#BookReview: Last Dance On The Starlight Pier by Sara Bird

Powerful Examination Of Oft-Ignored Areas. Know up front that there is a LOT going on in this book, and to me it absolutely warrants the 400 page length. The book begins and ends in Galveston during the Depression, when one family had absolute control of the island. In between, we see a lot: the burlesque shows of the era – including their seedier sides engaging in open pedophilia, the dance marathons that were cheap entertainment for so many in this pre=television era and the marathoners that endured so much just to stay off the streets, the politics of the era (where your mileage is absolutely going to vary, but was true to the period at minimum), the treatment of homosexuality in the era, a new surgery meant to cure so many mental health issues – including homosexuality – that was just as barbaric as described late in the text here, and so much more. For those that care about precise historical fact in their historical fiction – I personally tend to give authors at least a touch of leeway, depending on particulars including overall story – know that this surgery was real, and the details provided about both it and the doctor that originated it – Dr Walter Freeman – are real. Bird simply moved up the timeline by about 15 years or so, and used it to great effect within the confines of her story. Truly a remarkable work, and very much recommended.

Note: For those seeking more details on the real horrors of the transorbital lobotomy described in this tale, My Lobotomy by Howard Dully – which I first encountered as a late night NPR broadcast – is truly tragically horrifying.

This review of Last Dance On The Starlight Pier by Sara Bird was originally written on April 23, 2022.

#BookReview: Sink Or Swim by Annabeth Albert

Atypical MM Romance. This is at least a somewhat atypical MM romance in that we get two guys who neither one is a big fan of penetration (and yet, it *does* happen – a couple of times, at least) and who are both fairly well fleshed out in their motivations and who they are, and both ring fairly true. One is the Navy guy that finds himself at a career crossroad, the other is a single uncle/dad going through a messy divorce. Being at a bit of a career crossroad myself and having a few nieces and a nephew and having to at least consider what happens here… yeah. Both of the situations here hit hard. The steam… not so much. I think I’ve seen coffee with thicker steam, but I actually *like* that about this tale – it is part of its atypicality, in very good ways. If you’re into radioactive heat and steam you can’t see your hand in front of your face through… this isn’t for you. If you’re more into *real* without being *too real* (ie, “real”, but still escapist)… this is going to be more your thing. Overall a strong continuation of this series, and I’m looking forward to seeing where Albert takes this next. Very much recommended.

This review of Sink Or Swim by Annabeth Albert was originally written on March 6, 2022.

#BookReview: Going Public by Hudson Lin

Strong Atypical MM Romance. As an MM romance, this one both works and does a good job of showing off atypical sexualities – specifically pansexual and demisexual. And both leads are well fleshed out, with strong and compelling backstories along with solid reasonings for why they haven’t yet gotten together. On the business side… there are more issues with the story. For one, a late development should have happened sooner and for a very different reason, and likely would have in reality. For another, while it is refreshing in that the author had the courage to go *there*, one has to question just how real such a scenario truly is. But for those seeking to simply get lost in a MM romance and ignore pesky “reality” questions… this actually works quite well. Very much recommended.

This review of Going Public by Hudson Lin was originally written on March 5, 2022.

Featured New Release Of The Week: In An Office by Janey Klunder

This week, for the first time since I began this book blog, we’re looking at a book that I actually had a hand in bringing forth. This week we’re looking at In An Office by Janey Klunder.

I met Janey nearly a decade ago when I was working a project I called Autism Through Our Eyes – a project that lives on in the name I use when publishing Janey’s books, Autism Through Our Eyes Publishing. This is the fifth book we’ve published together, with Janey writing them and doing most of her own marketing, and me helping with getting them actually into Amazon (sometimes even in print form), including actually writing the official description of the book, and doing at least some marketing/ publicity myself.

