Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it. – Pericles
On Earth, sometime in a future that we all should hope never materializes, there is a caste system in which the aged are venerated and the young are relegated to a role of subservience that ignores their humanity and elevates their status as objects to be manipulated, molded, and bound in servitude. It is a hierarchy of slavery, one in which homosexuality and bisexuality are encouraged not because the world is a more enlightened place but as a way to control the population growth of the lower classes. Things are about to change, though; there is about to be a paradigm shift that will become a catalyst for revolution.
Dorian’s Worlds is that future realm, and Dorian is the young man who, along with his friends and fellow rebels Bryn and Lasa, will lead Workers in a rebellion to take control of their lives and of the bodies they’ve been taught are for nothing but the sexual pleasure of the elders.
This is a story that shows how society may attempt to strip a man of his free will, but how it cannot strip him of his will to be free. It’s a story of a man’s fight to reclaim his soul and his Self, and to fight for all those who, like him, want nothing more than to be the master of his own destiny. And, in the end, it is a story of honor and of sacrifice for the greater good so those who will come after him will know the meaning of freedom and what it means to live rather than to merely exist.
I really liked the premise of this story, as well as the sci-fi elements and world building that happened in the relatively limited time frame. The setting is a dystopian future, not of the landscape but of the humanscape, which is a chilling prospect itself. Dorian, as a hero who becomes the venerated patriarch of a brave new world, was a blend of innocence, cynicism, and a fierce determination to fight for the greater good, and I found myself rooting for him every step of his brief but significant quest.
There is only one thing I can say I wish I could’ve been given a glimpse of at the end, and that’s to know what became of Bryn, the man Dorian comes to love, after the series of events that lead to the conclusion of Dorian’s story. I missed playing witness to his thoughts, feelings, and reactions to the story’s climax, during and after it’d run its course, but otherwise can say I enjoyed Allen Mack’s pioneer journey into futuristic fantasy.
Being together, we harm nobody; being apart, we extinguish ourselves. – Tabitha Suzuma
Leonard Krause is in the process of moving away from the past. Forward, after all, is the only direction he can move when the single reason he’d even think to cling to what once was has abandoned him. There’s no point really in trying to hang on to the years that were, or try to hang on to all the memories, when all they can possibly do, especially the good ones, is end in pain.
Lenny’s in the process of moving from the village of Waldau to the city of Berlin, but there are a few things he must factor into the equation before he can complete the transition from past to future, the most important being that he must make the move as uneventful for his oma as he possibly can, which means he must manufacture as much of the present for her as he’s able to within the walls of their new home. The move will also bring him closer to his best friend Ben and his sister Carolyn, not to mention it will keep him away from his cousin Julien, the cause of poor Lenny’s broken heart.
Lenny For Your Thoughts is the story of four childhood friends, told in chapters alternating between the present and the past and allowing the reader to live through all the events and secrets and dreams that led Lenny and Julien directly up to the point that Julien betrayed Lenny and broke his heart.
If I thought I was going to have a difficult time accepting a romantic relationship between these two men related by blood—which, if I’m being honest, I thought I might—Anyta Sunday quickly put my fears to rest by creating characters whose journeys forged bonds that went far beyond family and friendship and delved into a sole-baring kinship. (And yes, it’s spelled correctly. You’ll get that charming little detail of the story when you read the book. )
This is the story of the taboo relationship between two cousins who spent years falling in love with each other and moments falling apart, thanks in large part to Julien’s mother but made just as difficult by the fear of rejection from everyone they love. But, in the end, when all thoughts and feelings were accounted for, when things were done and said that couldn’t be undone or unsaid, it was Julien’s denial of Lenny that caused the greatest harm.
I adored this book and the attention the author gave to each moment that led to the culmination of Lenny and Julien’s love story. Oma was such a surprising treat, and Ben and Carolyn both got their own happy endings too, which was a nice compliment to the conflict in Lenny and Julien’s relationship. Before I knew it, I’d become nearly as invested in the supporting role players as I was in the story’s MCs.
Lenny For Your Thoughts is, at its heart, a story of rejection and redemption, a story of revelation and second chances, and ultimately, it is a story of the unstoppable force that is love, which is a concept I’ll gladly buy into, especially when it’s told by and for characters I’ve grown to love.
