Monthly Archives: August 2016

This Vote Is Legally Binding

tkingfisher:

In response to all those articles about talking to women with headphones…

Someone always says it, whenever it comes up:
“I guess I’m just not allowed to talk to anyone any more!”

Well.
Yes.
It is my duty to inform you that we took a vote
all us women
and determined that you are not allowed to talk to anyone
ever again.

This vote is legally binding.

Yes, of course, all women know each other,
the way you always suspected.
(Incidentally, so do Canadians. I’m just throwing that out there.)
We went into the women’s room at the Applebee’s at the corner of 54
and all the others streamed in through the doors
into that endless liminal space,
a chain of humans stretching backward
heavy skulled Neanderthal women laughing with New York socialites,
Lucille Ball hand in hand with the Taung child.
We sat around in the couches in the women’s room
(I know you’ve always been suspicious of those couches)
and chatted with each other in the secret female language
that you always knew existed.
Somebody set up a Playstation–
the Empress Wu is ruthless at Mario Kart
and Cleopatra never learned to lose
and a woman who ruled an empire that fell
when the Sea People came
and left no trace
can use the blue shell like a surgical instrument.

Eventually we took the vote.
You had three defenders:
your grandmother and your first-grade teacher
and an Albanian nun who believes the best of everybody.
Your mom abstained.
It was duly recorded in the secret notebooks
that have been kept under the couch in the Applebee’s
since the beginning of recorded time.
And then we went back to playing Mario Kart
and Hoelun took off her bra
and we didn’t think about you again
except that I had to carry this message.

So anyway
good luck with that
it’s just as you always said it was.
Hush now,
no talking

hush.

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Book Review: Skin, by Jesse Daro

Skin, by Jesse Daro

Rating: 4 out of 5

Unbeknownst to most of human kind, Chimera Enterprises has resurrected a shape-shifting alien race that sank with the lost continent of Lemuria eons ago: the werekin, beings born with both a human and an animal skin, able to shift between the two at will. Seventeen-year-old Seth Michael Sullivan, a werejaguar, has grown up in the Underground, hiding from the hunters that capture and enslave werekin for Chimera Enterprises. After witnessing the murder of his guardian Naomi, Seth arrives in Fairfax, Indiana, on a snowy New Year’s Eve, a rare breed on the run. As he reconnects with the mother and sister who know nothing of his true identity, Seth discovers he is a key piece in Chimera’s plot to conquer humankind by securing the power of the werekin Totems – and uncovers a secret in his own past that could decide the fate of his kindred.

Top-secret scientific experiments, ancient alien technology, a powerful shadow organization inside the United States military – Seth soon finds himself at the center of a brewing interspecies war. Can he trust his own flesh and blood? Will he choose to stand with humankind or with his werekin kindred – especially when the best part of being human may be Marshall Townsend, the boy next door? 

What an unexpected treat!

From past experiences, I’m a little gun-shy about free, self-published books. Usually they are in need of heavy editing and have a myriad of problems with characters, plot, and setting. I’m pleased to say that (almost) none of that is present in this book, and what little there is does not get in the way of an exciting read.

Daro has done a fine job of world-building here. The ramifications of historical actions are played out in a logical manner, and this makes the world very believable. My only complaint here is that some of the mythical backstory is a little mushy and unclear, but other than that I really enjoyed the setup.

The characters here are believable, and there are quite a few! I admit I sometimes got a little lost toward the end trying to make sense of the cast. I really liked Seth, the main character, a werejaguar. The author falls a bit into the trope of one’s animal influencing the human’s actions and behaviors, but that’s a minor quibble. As a teenager Seth is a smart-aleck know-it-all, though as the book progresses he starts to get his head in order and this makes him a much more sympathetic character. Marshall, his love interest, is a little one-dimensional but we get a pretty clear idea of what his motivations may be. The rest of the cast is a fun collection of characters, and the shifting allegiances (and sudden reveals) definitely keep the reader guessing.

The plotting here is more than a little convoluted. I suspect a professional editor might suggest reducing the twists and turns just a bit, but it is a fun ride that was anything but predictable. The mix of mundane high-school life and high-stakes life-or-death action can be a little jarring at times, though.

I think that the first chapter is worthy of mention. It’s tough to bring a reader into a story from the very first words, and even tougher to throw them right into the middle of the action. The first chapter of this book is one of the best at this that I have seen and is worthy of any professionally-written novel.

Finally, I came by this book in a list of gay romances (and a recommended book at that). While it has gay characters and a budding romance, the interactions on that front are strictly G-rated. I would say that this is a great urban fantasy that happens to have gay characters. (Oddly, I’ve also seen it classified as Young Adult – as near as I can tell YA in this context is “Yeah, they’re gay, but they don’t have sex.” This seems weirdly different from the mainstream definition of YA, but there ya go.)

