5 Stars, JP Kenwood, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review: Games of Rome by JP Kenwood

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Title: Games of Rome (Dominus: Book Two)

Author: JP Kenwood

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 339 Pages

At a Glance: If you love a plotty and well written historical with plenty of intrigue and interesting characters, I can’t recommend this series enough.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: In this sequel to Dominus, Gaius Fabius Rufus, the victorious general of Rome’s brutal Dacian Wars, finds his loyalties and his affections pulled in different directions. Should he return to Rome and secure his claim to the imperial throne, or remain at his seaside villa and protect his pleasure slave, the fierce Dacian prince, Allerix? Retaliation for the murder of his beloved friend beckons him home, but his desire for justice could put both him and Allerix in mortal danger. As Gaius’s deceptions multiply, another tragedy strikes. Will the Lion of the Lucky IV Legion be forced to sacrifice his besotted heart to achieve his aspirations for supreme power?

Every moment since Allerix’s violent capture has tested the young prince’s fortitude and cunning. If he can kill the triumphant emperor who decimated his Dacian nation, revenge and immortality will be his glorious, everlasting rewards. But to realize his scheme for vengeance, he must deceive the Roman master whose body he lusts, the handsome, arrogant man whom he has grown to adore and admire. Can two former enemies—the conqueror and the conquered—find trust and true love, or are the consequences of war destined to tear them apart? Can Gaius and Allerix survive the perilous games of Rome?

Dominus is a plot-packed erotic m/m fantasy set in ancient Rome during the reign of Emperor Trajan (AD 98-117). Games of Rome is the second book in this alternative history saga—a tumultuous journey of forbidden love, humor, sex, friendship, political intrigue, deception, and murder.

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Review: I love when a book meets every one of my expectations. I love even more when a book exceeds them, and JP Kenwood’s Games of Rome does just that in every way. I was so impressed by the author’s Dominus, and now, that book’s sequel has proven Kenwood’s talent for solid storytelling, building beautiful settings, offering the perfect amount of historical context, creating engaging and layered characters, and tapping into readers’ emotions. I don’t mind admitting this book wrung a few tears from me either. When an author can accomplish that, forming those sorts of attachments between reader and characters, it makes the reading all the more rewarding.

Gaius Fabius Rufus, the Lion of the Lucky Fourth, is many things–Commander, war hero, husband, master, and friend and former lover of Lucius Petronius. Where this book exceeded my expectations is not only that the historical setting is portrayed in such a way that grounds the reader in what feels like an authentic Ancient Rome, but that the book also is a compelling mystery–both in the past and in modern day Rome. Lucius’s murder becomes a central focus of Games of Rome as we watch Gaius grieve, promise retribution, seek absolution while often seeming a walking contradiction–warm and tender one moment, cold and commanding the next, charming and sometimes cruel. Gaius is nothing if not a mercurial man whose arrogance seems to know no bounds–if I’m being honest, he isn’t always easy to like–but is tempered by that ability to charm. Where the book offers a bit of the unexpected, however, is in its supernatural elements. This was so unexpected that I wasn’t certain how I felt about it at first, but it was woven into the storyline in such a way that became integral to the plot, and now I can’t imagine how the story would have been better without it. As for the modern day mystery, this is being teased out in the tiniest of morsels, and this installment has only served to pique my interest even more. Archeology uncovers its share of secrets from the past, though it doesn’t always provide answers. There are definitely more questions than answers right now surrounding the pair of skeletons discovered at a dig site, and I haven’t a clue what JP Kenwood will reveal in further storylines. All I know for sure is that the author baited that hook and I’m hanging on gladly.

From the Emperor to clients to slaves, Gaius has a life filled with a variety of diverse people and experiences, all entrenched in the Ancient Roman culture and portrayed beautifully in these books. I don’t know much about this historical period but can say Kenwood seems to have not only an interest in but an affinity for the era. Ancient Rome dominated, it was the seat of some of the world’s most impressive art and architecture, and the Romans were responsible for many advancements in civilization at the time, but, to our sensibilities, it was also a barbaric time in which people sat in arenas and watched prisoners of war be eaten for sport. Slavery was commonplace – both household servants and pleasure slaves, male and female, owned by both Gaius and his wife, Marcia – and these books feature several prominent slaves in key roles. Sex, for Gauis, is a near sport in itself, where he can display his prowess and dominance and, with one slave in particular, his benevolence, and those moments of contradictory cruel tenderness come to the fore. Alle, a Dacian prince, war prize, and now, Gaius’s most prized possession, has captured his Dominus’s heart and has added another dimension of intrigue to the plot. Their relationship is fraught with complications and questions and potential hazards. Can either of these men manage not to betray each other? I can hardly see how it will be avoided and am anxious to see how their relationship progresses.

One of the more interesting characteristics of this series is Gaius’s marriage, as well as the social contradiction of men having sex with other men. There is no expectation of monogamy in the marriage as is certainly portrayed on Gaius’s part; nor is bisexuality strictly taboo. It was, however, unacceptable for men to engage in a sexual relationship with a peer. Same sex encounters were left strictly between slave and master, which is what adds such a poignant end note to Gaius and Lucius’s affair. I love that these books are informative but not in a textbook way. The author weaves these small details into the plot in a way that makes them all the more interesting, and, when it comes down to it, makes this series unique in the LGBT fiction genre.

If you love a plotty and well written historical with plenty of intrigue and interesting characters, I can’t recommend this series enough.

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You can buy Games of Rome here:

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Amazon US

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Giveaways, Hayden Thorne

Excerpt and Giveaway: Desmond and Garrick (Book Two) by Hayden Thorne

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We’re so pleased to have author Hayden Thorne back today with an excerpt and giveaway of her Young Adult Historical Fantasy Desmond and Garrick (Books One and Two). To enter for the chance to win an e-copy of BOTH books, just click on the Rafflecopter widget below after reading this little teaser.

Good luck!

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from Chapter 11

He’d walked a short distance, pausing under the shadows of a small cluster of trees, when movement from the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he turned to find Desmond scrambling up the hill – appearing desperate to get back to the picnic area. Garrick narrowed his eyes as he watched the boy. The way Desmond practically flailed his arms in order to keep his balance, the way he almost stumbled a few times in his haste to get up the hill, the way his clothes looked suspiciously crumpled and his hair windblown and wild and his face taking on a decidedly unhealthy red hue for a vampire…

Garrick sighed, shaking his head, his gaze still fixed on the frantic figure. “Good heavens, Master Desmond,” he muttered, that familiar feeling of helplessness creeping up his spine. “What have you done this time?”

He shrugged things off and carried on, awash in contentment for another pleasant moment, this time humming to himself.

More movement caught his attention and, and this time he saw Phillip Priestley making his way up the hill as well, his appearance no less wild than Desmond’s. But while Desmond appeared to be fleeing the area and half-killing himself to reach the hill’s crest in the shortest time possible, Mr. Priestley appeared to march stiffly uphill, his disheveled appearance highlighting the anger that set his face in a rigid mask. Arms swinging stiffly at his sides, eyes fixed directly ahead, mouth pressed into a tight line, the young fellow was in grave danger of swelling up with all that collected rage before exploding in a dreadfully untidy way that only vampires could appreciate. The sinking feeling gave way to another familiar sensation: a dreadful chill that could only mean one thing…

Any mortal tutor who takes on Desmond and Lavinia for his pupil will need all the luck in the world.

Any mortal tutor who takes on Desmond and Lavinia for his pupil will need all the luck in the world.

“Ah, Mr. Mortimer,” a voice hailed him.

Garrick turned and found Mr. Sherbourne approaching, his hands clasped behind him, his hat still on his head, his clothes still pristine. He inclined his head at Garrick once he was near enough.

“Mr. Sherbourne,” Garrick said after a moment’s hesitation.

The gentleman flashed an engaging smile, his manner calm and casual. “Sir, I apologize for pressing you with such a remarkable request, but I’d be honored if you would come with me tomorrow morning and be my second.”

Garrick stared at him. “I beg your pardon?”

