Beta Test by Annabeth Albert

Beta Test

Beta Test by Annabeth Albert

Series: #gaymers, Book 2
Published by: Carina Press on May 30, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Tristan Jones knows he doesn’t fit in with others in the gaming industry, but he’s excited to go to work for one of the biggest games of the moment. His organization makes him come across as uptight. And he’s sort of okay with that because it helps get things done. His family thinks he’s not making the best use of his MBA, but they don’t exactly understand him anyway.

Ravi Tandel is a graphic designer at the top of his game. He’s confident and talented, and he’s active in the community. A creative person, he makes friends easily and is the center of one of the biggest social circles at the company.

When Ravi and Tristan are thrown together on a project, their different styles collide. Ravi sees Tristan as rigid, serious, and possibly homophobic. Tristan sees Ravi as distracted, flamboyant, and borderline unprofessional. It’s definitely a recipe for tension. And the tension escalates when they’re assigned to drive the display they’ve been working on from San Francisco to Seattle. That’s a long time alone together in a truck. But it might be just the time they need to break through each other’s exteriors. There might just be more that they have in common than they’d ever imagined…

The attention to detail that Annabeth Albert shows in her stories amazes me. Both this book and the previous installment in this series show a great deal of care and research into the settings and the gaming industry itself. The world here is so seamless that it’s so easy to be drawn right in to the characters.

And these two: it’s hard not to like them both. Throw in just the right amount of tension at exactly the right points, and you’ve got a great story that is impeccably paced. I’m definitely a fan.

As a bonus: if you’re someone who laments the end of the Looking, the HBO show, this will certainly help you get that fix. It has just enough of that vibe while being something all its own.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Loving Djinni by Beryll & Osiris Brackhaus

Loving Djinni

Loving Djinni by Beryll & Osiris Brackhaus

Published by: Beryll & Osiris Brackhaus on April 14, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

David should have known better than to trust criminals. His own dabbling in dishonest dealings should be enough indication of what can happen. And that’s how he winds up being left for dead in a crumbling tomb.

But David finds something special in the tomb that just might be his ticket out: an old lamp with, believe it or not, a djinni inside. David’s not much of a believer, but it’s hard to deny Sharu’s existence when he whisks them safely back to David’s apartment. And it’s even harder for David to deny his attraction to the djinni.

While many people would be excited at the prospect of three wishes, it’s a complication David isn’t sure he needs in his life. He’s still nursing a breakup from the guy he thought was the love of his life. And it just so happens he’s a guy that David can’t avoid in his social circle. Not to mention, there’s the brewing attraction David feels for Sharu. There’s also the fact that David can’t help feeling dismayed at the fact that Sharu is cursed and enslaved. It just doesn’t seem right.

As David begins to find his confidence and earn Sharu’s trust, can he find a way to save the djinni from his fate and return the favor? Or is some magic so powerful that nothing can make it undone?

I think there’s something about David that many readers will find relatable. While he finds success in some areas of life, there are others that just don’t come together. This is especially true with relationships. And even when what seems like an easy solution presents itself, things are never as simple as they seem.

And sometimes, truly, we don’t know what we need until it’s right in front of us…

This is an entertaining and engaging read. I recommend it to anyone who likes their romance with a bit of magic–ancient or otherwise–on the side.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the authors in exchange for an honest review.]

Stasis by Kim Fielding

Stasis

Stasis by Kim Fielding

Series: Ennek Trilogy, Book 1
Published by: DSP Publications on May 17, 2016 (2nd edition)
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Ennek is the youngest son of the Chief of Praesidium. Since he’s not the heir, he’ll need to find his own place in this society with a strict moral code. A code that is enforced in a unique way. Instead of prison time, criminals are sentenced to slavery. And for major crimes, those convicted can be placed in Stasis for dozens to hundreds of years. While in sleep-like Stasis, one’s body doesn’t age. And when the convict awakes, everyone they knew and everyone who knew them is long gone. They live out their days as a slave in an unknown world.

When Ennek was a child, he was allowed to visit the cells where the Stasis prisoners are kept. During that brief visit, he became fascinated with one of them, and he hasn’t been able to shake him from his mind. And as a new threat reveals itself from inside Praesidium, Ennek will need to decide what’s most important–the rule of law or saving people from the most horrible of fates.

There was something about the world that Kim Fielding has created here that struck me as unique and refreshing. Although one can certainly find some elements here common to other fantasy stories, nothing here seems like a trope. Readers get something original and compelling.

One thing I find interesting is the character of Ennek. He’s not a typical hero. Because he’s resigned himself to being second–he’s not the heir–he seems content to just let things happen to him. And that gets him into some tight spots. Spots he’ll only get out of if he can try to find a way to step up. He’ll need to make difficult decisions, the likes of which he’s never faced before.