And this was the first book where I actually included a Publisher’s Note at the end, pointing out just how real this book is for so very many Autistics and providing a “Recommended Reading” section of a few books I’ve reviewed on this very site regarding Autism from a more nonfiction perspective, including Neurotribes by Steven Silberman, We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia, On The Spectrum by Daniel Bowman Jr, and The Pattern Seekers by Simon Baron-Cohen.

So with all of this noted up front, here’s the review that I put on Goodreads:

Intriguing Ideas. This is a book that explores a couple of ideas unlike any I’ve ever seen before – and this was book number 256 in 2021 alone for me. Specifically, the idea of community members simply helping each other, rather than having to have some formal, government “approved”, structure for doing so.

In one case here, we see a caring member of the community help an Autistic understand the world around her and figure out her place within it. And yes, while the exact scenario here can feel limiting, and one could want this character to want more for her life… as the Publisher’s Note says at the end, this is an all too real and all too common scenario for so many Autistics, and it is refreshing to see it portrayed so well and with such care in fiction. (Possibly not hurt by the fact that the author herself is Autistic.)

In the other case here, when the owners of a Bed and Breakfast suddenly and tragically die in a fire, their son comes up with an “insane idea” to redirect the facility in a new and interesting way… that ultimately helps its community in ways that no government program ever really could. The author never knew this (until she sees this review), but other than the specific focus on LGBTQ+ people, this is actually eerily similar to an idea I myself had in my teens about how a then-friend and I could eventually help our own community. (Note: This never actually came to pass, for a variety of reasons, but I’m glad to see the idea being independently revived in fiction.)

Overall truly a powerful work for the ideas it introduces to the zeitgeist, a powerful exposition of the lives of so many Autistics, and a solid story even without these particular things. Very much recommended.

(Disclosure: While I had no part in actually writing the narrative of this book, I did assist the author in getting it into KDP and Autism Through Our Eyes Publishing, the publisher of this book, is my own project.)

And because I can, here’s an excerpt from the book – Chapter 1, to be precise. 🙂

No one within a half-mile radius would ever forget the night of the fire. It hadn’t spread to any of the surrounding buildings – as it turned out, it had only been contained to one part of the house – but still, almost everyone in the street had been woken by the fire engines. Many of the elderly residents had stood in the road in their dressing gowns in the warm August weather, fretting: Where were Miriam and Angus? Had they made it out in time? They had been running the popular B&B for decades now without any issues. There was only a small amount of smoke visible from the street; no burning heat could be felt from where they stood. And Miriam was a larger-than-life personality, loved by everyone… Nothing could take her down. Right?

Soon Miriam and Angus were taken away on stretchers. Sent to the hospital. They weren’t moving. But surely they’d be all right?

When a very sad-looking fireman finally came up to break the news to the group, nobody could believe it. Miriam and Angus were only in their early sixties – how could they be gone? How could something as simple as a small electrical fault have taken them away, when they were so cheerful and full of life? They had been such a close family – how would their son and niece cope without them?

Unfortunately no one had those answers. And a week and a half later, when their niece, Josie, stepped out of her shower and rubbed her still-red eyes, she still had no answers. She was tallish, dark-haired and pretty, but there was little joy in her face as she dried herself off, pulled on her dressing gown and let her damp hair down. With a sigh, she headed out of her bedroom.

The old-fashioned strip light in her kitchen was blindingly bright, and she winced as it flicked on. As she only rented her flat, swapping the light out for something a bit less harsh was sadly not an option. Josie’s tastes in interior design were very specific, to say the least, and it often pained her to prepare her meals underneath something so ugly and industrial-looking.

Alongside three identical Mason jars containing sugar, tea and the regular instant coffee she served to visitors was the much smaller jar of Beanies Creamy Caramel flavoured instant that her amazing aunt had introduced her to. Making up her own travel mug was a lot cheaper than going to Starbucks five mornings a week, but Josie still felt guilty on occasion about the amount of sugar she needed to add to her morning coffee to make it even remotely tasty. She went through a lot of granulated sugar for a woman who hardly ever did any baking.

