Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A flirtatious excerpt from Carrot and Coriander

“I’ve got soup.”
The quiet, feminine voice startled him. He hadn’t heard her approach and realised she must have come out the back door this time, sort of crept up on him. Watching him when she thought he couldn’t see her, and now sneaking up behind him. She made him uneasy, edgy even. Truth was, he was itching to get his hands on her. His grubby, rough hands all over her smooth perfection. Not that he would. Well, not unless she asked very nicely. She shifted, started to back away, and he realised he’d been glaring at her. Shit - no good came of scaring his customers.
“I’m sorry. I was miles away. What did you say?” He pushed his lips into a grin, or sorts. The friendliest he could conjure up at short notice. But he was trying.
“Soup. Carrot and coriander. I made it. Lots of it. Too much really, just for me and Jacob. I wondered if you’d like some. For lunch or, maybe you could take some with you…”
Her voice trailed away, and he pulled himself up short as he caught himself glaring again. Bad habit. But soup! Did he look like the carrot and coriander sort? He was about to refuse, as politely as he could manage, but something stopped him. Maybe her obvious nervousness around him - was she actually shaking? And he did like carrots at least. Occasionally.
“Thank you. Soup would be - nice.” Did he actually just say that? Apparently so, because she smiled, her face lighting up. And he noticed she had green eyes, reminded him of a rather nice BMW he once nicked. And her hair was a definite red now he saw it up close, with chestnut highlights. And he smiled back. A real smile this time, one that involved his eyes too.
“I was going to have some for lunch. Would you like to join me? Unless you’ve got other plans, of course…”
‘Other plans’ would have extended only as far as the fish and chip shop two streets away. He found himself accepting her invitation to lunch, and only afterwards remembered that he was filthy, hadn’t showered in days, and probably smelled like mouldy cheese. Still, it was done now. And he could always have his soup outside.
Except she had other ideas. “Great. Lovely. Just come on inside then, when you’re ready. I’ll be in the kitchen.”
And so she was, all homely and sweet and wholesome, folding freshly washed laundry into a pile for ironing, as he entered from the back garden. He estimated her to be around forty, almost twice his age, but shit, she was still hot. In a moment of weakness his unruly mind conjured up a distinctly graphic image involving Mrs Saunders, her ironing board, and maybe a couple of clothes pegs. He stifled it, fast.
He cleared his throat, then, “I need to wash my hands, if that’s alright?” And the rest!

“Of course. Help yourself. I’ll get your soup.”
She drifted across the large kitchen to rummage in a cupboard, pulled out two pretty yellow and blue bowls and set them on the worktop next to the stove. A large pan sat there, wisps of steam floating from its surface. Mrs Saunders picked up a large spoon and stirred its contents gently before ladling generous helpings into each bowl. She carried them carefully over to the table under the window, and set them down. Moving up close to Callum as he rinsed his hands under the warm tap, she dug in the drawer next to the sink for cutlery. He was amazed, her closeness was giving him a hard-on. It must be just her, that pleasant, flowery smell perhaps. Or maybe that was the clean laundry. Still, there was a distinct - something - about her.
He eyed her over his shoulder, strangely irritated at the effect she was having on him. She seemed oblivious to his growing discomfort, concentrating on sawing huge chunks of white bread from a fat, round loaf. He had a suspicion the bread was home-made too. Walking somewhat awkwardly he managed to seat himself at the table and arrange the checked tablecloth discreetly over his lap.
The soup was surprisingly delicious. And the bread. He had two helpings of each. They ate in near silence, both acutely aware of the other, intensely awkward at finding themselves sharing a meal, a table. But still, here they were. Eventually, he was first to give in.
“How old’s your little boy, Mrs Saunders?”
“Three. And it’s Miss.”
“Excuse me?”
“It’s Miss Saunders, not Mrs. Rachel.” Her smile seemed shy, uncertain. As though she wasn’t sure he even wanted to know her name. He wasn’t entirely sure either, in all honesty, but since they were being nice…
“I’m Callum. Callum O’Neill.”
She stretched out her hand politely. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr O’Neill. Callum.” She amended at his slight frown. He took her hand, noticing once more its small perfection against his rough and still somewhat grimy paw. Her nails were beautifully shaped and polished, a pale, pearly pink colour, reminding him of seashells. Against his better judgment he allowed another stray mental image to form and focus, an image of those long, elegant fingers wrapped tightly around his cock, and said cock leapt straight to attention again. Shit. Now he wouldn’t be able to stand up without her noticing. Still, he loved the softness of her palm against his, and maybe held onto it just slightly too long. She didn’t seem to mind.
He dug around in his rapidly scrambling, testosterone-flooded brain and managed to find something polite. “Me too. And you make nice soup. Rachel.” Lame, but polite.

She smiled, nodding slightly in acknowledgement. Clearly, she appreciated his efforts. “Thank you. And you make nice rockeries. Callum.”
“We’ll see.”
“I’m sure. How long will it take you to finish it, do you think?”
He shrugged. “If the weather stays decent, a couple more days. Then I’ll be out of your way.”
“Right.” She nodded again, studied her empty bowl carefully. “You’re not in my way. And I might have other jobs for you to do. If you’re not too busy, obviously. Do you have a lot of work on just now?”
Sensing her hesitancy, but knowing an opening when one leapt up and clouted him around the head, Callum glanced up sharply. “There’s always something. Let me know what you need and I’ll try to accommodate you.”
His dark, vivid blue gaze caught and held her emerald one, and neither spoke for a few seconds, considering all the possible meanings of that phrase, the wealth of potential. This time, it was Rachel who cracked first. “Yes, yes, I will. Definitely. Yes.”
Flustered, she got up from the table and shuffled their empty bowls into a pile for the washing up. That done, she hurried back to the relative safety of her folding. Since his erection was showing no signs of diminishing he knew it was only a matter of time. Still, he stayed where he was. On impulse, he decided to ask a favour.
“Rachel?” She paused, a tiny pair of corduroy trousers in her hands, and looked at him nervously.
“I wonder,“ he hesitated, how to ask without it sounding weird? “I’m going straight off somewhere after work. Would you mind if I took a shower here? I’d knock something off the bill for the hot water, obviously.”
He couldn’t help noticing she sagged in relief - what on earth had she thought was coming? Her voice sounded distinctly relieved. “Yes, of course. You’re welcome. I’ll be going out at around five to pick Jacob up, but just help yourself. It’s upstairs, first door on the left. I’ll leave you some towels out.”
“Thanks. I’ll just be getting on then….” He took advantage of the fact that she was digging in her laundry basket for more stuff to fold, and sidled behind her heading for the great outdoors where he might be able to find a secluded corner in which to subdue his rampant cock. He was out the door again before she had chance to spot the tell-tale bulge in his jeans.

