juniper green

science fiction, new weird, old weird, very weird - and everything else

Moon Over Soho

Moon Over Soho  - Ben Aaronovitch Just like book #1, this was a fairly solid „I liked it“.
And just like in book #1, the actual plot took a backseat here and was not as amusing as everything surrounding it.

I like a lot about the Peter Grant books: The understated humour, the London setting with all the tidbits of historical information, the charming characters, the magic, the bantering dialogue, Peter's narrative voice... Here I liked the whole idea of jazz vampires, the palpable love for music, and although I'm not the biggest jazz fan, this time I was glad to share some of my friends' jazz-related playlists on Spotify.

I didn't so much like Peter's issues with dick-brain-coordination, and the frequent product placement made me wonder how much Apple pays Aaronovitch.
There were also a surprising amount of misspellings and formating errors for a book from a major publishing house.

Still, the serie's enjoyable enough for me to go on.

Empty Mile

Empty Mile - Matthew Stokoe Well, lookie there, if he lets go of all the infantile shock-effects, Stokoe is capable of writing some serious noir.

Empty Mile is a much more mature book than [b:Cows|815760|Cows|Matthew Stokoe||801682]. If COWS is the toddler who just mastered his potty training and now proudly presents his poo, Empty Mile is the angsty teenager dreaming of big business while drowning in shame and guilt.

Unfortunately, Empty Mile is also incredibly boring.

It's not completely deprived of depravity, and it all comes down to a nasty end. But till then Stokoe has lulled the reader effectively in the pettiness of life dealing its bad cards; so effectively, in fact, that I couldn't care less about what the protagonists did or what happened to them.

It would have helped if his loser characters had had a bit more personality and spine than a dead amoeba. It would have helped even more if the events had been at least a bit more likely. It would have helped immensely if there had been a bit more show to all the tell.
As it is - an I never thought I'll say this - I prefer toddlers to teenagers.

Special Forces - Soldiers

Special Forces - Soldiers - Vashtan, Marquesate, Aleksandr Voinov I didn't actually dnf, I read the whole stupid thing. But GR keeps recommending it to me, and I don't know how to stop this otherwise.


COWS - Matthew Stokoe MOO!


Seriously, this book works best if you go in knowing as little as possible.

Hell's Children

Hell's Children - John L. Monk When faced with the apocalypse, ask yourself: What would Jack Ferris do?

No doubt, the post-apocalyptic world would be a grim place for pacifist, vegan anarchists – meaning: for people like me.
14-year-old Jack Ferris isn't limited by these inhibitions. His survivalist parents raised him to be exactly that: a survivor. When all adults and 80% of all children under 16 fall prey to a mysterious sickness, Jack's set of skills comes in handy.

Now, I don't like YA post-apocalyptic stories.
Thank heavens, Hell's Children isn't one of those. Just like the cover promises, it's a post-apocalyptic survival thriller, with a strong focus on „survival“, which happens to have young people in it. Very realistic young people, I might add: capable teenagers like Jack, Lisa, and some of their friends; bored and ruthless bullies; lost children who're drifting in a world without social media, online games, YouPorn, and all the other usual stuff to spend your time.
Due to his special – and quite lonely – upbringing, Jack's as smart as he is condescending. in the beginning, other people are little more than „cabbages“ to him. His smug attitude comes back to bite him in the ass. Hard. I can't deny that this was kind of satisfying. He's not beyond failure, which helps in making him a believable, interesting character.
The world after the Sickness is harsh, brutal, and demands brutal decisions. John Monk pulls no punches here and shows a world in which old rules don't count any more and are replaced by survival of the meanest. Jack and his friends fight to rebuilt society and preserve their humanity.

If I wanted to nitpick, I'd wonder why Monk included further POVs quite late in the game. But I don't really feel like nitpicking. The new POVs added to the story, even if they were introduced rather inelegantly. Even some tropes I'm really, really tired of e.g. (attempted) rape of the female lead made sense and seemed a logical development for the story.
To conclude: an excellent, realistic post-apocalyptic story. The end is left open enough to start another series, and if that's the case (and it looks like there will be a sequel), I'll be in for the ride. But the book also works well on its own.

