Cheri Reviews Good Behavior by Blake Crouch

I’d seen the name Blake Crouch before but had never felt motivated to actually read his work. That was until a familiar face on the cover caught my attention: Lady Mary from Downton Abbey wearing a low-cut dress and a bit of a bad-ass attitude. I hit the “request” button on NetGalley and was soon on my way. But then I talked a couple of friends into reading it with me so I put it off until it was released and the audio book was available. I do love audio books.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon if you care to read it:

Fresh out of prison and fighting to keep afloat, Letty Dobesh returns to her old tricks burglarizing suites at a luxury hotel. While on the job, she overhears a man hiring a hit man to kill his wife. Letty may not be winning any morality awards, but even she has limits. Unable to go to the police, Letty sets out to derail the job, putting herself on a collision course with the killer that entangles the two of them in a dangerous, seductive relationship.

Good Behavior comprises three interlinked novellas (The Pain of Others, Sunset Key, and Grab), which together form a novel-length portrait of Blake Crouch’s all-time favorite character creation, Letty Dobesh. This edition is the complete Letty Dobesh collection.

There’s a lot to like about Good Behavior. Letty is a flawed, but likable, character. She’s a crystal meth addict who struggles daily to stay on the wagon. She has a son but lost custody of him the last time she went to prison. And she’s a very good thief. Letty is filled with self-doubt and low self-esteem but still manages to land on her feet – barely.

I wished I had been able to spend more time with her and hope more of her stories are published because I enjoyed all three of the novellas included in this book. Each one showed off a bit more of Letty’s quick thinking and determination and I may even have a little crush on her. At least I wanted to hug her a lot.

I did have some problems with the book, particularly the last story. Throughout the book, only non-white characters were identified by their race or color and these were the only ones who consistently spoke in some sort of culturally stereotypical way. The Black man in the final story used words like “homie” and other slang phrases that no other character used. Everyone else, regardless of education level or class, spoke in standard English. I found this unfortunate and wished someone along the editorial chain had pointed it out to the author. This is a classic example of white privilege that maintains the concept that white is normal and everything else is “other.” The third story was my favorite as far as plot and situations but I was regularly annoyed and offended by the representation of Isaiah.

Do I still recommend the book? Absolutely. I listened to the whole thing in one sitting and was a bit sad to have it end. Letty Dobesh is a great character. The author interjects after each story about how it fits – or doesn’t – with the television show on TNT. While I didn’t enjoy having him break in like that, I suppose it will help me not be ticked that the show doesn’t match the book since now I’ll know why.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer (which has become one of my favorite publishing houses) and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review Good Behavior.

You can download a sample or purchase Good Behavior by clicking here.

Sequella Reviews Jae’s Shape Shifter Books

I admit, it took me a while to turn my attention to Jae’s shape shifter stories. Even though I liked all of her books I’ve read so far, I kept pushing them to the back of my reading pile. I have no idea why…

After finishing Second Nature, I immediately turned my attention to the second full length novel, True Nature. And when I say full length novel, this actually means a really long story in Jae speak, much longer than the usual ~80.000 words you find in lesfic romance.

True Nature revisits wolf shifter Kelsey Yates who made an appearance in Second Nature, where she almost killed Jorie, one of the lead characters. Struggling with distrust from her boss, high expectations from her parents, and part of her past, Kelsey sets out to rescue an adolescent shape shifter boy from his adoptive mom, Rue. Of course, circumstances are different than they originally appeared and slowly, a relationship between Kelsey and Rue develops.

For me, what stands out in this book is the relationship between Kelsey and Rue. I would have expected the shape shifter, Kelsey, to be the stronger character of the two. Especially since she is a wolf shifter, and they tend to be invulnerable and on top of everything in other fantasy novels. This is not the case here. Kelsey is not interested in following her Dad’s role as alpha of the pack at all. Instead, she is drawn to Rue’s strength and dominance and is happy with an omega position.

Chronologically, Manhattan Moon happens before True Nature. It’s not important in which order you read both books though. In Manhattan Moon, we meet two characters that have been shortly introduced in True Nature. Shape shifter Shelby, a psychiatrist, and Nyla, a human nurse, work together at a hospital in New York. The attraction between them grows, but Shelby knows that she needs to protect the Wrasa secret and should try to find a “more suitable” mate instead. Jae perfectly captures Shelby’s struggle about not wanting to do the “right” thing and you will feel yourself wincing whenever she might get confronted by fellow Wrasa about dating a human.

