Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Beast & The Sibyl (A Prydain Novel Book 2) by A J Adams

Before I read A J Adams' latest foray into fantasy romance, I had not known what a Sibyl was. Another name for witch, apparently, or at least, a woman with enhanced powers such as visions and an affinity with animals and nature.

The Beast & The Sibyl is the second book in the Prydain series, but it must be stressed, can be read as a standalone novel. I had no problem in getting into the world that the author had created, of two rival communities in a fantasy land that seems both far away and very familiar. There are autocratic leaders, greedy politicians, people who are happy to believe one thing and are afraid of change; a superstitious people, who at once revere and fear those with powers they cannot understand.

The sibyl, Bliss, lives in comfort but also in fear, as she doesn't want to be used by the powers running the land she lives in and loves. But her visions have led her to rescue and care for a man she calls Beast, who has strayed into enemy territory. But the time she has tended his wounds and helped him escape, she is in mortal danger, as well as in love.

I am familiar with A J Adam's work, most recently, The Zeta Cartel, and this follows a similar pattern. The stories are told from two points of view; Bliss and the Beast's, first giving her opinion of what is happening, then his. The result is that you get to know the characters really well, and have a bird's eye view of their reactions during the development of their volatile relationship. They have been brought up to be enemies, but are gradually becoming friends, allies and lovers. So readers in love with A J Adam's style have nothing to fear. They will get what they love.

But as well as that, the language is fruity, there is humour, and the voices are authentic, giving a genuine fantasy romance feel. This isn't just The Zeta Cartel with wolves and spears, but a fully-realised, carefully thought out world, backed by intensive research to make it real. The formula is familiar, but told in a very engaging and entertaining way.

It is a long book as well. You always get good value with A J Adams. There are plenty of characters, but not too many, some great boo-hiss villains, some awesome fight scenes and pert exchanges between the two leads, as well as panty-wetting sex, although they don't really get it on until much later in the book. This is as much about the story as it is about the bonking, and a very entertaining story it is too, especially with the addition of Bliss's sidekicks, a wolf and two gorgeous kitty cats. This author knows what her audience likes, and doesn't disappoint.

BLURB

“We caught a Beast! A real live poxy Beast!”

Bastards. Calling us beasts while they cheat, steal, and lie. I got kicked in the ribs, a whip laid about my shoulders, and all the time they were screaming.

“Hang him!”

“Beat him!”

“Kill the Beast!”

Then I saw her. She was standing there, staring right into my eyes. For a moment, I thought I was looking at a Valkyrie, one of Valhalla’s shield maidens. She had hair the colour of ice, and eyes as blue as the sky. Tall, willowy, and silent, she looked unworldly. There was a wolf at her side, too.

I blinked, expecting her to vanish, but it wasn’t a vision. She was real. The knowledge hit me with a punch that sucked the breath out of me. She was one of us, a Skraeling of Thule.

She leaned on the wolf, controlling it with a touch of her hand. “Lady Freyja always advises counsel before action.”

A Skraeling woman who invoked our goddess yet who was a traitor. I was filled with sudden hate, poisoned by the thought of one of our own people contaminated by foul betrayal.

If the will were a weapon, she would have fallen on the spot. Instead, the world blurred again. I think

I passed out for a few moments because when I opened my eyes, he was there. The Patriarch. A cheat, a liar and all-round scum bucket.

He certainly hates us Skraeling. “Glorious Ullr will bring us wise counsel. And tomorrow we will flog the Beast to cleanse him of his sins, and then we will burn him alive!”

He’s a vicious Beast, violent and dangerous. Bliss knows she ought to walk away. After all, she has a dark and dangerous secret to preserve. When she can’t leave him to burn, her rescue tumbles them both into danger, adventure and romance.





Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Review: Oliver & Jack At Lodgings In Lyme by Christina E. Pilz

I was gifted an ARC of this book in return for an honest and fair review. This review first appeared on the WROTE Podcast website.
I don’t usually start a series in the middle, but I wanted to read Lodgings in Lyme as I know the area reasonably well. Also, I would be reading the book at the very time I would be staying there.
I had no idea what to expect, going into the series completely cold. This is the continuing saga of two young men who love each other, but haven’t acknowledged it physically yet, an audacious, yet not terribly serious, tale of what it was like to be young, gay, and the wrong side of the law in the 1880’s. Jack and Oliver (Jack “Artful Dodger” Dawkins and Oliver Twist – all grown up) are on the run and have to get out of London after a crime that would see Oliver hanged if he was found out. Jack has some nebulous plan to head to Lyme Regis to find out more about his long lost family, but before that, they have to stay one step ahead of the law. Jack is also injured and getting more unwell by the moment, and spending hours in a creaky, leaky coach isn’t doing his health any good at all.
First off, one minor niggle to point out and put aside. The cover, stunning as it is, but the picture is not of Lyme Regis! Call me petty, but it did make me question the quality of the book before I had even opened it. Some readers might then start picking holes in the fabric of the book on this point alone, but that would be a shame, because aside from the artistic licence given to the photograph, the author has obviously researched her subject with forensic detail. The historical setting and language is convincing. She hasn’t tried to ape Dickens; not at all, but put her own spin on two well-loved characters and in doing so, made them her own.
Oliver is still the golden boy, possibly able to get away with murder, and Jack is the wild card, still not able to let go of his thieving ways, missing the “craft” of what he does best. He is ill-mannered, even to those who want to help him, which doesn’t make him that sympathetic. It seems as if Oliver’s charms aren’t rubbing off on him yet. I hope they do, because at the moment, I don’t care for him very much at all. Considering the precarious position they are in, relying on the charity of strangers, his behaviour seems self-destructive at best. His only redeeming feature is his obvious love for Oliver, and the lengths he will go to, to protect him. Oliver, on the other hand, seems very capable of looking after himself, and his doe-eyed innocence does not seem very convincing after a while. They are an odd couple but somehow, it works.
I loved the authentic voices, the descriptive scenes and historical detail, all given a lightness of touch which saves this series from being weighty and full of its own importance. Instead, there is a mischievousness to the dialogue and tenderness during the intimate scenes. The sex, when it happens, is not lengthy or lurid, but is well-written and cleverly dealt with. Sexy, yes, but not gratuitously so.
In the end, I would be very intrigued to discover the fate of these two men. History shows us that a HEA isn’t really feasible, but this is MM historical fiction, and anything can happen. It will be interesting to find out. I just hope that Jack relinquishes his uncouth ways before they lead both him and Oliver to the gallows.
BLURB
An ex-apprentice and his street thief companion flee the dangers of Victorian London and the threat of the hangman’s noose in search of family and the promise of a better life.
After Oliver Twist commits murder to protect Jack Dawkins (The Artful Dodger), both must flee London’s familiar but dangerous environs for safety elsewhere. Together they travel to Lyme Regis in the hopes of finding Oliver’s family. Along the way, Jack becomes gravely ill and Oliver is forced to perform manual labor to pay for the doctor’s bills. 
While Oliver struggles to balance his need for respectability with his growing love for Jack, Jack becomes disenchanted with the staid nature of village life and his inability to practice his trade. But in spite of their personal struggles, and in the face of dire circumstances, they discover the depth of their love for each other.