Skin is the first of The Ark Trilogy (Skin, Blood, Bones), all of which are downloadable for free from Goodreads. I look forward to reading the rest of the books!

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Book Review: How To Be a Normal Person, by T.J. Klune

How To Be a Normal Person, by T.J. Klune

Gustavo Tiberius is not normal. He knows this. Everyone in his small town of Abby, Oregon, knows this. He reads encyclopedias every night before bed. He has a pet ferret called Harry S.  Truman. He owns a video rental store that no one goes to. His closest friends are a lady named Lottie with drag queen hair and a trio of elderly Vespa riders known as the We Three Queens.

Gus is not normal. And he’s fine with that. All he wants is to be left alone.

Until Casey, an asexual stoner hipster and the newest employee at Lottie’s Lattes, enters his life. For some reason, Casey thinks Gus is the greatest thing ever. And maybe Gus is starting to think the same thing about Casey, even if Casey is obsessive about Instagramming his food.

But Gus isn’t normal and Casey deserves someone who can be. Suddenly wanting to be that someone, Gus steps out of his comfort zone and plans to become the most normal person ever.

After all, what could possibly go wrong?

I loved this book so much. Gus and Casey are not particularly likable characters at the beginning of the book, but as the story progresses and we learn more about them and what makes them tick, they become utterly endearing.

This is a character-driven story, which is to say not much happens and yet you don’t need tremendous, earth-shaking events to tell a good story. This is a cozy tale of a guy who isn’t as
curmudgeonly as he thinks he is learning how to love someone, although in the most hysterical way possible.

Having read Klune’s The Lightning-Struck Heart, I am well aware of (and greatly appreciate) his amusing, fourth-wall-breaking humor. This, coupled with Gus’ sarcastic commentary, had me giggling most of the way through this book. Even so, I became emotionally invested in Gus and Casey, and even cried a few times as they worked through their relationship.

Casey is asexual, and I cannot begin to say how much I appreciate that TJ stays true to this. Asexuality is something that I am only learning more about now, but as a gay man I think it would be incredibly hypocritical of me to even begin to question let alone define other’s sexual identities. This is a well-written depiction (as far as I know) and helped me appreciate the concept more as well.

So yes, a book that is nominally within the m/m romance genre where no one is getting down and dirty, and Tab A isn’t getting inserted in Slot B? Yes, it CAN happen, and the book suffers not one whit for the lack. When Gus works himself up to going in for a hug with Casey without even asking? That was utterly adorable and made the book for me.

This is definitely one of my favorites by TJ so far!

Book Review: Axel’s Pup, by Kim Dare

Axel’s Pup, by Kim Dare

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

As the landlord of The
Dragon’s Lair and leader of The Black Dragons Motorcycle Club, Axel
Carmichael has seen it all and done it all. He’s a respected and
experienced dom. Nothing shocks him any more, and nobody catches him off
guard.

When Bayden rides up to The Dragon’s Lair on a bike worth
more than most men earn in a year, and immediately demonstrates that he
has far more attitude than sense, it’s easy for Axel to write him off
as a silly little rich boy who’s about to get himself killed.

But, there’s more to Bayden than meets the eye. He’s no silly little boy, rich or otherwise, and werewolves aren’t easy to kill.

Part of the trick to reviewing anything is to recognize when something is good even if you didn’t necessarily enjoy it. This book was a bit of a slow read for me because it didn’t engage me like many others do. That is most likely due to the main subject, the dom/sub relationship. That, and BDSM in general, are not to my taste at all, so this was definitely a read that was far afield for me. We all have our different interests, though. I try to live by “Your kink is not my kink, but your kink is OK.”

This concern aside, Kim Dare has created a fascinating world with this book, one that I would love to see more of. This is a world where werewolves and humans live side by side, yet due to an event sometime in the past wolves have been relegated to second-class citizen status. Anti-pack laws mean that wolves are not allowed to congregate or have distinct last names. They are regarded by humans as dirty and lazy, and are an oppressed minority, subject to random stop and harassment (or worse) by police. In spite of this, wolves remain a proud and fiercely independent people.

The racial and economic parallels to our reality are inescapable, of course, but that is not the focus of the story. Instead, this setting provides an interesting context for a human dominant, wolf submissive relationship. The narrative point of view switches between the dom (Axel) and the sub (Bayden), providing a balanced viewpoint as the story proceeds.

This is very definitely a character-driven story; there is not much action here. The focus is on the developing relationship between Axel and Bayden. And therein lies the problem – we get a lot of background on Bayden (who I found a fascinating character), but I never felt (until very late in the book) that we understood what motivates Axel, and even after some details are revealed no connection is made between his history and his motivations.

