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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The Stark Divide by J. Scott Coatsworth, Liminal Sky 1

The Stark Divide
Cover Art © 2017 Aaron Anderson. aaronbydesign55@gmail.com

I would rate this 4.75 stars.

First off, this was a really well done science fiction novel. I think if you buy into the ideas of: AI becoming a sentient autonomous being, bio mechanical technology becoming something that a human (or potentially AI) could be born with, and the idea of terraforming within a starship, then there is everything to enjoy and delight in within this book. The story carried me along and I went willingly. This book takes place over a thirty year span of time, skipping over the surface of three time periods. One of the reasons I think it is successful is because it was clever about contained world-building with a small cast for greater emotional impact. Each character is rounded out through flashbacks, memories, dialogue and actions enough so that the reader gets a sense of person. Because the joys and tragedies are shared, I became invested in each person and their wellbeing. Each location is described enough for the reader to picture it, without it being overwhelming or an info dump.

During the first third of the book, the focus is on Colin, Jackson, and Ana, on a ship called the Dressler. This sets the stage for everything that is to come after. Colin is a hardworking, compassionate, competent captain who responds well to emergencies and tries to do his best for his crew. Jackson is the ship’s engineer who is tested in ways he never imagined. Ana is the expert in ship genetics. It is she who created three seed ships to try and save humanity. In this way, they operate as the human heart, soul, and mind of the book. Saving Lex, the Dressler ship-mind, and allowing it to eat the asteroid Ariadne thus begins the creation of mankind’s first interstellar ship is their legacy.

Ten years later, the second third of the book focuses on the new world-ship Ariadne, that is called Forever. Colin is now Director, Ana is on board after being released from prison, and Jackson is somewhere else entirely. Colin has ensured a diverse and inclusive settlement. The second and third seed worlds are underway, but the reader is left wondering about them. Jackson’s son Aaron becomes the focus of this part of the story with his friends, Devon and Keera. The dangers of political and corporate espionage, and religious fantatical saboteurs are all getting worse as the wars on Earth continue to destroy the planet. Lex is also a danger as a mind grown without parents. Can anyone trust the world-mind? Who taught it right from wrong? This issue is addressed in a unique way.

The third part of this story finally shows what Earth has become and highlights Eddie and Davian as they become refugees trying to reach Transfer Station and Forever. Colin is now retired, married to Trip, and has a berry farm, but is being called up to help with the refugees. Aaron is the new Director. There is now a generation of kids raised in space, who have never been on Earth. Aaron’s daughter Andy has also grown up in the virtual reality of the world-mind. Some fear her power and very few people know the AIs have become their own autonomous personalities that think and feel.

For me, the book shines in all the micro worlds: the ships, the settled part of Forever, the part still terraforming, the virtual reality of Lex’s mind, the space station, the cave on Earth, the desperate flight of a small two man ship…the author has created great texture interweaving all of these parts together to make a complex whole. The book is psychologically interesting, philosophically challenging, biologically and technologically fascinating with enough details to picture the surroundings, without overwhelming the reader. This has the perfect amount of world-building for me. Even with all that, the human element is never forgotten; the characters are engaging and written about in a way that made me care about what happens to them. Although sad, it’s realistic that some will want power and control. Being in the mind of someone like that is difficult, but I am pleased that the author added those viewpoints. While there are relationships of all varieties here, be aware this is science fiction rather than romance and all sex is fade to black. Many times, in answer to the vast majority of books being caucasian heteronormative, an author’s response is to make everyone in their book be queer, or people of color, or some underrepresented group. In this case, the author chose to make everyone diverse, represented, and not just equal, but equitable as much as possible. For me, the book ends on both a sad and hopeful note and the future of humanity is in the stars.

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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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A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Space Train by David Bridger — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

 

Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5 The blurb says this is like Firefly meets Wagon Train and that is accurate. This is the best world-building I have read in a long time that wasn’t contained in a bubble: meaning the reader isn’t just given enough to advance the plot at that moment, and that not […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Space Train by David Bridger — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Arctic Heat by Annabeth Albert, Frozen Hearts 3

 

ArcticHeatcover
Cover art made by Carina Press.