Review: Remains by J. Warren

This review first appeared on the WROTE Podcast website. To find out more about what makes him tick, and get links to his work, listen to Episode 121: So That's a Thing!

REVIEW

Told in the first person, this is a deep, dark and compelling book. Mike Kendall is a troubled man, on meds and having therapy to untangle the torments of his past, when he is told to go home to his folks for Thanksgiving. At the same time, bones have been found, which might belong to a boy he was friendly with in his teens.

The author has been very clever, as the whole way through the book, I wasn't sure whether Mike was a good guy, or a bad guy trying to cover up past crimes (no spoilers.) For a while, I didn't actually like him very much. He didn't seem that caring towards his girlfriend, forever waiting for him to call her, or particularly sympathetic towards his sister, whose lesbian affair was alienating her from their parents. But I know that people with mental health issues can sometimes come across as unlikeable, so the author had hit the mark with Mike dead on. When we find out the reason for all his past torments, it seemed a little too easy, but there was enough to keep the mind ticking over with everything else going on around him.

It's difficult to say much more without letting slip some of the many secrets the small town of Placeville holds, but I can say that there are many, and they are very dark indeed. I genuinely did not see the denouement coming, and I wasn't expecting the satisfaction I felt at the very end. In fact, I read it twice to make sure I hadn't missed anything.

Anyone fascinated by the "small-town America seething with murky skeletons in the closet" genre, will love this. It is a Salinger-esque character study of one man, but also one place, the town, and the lengths it will go to, to remain normal on the outside. Again, I'm choosing words carefully, so as not to spoil anything. There are elements of horror, of murder/mystery, of sex (and one extremely well-written intimate scene, blooming into a fledgling relationship) and social commentary, as well as the complicated dynamics within a fragmenting family. Half-way through Remains I realised I didn't want to put the book down until I'd finished it. It was a slow burn, to be sure, but well-worth the effort.


BLURB

J. Warren's Remains is an insular story, almost claustrophobic as we first join Mike Kendall where he lives: walled up in his own mind. As the book progresses, Kendall is drawn back to his hometown of Placerville, when the remains of a long-missing boy are finally found, a boy Kendall had shared a complicated history. No matter how much Kendall tries to resist the underside of the mystery behind Randy McPherson's disappearance, he must confront the lies that he has built his life upon.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Daimonion (Book 1 of the Apocalypse) by J.P. Jackson

I was gifted an ARC for an honest and fair review. This review first appeared on the WROTE Podcast website. Daimonion is published on 10th July 2017.

Daimonion is many things. The first book in The Apocalypse trilogy, a debut novel, and a blood-spattered, gory quest for one demon who struggles with the whole “killing kids” thing. The book is told in the first person, and has more than one protagonist, but it works because they are each given a chapter, clearly marked. This can go horribly wrong, but not in this case.

Dati is the main character, a demon who is a bit hapless, to be honest. Despite his his job description, he seems to have a human side, which gets him into all sorts of trouble, especially when he tries to save one special person who eventually ends up in a cocoon. He just seems to have the kiss of death about him, but I liked him because he was obviously struggling with unfamiliar feelings. Obsession, rather than love, but for a demon, it’s a start….

I couldn’t fault the writing at all. There were no faltering mis-steps at any stage, so I felt I was in good hands, which was essential as urban fantasy horror is not a genre I’m familiar with. I usually like my horror to to have a human heart, allbeit one that has been dragged across a gravel road, still beating. This was unfamiliar and it took me a few pages to really get into it. But I did because the author has obviously had a huge amount of fun, throwing in satyrs, vampyres (not sparkly ones), shape-shifters and blood-thirsty demons, and a succubus so sexy I almost fancied her myself.

At first, I thought I was going to miss the human set-up before realising that it was there, but told from the demon’s side, something I’ve never experienced before. The most memorable human was the girl, untrained witch, Jenae, also a stroppy teenager, which I loved. Her voice was en pointe, a thoroughly modern witch, without resorting to stereotype. The dialogue was sharp and there was a lot of humour, but not in a slapstick way. The book didn’t take itself too seriously, as some of these books about an imminent Apocalypse can be. The bombastic horror is inescapable, but balanced with a lightness of touch. It’s an interesting concept and a risky one, but it works.

