Last Dance of The Sugar Plum

 

sugar plum cover

TICK-TOCK-TICK-TOCK-TICK-TOCK

Jonathan is a spy.

Anton is Jonathan’s ‘keeper’.

Jonathan is a spy with a code implanted deep in his subconscious, so deeply he can’t remember—anything at all.

Anton is an interrogator intent on retrieving the code, whatever the cost.

But sometimes they dream of dark tunnels and locked-up rooms, and then they both scream.

TICK-TOCK-TICK-TOCK-TICK-TOCK

Along comes Harry, who seems to have all the answers…but who is he, and which side is he on?

TICK-TOCK-TICK-TOCK-TICK-TOCK

Bang!

For many months, Jonathan and Anton live apart from the world in a hazy, dreamlike state, only interrupted by interrogations and a healthy fear of HQ. One day, they watch a dance performance, and memories begin to unwind… A ticking clock… Betrayal… Missions… Always the scent of oranges. But with clarity, comes a return of powerful emotions…

Last Dance of The Sugar Plum is an exciting spy thriller with as many twists and turns as a maze.

 

Thank you to the authors and publishers for a review copy.

This review is as spoiler free as we can make it!

Karen: Straight off the bat, I would say that I haven’t read a more original romance in quite a long time, and what I enjoyed so very much about this book was that it kept me thinking. It’s not your typical spy story, nor is it your typical romance nor is it your typical romantic thriller BUT it has elements of all these in it.

Fra: This is one of the most original novels I have read in quite some time: in equal parts spy story and romance, the two authors manage to deliver a thrilling reading experience which compels the reader to pay attention from page one.

Karen: Because it’s focused so very much on what has happened to Jonathan and Anton, and the narrative slips from the past to the present this was an intense read, and why Jonathan and Anton are in the position they are in is only revealed towards the end of the book- so all the way through I found myself second guessing what was going on, and got it wrong, every single time. And that so rarely happens.

After reading my gran’s romance books (Georgette Heyer, Catherine Cookston mainly) I drifted into mysteries and thrillers, so to find books that combine both of these, and well is one of my great reading pleasures. This book made me happy!

Fra: I loved the switches between past and present. Throughout the book I felt that the alternating chapters took me to almost guessing what was happening in both timelines while at the same time kept me focused on the story.

One of the things that I loved most about the novel is the very theatrical  narrative: it is as if the authors are constantly pointing a blinding spotlight on the parts of the story they want you to see drawing your attention to the specific scene in front of you and not allowing you to focus on any of the surrounds.

Not only did this technique work for me on a narrative level, I also felt that it brought the shifting timelines together as both past and present chapters are well defined scenes. As such I felt it brought continuity to the story when the story itself was purposely very disconcerting.

Don’t even start me on the guessing, second guessing and third guessing! I mean more than once I thought I had it all figured out only to get to the next chapter and eventually to the end of the novel and realise that I had figured absolutely zilch out!

How rare it is that a novel keeps us guessing and constantly focused on the story and the characters without feeling claustrophobic or confusing? I not only enjoyed this book because it was a good story I absolutely loved it because it of its narrative structure and because it demanded my attention all the time at all times.

Karen: The relationship between Jonathan and Anton is complicated, and at the beginning I felt that there was an element of Stockholm syndrome going on, then co-dependency – but like everything else in this book, Claire Davies and Al Stewart took my preconceptions, and made me think, again and often again about what I was reading. There are times when you have to just trust in your authors, and for me this was one. These two write consistently different and excellent books without, as far as I can tell, any really obvious writing or plot repetitions or tells.  Their writing is spot on for me, neither too flowery nor too linear (I detest those books that read like a Delia Smith recipe- and then they did this, and then they did that etc) and they pack a lot into the books without them becoming diluted or shallow.

Fra: I agree: Stockholm syndrome and co-dependency crossed my mind too in relation to the MCs relationship: but  I trusted the two authors to push the boundaries of my expectations and stayed with the story. And how expertly they did so too! Through a tight plot, a perfectly sustained narrative and expert writing Al Stewart and Claire Davis took all of my expectations – together with the easy way out many would have chosen – and kicked them out of the field.

Everything I have read of these two authors has defied expectations and delivered original, clever stories which have made a real impact on my reader’s mind.

In this particular case, as I was saying earlier, it is not only the story that is phenomenal but it is the way that is written: while you read you focus on the events – both past and present – to try and pull  the threads of the story together and become invested on both threads and yet it is only when you get to the end that the whole story becomes visible. It is almost as if the novel is narrated in reverse.

I thought this novel original, clever and so far away from the norm that – never mind the story itself, which I loved, I absolutely fell in love with the structure, the narrative. All in all this was a winner for me and I highly recommend it.

Karen: I couldn’t agree more Fra, LDoTSP joins my best of 2017, and is highly recommended.