Christ, he had an erection. My soup made him hard.
Rachel had limited experience with erections, certainly not recent experience, but there was no mistaking that. Bloody hell. She wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or outraged, but settled for something in the region of quietly smug. The memory of that thick, long bulge stretching the front of those sexy jeans, and his determined attempts to hide it from her, kept a smile on her face all afternoon as she wrestled with the financial affairs of Mssrs. Wright and Hardisty, plumbers of this parish. He was still hard at it (pun intended, she thought wryly) as she left to pick up her little boy at the end of the day. And when she returned twenty minutes later she saw immediately that his van was still there, under the trees at the side of her house, but he was no longer working.
Not that she really cared, of course. Not that she was taking notice.
The sound of running water upstairs met her as he let herself and Jacob in the front door. And as luck would have it Jacob needed a wee so she took him upstairs to the loo. Could have used the one downstairs, but still …
And that was how she came face to face with a bare-chested, absolutely beautiful young man, on her landing, his hair dripping onto his sharply chiselled shoulders and chest, his bare toes curling in her shag pile. His jeans were zipped but unbuttoned, and he looked about as disreputable as anyone she’d ever encountered. Especially on her upstairs hallway.
“Hello, said Jacob brightly, rushing past Callum on his way to the toilet, as though half-naked strangers appeared regularly in his home. Callum was irritated and more than a little surprised at his hostile reaction to that possibility, but decided it was none of his business. Still, it could be. Soon would be if she didn’t stop staring at him. Had he grown an extra head? Or maybe it was his dick with a mind of its own, once more threatening to poke its own dark pink head out the top of his jeans. He hastily fastened the button, but that only served to draw her attention.
And she saw. And blushed. Bright crimson. Wow, he liked that. A lot.
“Mummy! Mummy! Need soap” Jacob’s shrill little voice echoed along the landing.
For a moment Rachel looked confused, then, “Hold on, I’m right here.” Her eyes carefully averted she managed to pass Callum without actually touching him, and headed to the rescue. Watching her scurry along the landing Callum smiled to himself. Hell, he knew that look, knew exactly what was coming. Or should that be who?
Not now though, not today, with the little lad around. But soon. Very soon.

From Carrot and Coriander, by Ashe Barker      http://mybook.to/Carrot

Monday, July 30, 2018

Flirt and Consequences - #Flirting #BDSM #FlashFiction

Red knot

By Lisabet Sarai

Can I help you?”

My cheeks burn. He’s caught me, transfixed by the rope coils and shiny turnbuckles, hungry as a kid at a candy display.

Um—no, thanks. I was just thinking...”

About possible applications for our products?” He grins, eyes alight with mischief as he unfurls a thrilling length of scarlet cord. “Want a demo?”

He’s working-class burly, his rolled denim sleeves baring tanned, hairy forearms, Home Plus apron inappropriately domestic. Booted feet, big hands.

I’m an expert,” he continues. “With our products.”

I don’t doubt it.” Rising to his challenge, I straighten my spine and elevate my bra-less tits. His gaze flicks down. He licks his lips. My nipples ache.

Maybe you need some clamps, too? For your project?”

I might.”

We also have a wide selection of dowels—in many sizes.” His massive fists clench and his nostrils flare.

I’m smoldering now. I love this game. It’s my move.

Sarah!” Master rounds the corner, juggling electrical supplies. He grasps the situation in a single glance. “Teasing again? You know that’s twenty strokes with the cane.”

There’s a bulge under that apron. “Can I help you?”

Master smirks. “Sure. Why not?”

Friday, July 27, 2018

Fae in Space

While I wasn’t really looking for something as unusual as Bonaparte on a dragon, Fae in space certainly fit the bill. After lingering shamelessly for multiple readings of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, I was having that bereft feeling you get when you finish a fabulous series and wonder where you can possibly find to read that will fill that empty space, when along came Pippa DaCosta’s  Messenger Chronicles. Don’t you just love it when synchronicity serves you up something luscious to read? And best of all, it’s a series. 

What I was actually, half heartedly, looking for was an interesting reverse harem read. I wanted to see what all the hype was about. After reading up a little on the genre, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found that while reverse harem novels are now hugely popular and maybe more restrictive, they’re nothing new, and neither is the concept. While reverse harem has a strong connection to anime, my first encounter, though I didn’t know it at the time, was with the musical, Paint Your Wagon-- the film version, in which Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood shack up with Jean Seberg. When the movie came out in 1969, it was way too scandalous for me see as at the ripe old age of ten. What I remember about it when I did see it, as an adult, was how disappointed I was when the trio broke up and Lee Marvin went his own way so the movie could redeem itself with a more traditional, socially acceptable happy ending. I wanted Jean to have them both. That much hasn’t changed. I still want the hero or heroine to have them both, to have them all.

I was reading and writing stories with a strong reverse harem element long before they were called that. I wove reverse harem undercurrent into the plots of many of my erotic romance novels exactly because I wanted my hero or heroine to have them all. But I also wanted to add a little more complication to the dynamics of the relationships, to throw in another person or two and see what happened. That’s exactly why I created the reverse harem elements in the first two Medusa’s Consortium novels. In short good reverse harem stuff is really nothing new. It was always alive and thriving under a different name. But now, it’s trendy.

