Review: The Rise Of Virginie by Katey Hawthorne

Virginie
Cover designed by Natasha Snow

I would rate this 4 stars.

Stefan is homeless, couchsurfing from friend to friend. Whilst staying with Megan, they decide to start a new band. Since she had a previous bad experience dating her bandmade Deanna, they make a vow to not have sex within the band. Sounds simple, yet Stefan’s fear that no one will want him around without sex highlights what his life has been like since leaving home. When he meets Han, who works at the library, they eventually bond over poetry and music. Han is one of the only POC in this small town in West Virginia. Being the reverend’s adopted son, he’s set up as a good boy; a virgin who sings in the church choir. This alternates between the first person point of view of Stefan and Han as they grow closer. Once they add Deanna as the base player, the four of them form a queer punk band named Virginie.

Stefan and Han are writing original songs together in between working at their jobs and practicing covers with the band. I liked the song lyrics in this, the poetry. The no sex rule actually allows Stefan to get to know Han without falling into his default of meaningless sex or friends with benefits. Once they start having sex (because of course they do) everything is playful; Han gets to experiment and learn from a friend. Things start moving forward for them when they get noticed by a promoter and talent agent. Of course, that’s went everything implodes, both with jealousies within the band, and Stefan’s mother Angela, who is a drug addict in an abusive relationship.

What I really liked about this was the things I expected to be a big deal (e.g. Han coming out, premarital sex, religion) weren’t. Addiction is a major storyline in this book, so petty dramas fall by the wayside. Most of the conflict comes due to Stefan’s past abuse and trauma. This book also tackles many issues through the music: Big Pharma, the opioid problem, and condescension towards the poor and Southerners. I did wonder if the difference in upbringing between Stefan and Han would be too huge a crevasse to bridge, but Han works hard to educate himself so he can be a good friend and support to Stefan. It was nice to see Han’s father be a positive and supportive Christian character. Han’s mother takes longer to come around, but Han’s issues with his mother are not all about Stefan. Caring too much what other people think, judging children because of their parents, lack of empathy and shaming others–these things divide communities. So while this is a cute story about young adults trying to become a successful band, with lots of fun sex, the author puts the band in it’s context geopolitically, and that makes all the difference to elevate this above many similar works.

Katey Hawthorne’s Website

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A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Unfettered by Kate Hawthorne — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5 Heath is a 39 year old Sub who has suffered past trauma with his Dom. When he meets 24 year old Beau on a dating app, they have more in common than he could have imagined. With their first date, the dynamics slot into place nicely. Having Heath’s point […]

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Review: We Still Live by Sara Dobie Bauer

WeStillLive-f500
Cover Art by Natasha Snow Copyright © 2019

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

Isaac, a new professor at a college that just had a mass shooting, moved from South Carolina to Ohio for a fresh start. He is surrounded by people with PTSD, an outsider among those who have not only known each other for years, but who have bonded over a painful event that he doesn’t know a lot about. Running from his own demons, Isaac has to forgive his own secret past, before he came be truly present for his future. Meeting his colleague John is a complication, a fresh start, and a powerful emotional journey he wasn’t expecting.

Be warned: besides some wonderfully explicit sex scenes, this also contains violence, suicide, and copious amounts of alcohol. The nonfraternization policy at the university creates a taboo nature that is fun at first, with the flirting and kissing. Right away this becomes serious as both men are dealing with trauma and have a lot to lose moving forward with a relationship. Them working on the literary magazine in the English department was a great plot point–I wish I could read it. The side characters like John’s best friend Tommy, a student John works with named Janelle, and a departmental employee named Cleo all add so much to this story, I can’t imagine it without them. I even got attached to Sonya, who is not shown in the best light. I loved how the book shows that grief and trauma affect people in a myriad of ways. Sometimes people don’t realize the impact they have on those around them. Sometimes, doing the right thing can hurt. Sometimes, what you think is best is not what’s best for everyone involved.

The point of view is Isaac’s, but the reader is not privy to everything since there are things he just doesn’t want to think about. Information is layered in throughout the book. By the time I realized it was all sliding slowly down a dark road, I was completely hooked. They both have mental health issues from trauma: whereas John seems to be dealing with his (therapy and medication), Isaac is ignoring his. I wondered if Isaac had given himself the job of rescuing John so he could avoid fixing his own mess. When Isaac’s ex Simon shows up, I felt genuinely frightened by this seemingly obsessed angry man’s actions, but then this plot point just fizzles out as Simon realizes this is a battle he can’t really win. Simon brings everything to a head, but I do wish it was a bit more nuanced since everything else here is so wonderfully well written. There is a time period where Isaac and John are separated during which I would have loved to see John work through his own issues. I don’t understand why there isn’t more shown about his Catholic guilt, or any guilt about his treatment of his wife and Simon. I feel like it would have strengthened the book since several months go by. While John is working hard to get better, Isaac seems like all his issues go away when Simon does.

