Monday, December 30, 2019

Year End Review Blitz (Part 1)

In case you have not noticed, I review a lot of books over the course of the year. What you may not know, however, is that I read even more than I review, and get asked to read even more than I could ever find time for. It is a nice problem to have, so please do not think I am complaining!

Sometimes, whether it is due to distraction or procrastination, those reads do not always make their way into a review. Not because there was anything wrong with them, but simply because work, writing, editing, or just plain life demanded a shift in priorities. So, with that in mind, I want to take a few days to catch up and share some thoughts on those stories I missed.

Apple Boy by Isobel Starling is probably the book I feel the most guilty about not having reviewed before now. It is a lovely book, and an even lovelier presentation, complete with a gorgeous full-color map that I have framed in my office. It is also a big book, a full-fledged fantasy novel first and a wonderful gay romance second, a book that I wanted to take my time and enjoy rather than race through for a review. Like any great fantasy novel, this is a story marked by complexities in the world-building, character relationships, themes, and plot.

There is magic to be found within its pages, along with truly despicable villains, but you need to be patient before those aspects are fully revealed. Adam and Winter are such a fantastic pairing, discovering themselves and the world as they go, and it is their shared journey, providing such a sweet counterpoint to the sourness of society, that makes this such an addictive read. There is a scene near the end, taking place through a keyhole, that was probably my favorite of the entire book.

Struggle by Drew A. Lennox is another of those books that just got away from me, the delicious third act of a wonderful BDSM romance. Having followed Charlie and Xander through their first tentative explorations of the lifestyle, and having watched her accept his collar, we have been witness to the most tender, patient, and loving aspects of dominance and submission. Here, we begin to explore the darker edge of BDSM, to descend deeper into the lifestyle and appreciate just how much trust it tied up in their love.

We get to explore the complexity of pain as pleasure, and we even get to see Charlie wield the whip. There is humor to this chapter as well, with the discovery of a collar by Charlie's parents leading to a conversation that had tears rolling down my cheeks. There are plenty of erotic moments to interweave with the romantic ones, and much to my delight we get to see Charlie find her way into subspace, which I think Lennox described beautifully, including the aftercare and coming down.

Lakebridge: Winter by Natasha Troop is a book I sat on for far too long, but for good reason. With it being the 4th volume in the Lakebridge Cycle, and it having been almost 5 years since I read the last volume, I wanted to go back and sort of catch up before reading. This a series that is weird and twisted and complex, owing as much to Rod Serling as David Lynch, and that all comes to a head in the triumphant conclusion. I had said in my review of the 2nd book that everything in the story was beginning to have consequence, but here it has consequences.

There is death in this story, and yet there is also life, and undeath, and things in between. Some of those story threads I suspected were coming to an end, the but ones I enjoyed most were the ones that left me asking, "Whoa, did that really happen?" You need to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy these stories, willing to pay attention and invest your time in what Troop has crafted, but the rewards are more than worth it. The story does meander and times, and is hardly your traditional narrative, but that is part of its charm.

What distinguished this final chapter most for me, however, was the way it sort of bridged - and I use that word deliberately, because this is a story of bridges and Bridges and travelers and Travelers - from supernatural horror to mythic urban fantasy, tying together all the mysteries. There is a line near the end about an "ability to exaggerate the mundane" and that is what Troop does so well, exaggerating, elevating, and excavating the magic beneath the mundane.

Winter Flower by Charles Sheehan-Miles is a book I admittedly dragged my feet on reviewing because it was too intense, too emotional, to heavy for me to simply shrug it off with a few words. It is so very much the opposite of the kind of books I am generally drawn to. I needed to sit with it, think it over, and try to find some way into the dramatic mess of lives and life that it represents. I will be honest. I hated it at times and loathed it at others. I just wanted it to end, because I wanted the pain to end. I admired it more than just about any book this year, and I have the utmost respect for the author and what he accomplished here, but it was not a read I enjoyed. It reminds me of that TV show, This is Us, that I have watched a few times with my beloved and wondered why people flock to something so depressing.

Were it not for Sam, I would have given up on this early on, but I wanted to see how she fared, to find out whether she found the acceptance the world so cruelly denied her. I needed to know that she would be okay, that she could navigate the cruelties of the world without the one person who understood, accepted, and supported her. There are some good people in the story and there is some warmth and joy to be found, but it takes wading through a lot of transphobia to get there. It was a difficult read, but with some tightening of the narrative, a little more focus on the present, and the right casting, this could make a brilliant film.


  1. I added you r blog and Dee's to my wife's bookmarks on her laptop....she is astonished by the amount of work you do and she likes reading the reviews....she's a reader but she's not as voracious a reader as I am...
    But we both agree that you should be rewarded for the work you do!!!!
    I may not have a chance tomorrow so Happy New Year sweet Sally....may the new year be full of happiness for you!!!!

    1. Wow, I'm genuinely flattered and delighted and blushing at the same time. That's wonderful!

      Happy New Year to you both! May 2020 be as fabulous as you both deserve, and may you continue to educate, amuse, and inspire us. :)