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

Although the third book in the series, this can be read as a standalone with no issue. Owen is a former investment banker. After a bout with cancer, he has decided to volunteer alongside park rangers in the Alaskan wilderness. There are little glimpses of his Asian family home life. His illness has made him less shallow, more willing to have fun and try new things. As a professional ranger Quill has no interest in a green city slicker volunteer but his best friend and partner Hattie has a new desk job and he can’t do his job alone. Quill hates change–set in his ways he is a private man. Owen is a people person and has the experience needed to slot into Quill’s work, and life, if Quill will let him. Owen needs to recognize some things might be more important than his bucket list. Even for people with a lot of snow experience, this is a dangerous job. If they can learn to trust each other, they can both have everything they didn’t know they wanted. This is a slow burn, opposites attract story that ratchets up the sexual tension over several months out in the wilderness together.

I like that Owen is a take charge, independent man who doesn’t take help because it’s easy, but will ask for help or listen when he needs it. I like that he is honest about how he feels and what he wants. I like that he is thoughtful, that he never takes charge in a way that would be taking advantage of Quill. Being privy to Quill’s past experiences is necessary as he doesn’t always communicate that with his words, whereas Owen will. Most of this book is about Owen battling his own wants and needs–confronting his own past traumas and unhealthy learned behaviors. Quill also accepts responsibility for his decisions, never blaming Owen for them.

This book focuses on the delicate dance of shared intimacy moving them forward, and different life experiences holding them back. The most difficult part is Quill battling the hyper-masculinity he was taught and learning to let Owen be a real partner and take charge when it’s the best thing to do instead of fighting it because he thinks he should. Owen’s cancer isn’t just mentioned once as a plot reason for this volunteer experience; it’s discussed naturally throughout the course of the book, both to explain its mental affect on Owen’s outlook, and as something a lover of his would need to know and understand. Every time I started to feel a little cabin fever, there is some emergency or situation with park visitors to break up that monotony. All the things that happen emphasize the effect of learning to live in the now and enjoying the ride. That’s when Owen’s POV is the most poignant, when he realizes this is not just fun and games to him, that things happen that can’t be planned for.

All three of the books in this series show how people think themselves into a box. I love it so much when they allow themselves to think their way out of the box too. I liked how even with the circumstances, things are not magically fixed, conflicts not glossed over. The sex scenes, always hot, ramp up as the intimacy turns them into something more. Yet, Quill’s eloquence was still a little too smooth all of the sudden, the epiphanies and big gesture a tiny over the top. Still, if that’s the only real fault I can find, that means this is a really well done, solid romance novel with likeable characters that I wanted to find happiness together.

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A Chaos Moondrawn Release Day Review: Digging Deep (Digging Deep #1) by Jay Hogan — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

This was painful for me to read because I have a chronic illness with similar issues. People are sometimes great when conditions are acute (like an emergency), but not so great when illness is chronic. They especially are not going to want to know details about your bowels, pain, depression, or anthing else unpleasant. It makes people uncomfortable. It’s not fun. So, I empathized with Drake immediately. In this world that is so sex driven, most people would try to avoid falling in love with someone who couldn’t or might not be able to have it–regardless of the reason. They like to think if the person they are already in love with got a serious illness or had a horrific accident, that they would stay…most won’t. But this, knowing ahead of time and still being willing to get involved with someone, tells you all you need to know. That’s why even though there is not a lot of dating and this all takes place in less than a year, I had no trouble believing the romance. Their lives are meshed together, their families and friends are blended. Parts of Drake’s life suck, and he’s been hurt, but haven’t we all? He is still pretty darn mean at times with his defense mechanisms, but it’s difficult to be nice when I am in pain–I lose sleep, patience, and my filter–so I get it. The petty crap and unimportant minutiae that many people focus on holds no importance for me. This is true for these characters also. They deal with live and death in their jobs. When people have health issues they can mostly hide given good timing and acting, it’s tempting to gloss it over and not let people see. The issue comes when people invite me out and I have to say no because I don’t feel well–most people finally just stop inviting me. If I go anyway and am not full of “all the fun”, I am a Debbie Downer. Even less fun is when people only see me when I am healthy, and then have a difficult time believing how I feel when I have health issues. Or, they see me when I don’t feel well and think, it doesn’t look that bad. What’s the big deal? I’m not constantly in the hospital or bleeding all over, so how bad can it be? This can be hurtful. People also always want to tell me what to do or use to fix me and make me better. While I appreciate it on one level, it is a bit egotistical to think they can cure what ten years of specialist doctors haven’t been able to with their talk of herbal tea, meditation, or vitamin supplements. I find this story believable because the people who will stay with you (romantic and platonic) are the ones who see you, believe you, and just accept you as you are. People who just want “fun” all the time are acquaintances or will drift away.