If there is not much in the way of plot development, that void is certainly filled by many, many sex scenes. Mind you, I do love a good, well-written scene, but by the latter third of the book I was starting to skim them because things were getting a bit repetitious, or delving into specific bondage techniques I don’t really care about. I can’t vouch for the dom/sub mind-sets or mental spaces in which the characters reside. I would be curious to see the opinion of someone more familiar with the BDSM lifestyle.

I can’t say I’d pursue other BDSM-based books that Dare has written, but I’d be interested to read other topics from her. The writing is solid, even if the character development may need some work.

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Book Review: Soul Seekers by Jake C. Wallace

Soul Seekers by Jake C. Wallace

Nineteen-year-old
college student Levi Reed has spent his life with hollow emotions and a
darkness so deep that he’s convinced he’s losing his mind. He’d give
anything to feel something, anything, real.

When a mysterious
stranger appears, Levi is convinced the man is trying to kill him. When
he’s near, Levi experiences head-crushing pain and something
surprising—real emotions for the first time. Jeb Monroe is arrogant,
self-assured, closed-off, and handsome, but he isn’t the harbinger of
doom Levi assumed. Jeb’s mission: help Levi find his missing soul.

Levi
is pulled into the secret world of Seers and Keepers, those born with
the innate ability to manipulate souls and tasked with balancing the
negative energy they can produce. Levi learns he possesses a rare gift,
and he’s in danger. As Jeb and Levi grow closer, they discover a group
of zealots who want to harness Levi’s power to cleanse the world of
damaged souls. Everyone Levi cares for is threatened unless he agrees to
become their tool of death. But agreeing could spell the destruction of
humankind. With no one to trust and nothing as it appears, it’s up to
Levi to save them all.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

This is a really clever read, and I
enjoyed it. It provides an interesting viewpoint from someone who is in
the middle of a very complex situation and can’t see all of the moving
parts – all they can do is keep their head down and push through it. The
conceit of souls and Keepers and Seers is an intriguing one, and I
would read more of this series if there are any sequels.

So why
only 3.75 then? Two big things: the first and most glaring thing is that
the theory of manipulation of souls and the consequences thereof is WAY
to tangled and confusingly explained. I could never get a clear picture
of what the energy issue was between Levi and Jeb. I _think _I got a clearer picture at the end, but the avalanche of explanations tended to really muddle things by that point.

The other issue is that while I love Levi and Jeb together (HOTNESS!),
Jeb was a bit of a cipher for a huge portion of the story, which left
his motivations and “insta-love” for Levi puzzling. In the end I get
what the author is going for, but in the middle of the story is was just
awkward and confusing.

These quibbles aside, I did enjoy the book, and I will happily seek out other of Wallace’s books.

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Book Review: Wolves of Black Pine, by S.J. Himes

An ancient civilization long hidden from humanity is on the brink of chaos and war.

Peaceful
for thousands of years, the wolfkin clans are mysteriously losing
packmates, kidnapped and killed by unknown foes. Among the dead is Luca,
youngest grandson of the two most powerful wolves in the Northern
Clans, but he is forced into a half-life, hidden in the far northern
wilds of Canada and cut off from his kind. Those who raised him have no
idea the creature they harbor in their midst, and name him Ghost. He
begins to lose himself over the long years, and though he barely recalls
his true name, the one wolf he never forgets is Kane.

Heir to
the wolfkin clan Black Pine, Kane is charged with hunting down the
traitors who them to the humans. Years fly by, and more wolves are
dying. He refuses to give up, and he vows to never again fail another of
their kind, as he failed young Luca years before. His heart tells him
Luca lives, but his mind tells him that it’s foolish hope, his guilt
eating him alive.

Fate and magic change the course of their
lives, and the two wolves long separated by the years find their paths
intertwining, though the reunion does not come without cost…

Rating: 4 out of 5

I really liked this book. I liked the setting, I liked the characters (even if there was a little much of The Ace trope going on), and the world-building was sound. All of the parts of a great book are there.

What’s not there is fitting all the pieces together as well as they could. The pacing is problematic, and it can make the book a bit of a slog at times. The best example that comes to mind is in a climactic action scene, we take a break for a page or two of exposition. There’s also a number of scenes repeated twice, from different character’s points of view. I think it comes down to narrative efficiency – tell the story as cleanly and efficiently as possible. I think with a little more editing this could go from a really good book to great book.

These quibbles aside, I enjoyed this book very much and I look forward to reading the sequel.

Oh, and fair warning for those reading for the hot man-on-man sexytime: it’s there, but only gets started 60% into the book. After that the times sexytime occurs starts to get a little ludicrous, but it doesn’t negatively impact the story.

