Review: Duck Duck Ghost by Rhys Ford

duck duck ghost by rhys fordFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: paranormal romance, m/m romance
Series: Hellsinger #2
Length: 240 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: September 8, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Paranormal investigator Wolf Kincaid knows what his foot tastes like.

Mostly because he stuck it firmly in his mouth when his lover, Tristan Pryce, accidentally drugged him with a batch of psychotropic baklava. Needing to patch things up between them, Wolf drags Tristan to San Luis Obispo, hoping Tristan’s medium ability can help evict a troublesome spirit haunting an old farmhouse.

With Wolf’s sister handling Hoxne Grange’s spectral visitors, Tristan finds himself in the unique position of being able to leave home for the first time in forever, but Wolf’s roughshod treatment is the least of his worries. Tristan’s ad-hoc portal for passing spirits seems to be getting fewer and fewer guests, and despite his concern he’s broken his home, Tristan agrees to help Wolf’s cousin, Sey, kick her poltergeist to the proverbial curb.

San Luis Obispo brings its own bushel of troubles. Tristan’s ghost whispering skill is challenged not only by a terrorizing haunting but also by Wolf’s skeptical older cousin, Cin. Bookended by a pair of aggressive Kincaids, Tristan soon finds himself in a spectral battle that threatens not only his sanity but also his relationship with Wolf, the first man he’s ever loved.

My Review:

I’ll confess, I was originally going to post the review of this earlier in the month, but when the doll heads tried to smother one of the heroes, my creep-o-meter screamed “HALLOWEEN” and here we are.

Fish and Ghosts by Rhys FordDuck Duck Ghost is Rhys Ford’s awesome (and creepy) follow up to last year’s marvelous Fish and Ghosts (reviewed at The Book Pushers). The Hellsinger series is all about the ghosts.

Wolf Kincaid is the disowned son of the Hellsinger clan. His family, going back for generations, has cast charms and investigated hauntings and exorcised ghosts. They believe in pretty much everything supernatural, even if they also occasionally use other people’s beliefs to con them out of some hard earned cash.

Wolf isn’t sure that there is such a thing as ghosts. He does believe that there is more than we see, but he is also all too aware of some of his family’s shadier exploitations of the supernaturally gullible.

So Wolf went to college, and got himself a doctorate in paranormal studies. Now he’s looking for scientific proof that ghosts exists. Even if he occasionally finds an alligator instead. (Really)

His first proof of the existence of ghosts was the vengeful Winifred at Hoxne Grange. While he needed some help to get the nasty witchy ghost out of the house, he fell hard and fast for the Grange’s resident medium, Tristan Pryce. Tris doesn’t just see ghosts, he draws them to him everywhere he goes, which means Tris hasn’t exactly lived a normal life.

It’s not that Tris never came out, it’s that he never had anyone to come out to, or with. All the other residents of the Grange are benevolent ghosts, at least until Wolf and his team came to document the phenomenon.

So we have two men who are neither of them very good at relationships. Tris has little experience with flesh and blood humans of any kind, and Wolf has way too much practice at being an ass. The happy for now at the end of Fish and Ghosts has fallen apart by the beginning of Duck Duck Ghost because Wolf is scared of loving anyone, and Tris has too many buttons that are too easily pushed. Especially the ones involving trust, so of course Wolf punched all of those.

But Wolf is on a mission to help the few members of his family still speaking to him at the beginning of Duck Duck Ghost. He needs Tris to help him find out whether there really are ghosts haunting his cousin’s farmhouse, but mostly, he just needs Tris. He’s using the trip to San Luis Obispo as a way of apologizing (profusely) and getting Tris to trust him.

The ghosts just want a way to communicate, and Tris gives them that. Unfortunately, all that one of the ghosts wants to communicate is that the murdering rampage she enacted as a child is still the only thing on what’s left of her mind. She wants more victims, and Tris is first in line.

The attack of the killer doll heads is one of her first salvos, and things just get creepier from there. Wolf has to call out all the stops, including begging his bad-ass ghost hunter cousin Cin to come and help them lay this murderous child to rest.

The ghost story is chilly, creepy and even downright scary at points. Just as a Halloween ghost story should be.

Even scarier, it still feels like Wolf and Tris are just back at the happy for now stage in their relationship. I can see a lot more cases of “foot in mouth” disease in both their futures.


Escape Rating A-: In my review of Fish and Ghosts, I said that Wolf and Tristan fit because they fill in each other’s broken places. Their relationship is in a bad place at the beginning of Duck Duck Ghost because they both have a LOT of broken places, and little to no experience at successful relationships of any kind.

