jmc_bks: (star fort kinsale)

Originally posted at WordPress.

Bear, Otter and the Kid by T.J. Klune

© 2011, published by Dreamspinner Press

Three years ago, Bear McKenna’s mother took off for parts unknown with her new boyfriend, leaving Bear to raise his six-year-old brother Tyson, aka the Kid. Somehow they’ve muddled through, but since he’s totally devoted to the Kid, Bear isn’t actually doing much living—with a few exceptions, he’s retreated from the world, and he’s mostly okay with that. Until Otter comes home.

Otter is Bear’s best friend’s older brother, and as they’ve done for their whole lives, Bear and Otter crash and collide in ways neither expect. This time, though, there’s nowhere to run from the depth of emotion between them. Bear still believes his place is as the Kid’s guardian, but he can’t help thinking there could be something more for him in the world... something or someone.

I’m not entirely certain how this book came to my attention.  Maybe a give away, or a review online somewhere?  The blurb reminded me a great deal of the plot of the movie Shelter, and it prompted me to see how a novel might treat the same general plot.

As the blurb indicates, Derrick (aka Bear) is acting in loco parentis for his mother, who abandoned his young half-brother, Tyson (aka the Kid) to him just as Bear finished high school, putting the kibosh on any plans Bear had for a college education or escaping her white trash ethos.  He’s lucky, though, in that he has a strong support network made up of his childhood friends and their families, who stick with him for emotional and financial support as he raises the Kid, a “vegetarian eco-terrorist-in-training”.  In addition to Creed, his BFF, and Anna, his girlfriend and other BFF,  who have been physically present for the last three years, there is Oliver (aka Otter), Creed’s older brother  who was an original part of the support network but who disappeared abruptly for reasons that are made clear very early – there’s huge tension between Bear and Otter because Bear, ostensibly straight, kissed Otter, out and gay, while upset and drunk.  Otter disappeared, more or less, for three years because of his guilt over Bear kissing him and feeling he took advantage.  Until the beginning of the book, when he returns and all the tension comes to a head.  And that is just the set up of the book and the first couple of chapters! 

 With Otter’s return, the two of them have to negotiate some sort of truce or ruin their extended family unit.  Creed and Anna both notice the tension, and bug them to figure things out while not really understanding what the problem is.  The vast majority of what follows is Bear realizing he loves Otter, despite the fact that he is not gay and is not attracted to any other men.  In fact, he dismisses the idea of being “gay for you” as being impossible but for the fact that he does love and physically want Otter.  Otter is kind of a doormat, indulging Bear in whatever he wants relationship-wise and keeping everything on the down low in front of his brother and Anna.  Just as the two of them have begun to figure that out and are ready for the big reveal to Creed and Anna (who have a surprise of their own), potential disaster strikes, pushing them and their relationship back to square one.

There are the bones of a potentially good book buried here.  But the bones are buried deep.   The book read like a rough first draft, one that had not yet been betaed or reviewed by a crit group, let alone a content editor. Pacing, narration, and some language usage need tightening or review in the book.

Vacuous Minx, SarahFrantz, and I, among others, have noted on Twitter and elsewhere that many of Dreamspinner’s works need better content editing.  Even one of our mutual favorites, Sean Kennedy’s Tigers & Devils, could have been just a little bit better (from A- to A) with some words trimmed and the pacing tightened up.  And that is very much the case here.  BOatK was a Kindle book for me, and it had more than 9,000 “locations”; in comparison, an average mass market paperback usually has between 4,000 and 6,000.  Parts of the book dragged incredibly, and there was a great deal of repetitive angst that served no larger purpose.  Cutting a good third of the book would have been a mercy.

The Kid as a narrative device is both original and unoriginal.  He’s the center that Bear rotates around, and he’s essential to the plot.  And yet he’s conveniently absent or able to entertain himself through large chunks of the book, reappearing to give sage relationship advice to his older brother and to take care of him.  He’s quirky and different in his fascination with eco-terrorism, and his abandonment issues are realistic and very well done.  And yet his emotional intelligence is unrealistic for a child his age – having an eight year old give romantic advice to a twenty-one year old is just plain weird and kind of creepy.

The narration is by Bear in first person for the entire book, but for an epilogue narrated by Otter.  And in many places, the narrative style is extremely awkward and self-conscious.  Parts of the book scream for the POV of the other characters, but instead of changing POV, those passages are narrated by Bear in a “tell tell tell” fashion, filtered entirely through him and retold by him, even when dialogue or other stylistic devices could be used to better convey the events or speech/opinions/actions of the other characters.

The Gay4U trope and the relationship dynamic between Bear and Otter left me feeling uncomfortable, and I’m struggling to identify and articulate why.  I noted in a comment over at Vacuous Minx’s that a couple of the issues were: 1) failure to address the Gay4U issue other than to dismiss it out of hand completely while acknowledging that is exactly what Bear is for Otter – what a waste of an opportunity to actually explore the trope; and 2) the history of the relationship between Bear and Otter and the hints of very early attraction told via flashback, which seems a little squicky to me as it falls a little too closely into the gay=pedo smear.

The nicknames?   Cute for a minute and then irritating.

Bear comes perilously close to being a self-sacrificing Mary Sue.  And he spends large chunks of the book being an asshat, too.

Some words were used oddly.  For example, machismo for macho, tact for tack or tactic, etc.  At one point, Bear describes his eyes as being “tacky and crass” after crying himself to sleep; while I grasp what he meant, there is no usage of “crass” that makes sense in that context.

The ending is simultaneously delayed, in the sense that it should have come at least 10,000 words earlier, and abrupt in the sense that the HEA feels manufactured and way too soon for where Bear and Otter are in their relationship.

Someone on Twitter mentioned that the author is planning a sequel to this book, where some of the lingering questions and issues may be resolved, and that better pacing would come with practice and experience.  That’s a charitable position to take, but as a reader and consumer, I don’t appreciate being the testing or practice run for an author; if I’m paying full price for a book, I expect it to be polished and produced appropriately by the publisher, with the best efforts of both the author and the publisher.  The time for learning your craft is before you start asking people to pay for your work IMO.  (Yes, writers learn continuously and continue to hone their craft, but readers should be able to have minimum expectations of the books they buy, in terms of what the authors and publisher bring to the table and charge them for.)