“I’ve been challenged to a duel, you see, and I’m afraid it’s simply beyond my control to walk away from it. Honor is honor, after all.” When Garrick remained mute, he added, “Pistols at dawn. You know what that’s about.”

Garrick continued to stare at him. “I beg your pardon?”

Mr. Sherbourne sighed, though his manner stayed calm. Almost indifferent. “I’m compelled to defend Desmond Hathaway’s honor, sir. While in the course of dispensing a duty that was entrusted to me by the good Mr. and Mrs. Hathaway, I chanced upon a scene of a – well – rather sensitive nature, and I took umbrage at the gentleman’s treatment at the hands of a scoundrel. I certainly would have challenged Mr. Priestley to a duel myself, had he not leapt upon the chance first and challenged me. Can you imagine the cheek, sir? He’s the villain, and he thought to challenge me.”

Garrick stared. Still. Somehow, some time ago, his brain had ceased its functions, and he felt as though he were standing before its sad remains, watching it slowly dissolve with every word Mr. Sherbourne uttered.

Pistols at dawn - not exactly an ideal thing for mortal and vampire teenagers caught in a love triangle.

Pistols at dawn – not exactly an ideal thing for mortal and vampire teenagers caught in a love triangle.

“Would you mind explaining yourself, sir?” he said after about twenty attempts at speaking something that sounded halfway coherent.

“My dear Mr. Mortimer, I don’t see how I can make myself any clearer,” Mr. Sherbourne said, looking tired and faintly irritated. Yet he stood before Garrick, hands still clasped at his back, posture straight, appearance very striking and handsome as only vampires could be striking and handsome. “I need you to be my second, sir, for dawn tomorrow. While I’d be quite happy simply giving Mr. Priestley a damned good thrashing, I’m afraid I’m rather stuck resorting to a duel and perhaps bloody murder to set things right.”

“Mr. Sherbourne, you do realize your challenger is sixteen years old and is quite incapable of sound thought – especially if he’s been sent down from Wyndham.”

“Seventeen and four months.” Mr. Sherbourne paused, looking sincerely surprised. “I took care to ask, Mr. Mortimer. Not that it made much of a difference, anyway, since a scoundrel is a scoundrel at any age, and if Mr. Priestley forced my hand into a duel, I’m not one to back away from it. If his age worries you, perhaps you ought to raise the matter with him, not me.”

“Are you drunk, sir?”

“Indeed, no. But I’ve never been to a duel before, let alone been challenged to one. I’m afraid my ignorance shows, though I do hope I’m still capable of defending Desmond’s honor when required.”

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Desmond and Garrick Book TwoBlurb: As the vain and self-absorbed poets continue their campaign of destruction in Dryden Abbey, Garrick finds himself struggling in the classroom, with increasingly distracted pupils eroding all of his hard work and reducing him to using all things dead and decaying in order to keep Desmond and Lavinia’s minds on their lessons.

Meanwhile, with Phillip Priestley’s unexpected appearance, Desmond’s world unravels as infatuation, lust, confusion, and revulsion drive him into wilder mood swings. Mr. Sherbourne’s coldly distant yet attractive presence in Dryden Abbey further complicates things, prompting Desmond to do something he never thought he’d ever do: reach out to unlikely allies for help.

In the midst of the wild goings on around them, Garrick and Desmond will realize that the chasm separating them as distinct species will not only teach them important lessons of understanding and acceptance, but also forge a stronger bond of friendship than they expected.

Buy Links: JMS Books || Amazon || Smashwords

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THE GIVEAWAY

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5 Stars, Anthology, Reviewed by Lana, Torquere Press

Review: Plaid Nights Anthology from Torquere Press

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Title: Plaid Nights Anthology

Author: Various (see blurb)

Publisher: Torquere Press

Pages/Word Count: 186 Pages

At a Glance: This book has a little of everything: sexy bad boys, a little mystery, a little paranormal, and a lot of entertainment. It’s a must read.

Reviewed By: Lana

Blurb: In Plaid Nights, men in kilts are as varied as they are hot. Whether they’re caber tossers, rugby players, Highland warriors, country dancers, or time-traveling vampires, they’re up for surprises and sexy good times.

Rob Rosen starts us off with humor in “Tossing It.” Contemporary men discover love in unexpected places in “Whiskey and Want” by Megan McFerren, “Some Like It Scot” by Julia Talbot, “Perfect Working Order” by Elizabeth Coldwell, and “Off-Kilter” by Racheline Maltese & Erin McRae. We get a taste of the paranormal in “Sir WW” by Angelique Voisen, “Feumaidh Mi Ruith (I Have to Run)” by Missouri Dalton, and “Kilt in the Closet” by Logan Zachary. And we’re treated to forbidden love in historicals “Hunting for a Highlander” by Lila Mathews, “A Time to Heal” by Anna Mansel, and “As Fair Art Thou, My Bonny Lad” by McKay.

In these stories, some tartan-clad men wear their kilts in the “traditional manner,” while others are less daring. But all find love, and of course, a happy ending—especially at night, when the plaid comes off.

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Review: The Plaid Nights Anthology is a collection of stories about men in kilts. Yes, I said men in kilts! What else do you need? If your kink is men in kilts, like mine, then this book is for you. If it’s not, then it’s going to be if you read this book. I have three words to describe this anthology: Men. In. Kilts! All the stories were ridiculously hot and very well written, but really, all you need to know is that they were hot.

There’s a good assortment of styles and genres. While most of the stories were contemporary, two were historical: One about William Wallace, which I guarantee you’ve never read anything about him like it before. The other story was a fantasy about a witch and a highlander giving in to their desires despite being enemies. Both stories were very entertaining and in a short amount of time, totally sucked me into their worlds. I wish they were longer!

But, the story that was just up my alley was Feumaidh Mi Ruith (I Have to Run) by Missouri Dalton. Cary meets a sexy kilt wearing bad boy, Marcus, in a bar, and hooks up with him. Cary is a thief, so when the opportunity presents itself, he steals something from Marcus. Marcus just happens to be a cop and makes a deal with Cary: if Cary helps him retrieve a piece of jewelry, Marcus will let him go. Well, as you can imagine, it’s not that simple. They get tangled up with bad guys and have hot sex in between. I wanted more sex. Marcus is a typical Alpha, which I love, and he’s also part of a paranormal family. Cary is a twink thief with a heart of gold and some persuasion powers up his sleeve. This element of the story wasn’t really developed, but I wish it was because from the little tease, it sounds like fun! He’s the perfect foil for Marcus. The title is in reference to Cary wanting to run from Marcus, but in the end, he lets Marcus catch him. This was a sexy and romantic story that I didn’t want to end.

Any book that has gorgeous kilted men in it, who love sex and sin, is one I can get behind. This book has a little of everything: sexy bad boys, a little mystery, a little paranormal, and a lot of entertainment. It’s a must read.

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You can buy Plaid Nights Anthology here:

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3 Stars, DSP Publications, Literary Fiction, Reviewed By JJ, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Yeyu

Review: The Relics of Gods by Yeyu

Title: The Relics of Gods

Author: Yeyu

Length: 350 Pages

Publisher: DSP Publications

At a GlanceOverall, reading this book was a pleasant experience.

Reviewed By: Johanis

Blurb: What is worse: Being so broke you can barely afford food, getting hired for dangerous missions way out of your league, suffocating under mountains of unanswered questions—or wanting to sexually dominate someone who can kill you without lifting a finger?

Lu Delong is a mercenary who evaluates antiques most of the time and deals with the paranormal on rare occasions—even though it’s supposed to be the other way around. When he joins a dangerous quest for an ancient artifact, he meets and becomes strongly attracted to a mysterious and powerful immortal named Cangji. Despite his friends’ warnings and Cangji’s icy, unsociable demeanor, Delong is unable to resist befriending him. However, Cangji is deeply involved in a matter beyond mortals, and Delong is drawn into a chaotic struggle by both visible and invisible forces.