That being said, when Pippa DaCosta, haled her new Messenger Chronicles a slow burn reverse harem series, I figured I had my chance for a seriously good “research” read. 

I’ve loved DaCosta’s writings since I binge-read her Veil series two years ago and convinced hubby to go and do likewise. When Shoot the Messenger, the first book in the Messenger Chronicles, launched, I nabbed my copy. 

DaCosta’s series are often rooted in a single act of betrayal with wide ranging repercussions. The tales themselves are the long circuitous road that lead to the redemption the hero or heroine doesn’t believe they deserve. The Messenger Chronicles is no different.

Shoot the Messenger takes place in the Halow system, one of Earth’s three sister star systems. Halow is a place where technology and magic are at war and so are humans and Fae. Oh, and those Fae, well they haven’t really showed up just for the fun of a good invasion. They’ve always been hanging out in space because, well they created all the inhabitants of the three systems, therefore it’s certainly their right to use them as they see fit, or destroy them entirely if they're impertinent enough to create technology which might defeat, even destroy their Fae masters.  

Kesh Lasota is a ghost in the machine. She is invisible to technology and is working as a messenger for the criminal underworld throughout the Halow system. But when one of those messages kills its recipient, Kesh finds herself a fugitive with a bounty on her head and a quick-witted marshall on her tail. 

The evidence that would have proven her innocence is stolen by a warfae, and Kesh’s carefully crafted lie of a life crumbles around her, and she knows being invisible is no longer an option. To hunt the warfae and stop him from destroying a thousand-year old peace, she must resurrect the horrors of her past and renew a dangerous association with the Fae. 

The two people who can help her are the two least likely to want to, Marshall Kellee, who is himself not human, and the mysterious Fae, Talon, who is an exile and Kellee’s prisoner. She trusts neither of them and they certainly don’t trust her, but nobody gets out alive if they don’t work together. 

The tale is a slow burn reverse harem. I like that. I like that the story is plot driven, and the plot is character driven, and the tale is just as fast-moving and eye-popping as one would expect with powerful, arrogant Fae in space and three miss-matched, dark horses with chemistry through the roof on whose shoulders the salvation of the Halow system rests. 

DaCosta shines at creating villains who we’re never sure if we want to run away from or fuck, and the Fae prince, Eledon, AKA the Dreamweaver, is no exception. A fae who manipulates dreams and perception and feeds on the results, he has it out for Kesh. Also known to the Fae as the Wraithmaker, Kesh is a classic example of just exactly why DaCosta is the queen of the anti-hero hiding a dark secret. Kesh has done bad things, and she’s not so much about redemption as she is about getting the bounty off her head and being left alone. But the past that comes back to bite her in the butt isn’t about to let her off the hook that easily, no matter how much she pretends not to care. 

DaCosta’s world building is rich, multi-layered and gritty. The contrasts are striking, the physical attraction is rampant and fraught with self doubt and self loathing. The story is fast-paced and breathless and putting the books down is a daunting task for any reader. I’ve just begun the second novel, Game of Lies, which is perfect timing because I’m on holiday and more than ready for a good binge-read. Whether it’s The Messenger Chronicles, The Veil Series of the Thousand Revolutions Girl from Above series, Pippa DaCosta’s books are definitely on my highly recommended list. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Reading for Fun and Profit

By Tim Smith

I read a lot every day, usually news sites and magazines. I don’t read books as much as I should or would like to, for a good reason. I’m the Managing Editor of a weekly newspaper that highlights arts and entertainment in the Dayton, Ohio area. I spend my days reading and editing what my writers submit for publication, as well as writing the occasional feature or short piece.

Suffice to say, when I get home at night, I’m not in the right frame of mind to read a book, or, even worse, write one of my own. That task is now relegated to weekends.

I’ve learned a lot about different styles by doing this job. I’ve also figured out which stories will require more of my time when I see the name attached to them. I try not to complain about the little pet peeves that drive all of us crazy when we read someone else’s work, realizing that everyone approaches this job in their own way. We follow the AP style guide but having been an author and freelancer for many years, I believe in letting people write in their own voice.

As I mentioned, sometimes I step in to write a feature, usually when someone fails to deliver on an assignment. I have a problem with that, because deadlines have always been sacred to me. If I know I’m going to have trouble meeting one, or an interview subject doesn’t cooperate, I communicate with the editor so they can intervene or make other plans. Is this too much for me to ask now that I’m sitting in the hot seat? I don’t think so.

A few months ago, my willingness to take on this extra work got me in trouble with my publisher. We run a debate forum as a weekly feature. This is the publisher’s pride and joy, and he could basically care less about the other things we publish as long as the debate is good. One week, one of the debate writers was unable to deliver his side due to a family emergency. This happened two days before publication. Rather than scramble for another writer or use an evergreen in its place, I chose to write his argument under an assumed name.

The publisher came into my office on upload day with a proof copy of the debate, asking me who in the hell T. J. Savage was, and when did we hire someone by that name? I explained that Thomas J. Savage was a well-known Doctor in Xenia, Ohio in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and he had written a few books of poetry. I also mentioned that he was my great-grandfather. My boss didn’t think this was funny and lectured me on credibility. Whatever. I think he was just pissed because he didn’t think of it first.

 One book I did read recently was for the purpose of adding to our list of evergreens, those stories all publications keep in reserve that aren’t time-sensitive and can be used whenever needed. It was a history of Dayton’s “lost heritage” written by a local college professor and was full of interesting facts and photos. Rather than making it an actual review, I contacted the author for an interview and wrote it as a profile.