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 In an unfortunate series of events, Drake meets Caleb. This is meeting the right person in the wrong circumstances–or maybe not! It starts with an enemies to lovers vibe. Frankly, I didn’t quite feel the attraction during the hate phase, but once it gets going I was really rooting […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Release Day Review: Digging Deep (Digging Deep #1) by Jay Hogan — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

 

 

Review: Ramen Assassin by Rhys Ford, Ramen Assassin 1

Ramen Assassin
Cover Art © 2019 Reece Notley

I would rate this 4.75 stars.

Kuro Jenkins owns a ramen shop in Los Angeles. Rescuing former child star Trey Bishop one night leads him back into a lifestyle he thought he left behind. Trey has his own past he is trying hard to shake. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Trey’s life is in danger, but as a recovering addict, no one believes him. Growing close as they try to figure out who’s trying to kill them, is it just proximity and convenience, or something more?

Every time I feel like I’m being mean, not giving higher star reviews, I read something like this to remind me why I’m just being honest. This author describes scenes I can picture in my mind, with so many little details stuck in, they create snapshots. Her words tease all my senses, giving me characters I care about and can root for. This is like an action adventure, yet so intimate. The writing is a rat-a-tat style that fits this genre well. Here, the secondary characters shine–especially the females. The plot twists actually move the story forward with nice symmetry. This is a spy tale–ex-spy tale–so the reader should expect some suspension of disbelief. Overall, this is a gripping, sweet and totally smoking romance, with a few dead bodies and a satisfying ending.

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Review: Benoit by RJ Scott and V.L Locey, Owatonna U Hockey 3

Benoit cover
Cover by Meredith Russell

I would rate this book 3.75 stars.

This is the third book in the series and would benefit from being read in order, but could be read as a standalone. This is a spin-off series (think second generation) of the Harrisburg Railers series. It focuses on the senior year of Ryker, Scott, and Benoit who play college hockey on a team known as the Eagles at Owatonna University. Ryker and Scott were paired off in the first two books, so this book is about Ben meeting Ethan Girard, the team’s new defensive consultant and famed Boston defenseman.

Ethan is 32 and possibly nearing the end of his career, while Benoit is just getting started, so besides the ten year age gap are their choices, their outlook, and their life experiences. Sure Benoit is a bit jealous of all his friends, but he just wants to focus on hockey and go skate for Edmonton. He is navigating a lot of pressure to help make it big and care for his family, keep his grades high and earn a degree he can use if he gets injured and can’t play anymore. He also needs to decide if coming out publicly is a good decision when he is already battling racism. Ethan can afford, in every sense of the word, to do what he wants. He got drafted right away and never went to college. If he retires, he won’t have to face as much blowback for his sexuality. I feel like I was told all of that instead of being shown.

I have to say this third book is somehow removed from the characters for the first half because it is busy sharing the story with everyone else. A lot of it takes place in Benoit’s (or Ethan’s) head, but weeks go by without anything happening. Although this makes sense because Ben is avoiding Ethan, it makes it difficult to get into the story until about 35% of the way in. Everything seems skimmed over though, without much detail. Thankfully everything snaps back into focus with a detailed description of the hotel dining room for a Railers dinner. The book comes alive, with Stan and Ten, when Ryker convinces Scott and Benoit to go to a Railers game and hangout with his dads after. You do not have to know or have read about these characters to read this book–it was like the authors didn’t have a focus for the writing itself until this scene, when the reader is finally given enough details to actually picture the surroundings.