How did it happen that their lips came together? A kiss, and all was said. – Victor Hugo
Chris is a senior in high school, dressing for the prom and prepping to take that next big step away from childhood and into a new chapter of his life. Dear Diary is his story, a personal confession of the way he’d got to where he is—a boy who’s only recently been able to say out loud that he’s gay because he’s only just recently made the discovery; a boy who’s going to the prom with his ex-girlfriend; a boy who’s in love with Josh, the guy he met at his summer internship at a law firm.
Chris begins recording an audio diary of the events that led to him meeting Josh, and then the epiphany that Sarah was not the person he was meant be with because Josh made Chris feel feels he never thought it possible to feel for anyone, let alone a another guy.
This is the story of a first kiss, not the first kiss ever, but the first kiss that ever mattered. It’s the story of the way Chris panicked and Josh apologized and when Chris came back for more, Josh panicked and Chris took another step toward revelation. And then they kissed again and it was a kiss that spoke all the truths that words could never hope to express.
It’s the story of a first fight and of being man enough to answer for the choices made when the first blushes of love cause a boy to think with his heart rather than his head. And finally, it’s a story of unconditional love and acceptance.
Allison Cassatta’s Dear Diary is an introduction to two characters I’m so anxious to spend more time getting to know. There were some clever little evasions in this first entry in the Dear Diary series that lead to a sweet and heartwarming end for Chris and Josh. Or, rather, that lead to a sweet and heartwarming beginning, which the author delivered in a hard-to-resist way.
Love and magic have a great deal in common. – Nora Roberts
So after reading and reviewing Creature Feature, I was a little intrigued about the paranormal business in the m/m romance genre. I had heard quite a bit about the “Magic” series by Dennison and when Soul Magic came across the review list, I thought it was time to delve into this genre. I started with the first book in the series, Mind Magic, and progressed to Body Magic before diving into Soul Magic.
Now I realize that many of you are scratching your heads and probably questioning my credibility since I confessed that paranormal just wasn’t my cup of tea, and are wondering for someone who doesn’t like it he sure did read three books in two weeks time. While I may not be a full convert just yet, let me just say that this series is just that good.
The series follows a mage, Simon, who from all accounts is a very beloved and rightfully so character in the series. Simon falls in love and becomes the alpha mate of Gray the alpha of a local werewolf pack. There are many supporting characters in this delectable series, but all three books find themselves centered in one way or another around Simon and Gray. Dennison takes three kinds of magic—mind, body and soul—and weaves them into her tale of her two main characters. Their struggle to find love and how the other characters find love and all of them deal and relate to the magical gifts bestowed upon them is well told and makes for a wonderful, hopeful, and incredible story.
The fact that each story can stand on it’s own is a tour de force by Dennison, but even more so is how intricate and seamless the three books work together. It is a remarkable series that if one is a fan of paranormal romance or not is well worth reading.
Soul Magic, the culmination of this series does a remarkable job of finishing the story that Dennison industriously set out to tell. The climax of how the three different magic’s work together is a scene in the book that I could not stop reading. The culmination scene for me ranks up there with the best of the best of any series including “the little sorcerer who could and shall not be named.”
I love a good romance story, but to be honest I like my romance to have substance. I like my books to have a story to tell. Yes romance for the sake of romance is a well-known pattern of storytelling in the vein of soap operas and Harlequin romances, but I like knowing that the romance and the love have a purpose. I like seeing how it interacts in people’s lives and how the world is affected by such love. When that is interposed with a truly great story, it makes for a delicious read. That is what Soul Magic and the other two books in the series accomplish. It is worth anyone’s time to give this wonderful book and series a try.
Reviewed by: Bruce
We have the rest of forever for regret… – Brandon Shire
Lem Porter is nearly two decades into the life sentence he was given for committing cold-blooded murder, but only he knows why he committed that crime and, let’s face it, at six-foot-six and nearly three-hundred pounds, there aren’t a lot of people who have the courage to challenge Lem for the answers he’s not willing to give. Not yet, at least.
Enter Anderson Passero, who couldn’t be a greater contradiction in terms of his likeness to Lem. Anderson was convicted of selling drugs in the night club he owned with his partner, Jacob, and whether Anderson was wholly complicit in the affairs that led to his arrest, or he merely was caught in the crossfire of greed and arrogance, it didn’t matter in the end. He was convicted, albeit it to a lesser crime than Jacob, and he is now at the tail end of his ten year sentence. Just eight more months to serve, then he’s finally free to begin reassembling some sort of life outside his prison walls.
