Tag Archives: Bold Strokes Books

A Quiet Death – Cari Hunter (Bold Strokes Books)

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You may well ask what I’ve been reading since the blog’s been on hiatus, and I can tell you it’s been mostly non-fiction. I have read little LGBT fiction other than what I’ve edited. Thus, I’ve fallen behind on some of my favorite authors–including Cari Hunter, whose Desolation Point and Tumbledown I thoroughly enjoyed. So, when I saw her latest release, A Quiet Death, coincided with the reopening of the blog, I was (as they say) “chuffed” and immediately put it on my TBR pile. And it should be on yours as well.

Lifelong pals Detective Sanne Jensen and Dr. Meg Fielding, are now officially dating, but that’s the least of their worries. Meg is mystified by what appears to be a case of domestic abuse while Sanne is investigating the death of a Pakistani girl on the moors. As the two mysteries move inexorably toward each other, Sanne also deals with the hospitalization of her father and uncovers a slave trade ring in the Pakistani community.

Post-CSI and its various anacronym-ridden spinoffs, police procedurals can  be a bit of a slog–almost as routine as their real-life counterparts–but Hunter is savvy enough to use that as a springboard on which she can launch some wonderful characters. Sanne is spunky but vulnerable, and Meg is professional yet not. Together, their banter is witty and believable. Sanne’s relationship with her work partner, Nelson, is also interesting to watch play out.

But all this is beside the point. Hunter moves these people through the plot with a confident joy that really comes through on the page. She revels in the details, works in the peaks and valleys, and maintains the balance between explanation and action like a true pro. And those action scenes are incomparable. They move so well, so effortlessly that it’s past your bedtime before you know it, and you’ll still want another chapter. She also has a way with a twist, keeping you off balance until she reveals the true connection between Sanne and the case at hand.

But this cracking good mystery also has a thorough respect for the various ethnic subcultures it explores. I learned things, which is never bad for a reader. Moreover, it has a distinctly British flavour, not pandering to American tastes. Personally, I love British slang, and the more the better for me. Of course, I watch Scottish dramas without the subtitle function. Still, any reader worth his salt can comprehend the context clues.

Of the three of Hunter’s books I’ve read and reviewed for this blog, this has got to be my favorite. Interesting plot, great characters, muscular prose–I’m more than chuffed. I’m potty about it.

And that’s no bollocks.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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Tumbledown – Cari Hunter (Bold Strokes Books)

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You never know what you’re going to get with sequels. The best ones continue the story, deepen the characters, and allow you to come away with a sense of growth. The worst ones reek of imitation and make you forget why you liked the first one so much. And then there are a whole range of in-betweenies that start off great but lose steam quickly, as if the author forgot what the point was. Not so with Cari Hunter’s excellent Tumbledown, which takes the main characters from Desolation Point and puts them back in danger.

Alex Pascal and Sarah Kent have healed, physically at least, from their last encounter with the Church of Aryan Resistance, during which Sarah killed the organization’s founder. That leaves his son–as dangerous as he is angry–hungry for revenge. Alex and Sarah have relocated to a small town in Maine, living their lives as best they can with one eye over their shoulders. A newspaper article about a birth Sarah assisted with, however, draws the attention of their pursuers, and the game is on again. The game turns out deadly for one of Sarah’s co-workers, who is killed as a warning. Things go even worse when Sarah is arrested for the crime, putting the burden on Alex to find the killer before he finds them.

Even though this is a continuation of the Desolation Point plot, this is an entirely different sort of thriller with elements of a police procedural. The first was grittier and had more of an Us v. Them feel due to the fact that it was just two women being hunted in the forest. In this installment, ancillary characters are brought in, but Hunter is able to maintain the reference points of isolation, deprivation, and danger in ways that depart from the first one. Sarah’s incarceration is told with an incredible eye for detail matched only by Alex’s efforts to get her released so they can track down the culprit. And Hunter’s heroines are very well-drawn here, richer and deeper than the last time around because of the experiences we’ve shared with them.

But the characters and the elements wouldn’t mean a thing without the tension of Hunter’s action scenes, which are flawless. Other thriller authors (yes, I’m looking at you Patterson and Grisham) could take lessons from Hunter when it comes to writing these babies. Twists and turns and forgotten or unconventional weaponry along with pluck and spirit keep me breathless and reading way past my bedtime. I can almost imagine Hunter as sweating and out of breath as her heroines once she writes her way out of the set-ups she conjures.

