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review 2019-03-02 19:53
7 & 7 - Anthology of Virtue and Vice
7&7 - Andrea Speed,Carole Cummings,J. Tullos Hennig,Amy Rae Durreson,John Inman,Pearl Love,Brandon Witt,Sean Michael,Fred J. Cook,Rick R. Reed

This anthology is by DSP Publications, so these stories aren't romance focused. As with most anthologies, this one is a mixed bag. Some were good, others were not, but I didn't find any of them to be great. Overall rating on this one is 2.5 stars, with one DNF.

 

* = New to me author

 

 

The Dark of the Sun by Amy Rae Durreson

 

3.5 stars

 

A priest in some remote village is mourning his dead husband when a group arrives wanting to hike up the mountain to see an eclipse from the temple. This conveyed a lot in a short amount of time. This is the second short story I've read by Durreson, the other being The Court of Lightning, which I also really liked. She seems to have a knack for short stories and uses every word and scene to its full effect. It is still a bit rushed at the ending though.

 

The Bank Job by Andrea Speed

 

3 stars

 

A super-villian is overly-impressed with himself and pays the price. Since this was short, he didn't have enough time to be overly-impressed with himself for it to start annoying me like this trait did in Speed's Infected series. There was some humor sprinkled in throughout, but I'm baffled why any super-villian would have that many minions on one job with him. Seems inefficient.

 

Plus, the gay couple felt tacked on and token-y, which left a bad taste in the mouth.

 

Prudence for Fools by Sean Michael*

 

1.5 stars

 

This was poorly executed. There's next to no world-building. If I hadn't glanced over the little blurb that precedes the story, I'd have had no idea what was going on at the start of it. There are a couple of brief descriptions on Brawn's people and Del's people, and that's about it. I guess "mountain folk" is supposed to be enough to cover everything else. Wu, the apprentice who brings little to the story, makes a comment upon meeting Brawn's people about "all the stories I heard were true" or something along those lines and being told they were. Great. And those stories are? How can you tell by just a single look and zero interaction? And for Del being such an old dude, he sounded more like a petulant teenager while griping about his lot in life.

 

There were good bones here, and in the hands of the right author this could've been a great story, which just makes it that much more tragic that was so mundane and slapped together.

 

The Gate by J.S. Cook*

 

1 star

 

Speaking of slapped together, was this edited at all? I thought this was a contemporary at the start. But then they mentioned war preparations, and then Hitler. Okay, so it's WWII. Oh, and then we're in Newfoundland. Okay then, sure, why not. Except...

 

Look, I don't know how buildings are designed in Newfoundland, or what their waste management system is like there, now or in the 1940s. But here in my neck of the US of A, generally, restaurants have doors at the rear or near the kitchen that go pretty much directly to the trash bin, which WM picks up on a scheduled basis. But for some reason Jack's cafe doesn't do that, so when his neighbor next door puts up an iron gate that cuts off access to the alley, it causes this big huge deal with the trash and I had trouble picturing what the issue was. Why are his trash bins so poorly located to cause this dilemma? Could the trash even be picked up with that gate there?

 

Then there's the cast-iron gate - during WWII, when iron and steel were in pretty high demand to build ships and planes and such for the war effort. Since there's mention of gas restrictions, I assume there must also be similar restrictions on iron. So where did this gate come from? Then Jack says he's going to go to the city about the gate - but apparently never does. Wouldn't Jack need a permit to put up something like that that cuts off access to common-use throughways?

Maybe it's his mafia contacts cutting through the red tape for him, who knows.

(spoiler show)

 

Then there's the thankfully brief sex scene, which starts in the cafe after hours but suddenly there's bedsheets? Huh? Where did the sheets come from? They were just sitting at the table in the cafe literally two sentences ago. Don't even get me started on the ending. I know these aren't romance, so I don't expect these stories to fall in with the expectations of that genre, but they still need to make sense. That came out of nowhere and felt more like the author just didn't know how to end the story.

This story was one big logic fail.

 

Heirs to Grace and Infinity by Carole Cummings*

 

3 stars

 

The basic premise of this one is that magic is real, but can be controlled/suppressed by implants and is outlawed, and the Bureau is out to get all magical people. A bunch of people don't like that, including our good guy/magical protag. Think X-Men but with magic instead of super powers. This felt like being plopped into the middle of a story. Literally. The two chapters provided felt like middle chapters to a longer book. Yet despite that, and the use of third person/present tense which always feels awkward, it was an interesting read and did a fairly decent job in world-building.