Also another book with an amazing cover by the equally talented Noah Homes
You can buy it at Amazon UK

 

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Where Eagles Dare

 

Eagle's Shadow FIN1 (1)What if the new love of your life also holds the keys to your past?

When Chicago journalist Tom Welsh meets British banker Sanders Templeton at a conference, Sanders insists they have a connection, though he does not know what it is. They’ve never met before—but the strangest thing is, Tom can also feel it.

Sanders Templeton is a highflier who has it all—the money, the lifestyle and a rare intellect. Only a few chosen people know that he also suffers excruciating pain since childhood, with no cure, a mystery to western medicine.

Sanders knows that meeting Tom may be the most significant event of his life. As their relationship deepens, they learn that this is not the first lifetime in which they’ve fallen for each other. This time, true love can be theirs if they find the courage to forgive.

Disclaimer: We both beta read Eagle’s Shadow prior to its publication

Fra: Eagle’s Shadow is the  intense and compelling second installment in Aleks Voinov’s Witches of London series. Co written with Jordan Taylor the novel  can be read as a standalone but it does offer a window onto two of the characters’ lives – Julian and Lee – as they come to the rescue of the two MCs Sanders and Tom.

Voinov and Taylor’s writing complements each other beautifully and add an extra layer to the narrative: on the one hand the very European essence of Sanders and on the other Tom’s North American mannerism end up contributing in more than one way to the story and its development.

Karen: Totally agreed, it was great to read a book set in two main locations where you really did feel each place, Tom’s discovery of London was especially fun to read.

Fra: At times a realistic account of chronic pain as much as it is about the romantic journey of the two MC to finally accept the deep bond between them, I thought this novel principal strength rests in the complex relationship – from friendship to love – between Sanders and Tom as they explore the undeniable feelings of attraction and recognition and the manner in which these are interwoven with the exploration and eventual resolution of the pain, physical and emotional, which both men are in.

Karen: The attraction between the two of them was very immediate, and because of their history, it was one of the few times that the immediacy worked well for me, Sanders in particular is a complex character, and that is apparent from the off – however as you rightly point out Fra, so is Tom. It’s very cleverly woven, how these two twine together and then pull apart.

Fra: This is not an easy journey and the regression sessions reveal – and compel both the reader and the characters to relive – a odyssey through harrowing times from the Irish Famine to the utter madness of World War 2. As to be expected from both authors the accounts are realistic, harsh and historically accurate and the link between chronic pain and past lives is explored in detail but never forced on the reader.

Karen : The scenes where the characters regress are extremely powerful, but what was great to read was Tom’s logical skepticism,  for me it made him ring true – it needed something to temper the immediacy of the attraction- and this just did it for me. I  also appreciated the fluidity of the characters past lives, when I have read books with regression in before they seem often glamorous – but these were gritty real people.

Fra: To expand on that Karen – I particularly loved the tension between Sander’s determination to see the regression therapy through and Tom’s skepticism and denial of its effectiveness. I think this was one of the best underlying themes of the novel: the tension between Sander’s belief and Tom’s disbelief punctuates the manner in which the characters interact and eventually delivers a great emotional payout.

These are great characters; they are strong and broken at the same time, they are flawed and complex and realistically compelling. Their relationship from the undeniable sense of deja vu and belonging to the final denouement is also realistic and layered with complexity.

Karen: Eagles Shadow carries on with the theme set in Witches of London – Lars, of  different belief systems and ways of life being harmoniously integrated amongst the everyday. And I find this wonderfully realistic and inclusive, very reflective of the real community – especially as a sceptic myself.

Fra: Agreed Karen,  critical to the narrative is London’s Witches role. We see Lee in his practice as well as Julian in glorious supporting mode.And London itself – seen through Tom’s eyes in his solitary wondering is as much a character in the novel as the protagonists and roots the action in the strongest sense of place.

Karen: Ahh Lee ! Simply one of my favourite characters, I kind of want/ don’t want his story !

Also, a big shout out to Tiff, who has taken cover design for this series to a higher plane !

All in all this is a brave novel, unafraid to take its premises, and its characters, through the ringer before an emotionally rewarding conclusion and one that we wholeheartedly recommend.

You can buy Eagle’s Shadow here

 

Light up the Dark

lightupthedark

For two years Nicky has wandered the dark empty corridors of the overgrown Thorn Hall, unseen and untouched, feeling like a ghost. His only company, the cold man who promised to keep him safe from harm, Lance.

But when Lance dies, Nicky’s assurance of safety disintegrates and his world suddenly becomes a lot more real and a lot more dangerous. Scared to leave the house, Nicky longs for daylight. He employs a gardener to clear the over-grown bushes and vines that have nearly swallowed Thorn Hall whole.

The last thing Nicky expects a little light to do is show him something to fight for.

Eighteen months in a young offenders’ institute has taught Cai two things: he occupies the playful puppy end of the How Dangerous Are You? spectrum, and he has an unfortunate knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Desperate for a job, he takes the first offer he gets. Even though Thorn Hall creeps the hell out of him and he barely knows one end of a pair of garden shears from the other.