When the beacon of light at the end of Anderson’s very dark and very long journey begins to grow brighter with each day that passes, the single goal in his life is to keep his head down and his nose clean, striving to bypass any hint of drama that might throw a hitch into his imminent release, and that means avoiding any entanglements or encounters that might lead him to trouble. One of the numerous negative aspects about prison, however, is that no matter how far out of the way a man may go to avoid it, trouble, when it’s determined enough, will always find a way. And it’s trouble of the potentially disastrous sort that ultimately brings Lem and Anderson together, this trouble in the form of a cold and sadistic man who takes an intense interest in a very unwilling Anderson, something that leads to a multitude of problems for Anderson and Lem both, though it will bond them irrevocably to each other, for better or for worse, through fear and lust, and through longing and regrets.
There’s an inherent tragedy to the story of two men who form an intimate bond with each other within a setting that affords so very little opportunity for true or lasting intimacy, especially when circumstances provide the ultimate conflict of desires, but Brandon Shire capitalizes on this facet of the prison drama, skillfully feasting upon and serving up to the reader all the heartache and yearning Anderson and Lem have for something more than is possible for them to hope for. Cold is a book that is sometimes frightening and sometimes heartbreaking, a complex love story that is a contrast of thoughts and feelings. It’s a book about loss–the loss of freedom, the loss of choice, the loss of trust and privacy, the loss of connection–that left me anxious and hopeful and yearning for more from these characters.
I don’t mind confessing that the end of this book left me in tears, but take heart: there is a sequel in the works, so let’s thank the Muses that Mr. Shire is brave enough to pursue some of those questions that Lem, dear dichotomous Lem, has so adamantly refused to answer just now. The fact that the author was capable of making Lem a sympathetic character is truly impressive; the fact that he was capable of making me yearn for a happy ending for Anderson and Lem is nothing less than pitch-perfect storytelling.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions about Cold, Brandon. Bruce and I are honored to have you with us today.
Q.) What inspired you to write a prison drama?
A: There were multiple elements that made me chose prison as a backdrop.
The two MC’s in the story are so completely different that it would be highly unlikely they would mix ‘in the real world.’ So there had to be an element that would place them together and really force them to look beyond the stereotypes they had built. Ironically, this becomes a self-examination about the idea of compatibility and how they view a potential partner. It’s a struggle for both of them.
The subtext in that was also designed to challenge the reader’s view of what is just and unjust, who is viewed as a ‘prisoner’ and who as a ‘human’. I think this will be challenged much more when we find out why Lem killed his brother in the next book.
Q.) Did you base Lem’s and Anderson’s crimes and/or characters on any real-world events or people?
A: Anderson was easy. Drug abuse within the LGBT community is very high, so you could pick out any number of people that you think might be on their way to prison if they don’t get themselves straightened out and there would be Anderson sitting in front of you. For Lem, who was a convicted murderer, I had a consultant who spent over 20 years in prison for the same charge. A lot of what we spoke about is reflected within his character.
Q.) Was one character more difficult to write than the other? If so, was that Lem or Anderson, and why?
A: I would have to say Lem, because he is such a big, quiet, gentle man that it was hard to draw him out of his shell enough to speak to me (and thus to Anderson.) But while persuading him to give us that information, it was impossible not to see his dark side too, which is, honestly, scary.
Q.) Were there any built-in difficulties in writing a book set within the limited confines of prison walls?
A: (Laughs) Yes, the sex. From what my consultant told me the shower is the main area for sexual activity because it is one of the only places where you are allowed some privacy. You can only do so many shower scenes in a book.
Q.) How long did it take you to write the book?
A: From first word to publication, about six months. That is the usual with all my writing. The longest I ever spent on a book was ten years (because the subject matter was so hard.)
Q.) In spite of Lem’s crimes, I found him to be such a sympathetic character. Did you ever find yourself wondering, as you were writing the book, if you were succeeding in achieving, or maybe I should say tipping, that balance in the right direction?
A: I spent many, many hours talking to my consultant, and we have become close friends. I think in our current society we are too quick on judgment. The crap you see on television doesn’t encompass the real people behind the hyped up media stories. That’s not to say that people don’t deserve punishment for crimes, but that they should still be viewed as people first.