Always the pacifist who wanted to live a simple human life, Delong never imagined he’d end up involved in a conflict that will affect everything from the lowest insects on earth to the highest gods in heaven.

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Review: Lu Delong, an ordinary man with some magical training, joins a mission in search for special artifacts.  Though Delong doesn’t know the reason for the mission and why the artifacts are so important, he goes along and does his best to assist. At the beginning of the quest, Delong meets a man who appears to be a god named Cangji. Delong is immediately taken by the beautiful but reclusive man. Though Cangji will not speak a word to him at first, the two grow closer with each passing battle with ghosts, creatures, and gods. Cangji saves Delong on numerous occasions, which leads Delong to believe that Cangji might have feelings for him. Meanwhile, parts of the mystery surrounding the relics are uncovered, but the mission continues. Toward the end of the book Delong realizes that despite Cangji appearing untouchable, he may just have a chance with him.

The Relics of Gods is filled with adventure but revolves around a love interest. If it were not for the sex scene, which involves dubious consent, I imagine this book would be great for the Young Adult crowd. Though I found the dense world building and myth explanations difficult to follow, Cangji’s character was very sexy and appealing. I really liked the idea of a dominant man sexually pursuing a dangerous immortal who is quiet, threatening, and the least likely being to submit sexually. I enjoyed the interactions between Delong and Cangji, but I would have preferred more communication between them. Following the dubious consent scene, I was left wondering where the couple stood. Then, when the book ended, I was a bit surprised.  I felt like there was so much left unresolved in their relationship, and I really wanted to know how things worked out between them.

Overall, reading this book was a pleasant experience.

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You can buy The Relics of the Gods here:

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5 Stars, Hayden Thorne, Historical Romance, Queerteen Press, Reviewed by Jennifer, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Young Adult

Review: Ansel of Pryor House by Hayden Thorne

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Title: Ansel of Pryor House

Author: Hayden Thorne

Publisher: Queerteen Press/JMS Books

Pages/Word Count: 116 Pages

At a Glance: Another excellent YA historical fantasy from the author of The Twilight Gods.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: Fifteen-year-old Ansel Tunnicliffe has lived a harsh life. Abandoned by his mother and his siblings to a drunk and abusive father, Ansel knows nothing more than hunger, fear, pain, and loneliness in his short life.

One evening, a wealthy stranger appears, challenges Mr. Tunnicliffe to a game of cards, and easily wins. The prize? Ansel. The terrified boy is whisked away to a remote and mysterious house, whose stern and aristocratic mistress takes Ansel in for a purpose that remains elusive to him.

Little by little, however, Ansel discovers additional secrets in every magical room of Pryor House — secrets that are somehow linked to him and Miss Peveler’s strange interest in his welfare. One of those secrets also turns out to be a young boy who haunts Ansel’s lonely hours and who may very well hold the key to Ansel’s future and the shadowy history of Pryor House.

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Review: Fans of Hayden Thorne’s YA historical fantasy should read this book. Although it’s short, it’s another wonderful tale that focuses on a young man, his harsh life, and the magic that changes it. Though in many ways different, this short novel reminded me of The Twilight Gods in that there is an older, magical benefactress who guides a mistreated young man to meet his destiny. If you’re looking for a romance, this book has some, but not until the very end, which follows along with the author’s style.

Reading this book transported me to another time. Pryor House came to life for me on the pages, and I felt like I was there. And it’s not just any house, but this one is just as much a character as Ansel, Cedric, Miss Peveler, and the other few characters.

And that brings me to my next point. There are very few characters present throughout this book. Not even many background characters, unlike other novels by this author. The focus is on Ansel and his self-discovery with the aid of Miss Peveler and the house. And while there is dialogue, the novel isn’t laden with it. Instead, there are beautiful descriptions which I have found is the standard for Hayden Thorne.

My only issue with the book is that it was too short. I wanted more! The epilogue was excellent because it filled in the gaps I was worried about, and it provided that small touch of romance I hoped for. Seeing Ansel come into himself and move beyond his horrible past was heartwarming.

If you’re looking for a novella with a lot of action, set Ansel of Pryor House aside for a rainy day, but definitely come back to it because you don’t want to miss out. I look forward to more books in this style from the author.

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You can buy Ansel of Pryor House here:

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Giveaways, James Comins, Wayward Ink Publishing

Guest Post and Giveaway: The Fool School Blog Tour With James Comins

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The Novel Approach welcomes author James Comins today on the Fool School blog tour, to talk “Writing Genre”, and he’s also offering the chance to win a $20 Wayward Ink Publishing gift card OR an e-copy of the book. To enter just click on the Rafflecopter widget below.

Good luck!

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I believe, honestly and sincerely, that there is a hierarchy of books. Some books are better than others. It isn’t, I think, quantifiable exactly; different books will be better or worse for different people, since we all read in different ways. (I, for example, tend to read up to twenty books at the same time, sometimes swapping books mid-sentence. I’m gradually getting better at not doing this.) But just as you can tell how good a restaurant tends to be by checking the aggregate Yelp reviews, with an understanding that there are sometimes biases and distortions, I think books can be ranked in a straight line from worst (Life’s Little Instruction Book, by the way) to best (whichever my favorite one happens to be today. Gormenghast, for example).

The list is not, it turns out, ordered by genre.

Gormenghast, for example, is some sort of fantasy, even if its world doesn’t contain anything that ours doesn’t. Yet it’s my pick for best book ever written, outpacing realists Middlemarch and Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone by several millimeters of book goodness. 1984 and Frankenstein are solidly science fiction, and they certainly make the list of Top X Best Books. One Hundred Years of Solitude is fantasy. So are the stories of Borges and Barthelme. A Christmas Carol is fantasy and possibly horror, categories which Rabelais and Aligheri wrote nothing but. The first story written solidly in what we call English, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is a fantasy and a romance to boot. Most of Chaucer is romance of one sort or another, as is Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Madame Bovary. Turns out most of the greatest books ever written are genre–that’s the “Literature” sobriquet in the “Fiction and Literature” section.

If you venture into any given “genre” section of the bookstore, what you most often find are the books that didn’t quite make the grade to advance into the upper echelons. There’s plenty of books in every category worth reading–scifi writer Theodore Sturgeon once quipped that 90% of everything is crud, which means a solid 10% of the stuff is worth your time–but only a select few from any category get to call themselves literature. You can usually tell when an author moves up into that apartment in the sky. Their name appears on the covers of books they didn’t even write, singing other people’s praises in tiny letters. They get treated like rock stars when they go on tour. Their name gets compared to Shakespeare, usually by people who aren’t quite sure what they mean by that. Neil Gaiman, Agatha Christie, and Michael Chabon seem to have made the leap, although they can also be found in their “genres” (and let’s not kid ourselves, bookstore “Fiction” is a genre, even if it gets filed next to literature). Iain Banks straddled the two, using his middle initial M as a euphemism for Mmmbarrassingtobeseeninthispartofthebookstore. Others, like Frank Herbert and Octavia Butler, have gotten close enough to smell the respect of their peers.

So why does “Fiction,” i.e. the kind of book that I like to call “Upper Middle Class White Lady Travel Porn,” get shelved in the same section as “Literature”? I figure it’s mainly because of money, since most of the book industry is directed toward upper middle class white ladies, who get to decide where the line of respectability is to be drawn, but also because the book industry is a slow, lumbering, five-hundred-year-old behemoth which still considers novels to be novel, which still thinks Wilkie Collins and Edgar Allen Poe are a couple of impudent young upstart, and for whom Science Fiction is less essential to its bottom line than light-up bookmarks.

So my books sometimes wind up in genre. I never take it personally. Although maybe my next book will be an upper middle class white lady discovering her spiritual side in the Hindu Kush or something. Time will tell.

~James Comins

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FoolSchool_FinalCoverBlurb: In the year of our Lord 1040, fourteen-year-old aspiring jester Tom is en route to Bath to begin his studies in the art of being a Fool, following in the footsteps of his father, and his father before him.