But can she do it again? Will there be a third installment featuring these characters? My gut says she should stop now and not go to this particular well too often. Still, a third book would be welcome if it didn’t stretch the reader’s credulity. While not exactly left open-ended, there are directions she could go that make perfect sense. And Hunter’s not afraid to change it up. Let’s wait and see. In the meantime, enjoy this fine thrill ride. But don’t start it at bedtime.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

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The Shoal of Time – J.M. Redmann (Bold Strokes Books)

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I love authors who surprise me, especially when I’m expecting one kind of book and am delivered quite another. Not that the award-winning J.M. Redmann has written a bad Micky Knight mystery. Somehow, I think that outcome would be quite impossible. It’s just that this one didn’t take one of the subplots the way I thought it would. And I enjoyed it all the more for the surprise.

Micky Knight, fearless New Orleans private investigtator, gets involved with an FBI agent (or is she?) and her case involving human trafficking (or is it?), all of which is complicated by her relationship with another government official also working the case (or is she?). To add to the layers, she finds herself involved with Madame Celeste, the owner of a high-class prostitution outfit. Who is the real agent and who is the phony? The answer may surprise you.

In fact, many surprises await the long time reader of Micky Knight mysteries. Perhaps the most painful, or so the Amazon reviews might lead you to believe, is the fate of Knight’s partner Cordelia. As fans of the series will remember, Cordelia was diagnosed with cancer during the last installment. I don’t want to introduce a spoiler here, so I have to remain purposely vague. This issue , however, is central to any critique of the book and series, and you can easily find any number of fans writing reviews at Amazon who were upset by the choices Redmann made about Cordelia. But data will be lost with any reboot. Readers will be angry because the author did not take the paths they envisioned. And I must admit, I was rather shocked at what happened. But the outcome frees Redmann to take the entire series in other directions which may prove more exciting. Authors don’t grow without taking chances, and I don’t blame Redmann for not wanting to write the same book over and over. In that respect, The Shoal of Time is a transitional move.

That said, Knight is left adrift in ways she hasn’t been in a long time and must rely on some skills she hasn’t used in a while. Which brings me to the second major Amazonian criticism–that of Knight’s so-called lapses in judgment that put her in some awkward positions. The “Cordelia Outcome” has left Knight confused, vulnerable, and off her game so, of course, is going to make mistakes she ordinarily wouldn’t. What I find particularly brilliant about this is that the mistakes Redmann has Knight making are so amateurish, so obvious, that we know even without being told they’re related to the tattered state of her relationship.

For a character who never makes an appearance in the entire installment (oh, shit–there’s a spoiler), Cordelia’s fingerprints are all over this book from the aforementioned mistakes to Knight’s infatuations, willing and unwilling, with all three major female characters–the two agents and Madame Celeste. Her presence looms like a shadow over the narrative. The human trafficking mystery as well as the mystery over which government agent is real and which is bogus are obvious enough to be secondary, though interesting.

The real story here is the trashing of Micky Knight’s world and how she attempts to cope with the wreckage crashing around her. As far as that goes, this is fascinating reading that will upset fans yet provide a clean slate for Redmann to build something new and entirely different. As the saying goes, “Go big or go home.” Thankfully, Redmann has gone big.

And I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.

©  2014  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Out In Print’s Best 13 Reads of 2013

I came across some absolutely amazing books in 2013; volumes that uplifted me as a reader as well as encouraging me to grow as a writer if for no other reason than to produce work as funny or bittersweet or beautiful or just plain damn good as the books listed below. Well done, everyone. This list is in no particular order, but they are all excellent. If you haven’t purchased them yet, you really need to. So without further adieu, here are Out in Print’s Best Reads of 2013:

Bitter-Orange-Cover-Shadow-V6Bitter Orange – Marshall Moore (Signal 8 Press) Buy from Amazon

Moore’s story of an individual rendered literally invisible is both stunning and satisfying, being at once a cautionary tale as well as a comment on our technological civilization (if those two words aren’t contradictory). But Bitter Orange is also possessed of a paralyzing wit that seeps through the dialogue and drips onto the prose itself. Moore is at his funniest when he’s making a point, and these points are so sharp, they hurt. In a good way.

Unknown_13A Romantic Mann – Jeff Mann (Lethe Press) Buy from Lethe Press

Mann’s fiction and essays are well-represented in many Best Of lists, but I found this volume of poetry to be as deep and poignant as any of his prose. Perhaps more so. Be it his romanticism, his BDSM predilections, his love of food, or his love of men, all are on display here in a celebration of language, lust, and lore. Even if you don’t normally enjoy poetry, you might find this a winning entry point. I urge you not to pass this by, for without it, you do not have a complete understanding of this multi-faceted author.

