Monthly Archives: August 2015

Review of The Conquering Dark (Crown & Key #3), by Clay & Susan Griffith

The Conquering DarkI received a copy of The Conquering Dark, by Clay & Susan Griffith from Netgalley.

Description from Goodreads:
The Crown and Key Society face their most terrifying villain yet: Gaios, a deranged demigod with the power to destroy Britain.

To avenge a centuries-old betrayal, Gaios is hell-bent on summoning the elemental forces of the earth to level London and bury Britain. The Crown and Key Society, a secret league consisting of a magician, an alchemist, and a monster-hunter, is the realm’s only hope—and to stop Gaios, they must gather their full strength and come together as a team, or the world will fall apart.

But Simon Archer, the Crown and Key’s leader and the last living magician-scribe, has lost his powers. As Gaios searches for the Stone of Scone, which will give him destructive dominion over the land, monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane, alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther, gadget geek Penny Carter, and Charlotte the werewolf scramble to reconnect Simon to his magic before the world as they know it is left forever in ruins.

If I was giving this a numerical star rating I would give it a 2.5 and I’d roll up reluctantly. I’d honestly like to roll down, but mechanically the book is fine. For me, that’s just about the only thing I would say was fine.

This book is action packed. It starts on the very first page and doesn’t stop until the very last and I’m almost being literal when I say that. This book is ALL, let me repeat that, ALL running, fighting, attacking, being attacked, dismantling this mechanized beast, defeating that elemental wizard, shooting him, stabbing her, setting this baddie on fire, blowing that up, almost falling into that lava pit, narrowing avoiding being dashed on those rocks, skidding to a stop inches from this ledge, etc. It just never ever stop.

And lets be honest, a book needs a little stopping on occasion. Character need time to discuss and grow (none did here). Plot needs non-fighting moments to progress (it really didn’t here). You wouldn’t think action could get boring, but in its repetition and exclusion of ANYTHING else it really did.

Additionally, I found the villains’ motivation flimsy (both the main one and the shadowy one). But beyond that I’d really like to rage a little about how often female villains’ motivations come down to romantic rejection, as if that’s our only available motivating force. Gah! Think larger people.

The only saving grace was the occasional amusing quip and that I basically still like the characters. Though their tendency toward artificially rousing speeches and heartfelt thanks of each-other got a little saccharine and Kate’s transformation from a ballsy 20-something to a coddling ‘that’s nice Dear’ spouting mother was graceless and abrupt.

Perhaps this is just third book syndrome and the series will improve, but at this point I think I might be tapping out.

Review of The Nothingness of Ben, by Brad Boney

Before I begin, let me apologize for not updating recently. As I noted here, I've had houseguests and haven't gotten much reading done.

The Nothingness of BenI bought a copy of The Nothingness of Ben, by Brad Boney.

Description from Goodreads:
Ben Walsh is well on his way to becoming one of Manhattan’s top litigators, with a gorgeous boyfriend and friends on the A-list. His life is perfect until he gets a phone call that brings it all crashing down: a car accident takes his parents, and now he must return to Austin to raise three teenage brothers he barely knows. 

During the funeral, Ben meets Travis Atwood, the redneck neighbor with a huge heart. Their relationship initially runs hot and cold, from contentious to flirtatious, but when the weight of responsibility starts wearing on Ben, he turns to Travis, and the pressure shapes their friendship into something that feels a lot like love. Ben thinks he’s found a way to have his old life, his new life, and Travis too, but love isn’t always easy. Will he learn to recognize that sometimes the worst thing imaginable can lead him to the place he was meant to be?

There probably won’t be much to this review, but that very lack of detail is as strong a sign of my opinion of this book as a 500 word essay would be. While there was nothing particularly wrong with it, structurally or literarily, there was also nothing in it that particularly appealed to me. I read it to finish it, but that’s about it. At one point, I set it aside because I had houseguests and didn’t get to pick it up for several days. I had already all but forgotten it and it was an effort to make myself start it again.

Mostly, I strongly disliked the main character, Ben. I know he grew throughout the narrative, but I still never came to like him. There were also a number of personal pet peeves that cropped up. There were a lot of television references, for example. I HATE this. You see, I don’t own a television. I haven’t sat down and watched a single television show in years. So, all those witty TV quotes and comparisons to series characters, I don’t get them. My abhorrence of this isn’t just not being in on the joke though. What I hate is the assumption that everyone will be.

People also tended to have really idealized conversations that rubbed me the wrong way and struck me as incredibly unrealistic. The same could be said about the way Ben drew people into his family and then paraded them to all the rich and famous people’s homes. Everyone was just so bloody accepting and accommodating—a bunch of Pollyannas, one and all. In the end it just started feeling cheesy.