Along the way he meets Malcolm, a fire-haired boy with eyes green as forest glass. A Scotsman who’s escaped from the ravages of the usurper Macbeth, Malcolm elects to join Tom at school. Though the journey to Bath is hazardous, it pales in comparison to what they face at the austere and vicious Fool School, where all is not as it seems. A court jester must aim to be the lowest rung on the ladder of life, and the headmaster will not abide pride.

As they journey through life’s hardships together, Tom and Malcolm find they only have each other to depend upon.

Buy Links: WIP | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon DE | All Romance eBooks

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TRAILER:

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Author BioAbout the Author: JAMES COMINS is incapable of writing about himself in the third person. His future autobiography will probably be titled, “The Man Who Groaned His Way Toward Death.” He writes stories for children and adults.

Born down the street from Stephen King, he now divides his time between Denver and Seattle.

JAMES COMINS can be found at: Smashwords and Twitter

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THE GIVEAWAY:

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Giveaways, Hayden Thorne, JMS Books LLC

Exclusive Excerpt and Giveaway: Ansel of Pryor House by Hayden Thorne

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The Novel Approach welcomes Hayden Thorne today with an excerpt from her new Young Adult novel Ansel of Pryor House. Hayden’s also giving one reader the chance to win an e-copy of the book, so be sure to click on the Rafflecopter widget below to enter.

Good luck!

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Ansel_of_Pryor_House_400x600Blurb: Fifteen-year-old Ansel Tunnicliffe has lived a harsh life. Abandoned by his mother and his siblings to a drunk and abusive father, Ansel knows nothing more than hunger, fear, pain, and loneliness in his short life.

One evening, a wealthy stranger appears, challenges Mr. Tunnicliffe to a game of cards, and easily wins. The prize? Ansel. The terrified boy is whisked away to a remote and mysterious house, whose stern and aristocratic mistress takes Ansel in for a purpose that remains elusive to him.

Little by little, however, Ansel discovers additional secrets in every magical room of Pryor House — secrets that are somehow linked to him and Miss Peveler’s strange interest in his welfare. One of those secrets also turns out to be a young boy who haunts Ansel’s lonely hours and who may very well hold the key to Ansel’s future and the shadowy history of Pryor House.

Buy Links: JMS Books | Amazon | All Romance eBooks

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Excerpt – From Chapter 4: Ansel was safely hidden in his assigned room, and he spent the next moment or so after being abandoned by Mrs. Finn crumbling under the aching mix of exhilaration and anxiety.

Mrs. Finn was nothing if not efficient as well as gruff in her displays of concern toward Ansel. After ushering him into his room, she proceeded to point out his bed, his wardrobe, his washstand, and even his windows. In his wardrobe a small collection of clean castoffs in excellent condition were neatly kept, and Ansel was nearly overcome with emotion at the thought that complete strangers had thought to spend money on him – a scruffy, half-starved, and illiterate nobody – with about a week’s worth of clothes. It was all he could do to nod, blink away the tears, and run a sleeve against his nose while avoiding Mrs. Finn’s grim, inquiring stare.

As per Mr. Farnham’s orders, he wasn’t expected to do much for the next two days beyond clean himself and appear before Miss Peveler if she demanded his presence.

One of my obsessions in writing revolves around houses. I enjoy exploring mysteries behind them through their physicality, their history, and architectural details. When a house becomes a focal point in a story, I want everything about it to matter, as though the structure itself were alive.

One of my obsessions in writing revolves around houses. I enjoy exploring mysteries behind them through their physicality, their history, and architectural details. When a house becomes a focal point in a story, I want everything about it to matter, as though the structure itself were alive.

“You’re free to explore the house, though you really shouldn’t expect to find much,” Mrs. Finn had said as she turned to march toward the door, her plump figure straight and stiff like a soldier, her steps measured and almost theatrical. She opened the door and stepped across the threshold, turning to face Ansel with her hand on the knob. “Mind that you don’t get lost, though. Most of the rooms aren’t used, but none of them are locked.”

Ansel thought he noted an air of melancholy regret in the housekeeper’s tone and expression. Perhaps in the distant past, Pryor House was a hive of activity, sound, and light. He could imagine it, anyway, as despite the great house’s somber, simple elegance, there was still that curious atmosphere of whimsy he’d felt upon entering the house earlier.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “I’ll keep to the main rooms downstairs.”

Mrs. Finn nodded, a shadow of a smile briefly lighting her face before her usual stern mask returned. Once he was finally alone, Ansel’s brain went blank, and he sank onto his bed, gazing helplessly around the room – his room. It was a small one, but it was very cozy and a far, far cry from what he’d long been used to, living with his father. Even the furniture for servants was well made yet functional and worked beautifully with the house’s color scheme. Ansel almost felt filthy and was convinced he reeked of the gutter when his gaze swept down to rest on his soiled and threadbare rags. His shoes were a disgrace, even for someone as poor as he.

The library of Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill gothic house. I love exploring unique interiors of homes and make them more alive to the point of being integral characters to the plot.

The library of Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill gothic house. I love exploring unique interiors of homes and make them more alive to the point of being integral characters to the plot.

He noticed his sack of clothes on the floor near the foot of the bed, and so many reminders, so many memories, and so many feelings associated with them surged to the forefront of his mind, and with a shaky breath, Ansel stood up and walked to one of the windows flanking his bed. Fumbling with the latches, he managed to open the window, pushing the two narrow casements outward and inviting a blast of chill air inside. He tried to breathe it in, hoping the fresh air and the cold would purge the wild swirl of emotions that now wrapped around him like a bitter shroud. But as it turned out, confusion, shame, terror, and, yes, loneliness all coalesced into one awful, dark cloud that swallowed him. Ansel had no choice but to give in to grief he’d been suppressing for a few days now while in Mr. Farnham’s company.

For several minutes he stood by the open window, crying, using his faded shirt as a handkerchief, barely noticing the winter scenery stretching out before him. For the briefest moment, he wished he were back home, enduring his father’s abuses, because that offered him familiarity and predictability despite the terrible pain. At least he knew what to expect day in and day out, and he was surrounded by things and people – neighbors, that is – he’d always known. He almost convinced himself that curling up on the floor, begging for his father to stop hitting him with a stick or a belt, was worth it as a price for the sight and the feel of his old bed and pillow, even if both were practically rotting to pieces under him.

Nature is a force meant to have a terrifying function in the story. She metes out dark justice to both living and dead. As noted in the book, she neither forgets nor forgives.

Nature is a force meant to have a terrifying function in the story. She metes out dark justice to both living and dead. As noted in the book, she neither forgets nor forgives.

Now? He’d “changed hands” over cards – like property, livestock, or chattel – and had no idea what his future held for him. There’d been kindness and generosity, to be sure, and a great deal of pity. He needed to give himself and everyone else more time to get to know each other, but it didn’t change how he was now alone in so many ways, much more than before. He felt so helpless, so powerless.

The tears ran out in time, and after calming himself down till his hiccoughs had been reduced to shuddering gasps, Ansel pulled the casements and turned the latches. His room now felt too cold, but he didn’t care. Sniffling, he shuffled over to his bed, where he undid his shoelaces, kicked off his shoes, and crawled under the covers. He turned to his side, burrowing further under the thick, comfortable blankets, but not before muttering an apology to the nice, clean sheets and pillows for being subjected to his filth. He fell asleep before long.

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4 Stars, Hayden Thorne, Queerteen Press, Reviewed by Jennifer, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Young Adult

Review: Wollstone by Hayden Thorne

Title: Wollstone

Author: Hayden Thorne

Publisher: Queerteen Press (JMS Books)

Pages/Word Count: 236 Pages

At a Glance: Beautiful descriptions in what feels like a timeless setting, but a little slow paced for me.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: The moment Emil Gogean sets foot inside Wollstone Academy’s fairy tale-like campus, he realizes his freshman year in high school is bound to be a very strange one. The school itself, a uniquely romanticized boarding school for boys, boasts remarkable elements that appear to be deliberate — as though a hidden power has chosen woodland details, a chapel ruin, and school masters who seem to hearken back to a long-gone age, with a clear purpose in mind.