They screw up. A lot. It doesn’t help that Wolf sees Tris as fragile and in need of protection, where Tris feels he is anything but. He’s strong in different ways than Wolf, but Tris has dealt with his own ability to summon ghosts wherever he is for his entire life. He’s fought a lot, including his family and himself.

We also see Wolf with his family again, and that bunch is way cool. Also snarkily hilarious. Of course, I’m only referring to the parts of Wolf’s family that are still speaking to him; most of them don’t. Neither Wolf nor Tris has a lot of family to fall back on.

The ghost story at the heart of this book is creepy, chilling and about as much scary as I really want. It’s not just that the ghost is haunting the house, or even that she is destructive on the physical plane, but it’s her original history that stops the heart. She was an evil child when she lived, and she’s an evil ghost now that she is dead.

The scenes of the smothering doll heads and crawling doll limbs still give me the shakes. In a good way. Sort of. They’re very memorable, and very Halloween spooky.

queer romance month

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews + Giveaway

burn for me by ilona andrewsFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: urban fantasy, paranormal romance
Series: Hidden Legacy #1
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Avon
Date Released: October 28, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile case. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run or surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

My Review:

This one gave me a terribly marvelous book hangover. I finished it but I still want to be in this world, to the point where I’m having a terrible time picking up my next book.

As the introduction to this newly created magical version of the 21st century, Burn for Me is definitely a winner. I actually had to put this review away for a night to regain some perspective; otherwise it would have all devolved into fangirl squeeing, and nobody needs to see that.

Burn for Me is urban fantasy, in the way that the early Kate Daniels books are urban fantasy; we see that the main characters seriously have the hots for each other, but there are damn good reasons why one or the other is certain that acting on those hots is a no-win scenario for them, and they’re probably right as the story begins.

In this world, sometime in the early Victorian era some enterprising scientist (and there were a lot of them back then) started playing with a serum to give people what we would call superpowers. So this isn’t a magic-working type urban fantasy, this is a science-based one, for loose definitions of science.

This being loosely SF, the original recipients of the serum were military; the powers-that-were were making the usual attempt to create supersoldiers. And they seem to have succeeded, but there was a side-effect that they didn’t count on – the powers the serum granted turned out to be hereditary. As I said, loosely SF.

By the point of the early 21st century of Burn for Me, the original serum recipients’ families have had several generations of matchmaking to produce new and better powers, and those families are the powers-that-are in this universe. The major powered families are Primes, and they are both families and mega-corporations with the emphasis on the corporation part.

This story pits one little family against three Prime mega-corps, but what is fascinating is that the underdog is neither as under nor as dog as the reader thinks.

Nevada Baylor is the principal investigator of Baylor Investigations Agency, and it’s her duty to keep her family afloat. Her mother is a slightly disabled war vet, and her grandmother is a mechanical wizard (literally) but her dad is dead and her entire family, including her younger sisters and her cousins, depends on the family firm for their home and livelihood.

She gets trapped in a three-way pissing contest between the high-hat investigations firm that owns their debts, and two families fighting over the fate of their children. This looks like no-win all the way around.

MII is throwing Nevada and her family under the Pierce family bus. Adam Pierce has spent a few years honing his bad boy/rebel image by starting fires in public places and pretending to eschew the family money. He’s escalated to killing people as collateral damage while robbing banks, but no one knows why. His family wants him back in one piece.

But part of his collateral damage this time is a disowned member of House Rogan, and his mother wants him saved. She calls on her ex-military brother, Mad Rogan, to get her kid out.

Pierce uses Nevada to keep his family off his back. Rogan uses Nevada as bait for Pierce. Nevada just wants to save her family, but she may have to die to accomplish that.

Or own up to the truly awesome power hidden inside her.

Escape Rating A: Nevada is the character who shines in this story. It’s all on her, and she shoulders the burden every step of the way. Not just because we see the story from her perspective, but because we empathize with the fix she is in and her reasons for her actions.

She feels so responsible. It’s not just that she is responsible for her family, but she is carrying a bucketload of guilt about the way her dad died. Her dilemma of whether to reveal his cancer against his wishes, and how to pay for his treatments and the financial burden vs the extra time it bought is heartbreaking. She hasn’t resolved her feelings, and she can’t.

Burn for Me could have so easily gone down the romantic triangle route, but Nevada is much too smart for that. As much as her grandmother may drool over Adam Pierce’s pictures in the gossip rags, Nevada knows he’s just using her. He’s so self-centered he’s incapable of hiding his agenda. He’s playing her, but she’s also playing him.

