so bluntly.

So, who would I recommend this book to?

Anyone who happens to be a human. Others need not bother.

About the Author:

Branden LaNette doesn’t look like a typical author but she has long ignored what she “should” do, say and look like. On her own at a very young age, Branden eventually found herself with the wrong guy, the wrong job, and a bleak future. The fairytale she was promised as a child never materialized.

Finally, Branden decided that she wanted something different for her life, and realized no one was going to do it for her. Prince charming wasn’t coming to save her—she’d have to save herself.

Step by step, decision by decision, through major trials and tribulations that would stop most people in their tracks, Branden learned how to turn heartbreak into happiness and self-judgement into inner joy.

Today, Branden LaNette is an entrepreneur, coach, speaker, wife, and stay-at-home Mom to six C-section babies (ages 1-16) and way too many f-ing pets. Somehow, however, she manages to juggle all of this effortlessly (a blatant lie) while pushing her way through the kinds of fear and self-doubts that whisper within all of us (totally true) to achieve her goals. Her most recent dream come true is this book, one that is destined to have a major impact on millions of women across the globe (or at least nine people in Michigan.)

Through it all, she has found her happiness, her joy, and more importantly, her voice.

Find her on Facebook  or on Twitter, visit her on her blog, and buy One Upon a Time Bitches on Amazon.

Yes, there is a giveaway.

Branden LaNette will be awarding a $50 Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift certificate to a randomly drawn winner via raffle copter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops.

Enjoy this excerpt :

Ever since I was 8 years old, I dreamed of an easy life. The problem with my dream? I expected that fairy tale life to be handed to me. And when it wasn’t, I decided that fairy tales were bullshit. Not that you can’t have a fairy tale life—you can. What I understand now, however, is that to get a fairy tale life, you’d better be willing to work your Cinderella-ass off for it.

Still, I held on to the fantasy of having an easy life handed to me. I wanted to be saved. To be specific, I thought I needed a guy to be my hero. So I went about trying to find one.

I dated a lot of guys. Lots of guys.

But as they came and went, I always ended up disappointed. Not a single one of them ever made my life easier. Things weren’t going the way I’d planned. WTF? Hadn’t anyone read the fucking script? It was right there on page 43:

“Tall handsome guy with tight ass, great pecs and a 124-foot yacht named “Shitload of Cash” enters stage-left and sweeps Branden off her feet, and they sail off to Barbados.”

Even in my adult years, I would find myself just wishing—not just for prince charming to appear (which he eventually did in the form of my husband, minus the yacht and gobs of cash) but wishing for things in every area of my life. Even today, in my writing/coaching career, I find myself drifting into wish-mode: Why isn’t this easier? Why can’t things just take off and grow overnight? Is it always going to be this hard?

And when it comes to parenting, it’s the same thing. Why can’t parenting just be easy? And in my marriage, too: Why do I have to keep asking for things? Can’t my husband just read my fucking mind?

One day I—still 8 years old—had the most terror-filled realization in a simple yet profound truth:

No one is coming to save you.

Fuck. No one is coming to rescue me. Ever?

My heart broke. More like shattered. Yet, after taking some time to mentally digest this fact, I found this realization liberating somehow. Why was this liberating? Because it meant I could stop waiting for something outside myself for my salvation.

It put me in control. Newsflash, bitches: No one is coming to save you, either. Get it? No. One. Is. Coming. You’re going to have to save yourself.

Reviews: Giving Them

As an author, I spend a lot of time thinking about getting reviews. But today, I want to look at the other side of the coin.

I’ve been giving more book reviews lately. Why? Well, it’s a fun way to get out of my own head for a while, see what others are doing, and hopefully help other writers as well. We all want reviews.

Do I have guidelines for myself? You bet I do.

I  try to be both gentle and positive. Writing a book is hard work, and putting together an interesting and cohesive novel is a real accomplishment. I find it amazing how many people manage to do this every day. Who says our society is becoming illiterate? Some days I wonder if more people are writing books than are reading them.

So, kudos to all authors. This is not an easy thing you have done!

I don’t have much respect for reviewers who make rude remarks (or include insulting memes) to get a laugh from readers.  I have even less respect for them if they don’t write books themselves. I’m inclined to encourage all sincere attempts at creativity — be it musicians, fine artists, or writers.