Dark Economy

Dark Economy - M. Keedwell Like other reviewers have already pointed out, Dark Economy is a historical murder mystery with little romance and even less sex getting in the way. Which was much appreciated.

The mystery is not the most gripping one: There are a lot of possible culprits, but it's not one of those books that keeps you guessing; there aren't enough clues for you to guess. Instead, you follow medical student Cadell playing the amateur sleuth and watch him solving the puzzle, in classic procedural style.
Cadell's not an instantly likeable character – thank heavens, instantly likeable characters are boring as hell. He's arrogant, a bit too full of himself, and judgemental. But he has his head on right, his heart is in the right place, and he has a fierce sense of justice. Because the story is told from Cadell's POV, police constable and love-interest Breton remains more of an enigma; which is fine, because he's kind of a mystery to Cadell, too. The secondary characters where well fleshed-out, the author created a nice, seemingly authentic atmosphere – although she might have overdone it a bit with the Briticisms.

The romance really takes a backseat here, and while this is completely fine with me, what little romance there is felt quite forced. The author noticeably wanted to create sexual tension, but maybe she wanted it a bit too much. It felt artificial. And Breton throwing Cadell against walls or on beds in outbursts of uncharacteristic passion (I assume it should signify passion) got old quite fast.

There were some unanswered questions: What did Dylan want to tell Cadell on that ball, before Dylan's dick got in the way? Why was Beth so positive about her brother hooking up with Cadell, when she couldn't even know for sure if Cadell was gay? And how on earth did Breton know that the culprits attacking Beth were the same who did... the spoilery stuff?

All in all, not bad for a début, and I actually wouldn't mind a sequel. Or a bit more about Dan; Dan was a cutie.

The Deluded

The Deluded - Olivier Bosman, Wolf Augustus The story itself isn't bad, it really isn't. And I quite like Bosman's off-handed way of characterisation.
But it's all tell and no show, and needed an editor. Not a proofreader, SPaG were just fine. But someone, preferably a British native, to polish the language - which in this case also means: make it even more pulpy.

The Violet and the Tom

The Violet and the Tom - Eve Ocotillo Surprisingly, I enjoyed this much more than I though I would. Surprisingly, because I hate AU slave fics. But The Violet and the Tom showed a great sense of realism and insight into the psychology of master-slave-dynamics. And although I prefer my stories to be more on the plotty side, here for once I liked the tight focus on Sylvan, Nygell and their relationship, as well as Ocotillo's lush and yes, somewhat flowery writing that fit her narrator very well. The story's also one of the better (meaning: respectful) representations of BDSM - D/s relationships I've read.
While I got what the author intended to do with the epilogue, and I did like it, it also perfectly summed up my reservations about fantasy slave fics – or, on a broader level, the ever so popular „it's just fiction“ argument in general: For you it might be fantasy, for other people it's very, very real.

The Runaway Gypsy Boy

The Runaway Gypsy Boy - Brina Brady Review, 07/19/2016

An opportunity wasted.

ETA: Can somebody maybe explain to me what happened here and where the four 1-star-reviews went in Goodreads' equation? I mean, I still see them, I just wonder why they don't show up in the overview. And yesterday it said 33 reviews, today it's 28? Huh?

It sounds so good, doesn't it?
Daniel, son of an Irish Traveller woman and a Romanian Roma, wants to escape the restriction of his clan, homophobia, and arranged marriages. He stumbles upon hot, ginger Dom Ronan, who runs a ranch for abandoned horses.

So much potential.

The story, unfortunately, was a hot mess. I can't help wondering if it's maybe some kind of elaborate joke? And now, when my head hurts from shaking, my eyes got a fine training from all the exasperated rolling they had to do, and I've gnawed a piece out of my desktop, I'm left with trying to write a review that's not just sarcastic and mean. Okay, here we go.