 

The Rendering by John Inman

 

DNF

 

I swore I would never again read another book by John Inman after The Boys on the Mountain, and four paragraphs into this short story I was reminded why. It was repetitive, not to mention borderline offensive (um, sorry, but car seat belts stretch, a lot), and then I started getting flashbacks to that other story and I couldn't continue. Maybe it's a good story, but I'm not inclined to find out.

 

Beyond the Temperance Effect by Serena Yates*

 

2 stars

 

This is an interesting set up to what could be a much longer story. A group of humans set out for a new star system (not solar system; only our star system is called a solar system because our star is called Sol) to find a new world to inhabit. Humans of the future have found ways to control their emotions, making war and violence obsolete (I think?) but as they near their new home world, people start getting all aggressive again. We find out why, and the story just ends there. It's a little non-sensical, but that's probably because it's too short to really do much world-building.

 

Covetous by Pearl Love*

 

0 stars

 

What the fiddlesticks was this? So this dude is jealous of pretty much everyone around him for every reason under the sun. I couldn't stand him and started skimming pretty quickly. The blurb got me wondering if he was going to pay for his jealous ways by becoming vampire kibble, especially after he meets some insanely gorgeous guy and his three twinks at a bar - modern day Dracula, right? Alas, no. In order to save everyone else the boredom and ridiculousness of this very short story:

he goes home with the devil and his three twinks, and literally gets pounded to death and taken to hell for permanent torture. The end. Oh, and there's something with his eyeballs and mouth being sown shut. I don't do eye horror, guys! NOPE!

(spoiler show)

So that was stupid. Glad I skimmed most of it. Probably should have just skipped it entirely. Where's my brain bleach?!

 

Hope by Rick R. Reed*

3 stars

 

I thought this was going to be more paranormal than it ended up, given it starts with a haunting, but it's not like that at all. Other than the ghost, this is a normal everyday contemporary about a guy whose mom dies and he moves back to his childhood home to figure out his life after he gets some yet more bad news. He meets the hunky next door neighbor and flirtation happens.

However, this takes place in the last 90s, and after living a life of drugs and unsafe sex, the bad news he gets is that he has HIV. The cocktail that they use now was still in the early days here, so Tom isn't aware of this option when he burns all his bridges and decides to make the least of what's left of his life. He's seen multiple friends succumb to HIV/AIDS and now he'll be another statistic.

 

I liked that this gave us Tom's despair and hopelessness and didn't do what so many M/M romance writers do and miraculously give their characters an all-clear when those characters haven't been taking care of themselves and having unsafe sex. It's a catch-22. Most readers I know, including myself, feel that AIDS and gay men are just too closely connected to be anything other than cliche if seen too often in books, but it is still a reality for a lot of people. So what do you do? I guess you can give the formerly-irresponsible character an understanding and hunky next-door neighbor who is willing to take precautions and see where the relationship goes. And an overly-concerned ghost.

(spoiler show)

 

This was a strange mix of elements, but somehow ended up being a decent story, especially compared to others in this anthology.

 

Train to Sevmash by Jamie Fessenden*

 

2.5 stars

 

Set during the cold war, a US spy goes into Russia for a mission that requires him to kill some Soviet for some reason. The details are sketchy at best, but there's eventually enough to piece together what he was supposed to be doing. But of course, his target is absolutely gorgeous and kind and has a really nice smile. What's a spy to do? I liked the characters, but since the details of the mission aren't really explicit, I can't say if I'm upset by the ending or not.

The spy was supposed to kill a Russian who works on a submarine that is targeting US ships, so that the spy can steal the Russian's identity and get on the sub to do something or other. That part isn't clear at all. The spy of course can't go through with it because he falls for the Russian in the course of a night. So lots of unprofessional professional going on here.

(spoiler show)

There are also random Russian words thrown in that I guess we're supposed to figure out the meaning of given context, and some I could, others I couldn't but that didn't hamper the story much.