Writers have a particular handicap, though. It takes far longer to read a book than to listen to a song or study a sketch. Our readers will be investing some serious time, even if they give up on the book. So, it is reasonable for a potential reader to want to know if this story is really worth the hours they will likely spend with it.

That means it is important for a review to be honest. I never like everything about a book and I’m sure you don’t either. Yet Amazon is full of reviews that make most books sold on the site sound perfect. Come on. We all know that isn’t true. Who writes these things?

The function of a review is to help another reader decide if they should read this particular novel. The most helpful thing a reviewer can do is point out what they enjoyed about the book and what gave them heartburn. There’s no reason not to do it with kindness, but it still needs to be done. A review entirely lacking in criticism isn’t a review, it’s an advertisement.

Disagree with any of the above? Feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to discuss it with you.

(A version of the above post was published on my general 46. Ascending blog as a preamble to re-posting all of my most recent reviews there. If you’d like to learn more about the seven books I’ve reviewed recently, all shown above, please check it out.)

Review: The Calculating Stars

Author Mary Robinette Kowal doesn’t know anything about me …. so it’s not possible she understood that when she wrote “The Calculating Stars,” she was writing the one book I could not possibly resist reading.

Perhaps she was aware of the many women of my generation and older who can still remember the landing on the moon, and the fervor afterwards with which so many people wanted to go do that, too.

Some of those who were watching knew they could maybe do this. And some of us knew we couldn’t. And some of us thought that fact was terribly unfair.

Star Trek was exploring strange new worlds back then, and they had room aboard ship for my idol Lieutenant Uhura, and for whatever female ensign Captain Kirk had his eye on that week. Jane Fonda’s Barbarella struck me as more silly than admirable, but at least she was in outer space, too.

So, after the first landing on the moon, I bravely declared to my mother that I wished to become an astronaut. She looked at me curiously, like perhaps I possessed some troublesome quality she hadn’t been aware of.

“Find a more realistic ambition,” was all she said. I never brought it up again.

When I was little, my father flew small planes. Yet, he seemed every bit as puzzled as my mother once was, when years later I told him I had started to take flying lessons. I was out of college by then, making okay money as a technical writer. This is what I wanted to do with those earnings. I thought he’d be proud.

“Okay ….. ” was all he said. Before long, he sent me all his study manuals on flying, with a simple note. “If you’re going to be a pilot, be a good one.”

It would be decades more before I learned that he once flipped a plane while trying to land it, and had never flown again. The story we’d been told as kids was that it “got too expensive” for him to fly.

And it is expensive. Much as I loved it, I clearly was never going to be a commercial pilot, much less an astronaut. Before too long I moved on to other, more realistic dreams.

Then along comes this book.

It’s not just about women in space, it’s about women my mother’s age getting to go. Give me a break. How does this happen?

Oh. The blurb says a meteorite hits the earth and threatens to destroy all life. That’s all it takes to get women in the 1950’s into the space program? Cool. Bring on the meteorite. (Just kidding. Of course.)

Forgive the long preamble, but I felt I ought to explain why, by the time I was on about page 20, this had become my favorite book of all time.  A little context can be helpful.

Now, for a more objective look.

Pilot and mathematician Elma York is well qualified for the space program and she wants to join it. Author Kowal recognizes the difficulties of creating a character with a brilliant mind who is also a highly skilled aviator, is beautiful, is well liked by her family and friends, and who has a loving husband as talented as she is.

Kowal gives her an Achilles heel to balance out her many gifts and to make her goal of getting into space more difficult. On occasion I thought she took this “little problem” a bit further than was believable for a woman who had accomplished so much, but it did work to make the plot more interesting, and to make Elma a more believable human.

She also chose to give her an ethnicity (Jewish, right after WWII), which I thought was interesting but less pertinent to the story. Perhaps it ties better into the previous short works, or it will tie more into the sequels?

Much of the beginning of the book has to do with the meteorite and it’s aftermath. This part is chilling, and incredibly well written. I could hardly put the book down.

The second part centers on the accelerated space program being developed to help save humanity. Here Elma York encounters the sexism of much of the military, but she also faces the ingrained, even almost silly sexism of the time period. (Astronettes? Really?) It rings true.