Let's start with the obvious. Let's start with the representation of Travellers.
Now, I'm not one to sugar-coat uncomfortable truth. If you want to address issues like criminality, homophobia, or arranged/forced marriages in Traveller communities, and/or the problems and misunderstandings occurring between Travellers and non-travellers, by all means, do so. Based on facts, providing context, and a bigger picture. But there's a huge difference between addressing problems – and taking each and every stereotype about a certain group you can find and put them into one book, without even showing so much as a glimpse of the bigger picture.
Here, the author did the latter.
It would have been great if she had used the given background to show us the differences between the travelling communities, Irish Travellers and Romanian Roma, their different costumes, traditions, languages, religion, history, and so on. No such thing happens. I don't know anything more about the Irish Travellers than I knew before, because they don't really show up in this book, and everything I got about Roma – well, you can guess: prejudices.

I've provided some quotes in my status updates (which sometimes got a bit venomous, I admit). Let's look at a few of them:
Daniel prided himself on being honest and law-abiding. He was nothing like his father or any of the other travelers. He knew his father lied and cheated for every penny he had. […] Most of the travelers never worked a full day in their lives, and many were on government assistance. Many of the clan members, including his father, had never made a honest living. However, Daniel refused to steal or con people, so he worked many hours a day painting, and then dancing at night. He'd been trained to pick pockets from an early age[...]

Or how about:
Apparently, he thought like a gypsy. They didn’t respect private property and believed it was for their taking, like his sleeping in another man’s stable. He had to learn to respect other people’s property more and forget the ways of the gypsies, even though he hadn’t meant any harm to anyone. This must have been the wrong thing to do. He needed to figure out what was acceptable in a world away from the clan, where swindling and stealing were the norm.

What does „thinking like a gypsy“ even mean?

Or take this:
Daniel began to understand that arranging a marriage in the outside world was unheard of. Just his bad luck to be born a gypsy.

Yeah, because “gypsies” have absolutely no clue about “the outside world” whatsoever.
Then there's Daniel's cluelessness about all things concerning “modern life” - although he went to school, worked as a painter, and a pole-dancer, he doesn't know how to use a coffee-machine, poor, primitive gypsy he is.

I'll say it again, I don't need a one-sided positive representation. That would be too simplistic. But I want realistic representation, and this is far from it. This is pandering to stereotypes, without giving facts or reasons.

I wouldn't even mind this quotes so much if they'd come from an unreliable, ignorant character. But this is not the case here. Other reviewers have already pointed out how the narrative voice doesn't leave you any chance of forming your own opinion. Every judgement is already made for you. I wanted to see if this changes somewhere in the book, if some sort of balance finds its way into the story, so I read the whole darn thing – and it just got worse and worse. The author kept re-iterating prejudices, without challenging them or providing the readers with the necessary context to draw meaningful conclusions for themselves. Everything she says here contributes to painting Romanian Roma as filthy, lazy, criminal, violent pieces of trash. With the notable exception of Daniel and maybe his Uncle Hanzi. But they were exactly that: notable exceptions, the two “good gypsies”, facing racist remarks from comic-book villains. If the author wanted to show real-life problems Travellers have to deal with, she failed.

The author mentions 15 beta-readers; after reading the book I have hard time to imagine that even one of them is a member of the Irish Traveller or Roma community.

[[If you are interested in some facts about Roma, you might check out Rombase by the University of Graz in Austria, dealing mostly with the situation of continental Roma, but providing a good overview over the different groups as well as over stereotypes and common problems; and the European Roma and Travellers Forum for recent news and developments. There seems to something similar for the Irish Traveller Movement. Seems like a good place to start some self-education. ]]

The casual racism, however, wasn't my only problem with this book. The other big problem was the major BDSM fail. I'm not in the lifestyle, I'm especially not into D/s, but I know enough to know that this is not how it works. Ronan isn't a Dom, he's a psychotic, abusive, stalking control-freak. Some reasons for that were explained as the story progressed, but the abusive nature of his relationship with Daniel was never really addressed. Daniel, who has been controlled and abused by his father for all his life and didn't even have one taste of independence, is stumbling directly into the next dependent, tightly controlled relationship. That's as far from consensual as you can get.
It even started in an abusive way. That's another issue here: Everything moves with warp-speed. Ronan sees Daniel in a gay leather bar, talks to him for two minutes, spanks him, has him stalked, finds him in his barn, mutual jerking of ensues and bang – big wuv. Within less than 48 hours, Ronan demands complete honesty and absolute trust from Daniel – and Daniel goes with it. Ronan introduces Daniel, a complete newbie, to BDSM, which means: he gives him a book to read, and next time you blink, he has Daniel collared. Now, insta-love and insta-lust stories can be fun, but this one showed a severe misconception about what BDSM means.