Nature of the Pack is a short story that starts where True Nature ended. If you’re not ready yet to let Kelsey and Rue go, you definitely need to read it. Although, it’s way too short for my liking!

You miss Jorie and Griffin? The book ended too soon? I know that feeling. At least there is Natural Family Disasters with a collection of five short stories connected to Griffin and her family.

You can download samples or purchase all of Jae’s books by clicking here.

Kitty Reviews Best Lesbian Erotica 2014

Everyone deserves access to a decent erotica collection. Cracking open a box of naughtiness, sometimes sneaking a peek at the story titles or authors to skip ahead to a sure thing, lingering over a particularly hot tale, realizing you’ve neglected a few chapters because you keep re-reading that one scene. Or maybe that’s just me.

In an effort to be disciplined and comprehensive, I decided to read Best Lesbian Erotica 2014 from cover to cover without any detours. But I’ll be honest: my itinerary included a lot of u-turns back to Teresa Noelle Roberts’ “Birthday Butch.” In my imaginary collection of “Kitty’s Finest Lesbian Erotica Tales Guaranteed To Make You Purr (but only if you like a little kink with your smut),” this story gets an immediate invite. Ms. Roberts, let’s talk.

I suspect recovering Catholics will find that Catherine Lundoff’s “Reunion at St. Mary’s” will put an extra crackle in their communion wafer. Sinclair Sexsmith’s “A Good Workout” was just that – to the point and rather athletic. I sweated a few calories away just reading it. “Run, Jo, Run” by Cheyenne Blue is a sweet and complete story in which the making of love moved my cynical heart.

“Imaging” by Sharon Wachsler brought forth a peculiar response from me. I actively disliked the narrator so much that I didn’t enjoy reading about her sexual shenanigans. But then I realized I was letting my secret wish to root for a woman “overcoming physical adversity” obscure the fact that the “heroine” was a total (metaphorical) dick. Suddenly, I could enjoy the nasty fun as her ex and friends administered some justice.

It may be my imagination, but this particular collection features more non-erotic stories than usual. Anamika’s“Bridge Line” and Dolar Vasani’s “My Bagandan Princess” are well-written – the women and the specificity of their environments lingered in my memory – but the erotic moments slipped by quickly. “Stitch & Bitch” by A.L. Simonds was also “story-heavy” but it’s the one I most wished would be developed into a novella or novel. Priya, recycling the yarn from her ex’s sock to reclaim herself, meets living-on-the-edge pro skater Luisa. One “upright and bossy,” the other tenacious and vulnerable beneath the bravado, and together I wanted to read more, more, more.

Nairne Holtz’s “Call for Submission” and Amal Arabi’s “Tongue in Cheek” both went for an unexpected ending with a smirk. Only Arabi’s story worked for me. I’ll nominate it for sexiest and smartest intentional tease, but thank goodness I could flip back to “Birthday Butch” right away…

D.L. King’s “Big Lesbo Cupcakery” was a hoot and a half, the intensity of “What I Need” by Xan West scared the crap out of me (which probably recommends it to some readers), while Cheryl Jimmerson’s “Nocturne” and Diana Cage’s “Hey Stranger” just left me worrying about the relationships of all involved.

And then there’s “Mommy Is Coming,” an erotic screenplay from Sarah Schulman and Cheryl Dunye that was made into a film. This is smutty farce. Personally, I prefer a traditional narrative or watching a film to reading the stage directions, and I found the big reveal a crushing turn-off even as I saw it coming (so to speak). Maybe a live dramatic reading, though?

As more and more erotic collections zero in on specific themes – Sacchi Green is releasing a second erotic collection about lesbian cops this year – I appreciate the Best Lesbian Erotica series as an annual grab bag of erotic adventures. Now, please excuse me while I consider a proper gift for the birthday butch.

You can download a sample or purchase Best Lesbian Erotica 2014 by clicking here.

Love Devours: Tales of Monstrous Adororation by Sarah Diemer

Sarah Diemer 1) is self-published, 2) writes Young Adult, and 3) tells reimagined or new fairy tales and myths – all things that set off my inner alarms because I’m a harsh critic on all three of those and they tend to make me hesitate before hitting the “Buy Now” button.

Can I say, for the record, that I was an idiot for hesitating?

Sarah Diemer has proved me wrong. Again and again and again. And I love her for that.