One quibble would be that the plot was slightly confusing, as books with lots of characters and unfamiliar names always are (to me.) With first books, there is a tendency to throw in the kitchen sink, just in case you never write another one, and I sensed an element of that, even though the book is part of a trilogy. Now that everyone has been introduced, it will be really interesting to see how the plot develops. With a less frantic pace, the reader will have more breathing space to sit back, relax and enjoy.

As well as the icky parts, the descriptions were fantastic, steeping the reader in a post-modern, urban world with utter conviction. Monster dogs, magic, creatures of fantasy move around an indeterminate city, scenes of torture are gut-twisting but never seem gratuitous. The characters all had some element which kept them from being unsympathetic, apart from Master, who is badass (but then, he has to be…) Alyx, Dati’s potential/possible love interest, did get more interesting as the book unfolded, as well as Dati’s inner conflict over unfamiliar feelings for him.

To round up, this is a steaming, visceral debut novel for those who like their urban fantasy steeped in blood and gore, and demons wrestling with human dilemmas.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Spinning The Record: Stories by Robert Hyers


This review first appeared on the WROTE Podcast website, where Robert Hyers will be interviewed in September!

Don't let the rather lofty blurb put you off. Robert Hyers' anthology of short stories is a pleasure to read. Amidst the pin-sharp observations and savage wit, there are also gripping, staggeringly-detailed and well-written tales, all set amidst the gay club scene.

And a what a scene it is; dripping with drag queens, twinks, muscle-boys, and ordinary, newly-out men stumbling around as they try to find their feet in a vivid, complicated new world. The fashion, the music, the threat of homophobic violence at every turn. And the drugs...

There are a LOT of drugs, with some graphic details of their use and aftermath, enough to make a middle-aged lady clutch her pearls. Nothing is really glamorised. Instead, it is searingly honest, telling of the dark side of all the seemingly carefree, hedonistic fun. There's nothing in the way of balls-to-the-wall sex, but it is implied, and that makes it all the more potent. It's a heady, painful mix that will ring true for many men, whatever their age, race and financial circumstances.

It is all here, an oozing, sticky melting-pot that you will want to stick your finger into again and again, even though sometimes, the ingredients are hard to digest. I read this all in one gulp, as once I had read the first story, I couldn't actually put the book down. This is a world I'm unfamiliar with; a frightening, colourful, dangerous world. It is hard to choose a standout, but the stories that stick in my mind the most are Bosom Buddies and Bacchae

The first is the stage performance of two drag queens, one reaching for the stars, the other falling from them. Any story that features RuPaul's Drag Race will immediately have my attention, and the result is savage but hilarious. It is one of the shortest stories, but packs a powerful punch.

The second, Bacchae, concerns two men out with their "fag hag" female friend, ostensibly to pull her out of postpartum depression. I hate, hate, hate the term "fag hag" but it fits in this book, and anyway, the story isn't about her. It's about a kiss, a misunderstanding, dreams dashed and a spark of hope. Bittersweet and beautiful.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

In The Hot Seat with Daniel Riding, author of The Secret Diary Of A Naughty Cat


It is my pleasure to put author, and man of many other talents, Daniel Riding, under the microscope to answer a few questions about self-publishing his work, and his new release. Daniel's debut children's book, A Secret Diary of a Naughty Cat has just been released on Amazon. Links are provided below. My review of A Secret Diary of a Naughty Cat will be posted later this week!


So Daniel, tell us about Naughty Cat, and where you found your inspiration.

Naughty Cat is exactly what it says on the tin, a story about a very Naughty Cat. My inspiration came from my own two cats who have given me an endless source of inspiration. Some of it very funny, and some of it only funny after the fact that they have been naughty. Not so funny at the time. Ha ha!

What age group is the book written for?

To be honest I find it difficult to put a definite age range on the story because as a book seller in my day job, I come across children of all ages who’s reading ages vary widely. For now I have put it at 6 and up but really, anyone can read it. 

How difficult was it to write for that age group? 

Not particularly, in all honesty I am a big kid myself and am pretty sure I always will be. This book was a lot of fun to write and I can guarantee there will be a few more Naughty Cat books in the future.

What is your writing routine? 

I don’t really have a writing routine yet to be honest. I suffer from anxiety, depression and PTSD so these make having a solid writing routine a bit difficult. I just write when I can. Some days I can’t write at all, and some days I can write all day. It just depends. I do hope to have a bit more structure one day though.

I love your cover design! Who did it for you? 



I did it myself. I have always been arty (I’m hoping that doesn’t sound pretentious lol), even as a kid I loved being creative. I have experience with Photoshop as well and thought that seeing as I love playing with it I may as well do my covers myself and save myself some pennies in the process. I love doing my covers and for now I will be doing them myself. 

How did you find the whole self-publishing experience? 


At first extremely daunting, there is so much information out there it is really easy to get overwhelmed. But once I took my time to do my research and work out what was best for me as an individual, the self-publishing process is actually a lot of fun. From formatting your eBook to look amazing and then uploading it to Amazon. It is amazing to see your book go live on Amazon for everyone to buy as well. 

Why did you go down the self-publishing route?

For a long time I believed that the only way for me was to be published traditionally. I saw so many people self-publishing and have always been impressed with how these authors do everything themselves and I never thought myself capable of that same level of skill and ability. The idea of self-publishing actually scared me because I always thought I would mess things up, at least if I eventually could get myself traditionally published I would have help. 

But somewhere along the line I watched a lot of YouTube videos and listened to a lot of podcasts and eventually I taught myself the process and thought that it would be the best way for me. Not only does it feel good to do things all on my own, it is actually helping my issues with self-confidence as well.

If you fancy it, you can head to my website www.danielriding.com to see my most recent posts about it all.

NB: Daniel's most recent post about his choice to go down the self-publishing route is useful and enlightening. I recommend it!