The opening stages of Nevada’s relationship with Mad Rogan are much more complex. He’s trying to save his nephew, and she’s trying to protect her family. They start out in very unequal places of power, but Nevada’s ability to go toe-to-toe with him changes the dynamic. His family has generations of power behind them, but Nevada herself is his equal, just not in a way that anyone expects.

Some of it has to do with her contentment with who she is and what she is, some of it is that their power works better together than it does separately. Figuring that out is going to take some time, because Nevada is looking for someone to be her partner, and Rogan doesn’t have experience doing anything that isn’t ultimately selfish, even if it benefits the other party as much as it does himself.

Watching them struggle towards each other is going to be awesome.

Burn for Me Button 300 x 225


Ilona is giving away 1 print copy of BURN FOR ME along with some BURN FOR ME swag to one lucky U.S. winner.

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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Unwitting by Ellen Feldman

unwitting by ellen feldmanFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Historical fiction, literary fiction
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Date Released: May 6, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

In CIA parlance, those who knew were “witting.” Everyone else was among the “unwitting.”

On a bright November day in 1963, President Kennedy is shot. That same day, Nell Benjamin receives a phone call with news about her husband, the influential young editor of a literary magazine. As the nation mourns its public loss, Nell has her private grief to reckon with, as well as a revelation about Charlie that turns her understanding of her marriage on its head, along with the world she thought she knew.

With the Cold War looming ominously over the lives of American citizens in a battle of the Free World against the Communist powers, the blurry lines between what is true, what is good, and what is right tangle with issues of loyalty and love. As the truths Nell discovers about her beloved husband upend the narrative of her life, she must question her own allegiance: to her career as a journalist, to her country, but most of all to the people she loves.

Set in the literary Manhattan of the 1950s, at a journal much like the Paris Review, The Unwitting evokes a bygone era of burgeoning sexual awareness and intrigue and an exuberance of ideas that had the power to change the world. Resonant, illuminating, and utterly absorbing, The Unwitting is about the lies we tell, the secrets we keep, and the power of love in the face of both.

My Review:

I liked this book way more than I expected to, so don’t let the black and white cover fool you. This is one woman’s story of not just her marriage, or not even just life in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but also a hard look at the secrets and lies that make up a marriage. It’s also a story about the lies we tell ourselves, and the questions about whether the ends justify the means. Especially when those means are very, very gratifying.

The Cold War seems quaintly nostalgic from the vantage point of the mid 2010s, but in the 1950s the conflict between the democratic and capitalist West and the communist and totalitarian east was very real. It was also the source of endless spy thrillers that now seem equally quaint.

In the 1950s and early 60s, the war was called “cold” because it was mostly fought with propaganda and ideologies. When it occasionally turned hot it was fought through intermediaries like Korea and Vietnam. Because there was a very real fear that if the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. ever engaged each other directly, there would be nukes flying and not just the end of the world as we know it, but quite possibly the end of the world, period.

But except for the possibility of a nuclear strike, the resemblance between the Cold War and the Great Game of Empires that preceded World War I is quite chilling.

On a political scale, this has all happened before, and it will all undoubtedly happen again. But for our narrator, the writer Nell Benjamin, it is the story of the underpinnings of her life being pulled out from under her.

When her husband is killed on November 22, 1963, Nell starts a long slow journey to re-examine everything she thought she knew about her husband and her marriage.

No, this isn’t an infidelity story, or at least it’s not about infidelity to her marriage. What Nell discovers as she researches her husband’s life and eventual death is that Charles Benjamin was unfaithful to all of the principles that she held dear, and that he never told her.

Nell was a hard-writing member of the liberal intellectual elite. She rubbed shoulders with Mary McCarthy and Richard Wright, and believed that the government was too intrusive, too overprotective, and most of all, too authoritarian. Like many young intellectuals, she had flirted with the Communist Party in the 1930s. She marched in protests against segregation and for workers.

She thought her husband felt the same. He became the managing editor of one of the many liberal magazines that flourished in the 1950s. But Nell was “unwitting”; she had no knowledge that the magazine was a front for the CIA. In the wake of her husband’s death, she discovers that her husband, on the other hand, was all too “witting”, he knew exactly whose money he was taking and what he was supposed to publish to earn it.

Her discovery turns her marriage into a lie. So she finds herself remembering both what it was, and what she thought it was, as she tries to figure out what to tell her daughter, and the world, about the man who she thought was a hero, but may have been a villain. Or certainly was a stooge.