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On Reading Pace

I’m working my way through
Wolves of Black Pine, and compared to previous books I’ve been reading lately, this one has become a bit of a slog. I’m at 85% after 6 days. I’m not necessarily complaining – I love the setting, I love the characters (even if there’s some serious manifestations of The Ace going on – fortunately, the character is entirely likeable). There is something in the writing that is slowing me down, or maybe just not engaging me as much as usual. I think the author has an issue with pacing, and there’s been a couple of times where the same scene plays out twice, described through a different character’s POV. I’m a little perplexed because I do like the book, – maybe it’s just a case of liking it through its flaws. This is going to be an interesting one to review when I finish it. If I ever finish it 🙂

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shutupnatte: DOGBOY? in full, published in RRUFFURR #2 earlier…

shutupnatte:

DOGBOY? in full, published in RRUFFURR #2 earlier this year. The issue is almost gone and won’t be reprinted, so grab a copy soon – so many fantastic artists contributed to this amazing issue. Also, check out RRUFFURR Online!

I haven’t been very active lately, but now that the semester is over and life in general is winding down some, I plan on finally beginning and finishing some projects. Here’s hoping, anyway.

Happy Holidays, everyone. And if I don’t update before then, have a Happy New Year too.

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me, sitting cross-legged in your fridge when you go for a drink in the middle of the night: gray morality can be an effective storytelling technique but it should not be considered a necessity in order to tell a good story because when handled wrong it carries the implication that atrocities are justifiable as long as they’re committed in the interest of fulfilling an ostensibly noble goal, and it is so often handled wrong

me, sitting cross-legged in your fridge when you go for a drink in the middle of the night: gray morality can be an effective storytelling technique but it should not be considered a necessity in order to tell a good story because when handled wrong it carries the implication that atrocities are justifiable as long as they’re committed in the interest of fulfilling an ostensibly noble goal, and it is so often handled wrong
you, staring in horror while holding a carton of orange juice: who are you and how did you get in my house
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Podcasts!

A couple of folks have asked what podcasts I listen to so I thought I would document them somewhere…

  • Ask Me Another – An enjoyable and sometimes silly quiz show, with extra geek cred courtesy of Jonathan Coulton
  • CBC’s Under the Influence – A look into the hows and whys of advertising. There’s a lot of great back stories presented here.
  • Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap – Take two very smart and funny people, add terrible food and a lot of alcohol. Hilarity does indeed ensue.
  • My Dad Wrote a Porno – Exactly what it says it is. A son does a straight-faced reading of the (egregiously terrible) erotica his father has written, with commentary provided by his sometimes-bewildered friends. It’s notable that his father is in on the joke (and even does a Q&A at the end of Season 1!), which removes any concern of mean-spiritedness.
  • NPR’s Planet Money – A collection of pieces run on various shows, this always has a smart, accessible explanation of matters financial
  • NPR’s Politics Podcast – A bit more free-wheeling than the usual on-air discussion. If you’re a political wonk, you’ll enjoy this weekly podcast.
  • Pop Culture Happy Hour – My favorite! A discussion of all things pop culture by a group of hilarious writers and reporters. Bonus for NPR fans – occasional appearances by folks like Audie Cornish and Ari Shapiro that show they’re interesting and engaging people. (Also: Glen Weldon is my Gay Nerd Hero!)
  • Pop Rocket – Comedian Guy Branum hosts this sister-in-spirit to Pop Culture Happy Hour. It’s a little looser, a little more profane, and a lot of fun.
  • Sampler – A meta-podcast? This shouldn’t work, but it succeeds spectacularly. An overview of all kinds of podcasts out there with clips and interviews with the creators. A great way to find podcasts you never would have heard otherwise. Brittany Luse is a fantastic host for this one.
  • Switched on Pop – The combination of pop culture know-how and a little music theory features in this podcast that deconstructs the music out there in a very engaging fashion. Their breakdown of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and tracing it back to Pharrell, Michael Jackson, Gregorian chant, and Handel was amazing.
  • The Memory Palace – Short (<10 minute) episodes on obscure historical facts. Nate DiMeo’s writing and delivery make this podcast absolutely hypnotic.
  • The Nerdist – Chris Hardwick and company interview famous people. Interview podcasts usually don’t do it for me, but they have a way of getting their interviewees to open up and just chat comfortably, not the usual stilted same-old-same-old. Their interview(s) with Jon Favreau was quite revealing, and showed that Jon is a guy I would absolutely have a beer with.
  • Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! – Just listen to it if you haven’t before. You’ll laugh, a lot. Trust me.
  • WBEZ’s Curious City – Amazing investigations into what makes Chicago tick. This is exceptionally well-researched and presented.

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