 Sometimes, these stories I’m basically forced to write turn into pleasant experiences. Not long ago I wrote one about our local public access television station to celebrate their 40th anniversary in broadcasting. What I thought would be a yawn was actually very interesting. I got so much good material from the station manager and some on-air personalities that it became a cover story instead of a one-page feature. So much for having pre-conceived notions.   

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

YA Gay Romances

A long while back, I had mentioned that I'd seen the movie Love, Simon, then read the book it was based on, Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertali. Perhaps because I had seen the movie first, I preferred the movie to the book -- so much so that I went and wrote a YA novel that captured the feel of Love, Simon.

Since then, my book life has been this odd mix of the regular super-erotic stuff I write/read, all the Star Trek that I'm hopelessly addicted to, and now this whole new-to-me genre of gay YA romance.

I'm currently in the midst of reading two gay YA (maybe NA?) books:

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Mackenzi Lee

I'm about a quarter through this one. It's ... good.

I mean, yeah, it's good. But for some reason it just doesn't have me hooked. And when I just went and did a quick Google search so I could find a cover image, I was presented with links and YouTube videos of people who are raving about this book.

So ... it's obviously good. And it's probably better than I feel it is.

The book is told in Monty's POV, who's on a last tour of the Continent (Europe) before he settles down into his role as an adult in his father's estate. Along on the tour are his best friend (and sometimes paramour) Percy and his sister, as well as a chaperone. Hijinks ensue.

It's ... good. It's just not right for me. I will continue to slowly read it, though.

The Art of Falling in Love
Eli Summers

I'm currently reading an ARC of The Art of Falling In Love (which comes out in late August I believe) by my Twitter buddy Eli Summers. So, full disclosure, I'm not exactly impartial here.

I greatly enjoy Eli Summers's writing style -- it's very easy flowing and simple, but, like, in a very good way.

Holden, the main character, lives in a small town and develops feelings for Aaron and has to come to understand himself in the process. It's a rather simple tale, but it captures the sort of micro-aggressions and closed minds that those who are coming to understand themselves must face -- and by having all of this take place in a small town, those micro-aggressions and passing homophobia are just magnified, especially when one considers the more intense faith communities that exist in many small towns. I think that the depth of this plot -- as it can be fairly subtle -- would be lost in the hustle and bustle of a big city, making setting this in a small town a smart choice for storytelling.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay smut.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Epistolary Journey

Sacchi Green

Where have all the letters gone? Gone to emails, pretty much every one, I think. But I’m in the midst of a mountain of letters from the past. Letters to my grandmother from my father and uncle when they were serving in WWII; letters from my father to my mother during that same time; letters from my uncle to my grandmother (and my father) after the war when he was at college in Berkeley on the GI Bill studying to be an engineer; letters from my maternal grandmother to my mother; even some faded and partial letters from some relative of my great-grandmother written in the late 1890s. And even letters from me to my mother when I was a new mother myself in California for three years during the 60s. (I’m not counting the unsorted piles of genealogical information in letter form my mother collected but never organized.)

Does every family save all these things? Or should I say “did?”

You’ve no doubt deduced from all this that I’m in the process of clearing out a house. Yes, I’m handling selling my father’s house, and trying to make sure that nothing of family value is left behind or discarded. Even though I don’t know what I’m going to do with these voices from the past, when or whether I’ll have time to read many of them, what to do with them then, what will become of them when, well, when I’m gone. The ones regarding my uncle, who died two years ago, I’ll eventually send to my cousin if she wants them. At least those ones, and the ones from my father to his mother, had been neatly tied up in a bundle in the suitcase we found in the attic that contained things my grandmother had saved. The rest are sometimes bagged, or boxed, but pretty randomly, and I keep finding more in unlikely places.  Even the tied up ones I’ll have to sort, because most of them say “C. Harvey” at the beginning of the return address, and both my uncle’s and my father’s names begins with “C”. They always just called each other “Harv.”

I’ve read some from every batch I’ve found, though, getting some feel for them—and hoping, in some cases, to find the epistolary version of some family tales passed down orally but supposedly involving letters.

Let me get more specific. Some of this is quite interesting.

My uncle was in the Coast Guard in WWII. He was too young to enlist without parental permission, but he was a bit of a hell-raiser and really wanted to go and my grandmother thought it might do him good (his father had died a couple of years before from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.) She consulted her minister and other trusted friends, and was told to let him join the Coast Guard because they wouldn’t be in any actual danger. Hah. His ship was eventually part of an escort fleet for troop and supply ships crossing to Europe and protecting them from German submarines in the North Atlantic. The story is that when he returned his dark hair had turned white, but I’ve seen photos that lead me to think that the process was just beginning then. His hair was white as long as I can remember, though, which would be when he was still in his twenties. On the subject of letters, his were of course sometimes censored, and he wasn’t supposed to tell family where he was or where he was going, but my grandmother told me that they’d worked out a code, and when he mentioned certain families they knew it told her more or less what direction his ship was going, and some other information besides. I’d really like to find some of those letters, but the few I’ve read so far aren’t the ones.

Then there’s my quandary over my father’s letters to my mother. Some are quite intimate, and I found a photograph of my mother that was intimate indeed—she was wearing pajamas, but what she wrote on the back was, well, touching. In any case I kind of don’t want to read many of the letters because they’re so private. On the other hand, I’d love to find the proof of another family tale, the one where my father, soon after joining the Army Air Corps, wrote to tell my mother that he had lost at poker all the money they’d saved to buy a car, and swore never to play poker again. And then before she even got the letter he’d sent off another one saying that he’d won all the money back. Yes, he kept on playing poker for many years, though just with friends for low stakes. I remember the cigar box in his closet where he kept his winnings, mostly coins.

The letters from my mother’s mother have been especially enlightening, showing me the real person that she was rather than the one I only fuzzily remember as old, and rather stern. Her letters are entertaining, and sometimes snarky, and sound like someone I’d liked to have actually known on an adult basis. I did know from hearsay that she was stubbornly independent, and the letters bear that out.