“Never apologise for having specific tastes in anything,” Aunt Miriam had said. “Be glad that you live in a world where making those choices is an option for you. Not everyone has it so lucky.”

Josie’s heart ached, as it had most days for the past week and a half. They were really gone. Two of her favourite people of all time were never going to give her great advice or celebrate with her or even speak to her ever again. She had dealt with personal grief before, but not as an adult. It was somehow more difficult to deal with…

Deep breath, honey. Deep breath. It’s got to be tougher for Sawyer and you two have something big to tackle today…

Once her coffee was finally ready, she sank down into her favourite armchair in the living room and pulled her laptop onto her knee. As it flickered to life, she was greeted with the home screen her older cousin had set up for her a couple of months ago. An enormous countdown with bright pink words that filled the entire screen with a reminder she’d sooner have forgotten about.

297 DAYS TO GO UNTIL YOU’RE 30!

Sawyer had celebrated his thirtieth birthday four years earlier by spending two weeks in Alicante and getting drunk with a handsome señor on the beach every night, which wasn’t really Josie’s style. And on her current wage, it seemed unlikely that she could afford it anyway. Still, she could already hear Sawyer’s counterargument to her protests. Then why don’t you take a few days off work and book two nights in a spa hotel or a log cabin with a hot tub?

“Thirty, divorced and on holiday alone?” she muttered aloud, without really meaning to. “That is so lame…”

Determined not to think about the big three-oh – especially now that her aunt and uncle wouldn’t even be around to celebrate it with her – she checked her emails (nothing out of the ordinary) followed by Facebook (a few notifications, nothing to get excited about) plus a quick, naughty peek at Pinterest (Oh God, I love that wallpaper… and that dresser… and those bathroom tiles… Would that rug fit in my bedroom?)

Then, slightly less cheerfully, she opened up Tinder. She hadn’t particularly wanted to join, but Sawyer had pestered her into it – which, annoyingly, he was highly skilled at after almost a whole lifetime of practice.

“Come on, it’s been over a year since Conrad moved out,” he had said. “And even longer since you last got laid, am I right?”

Josie would rather have covered herself in jam and sat on a wasp nest than admit it to him, but he was right. Her efforts on Tinder hadn’t turned out many favourable results so far, however, and her latest match hadn’t seemed very promising.

Uh oh… Three new messages. With a weary sigh, she opened up the chat log – and it was exactly as she had expected.

So wut u up 2 this wknd?

Hello? Why u not answrin?

I thot you were better than just disappearin on a nice guy!

“Well, here we go again,” she said to the room at large, sipping her coffee and bracing herself for utter honesty. When she was ghosted before there could even be a first date, she accepted it and moved on. Why did men always have to lash out when their pride was hurt?

Robin,

Despite the fact that I do look young for my age (thanks for noticing), I’m approaching 30, not 13. Hate to break it to you but not many self-respecting women in my age bracket will put up with some of the behaviours you’ve displayed during our ten-day “courtship”. Just a few examples being:

* Commenting that my profile pic makes me look like a hippie
* Telling me it sounds like I eat too much chocolate
* Saying that interior design isn’t a real hobby when you think that Rick’s nihilism in Rick & Morty is something to be admired
* Dissing my favourite colour
* Saying you find cats annoying
* Describing your ex as a “psycho”
* Using the phrase “Piers Morgan had a point”
* Saying you’d message me on Tuesday evening and then not bothering until Thursday morning
* Claiming that gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt

You can pretend I inserted the phrase “no offence” here if you like, but all that makes you sound like an asshole, and I’m on here looking for something genuine.
Josie

P.S. I would also advise you against expressing pride that you share a first name with the guy who sang ‘Blurred Lines’.

And send.