Ennek and Miner have a journey before them. And it’s one I look forward to reading in the remaining books.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Chalcedony by Constance Burris

Chalcedony

Chalcedony: Book Two of the Everleaf Series by Constance Burris

Series: The Everleaf Series, Book 2
Published By: Constance Burris on April 20, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

After helping Elizabeth escape the fey realm, Coal finds that he’s stuck in the human world. Worse than that, he’s been arrested and placed in detention for being a party to Elizabeth’s kidnapping. The government agent who arrested him is willing to let him go, but he has a condition. He wants Coal to give up Chalcedony as Elizabeth’s kidnapper. It turns out taking a human to the fey realm without their consent violates a long-standing treaty between the humans and the fey. But although Coal already betrayed Chaledony by bringing Elizabeth home, he’s wary of saying anything more.

All Coal really wants is to return to the fey realm. It’s all he’s known and he considers it to be his home. But getting back there isn’t as easy as it might seem. And Coal will need to enlist some unlikely allies in his quest. Along the way, though, he learns the truth about his past and it turns everything on its head.

Things aren’t all great in the fey realm, either. Chalcedony enlists Queen Tasla to help confront Queen Isis for allowing free traffic through her door. One of the jobs of the queens is to ensure their doors are properly guarded. To do otherwise is ground for other queens to forcibly remove you from power. And it looks like Chalcedony and Tasla will need to do just that. But Isis isn’t going to go down without a fight.

With Coal’s shocking truths revealed in the human world and war brewing in the fey realm, this book is a game changer for everyone involved.

I really enjoyed Coal when I read it a while ago. There’s a uniqueness to the world of this story. It eschews many of the YA fantasy tropes, and it does so quite well. I never once thought to myself “Oh, yep, there’s that thing we keep seeing in every new YA book.” The author brings a a refreshing voice and a vibrant set of characters to life on the page.

There’s also a great balance of action and character development in this book. Readers learn more about the history of this world, but you don’t have to wade through chapter after chapter of exposition to get it. And, as a special treat, we find out what happened to everyone at the end of Black Beauty–and there are some definite major twists that came out of that.

I’m definitely looking forward to the next book!

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

The Second Half: A Gay American Football Story by Scott Pomfret

The Second Half

The Second Half: A Gay American Football Story by Scott Pomfret

Anticipated Publication: Lethe Books on June 12, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Peyton Stone is the offensive coach for a Division I-AA football team. While he had what it takes to go pro, there was something missing. Some call it a spark; others call it a killer instinct. But either way, he’s found his calling in coaching. The only problem is he carries a big secret: on Sunday evenings after practice he heads over to a nearby town and cruises the gay bar. And that’s not Peyton’s only secret. He also has a major crush on the team’s quarterback.

Brady Winter is an all-star quarterback who has a bright future ahead of him. Having started late–he did a tour in Iraq before heading off to college–his age and experience seem to be a bonus. And no one doubts that he’ll go pro. But Brady is harboring a few secrets of his own. And one of them could have deadly consequences.

In the machismo environment of college athletics, can either of these men be open about what they’re hiding and still find success?

This is the first Scott Pomfret work that I’ve read, and I must say that I found it to be an enjoyable experience. There’s something about the way he builds a world that really resonated. It could be easy to expect a rather mundane setting for this story, but the secondary characters are vibrant and add to the story.

There were a couple moments where I was slightly confused. There’s a scene where Peyton is running through several things in his head, and it’s not exactly clear if he’s doing them or just thinking about them. And one moment of aggression that pops up later in the book seemed a little out of character for him, to me. But other than that, the characters are developed well and the story has a defined arc.

This makes it on my recommended list, for sure.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander

Published in: Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 57, February 2015
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

The job has gone completely wrong. Tasked with breaking a prominent mobster’s son out of the computer system he had no business being in, they knew the job would be risky. But Rhye wasn’t prepared for them to shoot Rack before they were even close to being finished. Her only option now is to hook up to the interface and get the kid out herself. And maybe try to save Rack in the process. He’s in there somewhere, after all.

The summary above is brief, but with this being a novelette, I don’t want to give away everything. In a future where people can connect directly into computer systems, leaving their bodies to explore new worlds, there are new frontiers on all accounts. And although Rhye is a loner, she’s found somewhat of a kindred spirit in Rack. The last think she wants is to face the thought of not seeing him again.