Escape Rating B: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” is one of the thoughts that kept running through my mind as I read The Unwitting. I don’t remember the 1950s, although I do remember the tail end of the 1960s. And certainly the post-WWII years were very much alive in people’s memories as I was growing up.

Anyone who participated in a “duck and cover” exercise in the 1950s and 1960s in school remembers how very real the Cold War was. Certainly the Vietnam War, the Cold War’s bastard child, was the defining event of my high school years.

So we have Nell, living the privileged life of an intellectual at a time when being an intellectual was not considered a dirty word. At the same time, she experiences casual sexism at a level that grates the teeth today, but was a part of every woman’s life in the 50s, 60s and even 70s. Women and men look down on her because she continues to work while pregnant, and keeps her writing career after she has her daughter. it wasn’t done, and the social pressure was enormous.

She thinks she’s lucky; her husband is not just the love of her life, but they share political and social goals and aspirations. She feels like they are working together. Her world-view crumbles when she discovers that he has been working for the CIA all along.

Her journey is to realize just how much she fooled herself into not knowing and not discovering all those years she thought they were in sync.

In a story where the personal is political, and the political is personal, I felt for Nell and her journey. I could understand both how she fooled herself, and how her feelings about her life went through a tremendous upheaval when she was forced to confront those truths.

And even though the particular historic events may not feel relevant in 2014, Nell’s journey to self-discovery and repairing of her past certainly is.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Dirty Secret by Rhys Ford

dirty secret by rhys fordFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: M/M Romance, Romantic Suspense
Series: Cole McGinnis #2
Length: 234 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: September 28, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Loving Kim Jae-Min isn’t always easy: Jae is gun-shy about being openly homosexual. Ex-cop turned private investigator Cole McGinnis doesn’t know any other way to be. Still, he understands where Jae is coming from. Traditional Korean men aren’t gay—at least not usually where people can see them.

But Cole can’t spend too much time unraveling his boyfriend’s issues. He has a job to do. When a singer named Scarlet asks him to help find Park Dae-Hoon, a gay Korean man who disappeared nearly two decades ago, Cole finds himself submerged in the tangled world of rich Korean families, where obligation and politics mean sacrificing happiness to preserve corporate empires. Soon the bodies start piling up without rhyme or reason. With every step Cole takes toward locating Park Dae-Hoon, another person meets their demise—and someone Cole loves could be next on the murderer’s list.

My Review:

One of the things I love about this series is that way that the author starts each book with a seemingly unrelated short case that has a way higher humor component than the rest of the story (not that Cole doesn’t have a fine line of snark of his very own).

But the opening bit is like the funny version of a James Bond film; the opener doesn’t seem to have a relationship to the rest of the story; in fact it’s mostly played for laughs. But later, the events come back to bite Cole in the butt–and not in a good way.

In Dirty Kiss (reviewed here), it was two little old ladies in fetish wear chasing him with a shotgun. In Dirty Secret, the story starts with a guy with his dick in a glass bottle. Of course, not either one of our heroes, they’re both too smart, too sober, and a little too grown up to do something quite that stupid.

The scene is funny as hell. Cole’s running internal (and external) commentary on the idiocy made me laugh out loud.

Cole’s voice frequently does, but he is just as often laughing at himself in chagrin. Not this time. This was just plain hilarious.

Another thing that I love about this series is that it provides an introduction into the tight-knit South Korean/American community, and in some ways shows at least how a fictional slice of that community both does and doesn’t adapt to living in the U.S. While Cole’s on-again/off-again lover Jae-Min lives his life in fear that he will be outed, Cole is a fish out of water in a world that is not his own.

But part of the heartbreak for both Cole and Jae-Min is that Cole’s very westernized sensibilities let him feel free enough to come out of the closet as a young man, it didn’t mean that his family didn’t reject him every bit as much. And that he isn’t still feeling the pain, in spite of creating a new family around himself.

Cole wants Jae-Min to take the same leap he has, and has a difficult time dealing with Jae-Min not being ready to give up his family responsibilities for love; especially since Jae-Min hasn’t got much experience of love sticking around.

A lot of people who get near Cole seem to get shot. That includes Cole himself, another one of Jae-Min’s fears. With Cole’s track record, there’s a justifiable worry that Jae-Min will throw in his lot completely with Cole, only to have Cole get himself killed.

The “dirty secret” in this story is both Jae-Min’s justifiable fear of telling his family that he is gay, and the story of a man who was presumed dead 20 years ago, and who seems to have either disappeared or been killed because he was also gay. At first, the question seems to be whether he walked away or is at the bottom of a river somewhere.