Enough about my very run-of-the-mill family. I meant to hold forth on the decline of letters-on-paper, and how much of our lives that might have been recorded in a tangible way may be drifting off into cyberspace. Not that there aren’t many people who keep journals or diaries in print, but the casual (or sometimes passionate) give-and-take of correspondence on paper is dwindling away, and that’s sad, in a way.

 On the other hand, here I am buried in an avalanche of old letters! Just be glad I’m not writing about the even greater avalanche of old photographs.


Saturday, July 21, 2018

Hot Off the Press, Part 4

by Jean Roberta

Michael Ondaatje is an award-winning novelist who seems fascinated by the details of history which are often hidden or forgotten. His own life reads like a novel: he was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1943 of Dutch, Tamil, and Sinhalese ancestry to parents who split up soon afterward, and left him with relatives. At age 11, he was sent to join his mother in England. As a young man, he emigrated to Canada, and never left. He has won numerous awards for his historical fiction, including The English Patient, which was made into a highly-praised movie.

Canadian references to Ondaatje usually define him as a Canadian writer and academic.

Warlight, his most recent novel, probably draws on some of the events of his own childhood. It is told from the viewpoint of Nathaniel Williams, a 14-year-old boy with an older sister, Rachel. During the Second World War, Nathaniel and Rachel are moved out of London for safety, then they are told that their parents have to go to Singapore and live there for a year, for unspecified reasons. Their mother packs a trunk while assuring her children that she will come back on schedule. The parents leave separately, and the teenagers are left in care of a man they call “the Moth,” who introduces them to his friend, a boxer called “the Darter.”

Actually, the children are sent away to separate schools where they aren’t happy. Knowing that their parents are too far away to help, the children escape and return to the family home where the “Moth,” “the Darter,” and other Dickensian characters (including Olive Lawrence, an upscale intellectual who shows up as “the Darter’s” girlfriend) are the only parent-figures available to them. Rachel has alarming seizures (later described as symptoms of epilepsy) that Nathaniel is unable to understand or to help with. She finds their mother’s trunk in the house, and Nathaniel openly asks the “Moth” whether their mother is still alive. “The Moth” says she is, but Nathaniel is unsure what to believe.

The “Moth” tells Nathaniel an anecdote from the boy’s early childhood about his violent, troubled father, who apparently never recovered from the First World War. According to “the Moth,” he was a neighbour of the family, and little Nathaniel ran away to live with him after his father killed Nathaniel’s pet, a beloved cat who liked to “sing.” (The father clearly considered this sound unbearable yowling.) Teenage Nathaniel doesn’t remember any of this, and claims he doesn’t like cats.

The events of Nathaniel’s teenage years give rise to philosophical riffs about the un reliability of memory and the simple explanations that adults give to children to disguise morally-ambiguous reality.

All through the first half of the novel, I was afraid that the mysteries would never be resolved, though Nathaniel’s work in a restaurant (arranged by “the Moth”) and his involvement in “the Darter’s” greyhound-racing scam are exciting in themselves. Nathaniel even acquires a girlfriend in the restaurant, and the two of them have romantic trysts in empty houses where they can be alone. On one occasion, they keep a pack of restless greyhounds with them overnight, hoping the barking won’t lead to their discovery. Animal sounds are clearly dangerous.

Whether Nathaniel’s actual father is in Singapore or not, he never returns. Their mother Rose, however, is shown to have been near her children all along, and her own shadowy career is the stuff of legend. She has a reason for remaining hidden, and the children’s adult caretakers are her colleagues.

Eventually, every loose end is tied up. By the last scene of the novel, Nathaniel is a grown man living in his mother’s childhood home in Sussex. He has learned the truth, but it hasn’t set him free. His mother, his sister, his girlfriend, “the Moth,” and “the Darter” are all permanently gone from his life for reasons that seem inevitable.

This novel is full of local colour and suspense. It reveals the ugly fact that wars don’t really end when one side is declared the winner, since reprisals continue for years afterward. The revelations that shed light on Nathaniel’s teenage years are dramatic but plausible.

Unfortunately, I can’t imagine most of my first-year students enjoying this novel as much as I did, so I decided not to choose it as a textbook.

I chose The Marrow Thieves, a 2017 novel by Cherie Dimaline, a Metis author (of mixed indigenous and French ancestry) in a future Canada which has largely been destroyed by climate change. Most of the institutions of urban society have broken down. A sign of the collective trauma is the general inability to dream, from which indigenous people seem to be immune. Their life-saving physical and spiritual ability to enter different narratives in sleep is thought to be located in their bone-marrow. Of course, those in power want to capture the dreamers and extract their marrow in a liquid form, thereby killing them on operating tables in institutions described as “schools.”

The biology of all this is sketchy, but it’s not the point. Throughout the novel, a makeshift “family” of survivors must camp out on the run, developing traditional survival skills while protecting the oldest and the youngest among them from the “Recruiters” who try to capture them. The action is shown from the viewpoint of “Frenchie” (Francis), a teenage boy who comes of age while learning words in indigenous languages, developing hunting skills, and falling in love with Rose, another teenage survivor. The de facto leader of the groups turns out to be a gay man who quietly grieves the disappearance of his “husband” while encouraging everyone else in the group to tell their “coming-to” stories.

I can already hear the complaints from my first-year students:

This novel is racist against white people,
It is based on an unbelievable plot-premise, and
A major character is sexually perverse.

However, there is no way to please everyone. I think most students who graduated from an English-language secondary school could understand the author’s straightforward writing style, and I like several of the messages in the novel. There might be a recent novel that I would like better, but I needed to make a decision and go on to do other things.

As some of you probably know, I write reviews for The Gay and Lesbian Review, based on lists of recent publications sent by the editor to a stable of reviewers. I chose the ironically-named So Lucky by Nicola Griffith (ex-pat British lesbian fiction-writer living in the U.S. with her partner, also a writer).