As I read the book, I enjoyed it even as I noted all the things that were awkward or clunky or should have been fixed by a good editor.  But ultimately, I can’t really recommend this book to other readers without a huge caveat or warning.

jmc_bks: (star fort kinsale)
Title: Life After Joe

Author: Harper Fox

Publisher: Carina Press

Copyright: 2010

Other index info: m/m romance, set in the UK (Cumbria), debut (I think), ebook

It's not the breaking up that kills you, it's the aftermath.

Ever since his longtime lover decided he'd seen the "heterosexual light," Matt's life has been in a nosedive. Six months of too many missed shifts at the hospital, too much booze, too many men. Matt knows he's on the verge of losing everything, but he's finding it hard to care.

Then Matt meets Aaron. He's gorgeous, intelligent and apparently not interested in being picked up. Still, even after seeing Matt at his worst, he doesn't turn away. Aaron's kindness and respect have Matt almost believing he's worth it—and that there could be life after Joe. But his newfound happiness is threatened when Matt begins to suspect Aaron is hiding something, or someone...

Excerpt here.

Why this book?  I liked the cover art.  Call me shallow.

What did I think of it? felt like a debut, a little unpolished and heavily reliant on romance genre cliches.  I liked the bones of the story, the set up, and the setting.  Some of the characters were a bit predictable and cartoony.  The destructive behavior of the narrator made him a little unsympathetic at times (TSTL) and made me question his reliability.  The conflict felt forced (Big Mis! Returning Ex!) and the epilogue felt rushed and not yet believable, given the progression of the relationship; HFN would have felt more realistic than the implied HEA.  

Ultimate grade:  C

Keep or pass on?  It's an ebook, so I can't pass it on.

Would I read future books?  Certainly.  I liked the author's voice and style, even if the execution was a little uneven.
jmc_bks: (title2)
Today's SBD: an occasion when the paper beats the ebook.

I've been reading more and more ebooks, and fewer print books.  There are some authors I still buy in print, primarily series books that I've been reading for a while, like Robb's ...In Death books.  I've got the original paperback releases (back before everyone knew Robb was Nora Roberts) and the hardbacks from when the series transitioned to that format.  Owning paper for that series (and a few others) is a hard habit to break.  

But there are many authors I've discovered via browsing at Fictionwise and other booksellers; having discovered these new-to-me authors in e-format, I haven't felt any particular urge to buy a more "permanent" copy of their work to put on my Keeper Shelf.  (FWIW, the back ups of my ebooks?  Really don't have the same cachet in terms of keeper-dom as the shelf does.  It's not like I can point people to my external drive and say, hey, take a look at the pretty covers and blurbs.)

Anyway, back in October I read Steve Kluger's Almost Like Being in Love, which was excellent.  Check out the reviews here,  here and here. (I bought a copy after reading the first review.)  As I read the book on my iPhone, I kept thinking that the epistolary style must show better in print.  The narrative was told via memos, letters, court transcripts, emails, etc.  And the formatting on the iPhone, which can be a little wonky anyway because of the conversion to the electronic format from the manuscript, left a bit to be desired.  

Today as I was browsing in a bricks and mortar store (first time in a month!), I found a paper copy.  While flipping through it, I realized how much more visually attracting and pleasing the different presentations are in the paper copy than the ecopy.  The changing fonts make a difference, as does the pagination for the transcripts and the graphic/block-styling of the memos and emails.

I loved the book when I read the e-version, but how much more would I have squeed about it if I'd read the paper version?

I resisted the urge to buy a paper copy, because I don't *need* one.  But it was a very close thing.
jmc_bks: (flaming june)
Have you read Josh Lanyon's Adrien English mysteries?

If you haven't, you should.  

The last installment of the series, The Dark Tide, was released today at Loose Id and it is an amazingly satisfying wrap up of the series, both in terms of the mystery and in terms of where Adrien ends personally.

Unrelated:  Patrick Stewart in A Christmas Carol will be on TNT tomorrow night.  My ST: NG crush (Jean Luc Picard!) and my favorite holiday movie (well, other than the original Grinch cartoon), all wrapped up in one.  WIN!
jmc_bks: (TDS)
I have no objection to Harlequin opening its own vanity press as a business enterprise.

But I dunno. Labeling the vanity press "Harlequin Horizons", advertising it on Hqn forums, then saying it isn't going to be affiliated with Harlequin's "regular" publishing? Eh. At best that's disingenuous, at worst it is sleazy and deceptive. From a reader perspective, it feels like a sleight of hand. If I were a writer, it would feel like a cheap money-grab, especially since Harlequin is mislabeling the enterprise as self-publishing, when its business model is actually that of a vanity press.

I've purchased a self-published book, Matthew Haldeman-Time's Off the Record, which rocked my socks. In fact, it was the first gay romance I read, ever. One of my extended family published a family history narrative via a vanity press. It...was not the best piece of writing, frankly.


Amazon has posted its Ten Best lists. I've only read one of the books on the Romancelist, and it was DNF -- Julia Quinn's What Happens in London. I skimmed the first few pages of Smooth Talking Stranger at the bookstore and put it back on the shelf because the premise and the characters did not appeal. Bending the Rules is on the TBR for when I feel more like a straight contemporary. *shrug* That's fine, though. Different strokes and all.


The post office's track and confirm function tells me that they attempted delivery Monday evening at 6:52pm, then left a notice on my door. First, delivering at 7pm? The post office? I don't think so. Second, no, I was at home Monday evening and the weather was good enough that my front door was open, leaving just the storm door closed; no postal service employee knocked on my door. Third, no notice was left. Also, why is the package being held at a post office that does not belong to my zip code or deliver to my zip code ordinarily? I can't get through to a human being at the office because it either rang off the hook or was busy all day? Customer service fail across the board. How could anyone wonder why the postal service is going bankrupt with crappy service like this?