Things start to fall apart when Cai is drawn into Nicky’s strange world of sticky notes and secrets. Cai finds he is now a target, blamed for a crime he didn’t commit. Desperate not to go back to prison, he digs deep and risks all the good things in life to help Nicky run.

But now Nicky has someone he wants to protect, he knows he can’t run any more

Fra: Suki Fleet has been one of my most treasured discoveries of reading year 2016. Her stories are heartbreaking and beautifully written while at the same time affording both her characters and her readers uplifting experiences.

She writes contemporary tales firmly set in their environment and her writing evokes gritty, stark landscapes which are as much obstacle and redemption to her characters.

She explores themes of isolation, abandonment, mental illness and marginalisation in the most delicate of manners without ever turning condescending and without ever affording the facile endings so well loved of similar tales from across the ocean.

Light Up The Dark is her latest novel and it is – in my modest opinion – a classic Fleet novel. There are recurring themes, a strong sense of place, and a plot which carries the characters across a development and growth arc amongst some of the best I have read in 2016.

Karen : I would agree on Suki Fleet being a total find this year. I have become less tolerant of overtly formulaic books, and while I recognise that romance as a genre does operate within parameters, there is still scope for originality and difference. The previous books I have read by Fleet have been mainly NA and angst heavy, and I need to be in the right frame of mind for both of these to enjoy them. So I was trepidatious over reading one of her books, and I did start this very slowly, but after the first 10% I was hooked.

This book blew me away, Fra had already read it by the time I was 30% in, and I was like a giddy child with all the questions I was asking, and hopefully we won’t spoiler at all, or at least minorly.

Fra: I was absolutely hooked and I just could not put the book down. I am also very much in love with all of the YA/NA stories of hers I read in 2016; I too have by now a complete lack of interest in the overtly formulaic offerings of so many books that come from across the pond.

Add to the above the fact that her books are deliciously British and European in their outlook and approach – bleak and yet uplifting outlook and an approach to plot development which relies heavily on the characters own willingness to get themselves into the “light” and not some sort of narrative miracle, and Suki Fleet can count me as one of her diehard fans forever.

Karen : There are some great elements in LUTD, the Gothic setting of the decaying house, and Dickensian as well with Nicky somewhat like Miss Haversham living in the shadows. As Cai and his family start to invade Nicky’s life there is also a sleeping beauty feel, all of these are relatively subtle though. What made this so good for me was the balance between the psychological thriller and the romance. I think that to get the right balance is incredibly hard, and SF got it totally right for me. I wanted to know what was going on in Thorn Hall, and I rooted for Nicky and Cai.

Fra: Aren’t there just Karen?

I fear spoiling the novel if I go into more details. But let’s put it this way – Light Up The Dark is a psychological thriller with several elements of Gothic fiction thrown in for good measure.

Thorn Hall, I thought- oppressive, dark and dank and mysterious – is as much a character as Nicky and Cai in the story.

Cai’s progress on the overgrown outside of the mansion punctuates Nicky’s progress on the inside: Suki Fleet stated that Light Up The Dark is one of her less angsty novels and I tend to agree. Nicky is isolated and reserved for incredibly good reasons and yet he is the one to initiate the clearing of the wild plants that will eventually bring in both the light and Cai in his life.

I found that there were similarities between Foxes and Light Up The Dark in the way Fleet uses space around her main characters. In Foxes the disused swimming pool Danny uses as a home brings him solace and protection and allows him to retreat from the world around him at will. Comparatively Thorn Hall affords Nicky a modicum of security and protection even if he has started to feel ever so slightly claustrophobic in it. I thought it was particularly poignant how both men build themselves  some sort of inner sanctum in the places and how in Nicky’s case the dark is both comforting – in the space he chooses for himself – and frightening – everywhere else in the house. (note I’d love to be more specific but I am absolutely not going to spoil this story)

Together with the classic “person in the turret” Gothic trope I also thought the book had a very cinematographic element to it which reminded me of some of the greatest noir psychological thrillers of old times. In particular I did mention to Karen that Thorn Hall reminded me of Mandalay.

Karen : Nicky is a fascinating character, an inconsistent mix of vulnerable and strong, scared and brave (with good reasons for all of these) and he is matched so well with Cai – also a complex character – despite Nicky being the elder it is Cai who comes initially as the most mature, and then as in all good books they switch roles. Cai’s sister and her friend Loz are wonderful supporting characters as well, while young they are also quite emotionally mature and not there for diversity window dressing.

Fra: I agree on both counts. Nicky is abrasive and guarded, frightened but determined and is the perfect match for Cai. I found Cai equally determined, vulnerable and yet strong and in control.

It had been a while, also, since I read such an intense and sensual intercourse between two main characters.  Not gratuitous or a tick box in a narrative lull. When the two main characters get together it propels the story forward both on plot and character development. It was beautifully written and highly romantic.