358171Light – ‘Nathan Burgoine (Bold Strokes Books)  Buy from BSB

I loved this remarkable debut novel, from its romantic underpinnings to its superhero flair to its slightly politicized action scenes. It has winning characters, a juicy plot, a neat twist, and a real love of language and storytelling at its core. And a dog. Can’t forget the dog. I have been proud to be associated with Burgoine at nearly the inception of his career, and it continues to be my pleasure to cheer him on.

350351Fortune’s Bastard (or Love’s Pains Recounted) – Gil Cole (Chelsea Station Editions)  Buy from TLA Gay

This marvelous Shakespearian mashup (of “Twelfth Night” and “Merchant of Venice” among others) is a delight in more ways than one. It inhabits the Shakespeare idiom perfectly in terms of language as well as character and plot. It’s so damn assured that I was in awe of how totally it achieves what it sets out to do. More than a pastiche, it’s perfection.

cache_280_427_3__80_ArtonFireArt on Fire – Hilary Sloin  (Bywater Books)  Buy from Bywater Books

This fictional biography of painter Francesca deSilva is memorable not only for the story it tells, but for the essays on deSilva’s work sandwiched between chapters of her story. Those essays are as brilliantly satirical of art criticism as deSilva’s story is involving and engaging. Her art informs her life as much as her life informs her art. But even if you’re not an art critic, this wonderful book is a portrait of a fascinating life. And an untimely death.

imgresThe Dirty Trilogy – Ashley Bartlett (Bold Strokes Books)  Buy from BSB

I don’t think this is a cheat since two of the three books came out in 2013 – Dirty Sex, Dirty Money, and Dirty Power are really all of a piece. Bartlett’s POV character, Vivian Cooper (Coop, please) is a marvel–a romantic, streetwise, smart-assed heroine who will leave you laughing tears. The plot is long and convoluted, involving love, the Mob, a fortune in gold, besties, fake parents, and real heartbreak. Start with the first one and hang on, baby.

41XZwbtIirL._SY346_Conjure: A Book of Spells – Peter Dube  (Rebel Satori Press)  Buy from RSP

A grimoire, no less. Elegant, understated prose poems promising “To Strike Obstacles from Your Path and Unlock Doors” or “To Undo an Error Past” but are mystically metaphoric. In terms of difficulty, this is the most challenging book I’ve read all year. Once its secrets were unlocked, however, I found it fascinating, enthralling reading — all the more interesting for the amount of work I put in. It’s not for everyone, but those who get it will be truly affected.

17949975Thoreau in Love – John Schuyler Bishop (CreateSpace)  Buy from Amazon

An entirely successful vision of what some missing pages of Henry Thoreau’s journal might have revealed, this marvelous piece of historical fiction is told with verve and enthusiasm. It takes chances with character, liberties with history, and its readers for a lusty, dizzying ride. Bishop’s research is impeccable but barely shows, Thoreau at last coming through as a person instead of a historical figure. It captures the heart as well as the head. 

cache_280_427_3__80_giraffepeoplelargewebGiraffe People – Jill Malone (Bywater Books)  Buy from Bywater Books

Much more than a young adult novel, Jill Malone’s Giraffe People is a wonderfully voiced and nuanced look at fifteen years old. The perspective is as adult yet as childish as you remember your own life at that time. If you have forgotten what fifteen was like, you need to read this. If you remember, you’ll be as involved in Cole Peters’ life as she is. And Malone maintains this voice with remarkable consistency, never putting a foot wrong.

Where Thy Dark Eye GlancesWhere Thy Dark Eye Glances – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)  Buy from Lethe Press

If any author’s work needed queering, it would be Edgar Allan Poe, and Steve Berman has collected a wonderful batch of take-offs, pastiches, and imitators–except none of those categories approaches the sheer originality of the stories, essays, and poems here. And the book looks as good as it reads. Lovingly produced and sumptuously written, Where Thy Dark Eye Glances is a class act that deserves your attention.

5100A Horse Named Sorrow – Trebor Healey (University of Wisconsin Press)  Buy from Amazon

Trebor Healey breaks his long silence and absence from fiction with a beautiful, elegiac road trip as Seamus Blake carries his boyfriend’s ashes back to Buffalo as he’d promised him he would. But as road trips go, he finds the journey to be more important than its end. Lyrical and sad, Healey’s prose uplifts rather than depresses. If you have ever had grief in your life, this will speak to you.