As the case progresses, the question revolves around who is willing to kill to keep the man’s secrets. Because there are suddenly a LOT of dead bodies left in the wake of this old missing person’s case.

Escape Rating B+: If Cole were a writer, he’d definitely be a pantser. He doesn’t just do everything by the seat of his pants, it often seems like he’s making stuff up on the fly as he’s pulling them on. I don’t mean this in a sexual context (not that that doesn’t happen too) but because Cole gets ideas and theories the way that the rest of us mortals do; at odd moments, apropos occasionally of nothing, and just as often wrong as right. He keeps moving towards his goal, but his plans usually go to hell in a handbasket.

And he usually doesn’t get the job done without someone (including himself) taking a bullet. He often figures out he’s on the right track by getting someone shot at, or by following the trail of bodies.

It’s been mentioned that it seems like every Korean that comes to him with a case is both gay and sleeping with his cousin. While this is unlikely in the real world, detective series often compress communities. I think it’s a bigger problem that Cole and everyone he contacts gets shot at in every case. He’s going to start losing more friends, one way or another, if this keeps up.

The situation reminds me of small-town mystery series, where the homicide rate appears higher than the population could possibly support. (Would you want to live in Midsomer County, England? The residents drop like flies.)

Because this particular story reaches into the rich end of the Korean old line families, we see the way that fortunes are preserved and family honor is protected among the rich and relatively famous. The story also offers us a lot more info about the fine line that Jae-Min and Cole’s friend Scarlet must straddle in order to have some life with her lover.

Scarlet, a transvestite, is not welcome at any family functions for her lover Hyung. In formal settings, he is alone or his wife comes from South Korea. The rest of the time, his hired bodyguards protect Scarlet’s every move. And there’s a poignancy that for all his money, this life is the best they can manage to have, if he is to keep the standing that protects them both.

The case that Cole is hired to solve is as convoluted as usual. Also as usual, he starts out thinking it will be simple, and it turns out to be anything but.

This one ends with an emotional whammy that will tear at your heart and make you dive for the next book, Dirty Laundry.

queer romance month

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality by Jo Becker

forcing the spring by jo beckerFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: Hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Politics, History
Length: 480 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Date Released: April 22, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

A tour de force of groundbreaking reportage by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jo Becker, Forcing the Spring is the definitive account of five remarkable years in American civil rights history: when the United States experienced a tectonic shift on the issue of marriage equality. Beginning with the historical legal challenge of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Becker expands the scope to encompass all aspects of this momentous struggle, offering a gripping behind-the-scenes narrative told with the lightning pace of the greatest legal thrillers.

For nearly five years, Becker was given free rein in the legal and political war rooms where the strategy of marriage equality was plotted. She takes us inside the remarkable campaign that rebranded a movement; into the Oval Office where the president and his advisors debated how to respond to a fast-changing political landscape; into the chambers of the federal judges who decided that today’s bans on same-sex marriage were no more constitutional than the previous century’s bans on interracial marriage; and into the mindsets of the Supreme Court judges who decided the California case and will likely soon decide the issue for the country at large. From the state-by state efforts to win marriage equality at the ballot box to the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down a law that banned legally married gay and lesbian couples from receiving federal benefits, Becker weaves together the political and legal forces that reshaped a nation.

Forcing the Spring begins with California’s controversial ballot initiative Proposition 8, which banned gay men and lesbians from marrying the person they loved. This electoral defeat galvanized an improbable alliance of opponents to the ban, with political operatives and Hollywood royalty enlisting attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies—the opposing counsels in the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore case—to join together in a unique bipartisan challenge to the political status quo. Despite stiff initial opposition from the gay rights establishment, the case against Proposition 8 would ultimately force the issue of marriage equality all the way to the Supreme Court, transforming same-sex marriage from a partisan issue into a modern crisis of civil rights. Based on singular access to the internal workings of this momentous trial—and enlivened by original interviews with the participants on both sides of the case, many speaking for the first time—Forcing the Spring is at once an emotion-packed tale of love and determination as well as an eye-opening examination of an evidentiary record that federal courts across the nation are now relying on to strike down bans similar to California’s.

Shuttling between the twin American power centers of Hollywood and Washington—and based on access to all the key players in the Justice Department and the White House—Becker offers insider coverage on the true story of how President Obama “evolved” to embrace marriage equality, his surprising role in the Supreme Court battle, and the unexpected way the controversial issue played in the 2012 elections.