The alternate point of view is also incredibly well done. I do think Suki writes her secondary characters as if they were the protagonists of their own story and this lends strength to the whole novel.

In Light Up the Dark Loz’s viewpoint works as a brilliant counterpoint to the main plot line and offers, in several slow reveals a completely different angle on the on going story. Which is already quite the reversal of roles given that Loz is a teenager but their actions in the story also affords a queer character pivotal, and incredibly positive, agency.

The same can be said of the rest of the secondary character – mostly women – who at critical points of the story safe the day in a complete reversal of what the formulaic approach would have demanded of the story.

Karen : Because LUTD was published early, I can say that this was one of my top reads of 2016 now as well !

Fra: Agreed !

Overall we found LUTD gorgeously written with Gothic overtones: the pacing is relentless sustained by a tight plot and beautifully upheld by complex character development across multiple point of views.

The language is achingly beautiful, the story gorgeous and romantic; and once again Fleet explores complex themes – isolation and mental health to mention but two – in a delicate way and brings about a satisfying conclusion without relying on the facile denouements so overused in many of this genre novels. Highly Recommended

About the author:

suki-fleet

Award Winning Author. Prolific Reader (though less prolific than she’d like). Lover of angst, romance and unexpected love stories.

Suki Fleet’s first novel This is Not a Love Story won Best Gay Debut in the 2014 Rainbow Awards, and was a finalist in the 2015 Lambda Awards. Foxes won Best Gay Young Adult story in the 2016 Rainbow Awards.

You can contact Suki at sukifleet@gmail.com

If you’re interested in hearing about upcoming releases, works in progress, giveaways and freebies, please sign up to Suki’s newsletter here

Aleksandr Voinov and Jordan Taylor – cover reveal for Witches of London: Eagle’s Shadow

Pleased to help revealing the cover for Witches of London: Eagle’s Shadow , Witches of London: Lars was one of our top reads of 2016.

We are so very excited for this, it’s due on 4th February, and the cover is just gorgeous

eagles-shadow-fin1-1

What if the new love of your life also holds the keys to your past?

When Chicago journalist Tom Welsh meets British banker Sanders Templeton at a conference, Sanders insists they have a connection, though he does not know what it is.  They’ve never met before—but the strangest thing is, Tom can also feel it.

Sanders Templeton is a highflier who has it all—the money, the lifestyle and a rare intellect. Only a few chosen people know that he also suffers excruciating pain since childhood, with no cure, a mystery to western medicine.

Sanders knows that meeting Tom may be the most significant event of his life. As their relationship deepens, they learn that this is not the first lifetime in which they’ve fallen for each other. This time, true love can be theirs if they find the courage to forgive.

 

This is a standalone novel in the Witches of London world.

Not What It Looks Like Indeed

what-it-looks-like-coverEli Bell is the only son of a police chief inspector and a forensic scientist. He’s grown up wonky in a world that only deals with the straight and narrow — and his new boyfriend isn’t helping.

Rob Hawkes is six feet of muscle, tattoos, and arrest warrants. A career criminal and a former guest of Her Majesty’s Prison Service, he’d rather hit Eli’s parents than sit down to dinner with them. One wrong move, and Rob could destroy Eli — and his family — without a second thought.

But this isn’t what it looks like.

Rob’s not in control here — and Eli’s the one to blame.

We all bought copies of this book, and be aware, although we’ve tried not to, there may be some spoilers ahead.

Karen: Having read, and loved Metzger’s Vivaldi in the Dark trilogy, I was very excited to read this book, and as it kicked off I think all of us were pleased that it featured an established couple, and that it read quite authentically British, actually it read northern.

It can’t be much of a surprise to know that the title does really cover a lot of what the book is about. People and situations aren’t always what they appear.

Fra: Metzger has been one of the most gorgeous discoveries of my reading year: I most definitely loved the Vivaldi in the Dark trilogy and I was also very excited to read What It Looks Like.

There is a long list of likes, for me, attached to this specific novel, the first of which is that its language is deliciously British – in fact scrap that – as Karen says it is unapologetically Northerner.

It grounds the characters and the story into its environment and it pulls no punches when it comes to dialogue which is realistically peppered with cursing, slang and the dialect of the region.

From the liberal use of “fuckin”  to the very refreshing, uncensored, use of the baddest curse words of them all “cunt”, the language used in the book anchors the fiction into reality and gives it a weight lacking from similar novels in american english.

Miki: Absolutely. I agree with you on the likes.  I discovered the author thanks to his Spy Stuff, and I felt it was different, honest, adorable, and very smart in the way he approaches certain topics. The language is rich and absolutely rooted with its culture and origin, which gives a lot of personality to the book, the voice of the narrator is clear and powerful, the dialogue is fantastic, and the fact that it takes on an already established couple, original and interesting. Also, I liked the way the author approaches Eli´s sexuality, fused with the plot, and not like a big totem that either is a big secret (and everything revolves around that), or is clearly said every two paragraphs, like the author wants to prove something.