Luckily, she is surrounded and supported by a strong group of women, many of them fellow pilots and quite a few of them also women of color, who are facing a whole ‘nother set of unfortunate biases. These women have a handful of male allies (including Elma’s husband) and, to no ones surprise, eventually they all prevail.

Kowal accepting the Hugo award

Kowal does try to bring in details about how her society reacts to the climate change brought on by the meteorite, and in doing so she obliquely addresses our own society’s struggles with abating climate change. She doesn’t hit you over the head with the comparison, and it adds a nice bit of social consciousness to the story.

The book is suspenseful in that the reader wants to see Elma go into space and wants to learn how she does it. However, it lacks any large plot twists or deep philosophical ideas. (Both of those are things I love in books.) So I have to admit this is more of “just a fun story” about talented and good people getting to do what they ought to be doing. It’s a cheer along book, but instead of being about a little league team or some such thing that doesn’t interest me, it’s about women getting to what I always wanted to do. So. I really enjoyed cheering along.

 

 

 

 

The Maine Nemesis

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author R. Scott Wallis and his novel The Maine Nemesis.

Author’s description of the book:

Fiercely independent, insatiably curious, and always up for an adventure, public relations hotshot Skyler Moore is a hero for our time. She’s decidedly not a sleuth by trade, but mayhem often comes knocking as she and her friends visit the small towns and big cities of America.

In “The Maine Nemesis,” Skyler decides to spend the summer at her seaside cottage in Wabanaki, Maine, with her best friend—celebrity chef Brenda Braxton—and they have no idea that murder will be on the menu. But women are turning up dead in the once sleepy village where nothing ever happens. With the residents up in arms and the rinky-dink police force overwhelmed, Skyler and her friends feel compelled to lend a hand to save the town they love so much. The backdrop is classic New England Americana: lobster rolls, the whole town out for the Fourth of July, and summer evenings cooled by the ocean breeze. That…and an occasional murder, a kidnapping, and a few dangerous liaisons.

Skyler’s mile-a-minute adventure will keep you turning the pages to see what comes next for her and her Down East ‘friends.’

My Review:

The Maine Nemesis is a crime novel set in New England, seasoned with plenty of small town intrigue and a lot of great cooking. You’ll absolutely want to have lobster for dinner before you are done reading the book.

Things I especially liked:

  1. This is a well told story with a large cast of characters, all of whom have plausible and detailed pasts. The small town drama and the individual struggles ring true. Some of the back stories are pretty sad, actually, but they are realistic and they roll well into the greater plot.
  2. I always find it fun when two female friends team up to accomplish something. The friendship between Skylar and Brenda, her childhood-friend-turned-cooking-show-celebrity, is the centerpiece of this novel.
  3. The description of the food will put five pounds on you just reading it :). Seriously, it’s that good.

What did I struggled with?

One thing, basically, but it was a big thing. I tried, I really tried, to like the main character and her best friend, but while I appreciated their friendship, they seemed like two rich, spoiled, and shallow women inserting themselves into a local crime scene while complaining about how miserable it was to travel first class on a commercial airlines instead of by private jet.

I’m sure there are those who’d find Skylar and Brenda glamorous, and would enjoy their adventures all the more for their airs, but they didn’t work well for me.

None-the-less, I appreciate the author crafting a complex mystery and skillfully placing it in a setting that was fun to explore. I recommend the book to anyone who likes to read about amateur sleuths.

About the Author:

Scott Wallis is endlessly inspired by his surroundings and adventures. And he thrives on new chapters and creating unique projects to keep himself out of trouble. Scott started his working life as an advance person and assistant to a sitting United States Vice President. Later, he served as the creative director for a leading Washington think tank. That led to working directly for one of the richest men on Earth, conceiving and executing exclusive events for his billionaire friends. Tired of working for the man, Scott became a top-rated pop-culture podcaster and celebrity interviewer, while also dabbling in both the worlds of clothing manufacturing (creating his own baby clothes brand that was sold in over 300 stores nationwide) and retail sales, with his own well-received men’s clothing store.