How important would you say marketing yourself as a selfpublished author is? Do you have any tips? 

I think marketing is so important, whether you are traditionally or self-published. In today’s world of social media, we need to stay on top of things and make sure our work is visible for people to see.

In terms of tips, I think I am far too new at this to offer advice. If anyone else has any tips then feel free to send me a message or tweet. Any and all help is always appreciated.

Actually there is a tip I can offer. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

What other genres have you written? 

As well as the children’s books, I do also write Self-Help books. I find that with my many years of mental health issues etc I know what it is like to struggle. I think it is a good thing to use my experience to maybe help people through writing this kind of book. I have just released my first self-help book which is called How to build Confidence and Overcome Fear

In the future I do want to write romance, paranormal romance and fantasy novels. I can see many pen names in my future. 

What’s one mistake that you’ve made in your writing career so far? 

This may sound corny, but not believing in myself. Guaranteed this is something I am still struggling with, but by publishing my first book it allowed me to realise that despite my issues with mental health I can take control of my life and achieve some pretty cool things.

If you were to pick something what you would like others to absolutely know about you? 

Not too sure how to answer this one really, lol. I’m a many of simple pleasures. I have a husband, two cats, and the extent of my rock and roll lifestyle includes being tucked under a blanket with a book and a rather large cup of tea. I know I know, I really should calm down. I don’t know how I keep up with myself. 

Do you have any strange writing habits? 

Hmm, I don’t know if this is strange or not but I can’t write in silence. I need cheesy music on or a TV show on in the background. I find that if I try to work in silence the crippling self-doubt comes down on my hard, at least if I have a distraction when I stop writing momentarily, I can pick up where I left off pretty easily. 

Did you suffer from writer’s block at any stage? How did you overcome it? 

Not while I was writing The Secret Diary of a Naughty Cat, it came quite easily to be honest. But the two children’s books I’m in the process of writing now have left me trying to shift the occasional writer’s block. I find it best to step away from whatever you’re writing when you get stuck, go for a walk, read, or watch a TV show. It allows your mind to relax and focus on something fun and entertaining. This in turn will relax the writer and you should be able to carry on. 

Finally, if you could pass on a single piece of advice to authors out there reading this interview, what would it be? 

The once piece of advice that I always offer is not of my own creation. It comes from the author Nora Roberts and she said that ‘You can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page’. Simple, true and effective.


The Secret Diary of a Naughty Cat

Ever wonder why cats can be so naughty?

Well why not check out The Secret Diary of a Naughty Cat from debut children's author Daniel Riding.

Naughty Cat will take you through the many ways a cat can be naughty and how they get away with it all (mostly).

From sleeping to eating, and playing and even pooping, you will find tons of laughs and giggles in this wonderful book about a very naughty cat.

Reviewers have said:

Charming, funny and so well observed! (5 Stars)

Spot on and written with humour and love. (5 Stars)

Funny, charming and sweet! (5 Stars)

Buy Links:



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Thursday, 29 June 2017

A Cautionary Tale for Self-Published Authors

As a self-published author, it is exceptionally hard to know who to trust. There are countless companies out there promising to promote your book, to make you a best-selling author, blah, blah, blah, when most people know that it's luck and who you know that will propel you into the stratosphere. Good writing doesn't necessarily come into it at all (step forward, E.L. James.)

I don't want to go into the stratosphere. It would be nice for people to enjoy my work, and to get reviews from round the world. It would be nice to be able to afford a facial every month, or get a Discovery (the new model but 18 months old, so we don't get stuck with depreciation.) It would even be lovely to fly my family to the Bahamas (premium economy, not Gulfstream. We're just not interested in that world.) And yeah, I'd like to make enough so that people don't dismiss my writing as my "little hobby.' That would also be nice. But that is cloud-cuckoo land - ain't gonna happen, no matter how many "positive thoughts"I send out into the universe. I guess I'm too much of a realist. 

And now I'm a cynic as well. 

And self-promoting is HARD, which is why, when someone I trust implicitly (and still do) recommended a company to give one of my books a leg-up, I was cautiously optimistic.

In February, I approached blog tour company, wanting to arrange a Blog Tour for one of my books, Closer Than Blood, and for inclusion in their Review Vault. If anyone wants to PM me on Facebook, I will gladly tell you who they are, but I'm not throwing bricks at them in public. They will know who they are anyway. 


NOTE: The company has since been taken over by a larger promotion company. Apparently, the merger happened on April 17, which is something I had been unaware of until very recently. Contrary to popular belief, I don't spend all my time on Facebook and obviously missed the post that said the merger had happened. I'm not an expert in corporate matters but I'm sure that mergers do not get organised within a few weeks, which meant that they must have known this was happening when they took my money. 

Looking back, there were signs all was not well. The fact that the owner wanted to communicate via Facebook rather than email as "she didn't often get to pick them up," was one. The simplicity of the website was another. And the fact that I had to send through everything again after she said I hadn't provided her with the information she needed (I had.) It all seemed very disorganised and a bit haphazard.

So I was asked to provide teasers, links and synopsis, which I did, in the form of a blog post. I was then told that people were picking up Closer in the Review Vault and reviews would start coming in soon. True enough, I had two reviews from authors I was already friends with plus another one saying "It was great!"  I was grateful, but for $50 I was kind of expecting a bit more than that, even a few bad ones would have been good. 


And yes, I know blog tour operators cannot force bloggers to review a book. That would be impossible. But it seems more people are saying, "yeah, I'll review it," then never doing it, and hey presto, they have a free book. It's a dick move, but THAT ISN'T THE FAULT OF THE BLOG TOUR OPERATOR. However, if arranging Blog Tours and Reviews is your business, your reputation depends on people getting some kind of result for their money, even negative reviews, so you need to work a bit harder to get good contacts so that results can be seen. 