Fra: The title is in fact very revealing of the novel denouement: Eli is not what it seems, Rob isn’t what he seems and the relationship between the two characters is not at all what it looks like. There are several layers of narrative in this novel and the title is almost like a not so gentle push to actually see beyond appearances and expectations, and trust the narrator to make choices based on his own experience and not the expectations placed upon him by both his family and the society he inhabits.

At the most superficial of levels what this looks like is  a relationship between two wildly different young people: the son of police officials – firmly ensconced in their middle classes lives and beliefs, and a tattooed ex con who is bound to be dominating and abusing Eli. The almost immediate look to the intimate goings on in the couple dynamics puts that particular misconception to rest pretty early in the narrative while still being the critical issue in all arguments between Eli, his family and ultimately Rob. Rob and Eli are equals in their relationship and the BDSM element confirms the equal status of both men.

Onto the next level and what this book looks like is a commentary about Eli’s sexuality – which in a way it is – but not in the usual way. On the one hand obviously the main character’s sexuality is critical to the narrative on the other it is not big deal. I mean this in the most complimentary way. Eli’s sexuality  – and consequently the novel – is not an issue. It doesn’t consume Eli with the “oh I have a secret” “oh I must accept myself and if I do everybody will hate me” “oh I shall now offer a lecture on the issues of gender and sexuality to the people who read this”. Eli’s sexuality – simply put – just is: he is 100% sure of who he is, how he likes it and what he wants from the world around him, including his partner and his family. There is no dramatised agony of secrets keeping and a big tragic revelation to move the narrative along.

If there were ever any doubts ever about the validity of the own voice argument this book should dispel them all. Eli’s voice is natural, realistic, affirmative, strong and doesn’t have to explain itself as the confidence Eli exudes about who he is is possibly the best success of this novel.

Karen: One of the strengths in this book for me, was that Eli wanted to get Rob and his family, especially his dad, to get on. In so many LBGTQ romance novels the families are either seen as the most accepting and lovely people or as unfeeling insensitives just there to destroy happiness. Eli’s family were coming to terms with who Eli was just as much as he was, but they clearly cared a lot, and felt that they were actually being supportive. The arguments that Eli and his family had, going over the same ground over and over, were reassuringly realistic. Miki raised a question though, should we be looking for character growth and movement to something- be it acceptance or not ?

Fra: The family dynamics were very well done in my opinion. The very fact that Eli and his folks – especially his father, are basically constantly having  the same argument, if slightly repetitive from a narrative perspective, makes the book even more close to reality for me.

Don’t we all have the same core argument with our parents and to an extent with our partner? My personal experience is that yes we do – fundamentally, critically, we do have the one argument over and over again. I admit that although the actual argument feels real when in it, it is also true that you get glimpses of how it is used as a narrative tool and that did take some of the enjoyment out of the reading experience.

Miki: Ok, I agree. Evidently, we always have the same arguments related to those topics that are the core to the usual fights with our beloved ones, but we are talking here about a book. A novel. A fantasy that, even if is contemporary and without magic elements, it is anyway literature. And that demands certain things to the narrative and the plot, and not a literal reproduction of 20 years of life. That´s why I felt that dynamic between Eli and his family was unnecessarily repetitive. I don´t need a mirror of my life, I want a story that flows and that is able to show me (in this context) a realistic dynamic but with movement and character growth. And I think we were getting there with the book. But then, someone decided the book needed a more “classic” approach. That the plot was lacking the elements to make the book a typical romance. And that´s when the book started to crumble for me.

Fra: I think that at first look, Eli’s copper family’s objections to his relationship with Rob is all purely based on Rob’s appearance, previous history with the law and his potential to turn abusive as his sibling’s boyfriend had.

As impassioned looks at middle class social assumptions  go this one is a powerful one. Rob,whom the reader sees first through the MC eyes as a god, the perfect lover, is constantly judged by the standards of the MCs family and their place in society. It is almost easy to fall into step with the respectable Bells and judge him solely on his appearance, social class and rough language. And yet Eli’s is a quietly strong presence, a reliable narrator who knows exactly what Rob is like and so – as readers we pay attention.  

But at a deeper level, at the what it is like – if you will – the critical issue in the argument between Eli and his parents on the suitability of Rob as boyfriend material is deeply rooted on Eli’s choices and sexuality and that parental myth that silence and support, demands and guidance are the same thing.

Because yes Eli’s parents and sister think they are being supportive but all they are doing is judging and failing miserably at the type of support Eli needs and gets unconditionally from Rob and his family at that.

Massive shout out to the Hawkes at this point. Rough, chaotic, unconventional by necessity and still more intrinsically supportive of both Rob and Eli than the quintessentially middle class Bells.