What starts out as a tale of an epic legal battle grows into the story of the evolution of a country, a testament and old-fashioned storytelling to move public opinion. Becker shows how the country reexamined its opinions on same-sex marriage, an issue that raced along with a snowballing velocity which astounded veteran political operatives, as public opinion on same-sex marriage flipped and elected officials repositioned themselves to adjust to a dramatically changed environment. Forcing the Spring is the ringside account of this unprecedented change, the fastest shift in public opinion ever seen in modern American politics.

Clear-eyed and even-handed, Forcing the Spring is political and legal journalism at its finest, offering an unvarnished perspective on the extraordinary transformation of America and an inside look into the fight to win the rights of marriage and full citizenship for all.

My Review:

I know that this is non-fiction, but it reads like a legal thriller. Even though the reader knows how the story ends, the “you are there” style of following the action keeps the reader on the edge of their seats all the same.

In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling (or lack thereof) that legalized same-sex marriage in nine states, and U.S. District Appeals Court decisions the following day legalized the institution in five more, it seemed like a terrific time to take a look at the case that started the current trend towards marriage equality.

While Forcing the Spring is about a true-life case, it also seemed like an appropriate choice for Queer Romance Month, as it is a story about real same-sex couples searching for their happy ever after.

As I write this, the majority of U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriage, and the majority of the population of the U.S. lives in a state where it is legal.

On that infamous other hand, three of the seven states in which I have lived do not recognize same sex marriage. While this might not affect me personally, it does affect friends and loved ones.

And it is simply wrong. If the ability to procreate were a pre-requirement for marriage, my own  marriage would be equally invalid. That may not give you chills but it certainly does me.

I also realized that saying it does not affect me personally is also wrong. No one is an island. The reduction or disavowal of fundamental rights for one group, for any group, because of an inherit characteristic of the members of the group leaves open the door that the rights of any group can be so diminished.

This book goes back to the beginning of the Prop 8 case, and reminds us just how difficult it can be to expand civil rights in this country. Equality under the law is not the same thing as functional equality, but it certainly has the power to move hearts and minds.

Which is what this book is all about. The moving of hearts and minds in the members of the courts of the U.S., of the general public, and even of the gay rights supporters who thought that this case was too much, too soon and might result in a setback in their overall goal of equal rights.

Two couples and a team of lawyers decided to push the case in spite of initial opposition. Marriage is a fundamental right, and every adult deserves the possibility of marrying the person that they love. (Finding that person is just as difficult as it ever was for all of us.)

The case began in California, after the passage of Prop 8. Prop 8 was an avowedly hate-based campaign to take away the rights of same-sex couples to marry that had been won in court. While Prop 8 barely passed, 52% for vs. 48% against, it marked yet another campaign where same-sex marriage had been beaten in the polls.

But the original merits of the case that had won the right in the first place were still valid. So the case was strategized and brought to trial; whether Prop 8 and the hate it espoused were constitutional; and whether the state had any rational justification for the law.

All the legal arguments, counter-arguments, setbacks and steps forward are outlined in the book in a narrative that explains both the law and the consequences for those who fought, and for those who waited and watched.

In the years between the initial filing of the suit and the final Supreme Court case, the universe changed. Because the plaintiffs didn’t just prove that there was no rational basis for the ban, but that there was no reason for it other than hate.

The line between Loving v. Virginia (the case that declared all the bans against interracial marriage were unconstitutional) and Hollingsworth v. Perry (the California case) is made crystal clear. Windsor v. United States struck down the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) paving the way for all the cases that have reached the courts in its wake.

Back to the book. It reads like a thriller. It kept me on the edge of my seat through all 500+ pages because it relates the events as they happened, and shows their effect not just on the intimate participants, but also on the world that watched, and waited, and most of all, changed.

Reality Rating A: The story has a “you are there” feeling because the author was embedded with the legal team and the plaintiffs for the California case. She really was there, and is able to convey the sense of exhilaration, anticipation and sometimes dread as the case unfolded. She sympathized with the group working to overturn Prop 8, and her sympathy and support is conveyed through her writing.

Because of the adversarial nature of our legal system, she naturally did not have the same access to the team defending Prop 8, or even to the other groups who were on the same side as the Prop 8 team but working different cases such as Windsor. While the Prop 8 defenders case has a strong sense of immediacy, her frank interviews with the other teams shows a sense of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” – by the time they were able to talk to her, the show was already over.

To those of us non-lawyers reading this courtroom drama, all the legal terms are not just fully explained, but the author helps us to understand the effect that each of the legal strategies will have both on the law and on the people involved. The legal process may be arcane at points, but the author makes sure to define all the terminology so that the helps push the story forward, and doesn’t get in the way.