Not for the first time, the editor told me he didn’t actually have the novel on hand, so he asked me to order it from Amazon, promising that the Review will pay me back. (I hope so. I get paid for my reviews in subscriptions.)

Luckily, the novel is slim and concisely written. So far, it shows what happens to a successful woman when her wife leaves her, her best friend announces her departure for New Zealand, and she receives a devastating medical diagnosis. This is not easy reading for any person of a Certain Age, though the central character is actually much younger than I am now. I’m comforting myself with the thought that at least I live in a country that believes in universal health care.

Hot Off the Press, Part 3-and-a-Half

by Jean Roberta.

Have you been counting the number of titles I mentioned in Hot Off the Press, Part 1?

I've finished describing the four upcoming titles from Lethe Press, but I had even more reading to do. I had to design syllabi for the three classes I am scheduled to teach in September.

In the English Department where I teach, it is a rule that students in a first-year literature-and-composition class have to read an assigned novel on their own and write an essay about it.

An allegorical Canadian novel from 2015, Fifteen Dogs, seemed to me to be a good, thought-provoking choice when it was new, but then I discovered that a growing number of reviews and critiques make it easier for students to plagiarize. So I set out to find something even more current.

I wanted to stick with Canadian content. I ordered a library copy of Warlight, the most recent novel from a prestigious author, Michael Ondaatje, through Interlibrary Loans. (It arrived within days from the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. The university where I teach started life as a local branch of this institution.)

Warlight is an impressive achievement, but I thought it too historical, too complex, and too subtle for the kind of first-year students I usually get. Many of them are from faraway countries, and have a sketchy grasp of English, while some of the locally-sourced are the products of a public school system that seems increasingly reluctant to fail any student for any reason.

I looked for recent Canadian novels with indigenous characters, and found The Marrow Thieves, a YA novel from 2017. Stay tuned for a longer description.

Hot Off the Press, Part 3

by Jean Roberta

Perennial: A Garden Romance by Mary Anne Mohanraj includes a sweet romance between a lonely divorced man (half-Scottish and half-South Asian) who runs a flower shop, and a lonely woman (apparently White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) who is diagnosed with breast cancer in a leafy town where she moved from New York City because her late uncle left her an older house which she decided not to sell.

The chapters of the romance are interspersed with simple, almost childish drawings, and free-verse poems. Here is one:

“Friends rush in for overdue mammograms, even the ones who were resisting going at all, afraid of what they’d find.
Husbands are kinder to their wives, hold them tight at night, seeing a future without them.
It can make you cranky; this should be about you, but now it’s also about them.
You let it go.
May something good come of this— more check-ups and kisses. We should all be kinder to each other, to ourselves.”

This little book seems to have been inspired by the author’s own bout with breast cancer in 2016 as well as her interest in gardening. (Both the progress of her cancer treatment and the development of her garden have been extensively posted about on Facebook.) This book would make an appropriate gift for a convalescent who needs reading-matter with a happy ending.

Read by Strangers, a story collection by Philip Dean Walker, is much more unsettling, and I wouldn’t recommend giving it to anyone who has already received bad news.

Confession: I haven’t finished reading the whole book, so my generalizations should be taken with caution. So far, I haven’t found any supernatural elements in the stories, but real life in middle-and working-class American families is shown to be sufficiently uncanny.

In the first story, “Unicorn,” a group of kids explore an abandoned farmhouse their parents have warned them to stay away from. One bedroom is still incongruously decorated with images of unicorns. The barn (now burned to the ground) was the site of a tragedy: the teenage daughter tried to ride a horse which she had been forbidden to ride, and since the horse didn’t know her, it kicked her in the head, killing her and leaving the imprint of a hoof on her forehead. There is evidence in the house that she had been trying to escape from something unspeakable.

In “Revolution,” Anna is in a long-term marriage with Hank when she suddenly discovers a sister she never knew about before: her mother’s first, unplanned child, who was raised by an adoptive family. The intrusion of the sister, Billie, changes the dynamics in Anna’s own family.

In the wittily-titled “Hester Prynne Got an A,” the mother of a teenage daughter seduces the male English teacher on whom the daughter has a crush, discovers that her son (the daughter’s twin brother) is gay, and shows that the welfare of her youngest child (a daughter who seems eerily calm and cheerful and therefore abnormal) is more important to her than trying to recapture her reckless youth.

Another wittily-titled story, “Brad’s Head Revisited, ’94,” shows the long-term effects of homophobic bullying in high school on one of the bullies (or a sidekick of the ringleader) rather than on the victim. Here the narrator seems disarmingly direct:

“I fuck for money and I like it. The studio tells me how good I am, how much money I bring in, how I look even hotter on film, like a god. Just like a fucking Adonis.”

Do you detect a note of defensiveness? This story is discomforting, especially considering the allusion to Brideshead Revisited, a novel of privileged English life in the 1920s, in which an envious outsider shows the lifestyle of a titled family from which the gay son is exiled.

The narrative voice in Walker’s stories is clear and unadorned, and much of the explication takes the form of dialogue. Most of the characters seem to be trapped in unsatisfying situations, and they can’t find a way out. Even in the first-person stories, an omniscient, well-read narrator seems to be hovering above the characters, unable or unwilling to give them enough perspective on their lives to provide them with any relief.

The stories are well-crafted, but if read in bed, they lead to depressing dreams.

Hot Off the Press, Part 2

by Jean Roberta

Does It Show? By Paul Magrs (second in the “Phoenix Court” series) focuses on the residents of a housing estate in the actual town of Newton Aycliffe, northern England, in the 1980s. The story is a rollicking sit-com in print in which the locals call their children “bairns” and sometimes exaggerate their Geordie accent for effect. It’s a kind of northern Coronation Street with fairy dust and a 1980s soundtrack.

Here is the “Prologue:”

“Penny had always been a bright kid. She was born on the ninth anniversary of the first moon landing. Her father wrenched her from the incubator and ran to the steps outside, by the car park. It was a warm summer’s night.