In some ways this has a happy ending, yet trauma changes people forever. Even though it was hopeful, I was left with such a lingering sadness since we all know this is an ongoing societal issue with no end in sight. The author handled the gut-wrenching topics of mass shootings and mental health issues brilliantly. All I can say is that I cared about everyone–I cared what happens to each character–and isn’t that what we all want from a good book?

Sara Dobie Bauer’s Website

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A Chaos Moondrawn Review:Two Divided by Zero (Zero Rising #2) by Jackie Keswick — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5 This is the second book of the Zero Rising series, which gives more background about Jack. The first book in the Zero Rising series is named The Power of Zero, which is also the name of the series that was written first, but takes place after these novellas. While […]

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A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Earthquakes (New Amsterdam #4) by Kelly Wyre — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 3 stars out of 5 This is the fourth book in the series focusing on Ellis and his crush on one of his customers from the firing range named Bryndon. Previously Ellis seemed enamored with Clark; there is definitely still hero worship involved, complicated by doing BDSM scenes with Clark and his husband, but […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Earthquakes (New Amsterdam #4) by Kelly Wyre — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Sick And Tragic Bastard Son by Rowan Massey

 

SickCover
Book cover designed by BetiBup33 Studio Design

I would rate this 4.75 stars.

The title says it all really. This is a young man with mental health issues who, on his 18th birthday, finds out his biological father lives in the next city over. Apparently he left them right after Zander’s birth, and he is actually gay even though he started a new family with another woman. Since that is Zander’s hunting ground for older gay men to have sex with, he starts to obsess whether he might have already had sex with his own father. Sometimes, he can’t tell his real memories from his fake memories. Since much of the book is in Zander’s point of view, it makes this all incredibly dark and twisted. His need for revenge for the father that abandoned him becomes all consuming. Of course the fantasy that his life would have been different if his father has been around, because he would be well adjusted, is just a fantasy. This is someone seriously disturbed.

There are many parts of this that are psychologically interesting. The Westermarck effect hypothesizes that sexual disinterest happens with those with whom you spent most of your early life. Genetic sexual attraction (GSA) is the term coined by Barbara Gonyo in the 1980s. Apparently some adoption agencies estimate that elements of GSA occur in 50% of reunions between parents and children that have been separated at birth; this can also occur with siblings. These relationships can often turn dark and obsessive, even revenge for perceived abandonment has been documented, so this book is not farfetched at all, even when speaking of supposedly mentally healthy individuals. So, that’s where I expected this story to go. That’s not what happens here, at least on Zander’s side, but might help explain Clay’s attraction to Zander because the phenomenon happens whether you know you are related or not. This is not Daddy kink or incest kink either, although there are explicit scenes–they aren’t erotic, they just make everything complicated. The fact that they fall in love makes it all so much more devastating. It’s really just a sad story about the multigenerational life traumas of a family, made worse by Zander’s mental instability. In effect, he retraumatizes himself and takes everyone else along with him.

The beginning, the setup, is difficult to get into because almost all of this takes place in Zander’s head with very little dialogue. Once it’s setup, the story really kicks in. The fact that it’s very well thought out and written lured me into this incredibly disturbing tale. The author gives flashbacks to how being a bastard affected Zander when he was growing up, combined with the depression his mom Leona suffered from, it’s not difficult to see how he fell through the cracks. The drinking and drug use doesn’t help either of them. Obviously mental illness is sometimes hereditary. Since the reader doesn’t experience Leona’s point of view, it’s difficult to tell. Either way, this woman is a horror and Zander was let down by everyone, society included. By the time it switches to Clay’s point of view, we see he is in a rut and lonely. He’s distraught over the loss of his son, who he knows just turned 18. The reader gets his story at the same time as Zander and it changes the whole plot. Woven in are flashbacks to Clay’s childhood and his own traumas. This also layers in more information about Leona and her family. Be aware there is violence to animals in this story. What all of these tales show are the failings of the grandparents and parents involved in dealing traumatic events, so that as adults these people continue to make bad decisions and perpetuate the damage.