The writing here is masterful. Through Rhye going in and trying to finish the job, readers learn so much about these characters. We get just enough hint of backstory to find out why they’re a team. But the way events unfold, we learn so much about what makes both individuals tick. The story is driven just as much by the characters as it is the action. And that’s something I really loved about it.

I hadn’t pulled this one up until it was named a Hugo finalist. And I’m so glad that it’s on that list. It’s not only a great example of great science fiction writing, but it demonstrates masterful use of the novelette length and format.

And it’s free! Check it out!

Saving His Soldier by Kay McKinnon

Saving His Soldier

Saving His Soldier by Kay McKinnon

Published by: Spunk Books on January 1, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Connor Thorne is a former Navy SEAL content to live out his life on a secluded island with his dog and the lighthouse. After everything he’s been through, he’s not great with people. And he knows the scar on his face makes people not so great with him. So he looks forward to the winter months when he is the only one on the island.

But this year, the owner of the inn that serves as a tourist getaway in the summer has hired an winter caretaker. And Thorne knows there’s no way he’s going to be able to avoid the only other person on the island for that long. Especially when he holds the only way to contact the mainland. But that doesn’t mean they need to get to know each other, right?

Zach Keegan, veterinarian-turned-writer, has taken the caretaker job to getaway. His fiancée cheated on him with his brother, and he’s still not over the betrayal. He’s hoping some time by himself will help him get past it. And how hard can it be to take care of an empty in for a few months?

What neither of them counts on is Thorne’s dog, Wilson, who shows up on Zach’s doorstep the first morning he’s on the island. A bit of a stubborn dog, he brings the two of them together, though Thorne is still reluctant to make any sort of connection.

But after Thorne saves Zach’s life, the two open up and learn that it might just be possible for them to save each other in ways they’d never expected.

This was a short, fast-paced read. The lives of these two–and their coming together–possessed and intensity that I appreciated as a reader. And there was something about Thorne that was endearing, despite his curmudgeonly ways.

The relationship development is also handled quite well. It’s slow and reluctant. It reflects the personalities of both characters very well. Not only their cautious natures, but their apparent passionate tendencies–these guys don’t do things halfway.

I’d say this is definitely an uplifting story, but there are a few drops of angst sprinkled in just because of both characters’ pasts. Certainly a recommended read when you’re wanting something nice–but maybe not too nice.

Hugo Awards, Pt. 2 – Thursday Thoughts #4

Thursday ThoughtsOn Thursdays, I take a break from reviewing books to share my thoughts on all things books, fandom, and random. All opinions are my own. Yours may differ. Feel free to respectfully disagree and discuss in the comments.

What’s in a Ballot

During the nomination period, I wrote about the Hugo Awards here in this space. I explained what they are, why I’m interested in them, and some of the drama surrounding the awards that hit a head last year. While many of us wanted to believe we could be spared some of the same issues this year, I know I knew it was unlikely to happen.

The finalists were announced in April. While the ballot doesn’t look as bad as last year (there aren’t nearly as many categories that were swept by the slate), there are some really troubling nominations. In the Best Related Work category, for example, not only are there several works not deserving of award consideration, but some of them are outright attacks on people.

In some categories, the slate included some deserving works. I’ll be honest that I didn’t look at the slate until after the finalists were announced. And there were maybe three nominations I made that were also on the ballot. So it’s not all bad, right?

Don’t Be Fooled

Let’s face it: the real reasons that the Rapid Puppies slate exists are that Vox Day feels he is deserving of an Hugo Award and it bothers him that so many people he despises (John Scalzi, women in general, etc.) get the recognition he wants. Yes, he will say his crusade is to stop people from being nominated because of who they are and instead focus on the merit of their work. And yet, his name shows up several times on the ballot he created. And most of the works are published by Castalia House, where he is both a writer and an editor. So even if we accept that his crusade is about “merit,” it’s very clear that to him “merit” means “me and my people.”

No Award?

I expect that we will see No Award at least a couple of times this year. I don’t think we’ll reach (or beat) the record of 5 non-awards in a single ceremony. But what is truly frustrating is that this crusade doesn’t do anything to help the awards. The people who support the slate say they’re trying to fix a broken system. But what it does is not only rob some deserving individuals of recognition on the ballot, it also robs fandom and the World Science Fiction Society from celebrating great works together. None of us want to see a category with No Award. That’s no fun. But the members have shown that they will use it when they feel nothing on the ballot is worthy of consideration. Or when they are forced to consider works that are, quite frankly, abhorrent.

Hope for the Future

I mentioned in my last post on this topic that some rule changes were put forward at last year’s WorldCon. Those changes were debated, refined, and approved. But any changes to the constitution must be ratified by a second convention business meeting. Those items will be on this year’s agenda, and I am excited to say I will be there in the room advocating for much-needed reform.

