Off Topic: Gremlins and Traumatic Veterinarians

As you guys probably noticed, I didn’t post a thing on Monday and this post is pretty late today.  Well, that’s in part because little Tyrion is still settling in but also because I discovered one thing: he has ear mites.  The poor little guy was born in a garage on a farm so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised but taking him to the vet was a little unexpected.

While the vet was syringing a cleaning fluid into his ears as I held him (he was not happy in the least) he pooped on the examination table and promptly fainted.  In hindsight it’s funny but at the time he gave me quite a scare, just laying there like a limp rag with his tongue sticking out.  Apparently fainting is a normal nervous response to getting fluid syringed into ones’ ears; it’s how my RN friend told me they check for brain dead patients in the ER.  So at least I know Tyrion’s brain is working fine?  (Although he’s really not too keen on vets right now.)

On the upside though, he’s making himself right at home and the gremlins that were plaguing me seem to be gone for now.  I have consistent internet access and I think I’ve discovered what’s wrong with my printer so things are on the upside now.  And now that I have wireless internet I can finally download the books that have been sitting in my NetGalley dashboard for a little while.  Things are looking up but even if they weren’t, there are no such things are gratuitous kitten pictures:

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Guest Post: The Growing LGBT Fiction Market And What It Means For Indie Authors

One of my earliest memories of the growing acceptance of People Like Me happened about 20 years ago at Barnes & Noble. There our authors were—on the shelves of a mainstream suburban bookstore, arranged just as nicely as the nearby rows of history and self-help books. I paced this special wall of GAY & LESBIAN books carefully, judging if it was some kind of bait for a trap-door. But the only person who approached me was a staff member reminding me that it was near closing.

That was my first purchase of a gay novel from a non-gay bookstore and I felt as though my receipt was a political statement. My sale counted; it would create an order for a replacement copy for another gay customer to buy, and keep our GAY & LESBIAN literature in circulation.

Looking back, it was also a turning point in how I saw myself, a validation that I’ve never forgotten. Life in The City still called, for I couldn’t imagine living as a gay man in the conservative suburb where I grew up. But the fact that I found myself represented at that mainstream bookstore gave me a little more hope for my future, that maybe The City wasn’t the only place I might eventually find acceptance. I don’t even remember fearfully looking over my shoulder on the way to the parking lot: representation without repercussion.

Much has changed in the world since then, including the term GAY & LESBIAN itself. Buying alternative books first went from in-store to online, offering privacy in the transaction but not the product. All books then still had covers, titles, and artwork that might make a reader think twice about pulling out her purchase on the train to work. But today, with e-readers, there is privacy both in the transaction and the product—that gentle, elderly lady two train seats away could be reading Emma or erotica. The e-reader offers endless options, and privacy for it all.

At one time, the friendly question, “What are you reading?” would have prompted someone to tip the book backward to show the cover. With a Nook, someone will tip the device forward and show the words. How do you judge a book, and a reader, without a cover? You don’t.

And therein lies the potential in the LGBT market—it’s not solely about the intended reader, but the read. Movies and television shows have expanded their casts to include more “diversity” not as sidekicks but as central characters, reflecting the everyday interactions many people have with LGBT folk in real life. Our stories, and lives, are in the news almost daily and our marriages are celebrated in the Sunday New York Times.

This niche market, GAY & LESBIAN, has grown to include bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, and ally voices—visibility that transcends gender, age, class, race, and sexual orientation itself. I have received responses to Gaybash from heterosexual women in their 70s as well as from gay men in their 30s and 40s. All drawn to the same book with primary characters who are gay, all finding something in the story that speaks to them.

Readers crave authenticity from fresh voices—of lived experiences, of fantasy, of tragedy, of science fiction. While there are some technical barriers to entry in the formatting of an e-book, these barriers are nothing compared to the sentinels who decided what did and did not get published, and largely still do. But sharing a personal journey has never been easier and blogs abound, just a few search words away. Though there are still biases in how traditional media covers e-books, e-publishing has expanded to the point that it’s no longer “suicide” to DIY. And with the wide reach of social media, I can’t predict precisely who my readers—and champions—will be. What fun!