And now? Well, now I am her biggest fan (but not like in Misery) – almost to the point where I am tempted to steal her away from her wife and have her spin tales for me every night. Very much like Scheherazade; but, without the threat of decapitation because I’m just not into that sort of thing – and I already said I wasn’t quite as big a fan as Kathy Bates was in Misery – almost, but not quite. Sadly, I also like her wife’s writing (they have collaborated on another book of shorts) – so I will leave them to create beautiful stories together and wait oh so patiently for them to be released.

Diemer’s writing has been a delightful discovery for me and I strongly recommend her as an author. She has a wonderfully lush style of storytelling that elevates her fantasy and fairy tales to a magical level. Her characters are memorable and the stories themselves are captivating. In addition to the YA novels and stories under Sarah Diemer, she also writes under the name Elora Bishop. I haven’t had the opportunity to read those books yet, but they are loaded onto my tablet in anticipation of a quiet evening with no distractions.

Love Devours: Tales of Monstrous Adoration is a collection of some not- so -short stories that celebrate and embrace the monster. In her introduction, Deimer muses that “Monsters were wild. Monsters were strong. Monsters were fierce and fee. If I was monstrous … perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing.” The title itself is fantastic and captures the nature of this anthology perfectly and I found myself devouring it – unable to put the book down after finishing each tale.

There’s a dark and often bleak tone in most of the stories – completely fitting for a monster anthology. But these are also love stories and the sharp edge of tragedy makes the stories all that more rich and poignant. I found that most of the stories stayed with me long after I closed the cover and she masterfully weaves themes of love, struggle, desperation and hope into rich and vibrant worlds and characters. None of the stories are simple – there’s a moral complexity that forces the reader to look at things from a different perspective. Each story surprised me in the way it unfolded or ended – which kept me hooked as I wanted to know where she was taking the story next. Not all of them have a Happily Ever After – but they are all satisfying and perfect for the tone Diemer sets.

The collection offers five dark fantasy and one science fiction story that were all published and are still available individually; but, do yourself a favour and pick up the anthology and I guarantee you’ll be captivated by all the stories.

Mana is a Runner, stealing souls from After to reanimate those who have died – the most recent soul she steals is her lover, Far. Zombie love? Yeah. But it works. The bleak and barren city, the creepy After, and Far’s desperate desire to die juxtapose perfectly with Mana’s overwhelming love for Far and her determination to keep that love alive. Far is an odd tale – almost surreal in the way that it unfolds and definitely in the way it ends. This one left me with quite a bit to think about once I finished it.

The Witch Sea
I adored this one. For three generations, Meriel’s family has sacrificed everything in order to maintain a barrier that imprisons the sea god Galo and his army, preventing them from destroying humanity. Alone, Meriel maintains the net just as her mother and her grandmother before her. When Nor, a selkie- like creature breaches the Meriel’s island she also breaches Meriel’s conviction – making her question the task that she has inherited. Who’s the monster here – Galo and his followers or Meriel? The prose in this one is beautiful and lends a lush and magical quality to the story. Definitely a stand out in the collection and I’ve gone back to read it a few times.

Seek is a different kind of love story. Seek is a knight, intent on winning the hand of the most beautiful woman in the realm –because she deserves the best. It appears to be a simple sword and sorcery type fantasy where the protagonist must complete a series of tasks to win the maiden-fair; but, Diemer has a little something else up her sleeve with this one. I wasn’t a fan of Seek the character; but, I was a fan of Seek the story.

Our Lady of Wolves
Now this was a dark one. A handful of villagers have managed to survive ongoing siege by some rather nasty monsters. Completely cut off from the rest of the world (not even knowing if there is a rest of the world at this point) for years, they are desperate, terrified and resigned. With nothing else to lose, Kelly ventures to an ancient church to beseech Our Lady of the Wolves, a goddess that the villagers had abandoned years ago, to save them. Triste and her wolf appear – offering to lead those who will take the chance to leave. I’ll put this one up as a stand out story.

We Grow Accustomed to the Dark
After the first four fantasy stories, Diemer turns to a post (peri?)-apocalyptic tale. The Rapture hits while Kate and Celia are on their way home from school and, being lesbians, they didn’t make the first cut. The Rapture has always been a fascinating concept to me – why these people and not those – it is the ultimate in prejudice. Add in the fact that Diemer subscribes to my idea that angels aren’t really all that nice (read the bible … they have flaming swords and raze cities) and you’ve got a dark story.