Who_the_Hell_is_Rachel_Wells_lgWho the Hell is Rachel Wells? – J.R. Greenwell (Chelsea Station Editions)  Buy from Giovanni’s Room

Eleven short stories collecting the best and worst of Southern manners and mannerisms, this collection is by turns heartbreaking and hilarious, sometimes in the same paragraph. Caricature? Well, yes. But there are characters here as well. Both subtly shaded and as outrageous as the best/worst drag ever, this batch of stories never relents in its celebration of Southern culture. Which is no contradiction in terms.

dickinstein-frontcoveronlyDickinstein: Emily Dickinson, Mad Scientist – Shannon Yarbrough (Rocking Horse Publishing)  Buy from Rocking Horse Publishing

An inspired mashup of Frankenstein and Emily Dickinson, the execution is as accomplished as the concept. By combining these two apparently disparate elements, Yarbrough illuminates both halves of the equation. Emily Dickinson wasn’t a mad scientist, of course, but Dickinstein certainly gives us the freedom to reimagine her.

And there you have them–a baker’s dozen of the most wonderful treats 2103 had to offer. Now, we begin expanding our critical waistline for 2014. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it….

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

Please note: The books included may not have necessarily been published in 2013, but read and reviewed here at Out in Print in 2013.

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Cutie Pie Must Die – R.W. Clinger (Bold Strokes Books)

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Sometimes the best part of a mystery is not necessarily the mystery. I don’t know whether this is a fault or not. I suppose in a larger sense it is, especially for those readers who look for clues and revelations and love to match wits with fictional detectives. However, I’d make a lousy detective myself. I often get so carried away by the characters that I forget about the clues or don’t pay close attention to them. I’m quite happy letting the story unfold without trying to guess it. And with a book as funny and smart-assed as Cutie Pie Must Die, I was very satisfied to let the author take me where he wanted me to go.

Hair salon accountant and part-time detective Troy Murdock has scored the man of his dreams–All-American quarterback (for the Violators) Ben Pieney. Taking him home to his apartment over the salon, some wild, hunkalicious sex ensues. They part and Murdock drifts off to sleep. He’s awakened the next morning by the high-pitched screams of the salon’s co-owner, Umberto Clemente, who has found Ben at the bottom of Troy’s steps with his throat cut. Detective Zane Ward is assigned to the case, but he has history with Troy, nearly killing him by accident the three times they dated. Nevertheless, Ward blackmails number one suspect Murdock not only into helping him with the case but into bed as well. Then a couple more bodies turn up, including the quarterback’s brother. A serial killer? Only Murdock and Ward can find out for sure.

Even Clinger’s minor characters pop with inventiveness. Umberto Clemente is the strangely hilarious camp reference point, but on a less stereotypical side is Murdock’s ex, Ivan Reed. Reed is still closeted, claiming bisexuality even though he doesn’t really sleep with his erstwhile girlfriend, Luanne, because she’s too busy working at Hooters and harassing Murdock. Reed is as earnest in his affection for Murdock as Luanne is batshit crazy. And Murdock’s prissy, judgmental, racist mother is also a hoot.

At its core, though, is the “c’mere, c’mere–get away, get away” relationship between Murdock and Ward. Ward really wants another shot at Murdock (interpret that however you like), and Murdock is just as determined not to have his life in jeopardy a fourth time. He doesn’t want Ward in his life. Or does he? This sexual tension is the thread that winds through both the plot and mystery. Although some readers might find the constant wavering from yes to no and back again a bit off-putting, Clinger’s sense of the absurd as well as his laugh-out-loud funny dialogue makes it all work.

In fact, I tried to find an exchange or two that exemplify this, but Clinger has interspersed the plot and the humor so solidly that I was unable to break off a chunk that adequately captured the flavor of the book. And it definitely has one–a bitter fluff or an acidic smirk. I don’t think this is a book that will appeal to all mystery readers, but if you like your murders with a tongue firmly planted in one cheek, this is definitely for you.

Which means, of course, I loved it.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Mind Fields – Dylan Madrid (Bold Strokes Books)

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Love can cure just about anything that’s wrong with your life, which is a lesson the most jaded among us should remember from time to time. That’s what keeps the whole genre of romance novels afloat. Sometimes those books are believable and sometimes not, but when the buy-in is there, the piece can pack a dangerous punch. And Dylan Madrid slugs it out with the best of them in Mind Fields.

Broke college student Adam Parsh is just beginning to realize what his best friend Victor Maldonado, who has been crushing on him for some time, means to him when he’s offered a tutoring position in the home of the ultra-rich, mega-sexy creep Dario Vassalo, a married Greek tycoon. But Parsh is not the first boytoy tutor he’s hired for his daughter Anastasia. Will Adam forsake paying the rent and follow his heart instead? Or will the temptation into riches become too great?