Read a very brief Japanese-set historical today. Need to re-read. Was interesting. Not sure about sense of place. Setting and characters felt non-Western, but not all that historical. Notot sure how realistic setting and characters would have been, even taking liberties of genre fiction and the inherent fantasy.
jmc_bks: (armada4 - 08 Davis Cup)
After reading Joan/SarahF's post, Four Ways to NOT Write BDSM Romance, and the accompanying thread, I went back and reread James Buchanan's Hard Fall.  And I also gave Anah Crow's Uneven another go 'round, in part because last month I read her collaboration with Dianne Fox, Becoming Us, and enjoyed it. [Liked  the writing despite some minor flaws -- too much sex, not enough outside  activity.]  Both books were problematic for me the first time I read them:  Buchanan's book because of the voice of the narrator and Crow's because of the s/m.

Am not sure what happened as I read Hard Fall this time; the grammar of the narrator was still cringe-inducing*, but somehow the story managed to get beyond that.  I was able to focus on the content of the book rather than form/delivery.  I was able to appreciate Joe's struggle with himself and the tension between his sexuality and the demands or dogma of his church, and the irony (or ridiculousness?) of a church that thought homosexuality was okay as long as one stayed single; being gay was only really a problem when he found someone with whom he had an emotional *and* sexual connection.  And the HFN felt right, rather than an HEA, since the two characters were so different and still dealing with a boatload of issues. The beginnings of a BDSM-involved relationship was just another thing Joe was learning about himself.  I was intrigued by the fact that the roles were reversed here -- in the little BDSM romance I've read (most not very good), the noob is a sub looking to be dominated, but that is absolutely not the case here.  Kabe is the sub, and he's the one reassuring Joe that what he did and what he enjoyed were all good. 

Think I'm going to reread Buchanan's Cheating Chance and look for a copy of its sequel, Inland Empire.  

After rereading Uneven, I'm still not sure what I think about the book. I can appreciate the story and the relationship dynamics between Rase and Gabriel objectively.  But at the same time, I have a kneejerk reaction to the physical violence between them, and knowing that it was what Rase wanted didn't keep me from being uncomfortable.  I could remind myself that it was consensual, but it still made me flinch when Gabriel hit Rase or beat him with his own belt.  Taking a step back, I realize that the stylized violence in other novels I've read is fundamentally no different -- blows given/received by consent, resulting in a physical sensation (for both) that ends in pleasure, even if pain is involved.  Why does the stylized behavior not bother me, but an outright slap or punch makes me twitch?  I think maybe it's about form rather than content again, and is all about the baggage that I bring to reading.  A punch delivered by a lover on the page flashes me to domestic violence; a flogger or crop wielded by a lover does not.  So ultimately the problem is with me, not with the writing.

ETA:  *I understand that the narrator's voice and grammar are an integral part of the character built by Buchanan, and that it was intentional.  It was still hard for me to read the first time through.  I mention in a comment below that hearing the narrator speak would not bother me as much as reading his speech patterns.  It's a function of delivery and expectations: I expect better grammar on the page than in my ear.  Unfair, I know.

jmc_bks: (title2)
For SBD:

First and foremost:  yay for Persuasion fans!

Second:  I'm disgruntled and disillusioned by the authors who continue to post over at Dear Author on Jane's post about readers' copyright rights, redirecting the conversation to piracy, which wasn't the point of the post.  And by redirecting, they seem to be tacitly saying that it was okay for people to call Shayna Englin a thief, and to not recognize that multi-device use of Kindle accounts that complied with the terms of service were neither theft, piracy, nor deceptive, dishonest or a slippery slope toward piracy.

Piracy is wrong.  It is stealing.  Here's the thing:  I don't believe that every download of a pirated book is a lost sale to the author;  the vast majority of people who pirate would NEVER have purchased a legal copy, electronic or otherwise.  And likening ebook readers who want to share (compliant with the TOS of Kindle or Nook or whatever provider) to pirates is insulting and alienating.

It's enough to make me give up buying anything new.

And the treacly call for a united front to combat piracy...I'm not sure that readers and authors can or should present a united front.  Readers can help combat piracy, sure, but readers' interests in the share-ability or transfer of books and ebooks are different from those of authors.

Third: holy god, I read a teaser sample of an ebook last week that was horrendous.  In the sample, which contained one short story and part of a second and was probably the equivalent of 10 printed pages, I noticed the following:
  • a boarder between Texas and New Mexico (hmm, really, not a border?)
  • a burm (instead of berm)
  • who's for whose (completely different parts of speech!)
  • you for your
  • utter lack of direct address commas
  • lack of commas to signal/separate clauses
The scary thing was that this was a compilation of a bunch of previously-released short stories.  So despite two opportunities for an editor to catch any of these spelling and grammar errors, they still made it to the final, published version.  Which makes me wonder:  did anyone edit this?  If they did, what must the original submission have looked like?

A sample like this is NOT going to sell ebooks.   [No, I didn't buy the book to finish reading it.]

Beyond that, I downloaded this sample because of a review that gave the anthology a good grade.  There was *no* mention of the sloppiness, which makes me wonder about how reliable this reviewer is, in terms of matching her taste to mine. 

Last and not least, just to see if anyone is paying attention:  K.A. Mitchell's Collision Course is out in trade paperback.  In honor of the release and one of the accident-prone heroes, the first person (located in USA or Canada, pls) to comment including their klutziest moment ever will get a copy of the book.

(Anti-FTC warning: any book mentioned in this post was purchased by me, or sampled via the Amazon TOS, or borrowed from the library.  The book I'm giving away will be purchased via an online bookseller and shipped directly.)

Also, because I watched the Root/Hinds version of Persuasion this past weekend:  A viscountess, she is a viscountess!
jmc_bks: (Nadasco - 08 Spain Davis Cup)

Title: Regularly Scheduled Life

Author: The excellent K.A. Mitchell

Why this book? I bought the ebook not long after I read Mitchell’s Collision Course, which was one of my favorite reads for 2008. At RWA, I won the raffle/drawing she held, which included hard copies of her books in print and a beach bag of goodies. I brought the bag o’ stuff with me to the beach, along with the books, and pulled this one out to reread. [FWIW, the other contents of the bag were quite handy, and I especially loved the bubble wand :).]

Cover art: Well…generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of man-titty covers. But Mitchell lucked out with this one, because it is gorgeous. The fellow in the background looks a little young to be either of the characters (35 and 31), but still, very pretty.