The Forever Star
This one is tied for my favourite with The Witch Sea. It may even surpass it. I will have to read them both again. And again. And again. The Forever Star is a wonderful blend of fantasy and science fiction and is absolutely beautiful – both in its narration style and the story itself. Elaine and her sisters have woven the worlds and stars from the beginning of time and will continue to do so forever. After eons of watching the stars she’s created burn out and die, Elaine feels an emptiness she can’t understand. Lonely and restless, she leaves her sisters. Maggie is an engineer on a world that is dying – sun flares of enormous magnitude are incinerating everyone and everything that isn’t protected by a shield that is quickly failing. The rest is just fantastic.

This review is focused on her collection of short stories; but, I really can’t write anything about Diemer without mentioning and recommending The Dark Wife, a revisionist novel about the Persephone/Hades myth. Diemer provides some interesting twists on the standard myths and gods – with Hades as Zeus’ sister, her title as “Lord of the Dead” a bitter joke. Just take my word on it. Buy it. You’ll like it.

Click here to purchase Love Devours: Tales of Monstrous Adoration

Cast the Card Anthology from Storm Moon Press

A month or so ago, I had reviewed Burn the Brightest which was a standalone story from Storm Moon Press’ Cast the Cards Anthology. Reading a story outside of a themed anthology can be a bit odd as the author is normally inspired or writing towards a particular theme – in this case the Tarot. I’ve since received the entire anthology from the publisher and have had the opportunity to read all the stories in context of the over-arching theme.

Cast The Cards is an eclectic six story collection which includes general fiction, fantasy, and urban fantasy and all would fall into the erotic-romance with a variety of pairings from F/F, M/F/M, and M/M. Some stories are more graphic than others, but the sex isn’t the focus of the stories – rather the characters and relationships.

It’s interesting to see how each of the authors incorporates the themes of their chosen cards – some are pretty easy to find the inspiration and symbolism whereas others are a bit more subtle. This makes a rather fascinating theme for an anthology as the reader can enjoy the stories as they are or try to look deeper into how the cards shaped the stories and characters. The Tarot is meant as divination but also of introspection – there are so many interpretations to the cards and their relationship to one another and to events in the reader’s life can alter them dramatically.

As in most anthologies, some stories were stronger than others. There was one that I had some difficulty getting through, but it was more likely because of the subject matter not really being of much interest for me. I think the stories with a more fantasy theme were stronger but, once again, that’s more likely my own reading preference showing through. If you don’t mind mixing up your pairings, there are some good stories in this one. Overall I liked it, and one was a stand-out for me with two more coming in as a very close to stand-outs.

Burn the Brightest by Emily Moreton (The Fool) – reviewed here:

The Direction of the Greatest Courage by Erik Moore (The Hermit) The Hermit is a card of knowledge, usually self-knowledge and the acceptance of what one knows and doesn’t. This is a pretty straightforward story (forgive the pun) of a young man entering into a poly relationship. The first few paragraphs resonated with me and made me give this story and the character a bit more attention that I normally would have. One line “Being a bisexual woman is hard enough, but to be a bisexual man is to be erased.” made me stop and think a bit. In this story, Jason knows what he is and struggles with how to balance his attraction to both men and women against the rejection he’s received from partners, and society, in his past.

The Grief of the Bond-Maid by Janine Ashbless (The Hanged Man) The Hanged Man symbolizes self-sacrifice for a higher goal and the chance for renewal. This story captures this theme in the quest that Sjofn, a Skien Witch whose evil wizard master has pulled an Odin, hanging himself from an Ash tree in order to become all-powerful, and she is desperate to find a person who can help her thwart his plans in time. The spirit of the person who she is led to is a Griffin, half lion-half eagle, and it turns out is actually two warriors – Thorkell and Bjarni. Together, they set out and travel through the nine Norse realms that the wizard has replicated in order to stop him. I liked this quite a bit – how can you not love anything that incorporates Norse Mythology? Unfortunately, as this is a short story, what happens in each realm is glossed over and I would have loved more details to have been provided.

Surrender by K Piet (The Tower) The Tower is a card of change – conflict and disruption, often a bit of chaos as the walls come crumbling down – but also of personal transformation. This is an apt card for the story which is a BDSM story in which Aaron, a Dom, finds the tables turned on him at a club and he becomes the Sub. Aaron’s experience causes him to question a lot of his assumptions about BDSM and the roles within it. This is the most graphic of the stories and if you are not a fan of BDSM it may not be for you.