Q.) Do you have any works-in-progress you’d like to share a little bit about with readers?
A: I’ll be working on a follow-up novel for COLD, though I have no idea what the title will be at this point. When I first started writing, the intent was for a single novel, but the muse had different ideas. I also have several sci-fi novels in the works. The novels are complete but fans have asked that I convert the characters to reflect a broader spectrum of the LGBTQ rainbow. And there is more romance coming too.
Q.) Where can readers find you on the internet?
A: Just about anywhere except Facebook. My website is brandonshire.com and there are links to all my social media outlets. Fans have also created a group on Goodreads and anyone is welcome to join. I stop in often.
Here’s what Bruce and I have on tap for the week ahead!
Monday – Brandon Shire will be our guest, answering a few questions about his new book Cold, a book that definitely left me wanting more!
Tuesday – Bruce reviews Poppy Dennison’s Soul Magic, book 3 in the Triad series
Wednesday – Allison Cassatta’s Dear Diary will be the featured review of the day
Thursday – Brings a little Lenny For Your Thoughts by Anyta Sunday
Friday – Dorian’s World, Allen Mack’s foray into futuristic Alt U, is on tap
Saturday – Storm Moon Press will be our guest with a post for the upcoming Dracones anthology
Happy reading and have a fantastic week!
If you reveal your secrets to the wind you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees. – Kahlil Gibran
There’s a single line in Eric Arvin’s The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men that, if I were being lazy, I’d use to sum up exactly what this book is and leave it at that: “It felt like a dream, an illusion ended before the mind could piece it all together.”
There. Now you know everything you need to know about this grand and glorious novel. Wait. You know two things now because, yes, it was like an illusive waking dream, but it was indeed also grand and glorious. It was epic in only the way parables and mythology and fairy tales of the battle between good and evil can be, and it’s a book that fed all my nerd-girl reading fantasies.
The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men is a walk through the valley of the shadow of death, where animals speak and the forest is enchanted, where magic and faithcraft contest the encroachment of the Outside World, and where superstition and science wrestle with zealotry and spirituality. It is a valley where a chapel resides on poisoned ground, as those who are called there are swallowed into the very bowels of its corruption. It is a place where a famine of birds has allowed a plague of bugs, a place where the Angel of Death lurks in the treetops and keeps an ever watchful eye upon the few remaining souls there. It is a place where God and Gaia have yet to find a way to peacefully coexist.
The river valley is the place where sacrifice and grief walk hand in hand with fate and destiny—the fate of what is meant to happen, the destiny of where that event must lead—where the renunciation of love is at worst a death sentence and at best a decent into madness. It is a place where the trinity—the three that replace one as the symbol of power—will stand together and emerge victorious so that they may have hope for the generations to come.
The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men is a story of hope and faith and of courage, in which courage doesn’t mean an absence of fear but is the sort of bravery a man sometimes finds when he feels he has nothing left to lose.
It’s a book that feeds the imagination and is a feast for every reader who loves the sort of prose that flows poetically through a world that is just on the other side of extraordinary. It is symbolic and supernatural and is the sort of book that makes me want to celebrate my love of reading. It’s one of the more unique books I’ve read in a very long time and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.
The moment my co-author and I decided to submit a manuscript for Storm Moon Press’s Queer Fear anthology, we knew it would touch upon the topic of conversion therapy. “Matthew Powers Lives!” may be a ghost story, but at its core is the fear of being denied the right to express the fundamental part of one’s personality that is sexuality.
Western societies have a shameful tradition of condemning atypical sexual behavior. Throughout the Middle Ages, all the way ’til the French Revolution, homosexuality was universally considered a sin and a criminal act, which in some countries was punishable by death. The first person referring to it as an illness was Auguste Ambroise Tardieu, who claimed exclusively homosexual men suffered from a form of insanity. This view was then popularized by German activists such as Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, who contributed to an explosion of scientific and pseudo-scientific theories of what caused homosexuality. The views on the topic polarized and ranged from acceptance of homosexuality as a variation of human behavior, to viewing it as a defect virtually impossible to cure, to continuous attempts to produce an effective form of therapy.