Always willing to lend a hand or donate what he can, he’s an enthusiastic philanthropist, championing causes such as childhood bullying, animal adoption, and feeding the less fortunate. A wide-eyed world traveler, Scott has been to four continents, mostly by sea. While he loves exploring Europe and the Caribbean islands, it’s the vast United States that he likes best. He’s been to Alaska four times, Hawaii twice, and can’t wait to explore the eight states he hasn’t been to yet. Technically a Connecticut Yankee, Scott grew up in historic Williamsburg, Virginia, and lived for 25 years in the Washington, D.C. area, before recently discovering that the American West is where he is most at home. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Learn more about R. Scott Wallis at the following places: His website. On Facebook.

Buy this book on Amazon. It is on sale for only $0.99!

R. Scott Wallis will be awarding a $50 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops and find many more ways to enter and to win!

Final Note:  I received a free pdf of this book, which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.

 

What makes it a romance novel?

It happened again. I was reading along, really enjoying a novel described as science fiction. Then about three quarters of the way through, a side romance, previously hinted at, took over the plot, and much of the remainder of the story involved making sure these two hot people ending up having sex and, in this case, living happily after. Other threads were dropped or swept aside.

So. Let’s be blunt. I think sex is wonderful. I agree love is the greatest thing in the universe. I like it when people live happily ever after, or at least I’m allowed to think they will.  However, romantic love (in all its trials and tribulations) doesn’t carry a plot for me.

I like action, intrigue, and surprises. I enjoy puzzles, and profound thoughts.  So why do I end up reading so many romance novels and then complaining about it in the reviews?

It took a bad review of one of my own books to get me to understand. This reader found my novel Shape of Secrets on Net Galley. I had to pick a couple of categories for it, and I chose Fanatsy and LGBT novels. The story is about a gay human chameleon who has a romance with another man who struggles with prejudice his home country. The categories seemed reasonable. Coltostallion didn’t agree.

I’m going to start by saying that I didn’t like this book. I’m still giving it three stars because the issue is not that it wasn’t a good book, it’s just not a book I liked. I will also say that I, personally, would not consider this an LGBT book so much. Some might say any LGBT character means the book deserves this tag, but while the book contains romantic relationships I would not consider it romance and this is the same reason I would personally not consider it LGBT.

As for the story itself, it was well written and the plot is very interesting.

I understand. (I also appreciate the compliment.)

For although my main character falls in love and makes himself look like other people in order to save the day, the last part of the book … the climax if you will … is all about who murdered his boss and framed his friend. It’s about catching this person and bringing them to justice. Whether I like it or not, I didn’t write a fantasy novel or an LGBT one.  I wrote a murder mystery, and the people who will enjoy this book are people who like crime novels. The other parts are window dressing. My mistake.

I think other authors are having the same problem.

I’m trying to do more reviews on my blogs, and I wish to encourage and support independent speculative fiction writers, especially women, who historically have not been given as much of a voice. I also like strong women protagonists.

So I’ve been signing up to review any fantasy or science fiction I think fits that niche.

I know the biggest chunk of online book sales goes to romance novels. Primarily written by women and for women, they take place in ancient Rome and on Alpha Centauri. They involve murders, politics and philosophy. However, the climax (by this I do mean the most intense action in the last quarter of the book or so) is primarily about two beings realizing they are attracted to each other and overcoming obstacles so they can act upon that knowledge.

Little of that ending has to due with slave revolts, halcyon beams or lawyers’ closing statements (except as it furthers the ultimate hook-up). It doesn’t matter if they are vampires or live in feudal Japan. The emphasis makes it a romance novel, no matter where it takes place or what else the author calls it.

So why are so many women authors leaving the word romance out of their descriptions? Perhaps there is some stigma attached? There shouldn’t be, but maybe women prefer to tell themselves or others they read some romance, and some historical fiction. A little sci-fi. Does it feel more well-rounded?

Or is the story of two lovers finding each other so compelling to many women writers that they assume it is how all readers want the story to end?  Get rid of that pesky dragon revolt and let’s move on to the good stuff? The story’s not over till the two hot people f**k? Maybe it is simply how they view a story.

The sad result of this, as least to me, is that my average rating for women authors is well below my average for men. Even though I’ve sworn to read the blurbs carefully, and avoid romance novels in disguise, they keep creeping up on me.

On the flip side, I’m taking a harder look at my own novels, forcing myself to define what it is I’ve written. Sure there are blends and grey areas, but when it comes down to the action at the end, every novel reveals it’s reason for being.