This is an exciting time for indie authors, particularly those who don’t see themselves, and their lives, represented on today’s bestseller lists. The marketing of LGBTIQA e-books, whether fiction or nonfiction, proves that the hard work comes after the writing. But to tell your story, personally and honestly, and have it “out there” for others to read and absorb is a feeling of true liberation.

It’s the same feeling I had when I purchased that book so long ago at Barnes & Noble. Except now, the words are mine.


 

David TestDavid Collins lives and works in Chicago. Gaybash is his first novel.

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Murphy’s Law: Tech Edition (Part Two)

Remember how on the 5th of July I said that nothing could possibly go more wrong with technology in my house?  Well, it seems I tempted both fate and my friendly neighbourhood gremlins.  So now here’s a catalog of what’s wrong:

1.  My TV will no longer talk to my DVD player, meaning that I had no sound on any DVDs I wanted to play.

2.  One of my computers refuses to talk to the printer (and yes I tried a different printer that works with another computer but it still doesn’t work).

3.  That same computer has a disc drive that won’t open unless you push the button in a special way.

4.  My new modem crapped out and won’t talk to the router any longer.  So I decided to order a wireless modem and cut out the router crap.

5.  That wireless modem isn’t scheduled for Sasktel to turn it on until Tuesday.  I got it Friday.  Needless to say I’m pissed off at Sasktel again.

The only upside to this whole week is that on Friday I brought Tyrion home.  He panicked a little in the car but he promptly settled down to take a snooze on my couch after playing himself out.  He’s now attacking my toes as I write this because toes are so much more fun than toy mice or pieces of string.

I won’t say that now all of my technology has broken down for fear of jinxing myself, but there’s really not much technology left in the house that hasn’t broken down by now.  Maybe the gremlins will finally move on?

Book Blast: The Point by G. Nykanen

 

dark journey through madness…
 

 

Publication Date: May 30, 2014
Genre: Psychological Thriller

Befuddled by her current relationship woes, Nora Reynolds leaves college at semester’s end to drive north of nowhere to her hometown of Iron Bay. Vulnerable and on the rebound, she is the perfect prey for fledgling felon Dane Buchman. Dane takes advantage of the unaware young woman, feeding his appetite for mischief until a rather violent shift in their relationship reveals to him what he’s really been craving. Driven by his new found hunger, Dane feels unstoppable, until former high school rival and town deputy, Doug Sanders, navigates the trail of Dane’s destruction.

The Point is a dark thriller that will allow you to witness a truly dangerous sociopath wander through madness guided by a treasured family heirloom, and a pensive young woman find her way after discovering, that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. With echoes of the Coen brothers’ Fargo, the folksy town of Iron Bay and the nearby north-woods community of Deer Lake are the destinations for Mr. Buchman’s many misdeeds.

G. Nykanen was born and raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This small, rural land mass seems to cultivate a wide variety of colorful characters who provide a plethora of inspiration. The Point, Nykanen’s first novel, is filled with nuances of these local characters and the landscapes one might find in the north woods.

Well traveled thanks to her husband’s government career, she has lived in Europe and many of our United States over the last twenty years. She has recently returned home, moving back to her beloved Upper Peninsula where she resides with her husband and three children.
With The Point now completed, she will continue working on her next novel, Accumulation, along with continuing to develop other stories in the works.

Caesar’s Daughter: Julia’s Song by Alex Johnston

Caesar's Daughter Julia's Song by Alex Johnston(Cover picture courtesy of History and Other Thoughts.)

After serving Julius Caesar on assignments in Gaul and Alexandria, Marcus Mettius is finally back home in Rome. His work with Caesar had been lucrative, but dangerous. So you can imagine his trepidation when the Roman soldier Quintus shows up at the tavern where Marcus is drinking with yet another letter from Caesar.

You’ve got to admit, Caesar certainly had balls, asking Marcus for his help yet again. On his last two assignments, Marcus was arrested by a mad Egyptian Pharaoh, almost burnt at the stake, and nearly lynched by an angry mob.

But this time is different (you can almost hear the Fates chuckling with glee at THAT line!) All Caesar wants Marcus to do this time is to take a gift to his daughter, Julia, and have a little chat with her while he is there. Certainly no harm can come from that, right?