The same with the Blog Tour. I was disappointed when the bloggers just cut and pasted my own post. It made me wonder what I had paid the company to do. After asking, I was provided with a list of bloggers approached to feature Closer Than Blood. This wasn't the list of people who had actually done it. I didn't get that. I had to hunt down each blogger and find out myself whether they had featured Closer or not. As I did 80% of the work myself anyway, I believe $150 is a hell of a lot for not much.

Saying, "oh, you need to do two or three before it makes an impact," doesn't cut it, because established authors with a wide fan base have experienced the same thing with some blog tour operators, including this one.

So I guess the moral of this story is, there are very few people you can trust, and if you're a self-publisher, you need to trust no-one and hunt down bloggers yourself and don't be afraid to ask them to feature you on their blog. I paid $150 for a blog tour, and $50 for a space in the review fault, with a company that no longer exists. 

This is fraud, isn't it?

And I'm actually sure that the owner of of the company is so disorganised, she just doesn't get it, rather than make an active attempt to defraud people. The problem is, you can't run a business like this as a cottage industry. People expect to see something for their money. My sales didn't increase one iota, and I had 2 reviews maximum for $150, which is piss-poor value for money. 

Lesson learned. 


Monday, 19 June 2017

Pick up your copy of summer romance The Cloud Seeker, FREE on Instafreebie!

I'm looking for more reviews for my book, The Cloud Seeker. It is currently free on Instafreebie until 7th July!



Cat Cartwright's sixth sense tells her there are storms brewing in her peaceful English village. A stranger is in town, one that she does not trust despite her attraction to him. He is also the estranged father of Luca, the young boy she looks after for one of her closest friends and his spiteful wife. As the handsome, irritable New Yorker is gradually accepted into the community, Cat has no choice but to watch the strengthening bond between father and son, knowing that Max O'Donnell is not all he seems. 


A tale of ghosts, redemption, and romance, set in the Chiltern hills of summer.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

His Laughing Girl by Ellen Whyte


Cynics read no further because this is a pocket-sized (104 pages) romantic delight, detailing the insta-love between curvy, sexy Sophie and her billionaire client, techie geek Richard. Their increasingly heated flirtation is taking place amongst his super-model entourage, all who have Richard in their sights, and aren't afraid to try to put big-hearted, big-boned Sophie in her place.


But this is an Ellen Whyte book, which means our heroine is ballsy and not intimidated (too much) by the sniping of the beauty bots, and Richard, our single-minded hero, only has eyes for Sophie's curves. Ellen has given her characters three-dimensional lives, not just dressed them up like paper dollies (oh look, he's a tech genius, she's a chef!) without giving some insight into exactly what they do for a living. Richard's house party as he tries to woo a Russian businessman into investing into his product, and the challenges Sophie faces as she balances the picky meal requirements of all the guests, are a case in point. I've said before, and I'll say it again, Ellen Whyte (and as A J Adams) imbues her stories with an intelligence as well as lush romance, not insulting the reader by assuming they just want to get to the kiss at the end.

The story is told from both Sophie's and Richard's point of view, which again is ambitious for a relatively short book. It would have been far easier just to give Sophie's version of the story, but the fact that Richard has his say as well, tells me that the author really cares about her characters and wants them to have their own voice. It succeeds very well and gives the story a lot more depth.

So yeah, for someone who doesn't really do romances without a lot of bedroom action or deep-rooted angst, this old cynic's granite heart has been melted. The insta-love, the HEA, the strong heroine, the hot guy with all the money = sold.

BLURB


“To being wicked.” His grey eyes were laughing at me. “Together.” 

The pleasant thumping in my knickers became a vigorous pounding. Richard Cummings was gorgeous. I could feel his charm wrapping around me like a warm blanket. 

Irresistible, right? I heard myself quip, “Are you Cumming onto me?” 
He bounced right back, “Absolutely.”

Oh well, I told myself. It’s just a flirt fest. I have those all the time, and it hardly ever comes to anything. Because of the curves, probably. Men like me, but after we’ve had a laugh, they go to bed with someone skinny. 

This was no different. I’d have a giggle with Richard, enjoy the charm and the good looks, lust after him a little bit, and know it was purely a game. Because tech billionaires with a penchant for A-list models don’t fall for curvy caterers.

*****
Curvy chef Sophie Weston has given up on love. But when she is hired to cater for a very exclusive house party, she falls instantly for handsome tech tycoon Richard Cummings. However, she quickly discovers that Richard has a shady past. Should she trust him or should she walk away before her heart is broken again? A fun uplifting romance with a big beautiful woman and a yummy billionaire. 

Friday, 19 May 2017

The Truth About Goodbye by Russell Ricard


This review was first published on the WROTE Podcast LGBT website. 

The Truth About Goodbye is the self-assured debut novel from Russell Ricard, handling a tough subject with humour and grace. How does one move on from the grief of losing one’s husband? Of course, everyone is different, but it is Sebastian’s story which is told here. On the face of it, an ageing chorus boy, is dealing with two significant life events. The one year anniversary of the death of his husband, and turning 40 in the midst of an unforgiving and cruel environment; the New York show scene.