When strange things begin to happen to Emil, an unnerving warning from his late grandmother returns to haunt him. A warning about Emil attracting the attention of the king of the dead.

Strange faces in wood patterns and mullioned windows. The apparition of a boy among the trees. The unfathomable feeling of sadness permeating the idyllic environment. Emil gradually learns that Wollstone is more than just a school, that the answers to a three-hundred-year-old mystery surrounding a tragic romance lie in the ruined stones of a small chapel and in Nature itself. And that Emil, whose appearance in school has set certain wheels in motion, will have to place himself at the mercy of three mysterious students if he wishes to learn the truth about Wollstone, the boy lost in the woods, and himself.

Dividers

Review: If there is an author who writes more beautiful descriptions of a setting, I would be hard-pressed to find them. I had known of Hayden Thorne for several years before finally having the opportunity to sit down and read one of the author’s novels. Wollstone is a beautifully descriptive novel of an all boys school in the middle of a woodland.

It’s clear that this author excels at setting. Everything is so vivid I felt as if I were there with Emil on campus, following him as he wandered the paths, found the chapel, and explored the woods. I often found myself sighing, wishing a place like that existed for me to explore. Especially the ruined chapel on the school grounds. How amazing would it be to have something like that to explore?

That said, I did have difficulty with some of the novel. It is slower paced, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not what I’m used to. I’m used to teen novels that have a faster pace to the plot. Thorne does not rush and lets the story unfold slowly. Sometimes a little too slowly, though it also invokes a timeless quality. There were several times when I forgot exactly when the story took place. It’s supposed to be the present, I think, but at the same time I felt as if I were in the fifties, or sometime else entirely. It could have been the descriptions of the uniforms and the attitude of the teachers, but that’s the effect it gave. And given the surroundings of the school, I think that was the author’s intent.

While I liked the characters, at times I struggled with the dialogue, which there isn’t much of. Emil is often alone—which is fine, I like characters who are introspective or loners—but he talks to himself a lot. There were times when he was muttering or saying things in situations where I felt that it just seemed strange for a fifteen-year-old boy to be saying or doing. That said, things also aren’t always what they appear. As the story progressed it did start to make sense to me, but it wasn’t until about halfway through the book that I caught on to things. I won’t give away more than that, because I don’t want to ruin anything, but the details are slowly revealed if you pay attention to everything, from Emil’s thoughts of his grandmother to the books he reads. However, some of the other characters also had similar dialogue that to me felt dated. As a teacher, I raised my eyebrow at some of their choice phrases, as I’ve never heard any of my boys say anything like Emil, Jamie, Victor, or the other boys. But, that could have also been the author’s choice to keep teenage vulgarities out of the writing.

That said, I did enjoy the novel. It was slow moving, but it brought me to a different time and place. I was transported onto a beautiful campus I wish I was a part of. Also, the cover? Absolutely gorgeous. Not that it influenced me or anything, but it’s exactly how I pictured the chapel to be. Whoever did the cover got it perfect.

TNA_Signature_Jennifer






You can buy Wollstone here:

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All Romance eBooks

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4 Stars, Bold Strokes Books, Jon Wilson, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Reviewed by Lisa

Review: Cheap as Beasts by Jon Wilson

Title: Cheap as Beasts

Author: Jon Wilson

Publisher: Bold Strokes Books

Pages/Word Count: 240 Pages

At a Glance: A recommendable read for lovers of classic murder mystery.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Like most soldiers, Declan Colette lost his fair share in the war—in his case a sailor, drowned off Iwo Jima. Since then he’s been scratching out a living as a cut-rate PI, drinking too much, and flirting with danger. Then a girl arranges to consult him, only to be murdered en route, and the cops tag Colette as their prime suspect. To save his neck he’ll need to find the real killer, a quest that pits him against a rival detective firm, a dangerously rich family, and a desperate foe whose murdering ways started back during the war.

Could this be the case he’s been waiting for? Catching the killer could make his reputation. Failing, could cost him his life.

Either way: win-win.

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Review: Having so recently binge-read Joseph Hansen’s iconic Dave Brandstetter collection, I’ve been on the lookout for more of the same and seem to have discovered yet another interesting mystery series—or at least the start of one—by author Jon Wilson.

More standard noir than I might say the Brandstetter series is, with Cheap as Beasts Wilson has gone the way of the seminal hardboiled 40s gumshoe archetype, and made a bit of a mystery of Declan Colette himself. We do get the opportunity to learn a few things about him—namely, he’s not out to win friends or influence people, sometimes at risk to his person. Collette doesn’t seem to care much about whose buttons he pushes, whether inside the law or out. He’s a hard drinking, chain smoking, tough talking PI, not perfect, by any means, and his wise-cracking, antagonistic demeanor often finds him trouble in one form or another, though he proves throughout the narrative he has a detective’s eye for detail and the tenacity to see a case through to the bitter end.

Told in the first person, as most noir is, the author establishes the reader’s intimacy with the character and his story from the outset. The occasional second person address directed toward readers then adds yet another layer to that familiarity and engages us as we become better acquainted with our protagonist. The requisite femme fatales and bevy of suspects are introduced as we learn details along with Collette about not one but three murders which revolve around one wealthy family—the young widow, the children, cousins, and, of course, those in their employ; all come under suspicion in the beginning, the investigation complicated further when certain pieces of evidence disappear. That, coupled with more than a few red herrings, keeps things interesting from beginning to end, though I felt the motive for the first murder could have been more clearly defined.

As an aside to the mystery, reader’s are offered a mere glimpse of the personal side of Declan Collette, a World War II veteran who suffered his share of loss. Though we only get the barest hint of the emotional scars it left behind, it isn’t particularly difficult to piece together those clues and come to the right conclusion. The attraction he feels for Morgan O’Malley, he of the wealthy family, is tempered by the grief that causes Collette to keep Morgan at a respectable and business like distance, even though the attraction is entirely mutual. Collette does his level best to be off-putting and succeeds admirably, and though any potential ties between the two men seem to be severed by novel’s end, as the saying goes, it ain’t over till it’s over, so perhaps Book Two will be more enlightening on a personal front.

Though not as dark and nuanced as Hansen’s seminal noir series, Wilson’s crisp prose and engaging characters make Cheap as Beasts a recommendable read for lovers of classic murder mystery.






You can buy Cheap as Beasts here:

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Barnes & Noble

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5 Stars, Geoffrey Knight, Historical Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Reviewed by Lynn, Wilde City Press

Review: Buck Baxter, Love Detective by Geoffrey Knight

Title: Buck Baxter, Love Detective

Author: Geoffrey Knight

Publisher: Wilde City Press

Pages/Word Count: 90 Pages

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb: Welcome to Wilde City, 1924—a crane on top of every skyscraper, a party in every club, a romance on every dance floor, a shooting every night, a broken heart on every street corner and a dirty secret behind every window with the curtain drawn. It’s the kinda town that keeps Buck Baxter, private detective, in business. Continue reading

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4 Stars, Elin Gregory, Historical Romance, Literary Fiction, Love Lane Books, Reviewed by Rena

Review: A Taste of Copper by Elin Gregory

Title: A Taste of Copper

Author: Elin Gregory

Publisher: Love Lane Books

Pages/Word Count: 71 Pages

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb: Your master has the field for today, but his name, whatever it might be, is without honour.

Olivier the squire worships the Black Knight and takes a fierce joy in his prowess as he defends a bridge against all comers. Olivier only wishes that his master loved him as much in return instead of treating him as a servant and occasional plaything. Continue reading

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L.A. Witt, Riptide Publishing

Guest Post and Giveaway: Precious Metals Blog Tour With L.A. Witt

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Gaslamp Fortnight: A Steampunk Book Tour – October 27th – November 7th

Authors L.A. Witt, Alexis Hall, and Cornelia Grey come together on a Steampunk book tour to celebrate the releases of Precious Metals, Prosperity, and Circus of the Damned.