Karen : The other strength was how fluid and equal the relationship between Eli and Rob was, there was no smaller man/ larger man nonsense- just the revealing of a relationship that was honest and trying to go somewhere. It was easy to forget at times that these were young men 21 and 24 respectively, and at other times they behaved like teenagers. I found the book very sex positive as well, sex was an integral part of Eli and Rob’s relationship , so the sex scenes never felt like they were there for just titillation.

Fra: oh Karen! I loved that this relationship was mid way and that the narrative is about taking it to the next level.

I loved that Rob was so intrinsically romantic and that yes the sex was positive and affirming.

I do admit, I have so before, that BDSM makes me rather uncomfortable, but I appreciate where the author is coming from here and the “scenes” never appear voyeuristic or gratuitous. If anything, in the privacy of their own safe spaces is where we readers see exactly what the relationship between Eli and Rob is like: a relationship based on equality and a whole lot of respect and understanding of each other needs and desires.

Miki: Yes to this. It was so so refreshing to read. That´s why I felt so enraged with that plot resolution. I still feel someone that was not the author decided it was necessary to resolve the issue between Rob and Eli´s family in a conventional  “white middle class” way. The author chooses to resolve this conflict forcibly and tie all the loose ends (unnecessarily) using something completely absurd, incoherent; a scene that falls in the list of “What to put in your book to be sold like hotcakes,” and that smells like a mediocre romance US author, smells of sulfur, as Chavez would say. It is the First World telling us again, in dichotomous terms, what is good and cute, and what is bad and ugly. And personally, I couldn’t enjoy the epilogue because it comes after that ridiculous ending. So you can’t expect me to go all “awww” after you put your superiority complex in the middle of your book.

Karen: So, until about 70%  this was a high scoring book for me, yes I had a few niggles with the repetition in the arguments, but having discussed this, on balance they were realistic then something happened to the plot that threw me. It also sparked a big debate here at Inglorious, second only to the Great  religion debate. Trying very hard not to give anything away, the book became very US traditional . Until this point, other than a few ‘gottens’ it read true to me, and I find that important, and I don’t mean just on the dialogue, the book didn’t try and glamourise things, and of course it’s primarily a romance, but does that mean that every loose end needs to be tied up and resolved ?

Fra: I agree with both of you, and this is why, when it comes to the final development and narrative resolution, I also got disappointed.

This novel would have worked very well without pushing Rob and Eli’s family together. It would have still worked if Eli had walked out of his unsupportive family and refused to have anything to do with them ever again (which was my preference but I have a known issue with authority, especially of the family type, so..)

Unfortunately this fiercely European novel, with its realistic language and strong own narrative voice, sort of turns very “usian” all of a sudden.

In a disconcerting move, we end up with all ends nicely tied up with a pretty ribbon. The plot is dragged on by one of the most overused narrative devices in the genre – the noble act of the “rough” character which makes his innate goodness miraculously visible to the people who has been judging him until about 5 minutes ago.

And considering what Miki said, this is a novel which up to this point had been fiercely European, unapologetically British and strongly literary  all of a sudden turns into the usual U.S m/m tripe; where all ends have to be tied up and the distinction between good and evil (in this case between working class and middle class) has to be overcome.

We did end up having one of our most heated discussions on this point and although we came at it from different angles we did all agree that the ending felt off, edited,if you will, to please an audience foreign to the first 70% of the novel.

That said, I loved the epilogue: I thought it was very romantic.

In summary we did enjoy this book very much: it is strong and realistic and conveys the strength of own voices in a literary way. The ending was the weakest part of this novel but we’d still recommend it wholeheartedly.

Buy It here

http://www.jms-books.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=67_141&products_id=1847

or here

 

 

A general note from all of us: we have decided that during the month of October we will be reviewing only books written outside of the united states. We feel a strong need to detox from the cultural dominance of u.s fiction, especially contemporary, and  to reclaim our own cultural identity while exploring novels from all over the world. We are very excited about this month’s reading list and look forward to share our musings with you all.

 

Retro Tour and Giveaway- SA Meade Tournament of Shadows

graphiconeGive a huge welcome to SA Meade via Signal Boost PR for this retro tour, our review of Tournament of Shadows to follow – but it’s a fantastic book, and massive kudos to all involved in getting this into WH Smith branches along with the other books.

In a shadowy game where defeat can mean death, a deal with the enemy can change things forever.

In 1842, Captain Gabriel O’Riordan of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars is sent on a

mission to Bukhara. His task—to try to free two of his compatriots from the clutches of a mentally unstable Emir. On his way, he encounters Valentin Yakolev, an officer in the Russian Army, who is also on a mission—to persuade the Emir that an alliance with Russia would be in his best interest. Gabriel, disguised as a holy man, is not happy to be the object of Yakolev’s intense scrutiny. After all, he’s working for the opposing team in the Great Game being played between their two nations. When Gabriel realises that his mission is little more than a forlorn hope, a game he has no chance of winning, he’s desperate enough to turn to Valentin for help and offers him anything in return. What he doesn’t expect is to have his plans to return to Calcutta scuppered by events.