 It’s a long way back to happily ever after.

Sean and Kyle have enjoyed six perfect years of what their friends called a “disgustingly happy” relationship. But what happens one sunny Tuesday morning in October might be more than even the most loving couple can survive.

When the bell rings that morning in chemistry teacher Sean Farnham’s first-period class, a terrifying sound fills the halls – gunshots. Without considering the consequences, Sean runs to tackle the shooter, sustaining a bullet wound to his leg. Despite his actions, he is unable to save the lives of the principal and two students.

Architect Kyle DeRusso hears about the shooting on the radio and in the flash of an instant finds his life irrevocably altered. Everything – especially his heart – hands suspended in a nightmare until he finds out Sean is alive. It doesn’t matter that Sean will be left with a permanent limp. Kyle’s just relieved the worst is over.

Or is it? Putting that day behind them isn’t as simple as it sounds. As Sean struggles to make something positive out of the tragedy, Kyle fights to save their relationship from the dangers of publicity – and Sean’s unwillingness to face how the crisis has changed him.

What did I think? Well, for starters, this book has much more angst and seriousness than any of Mitchell’s other books to date. It would have to, since it touches on such a tender topic, violence in schools. I found the angst and the subject matter on the whole much easier to assimilate on the re-read than the original read. My struggle the first time through was entirely my own fault: I didn’t read the blurb, just bought the ebook based on the author, and was startled by the difference in tone and the conflict presented in comparison to the two other books I’d already read by her. Mistake on my part.

There are two conflicts within the storyline: one is the two heroes struggling to redefine their world in the aftermath of the shooting, and the other is their struggle (or lack thereof) to communicate with each other about those changes. Kyle just wants to make it all go away, to pretend it didn’t happen and go on as they were. Sean wants it to mean something, to make a difference, and doesn’t understand why Kyle doesn’t feel the same way. 

Sex as part of their communication or lack is a skillfully used tool. (One of my complaints about m/m romance is that the plot is all too often interrupted by sex that doesn’t drive the story but sidelines it.) While there is some sex in RSL, there is comparatively little, and its appearance is used to highlight how they miss each other but also how they distract each other from things that matter. It’s easier to have sex than to talk, but in doing so they end up pushing each other away further.

It’s a stereotype, but half the time I wanted to roll my eyes and sigh, “oh, boys,” wishing someone would smack them both in the head and then make them sit down and actually talk to each other instead of around each other. 

Was there anything that didn’t work for me? The end of the book came fairly quickly, and felt a little rushed. Sean’s grudging visits to a therapist seemed like a huge turning point (IMO) but they occur off the page and were never really addressed but for his acknowledgement that he went and was angry and had unresolved issues. It would’ve been nice to see him discuss and work out those issues with Kyle.

Ultimately, this was a pretty good book, although it isn’t my favorite by Mitchell. B/B+

Keep or pass on? Keep, of course.

Read other books by this author? Absolutely. I’m waiting impatiently for her next contemporary, and a historical.

Anything else relevant? If you go to her LJ, you’ll find prequel scenes for this book and her other books.

Piddly thing: the law suit. I get why Sean was named as a co-defendant and the suit's importance to the plot, but after the school’s insurer settled, what was the cause of action remaining with respect to him?  I’m not sure I believe that he (or any teacher) has a duty to know about a kid coming to school armed, or a duty to throw himself in front of a bullet for any of the students.   I know, thinking too much, and not accepting that grieving parents do things that are not reasonable or logic-based. Also not a litigator or tort claims specialist, so what do I know?

jmc_bks: (Default)

The next Cambridge Fellows mystery, Lessons in Power will be released next month.

And Samhain has edited and reissued the first three books of the series.

Posted via

jmc_bks: (Default)

Anybody got recs for things to do in Austin and Houston? Long weekend split between the two coming up.

Only definites are BatFest and sushi/mojitos at Japaneiro's.

Also, the immediate gratification of ebooks cannot be emphasized enough. Wanted to read Cal's and Min's courtship again but could not find my paper copy. It's somewhere in the disaster that is my "library". No problem, download an e-version. A couple of clicks, et voilà, Charm Boy and Minnie are at my fingertips.

I've been resisting the urge to buy The Curse of Chalion in e-format (two formats on my shelves plus two other couple I've lent seem like enough, no?). But it would be a nice addition to my e-library.

jmc_bks: (title2)

Today's SBD shall not be a bitch but a squee about a book I enjoyed.

ePistols at Dawn is the third Z.A. Maxfield book I've read, the first two being St. Nacho's (discussed here) and Crossing Borders (mentioned here). I've since read Blue Fire and have the short story in Because of the Brave TBR.

Choose your weapons.

Jae-sun Fields is pissed. Someone has taken the seminal coming-out, coming-of-age novel Doorways and satirized it. He’s determined to use his Internet skills and his job as a tabloid reporter to out the author as the fraud and no-talent hack he’s sure she is.

Kelly Kendall likes his anonymity and, except for his houseboy, factotum and all-around slut, Will, he craves solitude. There’s also that crippling case of OCD that makes it virtually impossible for him to leave the house. He’s hidden his authorship of Doorways behind layers of secrets and several years’ worth of lies—until he loses a bet.

Satirizing his own work, as far as he can see, is his own damned prerogative. Except now he has an online stalker, one who always seems several steps ahead of him in their online duel for information.

A chance meeting reveals more than hidden identities—it exposes a mutual magnetic attraction that can’t be denied. And pushes the stakes that much higher, into a zone that could get way too personal…

I loved so much about this book. I loved the play on words and repeated use of windows and doors as metaphors and puns. For example, when talking about being a good/bad relationship bet, Kelly says his life has some major bugs/flaws that may be too much. Jae’s response:
I’m Jae-Sun Fields version 1.0. I may even be the beta test version. And if you take into consideration that the support team for my software are all non-native English speakers who will chase you down the street with a broom if you tell them my programming might be faulty? I’m no Windows Vista.
I particularly loved the characters, who came alive on the page. I loved that the two of them began their courtship via email, even as one tried to stay anonymous and the other was sure his correspondent was a woman (totally not his type).
Jae is a curious man. He wants to know everything…as he says himself when he has alienated Kelly by asking questions,

I have to know everything I can find out. I like to glean information from a recalcitrant source. It’s like lifting the corner of a Band-Aid, or peeling off a bit of wallpaper that has come unstuck. It’s a compulsion.