He held her out to the moon, swaddling clothes draped down to his elbows. ‘You’re going there, Penny,’ he said, face shining. ‘You’re going to the moon, you are.’

And as the nurses came bustling through Reception to retrieve her, Penny glanced up at the moon, then witheringly at her father.

‘Fat chance,’ she said. ‘I know where I’m going.’”

This little scene contains the flavour of the whole saga: kitchen-sink realism with intrusions from a supernatural realm.

The first few chapters introduce the residents of Phoenix Court, the place where Penny arrives as a teenager with her apparent single mother, a diva named Liz. (Hint: Liz has a big secret.) Penny’s father seems to have disappeared, and her childhood has been punctuated by her arguments with teachers who tried to force her to scrub the black off her fingernails, not knowing it was permanent. Penny’s dreams show a certain clairvoyance which becomes clearer to the reader as the unknown people she has dreamt of appear in her life.

The narrative is told in a knowing third-person voice which includes the thoughts of the character under discussion. For long sections, Penny is kept in the background while the ongoing tensions within Phoenix Court are explained.

Penny, like all the adult characters, hopes to “fit in,” and she is the new girl in school. She meets Vince, another outsider who returned as the new English teacher to the purgatory of the school where he was bullied as a student by the physical-education teacher, who is still there. In due course, there is a satisfying confrontation between the two men.

Vince strikes up a friendship with Penny which is debatably inappropriate, but she is not the object of his lust. Penny’s companionship gives Vince the courage to reconnect with his first lover, Andy, who lives over a dusty shop full of dead, stuffed animals. As the two men agree, this is all very Victorian, especially since the shop owner is Andy’s benevolent relative, a taxidermist.

Liz’s abandonment of Penny for a romantic getaway with the local bus driver is debatably irresponsible, but as he reassures Liz, seventeen-year-old Penny can take care of herself.

The novel ends with an apparent non sequitor: an anecdote about an old woman on the estate who finds an actual pot of gold coins amongst second-hand donations to a charity shop. When she asks aloud how much the treasure is worth, she is answered by the ghost of a child on a hobby-horse who torments her with questions: Are the coins made of real gold? Would old Charlotte be safe if she kept this treasure for herself? If she took it to the bank, wouldn’t someone there be tempted to cheat her, or to turn her in?

Life is queer in this novel, and not only in a sexual sense. In the working-class world of Newton Aycliffe, the familiar tropes of childhood fairy tales don’t necessarily lead to happy endings, but the plot always thickens.

This novel is more-or-less self-contained, but since it is part of a series, I suspect everything in Volume 2 makes more sense to those who have read Volume 1.

The quirky inside-cover photo of the author as a thirtyish man smoking a cigarette suggests that he is already at work on the third novel in the series. It would be interesting to follow the lives of the whole cast of characters.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Hot Off the Press, Part 1

by Jean Roberta

For the past few weeks, I’ve done more reading than writing. I’ve plowed through six recent books, and started reading a seventh.

Steve Berman of Lethe Press often sends me gifts through the mail: uncorrected advance proofs of Lethe books that aren’t available to the public yet. He doesn’t ask me to review them, but the request seems to be implied.

The latest batch consists of:

1) Forget the Sleepless Shores, a collection of stories by classics scholar and poet Sonya Taaffe (from New England).
2) Does It Show? A novel in the “Phoenix Court” series by Paul Magrs from northern England.
3) Perennial: A Garden Romance, a slim volume by fiction-writer and cancer-survivor Mary Anne Mohanraj of Chicago.
4) Read by Strangers, a collection of stories by Philip Dean Walker (who lives in Washington, D.C.)

All these books are scheduled to be released in August.

Forget the Sleepless Shores is the one I read first. The title put me off because I thought it looked pretentious, and it has no clear relevance to any of the stories. Another aspect that both charmed and irritated me was the author’s poetic style in fiction. She clearly prefers to “show, not tell,” and is unwilling to “murder her darlings” (clever turns of phrase that don’t advance a plot). There is so much description of water in this collection that I felt as if I had to dry out between stories.

To sum up, I found Sonya Taaffe to be an acquired taste. However, her work rewards perseverance.

Here is the opening paragraph of “Chez Vous Soon,” the story of a doomed sexual relationship:

“The rain was full of leaves, like hands on her hair as she hurried home. Grey as a whale’s back, the last cold light before evening: the clouds as heavy as handsful of slate, pebble-dash and mortar; the pavement under Vetiver’s feet where blown leaves stuck in scraps to her sneakers, brown as old paper, tissue-torn. There were few trees on her street, but the wind hurled through them as hungrily as for a forest.”

The viewpoint character, “Vetiver” (who prefers her middle name to her first name, Julia) is going to visit her artist lover in the run-down apartment where he is obsessively trying to capture the look, sound, smell and feel of Autumn on canvas. The word-pictures in the story illustrate his efforts to express what seems inexpressible, at least to him. Asked if he has taken his medication for mental illness, he responds that he doesn’t want to blunt the power of his mind when he is working. The distance between the lovers seems unbridgeable, and the tragic outcome seems inevitable.

Most of the stories in this collection were previously-published in various anthologies and journals of speculative fiction (the on-line journal Not One of Us ran five of them), and therefore they are inconsistent in length, theme, and impact.

The author’s literary style is excellent for creating atmosphere, and the stories about the spirit world are effectively spine-tingling, even though most aren’t clearly identifiable as horror stories. (Or at least they have little in common with the work of Stephen King.)

Several of these stories seem to channel the voices of immigrant ancestors, translated from Yiddish and various other European languages. In “The Dybbuk in Love,” a contemporary woman is the love-object of a man who is long-dead but is capable of temporarily possessing the bodies of the men in her life.