Well, the next thing you know, Marcus is all tangled up with the leading figures of late Republican Rome – Pompey, Cicero, the deposed King of Egypt, and, of course, the infamous Publius Clodius Pulcher, aedile and former Tribune of the Plebs.

Once again, Marcus’ life hangs in the balance, in ways he could scarcely have imagined. But he shouldn’t be surprised. After all, he’s Caesar’s Agent Man. And odds are he won’t live to see tomorrow. Join Marcus and his friends in the thrilling sequel to Caesar’s Emissary!

I previously read and reviewed the first book in Alex Johnston’s short story series about Marcus Mettius, Caesar’s Ambassador.  Well, I absolutely loved his funny take on Roman history through the eyes of a bit player.  I mean, how can you not love Marcus Mettius, the consummate salesman?

The book starts off with us hearing about the most feared slave since Spartacus: Vinus, Marcus’ wine slave who writes critical reviews of wine throughout Italy that can make or break a vineyard.  He’s not that important in the scheme of things but it certainly sets the tone as Marcus decides Vinus really doesn’t understand how the whole master-slave relationship works out because Vinus tends to dictate to him and not the other way around.  This isn’t just meaningless joking, though.  It serves to tell us a lot about the aftermath of Spartacus’ rebellion and how the First Triumvirate are faring currently (despite the rogue Clodius terrorizing all of Rome).

One thing about Alex Johnston’s writing that I really appreciate is his obvious deep love and respect for Roman history.  You can really tell that he loves it but at the same time is able to create some rather irreverent versions of famous historical characters like Cicero and Pompey Magnus.  He uses modern dialogue and slang to convey the idea that while obviously not accurate, Romans had their own sort of slang and ways of speaking rather than the usual dry dialogue I find in historical fiction.  They had crude language (Latin is a beautiful language to swear in), the younger generation’s version of rap, etc.  He really captures that sort of turning point in Roman culture as the Republic is failing and although some events are changed a little for the story Caesar’s Daughter it’s actually very historically accurate.

Add on top of all this awesomeness the fact that Alex Johnston is a truly hilarious writer.  I was in stitches, literally laughing out loud half of the time.  There are some jokes where you have to know Roman history to truly appreciate but the majority of them are hilarious non-insider jokes.  You really can’t get a better take on history that’s funny, historically accurate and yet not historically accurate at all.  The only thing I can really criticize is the overuse of capitals when characters are exclaiming things excitedly.  They lose their effect after a while.

Although I’m kind of in a mixed up order for the series right now I’m really looking forward to reading the second short story Caesar’s Emissary some day.  I’d recommend giving Alex Johnston’s short stories a try for pretty much everyone, even if you’re not a big Roman history buff.

I give this short story 4.5/5 stars.

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*Not available.

Queen of Someday by Sherry D. Ficklin

Queen of Someday by Sherry D. Ficklin(Cover picture courtesy of Cindy’s Love of Books.)

Before she can become the greatest empress in history, fifteen-year-old Sophia will have to survive her social-climbing mother’s quest to put her on the throne of Russia at any cost. Imperial Court holds dangers like nothing Sophia has ever faced before. In the heart of St. Petersburg, surviving means navigating the political, romantic, and religious demands of the bitter Empress Elizabeth and her handsome, but sadistic nephew, Peter. Determined to save her impoverished family and herself Sophia vows to do whatever is necessary to thrive in her new surroundings. But an attempt on her life and an unexpected attraction threatens to derail her plans. Alone in a new and dangerous world, learning who to trust and who to charm may mean the difference between becoming queen and being sent home in shame to marry her lecherous uncle. With traitors and murderers lurking around every corner, her very life hangs in the balance. Betrothed to one man but falling in love with another, Sophia will need to decide how much she s willing to sacrifice in order to become the empress she is destined to be. In a battle for the soul of a nation, will love or destiny reign supreme?

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Let me make two things very, very clear right off the bat:

1.  Yes, this novel is about Catherine the Great of Russia.

2.  No, this is not historically accurate and nor was it meant to be.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way I think a bit of an explanation is in order.  This is about Catherine the Great’s younger years before she became empress of all Russia.  It’s about her struggles acclimatizing to the Russian court and trying to win the love of Peter, the future emperor.  As Sherry Ficklin mentions in the dedication as well as the historical note, while she really does stay true to the spirit of the times this was not meant to be historically accurate.  And that’s okay because it really does capture the zeitgeist in Russia at the time and paints a fascinating picture of how Catherine the Great became, well, ‘the Great’.