What is it the main character wants more than anything? Justice? Freedom? Understanding? Health? Enlightenment? A second chance? The universe is full of things to crave, and I’ll keep seeking out books about women, men and imaginary creatures who want things that fascinate me.

 

 

Our Own Kind of Porn

I’ve discovered something disturbing about my recent book reviews. I’ve only done eight of them, but I have consistently rated the male authors (all four of them) higher than the female writers (there were four of them too.)

In fact, my average rating for women’s books is over a point lower (3 stars versus 4.25 out of five.) What is going on ? I’m a feminist! I’m a huge fan of women authors and a strong supporter of women anything! Am I secretly sexist?

I took a closer look at the books. The four by men include a haunting murder in the Sahara (Deep Sahara), a contemporary thriller about witness protection (Empty Promises), a teen action novel about an ancient artifact (The Ancient Tripod of Peace) and, most surprisingly, a sensitive story of a woman recovering from rape (Off Season) which I reviewed on this blog.

I was glad I read all four books.

All four of the books by women basically centered around two people who really wanted to have sex with each other, who couldn’t or didn’t for various reasons, and then who did, often for many pages. I wasn’t particularly glad I read any of them.

If you don’t like that kind of book, why did you read them? That is a fair question.

The first book was billed as a fantasy romance (Realm of the Dragon). I like fantasy books a lot, but I didn’t get that the genre designation means it is a romance novel that happens to occur in a fantasy setting. My mistake. I didn’t enjoy it.

The second book (First Impressions) was designated an M/M romance. Okay. My protagonist in y1 is gay and has a romantic interest, so I though I would read this one to see how the author handled issues of discrimination and social acceptance with sensitivity. Maybe I could learn something. Uh, yes. I did learn a lot, but it came from multiple-page-long detailed descriptions of every possible gay sex act. I was traveling internationally while reading the book and the descriptions were so thorough I feared being arrested for trafficking in porn.

I won’t make that mistake again.

The third book (Duke du Jour) billed itself as a time travel romance. I love time travel books. How can there not be time travel in this book, I reasoned. There was. The male hunk hit his head and woke up in another time period where he proceeded to not have sex with the female head-strong beauty for the required many chapters. I will say, this author did a lot of research to make her story historically accurate, and I enjoyed learning about the Napoleonic time period. She is the only she to which I gave four stars.

So. Absolutely no more romance novels, I promised myself, no matter what else they claim to be. If it says romance anywhere in the blurb, I will not review it. It is not only fair to me, it is more fair to the romance writing world.

Enter Cloud Whispers, a novel about a woman’s metaphysical awakening after a near death experience. Now this sounds cool, I thought. She’s happily married, got a lot going on, and the book calls itself women’s fiction. Yes. Not a romance novel.

Guess what? The main character has a sister who is, wait for it, an unattached head-strong beauty. Her husband has a brother who is really rich (they usually are) and smokin’ hot (they always are) and you guessed it. Most of the story is these two lusting after each other until they finally do the deed.

Arrgghhh. I was all the more annoyed because I felt like I had been mislead.

I ended up asking myself three questions.

  1. What’s wrong with reading about romance? Nothing. I have no quarrel with lust or love and think they are a great when combined together. If that is what someone likes to read, than that is what they should read. I also have no objection to details that would make a crow blush, although if one is going to go there, I think it’s nice to warn a reader beforehand.
  2. Why don’t you like to read romance? I guess I don’t read to get aroused. I read to learn things and travel places and solve puzzles and understand people. Romance novels provide little if any of that. I find them too predictable. I often find them preoccupied with physical attractiveness, which I think is kind of shallow. They tend towards preoccupation with wealth and fashion, which I think is definitely shallow. I’d rather let my nether regions find their fun elsewhere.
  3. Why do so many women write romance? Because so many women read it. Romance novels are the largest segment of the book industry, particularly the fast growing online book segment. Why do so many women read it? Hold on a minute and I’ll offer my theory.

I heard that 90% of the content on the internet is pornographic pictures and videos. Really? I went searching to see if that had any basis in fact. According to this article in Forbes (yes, Forbes really does have an article about how much porn is on the internet) it is more like 5 to 15%, almost exclusively enjoyed by males. The most popular site (and sight) is a live webcam arrangement where a woman will strip for a man while talking to him.