Join us on adventures through the lawless, untamed, kraken-infested skies! Trek the snowy wilds of the Klondike in the company of a Mountie! Visit a soul-stealing circus where entertainment is at your own risk! Riptide’s Gaslamp Fortnight will tempt you with the steampunk and gaslamp worlds of Cornelia Grey, Alexis Hall, and L.A. Witt.

And Gaslamp Fortnight is featuring a fabulous giveaway! Comment on the tour stops for a chance to win a $250 gift certificate to Harlots and Angels Steampunk Corsetry and get your own custom corset or personalized steampunk gear.

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Alexis Hall, Riptide Publishing

Guest Post and Giveaway: The Prosperity Blog Tour With Alexis Hall

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Cowboys and Dandies and Wizards, Oh My

Lisa asked me to talk a bit today about the inspirations for Prosperity, particularly in the light of the blurb, which is quite self-consciously pulpy.

Prosperity actually has quite a long history of how it got where it is, and so it has quite a lot of random influences feeding into it. I originally wrote it in response to an open call for frontier stories. I really want to something about the wild west, or at least that felt like the wild west, but I’m kind of squicked out by the, y’know, the genocide that was going on at the time. More broadly, the problem with frontier stories is that virtually every “frontier” explorers have ever encountered has been someone else’s home. You had all these Victorians running off excitedly to darkest Africa and talking about all the things they’d found that nobody had ever seen before. Things that by and large were built by people whose descendants still lived in the area. Continue reading

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5 Stars, Alexis Hall, Historical Romance, Reviewed by Rena, Riptide Publishing, Steampunk

Review: Prosperity by Alexis Hall

Title: Prosperity

Author: Alexis Hall

Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 190 Pages

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb: A breathtaking tale of passion and adventure in the untamed skies!

Prosperity, 1863: a lawless skytown where varlets, chancers, and ne’er-do-wells risk everything to chase a fortune in the clouds, and where a Gaslight guttersnipe named Piccadilly is about to cheat the wrong man. This mistake will endanger his life . . . and his heart. Continue reading

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5 Stars, Bold Strokes Books, Historical Romance, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Rena, Richard Natale

Review: Junior Willis by Richard Natale

Title: Junior Willis

Author: Richard Natale

Publisher: Bold Strokes Books

Pages/Word Count: 84 Pages

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb: From the moment he leaves the Midwest in the early 1950s, Tom Larson is forced to confront his sexual and romantic desires at every turn. His awakening begins in Korea where he has an affair with his commanding officer. On a trip to pre-Castro Havana with his then fiancée, he embarks on a star-crossed romance with a young Cuban zealot. In Los Angeles, during the life-altering summer of 1969, Tom, now a successful film/TV writer, is consumed by shame by his unrequited love for Junior Willis, a handsome young man who taunts him with vivid tales of heterosexual prowess. Tom’s tortured journey from self-loathing to self-acceptance and happiness mirrors the slow but steady evolution of gay consciousness from the post-War War II years to Stonewall. But when he finally stops questioning his nature and his yearning for affection, love finds its way to Tom’s doorstep. Continue reading

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L.A. Witt, Riptide Publishing

Spotlight and Giveaway: “Noble Metals” by L.A. Witt

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Welcome to the Riptide Publishing/L. A. Witt blog tour for Noble Metals! Thank you to The Novel Approach for hosting me.

Every comment on this blog tour enters you in a drawing for a choice of two eBooks off my backlist (excluding Noble Metals) and a $10 Riptide Publishing store credit. Entries close at midnight, Eastern Time, on July 19th, and winners will be announced on July 20th. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Continue reading

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Hayden Thorne, Queerteen Press

Hayden Thorne Drops By Today With A Giveaway On The “Grave’s End” Blog Tour


The Novel Approach is pleased to have Hayden back with us today. She’s offering a little excerpt from her latest novella Grave’s End, from Queerteen Press, and she’s offering the chance for one lucky reader to win an e-copy of the book.

THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED
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4 Stars, Ari McKay, Reviewed by Kim, Torquere Press

Ari McKay’s “The Call of the Night Singers” Carries A Scary Tune – Reviewed by Kim


“There are moments when even to the sober eye of reason, the world of our sad humanity may assume the semblance of Hell. ” ― Edgar Allan Poe


Title: Call of the Night Singers

Author: Ari McKay

Publisher: Torquere Press

Pages/Word Count: 89 Pages

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb: When Garland Heatherford is named heir to his uncle’s vast fortune, he isn’t pleased by the honor, and with good reason. The last five heirs all met with most untimely deaths. – four of them from drowning. Although loathe to accept his inheritance, Garland nevertheless travels to the “cursed” town of Bath, North Carolina, to meet his aged uncle, hoping to avoid the fate of his predecessors. But Garland has something in his favor the other heirs didn’t: his lover, Geoffrey Wainwright.
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GayRomLit, Jordan L. Hawk, Self-Published

Jordan L. Hawk Joins Us Today To Celebrate The Countdown To GRL, The Release Of “Necropolis”, And There’s A Giveaway!


2014GRL_BlogTour_sq200x200TNA: Hi, Jordan, welcome back! It’s always great to have you here with us. For readers who may not have had the chance to be introduced to you before, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself to get things started?

Jordan: I live in NC, not terribly far from where I spent the majority of my childhood. My ancestors brewed moonshine, so I keep up some of the family tradition brewing beer and mead in my spare time. I live with my wonderful husband (and beta reader) David and our three very cute cats.
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Hayden Thorne, Queerteen Press

Hayden Thorne’s “Banshee” Is Here, And She’s Offering A Giveaway


My favorite collection of Victorian ghost fiction

I believe in ghosts. It’s an odd thing coming from someone who’s pretty much an atheist and who’d sooner worship science than a god. But I readily admit it without an ounce of self-consciousness or embarrassment. I do believe in ghosts because I’ve been in a situation that counted as a haunting. And as I’ve noted at my blog in the past, I wasn’t alone when the incident occurred, and I’ve got my younger sister to corroborate my story. We still talk about it from time to time, and I’m sure neither of us will forget it till the end of our days.

The incident’s rather too long to recount here in full detail, but let me just say this: we continue to be convinced it was our dad, who’d recently passed away, whom we heard walking slowly up the stairs and across the hallway, only to stop at our bedroom door to turn the knob. Thank heaven our door was locked. If it were a live person, we’d have heard him/her walk away from our door, but we heard nothing after the doorknob turned a couple of times. This rough summary doesn’t do my experience any justice, but for the sake of brevity for this guest blog, that’s it.

I’ve also been deeply fascinated with the supernatural when it comes to my entertainment. Ghost stories in the traditional sense are my love, and when I say “traditional sense”, I’m talking about ghosts treated as – ghosts. Not things that kill people in an orgy of blood lust, which tends to be the modern interpretation of ghosts, particularly in film. I’ve read recently published ghost stories that ended up being nothing more than chapter after chapter of increasingly over-the-top hauntings, so that there’s nothing subtle about ghostly activities in those books.

Classic Victorian ghost fiction done right by a contemporary author

I had high hopes for the more recent adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, but while the movie does a spectacular job visually, the writers have completely ignored the gradual, creeping nature of Jennet Humfrye’s hauntings in favor of jump-scares and piled-on moments of ghostly occurrences, which aren’t reflective of Hill’s novella at all. The movie’s release, though, re-ignited my love for Victorian ghost fiction, and I re-read Hill’s novella prior to seeing it, and I dug out my old anthologies of Victorian ghost fiction to enjoy.

I wish I could explain why ghosts and ghost fiction have such a stranglehold on me (not that I’m complaining, mind). I think it’s got a lot to do with the unknown, with what goes on after death and how ghosts seem to upend everything we’ve always been taught about the afterlife. There’s also that chance, however slight, of a deeply psychological element involved in hauntings – not just in the part of the deceased, but the witness as well.



Enter young Nathaniel Wakeman, circa 2007, when I wrote Banshee.