 

Red Light Special by Rhys Ford

 

3 stars

 

This was a lot more cohesive than the short story Dim Sum Asylum from the Charmed and Dangerous anthology, which was a slapdash mess of a "story," but this still has a lot of similar elements, namely fae/elves and sex statues. What is it with this author and sex statues? Or fae, for that matter? If that's your jam, you'll love this. I mostly liked Seymour, and there was just enough snark that I was able to enjoy the story despite itself. Still, I'm glad I've never bothered with any of Ford's longer stories. I get the impression they'd be a chore for me to get through.

 

Traitor by Clare London

 

3.5 stars

 

A former MI-5 operative gets called in to question a member of a radical neo-Nazi terrorist cell - who is not only a former MI-5 operative himself and also the other dude's former lover. This could have been really angsty and overly dramatic, but London's deft writing prevents it from going there. It was a bit on the predictable side, but considering I've come to expect so little of this anthology, it was nice to find a well-written piece that flowed and had a beginning, middle, and end.

 

Couches of Fabric and Snow by Brandon Witt

 

3 stars

 

The theme for this story was sloth, but I thought the MC was clearly suffering from untreated depression that's worsened when he goes on a school trip with his class and runs across his ex. <spoiler>They have a confrontation, he spies on his ex having sex with one of the trainers, then goes out in the woods to fall asleep in the middle of a blizzard. The story ends there, but it's pretty clearly implicated that he's going to die there.</spoiler> I felt a little uncomfortable that his depression was at times being treated as a personality defect, but it was plain that the MC was pretty darn lazy even before the breakup with his ex; the depression just made all of that worse. Kind of bummer of a story to end an anthology on, but it wasn't the last one I read.

 

Horseboy by J Tullos Hennig

 

3.5 stars

 

This comes between "Hope" and "Train to Sevmash," but I saved it for last hoping to end the anthology on a high note. I love Hennig's series, The Wode, which is a fantasy retelling of the Robin Hood legend. This story could easily be fit into that universe, since there's a Templar Knight, unnamed, and Sabiq, the titular horseboy. They both have secrets to keep and though they're on opposite sides of the Crusades conflict, they form a sort of truce after Sabiq saves the Templar's life. This felt like an intro to a longer story, one that I very much hope the author might write someday.

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review 2019-01-03 03:36
Vespertine
Vespertine - Indra Vaughn,Leta Blake

This just didn't work for me. Seventeen years pass between the MCs breaking up and meeting up again. That's just too long for anyone to still be hung up on a first love, especially when I couldn't even imagine why they'd be friends in the first place. Nicky's kind of got an excuse, since he's supposed to be emotionally-stunted from his years of drug use. I'm not sure what Jasper's excuse is, but he reverts back to a teenager as soon as Nicky's around. He doesn't have a concrete personality, just "revelations" as required for the plot.

 

I didn't buy the connection between the MCs. Zero chemistry - for me. I'm clearly the odd one out on this one, since everyone else seems to love it. I wanted to like it, and most of it I did like, but there was always something off. If it wasn't the painfully horrible song lyrics, it was the ham-fisted way that Jasper's conflict of religion was handled. If it wasn't the stereotypical portrayal of the rock star life and the evil record company big wigs, it was the overly contrived situations the authors kept putting the characters in to manufacture UST that fell flat on its face. Then because the authors made the reader wait so long for the smexy, a bunch of sex gets crammed into the end, by which point I was beyond caring. Then the authors threw in an absolutely ridiculous plot "twist" that annoyed me so much I had to skim most of the after-school special melodrama, which was as cliched and predictable as you would expect, just to not have my first read of 2019 end up a DNF.

 

Actually, that was a big issue from the beginning of the book. Because this is a Romance(™) so there has to be an HEA or at least an HFN, and for that to happen, there's no way Jasper was ending this book still a priest. It was pretty easy to see how that resolution was being set up. That wouldn't be an issue, necessarily, but I could never buy into Jasper's existential crisis. It came across shallow. A little less clear was Nicky's ending, but you knew something dramatic would happen to make his situation with his record company better.

 

And that was another problem. There was just so much drama. While this did start out promising, it quickly nose-dived into Dramaville around 70% and never quite climbed it's way back out again. The drama llamas were stampeding and they weren't letting our characters out of this book without massive amounts of MELODRAMA.

