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 […]

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A Chaos Moondrawn Review: A Faerie Story by Barbara Elsborg — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 The first part of the book shows little snippets in the life of three different boys. During a traumatic event, Kaegan discovers Christmas. Over time, Inverkillen, in the Scottish Highlands, becomes his magical place where it is eternal Christmas. As his life becomes more and more unpleasant due to […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: A Faerie Story by Barbara Elsborg — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Master Of Restless Shadows by Ginn Hale, Book One

GinnHale Restless Cover
Cover Illustration by Zaya Feli Cover Design by Dawn Kimberling

I would rate this 4 stars.

I thought this was a standalone, but apparently it would have been helpful to read the Lord of White Hell and the Champion of the Scarlet Wolf duologies first. The world-building is amazingly detailed, yet I still feel like I might have had a rounder view of this universe if I read those first, as there are several characters from those books included in this one and they are written in linear time. Things about the court intrigues, neighboring countries, power struggles between church and state, all the differnet types of religious beliefs, and the use of magic obviously all have more background than I was privy to here. While the plot is always easy to follow, the explanations about the magic are not–until the second half. All of the sudden the magic is explained, the emotional connection I wanted kicks in, and the book really comes alive, which saved this story for me. I am left wondering if maybe I would have felt more emotionally attached from the beginning if I had read the other four books? The writing style for the first half is removed, like an observer focused on the main plot and moving about chess pieces. While there is clever dialogue and witty banter, the author never lets them succumb to passion or deeper emotions that the reader can actually sit with and let breathe. Then again, maybe that is because of the constant explanations of past events, but recaps are entirely necessary for this to work.

The story is told from four points of view: Narsi, Atreau, Ariz, and Fedeles. Narsi is a great character, a genuinely kind, clever, brave and warmhearted physician. Atreau the charming rake and novelist, but that deflects from what he is really doing as a spymaster. Ariz is the tragic tale, living under compulsion and being made to do things he doesn’t want to do. Fedeles as the Duke of Rauma is treading a fine line of facing his fears and past traumas to become the hero everyone needs. Although these main leads are all male, there are many strong females characters in this book and the cast is large and diverse. Clara and Oasia are the most intriguing, rich, intelligence, three dimensional female roles I’ve read in secondary characters in a long time. Everyone has various shades of grey as many are not whom they seem on the surface, even Narsi takes to subterfuge with ease. The characters are what bring this to life–why I even cared about all the plots and subplots. Honestly though, more than rooting for them individually, I was rooting for good to win over evil and for anyone to have even a dash of happiness. Just like real life, there is racism, sexism, homophobia, religious zeal, and xenophobia. In the end, it’s about averting a war. The corruption, greed, torture, assassinations, servitude…they are what you would expect from the rich and powerful. There is nothing fast about this book; it’s all slowly built brick by brick. That’s not to say that no action happens, but the pacing is slowed by the world-building–even though this all takes place in a week, it feels much longer. Suddenly everything happens at once and it’s over.

If you are wanting an m/m romance, this may not hold your interest. If you want a complex, painstakingly detailed, queer renaissance type high fantasy novel with a tangle of multiple plots and slow burn, fairly chaste romantic pairings, then you might like to try this book. This is also going to be a duology, so be aware this doesn’t end here. Right now I am frustrated on many levels. While I acknowledge the first half was neccessary, I didn’t love it and was getting bored. After the second half, I am completely sucked in and want to read the next book right now this minute. I am also sad that reading this might have ruined the four previous books for me, because I will know what happens as I believe this duology is the end of the series.

Ginn Hale’s Website

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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: 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 […]

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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 […]

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