The dialogue also used names far, far, far too frequently for my tastes. And I thought the language in the sex scenes uncomfortable. Though, I will admit I thought the amount of play in the sex was appreciable.

So, all in all, this book was a fail for me. I basically just found it clumsy in a lot of general, ill-defined ways. But I’m sure it would work for others.

Review of Sutphin Boulevard (Five Boroughs #1), by Santino Hassell

Sutphin BoulevardI bought an e-copy of Sutphin Boulevard, by Santino Hassell.

Description from Goodreads:
Michael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been friends for two decades. From escaping their dysfunctional families in the working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens to teaching in one of the city’s most queer friendly schools in Brooklyn, the two men have shared everything. Or so they thought until a sweltering night of dancing leads to an unexpected encounter that forever changes their friendship.

Now, casual touches and lingering looks are packed with sexual tension, and Michael can’t forget the feel of his best friend’s hands on him. Once problems rear up at work and home, Michael finds himself seeking constant escape in the effortless intimacy and mind-blowing sex he has with Nunzio. But things don’t stay easy for long.

When Michael’s world begins to crumble in a sea of tragedy and complications, he knows he has to make a choice: find solace in a path of self-destruction or accept the love of the man who has been by his side for twenty years.

I was really nervous to pick this book up. In my little circle of the internet there has been a ton of hype about it and I’ve found myself disappointed more often than not with well-touted books. In this case, however, I’m thrilled to report that it lived up to its reputation. I basically loved it.

Something about it struck me as very real, as if a lot of it could be drawn from the author’s personal experiences. Of course, I have no idea if it can or has been. But that’s the beauty of fiction, a good writer can make you believe it is, even when it’s not.

Another reviewer said the relationships in this book were, “…so real in my experience of the gay community.” This isn’t something I can speak to, not being part of that community. But certainly, as basic human relationships, I found them very believable. But there were other parts of it, parts that were so disturbingly familiar to me that I found them difficult to read at times.

Example and true story: my grandmother kicked my mom out of the house at 13 and for several years, she (my mother) lived on the streets in NYC. I can only imagine what that was like and she pointedly doesn’t talk about it. But my mother is an amazing example of dragging herself up from nothing to be something—GED, college, nursing school, midwifery degree, FNP license, Functional Medicine license. She is basically amazing, as far as I’m concerned. And she hates her mother with the fiery passion you might expect given the circumstance.

But at the end of Gma’s life, when her husband/caretaker died and it was apparent that she was going to drink herself to death very quickly, my mother took her in. She converted a wing of her house, fed her, clothed her, monitored her vodka to keep her out of the hospital and didn’t allow the woman’s vitriol and accusations to drive her to violence. She swallowed her own distaste in order to do the right thing. And I saw so much of her and what it cost her emotionally to come home and take care of the woman who hadn’t bothered to do the same for her as a child in Michael’s situation with his father. Neither my grandmother, nor Michael’s father had earned the right to be taken care of by their children. But family, even shitty family, is family and sometimes it’s not about what someone objectively deserves. Michael’s whole home situation rang true to me.

Similarly, I have a friend who ended up in rehab in her early twenties. I remember watching her decline, visiting her on her visitation day, facing the forced cheer and thinly varnished desperation of the place and being shocked at the youthfulness of the group as a whole. Again, Michael’s experience felt recognizable.

But as much as I loved the realism of Michael’s situations (and Michael), it was Nunzio who sold the book for me. The way he wanted without ever showing his desire outright. The way he was always there, waiting to be noticed, all without ever really pushing or demanding anything significant. You could see it in almost every little move her made, but it was amazingly un-intrusive. I loved him for that. My heart broke for what the time passed must have cost him, but he didn’t play even a single ‘woe is me’ card. *Sigh* (I thought he was wonderful.)

Then there is the sex! I wouldn’t call this an erotic novel, though the sex is definitely erotic. It’s hot, really hot and there was plenty of it, but it’s there as part of the plot not as a distraction to it or in excess of it.

There were aspects of the book I didn’t like, but most of them come down to personal quibbles. For example, I’m not a fan of dirty talk during sex. Beforehand, sure, bring on the filthy suggestions. But any of the in flagrante delicto utterances always cheese me out. And my high school Spanish classes weren’t enough to carry me through some of Michael’s exclamations. I kept Google Translate open for the duration of the book.

All in all, however, I’m impressed. I’d read the first In the Company of Shadows, which Hassell wrote with Ais. So, I knew there was a good chance that the writing would be good, since it is in ICoS. But with partnerships, you never can be sure who’s done what. Hassell’s solo writing seems to be wonderfully readable too. Plus, there is notable diversity in the characters. That makes me do a little happy dance.

Side note: OMG, that cover!