Kelly, on the other hand, is a bundle of idiosyncrasies, beginning with OCD and mild agoraphobia, and ending with his carefully constructed privacy via a maze of pseudonyms. He’s Kelly Mackay in real life, who is also Kelly Maxwell, screenwriter of some success, Kelly Kendall, author of Windows, a porny homage to Doorways, and Kieran Andrews, the almost anonymous author of Doorways. As Jae observes, Kelly is “a grab bag of phobias and disorders that made a date with him like a minefield.” But Jae still finds him attractive in a totally adorkable way.

Even the secondary characters are distinct. Will, Kelly’s best friend, is a twink who could organize an army with his own bundle of issues, primarily related to belonging and family, particularly the family that Kelly gives him. One secondary character never even appears on the page but is a huge catalyst for all of the action and conflict in the book: Hunter Leighton, a closeted gay actor, commits suicide after being outed by a tabloid, The Adversary. His death pushes Jae (who dated him briefly before he was outed) into more examination of what he does professionally, working for a tabloid that outs gay celebrities and politicians. His death also shatters Will – the relationship there is murky, dating back to Will’s rent boy days – and brings Kelly into real life contact with Jae at the funeral.

Actually, I’m a bit curious about Jae’s conflict with the raison d’etre of The Adversary and would’ve liked to see more of it on the page, especially with respect to his reporting. The articles mentioned are book reviews, which makes me wonder what other reporting he does.

At heart, this is a sweet (and hot) love story between two men who screw up and make mistakes and then forgive each other and try to move on. But it also includes a fundamental conflict about privacy: who has the “right to know”? What do they have the right to know? What does one have the right to keep private? Does an author (or artist of any sort) give up the right to anonymity simply because s/he has created a work that others view as seminal?

The conflict occurs on a couple of levels, and I struggled with my reactions as a reader to different events in the book. First because Jae is pissy about the parody and intends to crush the chick who dissed his favorite book. He knew who Kelly was when they first went out –knew he wasn’t a she, but kept emailing under his screen name SberryFields- which seemed fundamentally dishonest and vaguely stalkerish to me. He knew he was being dumb even as he did it, got caught, and had to deal with the consequences.

And second, because The Adversary’s mission is outing gay celebrities. The editor gave a reasonable defense, casting it in terms of politicians and actors hiding as straight men and persecuting gays while playing with rent boys after hours, but I still found the idea of a magazine with outing as a goal to be persecutory.

At one point, when Jae and Kelly are arguing about the revelation of Kelly’s identity as Kieran Andrews, Jae says,

You wrote a book. For twenty years it’s been on the shelves, printed and reprinted and every damned time someone buys it, they drop a coin in your basket. If you didn’t want people to read it? If you didn’t want it to make any kind of difference to anyone but you? You should have locked it in your diary and left it in your fucking desk drawer. But you didn’t do that and because I’m a reporter I have to ask myself – and eventually you – why.

My problem with this attitude is one that was addressed briefly over at Romancing the Blog last week, when Sarah Tanner asked about reader expectations of authors.  Here’s the thing: publishing an amazing book does not give a reader or a report the right to know anything about him that he chooses not to share. Frankly, choosing to never again publish under that name and burying his identity made it clear he wasn’t interested in being anyone’s poster child. Hunting him down by hacking the money trail can’t be cast as anything other than invasive and offensive (to me, YMMV). Jae’s attitude of ownership and obligation toward Doorways and its author bothered me. In terms of the relationship between them, it made me wonder where the privacy line would be drawn between the two of them in the future: what has to be shared vs. what is private, even in terms of couplehood.

Ultimately, this book made me stop and think not just about the characters but the larger issues that created their conflict. Plus, it included some hot boy on boy action (well, more man on man, given their ages) and funny dialogue.

B+ from me, my new favorite Maxfield book.

Random snark: I get the Archie Goodwin and film noir feel for Jae, and that it works for Kelly…but men should not wear pleated pants. No one should. Stacy London says so. Just sayin’.
jmc_bks: (Forward momentum)

There are other summaries of the Rogue Digital Seminar at RWA (not by RWA) out there, but here are my notes. 

Kassia Krozer: Changing Business Model

Royalty structure has to change: publishers cannot pay % on $26.99 cover price when booksellers sell $9.99. Move toward royalty on net.

Be careful with territorial rights for ebooks: if in English but not available everywhere then are losing sale.

Authors must pay attention to business side of things, worry about more than just writing the book. How are you getting paid? Future options include chunked content. Ask publisher, if breaking into pieces and/or distributing outside of usual “book” format, how is author being paid or compensated for this use? [Not necessarily paid, compensation may be in other format, such as increased marketing budget via chunked content that would otherwise not have gotten out of publisher.

Tech piracy - drm is bad. When deciding on format for e-release, consider the reader, because if a reader has to update the program constantly, the reader will walk. DRM doesn’t deter piracy. 

Reversion of rights for traditional print. Line shifting on what is 
"out of print" be very careful.

Jane Litte: Google Books Settlement summary
Monopoly effect on orphan works (in copyright but holder unknown)
Covers books in print Jan 09
63% of profits paid to book registry then to publisher less admin fee 
no timeline set @ registry's discretion
Disputes settled by arbitration
Talk to agent not publisher, bc conflict between author and pub
Section 5.3
Revenue models, need to opt out if disagree
Subsriptions paying for access not ownership - institutional and 
Ad revenue
Per page printing fees

Sarah Wendell
Walk-through of the costs of self- publishing print vs digital. Numbers given by author, believe the walk-through was the subject of a post on, or maybe were posted as a comment to a post on self-publishing and digital rights. [Sounded familiar.] Ultimately: publishing costs are same until decide format.  Going with a digital publisher rather than self-publishing probably better because they have have process already.

Angela James: Digital publishing model

Digital publishing has been around since 90s, but recently has  exploded. Easy to open an e-publishing house but quality varies, so be careful about who you submit to.