The most brilliant of the stories that invoke Jewish folklore is “The Trinitite Golem,” in which an animated bomb confronts J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who created it. Here is the clinical description of its making:

“It is easy to destroy a life. Take thirteen and a half pounds of 8-phase plutonium-239, stabilized by alloying with gallium at three percent molar weight and hot-pressed into solid hemispheres of slightly more than nine centimeters in diameter, electroplate with galvanic silver to reduce chemical reactivity and encase within seven-centimeter tamper of neutron-reflecting uranium-238.”

The recipe for the “golem” continues in detail, and is then followed by a recipe for the ruined creator, a kind of twentieth-century Victor Frankenstein:

“It is easy to destroy a life. Take one theoretical physicist who has not published a paper in four years, who a dozen years ago made himself over into a director and administrator as thoroughly and ruthlessly as he once metamorphosed a misfit rock collector from Riverside Drive into a mesmerizing polymath with quotations in nine languages at his Chesterfield-callused fingertips, the benefit being the A-bomb, the cost being the rest of his concentration, and then in open court and the public eye strip him of all authority and trust.”

All this accurately reflects the life-story of Oppenheimer and the “Red Scare” of the 1950s. (I looked him up.)

Space doesn’t allow me to discuss all the stories in the collection, but several others are also brilliant and haunting.

Did I mention water? I was intrigued by “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts,” a story based on “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” by H.P. Lovecraft. Taaffe’s story was originally published in Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror (Dark Regions Press, 2016).

Two of us here at the Grip have written very different versions of that same Lovecraft piece. Lisabet posted a spoof, “The Shadow Over Des Moines,” here quite awhile ago.

My version of the story, “Innsmouth Blues” (narrated by an African-American schoolteacher of the 1920s) appeared in Equal Opportunity Madness: A Mythos Anthology (Otter Libris Press, 2017). This anthology was intended to overturn Lovecraft’s prejudices.

Taaffe’s more serious version focuses on the process of transformation, in which a contemporary woman who is at least “half-deep” (descended from “the people of the sea”) comes of age by desperately trying to return to her true home in the Atlantic. The references to an incomplete genocide, from which the scattered survivors reconstruct a group identity over several generations, echo several historical atrocities.

When the book becomes publicly available next month, I recommend buying a copy.

Stay tuned for my descriptions of the rest of my recent reading-matter. I’ll try to be more concise!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Into the Woods with a Good Book #amreading

by Giselle Renarde

I have a little ritual I repeat from year to year.

Every year when we arrive at the cottage, the first thing I do is peruse the bookshelves.

The cottage is not our cottage, and so the books are not ours. The owners of the cottage are avid readers (of literary fiction in particular), and their new books quickly carve a path to the cottage bookshelves.

But, among the newer books are a host of older ones, the jazz standards of the cottage bookshelves. They're always there and I never tire of seeing them. Plenty of Canadian fiction: Robertson Davies, Stephen Leacock, Margaret Laurence.

A few years ago I read A Bird in the House. This year it was A Jest of God.

There's a reason I don't bring my own books to the cottage: I'm generally a slow reader, and choosing a book from the owners' shelves challenges me to read the entire thing in the span of a week.

You can't take it with you--the book, that is. This isn't a lending library.

So I spend the week reading.

At home, I start every day with a book. Now that I've kicked coffee, I brew a cup of tea and I sit and read for a while. But at the cottage that while stretches out, fills much of the day. Reading, eating, board games, DVDs at night. That's a family vacation at the cottage, and it's really something special.

If you'd like the inside scoop on this year's cottage vacation, I invite you to read my second book of correspondences, Hi Babe. It's just a little book of letters, the ones I wrote to my girlfriend while I was away.

This year's vacation was more eventful than relaxing--not at all what I'm looking for at the cottage. As much as I complain about the city, our family getaway proved that life follows you wherever you go. It even follows you into the woods.

Thank you, technology.

If you're at all interested, grab a copy this month from Smashwords, where you can get it for free during July's big ebook sale: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/879056?ref=GiselleRenardeErotica


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Tiny Candle for the Dark

Recently at church we had a service on the subject of “the book that changed my life.”  There is a part of the service in Unitarian churches called ”The Time for All Ages”, in which the little kids gather up front and the speaker of the day tells them a wisdom story or teaches them a lesson.  My story last Sunday was of a very tiny and humble and transient book that profoundly changed my life though I’d almost forgotten it.

I don’t even know the title or if it even had a title.

From the time I was 6 years old until about 10 I was plagued by terrible dreams.  It was my greatest fear.  Looking back the nightmares seem kind of dumb, being chased around by Frankenstein and stuff, but they were scary enough.  After one of those dreams I was too terrified to go back to sleep again.  I’d lay awake all night, waiting for the dawn to come so I wouldn’t have to sleep.  I dreaded the night.  They were long nights.

I found this book in the kitchen, I suppose someone gave it to mom.  It was laying around.  You could hardly call it a book, more like a pretty little pamphlet I the shape of a book.  It was a little book, a little bitty book.   It was red, fake leather embossed, held with a single staple, and about one inch square, it could fit in a matchbox.  A tiny, tiny little excuse for a book.  It was filled with the words of Jesus and Buddha and others, talking about god and love and compassion.  No story, just their own plainly spoken words.  I could barely understand it, but the language, the sound, and the ideas spoke to me.  I continued to have my dreams, but when I woke, I could turn on the light and read this little talisman of a book and just the words and the kindness of the words dispelled these fears and I could sleep again.  This book was my friend against the dark and its terrors.  I kept it for many years and now it's lost.  I wish I had it, because there was sound magic in those pages.  It pointed me where I was going.

What I wanted to tell the kids, what I wanted them to understand is that books have their unique magic, a magic you can’t really get in a movie or a TV show or a video game.  The magic of story, yes, but also the magic of sound, the music of words, and the beauty of those musical words assuring you there is an end to the darkness, that no matter what, it’s the nature of the dark and the fear to pass away somehow.  Books, the right kind of books can do that for you.  I wanted the kids to know that.