Instead, he and Valentin flee north, fighting off bandits, their desire for each other and the hardship of desert travel. Their travails bring them closer together until a secret from Valentin’s past tears them apart.

Can they set the past behind them and move on together?

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Author Bio

S.A. Laybourn lives in Wiltshire with her son and two needy cats. She works as a freelance editor and sometimes writes stories. Her alter-ego S.A. Meade writes gay romance. She loves cooking, reading, gin and tonic and the occasional glass of wine. She is not terribly domesticated and has trouble finding things that she thought she’d put in a ‘safe’ place.

You can find her books at:

https://www.totallybound.com/index.phproute=product/author/info&author_id=323

https://www.totallybound.com/author/sa-meade

And follow her on:

https://www.facebook.com/sue.laybourn

Give away below:

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/preview/37/

 

Double, double toil and trouble

lras

Some problems you can’t solve with magick—and some you can.

After a homophobic pagan group rejected him, Lars Kendall is a solitary heathen on the Northern Path, loyal to the gods of the Norse pantheon. But being on his own sucks. So when he finally meets a mixed group of other queer witches and magick-users, it’s like finding family. If family involved exploring past lives and casting spells.

Rhys Turner quit a stressful job in the City after his high-strung boyfriend of six years walked out. He sold the expensive flat in central London and bought a run-down house out in the suburbs. Never mind that it needs walls knocked down, its garden landscaped, and what the hell is up with that carpet?

With his health failing, Rhys is desperate for a clean slate and a new start. He isn’t ready to fall in love with anybody, least of all the hunky builder who looks like he’s stepped out of a TV show about Vikings—tattoos, long hair, and all. But as strong and loyal as Lars is, he also has a very soft heart, which might be the hardest thing for Rhys to resist.

Fra:There is no doubt in my mind that Voinov’s departure from traditional publishing has heralded a  new and very productive period of his writing career. Unconstrained by the demands of a niche market he is now able to deliver a range of diverse queer narratives that are a delight to read.

This is most certainly the case in his latest offering, hopefully the first of many in this series, Lars, Witches of London. Anchored to the London suburban settings, Lars proposes an elegant and delicate take on faith, friendship, belonging and romance in a context similar – IMO – to Magic Realism.

The narrative is tight and free flowing and the themes all intersect to deliver an incredibly interesting story line

Karen: Totally agreed, as a reader I have become increasingly frustrated with many contemporary romances, and this was a breath of fresh air.

Miki: Agreed. Absolutely. His writing is free now from the coercitive impositions of the publishing market and you can feel how happy he is. And we have many examples of it. His books were always a great pleasure to read, different from anything inside the genre.

Karen: I’m going to start by saying that I beta read this book, and I loved it, and I would say that while I share a lot of the feeling in the book about how we are connected to the world and people in it, I don’t share any pagan beliefs. And this didn’t detract in anyway from my enjoyment of the book –

Fra: Indeed Karen, we did have very lengthy and satisfying conversations about the faith/spiritual elements of the story. I thought the faith element and the introduction of a spiritual level and covens in the middle of the British suburbs was actually quite a clever thing to do. It is possibly the setting in which you’d least expect magick and paganism and yet it works incredibly well.

I found the Norse paganism in particular very thought provoking.  As an agnostic I have very little time for institutionalised religion but I find spiritualism, especially of the pagan type, satisfying at a philosophical level.

Also Norse Mythology is an old and very well loved interest of mine and I enjoyed the juxtaposition of mundane and mythology in the setting chosen by the author.

Like you I did not find this element to be distracting from the story. In fact I thought that it gave the characters their agency and it was a critical element of the plot construction.

Miki: we had indeed a nice discussion while reading the book. I need to say first that the only reason I started this book without thinking was this author. The things is, I was very skeptical, I had many doubts because I’m an Atheist. Hardcore, to the core, atheist. I fight, contradict, discuss with/against every kind of beliefs, religions, even believers. Anything. So I was a little wary, especially because even if I can make a bit of suspension of disbelief and take the book as a scifi story, I thought that maybe the author wanted the reader to feel like Lars, to finish the book believing in the same things he does.

But that’s not the way this book works. Hey, maybe I’m even more convinced now about my atheism !

Karen: So Miki what made you change your mind about Lars?

Miki: I think is the intensity of my reactions. The part that i enjoyed the most were Lars´s thoughts, his arguments and reasoning not only related to Paganism and Norse Mythology, but also about atheism. I found myself trying to contradict and argue against his ideas, and that was absolutely satisfying and very very entertaining. It was like talking to a dear friend, on a saturday night, with a glass of wine.

For example when he says things like: “…it was worse because Rhys was an atheist and truly believed that humans were upstart apes.” Come on, Lars, you know we don’t really “believe”. Or the conclusion that “atheist who considers faith the opium of masses”. Exactly, Lars, that’s the point. And things like that. I enjoyed that the most.