I suspect that this book will be much more entertaining for those of us who are in favor of marriage equality. One of the outcomes of this particular fight, and many of the subsequent ones that followed after this case concluded, is that the side opposing marriage equality has a difficult time mustering logical and legal arguments that are not torn down by the weight of contrary scientific evidence. When the religious rhetoric and stereotype-based prejudice is stripped away, they have no case.

We all want a happy ending. This book delivers a beautiful one, even better because it’s true.

queer romance month

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-26-14

Sunday Post

The internets, or at least the book bloggers section, exploded this week with the continuing saga of YA Author Kathleen Hale’s stalking of a book blogger who gave her most recent book a less than stellar review. Many book blogs, including this one, put a day or a week moratorium on book reviews to highlight this issue. For the latest updates, the twitter hashtag is #HaleNo. What makes this situation even more chilling than the usual “author behaving badly” scenario is that Hale has close family ties to the traditional publishing infrastructure.

blogger blackout badgeSome book bloggers have blacked out this entire weekend in support of the blogger blackout. I thought about it, but in the end didn’t. (Friday’s review was a blog tour, and I wanted to honor that commitment) But I don’t review on weekends, my weekend posts either promote my blog, as this Sunday Post does, or help me organize what I’m doing, as both the Stacking the Shelves and Sunday Posts do. (I don’t want to think about how many times I’ve discovered a previously unremembered commitment while putting together the Sunday Post.) I hope that others find these posts interesting or helpful, but I need the organizational exercise (sometimes very badly).

I ended up changing my schedule for the upcoming week again. The Censorship essay moved one of my reviews, and one of the books I was intending to review this week disappointed me enough that I dropped it in the middle. I had high hopes for it, but just wasn’t engaged. So instead I turned to something I knew would be engaging, Rhys Ford’s Cole McGinnis series. I was chuckling so much at the snark last night that I had to stop reading in case I woke my husband up.

Speaking of organizational details, this week Word Twit Pro finally croaked. It hasn’t been updated for a while, but continued to function. This week, it stopped tweeting everything. Joy. So now I’m using the native twitter functions in JetPack. They seem to have finally become as flexible as Word Twit Pro started. Internet years are obviously way speedier than dog years. Sometimes that’s a big “damn it”.

Current Giveaways:

Winner’s choice of Rogue’s Pawn, Rogue’s Possession or Rogue’s Paradise by Jeffe Kennedy (ebooks all)
$10 Amazon or B&N Gift Card in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

key by pauline baird jonesBlog Recap:

A- Review: The Key by Pauline Baird Jones
B- Review: The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah and Agatha Christie
C+ Review by Cass: Heaven’s Queen by Rachel Bach
Censorship, Stalking and the Blogger Blackout
A- Review: Rogue’s Paradise by Jeffe Kennedy
Guest Post by Author Jeffe Kennedy on Ebooks and Libraries + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (109)


forcing the spring by jo beckerComing Next Week:

Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality by Jo Becker (review)
Dirty Secret by Rhys Ford (review)
The Unwitting by Ellen Feldman (review)
Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews (blog tour review)
Duck Duck Ghost by Rhys Ford (review)

Stacking the Shelves (109)

Stacking the Shelves

I just realized that I have Christmas romances for the next three Christmases! Everything from Tule Publishing always looks so yummy when I see it on NetGalley, then I forget how many I have until Saturday. OMG

8 is really an audiobook. It’s the full-cast recording of the play by Dustin Lance Black about the court case to fight Prop 8 in California. Because I loved Forcing the Spring so much (review on Monday), I couldn’t resist hearing the fictional version.

For Review:
All I Want for Christmas is You (Coming Home #5.5) by Jessica Scott
The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin
Bad Romeo by Leisa Rayven
Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss
Christmas in Venice (Christmas Around the World #3) by Joanne Walsh
Christmas at Waratah Bay (Christmas Around the World #1) by Marion Lennox
Christmas with the Laird (Christmas Around the World #2) by Scarlet Wilson
A Cowgirl’s Christmas (Carrigans of the Circle C #5) by CJ Carmichael
A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall
Down and Dirty (Cole McGinnis #5) by Rhys Ford
Just in Time for Christmas (Southern Born Christmas #2) by Kim Boykin
The Mouth of the Crocodile (Mamur Zapt #18) by Michael Pearce
Ray Bradbury: The Last Interview and Other Conversations by Ray Bradbury and Sam Weller
Skeleton Key (Todd & Georgine #1) by Lenore Glen Offord
Tainted Blood (Hell’s Belle #2) by Karen Greco
The Trouble with Christmas (Southern Born Christmas #4) by Kaira Rouda
A Very Married Christmas (Southern Born Christmas #3) by Erika Marks
The Wanderer’s Children (Angelorum Twelve Chronicles #2) by L.G. O’Connor
Windy City Blues (Jules Landau #2) by Marc Krulewitch
A Yorkshire Christmas (Christmas Around the World #4) by Kate Hewitt