Zander’s sister Lottie is someone who might have come through this relatively unscathed if not for the infiltration of Zander into her life. Of course, he was already there and she suffered the effects of him, she just didn’t know it. The scenes of them as friends, although Lottie wanted more until she realizes Zander is gay, show glimpses of might have beens. The last third showing some of the events in her point of view brought me desolation as I realized if she has children, this cycle will just continue as I’m sure it did in Clay’s brother’s children. Her mom could actually get her some good counseling, but I felt no hope this would happen.

This was always a train that was going to run off the tracks; every moment careens towards a horrific conclusion. This is where the author shows some compassion, because if the whole ending had been in Clay’s head, I might not have been able to bare it. Switching points of view did leave me some welcome ambiguity. Even the final moments with Zander, while painful, are left open ended–I am left to write my own ending. What is he diagnosed with? Will he get the help he needs? Will he go to prison? Will he be institutionalized? Is any of this forgivable? I want to cry because I understand all of this, and wish I didn’t.

Rowan Massey’s Website

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A Chaos Moondrawn Review : Fated Hearts (Shadow Bound #1) by Garrett Leigh — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 There is a free short story prequel to this book, but you don’t need to read it to enjoy this story. Alpha Varian of the Northern Pack is allied with the Shadow Clan against the allied packs of the South. I don’t really understand how this alliance works; it […]

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A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Hearts Under Fire (New Amsterdam #1) by Kelly Wyre — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5 When two Doms meet in a bar and are enamored with each other…someone has to submit or they need a third. There are plenty of books like either of those scenarios, but this is something more nuanced. Clark owns a Bar named Glow, but is also part owner of […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Hearts Under Fire (New Amsterdam #1) by Kelly Wyre — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Hellion (415 Ink #3) by Rhys Ford — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating:3.75 stars out of 5 This is the third book in the series featuring five brothers who own a tattoo shop together. The whole series has a strong theme of survival and friends as family, so they would have the best emotional impact if read in order, but there is so much recapping that it’s […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Hellion (415 Ink #3) by Rhys Ford — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Zest by Clare London, The Accidental Baker 2

Zest Cover
Copyright ©2019 Clare London Jocular Press

I would rate this 3 stars.

This is actually the second book in this series. The first book, Accidental Baker, works like a prequel. It would be helpful to read it first because it introduces the reader to four couples. Yes, it’s an insta-everything meet cute, but it has a magical realism quality that makes it charming. Zest is very different stylistically, with less dialogue and being more inside the characters heads, with a lot of explaining. It focuses on Donnie and Will, alternating their POV. There are three more books planned, one for each couple, with obvious involvement of all the couples in this small community. Since it starts the next day after the previous book, I found the long recap odd and a little annoying.

I wanted to like these characters, but it was difficult for me. Will is too good to be true, but there isn’t much depth there. He seems less fleshed out than Donnie even though the reader gets his POV also. Donnie is uneven. Yes, at his age he is still figuring things out. This is his first real relationship. Still, at times I found him patiently and softly taking charge when he needs to and then wobbling to please everyone. He has self esteem issues, but is pretty easygoing and gets taken advantage of. He doesn’t like Will speaking for him, yet he he opens up to Trev and allows him to intercede on his behalf rather than dealing with his friends and their expectations on his own. When he has to take on so much responsibility, he is overwhelmed and shuts down. I also found it odd that Will talks to Donnie about employment right after sex with neither of them seemingly worried about dating and working together every day, or what would happen if this doesn’t work out, let alone Will making himself vulnerable as a business owner to being exploited or a lawsuit. The love scenes themselves don’t really add anything to this story.

As for the secondary characters, I didn’t like Donnie’s friends, Maisie or Henry. Abi isn’t in this book at all. Will has no friends, having just moved to town. Simon has a walk-on. Trev is used as a foil for Donnie to find help in unexpected places. Jez and Eric pop up. Will’s ex is vapid. Will’s mother is very inconsistent as a character all within the same scene. My opinion would be that the character interactions weren’t handled deftly. People are complex and the writing needs to show that rather than having the people be so contradictory, which doesn’t automatically make them multidimensional. When the main conflict of the story comes to a head, it didn’t ring true to me and I wasn’t emotionally invested. I have read other books by this author that I have enjoyed in the past, so maybe this series just isn’t my cup of tea.

Clare London’s Website

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