So the author just wanted to provoke a little, to move the reader a bit , to put us in a position where it was impossible to stay away of the subject in discussion. And that’s fantastic 🙂

Karen : I think it’s fair to say that while we were reading this it sparked off the most discussions we’ve ever had over a book, and I think this reflects the strength not only of the writing, but also on how non preachy the pagan elements of the book are.I think that when a writer is passionate about things it can sometimes be difficult to get the  balance right, but I didn’t find that here. Making Rhys an atheist helped in the balance of course but for me it was the normalcy of the setting as well. And I am curious to know if that was the same for you Miki and Fra ?

Miki: Yes. The debate and ideas that flourish regarding beliefs, faith and how it affects everyday decisions is super interesting. But I feel Rhys atheism is not really about the rejection of belief that any deities exist, but more like a consequence of everything that’s happening to him. I feel he could be easily convinced of the contrary if some details of his life could change. So, as an atheist, I didn’t really feel his atheism, but maybe that was on purpose too.

Fra: Firstly yes; we did end up having some of the most satisfying book discussions while reading.

Secondly: I thought that the belief systems explored in the  novel did not detract in any way from my enjoyment of the story itself.

Lars’s pagan practices had a beauty and delicate feeling to them which felt unobtrusive. Voinov is obviously very close to this subject matter but I never felt as if he was trying to preach or impose his own set of beliefs on the reader.

The suburban setting and Rhys atheism did work very well to counterbalance the spiritual elements.

I thought that the way the Norse Mythology was deployed throughout the book gave it depth but the fact that it was constantly balanced by Rhys atheism and his journey through medical treatment gave it credibility. To Lars’ quests in the spiritual world there is always a corresponding step in the empirical one. Rhys’ illness is not magically resolved. At the same time as Lars’s paganism is well known to the author, Rhys’ illness and the cures available in modern medicine are also well researched.

Because of the parallel nature of this particular narrative arc the reader is encouraged to drawn her own conclusions and either believe that the mystical search in the dream landscape is the key or the bone transplant from a sibling is what make the difference in the end.

Karen : One of things I appreciated about Lars was also the gentleness of the love story, and this added to the balance. While on one hand you have this new group of friends whose beliefs are quite radical, on the other you have the most gentle and romantic of love stories. This is certainly in part due to the nature of Lars himself , but it’s also a clever piece of writing. There were times that I had to remind myself that Lars isn’t actually real

Fra: I agree Karen, the love story which underpins the narrative is gentle and delicate and it does – also in my opinion – adds to the story’s balance. Lars is a calm, rooted, presence and as such he is a very cleverly developed character. He is younger than Rhys, was raised in very unconventional circumstances, he practices paganism and looks like a Viking: it would have been very easy to design a character who was intimidating and imposing. The fact that Lars is unassuming but unfaltering in both his faith and in his support of Rhys breaks the possibility of using cliches in the story development. I appreciate that, no scratch that I actually love it when an author goes for breaking the mould. Let’s face it there are so many cliches’ going around in fiction right now that the breaking of them is rather refreshing altogether.

Miki: I agree. Even if for me the love story is secondary, and that I didn´t relate with Lars paganism or Rhys “false atheism” (LOL), the way each element of the story is written and put together is clever, intelligent and very captivating.

Fra. Friendship and finding your “tribe” are also a central theme to this novel.

Lars’ narrative journey is not only underlined by the romance arc; in fact it starts with Lars joining the Queer Witches group. Alone after leaving his original Pagan group, Lars conveys a need to belong in a very subtle manner. In a way I think the difference between Lars’ original Pagan group and the Queer Witches is the same difference between the institution of the “church” and the more spiritual approach to faith of the early “monastic orders”. In the first Lars is shunned for being queer, in the latter Lars is welcomed and somewhat “recognised” immediately as belonging.

The friendship that develops between the members of the new group felt natural to me and very close to real life in the way sometimes you just “click” with other people as if you have always known them irrespective of a variety of backgrounds and previous experiences.

Moreover the eclectic mix of secondary characters with the rather splendid Julian in the lead will take centre stage in the next installment of the series.

Overall we felt that Lars, Witches of London is a gorgeous book that effortlessly mixes mythology and ordinary daily life in a delicate and elegant manner. It introduces us to a completely parallel reality in the most prosaic of settings, London’s suburbs, and it does so gently, without preaching and without offering any miraculous solutions to the issue of Rhys’ medical condition.

The absolutely stunning cover! It is a rarity to see a cover so beautiful and so very representative of the novel matter itself. In Tiff, Voinov has found a cover artist who  can interpret his narrative in a different medium without compromising her artistic endeavors, and it’s a lovely thing to see two creative people who are in tune with each other. The final product is objectively stunning and in this case – totally judge this book by its cover: the quality you see on the outside is well matched by what you will find on the inside.

Buy the book here

More about the author here