Benoit’s story really clicks into place when he and Ethan are a couple, spending time together, and stops worrying about what everyone else is doing. This is the writing at its best. There is a plot point that gets shoved in the background and pulled back out later to be used as a source of conflict. All this did for me was really highlight the age differences between Benoit and Ethan, making a HEA less believable. I personally would call this an HFN because they are not on equal footing and Benoit’s lack of maturity shows in how he deals with conflict. Some of the best scenes in the book were the ice hockey games at the end; this also highlighted the other parts of the book that were supposed to be suspenseful, but weren’t. Overall this was a good trilogy featuring college players and this book was a way to tie up any lose ends for Benoit, Ryker, Jacob, Scott, and Haynes. It gave the authors new characters to mention later. The next phase seems to be a new series with Ryker playing for the Arizona Raptors with Aarni, the guy who hurt his father’s fiance, which will pull the reader back into the NHL.

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*P.S. These authors are amazing at being non Amazon exclusive. They do a lot of work moving their books in and out of KU to allow their fans to buy from other platforms/formats. If you are reading this post way after it is written, the best way to know what books are on sale where, and for how long, is to subscribe to their newsletters.

A Chaos Moondrawn Release Day Review: Hitting the Mark by Aidan Wayne — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 4 stars out of 5 The story starts with Marcus going back to where he’s from to film a movie. He has the chance to visit the taekwondo academy where he spent five formative years, from age 10 to 15. Back then, his crush was the son of the owner, Taemin, who became an […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Release Day Review: Hitting the Mark by Aidan Wayne — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Empire Of Light by Alex Harrow, Voyance 1

 

EmpireOfLightCover
Cover Art by Natasha Snow

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

Damien is a guy trying to survive by making the hard choices. He’s loyal and will do anything for the family that’s been cobbled together in this dystopian future, especially his lover Aris, which puts him right between a rock and a hard place. He’s working as an assassin for the Watch, the police force of the Empire of Consolidated Nations, run by Commander Faelle Valyr. The story is set in Helos, previously New York before the Wars of 2090. Everyone is corrupt. When Damien gets sent to take out a corporate guy named Mael Taerien, he’s caught and blackmailed into killing Valyr instead. Taerien’s henchman Raeyn sticks close to his side to make sure he cooperates. As the action intensifies, battle lines are drawn but they are fluid and everyone has to adjust to the ever changing landscape.

This is a gritty story with an almost frantic pace. Damien is like a mountain goat, stubborn yet quickly adapting to all terrains. It’s not like he has any choice. The poor guy is in one fight after another (beaten, choked, kicked, stabbed, and shot). Darien tries to play whichever side will help save Aris, himself, and their friends. Aris has his own plans and his own lovers. He’s between his own rocks and hard places. The thing is Damien and Aris are both broken and the pieces don’t quite match together. That doesn’t change anything that is going to happen as everyone runs head first into their future. Damien doesn’t ignore things as well as he thinks he does, so the reader understands he sees what he wants to about the people he loves. He also forgets that everyone he loves is not like him. I’m of two minds about the secondary characters not being that fleshed out: that’s a huge missed opportunity for emotional connection to the story, and thank goodness or I’d be a blubbering mess.

As Damien gets closer to Raeyn, I wasn’t sure who to root for, or against. In many ways Raeyn is a better match for Damien, but there are some major obstacles and their relationship has it’s own dysfunction. About halfway through this story my mind was partially blown, because a good author foreshadows. At about three quarters of the way in, my mind was fully blown. The only way this story works at all is because the reader only has Damien’s POV. There is no way at all to describe this plot without spoilers. It’s an impossible task and I don’t want to do that. Just trust that there is a plot twist around every corner in this complicated web of lies and conspiracies. Yes, some seem improbable but that’s half the fun. This is action packed from beginning to end and could have benefited from some more quiet moments. They are there, but they are usually gut wrenching in their mental dysfunction, so they are not restful for the reader. They are necessary to understand the psychology of the characters. I also think the unrelenting pace is to stop the reader from looking at holes in the plot, or to try and work out what will happen. But after going through this journey, the end is too optimistic for all the brutal world building that has taken place. Even though this has an ending, I was left floundering around wondering what now, but that might just be that I kept moving after the ride stopped. I’m going to say I enjoyed the ride.

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