Thursday, September 28, 2017

Review: The Epic Love Story of Doug and Stephen

I loved this book.  The protagonist, Doug, is like Bill and Ted's dumber, hotter friend, and he falls in love with an almost murderously antisocial, uptight, artsy queer guy, Stephen.  The narrative is laugh-out-loud funny and teeters on the edge of farce, but is saved by having a really charming emotional core.

It breaks conventions that I wasn't aware could be broken. For example, Doug is not slow-by-common-measures-but wise-in-other-ways.  He really is just dumb as a rock.  He's also a lazy, cowardly, amoral, slutty slob. From that description, I should hate him (I'm judgemental like that).  Yet he ended up being a really sympathetic character for me.  Stephen is intellectual, anally neat, and interested is almost a caricature of a east coast liberal, wishing that there was just more injustice in his life to rail against and more angsty than a goth teen.  He's also not someone I would normally find attractive, but I eventually appreciated him though Doug's eyes.

And Stephen really doesn't like Doug at first and is pretty mean to him.  If it were a girl, I'd feel uncomfortable with having her be hot but so much dumber than the guy she loves, or having her be such a doormat that she take his abuse and never defends herself.  But somehow since they're both guys, it doesn't feel misogynistic and just becomes a story about unconditional love.

For a while, I didn't know if I really wanted them to be together.  I kept reading just to get to more funny bits, but I didn't at first see how it would work.  I mean, if I met them in real life, I would be totally on Stephen's side in trying to dissuade Doug from pursuing/bothering him.  They seem a horrible match.  Completely different in every possible way, and not in the "he completes me" sense.

Also Doug starts out heterosexual. The "queer for you" trope has a bad reputation for a reason, but here it worked for me, because I could actually believe that Doug could go his whole went his whole life without questioning the default sexuality and then switch his assumptions without it bothering him all that much.  He's as deep as a puddle.

The only thing I didn't love about the book was the climax.  Although entertaining, there was just too much coincidence for me.  YMMV.

Overall though, I'd recommend it.  Plus, it's free on Kindle Unlimited, so there's that.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: Serial Hottie by Kelly Oram

Serial Hottie is a YA romance about a tomboy and the mysterious new guy who moves in across the street.  She finds him attractive, but their first few interactions don't go well.  When a serial killer starts killing red headed teen aged girls in her home town soon after he moves in, she suspects he's the serial killer.
The relationship is a little creepy. She's a bit violent, including punching him at one point.  He is over-the-top jealous and stalker-y, and a couple of times physically restrains her to get her to listen to him when she doesn't want to.  On the other hand, we eventually understand why he acts the way he does, and when she calls him out on the creepy psycho stuff, he realizes that it's a problem and tries to change it.
Other than that, I think it's a good story.  I have a soft spot for stories about beautiful bad boys who are head-over-heels over a girl (Beautiful Disaster, et al).  The author does a decent job of showing the problems with dating a violent boy with stalker-ish tendencies and socialization issues, and how their relationship evolves as they learn he starts to learn how to act right.  She also has some issues with defensiveness and not really feeling comfortable with her feminine side, and with his help, she starts to feel more comfortable in her skin.
The story also has a fair amount going on.  There's the serial killer sub-plot, that is mostly about them learning to understand and trust one another for most of the story, but involves some suspense and action here and there.   There's also a solid arc about the relationship between Ellie and her sister, as well as a strong dose of tomboy-gets-a-makeover story line. For all that there's a lot of potentially heavy things going on, the general tone of the book is actually pretty light-hearted.  It's a fun YA read.

Review: Do Over by Emily Evans

Pez, the heroine and POV, really makes this story. She's a born leader - smart, organized, decisive, and understands people. She mostly channels that into her prom committee, although she's really like that all the time. She's also determined to be a fashion designer, and the contrast between her interest in fashion and art and her practical, level-headed approach to everything is great.
The main blemish in her life is that her parents are divorced. Not one to take things lying down, she's determined to make prom into a perfectly romantic event so her parents get back together, bonding over pre-prom rituals (I found this reasoning a little weak, but not a deal breaker - it's clear that she's having trouble accepting that they're not getting back together and is being a little irrational about it). In the meantime, her father is engaged to a professional cheerleader, who Pez gets to know over the course of the book. Their relationship was a surprisingly strong point of the story.
Mostly though, the story is a romance. Pez is forced to interact with the jocks her father coaches. She finds one of them attractive, but she recognizes that he's promiscuous and isn't generally into jocks, so doesn't act on it. Over the course of the story, they get to know each other better and develop a relationship (although not a romantic one for at first). The romance is understated. There is some tension before they act on their attraction, and there are difficulties they overcome when they start having a relationship, but the author doesn't unnecessarily draw out the problems, and Pez doesn't spend all her time wallowing in thoughts about the relationship - she's got things to do! For all that, when they do come together, it's intense and passionate considering that they only kiss (it is YA, after all).
I love that the author avoids the standard YA tropes and tendencies. There's no love triangle, insta-love, or angst. The girl doesn't feel unworthy of attention and she doesn't need - or get - a makeover. She's popular and good at school without being a genius or a goddess. The boy has no impulse control issues and wasn't her best friend from when they were kids. Nobody is abused or bullied. Mind you, I've loved stories that had all of these things, but it's refreshing to see YA romance that doesn't use any of them.