Sebastian’s well-meaning friend, Chloe, tries to make him feel better by setting him up with a date, failing miserably as Sebastian is still trying to accept and move on from his husband’s death. (Not surprisingly. A year is not that long when it comes to the loss of a true love.) Sebastian has tried a variety of distractions, including throwing himself into his choreographing work, with limited success. In the end, he has to face his grief alone, with all the requisite elements it throws at him. Anger, both at himself and his husband for leaving him, guilt at what was said or not said on the night he died, and fright at the thought of losing what they had forever, and erasing it with someone new. Through techniques taught by his lifestyle guru and grief counsellor, Sebastian gradually learns to accept his aloneness, and not be afraid of it. It is this journey of acceptance and dealing with loss, on which the novel is founded.
A very self-assured book, yet not an over-confident one.
Sebastian has lost a lot, as we discover through the book. Abandoned at birth, then losing his eccentric but much-loved adoptive parents, followed by the death of his husband, it seems inevitable that Sebastian expects to lose everything he loves. As he gradually learns to accept that loss, and realises that life is for living, not waiting to die, we see him blossom from a fragile, vulnerable man to one who regains his confidence and vitality. The emotional way he finally looks back on the night his husband dies, and eventually accepts it, is accomplished. Like I said at the beginning, this is a very self-assured book, yet not an over-confident one.
I didn’t get the strong feeling this was a “New York” novel, or even one set in the show business arena. There are elements of dance, as Sebastian is shown tutoring a group who are already stealing his thunder as younger, fitter versions of himself, but the main story is about how he deals with a painful event in a life that has been defined by loss. The author has a talent for letting the reader into the lives of his characters from the beginning. Sebastian is flawed but you feel his pain, as he doubts his own sanity and viability as a man alone. Middle-aged wild child, Chloe, is frustrating but ultimately endearing. Greg, Sabastian’s nemesis and rival, could easily be a caricature but somehow manages not to be. And Reid, Sebastian’s potential love interest, is cute as a button and kind with it, but is it too soon for Sebastian to find love?
Due to the central premise of the book, there is a fair amount of navel-gazing, but Sebastian’s friends provide light relief, notably ex-Rockette Chloe. The dialogue between them felt real and convincing. Sebastian comes across as fragile, needy, a little bit tetchy, but ultimately I liked him and wished him well. You get to know about his family, why he is the way he is. It’s a balanced story that pulls you with it, like a seemingly calm river hiding rip currents beneath the surface. I found it to be that rare thing, a fairly light read that leaves an echo long after it has been completed.

BLURB


Sebastian Hart has dealt with a lifetime of goodbyes. And now, a year after his husband Frank’s death, the forty-year-old Broadway chorus boy still blames himself. After all, Sebastian started the argument that night over one of Frank’s former date items, someone younger than Sebastian who still wanted Frank.

Challenged by his best friend, the quirky ex-Rockettes dancer Chloe, Sebastian struggles toward his dream of becoming a choreographer and grapples with romantic feelings for Reid, a new student in his tap class.

Ultimately, Sebastian begins to wonder whether it’s his imagination, or not, that Frank’s ghost is here, warning him that he daren’t move on with another love. He questions the truth: Is death really the final goodbye?

Sugar & Spice by Garett Groves


Hello! Review time again. This review first appeared on the WROTE Podcast LGBT writers website.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although part of a series (Spice of Life), it was a standalone, straightforward read, with zingy dialogue and two engaging main characters.
When I first started reading, I thought Max, the young, hot, clueless wannabe model, was a bit of a knob, to be honest (US readers, that isn’t a good thing.) He certainly didn’t endear himself to me when we were first introduced. Yes, he has the body, but he also has a self-destructive streak that I wanted to slap out of him. It was hardly surprising that Lucas, the older man who had been around the block a few times, was wary when Max made play for him in a gay bar. Encounters like that seem rarely destined to last.

But Lucas was a sweetie. I had the feeling that the author was trying for David Gandy, but I read Lucas as Henry from Cucumber. The image was thankfully shaken off when he and Max first hook up for their first pearl-clutching sexual encounter, after which, Lucas has the presence of mind to leave, rather than fall headlong into an improbable “mind-blowing sex all night” scenario.

And it is this restraint which makes the book work. Max does all the running. Lucas is the one holding back. At 45, he has doubts about his viability both as a lover and and photographer, so when Max has eyes for no-one else, he is understandably wary.

Max is also learning a sharp lesson in humility, after being fired from his job and dumped as favoured model for his photographer ex-boyfriend, but he is also wary of Lucas’s motives for wanting to hire him for his own photography purposes.

When they begin to work together, the awkwardness is almost painful, and Lucas’s attempts to make things right between Max and his former crush are excruciating, but in a good, “read it behind my fingers” way. You’re never really sure whether these two will make a successful couple. The odds seem stacked against them, for all Lucas’s wealth and Max’s worldliness, but the pay-off is worth the slow burn. (No spoilers – the author guarantees an HEA on Amazon. Also, no cheating or cliffhangers – good to know for people who hate both, like me.)

The author has paced this book very skilfully, creating an enjoyable, fun read with depth, and characters that feel real and well-rounded. And Lance, Max’s frenemy, is hilarious. I spent most of the book not trusting him, expecting him to stab Max in the back. Will he? Won’t he? Read it and find out.

BLURB

After getting rejected by the only guy that he’s ever allowed himself to feel something more than lust for, Max Williams has convinced himself that the bachelor’s life is the only way for him to live. At 28, Max has everything he needs for it: a smoking body, just enough money to keep the drinks coming, and an endless supply of guys that are more than happy to keep his bed warm at night. Still, he can’t shake the feeling that something is missing.

When he loses his day job thanks to his partying and the modeling career he’d been trying to build collapses, Max isn’t sure of so sure of himself anymore, but there’s one thing he knows without a doubt: something’s got to give.


Lucas White has a reputation of his own–and he’s tired of it. The security provided by his cushy job as editor-in-chief of a legendary local photography magazine has kept him stagnant for too long both professionally and personally. He never dreamed he’d be able to retire by the age of 45 and start his own passion project, but that’s exactly where he’s found himself and it hasn’t been an easy transition.