Creating an e-publisher takes capital investment.   But still no advance? Historically, not large audience and not mainstream, worried about selling through advance.  Instead did higher rate of return $1.20-3.00 per book via 35% royalty rate.

Why not advances if digital publishers are so profitable? Profit margin standard (like most corporations, regardless of size), despite booming business.

·         35% royalty

·         40-75% distribution costs

·         5% editor royalty

·         Flat fees for cover art, website maintenance, formatting, copy editing, marketing.

·         Not a huge amount left for profit, varies per publisher but maybe 5%.

Some books make only dollars while others thousands. Varies widely. Need to sell 750-1,000 books in order to break even. Not all books do, so higher sellers do sometimes support lower sellers. Can and do publish books because believe they should be published, not because they expect to earn out. (Ex: Butterfly Tattoo)

Panel/Q&A: Perspective of authors who are NY & epubbed simultaneously


·         Became PAN-eligible based on e-format sales, within 2 months

·         Majority of sales in the first week or so of release, but have a tale of sales

·         Earned out beyond the traditional advance amount with each book Still earning on digital backlist, love Kindle.

·         Appreciate the monthly paycheck of the digital publishing model, increased communication, compressed timeline, crossover readers, more autonomy in writing less to market.

Sony Reader giveaway (Katiebabs won!) giveaway for all attendees

Birthday cupcakes from Hello Cupcake for Kassia

jmc_bks: (seagull)

~ Today's question for the Music Pimp:  "Reinvent Love" as key phrase for Panic at the Disco vs. "Boycott Love" from Fall Out Boy.  Please to be explaining the philosophical approaches of each band as reflected in these phrases. 

~ I want to see "The Hurt Locker" again.  It's a movie set in a war zone but it isn't about war per se; instead it's all about one EOD's adrenaline/explosions addiction.  Well, maybe obsession is a better word, even though he calls is the one thing he loves as he talks to his infant son.  Very high testosterone movie, violent, but not in the way that a lot of blockbuster movies are, with bullets flying needlessly and gratuitous explosions.  The cinematography (is that the right word?) and the blocking (maybe) were reminiscent of old westerns, especially as James suited up and walked toward the potential bombs alone, like the sheriff stalking toward the desperadoes in a show down.  The director also had no qualms *at all* about killing off big name actors, which is different.

~ Yum, fresh tomatoes, just picked by my neighbor from his Topsy Turvy (which he loves).

~ I just read a scene in which the hero's "beard stumble" rasped.  Stumble?  Really?  No proofreading?

~ The convenience of ebooks wins again.  I posted back when Dark of Night was published that I was removing Suzanne Brockmann from the auto-buy category for the next book, Hot Pursuit, because I was not interested in Sam & Alysssa as protagonists in a suspense series.  However, after listening to her speak at RWA, I'm feeling intrigued and inclined to maybe borrow the book as hardback or buy a copy when it is released in mass market format.  Turns out it will be available for $9.99 (and presumably $9.95) in e-format, which I would be willing to pay.  The convenience and pricing of ebooks win again, making a sale where there probably would not have been one otherwise.

jmc_bks: (title2)

Okay, here's a quick and dirty SBD:  ebook mislabeling.  I've complained before, as have countless others, about mislabeling a book as romance in order to sell to an audience that is avid and willing to shell out bucks.  But it pisses us romance readers off to buy a book labeled as romance only to have it not be genre romance.

So yesterday I was checking out the offerings over at Fictionwise and stumbled across an anthology labeled "erotica".  The excerpt didn't strke me as particularly erotic, but the stories in the anthologies were written by authors of m/m romance.  And m/m romance seems to be labeled as erotica even if it isn't particularly hot.  [I dunno, is it the mere fact that the sex in the book isn't het that earns that label?  But that's another post.  Or dissertation.]  Anyway, I bought this book and downloaded it; having read three of the four stories, I can say that this book is neither erotica nor romance, gay or straight.  If the protagonists were women, I would call it women's fiction.  So is this men's fiction?  Lad lit? 

I'm not sure what it is, only what it isn't. Of the three stories I've read, only one comes anywhere close to being genre romance -- the heroes meet during the course of the story, fall in love, and say The Words at the end.  It fails as a romance only because the relationship is not the focus of the story; outside events are -- even the relationship arises from those outside events.  The other two stories happen to have a couple of sex scenes in them, but they are primarily about coping with the sudden advent of children into previously child-free lives.  Even though the relationships were also previously child-free, the arrival of the children (via death and abandonment) and its effect on the relationship itself is never addressed.

The stories are actually rather sweet.  But romance they were not.  And erotica they were not.  Clearly, whoever labeled them as erotica was going based on the authors' backlists rather than the actual content of the book.

Which is just half-assed, IMO. 

Of course, what should I expect from a company that labels Laurell K. Hamilton's Skin Trade (which I believe is self-indulgent crap masquerading as porn and horror) as romance.  WTH?  By what definition is the boink-fest that is Anita Blake a romance of any sort?  Gah.

It's enough to make me distrust almost any labels.  Especially since I can't return an ebook if I get half way through and realize that it isn't the romance I was promised.

PS:  Everytime I use my Smart Bitch icon, and look at the title, a scene from the 1995 version of Persuasion plays in my head.  "A viscountess.  She is a viscountess!" So says Miss Elliott.


Jun. 18th, 2009 09:04 pm
jmc_bks: (Seagull)

I was thrilled to read that K.A. Mitchell is working on a book for Dr. Jae Sun Kim, a minor character from Collision Course (best "straight" -heh- romance I read last year). 

Mitchell's latest book, Chasing Smoke, is #2 on Samhain's best seller list right now.  I'm about half way through, but floundering with the mystery portion, which seems a sort of reminiscent of both Scooby Doo (predictable) and a Hollywood blockbuster (predictable in a different way).  It's really dragging down the romance/relationship part of the book, which is pretty good.

And after that, I've still got The Clockwork Heart to be read, and Josh Lanyon's new mystery.

jmc_bks: (Default)
Alert!  Alert!  Alert!

The Surgeon's Lady, Ms. Kelly's June Harlequin Historical, is available in ebook format.  In case you don't want to wait until late May/early June when paper copies are available.... 