The only thing keeping me from rating it a five star instead of a four is that the climax isn't so climatic for me. When they run into relationship problems, there's some time when I'm sure Pez is hurting, but it really takes place off stage. So we go from conflict to resolution without tearing my heart out too much in between. Perversely, I would have liked my heart torn out just a tiny bit more. Other than that, though, I thought it was great. Highly recommended if you like YA romances.

Monday, April 16, 2012

SSF Stories with Middle Eastern Leads

This post is focuses on my favorite science fiction and fantasy stories with protagonists whose race and ethnicity is rooted in the Middle East.
Previous Posts: SFF Stories with Native American Leads, SFF Stories with Asian Leads and SFF Stories with Black Leads.

The Aggregate Stats

  • Total number of works/series/authors on the list: 15/7/24
  • Author with most works on the list: Frank Herbert, with 6 books on the list
  • Most consistent pattern: Historical Fantasies.  Rather than take the ideas and culture and build their own world, about half the series on the list placed their stories in a serious historical context.
  • Biggest overall surprise:  No fantasies with the magic based on ancient Egyptian mythology.  I would have assumed that would be more popular, but no.
and now for...

My Favorites

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: Peacemaker by Lindsay Buroker

As with the other installments of the Flash Gold Series, it's fun and action-filled.  Apparently it's also longer than the other stories, but unfortunately Buroker doesn't really use that extra length to make noticeable progress on any of the main story arcs.  Despite this, I recommend it as a fun read in a fun series.

Peacemaker, by Lindsay Buroker, is the third story in her Flash Gold series, a steam-punk adventure set in the Yukon gold rush.  The protagonist is Kali, a half-Han/half-white female MacGuyver.   She's clever and crotchety and brave and vulnerable.  In the first book she becomes partners with Cedar, a sword-and-gun-wielding bounty hunter.  He's mysterious and wise and fierce and a little crazy and socially awkward to complement her craziness and socially awkwardness.  I love them both. Instead of novels, each installment in this series is a short story or novella, so the episodes are fairly light and fun, with larger arcs that carry over the stories and action that's solved with a mixture of derring do and improvised engineering.

In a lot of ways, this story was a good addition to the series.  The the action was fun, the writing is good, the main characters are great, the inventions are inventive, and the setting is cool.

I have two beefs however.

The first is with the world building.  Now, don't get me wrong.  It's a rollicking setting with fun details.  And she infuses enough richness to it that her steam punk world feels like it's own distinct place.  The problem is that after three stories, it still feels a like a bubble setting.  I don't have a real sense of how the world got to be the way it is or how it fits into the rest of the world, despite the fact that other places in the world are mentioned.

For example, there are a couple mentions of  medicine men and native american witches who have some sort of magical powers (no real detail on that).  But  those people don't seem to be any different from real life medicine men and women accused of witches other than to give us flash gold.  And other than that, there's no integration of magic into the rest of her world.  That level of world-building was okay for the first story, because it's a short story and I don't want Buroker to spend so much time explaining the setting that it takes away from the story.  But three stories in, we've gotten a chance to look around a bit, and it still feels like magic is just plopped into one place in her world and doesn't affect anything else.  And that's just odd.  I'd think that some people having magic powers would affect the world in a bunch of ways.  Maybe regular people would be more superstitious or prejudiced against magic users or maybe magic users would occupy certain roles that aren't available in our world, or there would be a bunch of charlatans pretending to have power, or, I don't know, a bunch of possibilities.  But about the only possibility I don't swallow is that you'd be able to change such a fundamental part of world (some people can do real magic) and the only difference is that now there's flash gold, which only Kali has.

To give another example, Kali and other tinkerers can do all sorts of crazy engineering, but the world as a whole is not any different than our real world.  It seems like there are a few crazy fun things inserted (we don't just have outlaw gangs riding horses, we have sky pirates riding zeppelins!), but it doesn't seem like it makes that much of a difference - it just adds flavor.  And that also seems odd or inconsistent.  Unless you posit something like that the crazy engineering ability is so recent that it hasn't had a chance to really change history yet, I would expect the world to be a bit more different than our real one. In particular, it seems like there are no changes to the culture or institutions or history or anything.