What I like best about the reforms suggested, though, is that they aren’t necessarily focused on just minimizing the impact of a slate. What they actually do is give each individual member as much of a voice in the final ballot as possible, not just favoring the most popular works. The fact that it also makes it far less likely for a slate to sweep a ballot (unless other members also feel those works are deserving), is just an added benefit.

What’s Next?

Well, voting is open and I’ve been catching up on some of the things on the ballot that I haven’t seen/heard/read. Voting closes at the end of July and we’ll find out the results in August. (And again, I’m very excited to be attending my first ceremony in person at MidAmericon II in Kansas City.)

You’ll probably see some reviews in the coming weeks for some of the books that are finalists that I’m still catching up on. A few have already been here on the blog. And maybe we’ll have a Thursday Thoughts roundup with my final ballot once I have it all sorted and submitted. 🙂

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

Rolling in the Deep

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

Published by: Subterranean Press on April 6, 2015
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

The Imagine Network delivers the next generation of reality programming. They embrace that reality television doesn’t really reflect reality. And to add to the drama, they often stage events to hook their viewers.

The voyage of the Atargatis is to be one of Imagine Network’s great successes. They’ve set out to prove the existence of mermaids, after all. Of course, the only mermaids they expect to discover are the costumed ones they have on board.

Perhaps the network’s executives never heard that one should aways “be careful what you wish for…”

Another story with mermaids, continuing what has become quite the trend over the past couple of years in science fiction. I’d ask if it’s something readers are really fascinated with, but we keep seeing it, so there must be enough interest out there. And while I’d like to see some more variety, I have to admit this one is well-written.

This isn’t a long story, and it actually reads shorter than it is. The pacing is excellent–never dragging and varied enough to keep the reader hooked. I read it in e-book format, so I was surprised when I went back and looked at the official word count. If you look for books that are quick and engaging, this one should be on your list.

Adapting The Handmaid’s Tale – Thursday Thoughts #3

Thursday Thoughts

On Thursdays, I take a break from reviewing books to share my thoughts on all things books, fandom, and random. All opinions are my own. Yours may differ. Feel free to respectfully disagree and discuss in the comments.

There’s always a sense of excitement I feel when I hear that a book I’ve enjoyed is being adapted for the screen. Not only does it mean there will be more attention for the book and the author, but I know I get to experience the world of the story brought to life. So I can’t let news like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood getting a small-screen adaptation go by without comment.

I make no secret that I love dystopian fiction. In fact, I don’t think I could make a secret if I wanted to. And The Handmaid’s Tale is quite simply one of the best I’ve ever read. It’s a true gem of a work, and those who haven’t read it should run to their nearest library and check it out. (And I suggest doing so before the show airs, since we know adaptation rarely does justice for the book.)

There are reasons I should be worried, I’m sure. Every book-to-screen adaptation has its problems. It’s inherent in adapting a book to a film that things need to be cut. I remember lamenting the things that were cut out of the Harry Potter series of films. There are things I think are critical to the story that are only to be found on the page.

But that’s to be expected in a film adaptation. A book that takes several hours to read would be a film of a similar length if everything stayed in. And while people are willing to go see 20+ films featuring James Bond, there’s something different about an episodic series of films than a seven-volume telling of a single novel.

What one really needs to worry about is when those responsible for the production take too much creative license. I’m thinking of adaptations of books like Geography Club where I felt like I was watching a different story–just set in the same place with the same character names. And there’s the equally troubling adaptation of The Scorch Trials from The Maze Runner series. So many liberties were taken there that I remain completely perplexed about how they will be able to do The Death Cure without writing a completely new plot.

What has me excited about this particular adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale (it was previously adapted for film; a decent production but nothing stellar) is that it’s for the small screen. A television show offers more space and time to deal with the story. A ten-episode season of one-hour episodes gives around 450 minutes versus the 120 minutes where movies tend to top out.

That’s not to say television is the answer to true-to-book adaptations. Examples like The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars showed clear deviations from the book series early on. Part of the reasoning for changing things up is to give the story something new for fans of the books. Of course, sometimes it’s fans of the television show that influence production. True Blood (which was always presented as being based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries) notably kept a character alive, deviating from the books, due to popularity with the show’s fans.

Even with the tendency for television to explore different avenues of the story, I’m ready and waiting for The Handmaid’s Tale. Due to the ability to explore so many layers with more time, I think I’m just more ready to forgive deviations on the small screen.

But, as a friend of mine says, “At the end of the day, any adaptation is a crap shoot.” That may be true. But every once in a while the dice land in our favor…