The thing that I really appreciated about Queen of Someday was not only Ficklin’s honesty about accuracy and such but also her characters.  Catherine’s husband Peter is a hotly debated ruler in Russian history and I like how the portrayal of him in the book makes sense if you look at his later life before Catherine’s coup.  He’s jealous and toys with women and men alike, reveling in his power over not only their emotions but their very lives.  Catherine is at first the naive young Sophie trying to find a little bit of happiness in a marriage that’s all but being forced upon her.  As she grows into her role as future empress and learns what real love is like, she’s faced with some horrific decisions that I wouldn’t wish on anybody.  Sherry Ficklin certainly knows how to present such a quick change from naive young girl to cynical empress very well.

The plot is far from fast-paced by most people’s reckonings but it is fascinating.  There are real events in Russian history going on throughout the story and Ficklin stayed true to most of the broader strokes of Catherine’s early years.  It’s mostly a character-driven story and that’s something that I also appreciated about Queen of Someday.  This is only the first installment in the Stolen Empire series and I really can’t wait for the rest of Catherine’s story.  It’s just a shame that this book doesn’t actually release until October for the general public!  Thank goodness for pre-ordering is all I can say because I really do have to recommend it to people who love a good read.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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*Not yet available.

Hyacinth by Abigail Owen

Hyacinth by Abigail Owen(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book #2 of the Svatura Series

Selene sacrificed everything when she took her brother’s place as ruler of the Vyusher, including her secret love for her one-time adversary Griffin Aubrey. When nightmares that are just a little too real start, Selene fears she’s turned into a cold-blooded killer…the monster that Griffin thinks she is.

Griffin and Ellie Aubrey are finally safe for the first time in over a hundred years. But when an unknown menace drives Selene to leave her family and ask for help, Griffin must decide. Can he move past his hatred of everything she is? Or will the bond that could bring them both the greatest joy now be the source of their deepest despair?

The threat of the danger stalking Selene in her dreams might be too much even for this powerful group. And Griffin doesn’t want to easily forgive the woman he blames for killing his family…

[Full disclosure: I was provided a free ebook copy of this a couple of months during the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

Ellie, the main character of the previous novel only barely features in this one.  Although I really did like her, that was fine by me as I got to see way more of Griffin and a whole bunch of Selene.  Both of them are fascinating characters in their own right but I’ll talk about Selene first.

She was enslaved by her brother for 150 years, which is long even for a Svatura.  More accurately, she had to do what he told her because of his mind control but unlike the rest of the Vyusher tribe she was fully aware of all of the horrible things Gideon had her do.  That really just makes it more awful when you think about it.  So now Gideon is dead and Selene is having a hard time accepting her role as Queen.  Not only that, now she has to cope with the crushing amount of guilt from 150 years of hunting other Svatura.

What I find interesting with the way she copes is that she really doesn’t magically get over everything on her own; for that, she needs more than a little bit of help from the original Svatura group of the first book.  One has the power to help heal emotions but even with Ellie’s help in amplifying it Selene will never be totally healed.  This is way more realistic than having her completely healed in time for the final showdown.  At the same time, even though I wanted to smack Griffin for being indecisive, I do believe it was far more realistic than him loving Selene despite all of their history together.  By the end of the novel you’re really in doubt as to whether these two are sure they love each other but I promise you that the ending is a satisfying one.

Just like with the previous book, the plot of Hyacinth is more character-driven than plot-driven.  The characters cause many of the events that happen in the end of the novel but this book is far from slow-paced.  Abigail Owen managed to balance character development with plot development and I really appreciated that balance.  It makes for a much more enjoyable, interesting read.  There weren’t really any truly enormous surprise twists for the plot but I did enjoy Hyacinth all the same.

Abigail Owen is fast becoming one of my favourite authors, as you can probably tell by this review.  I can’t wait to read the third book in the Svatura series!  In the meantime, I’d highly recommend it to pretty much all readers who like a little fantasy in their everyday life.  You really can’t go wrong with the Svatura series.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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