 

Melodramatic yelling at your long-lost love.
Melodramatic song lyrics.
Melodramatic praying in the shower.
Melodramatic swimming.
Melodramatic running away down the road whilst halfway tearing off your clothes. Yes, that deserved a "whilst."
Melodramatic phone tossing - because you can't have melodramatic ANGST if the characters can contact each other too easily. (Did he ever get a new phone?)
Melodramatic crying.

 

So.

 

Much.

 

Crying.

 

I didn't feel any of these emotions were genuine, nor did I feel any real attachment to the characters. Basically, I had attachment disorder with this book. :D

 

I didn't hate all of it. I liked all the stuff with the teens in Blue Oasis. I liked Thomas and Mrs. Wells, and Nicky's parents and Ramona. The cat was hilarious. Nicky even had his moments when he wasn't being an ass or annoying. Jasper was mostly lost potential though, sadly.

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review 2018-12-10 05:51
Days Without End (Audiobook)
Days Without End - Sebastian Barry,Aidan A. Kelly

Narration: 5 stars

Story: 3.5 stars

Final rating: 4 stars

 

It was my week for strange stories. This isn't even a story in the traditional sense. This reads more like a rambling memoir but with language so intimate and lush that I could easily forget that I was only really getting broad brushstrokes for the bulk of the story. This is mostly a summation of a young man's life as he figures out some hard-won truths.

 

Told from the POV of Thomas McNulty, an Irish immigrant, as we follow him and his friend turned lover John Cole across America in the mid-1800s. Survivors of the famine, they come to America with nothing, practically starved to death, and start to figure out how to survive from one day to the next, whether that's playacting as girls in a stage show or joining the Army to fight in the Indian Wars and eventually the Civil War.

 

This book doesn't shy away from the harsh reality of this time period in American history, nor does it give us safely and comfortably progressive-minded MCs to filter that reality through. Thomas and John Cole might not be outright hateful of anyone but they don't stop to ask why they're being given the orders they're given nor do they spend much time if any contemplating the morality of the slaughter of the First Peoples. Not at first. As Thomas notes at one point, no soldier fully understands the war he fights in; he only knows his one part in it. 

 

I was most interested in Thomas's and John's non-Army days, while they were living together and eventually with their adopted daughter Winona, a Sioux orphan, but those parts were sparse safe harbors in between all the violence and war of those times. The ending, such as it was, is more open-ended than anything else. 

I would have preferred a reunion between Thomas, John and Winona instead of just Thomas looking forward to it.

(spoiler show)

 

The narration by Aiden Kelly was truly amazing. He captures Thomas's bewildered voice perfectly and truly makes this oddly mesmerizing story come to life. 

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review 2018-12-07 05:00
Guardian Spirits (Spirits #3) (Audiobook)
Guardian Spirits - Jordan L. Hawk

The final book in the Spirits trilogy is adequate. This hasn't been my favorite series by Ms. Hawk by a long shot. I never really felt the romance between Henry and Vincent, the ghost adventuring is pretty standard though she does bring a certain flair to it, and the narrator is listenable, but nothing to write home about.

 

The plot here was again predictable and I could see every twist and turn coming from a mile away. While it makes emotional sense that Vincent and Jo would make the incredibly stupid decisions they make, it still felt like all the characters were given a case of the dumb-dumbs in order for the plot to happen, which is why this got downgraded half a star.

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review 2018-10-03 02:51
Restless Spirits (Spirits #1) (Audiobook)
Restless Spirits - Jordan L. Hawk,Greg Tremblay

My review of the book is here and not much has changed. I did like the relationship development between Henry and Vincent better this time around. Not sure why, but it did. I still can't believe how idiotic and naive Henry was at times, and the fact he and Vincent never figured out the real-life human threat until the end - geez, it was so obvious! And I'm not just saying that because I read it before; I'd actually completely forgotten this part of the plot. So please, guys, don't quit your day job and become detectives. You would suck at it.

 

I decided to reread this since I barely remembered much about it and I'm planning to read the other two in the series soonish. Since this was just released on audio, I figured now was the time for a reread. This is also the first audiobook by Greg Tremblay I listened to. He did a decent job. I wasn't blown away by his narration, but I wasn't annoyed either. His range for voices seems limited, but I was mostly able to keep track of who was speaking when. He was easy to listen to and spoke at a speed that didn't require me to speed up the playback very much.

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