“Another one bites the dust.” Josie rubbed her eyes and sighed again. “Don’t know why I bother…”

Her gaze fell upon the well-thumbed copy of He’s Just Not That Into You that sat on her shelf. She had tried her best to follow Greg Behrendt’s sage advice since she was around seventeen, although the lack of decent, local, available men had really been getting her down recently.

A loud ping drew her attention back to Facebook. She had received a multi-recipient message, and as soon as she saw who it was from, she blushed bright pink.
Sorry for those of you who this affects, but the Wednesday morning class is cancelled! Got to take my old mum up to the hospital, my apologies!

This change in scheduling by the owner of the gym she attended didn’t affect Josie herself – she worked full-time and could only make the evening classes – but any communication from her very handsome instructor set her face flaming.

I am such a cliché…

The ring of her phone, thankfully, distracted her from that depressing thought. She picked it up and groaned; the number on the screen was all too familiar. I should have seen this coming. And under any other circumstances, she would have ignored it – she normally only had to endure these calls at Christmas time – but instead, her thumb moved of its own accord and pressed ‘Answer’.

“Hello?” Completely casual.

“Hi, Josie… It’s me.”

“Hi,” she said blankly.

“How… how are you holding up? We… uh… we heard about the accident. It’s been such a horrible shock.”

Despite her initial annoyance, Josie found herself thawing a little; there was real choked-up emotion in the woman’s voice. Even if you hadn’t seen someone in years, it could still be quite jarring to be told they were gone and you’d never have a chance at seeing them again.

“Um… I’ve not been too bad, I guess. Still just working and that. I’m meeting up with Sawyer this morning to talk about the funeral.”

“Yes… well, that’s why we’re calling. Ahem.” Embarrassed pause. “When is the date?”

“Erm… I can’t remember, actually.” Lies. “But we’re currently in the middle of arranging it all… You should get an official notice in the mail within the next week or so.”

“Right. Uh… thank you.” Another embarrassed pause. “How is Conrad?”

Internal scream. “He’s… doing fine, last time I heard. He lives pretty far away now; we only really catch up now and again.”

“Anyone… new in your life, then, honey?”

Josie managed not to snort, but it was a close one. Yeah, like she really cares. “No. Not at the moment.”

“Oh, right.” Pause. “Well, um… we don’t know for certain if we’ll be able to make the journey, but we’ll certainly let you know. Once we’ve decided.”

“Of course.” Josie’s voice was flat. There wasn’t much point in asking them what they’d been up to; they never did anything exciting.

“You… take it easy, then, hun.”

“You too. Bye!” She hung up faster than was perhaps polite, but every call from them was exactly the same.

Here’s hoping Sawyer’s prepared to let me rant a bit.

Josie dressed relatively quickly and sat down at her tiny vanity table. She swirled an Avon cream blush stick across both cheeks, then rolled her eyes at her reflection. As if it mattered to Sawyer whether she wore makeup or not.

Although maybe he might be pleased that I’m making the effort, just on the off chance that there are any cute single straight men in the cafe…

Several minutes later she grabbed her bag, stepped out of her front door – and was promptly accosted by her favourite tiny terror.

“Oh, hi, Scraps!” she beamed, her entire face lighting up at once as she bent down to pet the gorgeous little brown dachshund that skipped excitedly around her ankles.

“Morning, Josie,” said her elderly neighbour, who was only halfway up the stairs with a bright red leash in one hand. “He always runs ahead when he hears your door open!”

Josie loved little dogs and had dog-sat for Patricia on a few occasions. “How’s he getting on?”

“More fighting fit than me, that’s for sure,” Patricia chuckled as she reached them. She bent down with a small wince and scooped the excitable dog up into her arms. “Come on, sweetheart, we’ve got some special treats for you! Have a nice day, Josie.”

They disappeared inside, and for the first time in a while, Josie was able to smile a little.

Guess family isn’t always just people…

#BlogTour: Sailor Proof by Annabeth Albert

For this blog tour we’re looking at the first entry in a new series of gay military romances. For this blog tour we’re looking at Sailor Proof by Annabeth Albert.

Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:

Solid Military Romance. This is a fairly standard romance / Annabeth Albert romance with one guy in uniform and the other not… and eventually, neither is. 😉 She’s done the virgin thing at least once or twice (I fully cop to not reading her full back catalog, and I seem to remember her covering this even in the books I *have* read from her), and here it works just as well as it did the last time. For those looking for “clean” / “sweet” romance… Albert uses the virgin trope to explore as many successive sex acts as she can squeeze into a book. So this won’t be something that fits those definitions, but will work well within the more general romance/ gay romance reader crowd. The family dynamics are fun, some of the situations border on silly yet work, and the military scenes are accurate enough for someone who is only vaguely aware of US Navy operations. Looking forward to seeing where this new series will go. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt and the details about the book from the publisher, including the book description, author bio and social media links, and links to buy the book.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Sailor Proof by Annabeth Albert”

#BookReview: The Other Man by Farhad J Dadyburjor

Interesting Romance In (Arguably) Underserved Setting. Maybe there are more gay romances set in India written in Hindi and/ or marketed to Indian audiences. This American that doesn’t know any human languages other than English can’t say. But *in my experience* as someone for whom this was Book 189 on the year and who has read over 600 books since Jan 1, 2019 alone… this was unique in setting and primary characters.

Further, as someone in tech (who actually manages – and thus interacts near-daily with – teams of Indian nationals), the workload described here sounds realistic. (For better or for worse. My guys are *awesome*, but they *do* tend to work quite a bit.) The interfering family dynamics are something Nicola Marsh has written of fairly often in her straight romances involving the Indian diaspora (such as July 2021’s The Man Ban), and the struggles of coming out vs submitting to familial and societal expectations are well known and told quite often in American literature and culture at minimum. Hell, even in the US gay sex was officially illegal even this Millennium!

All of this to say, as a romance, I think this book actually works in showing a (mostly) seemingly realistic view while still falling into the standard rules of the genre. Yes, there is a fair amount of sex, on screen though not erotica level explicit. Yes, there is a happily ever after. And yes, there is a fair amount of angst getting there, culminating in a massive fight that splits the couple up before finally coming together – fairly standard stuff for the genre, and yet filled with details specific to its setting. While I don’t know if the Indian law that plays a fair role in the background of the story was ever actually overturned and I have no idea when this fight was going on, it doesn’t play enough of a role to detract from the story not knowing when this was – though those that *are* more familiar with that particular fight may be able to identify a bit more with the book just from seeing what was happening in their own lives at that time. While I’m not sure that I personally would classify this book as romantic *comedy*, there were a few funny moments and it could well be that there is more humor to be found here for those more familiar with Indian culture.

Overall a strong and interesting book, and very much recommended.

This review of The Other Man by Farhad J Dadyburjor was originally written on September 8, 2021.

#BookReview: Love Lockdown by Elizabeth Greenwood

Making The Case For A More Systematic Examination Of Its Topic. This book does a *tremendous* job in looking at as many facets of love and relationships involving the United States’ millions – literally -of prisoners via multi-year case studies of five particular couples. And therein also lies its chief weakness – while the original research for the case studies themselves was conducted directly by the author, the author states many facts beyond the people she is directly interviewing… and then the text doesn’t provide any form of bibliography to back up these (sometimes alarming, shocking, or even dubious) claims. But even with this weakness noted, the text’s strengths via its case studies are truly remarkable, and show the pressing need for a more systematic – and documented – examination of this particular topic. This is a book that will shock you. It will pull at your heart strings. It will make you cheer and cry and scream out at the people involved “WTF ARE YOU DOING!!!!!!”. And in these regards, it truly is a phenomenal book. Very much recommended.

This review of Love Lockdown by Elizabeth Greenwood was originally written on June 22, 2021.