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I've already bought and read a copy.  And I'll probably buy a paper copy, too.
jmc_bks: (title2)

It’s Monday again – amazing how regularly the day comes around, isn’t it? So it must be time to SBD. Today I’m feeling more capricious or picky than smart, but here it is:

How big a deal is the narrator’s voice for you when you read? And how much “natural” language is enough vs. too much?

Ask me those questions without a specific context, and I probably would say that although I tend to prefer third person, first person doesn’t really bother me. It tends to result in a lack of POV and voice from other characters though, which can be a drawback.   With the limited point of view, the voice of the first person narrator becomes extremely important.   In terms of natural vs. correct grammar in dialogue and interior monologue, there is a very fine balance. For example, some slang is fine; the BDB slang is just wrong for a variety of reasons, beginning with the overuse and ending with the incongruence of some of the slang in the mouths of supposed badass vampires. (Outtie? Really?)

I read an ebook over the weekend that leaves me feeling very ambivalent because of these two things. I trust the reviewer’s opinion, so I bought a copy the day the review was posted. And she didn’t steer me wrong: the author did a great job with setting, with the internal and external conflict, with the characterization. On those criteria alone, the book is a B/B+ for me.

But. Yes, you knew that was coming, didn’t you? But the story was told in first person, and the narrator’s voice – speaking and thinking – made me cringe periodically. I am by no means a grammar expert (as anyone reading my archives can tell), but some of the word choices just hurt to read: “neither” instead of “either”; ain’t; lotta; kinda; double negatives; if’n. Some of these language choices by the author I could ignore or accept as a function of the POV; while kinda and lotta and I’da bother me as contractions, especially in use outside of text messages or personal email, they create a more casual tone, which makes sense for this book and narrator. Ain’t and double negatives are a much harder sell, regardless of narrator. But the if’n turned the narrator into Yosemite Sam in my head, which is probably not the image the author was aiming for. 

Is it capricious of me to impose my thoughts on language that way, to let sway my overall impression of an otherwise good book?  If I were reading a historical novel in which the author attempted to actually use common speech patterns of the middle ages, would I be that picky about the usage?  Well, probably not, since I have no idea what the proper speech patterns of old or middle English were.  But then again, Regency heroes and heroines using modern languages and modern pop psychology are quite noticeable in wallpaper historicals, so at least my persnicketiness is semi-consistent.

In the end, the ain'ts and if'ns weren't enough to turn me completely off this book:  I'd give it a B/B-.  But I'm a little leery about buying more ebooks by this author -- I'll be checking for excerpts in advance next time, checking for POV and the narrator's voice.

jmc_bks: (Seagull)

I’m not entirely certain how Sean Kennedy’s Tigers and Devils came to my attention. Dreamspinner Press was listed as a DRM-free e-publisher in an article at DA/SBTB, so that may have been it. Or maybe it was linked to at Amazon, you know, the “customers who bought Book A also bought Book B”. In any case, I bought a Kindle copy, and was very impressed by the book and this new-to-me author.

Simon Murray is the director of a small, independent film festival in Melbourne, Australia. He’s not particularly close to his family, but his best friends make up for the lack – Fran and Roger, plus Nyssa, who works for him at Triple F. He’s also a fan of football, his team is the Richmond Tigers, who apparently seldom win. Self-deprecatory, mouthy, a bit of a pessimist, Simon is perpetually single. This bit from early on sums him up well:

But I was happy. Or at least, I told myself I was happy. And I probably was really good at fooling myself with that despite the little stab of jealousy that would rear its ugly head occasionally as I would see that look pass between Roger and Fran – you know, that look. I wanted someone to look at me that way, and I wanted to look at them in that way. But then I would brush it off and bury it deep, deep within me. The best way to deal with things is to repress them, that’s my motto.

One evening, Fran and Roger drag Simon to a party. While debating football, Simon meets Declan Tyler, star of the Tasmanian Devils football team. Calling him an arrogant prick doesn’t seem like it would be the best way to start a relationship, but somehow it works for the two of them. Declan is intrigued by this self-admitted arty wanker who doesn’t suck up to him, despite his celebrity. The impediment to a relationship is two-fold though: Declan lives in Hobart…and he is not out.

What follows is the story of them getting to know each other and falling in love, then figuring out how to deal with it. Simon, who is out and a bit of public figure (if only in a very small way) as the director of an independent and queer-friendly film festival, has to deal with edging back into the closet in order to accommodate Declan because professional footie players are not gay, or at least not openly so. The conflict this sets up is both realistic and very well drawn. How are they going to deal with the celebrity Declan has as a professional athlete of some talent and renown, while staying together and on the down low? How does Simon have to modify his life in order to have a relationship with closeted Declan? Readers see his insecurity and frustration at different points of the story, when a cover is necessary or when he isn’t able to talk to or be with Declan because his presence would be odd or suspicious. For example, when Declan takes a female date to a big awards ceremony, Simon can only watch on television; knowing that Declan will come over later is small consolation. Roger, Simon’s friend from childhood, is both a bit jealous that his BFF has found someone serious, and also concerned at the way this new person is influencing Simon’s life and not necessarily for the better, as far as he can see.  And Roger’s willingness to call Simon and Declan on this creates more tension, as Simon would really prefer to pretend that the cons of the relationship don’t exist, or to suppress them.

Potential Spoiler: There is a Big Misunderstanding at the end of the book, and I’m of two minds about it. The first being that the big conflict and potential break down of the relationship had to occur, so okay. The second being that an out-right break rather than a stupid misunderstanding would’ve worked better for me – the way the separation was stretched out seemed a little, well, petty on Declan’s part, given the way that Simon tried to reach out to him. That may be a function of the POV, though, since readers are privy to his thoughts and feelings only via the makeup conversation at the very end. 

Because the point of view is entirely Simon’s, the reader never really gets into Declan’s head. We only know how he feels second-hand, via Simon, who sometimes isn’t the most reliable of narrators. Not that he is dishonest or untrustworthy, but he’s a bit insecure and not always the most observant of people. He’s a bit blinkered when it comes to some things, like his family and Declan’s perfection. Well, not perfection really, but his awesomeness as a boyfriend/partner – has the man no faults? The lack of Declan’s POV is maybe the only real drawback to this book, in my opinion, because it would have been nice to see Simon’s very self-deprecatory and sarcastic view of himself and his world through the lens of his partner.