Blazing Star by Marie Carlson (The Star) The Star is the card of Sanctuary and hope, bringing renewed understanding, confidence and peace of mind. This was my favourite. Some short stories are self-contained with a beginning, middle and end. Blazing Star seemed to drop you in the middle, give you glimpses of a much larger story and then leave you with a yearning to know what led up to the events in the story and, more importantly, what happens next. I wasn’t dissatisfied with the story in the least – the author did a great job of whetting my appetite, but I think this one would make a very cool novel. If the author never writes a novel based on this, then this still makes a very cool short story. I’d classify this as Urban Fantasy and I think this story incorporates the Tarot them quite well. Breaking from her family’s tradition of being Hunters, Bea is a mind-reader and spell-caster who has stepped back from the active battles and provides a sanctuary to those who do Hunt. Hope, her lover, returns to her, devastated at not being able to save the family she had been sent to protect and troubled by some unnamed trouble that seems to be brewing. Blazing Star seems to be an oasis in-between the larger story that happens outside the pages of this story, but is wonderfully self-contained with enough glimpses and hints to do a fascinating bit of world-building without even leaving Bea’s home.

Oneiros by S L Armstrong (The Moon) The Moon symbolizes dreams, imagination and the unconscious mind and can be the fear of things past come back to infect the present or future. At the same time, the Moon can illuminate secrets and hidden truths. Caleb is a young man, recently diagnosed as HIV positive, who finds a haven in his world of dreams, where is seduced by Morpheus. Unable or unwilling to deal with what is happening in his life, he is drawn deeper and deeper into Morpheus’ desire. As is always the case, seduction by a God rarely turns out well for the human and Caleb continues to withdraw from the waking world despite the efforts of Scott, a man he meets in the doctor’s office, who offers him an anchor of friendship and love. I loved the premise of this one and enjoyed the story but I must admit I felt bad for Caleb’s cat.

Burn the Brightest by Emily Moreton

Burn the Brightest is a short story originally published as part of Storm Moon Press’ Cast the Cards Anthology.  From what I understand, each story in the anthology was inspired by or incorporated cards from the Tarot and contained a number of GLBT variations – f/f, m/m, m/f/m.   It would have been interesting to see how other authors incorporated the theme.   For this story, the author chose not to incorporate a paranormal or speculative storyline, focusing, instead, on the rocky start of a romance between Edith and Jo and was firmly rooted in realities of the pain of Edith’s past and the impacts of Jo’s naval career on their relationship.

As a standalone story, I would have preferred to not have the introduction notes introducing the concept of the Fool in the Tarot.  The first time I read it, I was unsure of how the theme had been incorporated.  I  ended up re-reading it several times, considering the elements that the Fool embodies against the story and the characters of Edith and Jo –  normally I read rather than dissect, but it was interesting to put my thinking cap on and dredge my memory of the Tarot and how I might interpret the Fool against the story.

Edith is a woman who keeps the world at arm’s length, afraid of connecting with anyone who may cause her more emotional pain.  Unlike the Fool, she is unwilling to make a leap of faith or take a chance.  Firmly resolved to never get involved with anyone in the military, Edith meets Jo at a friend’s birthday and she begins to find her barriers and reservations breaking down under  Jo’s gentle courtship.

From a technical standpoint, I had issues with awkward sentence structure and the jumping from scene to scene.  A bit more depth and insight into the characters and their motivations may have smoothed things out a bit more.

All in all, this is not the story that I expected – this is a gentle romance rather than erotica and it gave me some food for thought as I read it.   The ending is poignant and a bit ambiguous, which I rather like in a short story.

Here’s a link to the anthology:

The Old Woman by Q. Kelly

If you are 25 years of age (or imagine being that), could you fall in love with someone being 75 years old? I’m not going to ask the complementary question — if you’re old enough, you won’t have to imagine, if you’re not, you cannot yet envision the clock running down on you. Well, my guess.

Ada has certainly made plans for her life, and out of her list of 109 things to experience, she has accomplished 106.

Rach, on the other hand, has no such list. In fact, she’s not over her girlfriend leaving her, and it’s only at her friend Jessica’s insistence to get involved with the next woman coming down the aisle of the supermarket, that she gets to know Ada, bent with age, but also with a mind much more wide open than Rach’s.

We get to see Rach change, perhaps mature, if that does not sound too condescending. And naturally, this is not a “happily ever after” kind of story — it is a happy story none-the-less, one that explores love beyond being in a bliss, or between the sheets (although there’s that, too).

It’s a rather short story — the time invested reading it is well worth your time.