While celebrating his last day at the office, Lucas and Max get up close and personal at a new bar and Lucas’s entire world turns into a photo negative. Max is the perfect model that he’s been looking for to bring fresh eyes to his new venture, but he looks so much like someone who once broke his heart–and Lucas isn’t sure that he can look at Max’s beautiful body every day for work without continuing to touch it.

Against his better judgment, Lucas hires Max. As they start working together, the line between employer and employee quickly blurs, and not even the pact they made to remain strictly professional seems to keep things in focus. Though they know better, neither man can resist their desire for something more–but Max is afraid of commitment, and Lucas can’t stomach the idea of being taken advantage of by another pretty face. 

Will their differences bring them down, or will they come together like sugar and spice?

Saturday, 15 April 2017

I'm Now On Instagram!

Yes, folks, I've discovered another way of reaching out to you, after being reliably informed that all the wise authors use Instagram instead of Facebook, where they are too easily distracted by cat videos and heated discussions.

They obviously hadn't heard of Cats Of Instagram, or followed Bianca del Rio. 

Anyhoo, I'm now on Instagram, so if you want to stalk me, I post lovely pictures of the Chilterns countryside, my cat, clouds, and teasers/excerpts from my books, and my name on there is.......





Hope to see you there!

Friday, 14 April 2017

An Asian Minor: The True Story of Ganymede (Audiobook) by Felice Picano


This book was originally written in 1981 by Felice Picano, and details the early life and career of Ganymede, as told by the alluring boy in his own words. It is extremely well-written, a colourful, ribald account of his escapades as he fights off the attentions of men of all rank and age. His beauty also captures the attention of various Immortals, who will go to great lengths to seduce him. It probably should be noted to those unfamiliar with Ancient history that Ganymede is 12 at the beginning of the book, so 21st century sensibilities do not apply.

The book hasn’t been in print for a long while, but now it has been republished as an audiobook, narrated in a salacious drawl by Jason Frazier. This is the first audiobook I have listened to all the way through. The delivery is everything, especially with a book that could be dismissed as being either too highbrow by some or too lightweight by others. This would be a shame. In fact, it is a witty, sexy, sometimes humorous account of Ganymede’s life. The reader gets a peephole view into the lusty world of Troy and its inhabitants, where beauty is highly prized and judged at every turn. Ganymede is the most beautiful of all boys, gaining sexual experience with a variety of Immortal lovers, before being disgraced and shunned for rejecting the top man, Zeus; probably not his greatest career move.

Jason Frazier’s voice should have an R rating. He could read a telephone directory and make it ooze with sexual promise. The book itself is not explicit, but the theme of lust runs through it in a pulsing thread. Ganymede learns humility, but still retains an arrogance that only truly beautiful people can get away with. He isn’t particularly likeable, but that doesn’t matter. His story is told in such rich and gorgeous detail, one cannot help but be captivated. This is a book to be savoured at home, rather than driving, or in a public place, as it would be a crime to miss a single word.

I was given a copy of this Audiobook in return for an honest review.

His Competent Woman by Ellen Whyte


This is the first in a new genre for Ellen Whyte, who is better known as dark romance/suspense author AJ Adams.

I was expecting great things of this book, which is a fairly quick read at 100 pages, and I wasn’t disappointed. This is a hugely enjoyable addition to the popular BBW-Billionaire genre, with an engaging character in the form of Emma, struggling to make ends meet with her young son, who has just been diagnosed as dyslexic. In order to pay for the equipment and tutoring he will need in the future, she has to find a job, and fast, but her interview with billionaire Curtis West does not go well. When his PA suddenly quits, Emma in the right place at the right time and she blags her way into the job. Curtis has his own secret, which Emma is well-qualified to help him with. 

Straight away, it was obvious this didn’t fit into the normal tropes of quick-read romances. For a start, Emma has a son with educational needs, and Curtis quickly becomes less of a tiger and more of a pussycat under Emma’s no-nonsense approach. The company that Curtis heads up isn’t there for window-dressing. He actually knows what he’s talking about. The author has done her research well and it feels effortless. Yes, it’s a romance, but it’s heart is based in reality, which makes both characters likeable from the start and gives the story a lot of depth for a relatively short book. 

The story is written in the first person, first from Emma’s point of view and then Curtis’s. Normally, I’m not keen on this, but because each chapter is marked with the name of the person talking, it actually works. After a few pages, I just didn’t think about it. It’s always worth mentioning though.

Finally, I loved the way Emma shared her most private thoughts with the reader, and some of them were very sexy. There is one hot scene which I won’t spoil but it is more romantic than balls-out sexy, and it totally fitted with the tone of the book.

So a quality read from Ms. Whyte, and a worth-while, intelligent addition to an increasingly crowded genre. If you only ever read one BBW-Billionaire romance, make it this one!

Monday, 10 April 2017

I identify as someone who listens, and takes heed when necessary

The original title of this post was "The Only Time In History When 'A Woman Should Know Her Place" really does apply." A couple of people have informed me that they found this title degrading, so I've changed it, and apologise for the offence caused.


Just putting this here to save me the effort of explaining yet again. These six ill-advised words will haunt Kindle Alexander’s writing career for a good long while after the recent debacle, and plenty more words have been said about the whole thing, which was presumably said in a flippant manner without any idea of the disapprobation about to rain down on her cisgender, female author head. I don't suppose we will ever know why she said it, because she hasn't thought to quantify her statement, only saying that she's an Ally (capital letter A) and that the haters should stop hating. There has since been an apology but I'm not going to go there with this post. It's just .... no. 

But isn't this interesting? Suddenly, as a result of Ms. Alexander's monumental FUBAR post, the whole MM Romance genre has a rather tainted, smells-like-rancid-cod air about it, with several high profile authors questioning whether they actually belong in the genre at all. A community that is used to being marginalised has been shoved out yet again, by women readers who don't want to know the nasty bits about being gay. The problem is, there is a LOT of them, outnumbering the people they are actually reading about. 