Still, this was an engrossing book. And a keeper.  A- from me.

ETA:  the sexual tension between Simon and Declan is very hot.  And they obviously enjoy each other physically.  But very little of that is on the page.  Which is not a bad thing, IMO.  Sometimes books get overwhelmed by the sex.  Not so in this case.  It's present, but the book is driven by other matters, which I liked a great deal.


Football, friends, and film are the most important parts of Simon Murray's life, likely in that order. Despite being lonely, Simon is cautious about looking for more, and his best friends despair of him ever finding that special someone to share his life. Against his will, they drag him to a party, where Simon barges into a football conversation and ends up defending the honour of star forward Declan Tyler -- unaware that the athlete is present and listening. 

Like his entire family, Simon revels in living in Melbourne, Victoria, the home of Australian Rules football and mecca for serious fans. There, players are deemed gods and treated as such – until they do something to cause them to fall out of public favour. Declan is suffering a horrendous year of injuries, and the public is taking him to task for it, so Simon's support is a bright spot in his struggles. In that first awkward meeting, neither man has any idea they will change each other's lives forever.


As Simon and Declan fumble toward building a relationship together, there is yet another obstacle in their way: keeping Declan's homosexuality a secret amidst the intrusion of well-meaning friends and an increasingly suspicious media. They realise that nothing remains hidden forever… and they know the situation will only become more complicated when Declan's private life is revealed. Declan will be forced to make some tough choices that may result in losing either the career he loves or the man he wants. And Simon has never been known to make things easy – for himself or for others.

Excerpt available here.

Available as an ebook or paperback here

Author's website here.  Interview with author here.




Feb. 11th, 2009 07:16 pm
jmc_bks: (Seagull)
Sadly, I've discovered that buying e-books does not solve my TBR dilemma; in fact, it makes it worse.  The paper TBR mountain is visible; I walk by the jam-packed shelves a dozen times a day.  The e-TBR pile not so much.  If I don't read an ebook within the first 48 hours of purchase, it will languish in the ether, on my hard drive or backed up somewhere, until someone or something reminds me about it.  I can think of six ebooks purchased within the last month alone that I meant to read immediately but then forgot about.  I remember right now, but will forget again soon enough. 

How do other readers manage their TBR ebooks?

Also, once Kindle 2.0 ships, I'm inheriting a gently-used Kindle 1.0.  Which is probably not going to help with the e-TRB problem.  But is still squee-worthy.
jmc_bks: (LJ Ase's LMB Imperfect)
St. Nacho's by Z.A. Maxfield
Published by Loose Id, © 2008

Excerpt available here.
Available for purchase here.

Cooper has spent the last three years running from a painful past. He's currently moving from town to town, working in restaurant kitchens, and playing his violin for tips. As soon as he starts to feel comfortable anywhere—with anyone—he moves on. He's aware that music may be the only human language he still knows. Ironically, the one man he's wanted to communicate with in all that time is deaf.

Shawn is part of a deaf theater group at the nearby college. Shawn wants Cooper as soon as they meet and he begins a determined flirtation. Cooper is comfortable with down and dirty sex, just not people. As far as Shawn is concerned, dirty sex is win-win, but he wants Cooper to let him into the rest of his life as well.

Cooper needs time to heal and put his past away for good. Shawn needs to help Cooper forgive himself and accept that he can be loved. Both men find out that when it comes to the kind of healing love can bring, the sleepy beachside town of Santo Ignacio, “St. Nacho's” as the locals call it, may just be the very best place to start.

Why did I buy this book? I’ve been on a m/m ebook binge lately. Stopped by Loose Id and saw the new release, and the blurb caught my attention. Also, I really liked the name St. Nacho.

What did I think about the cover art? It is by Anne Cain; I like her style generally. A lot of ebooks tend to have ugly, cartoony art (from some program named Poser?) or manga-ish art, which isn’t really to my taste. It’s a little heavy on the man-titty, but still pretty good.

What did I think of the book? The content of the book lived up to the hook, I think.

Cooper is a mess when he arrives in St. Ignacio; he’s been on the road, wandering, for more than three years. A recovering alcoholic, a musician who wasted his gift on alcohol and drugs, he is unable and unwilling to connect with other human beings, feeling safer in isolation. Music seems to be his only consolation, but even that seems to pain him sometimes. It isn’t until the plot is fairly well advanced that the reader learns why Cooper is punishing himself and living in self-imposed isolation.

Community and place play significant roles in St. Nacho’s; not just the titular town, but Cooper’s hometown of River Falls, Wisconsin. It is fascinating to contrast the influence of the two on Cooper and other characters, being a bit of a case study on history, memory and forgiveness. Maxfield did an excellent job of showing Cooper's struggle with his guilt about the past and the obligations that he felt because of that past, and his attempt (or not) to reconcile that guilt with the new life he has found in St. Ignacio.

As a general observation, I find that m/m romance seems to have a lot of sex. (I’ve had a hard time finding “sweet” m/m romance, but it must be out there; I’m probably not looking in the right places. Any recommendations would be appreciated.) Too much sometimes, IMO, because many authors struggle (and fail) to balance the character development and plot with the love/sex scenes. Maxfield didn’t have that problem. The physical intimacy between Shawn and Cooper changed and evolved as their relationship did, and I appreciated seeing the changes unfold.

The only knock I have for the ebook is that Shawn, as a character, is rather enigmatic and undeveloped. He’s a young college student, deaf, a busboy at Nacho’s; he comes across as almost preternaturally confident and secure. It would've been nice to see inside his head at certain points of the book. The narration, entirely from Cooper’s point of view, is the reason for this. Ultimately, though, St. Nacho’s, although a romance novel, is about Cooper’s redemption and self-forgiveness, so the focus on him and the underdevelopment of Shawn doesn’t bother me too much.

Keep or pass on? Keep, definitely.

Had I read this author before? Nope. I’m not sure if this author has been published before; now that I’ve read and enjoyed St. Nacho’s, I’ll be checking to see if s/he has a backlist or a website.


jmc_bks: (Default)

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