Before I received the call for material for Prizm’s opening, I’d already read several Victorian ghost fiction anthologies. I’d also latched on like a barnacle to M.R. James’ ghost stories, which are considered to be the best in the genre. Through James’ stories, I developed an appreciation for the actual art of writing ghost fiction, which (to me) involves a skilled use of suggestion and sustained atmosphere – a lot of control going into each haunting scene. So I jumped at the chance of trying my hand at writing my own Victorian ghost story – one that involved a gay teen, at that.

My ghost story hero

Nathaniel Wakeman lives in the Isle of Wight – a setting that I wanted right off the bat because the one effect I was hoping to achieve in this story is the pervading feeling of claustrophobia. So Natty grows up in an island, and he’s the son and only child of a modest vicar. His world view is extremely limited in every sense of the word – he’s physically isolated, mentally limited to whatever books his parents allow him to read because he doesn’t go to a regular school and is taught at home by his father, and emotionally, he’s very much focused on his day-to-day cares.

The novel’s also written in the first person POV, which was a bit of a challenge because the story takes place in the mid-19th century, and there’s always that tricky juggling act of making the story readable without sacrificing too much of its historical angle. But I decided it was necessary to stay inside Natty’s head the whole way as a means of capitalizing on that feeling of claustrophobia I wanted. Once the hauntings begin, we get to see the ghost through his eyes, and we experience his struggle for understanding using nothing more than his limited perceptions of the world.

Poe shows us how to write psychological gothic fiction with a capital ‘P’. When I grow up, I want to write like him

I wrote the ghost as both a haunting as well as something that’s deeply psychological. And I based it on an actual experience my sister had involving my mother when we were little kids. In short, my mom appeared to my younger sister – looking normal and talking naturally and all that – when she was supposed to be at work. Of course, she told my sister she needed to see our grandmother next door, and almost immediately after she left us, we got a call from her, checking up on us. “I was just thinking about you kids while I was working,” she’d said (summarized), “and I thought I’d call to see if you’re all okay.” Well – we sure as hell weren’t okay after we got the call.

As an addendum, I was in another room when my mom appeared, so I didn’t see her, but I heard her voice as she talked to my sister. My oldest brother was infuriated and tried to catch her at a lie, but my sister stuck to her story. She was, what, six years old or something? Would a child that age lie about things like that? Count this as another incident that can be corroborated, even if it didn’t involve an entity.

If you want visual inspiration for a ghost story, use Caspar David Friedrich’s moody landscapes

But that was what I wanted to achieve in writing the ghost. It isn’t a sentient being, out to kill for revenge or for sport. It haunts Natty for a reason he won’t uncover till the end, and even then, the psychological aspects of the hauntings throw a few shadows in there, clouding his attempts at full understanding. That, though, is the nature of ghost stories as I’ve always seen them. No matter how many times we turn things over in our heads, no matter how hard we try to work logic into them, there really isn’t any way for us to come to a complete understanding of incidents that defy the natural order of things.

I’ve always said that Banshee was my baby of the three books I debuted as a gay YA writer because it’s in a genre I’ve always loved and will always love. I continue to feel a special kind of fondness for it. It remains my only attempt at Victorian ghost fiction so far, and I’ll have to remedy that situation soon. Having gone through another couple of rounds of edits to prepare this book for its 2nd edition release, I’m again bitten by the bug. And I’ll have to go back and re-read my favorite ghost fiction anthologies and re-watch my favorite haunted house movies to whip myself up to another haunted house frenzy. Not that I mind, of course.

BLURB: Nathaniel Wakeman is the only child and son of a modest vicar, who lives in the quiet and idyllic confines of the Isle of Wight. When his maternal grandfather dies, Natty’s mother reconnects with her estranged and wealthy brother and his family in hopes of raising Natty up in the world, to urge him to go beyond the humble life he’s always known.

Though his cousins show no particular regard for him, one of them, at least, lures him away from his retired life and introduces him to the world—and to the son of a baron from Somerset, Miles Lovell. Natty gradually finds himself drawn toward the older and worldlier gentleman and returns to his father’s vicarage a changed young man. He also seems to have attracted the attention of a ghost, one that has followed him back to the island.

Haunted by a woman in white, who seems to appear when he’s at his weakest, Natty struggles with his own nature and with his family’s increasing difficulties. His mother is distant, hiding things from him as she never has, and his father is aging before his eyes. Quarrels between his parents grow more and more frequent, and Natty’s increasing terror of familiar and beloved footpaths add to the spiraling tension at home.

While Natty tries to find his place in the world, his childhood is crumbling around him, and he becomes more and more convinced that his persistent ghost is a harbinger of doom.

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED

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K.A. Merikan, Reviewed by Lynn, Storm Moon Press

Lynn Reviews K.A. Merikan’s “Fear (The Copper Horse #1)”


“You are the evil scientist of your desires.” ― Tristan Taormino


Title: Fear (The Copper Horse #1)

Author: K.A. Merikan

Publisher: Storm Moon Press

Pages/Word Count: 258 Pages

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb: London

1907, twenty years into the zombie Plague
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Jordan L. Hawk, Self-Published

Cover Reveal: Jordan L. Hawk’s “Necropolis (Whyborne & Griffin #4)”


Many thanks to Jordan for giving us the opportunity to debut the cover and blurb of Necropolis, which has not only given me angst but has also made me ultra-giddy for the book itself. Enjoy!

Necropolis_TNA


BLURB: Introverted scholar Percival Endicott Whyborne has spent the last few months watching his lover, Griffin Flaherty, come to terms with the rejection of his adoptive family. So when an urgent telegram from Christine summons them to Egypt, Whyborne is reluctant to risk the fragile peace they’ve established. Until, that is, a man who seems as much animal as human tries to murder Whyborne in the museum.

Amidst the ancient ruins of the pharaohs, they must join Christine and face betrayal, murder, and a legendary sorceress risen from the dead. In the forge of the desert heat, the trio will either face their fears and stand together—or shatter the bonds between them forever.

Coming May 6, 2014, to an e-tailer near you.

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Backlist Book Bump, Hayden Thorne, Queerteen Press

It’s A Backlist Book Bump Day For Hayden Thorne’s “Renfred’s Masquerade”, And Of Course, There’s A Giveaway


The Novel Approach is thrilled to have Hayden Thorne back with us today to celebrate her Young Adult masterpiece, Renfred’s Masquerade, a book that made my choice for best young adult book of 2011. It’s a gorgeous bit of storytelling, and Hayden has decided it’s time to introduce you to Nicola, the hero of this tale, by offering the chance for TWO lucky readers to win an e-copy of the book.

Enjoy the excerpt and see entry details below!

BLURB: Young Nicola Gregori has always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, a brilliant clock-maker who’s famous for his wild, fantastical designs. But his father instead sends him to school to learn more practical matters. Nicola, stricken with infantile paralysis that left him with a deformed right leg, becomes an object of mockery and cruel jokes in school. He learns that in order to survive his daily ordeals, he needs to vanish in the crowd, to stop aspiring, to stop dreaming, and above all, to believe himself unworthy of respect and love.

Tragedy strikes when Nicola turns sixteen. Gustav Renfred, an old friend of his father, takes on Nicola as his charge and whisks him away to an isolated islet filled with empty mansions and bordered by a bluebell forest. There Nicola slowly learns about the tragic history that tightly weaves together the fates of Jacopo Gregori, Gustav Renfred, and Gustav’s twin sister, Constanza.

Magic, impossible dreams, and unrequited love come together in Ambrosi, the Renfreds’ mansion, where Nicola is caught up in a world of haunting portraits, a ghostly housekeeper, and the mysterious disappearance of Davide, Constanza’s adopted son. When Nicola’s invited to one of Renfred’s magical masquerades, he discovers the answers to riddles as well as the mounting danger that the Renfred family faces with every passing hour. With the masquerades’ existence depending on the physical and mental strength of an ailing Renfred, the task of solving the mystery of Davide’s disappearance before time runs out falls on Nicola’s shoulders, and he has no choice but to depend on things he’s long learned to suppress: courage, self-respect, and the desire to aim for impossible goals.