Come on, sisters, we should know better than this! We know what it is like not to have the vote, to be denied proper education, to be forced into marriage, to be overlooked for the top job, to be objectified and blamed for mens' weaknesses. We've fought tooth and nail and made huge sacrifices to claw back some equality to men, so why are we doing this to the gay community? I don't understand it. Those people saying, it's just a bit of fun, just don't get the bigger picture. It might be fun to be fabulous, but not if you can't walk safely home afterwards. We KNOW this, so what is the problem with acknowledging it in our fiction?

Unfortunately, I think with all these posts, there is an element of preaching to the choir, but you know, posting does help to sort your thoughts out into some kind or order, so maybe next time someone says something really dumb on the net, you might be able to save them from themselves. 

Or not....

Now an observation. A lot of male gay authors have written their own, eloquent and rightly infuriated, posts, but as yet, when I’ve looked for posts from cisgender female authors on the same subject, I hear nothing but crickets. This seems strange, as the MM Romance genre is bulging with female romance writers publishing MM fiction, so where are their voices? No-one seems to be saying a goddamned thing. If I’m subsequently proven wrong, then I will gladly withdraw this statement but nothing has come up on my newsfeed so far, which I think is odd.

If you can find anything, post the link and I'll share it!

The next thing, the the main reason for the post, is that we can all learn something from this. When I first saw KA's post, I thought immediately, “maybe she’s trans, and she’s just come out, so good for her!” But something felt a bit …. off, especially when I saw the comments, with lots of LOL’s and “me too!” and hearts, etc. It just didn’t feel… right. But I didn’t say anything, mainly because I couldn't quantify WHY it didn't feel right.

But the more I thought about it, the more stupid that post sounded. And THAT was the moment when I should have messaged her and said ‘y’know, that post may well piss a few people off (understatement) so if I were you, I’d reconsider it.” But I didn’t, because by then, someone else had noticed and said, “wait…. WHAT?” I do wish I had tried to say something to her. I'm not sure it would have made any difference, but I should have tried, as a fellow cisgender female author, because a lot of people DID feel hurt by this, and some trans people feel invalidated because a flippant comment makes light of their very real struggle. 

So this comes to M/M Romance, the tarnished genre which has actually brought about an honest discussion about what being part of it actually means. First off, TALENT IS NOT GOVERNED BY GENDER. This is not a poke at all women writers, but if MM Romance means the stereotypical, pornographic books with cardboard cutout MM protagonists, written for a female audience, then I’m not interested, thanks very much. For a while, I’ve felt uncomfortable with the whole, slightly giddy, MM Romance thing, the objectification of men, and the blinkered readers who resent it when gay men point out that they’ve been marginalised by their own genre. I’d really like my books to be read by the audience I intended them for; LGBTQIA, etc.THEY ARE NOT EXCLUSIVELY FOR WOMEN. I was very fortunate to “meet” an author who is very special to me. SA Collins, please step forward.) He said that the main thing I must remember was to respect the people I was writing about. So I do. Well …. I treat them with the same healthy disrespect that I treat all my characters with, regardless of gender, race, class, etc., but I got what he meant. I will never know what it is like to walk in the shoes of a gay person, to keep watching over my shoulder, to be called ‘faggot.' There ARE certain similarities with women’s rights and struggles, but they are not the same and never will be. They are equally as valid, but equally as different.

I for one try to remember my place. As a woman I still have more rights than many gay people. It would be wise for us never to forget that, and to be an ally (no capital letter necessary.)

















Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Beauty And The Beast (2017 - PG)

**** stars

I've just been to watch Beauty And The Beast, something I was looking forward to as I loved the original, and there is nothing like knowing the story so you can settle down and just enjoy the movie, rather than be awed, terrified, disturbed, etc., etc. Sometimes, just watching and enjoying is enough. 

And it didn't disappoint, staying very close to the original and throwing in some in-jokes that will go way over the kids' heads. The sets are lavish, and the musical numbers as accomplished as you would want them to be. Emma Watson is not a natural singer but she has good back up with an impressive cast of tuneful villagers, and she does well, with a light, clear voice that suits her role. One quibble would be that she isn't very animated, especially during the Be My Guest number, when you would expect her to show delight, maybe bounce in her seat a little. Instead, she was curiously passive, with her usual calm smile. I couldn't help thinking I was watching Hermione Granger, albeit with a better wardrobe. Talented as she is, she seems to be the same in every movie she stars in, even down to her hairstyle.

The film is long, over 2 hours, and bearing in mind the target audience, it could have been shaved by about 1/2 hour. There were a couple of extra songs, and an odd sequence involving a trip to Paris that could have been dispensed with, neatening the whole thing. I could see why they did it, to develop the relationship between the two main characters so they weren't just falling in love over a snowball fight, and to help Beauty understand what had happened to her mother, but it felt out of place and was ultimately unnecessary. The new songs were good, but ultimately forgettable and I'm sure smaller viewers would be wriggling at this point, wanting to get on with the story. This is a tale that doesn't need to be messed with too much, and it was the finer details that were far more fun; Le Fou's camp sidekick, the three tough guys turned into queens, Gaston's utter odiousness, the tender relationship between Lumiere and his feather duster lover, and the frankly eye-popping special affects that ran through the whole film. It was a gorgeous, colourul Regency extravaganza, so rich in detail, ones' eyes were in danger of suffering from indigestion. Those prone to migraines or with an aversion to sweet things take note. Toothache and gripes might ensue in natural-borne cynics, but I loved it. If I watch it again at home, though, I'll probably make a cup of tea during the prolonged pub scene. There is only so much Gaston self-love I can take.