Further problems:
*cartoonish characters: all the „baddies“ are not only badder than bad, but also ugly, while all the „good guys“ are handsome and hot;

*everyone seems to think violence is the answer to all problems;

*everyone is absolutely obsessed with alcohol (beer, to be specific). I guess because Irish people just like to drink beer all day, you know, I mean – not stereotypic at all, oh no... (and just for the record, twist-off caps are very, very uncommon in Europe);

*oh, and the backwater Irish also like to beat up gay couples showing public affection, just so you know;

*the clumsy, very odd way the whole HIV testing thing was handled;

*amateurish prose, nonsensical dialogue, pronoun confusion, and general lack of editing;

*Americanisms all around;

*a lot of contrived drama;

*last but not least, unerotic, unsensual, very sweaty, and very hurried sex (as hurried as everything else in this book), completely deprived of any intimacy. I mean, seriously now:
Daniel's tongue swirled around the large mushroom head, and he dug his tongue inside the slit. He nailed it with his tongue, in and out with deep, slow strokes, then sucked the side of the shaft up and down.

Yes, he nailed the cock-slit with his tongue. It also happened the other way round, except that Ronan's hammering instead of nailing:

Ronan took Daniel's cock in his mouth again, swirling the tongue around the large mushroom head, and he dug his tongue into the slit again, driving Daniel into a ball of pleasure. Ronan hammered it in and out, mixing fast and slow strokes, and then sucked the shaft up and down like a ninja vacuum cleaner.

Copy & paste sex, yay. Mushroom heads get mentioned almost as often as beer, btw.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point clear.

Before reading, 07/17/2016:
So, this will be an exercise in morbid curiosity - and judging from other reviews, also in severe masochism.
I'm not an Irish Traveller, and everything I know about Irish Travellers is second hand. I'm South-East European Roma (from the Balkan area), living a rather privileged life in Western Europe for about two decades now. I do know however that a lot of the prejudices Romani face are pretty universal. The quotes from this book, the ones I've read so far, seem so outrageous, pandering to these exact stereotypes, that I just have to see for myself what it's all about. Pure masochism, as I've said.

Fadeout (Dave Brandstetter Private Eye Novel)

Fadeout (Dave Brandstetter Private Eye Novel) - Joseph Hansen Less is more.
Fadeout is a 186 pages quicky, but a rather satisfying one. It's as well a mystery as a story about grief, and Hansen writes grief painfully well. Hard boiled as hard boiled can be, his laconic prose requires the reader to savour every single sentence. Maybe a bit too obsessed with what everyone is wearing and ashtray design, but apart from that very readable.

One down, eleven more to go.

the princess saves herself in this one

the princess saves herself in this one - Amanda Lovelace I'm sorry - no, scratch that, I'm not sorry.
There's just so much self-pity I can stomach, and this here is definitely too much.
Not to mention how awfully, nauseatingly preachy the last part of this book is.
(On the other hand: privilege of youth, and everything. Ah, these days, when every thought felt like a revelation only you have ever had...)

Good title, though, I have to give her that.

The Ornamental Hermit

The Ornamental Hermit - Olivier Bosman ripper street gif

Death Takes A Lover (DS Billings Victorian Mysteries Book 1)

Death Takes A Lover (DS Billings Victorian Mysteries Book 1) - Olivier Bosman A short, but captivating introduction to the DS Billings Victorian Mysteries.
The murder of a handsome rich young man, an old gloomy house in the Yorkshire Moors, and a gay, Quaker detective with a morphine addiction - what could possibly go wrong? Due to the short lenght, some of the characterisation has to be read between the lines, but that's easily done here. Bosman has a way to write dialogue that makes his characters come to life, although you don't know all that much about them.
Very good line-editing and a kick-ass cover, too. I'm impressed.