EXCERPT:

Nicola frowned as he looked around him. The spell had broken somehow, but while it didn’t ruin the charming, colorful, and festive atmosphere of the masquerade, a keen awareness of the magical nature of the assembly now took over. He felt as though he were back in his usual logical self, baffled all over again by the fantastical nature of his surroundings and slowly finding himself being lured away from reality with promises of possibilities that went beyond his limited perceptions.

With that came a very unwelcome question: how would he be able to dance with someone who was, Nicola was now convinced, nothing more than a phantasm created by Renfred? He was the only flesh and blood being in that ballroom, and while the revelers appeared to be real, Nicola attributed that to the remarkable quality of Renfred’s skills.

The music ended, and the dancers whirled to a halt, their laughter replaced by the buzz of conversations. Some dancers left the floor and either took their places in the room’s periphery
or left the ballroom to rest elsewhere. The majority stood and chatted, waiting for the orchestra to rest before moving on to the next piece. No one seemed to notice him, but Nicola didn’t mind
at all. If he were invited to a magical masquerade for entertainment and not interaction, he was pleased for the most part, though he hoped that there would be real food available in another room, for he was sure that he’d be famished soon.

“Then again,” he muttered, sighing and clucking, as he looked around to admire the elaborate costumes of fellow guests, “why should I stay till three in the morning if all I’ll do is stand and watch, uh, ghosts dance and enjoy themselves?”

A surge of restlessness coursed through him, and Nicola abandoned his spot to walk along the room’s perimeter in order to observe the goings on more closely from different places. He deliberately walked close to some of those who stood near the walls, sometimes brushing against guests, but while none of them felt unreal or incorporeal, he remained ignored. Masked men and women pushed past him or didn’t meet his gaze, no matter how long he stood before someone and stared. He felt invisible, almost, the fact that he also wore a mask and a costume to hide his identity adding a degree of irony to the realization.

He had nearly reached the orchestra by now, noting that the musicians were already getting ready for the next dance as they took up their instruments again while turning the pages of their musical scores.

“Will you dance with me?”

Nicola nearly tripped on his own feet at the question as well as the sudden feel of warmth enveloping his left hand. He froze in his tracks and spun around, shocked. The young man in the odd white costume stood before him, holding his hand.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Nicola blinked as he stared at the fellow and then dropped his gaze to their joined hands.

“Pierrot.”

“What?”

The young man in white smiled, releasing his hand. “That’s my costume. I hope it’s acceptable.”

“Oh.” Nicola looked to his left and then his right, not sure what was going on and wondering if now was a good time to leave despite the fact that he’d just arrived. “It’s an interesting costume, I’m sure.”

“So—will you dance with me?”

Nicola frowned, felt the urge to scratch his head in confusion but remembered that he was wearing a hat. Within seconds he went from feeling confused to feeling stupid, then suspicious, then shy. Swallowing, he feigned indifference and nodded. “I suppose.”

Pierrot grinned, perhaps reading Nicola’s bewilderment and the sudden threat of nausea that gripped him, and offered a hand. “We should take our place on the floor, or we’ll get squeezed out of it before we even start.”

“But where’s your partner?”

“He’s dancing with someone else now. It’s all right.”

Pierrot’s eyes sparkled with mischief, a brilliant light that his mask didn’t mute at all. “I swear I won’t hurt you.” When Nicola hesitated some more, he added in a softer voice, “Please.”

“I’m sorry. This is my first masquerade.” Nicola felt sheepish beside his new partner as he was led to the floor, his nervousness taking on a completely different dimension. He’d never danced the waltz before; he’d never danced at all before. He was sure that he’d end up injuring his partner within the first few bars of the next piece. That is, if make-believe people could be injured. The urge to vomit continued to threaten, but he forced it away, reminding himself that this was supposed to be nothing more than good fun. Renfred had taken the trouble to conjure up a themed masked ball for Nicola’s sake and even acquiesced to Nicola’s plea for a normal right leg. Whether or not this Pierrot fellow was a specter that was meant to be his partner Nicola couldn’t tell, but he wasn’t about to be an ungrateful brat, and he chided himself for his nerves and awkwardness.

“Don’t ask questions,” he murmured. “Play along and enjoy what you can.”

He’d just finished his self-directed lecture when Pierrot stopped and turned around. “This is a good spot for us,” he said.

When Nicola stared, his confidence slipping again, Pierrot chuckled. “If it’s your first time, I’ll guide you. It’s really very simple.”

Stepping forward, he gave Nicola brief and clear instructions on how to hold one’s partner, and before long, Nicola found himself in a very intimate and nerve-wracking partial embrace, with his partner smiling down at him, while he could only swallow a dozen times, his eyes unblinking and ready to pop out of their sockets.

“Relax and let yourself move with the music,” Pierrot said. Nicola nodded, his body still rigid. It didn’t help that his partner suddenly leaned close and spoke into his ear next. “I’ll take care of you. Just enjoy yourself.”

The noise of dozens of conversations broke to the beginning strains of the next waltz—one that was as heavy and insistent as it was rhythmic, melodic beauty shedding any pretenses to poetry and speaking of a people’s hardship and enduring pride. The strains haunted with melancholy but romantic images that clung to Nicola’s mind as he danced around the room, awed, mortified, and exhilarated by the strangeness of this new experience.

“Don’t look at your feet. Look at me.”

Simple enough directions, but difficult to follow. Nicola found that he couldn’t look straight into his partner’s eyes, the self-consciousness and embarrassment weaving an uncomfortable thread in the mix of emotions that defined his first dance. But he also felt compelled to, largely because his partner’s eyes exuded intelligence and sadness that affected Nicola in a way that was foreign to him. Suddenly he wanted to know this young man’s story, and suddenly, he wanted to be with his partner all night, though he was still quite fuzzy as to what was going on regarding Pierrot’s acknowledgment of his presence, given his observations on the rest of the assembly’s indifference.

I dithered over whether or not to add a video to this post, and I decided to go ahead with it. It’s a piece that inspired the scene, actually, and I listened to it repeatedly while writing it. Ignore the fact that it’s totally anachronistic to the time period of the story. :)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR: I’ve lived most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area though I wasn’t born there (or, indeed, the USA). I’m married with no kids and three cats, am a cycling nut (go Garmin!), and my day job involves artwork, great coworkers who specialize in all kinds of media, and the occasional strange customer requests involving papier mache fish with sparkly scales.

I’m a writer of young adult fiction, specializing in contemporary fantasy, historical fantasy, and historical genres. My books range from a superhero fantasy series to reworked folktales to Victorian ghost fiction. My themes are coming-of-age with very little focus on romance (most of the time) and more on individual growth with some adventure thrown in.

ON GENRE FICTION FOR LGBT TEENS:

LGBT teens have all sorts of stories to tell. They’re heroes not only of contemporary adventures or of fantasy and magic, but also of history. The rules might be different – stricter, a bit more frightening given 19th century laws, for instance – but there are still dreams to be shaped, character to be developed, and all of these done within the parameters set by the genre. It’s going to be a challenge, sure, but if it means allowing LGBT kids their own time in the “limelight” of, say, the Victorian stage, I’m game.

THE GIVEAWAY: THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED

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Hayden Thorne, Queerteen Press

Magic And Illusion Weave A Spell In Hayden Thorne’s “Renfred’s Masquerade”


“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” ― Stephen King


Title: Renfred’s Masquerade

Author: Hayden Thorne

Publisher: Queerteen Press

Pages/Word Count: 238 Pages

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb: Young Nicola Gregori has always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, a brilliant clock-maker who’s famous for his wild, fantastical designs. But his father instead sends him to school to learn more practical matters. Nicola, stricken with infantile paralysis that left him with a deformed right leg, becomes an object of mockery and cruel jokes in school. He learns that in order to survive his daily ordeals, he needs to vanish in the crowd, to stop aspiring, to stop dreaming, and above all, to believe himself unworthy of respect and love.
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