#BookReview: Margaritas At The Beach House Hotel

Entertaining. This is a book that is somewhat deep in a series – Book 5 – and never once shies away from that fact. It has a wide range of established characters and storylines, but Keim does a remarkable job of making sure the reader understands the relevant histories, no matter if they’ve been a long time fan or if this is your entry point to this series or even this author – as it was both for me. Indeed, it is arguable that perhaps Keim does *too much* rehashing of prior stories- more in repeating a few sentences (with variation, not copy/ paste, at least not obviously) about whatever relevant fact such as how characters met or why another character is so problematic, etc.

And yet, despite and perhaps because of all of this, this book absolutely works as a continuation of its world and as a showcase for the author’s style and tone. Those that enjoy ensemble casts with a lot of characters and a lot going on will thoroughly enjoy this book, those who prefer fewer characters… probably won’t like it as much. But the storylines all interweave remarkably well, particularly with the narration being solely driven by one character’s perspective and the primary focus being that character and her business partner and friend – who enjoy catching up in stolen moments via the titular event.

Ultimately a strong book about friendship and defending the hurting, this tale is very much recommended.

This review of Margaritas At The Beach House Hotel by Judith Keim was originally written on June 8, 2021.

#BookReview: Stability by Emily Alter

Perfectly Titled. This is a solid adult FF romance featuring two established-yet-still-young ladies who know themselves and yet still find themselves growing… together. I titled this review as I did because the book really is perfectly titled, as the major conflicts between these women truly do center around the issue of stability and what that can mean for different people in different situations. Some, such as Zaira, more grounded and family oriented may need one form of “standard” stability. Others, such as former child prodigy Paige, may find a more gyroscopic sense of stability in the chaos. Merging the two worlds… well, Alter does a great job of showing the realistic headaches and heartaches that such an attempt can bring about. Excellent story set in an existing world, but within its own corner of it and with prior characters featuring heavily. For those who are less concerned about details of prior books being revealed before the reader actually reads those books, this is absolutely a book you can enter this world in and go back and read the details of the other relationships discussed in the other books. For those who are more concerned about such things… you’re going to want to read those other books first. Based on this book – the only one I’ve read from the author so far – I can tell you that you’re most likely going to want to read those books anyway, and when you read them you’re going to want to have this one on hand anyway if you didn’t read it first. Truly an excellent and seemingly realistic-ish story. Very much recommended.

This review of Stability by Emily Alter was originally written on June 7, 2021.

#BlogTour: Hard Sell by Hudson Lin

For this first entry in our Slide Into Summer Romance Blog Tour Series. we’re looking at a MM romance that makes its name thanks to its interesting dichotomies. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Hard Sell by Hudson Lin.

Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:

Interesting Dichotomies. This book, for me, was more about the interesting dichotomies than anything. You get a MM romance… with both an FF couple as side characters and set within the Asian community, which isn’t overly common. (Maybe not as hyper-macho as wildfire firefighters, but seemingly near that level in rarity.) You get a hyper successful financial type… who isn’t being his normal hyper successful self, and in fact is desperate for a win and who comes from… less successful… beginnings. You get a black sheep who feels he must prove himself apart from his ultra-successful family. And you get the particular blend of tech and finance that I could have felt was a bit too close to my own “real” world (where I work in IT for a Fortune 50 financial firm) that it could have been *too* real. And yet it all worked. And worked well in fact. On the actual romance side, you get a fairly standard will they/ won’t they / this is a freaking romance novel so you know they do. You get the whole “best friend’s sibling” dynamic, with its usual problems and resolutions. And you get a *crap ton* of angst. If you want your romance novels bright and breezy… this aint it. But if you want a romance novel unlike most you’ve ever seen before… this one is probably *exactly* that. Very much recommended.

Below the jump, a page-ish excerpt from near the beginning of the book (seemingly Chapter 1, but it *could* have been Chapter 3) and the publisher information 🙂
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Hard Sell by Hudson Lin”