Quid Pro Quo

Quid Pro Quo - Manna Francis Three years after I've read the free stories online, I thought it about time to finally catch up with the infamous Selman Case. It turned out to be one of the best "plotty" stories in this series - and I've always been more interested in the plot-focused instalments than in the relationship-focused ones.
Quid Pro Quo is a very solid police procedural about kidnapping, corporate sabotage, and the usual Administration politics. Watching Toreth at work is always fun, and I kind of wish I'd read this sooner, then I wouldn't have doubted his intelligence for as long as I did.
This story also shows some classic Warrick moments of opportunistic hypocrisy and... wilful ignorance is too soft an expression for his behaviour. I mean, he undergoes great effort to not see what is right before his eyes. „I'm fucking you, not your job“, my ass! There are very, very few authors who manage to write characters that make me so angry – until I get these characters' POV and fall in love with them all over again. That's brilliant writing, no less.
And frankly, I always have to laugh a bit when I read the reviews fretting about Toreth's chronic infidelity and his (alledged) sociopathic tendencies, culminating in a chorus of „Warrick deserves better“ - because seriously, dear Keir might not be a torturing rapist, but he's by far the worst of the whole lot.
Anyhow, brilliant Manna Francis is brilliant. I just hope to see book #9 sometime soon this year.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell - William Blake My, was he ever the weirdo.

Soulless (M/M Paranormal Romance)

Soulless (M/M Paranormal Romance) - T. Baggins Now, this was everything a good, old-fashioned vampire novel should be: gothic, dark, brutal, bloody, and sexy.

Baggins' writing is visceral and evocative, without ever venturing into purple. She gives us brilliant characters: I fell in love with Nicholas from first sight. He makes a bargain with the devil (so to speak), and yet never loses his snark, his wit, his defiance. Ban is the perfect gothic vampire, torn between his desires, his devotion to his master Sebastian, and his more human side. I loved how the author made both men prime examples for strength and endurance. For perseverance.
Sebastian is evil in pure form, a villain who's actually frightening inside and out. Even the supporting characters turned out to be real gems, from Martha to Grandma Robinson to Dr. Flowers, the van Helsing of this tale.

It was pure pleasure to read Nicholas and Ban's back and forth. Baggins not only wrote some of the best dialogue I've read in a while, but also some very erotic sex. Yes, it could have been a bit bloodier. Nicholas' surprisingly kinky mind already supplied the right idea:

Transfixed, Nicholas had a sudden vision of himself: stripped to the waist, flesh cut in dozens of places, rivulets of blood decorating his cheeks, biceps, nipples. Offering himself as a feast, an unfolding banquet for all Ban's senses....

Unfortunately, we never see anything like this. But what I got was more than able to make up for it: a sweet awkwardness and a lush eroticism that doesn't need to be blatantly explicit to be hot as hell. (In other words: None of the cheap porn hyperbole that seems so common for m/m romance nowadays, and that's the exact opposite of “erotic”.)

There were some editing issues: a few anachronisms, „hair“ where it should've been „hand“, present tense where past tense was required, people calling Ban „Ban“ when he still went by his birthname „Hob“... The pacing was a bit uneven too. There's a long sequence in the middle where everything comes to a stop so that Ban can tell about his past. It's a fascinating tale, yes, but the inclusion felt rather heavy-handed.
And then there was the end. Frankly, I would have been happier without the last chapter. But it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. I'd already spoilered myself – as per usual – and thought I'd be enraged; but in fact I think Baggins handled the thing with an asexual woman and a gay man having children quite well.

Usually I would have retracted a star for the proofreading and pacing issues. But I can't bring myself to: Just like Nicholas was starved for touch, I was starving for a good vampire story. And even more so for well-written m/m with grown-up men (okay, and vampires) having intelligent conversations, and actually erotic sex. It's unbelievable how rare these things are. So, in the m/m world, this is a real treasure.

As I gather, S.A. Reid / T. Baggins has already left the lands of m/m and vanished in a poof of fairy dust? If this is true, it's a real shame *le sigh*

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