This isn't a huge problem with me because it's still a fun world and the story is meant to be fairly light-weight, but from reading her Emperor's Edge series, it's clear to me she has the ability to do more extensive and consistent world building, so that aspect of it is a bit of a disappointment.  I'd love to see her really let loose on the premise.


The other beef I have is that it just doesn't feel like anything important happened in the story.  Over all, it feels very much like an interstitial story, rather than a building block story. I don't always need a short story to move the the plot arcs forward.  If it's an interstitial story in the middle of a bunch of novels, then I can just appreciate it as a nice little gift from the author to tide me over until the next major installment.  But when the whole series is short stories, then I want each one to contribute to moving the things forward or else it feels like I'm being strung along a little bit.  I want each story to be an important one that needs to be told in the overall context of the series.

The first story (Flash Gold) was important because it told the story of how Kali and Cedar met and started working together, as well as being the point where Kali learned she was being hunted.  It was a solid beginning.  The second one (Hunted) was important because it was the story of how they opened up to each other and started having a romantic relationship.

Now we're on the third one, and I feel like we have a few good possible threads for turning it into a significant point in Kali or Cedar's lives, but none of them went anywhere in this story.  There's a little more about Kali and Cedar's back story, but none of the reveals significantly color our perception of them as characters, nor do they affect their relationship.   The relationship between Kali and Cedar sort of had some tension that never got too tense and was easily resolved, and the  relationship between them also didn't progress.  I thought we might go somewhere with  the introduction of Tadzi, but he just has a cameo.  I thought maybe we'd get farther along with the Cudgel arc, but, other than knowing he's in the area (which we already knew) and that we now know that he knows about Cedar and Kali, nothing really happened there.  There's the possibility for some emotional growth from Kali as she faces her Han past and deals with her issues from that, but no actual emotional growth happened.  In the epilogue, she's a hero for the Han and the town and so it's possible that this will be  will be important because it's the time when her relationship to the world changed, but that's not really explored either.

I don't know.

We get another installment, but I don't feel like it accomplished much.  It's fun and frothy, but we're in the same place that we started.  I'm still glad that I read the story because it's a cool adventure, and I'm still going to buy the next one when it comes out, but I hope that overall Buroker will balance this one out with a bit more depth or forward progress in the next installment.  I'm afraid of this turning into an adventure-of-the-week style series where every installment has a new contraption, but is otherwise a rehash of the same basic plot and static relationships and characters and world.  I'd rather a Buffy the Vampire Slayer approach where there may be monsters every week, but you want to see them all because they tell a story together that has significant plot movement, world-building, and character growth.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Review: Zero Factor by Stacy Gail

This sci-fi romance was not bad, but nothing to write home about either.  Although, I supposed I'm writing here about it, in any case.

Zero Factor, by Stacy Gail, is a dystopian action romance set in a militarized future with cyborg militia soldiers, radioactive pollution, and starving masses. The future is sharply divided between the haves and have nots.

The heroine has psychic powers, and is trying to keep a low profile to avoid conscription by the government which apparently rounds up psychics for nefarious purposes.  While delivering food, she has a vision of the group she's with being attacked and dying.  At a loss for how to prevent it, she shares it by kissing one of the soldiers who's watching over her group.  When he realizes that the attack is a plot by his commanding officer, he foils it and they go on the run together.

The story didn't have anything terribly wrong with it, but I just didn't respond to it for some reason.  The world building is a compilation of ideas that I've seen before.  I didn't feel the chemistry between the leads (death for a romance book).  And I didn't love the protagonist, although I didn't hate her or get annoyed with her either.  I don't know.  I just didn't respond to it.  It was literally a Zero Factor for me as well, I suppose - not important enough to matter.  YMMV.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: Twist, by Dannika Dark

Dark's sophomore effort is a great urban fantasy with more of a focus on relationships and romance than the first in the series.  It's teh hot. I enjoyed it so much, I read it twice.  :)

Twist, by Danika Dark, is the sequel to Sterling (Mageri Series: Book 1), a book about a woman who is brutally attacked and turned into a mage and finds herself part of a dangerous, magical side of the world she never knew existed.

This one starts off with Silver chafing a bit under Justus' tight restrictions. She clearly respects him and understands that's he's trying to protect her, but she has her own ideas of how her life needs to be. Throughout the book, she disobeys him to either do things that she thinks is right or that she has a right to do. This dynamic could have come off like a self-centered teenage rebellion against a father figure/love interest, but I think the author succeeded in crafting an arc for the relationship between Justus and Silver that makes sense for two adult characters. She is a grown woman with very understandable issues about control and independence, and he is a controlling, honorable, very old (very hot) man who is uncomfortable with affection and not really human. They don't see eye-to-eye, but they both want their learner-ghuardian relationship to work. I don't know if it worked evenly throughout the book, but overall I liked it. I also liked what the author did with Silver's other relationships in general. More on that in a minute.