We all understand. Most men are visually stimulated.

Most women are not, or not so much so. Watching hard core porn actually makes me want to not have sex.

However, we tend to be a verbal gender. By that I mean most women are more verbal than most men, although judgements about specific individuals should not be made. (Most men are better at math then most women, but I’m better at math than 98% percent of either and I’ve got the test scores to prove it, so best not judge my math ability when you see my boobs ….)

Anyway, it has finally occurred to me that steamy romance novels have become (and maybe always were) the feminine version of porn. Judging from the sales numbers, we women as a group might enjoy our version of sexual stimulation more than the guys. We’re certainly entitled to it.

However, if I want to compare male and female authors,  I need to find that smaller percent of women authors who are writing “real” books. (My designation and I take responsibility for it.) They are out there. Many of them fill my shelves and are my idols. I need to get smarter about reading between the lines of book descriptions, so I only select novels by those of any gender that I have good chance of enjoying.

I hope to do a follow up on this post months from now, comparing stats on how I’ve rated non-romance writing women and their male counterparts. I’m confident I will be praising female authors as well, and the numbers will support my assertion that both genders can and do tell stories that speak to my heart and mind and soul.

 

 

Review: Off Season

This is a blog devoted to women’s issues, and I don’t usually review books here. However, I’m making an exception for Off Season, and will do so again for books related specifically to the challenges women face.  See the end of this post for details about reviews on this blog.

Review Summary: E.S. Ruete tells a difficult story with compassion and bursts of eloquence. I rate it 3.8/5.0. My full review is below.

About this book: Dottie woke up wondering where she was and why she was so cold. The first thing she noticed was that she must be outside – she was lying on cold ground and snow was hitting her in unusual places. That’s when she noticed the second thing. Her skirt was pulled up past her waist and her panties were gone. Damn those bastards. It started to come back to her. Dottie is now on an odyssey; a journey not of her choosing; a journey of healing, integration, and reconciliation that will involve her partner, her friends, her enemies, her church, her whole community. And her rapists. As she fights her way through social stereotypes about rape and rape victims, she also finds the strength to overcome society’s messages of who she should be and lays claim her true self. But the memories, the loss, the anger – and the fears – never go away. No woman chooses to be raped. I asked Dottie why she chose to tell me a story of rape. She said that millions of women, hundreds every day, have stories of rape that never get told. She told her story because she could. Because she had to. Because maybe people would hear in a work of fiction a Truth that they could not hear in any other way.

About the author: E.S “Ned” Ruete is an author, speaker, group facilitator, women’s rights activist, LGBTQIPA+ ally, lay preacher, guitar picker, and business analyst. He is the author of Seeking God: Finding God’s both/and in an either/or world and Lead Your Group to Success: A Meeting Leader’s Primer.

Now retired, Ned lives in Niantic, Connecticut with his second wife. He continues to offer pro bono group facilitation and facilitation training to schools, churches, community groups and not-for-profit organizations. He has led strategic planning retreats for United Action Connecticut (UACT), Fiddleheads Food Co-op, and ReNew London. He is actively involved in LGBTQIPA+ advocacy and annually attends and presents sessions at the True Colors Conference. He is a member of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) formerly served on the Association Coordinating Team (ACT, the IAF Board of Directors). He was associate editor of Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal and has contributed articles to Group Facilitation, The Facilitator, and other publications on group facilitation and management consulting.

Off Season is Mr. Ruete’s first fiction work. See his consulting products at MakingSpaceConsulting.com and his books at MakingSpaceConsulting.com/Publish.

Individual Author Links for Ned Ruete:
Twitter
FaceBook

Giveaway: The author will be awarding a $50 Amazon/BN gift card at the end of the tour. Learn more and register to win.

My full review: This is only partly a heartfelt tale about the effects of rape. It is just as much the story of an older lesbian woman seeking acceptance from her church after having spent years living with her partner but hiding the true nature of their relationship.

What I liked best.