Regardless of the numerous negative outcomes of the medicalization of homosexuality we still see today, this new viewpoint left room for compassion. The 1919 German silent movie “Different from the others” told the story of a homosexual man whose life is being ruined by blackmail. The film was co-written by sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld and included educational scenes where the doctor himself explains homosexuality, dismissing the need to condemn or “cure” it. The movie ended with a meaningful sequence of a hand crossing out the paragraph that criminalized homosexual behavior from an open law book, but the plot also included a committed gay relationship, coming out, and parental reactions to their son’s sexuality. Pretty modern, if you ask me.
Unfortunately, the majority of professionals saw these matters in a completely different light. This period is most known for psychoanalytic interpretations of homosexuality, but many physicians believed that it might be caused by hormonal imbalance, or other physical defects. Those theories produced bizarre treatments such as rectal massage, or bladder washing, but some physicians went as far as castrating their patients or transplanting the testicles of heterosexual men into the homosexual men. Both castration and testosterone therapy are still being used as elements of conversion therapy, though in the less invasive form of pills.
Despite the popularity of Alfred Kinsey‘s publications and cross-cultural research that made it clear homosexuality is relatively widespread and natural, in 1952, the American Psychiatric Association included it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, contributing to the development of various forms of conversion therapy. At this time, behaviorism was all the rage, and within this movement, homosexuality was seen as an undesirable behavior that could be reconditioned, most often by aversive means.
It is reflected in the story we have written for the Queer Fear anthology. Trapped between reality and the spirit world, Matt relives the experiences of a deceased patient, going through some of the treatments he had to endure against his will. The therapy was aimed to make an association between undesirable arousal and pain, so electric shocks or nausea-inducing drugs would be used during screenings of homoerotic pictures. Later, mental health professionals also started using masturbatory reconditioning, which is exactly what it sounds like: the patient would masturbate while watching heterosexual content. Other behavioral methods of reconditioning homosexuality included visualizations and social skills training (because, apparently, gay people developed them in a wrong way). As effective as the use of behavioral principles can be in certain situations, it is a stretch to try to meddle with one of the basic human drives. Trying to interfere with someone’s sexuality isn’t much different from attempting to condition them to take dietary advice from Bear Grylls. Wouldn’t kill you, but… why would you do that to yourself?
Taunting is another thing our main character has to endure. Most of the time, it is the byproduct of power, but that isn’t always the case. An extreme example of therapy gone off the rails was the collection of methods of Edmund Bergler, who used punishments, bullying, and broke patient confidentiality. Unfortunately, humiliation and guilting are very often used by modern “homosexuality therapists”, particularly those whose views are based in religion. Patients have been reported to be forced to clean toilets with toothbrushes, bathe in icy water, or even be exorcised.
Some forms of therapy claim to be more humane. The basic idea behind reparative therapy (a program developed by Elisabeth Moberly and Joseph Nicolosi) is the need to condition a person to perform the “correct” gender role. For a male, this involves playing sports, while avoiding “effeminate” activities, such as attending the opera, and favoring male company over female (unless it’s for dating). Patients are expected to attend church and group therapy and subsequently become (hetero)sexually active and start a family. This kind of therapy was pointedly mocked in the 1999 movie “But I’m a Cheerleader”. Megan is sent into a gay rehab facility that looks as fake as its methods are ineffective. The patients wear gender-coded uniforms (blue for men, pink for women) and participate in activities associated with gender stereotypes. The whole process is finalized with a simulated sexual act performed in Adam/Eve tricots, complete with fig leaves (and an extra flower for the girls).
The main character of “Matthew Powers Lives!” is proud of his sexuality, but confronted with the hate and fear still lingering in the walls of the abandoned asylum, he experiences them in a very visceral way, up to the point where he can’t differentiate them from his own feelings. It isn’t just about mental and physical torture, there is something very personal being ripped away from him. For me, the motif of moral values determining what constitutes goodness and personal happiness is a major fear factor, because this kind of approach ends up with training or guilt-tripping people into repressing their instincts. And there isn’t anything good or natural about that.
K.A. Merikan is a joint project of Kat and Agnes Merikan, who jokingly claim to share one mind. They finish each other’s sentences and simultaneously come up with the same ideas. Their latest short story, “Matthew Powers Lives!”, can be found in Storm Moon Press’ Queer Fear anthology. Follow them on Twitter @KA_Merikan and @AgnesMerikan.
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