The answer isn’t as easy as you might think. Madrid is a savvy writer who throws a number of stumbling blocks in the way as Parsh makes his decision. Vassalo’s money has also enabled Parsh’s mother to get a promotion at the financial institution she works at because he throws a substantial financing project their way. Parsh’s maddeningly tentative relationship with Victor is another obstacle, as is his fondness for his charge Anastasia. In fact, all of the characters from Parsh’s mother right down to Vassalo’s wife, Evangelina, are so well-written and compelling they lift the somewhat standard plot high and force us to re-examine it in a new light. Victor’s vulnerability, in particular, is heartbreaking. Even Myrtle, the salty cabdriver who runs Parsh back and forth from his apartment to the mansion, gets a turn in the spotlight.

Parsh, however, is the star of the show and gets to expose all facets of his personality: his brash outer confidence as well as his soft, malleable center. He is, however, less flexible than anyone else here, serving to anchor the plot and be the shore the other characters crash against. Everyone else has a quirk. Parsh does not, and for this reason, he seems less interesting than the others on the surface. His shrewd observations, however, drive the plot and illuminate the personalities surrounding him. Vassalo is an able, perhaps even affable, villain. However, he turns effectively dark and threatening when menace is needed. The only ball which seems to have gotten dropped is Parsh’s roommate Stacey, a budding alcoholic who early on seemed to be adding to Parsh’s daily drama in a very real way but disappears almost entirely in the last third of the book.

But Mind Fields, thanks to Dylan Madrid’s skill, is more than the sum of its parts. He combines these discrete pieces into an extremely readable and altogether believable whole as energetic as it is entertaining.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Disturbing the Peace – Dale Chase (Bold Strokes Books)

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It’s no big secret that I’m a fan of Dale Chase’s work. Whether it’s her Victorian erotica, ghost stories, or modern erotica, it’s always impeccably researched, flawlessly written, and lovingly rendered. But her Westerns are absolute delights, and you can tell it’s a period she loves to be in. Nowhere is this more in evidence than her latest e-book release for Bold Strokes, Disturbing the Peace, containing four of her very best lawman-themed cowpoke tales so dusty you’ll have to wipe the Kindle off to see the screen.

The first story, “Solace,” finds Marshal Frank Sutcher accidentally shooting and killing Ted Mickle during a gunfight in Contention, Arizona. Mickle, an innocent bystander, was the marshal’s bedmate as well as his best friend. He cannot find an antidote to his sorrow, but he can find some sexual solace with his deputy as temporary relief. One of the things I find so enjoyable about Chase’s work is that her Western characters are iconically laconic. Their emotions are not stuffed away but neither do they appear on the surface, and so it is with Sutcher’s grief.

“Up For It,” the second piece, centers on a robber who contrives to escape from jail by seducing Deputy Dean. The robber’s actions are at once bold and brilliant as he struts his stuff with the deputy, even working a rifle barrel into the act before he finally catches the law with its pants down around its ankles.

Next up is “Shotgun,” which sees maybe the most direct opening line Chase has ever written: “I am looking to become a deputy in Tombstone, and to that end I suck the marshal’s dick.” Now, there’s a man who knows what he wants and how to get it. And get it he does. After orally embarking on his career path, he further ingratiates himself by foiling a robbery. He later hooks up with one of the robbers who gets away, only doesn’t realize it until after they’re finished.

The final, and longest, story, “Disturbing the Peace,” takes Chase into some territory whose borders she usually doesn’t broach, but neither does it stray too far from the archetypical Western themes of revenge and justice. Jack Timm is marshal of Globe, Arizona and works hard to keep the peace. He also plays hard with Pat, one of the local bartenders, but he’s always on top. Never bottoms. Never will. And he’s got a mean temper and a handy fist to keep his bottoms in place. One of those boys is Drew Culver, who Timm knew when they both drove cattle before Timm became marshal. Culver had been in love with Timm, but all Timm cared for was the sex. Spurned and forgotten, Culver robs the express office in Globe, luring Timm into a trap. He gets the drop on the marshal, ties him up, and gives him some of his own heavy-handed medicine, prompting swift and sure revenge from Timm.

Chase’s Westerns are classics of male erotica. The sex is incredibly hot, but that’s not the only reason to read her. I’ve said it before and I don’t mind saying again that everything about her cowboy stories rings true. From the dialogue to the sex to the attitude, there’s a level of truthfulness and veracity not many authors hit in period pieces, no matter what period. All I can do is read in awe.

And look forward to the next one.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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