  1. At first, it is hard to fathom why a man would write such a book. Many women would be inclined to think this story should be told by those who can tell it authentically. Yet, when the author explains that Dottie appeared in his head to demand he tell her story, I understood. (I’ve had characters do that, too.) Indeed, he channels her emotions with all the understanding one could ask for. My favorite quote from the book:

We don’t have a word for what is taken from us in rape, but the only thing more intimate, more personal, more important, more irreplaceable is a life. We need a name for this thing, so we can talk about it, understand it, learn about the pain that comes when it is lost.

  1. The author picks an unlikely rape victim, I think at least partly to make the point that sexual attraction and interaction are not at the root of sexual assault. Dottie doesn’t fit society’s stereotype of beauty, she is older and a little overweight. Her complete lack of sexual interest in men makes it clear no misunderstood flirtation is involved, in spite of accusations to the contrary. Dottie’s assault is conveyed without an ounce of eroticism. In fact, the author has one of the perpetrators consider after-the-fact how different real sexual assault is from the fantasies he has had.
  2. This is not a story of despair, it is a story of courage. There is no sugar coating of the trauma or the recovery, yet there is recovery, not only by Dottie but by others as well. Assault survivor Alice, who is also the mother of a transgender child, was an excellent complex character. I loved her approach of “I’m still listening.”

What I liked least.

  1. This is as much about LGBTQ+ acceptance by fundamentalist Christians as it is about sexual assault. I wholeheartedly support this acceptance, but, like many readers, I am not part of this sort of Christian community. I had a great deal of trouble understanding why Dottie stayed with this church, or cared what its members thought of her. The author spends a lot of time presenting his arguments for this acceptance, including descriptions of biblical characters and actual quotes from the bible. If that is ones moral yardstick, I suppose these arguments are needed, but I thought they belonged in a different book, one written specifically for a Christian audience struggling with this issue. I found myself skipping over the lengthy sermons and religious debates, anxious to get on with Dottie’s story of recovery.
  2. On the other hand, the book is short; in my opinion shorter than it should be. I felt several secondary characters warranted having more of their stories told, and resolution reached. Many threads are dropped concerning Dottie’s struggles and concerning the criminal investigation and eventual fates of her attackers. I understand this is not meant to be a crime book, but those of us who came to the book based on its description understandably want to hear the full story we came for, and more about secondary characters we learn to appreciate.
  3. The book would benefit from a few minor corrections. At least twice the author drops into present tense mid-paragraph. While I am a fan of changing points of view, they approach a dizzying pace on some pages. Also, each chapter begins with lyrics from well known songs. I understand how tempting that is, because music is so powerful, but I doubt these lyrics were used with permission of the artists and believe a book about respect for others should do better in this regard.

In spite of these flaws, I commend the author for his deft handling of difficult topics and recommend this book to advocates of social justice everywhere.

Buy this book on Amazon.

The excerpt I liked best: (The font of the following excerpt is to indicate that the character is having a flashback.)

“This is bullshit.”

 “Now Sheri, we don’t use that language here.”

 “The hell we don’t. ‘Bullshit’ is a lot less dangerous than the language you’re using. Telling me that it was my fault, that I wanted it, that I probably enjoyed it. You weren’t there. You didn’t have some … jock sitting on your belly holding your nose while he poured liquor down your throat. … You didn’t get raped. And raped and raped and raped. “

 “Now Sheri, talk like that doesn’t help anyone.”

 “It helps me.”

 “No, it doesn’t. You’re fixating again. To recover …”

 “Recovery, hell…The girl was raped. Rape is not an issue. It’s not an obsession or compulsion or neurosis you recover from. It’s not an addiction that you are in recovery from. It’s not something you own, it’s something that owns you. It’s a violation. It’s a big gaping wound. If you’re lucky you survive it and it heals over, but it leaves a scar that is always there. You don’t recover from it. You don’t even get to the place where you say you’re in recovery. You just is. ‘Raped’ is a part of you the rest of your life. But you wouldn’t know about that, you tight-assed little white male f…”

This review is part of a book review tour sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions.
Read more reviews at:
May 8: Stormy Nights Reviewing and Bloggin’
May 17: Emily Carrington

If you are interested in a review from me: I hope to review more books relating specifically to women’s issues. I am willing to review both non-fiction and fiction. Please do not ask me to review romance novels here, or stories which promote any particular religion. If you would like to be considered for a review contact me at Teddie (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

Final Note:  I received a free pdf of this book, which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.