Purchased from Amazon:
Escape from Zulaire by Veronica Scott
Mission to Mahjundar by Veronica Scott
Not Quite Dating (Not Quite #1)by Catherine Bybee
Not Quite Enough (Not Quite #3) by Catherine Bybee
Not Quite Mine (Not Quite #2) by Catherine Bybee
The Right Thing by Donna McDonald
Teach Me by Donna McDonald

Borrowed from the Library:
8 by Dustin Lance Black

Guest Post by Author Jeffe Kennedy on Ebooks and Libraries + Giveaway

My featured guest for today is Jeffe Kennedy, the author of the marvelous fantasy romance series, Covenant of Thorns. The series concludes with today’s featured review book, Rogue’s Paradise, which answers so many of the questions that series fans have been waiting for.

In her guest post, Jeffe talks about one of the subjects near and dear to my heart, getting ebooks into libraries.

Rogues Paradise Button 300 x 225

I love that Reading Reality focuses on ebooks and ebook integration into libraries. This is partly because libraries and librarians have always been such a huge part of my life as a reader. As a writer, too, which is less visible to me. But more and more, librarians come up to me at events and tell me how my ebooks are in their collections and I should know how often they’re checked out and how their patrons just love, love, love them! I’m glad they tell me, because otherwise I have no way of knowing that.

I also appreciate that Marlene is dedicated to bringing ebooks into libraries, especially genre books, because I strongly feel that, without Carina and their willingness to take a chance on my digital series, A Covenant of Thorns, then these books might never have seen the light of day. That’s the terrific thing about ebook publishers—they’ve allowed books that don’t neatly fit into genre categories to have a chance.

rogues pawn goodreadsWhen I started Rogue’s Pawn,, I had no idea that I was writing a story that would “fall into the cracks between genres.” My tale of a modern woman, a professor of neuroscience who passes through a magical gate at Devils Tower and ends up in Faerie—exactly as in the tales of old—would maybe be an urban fantasy. Only with more romance. And sexier.

Okay, like many newbie writers, I had no idea what I was doing. I understood my story, but not how the marketplace worked.

Since I first started shopping that book—to praise for the writing and imagination, followed by rejection for marketability—the market has changed. Carina called it Fantasy Romance and now there’s lots more of those books out there. The Covenant of Thorns trilogy doesn’t sit squarely in Fantasy Romance, but it gets to be in the club still. More, the books have found readers and I’ve gotten to write others.

All because people embraced ebooks and the windows they open.

I couldn’t be more thrilled!

Jeffe KennedyJeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. Her works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook. Her most recent works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera, which released beginning January 2, 2014. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, hit the shelves starting in May 2014 and a fifth, the highly anticipated erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, will release starting in July.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website:, every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog, on Facebook, and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Foreword Literary.

To learn about Jeffe, visit her website or blog or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.


Because I enjoyed the Covenant of Thorns series so much, I want to give some lucky reader the chance to enjoy it too. So, the prize is the winner’s choice of Rogue’s Pawn, Rogue’s Possession or Rogue’s Paradise. These are all ebook only, so anyone can win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Rogue’s Paradise by Jeffe Kennedy

rogues paradise by jeffe kennedyFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genre: paranormal romance, fantasy romance
Series: Covenant of Thorns #3
Length: 280 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: September 8, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

Pregnant, possessed, and in love with a man I don’t dare to trust—those are the consequences of the risks I took to save my life. But Faerie, the land of blood and magic, is filled with bitter ironies, and the bargains I made now threaten me and my unborn child.

The darkly sensual fae noble Rogue still tempts me to danger and desire. As we await the birth of our child, I’ve been forced to question whether our offspring is part of a bargain Rogue once made to save himself. He can’t tell me the truth due to a spell the vicious Queen Titania has him under. Would he betray our family against his will? Could I ever forgive him if he does?

Rogue insists on an eternal commitment from me, even as Titania’s forces close in on us. I don’t know if Rogue and I can withstand her onslaught, or that of the beast within me. But I will not stop looking for answers—even if it brings the walls of Faerie crashing down.

My Review:

The fae world in the Covenant of Thorns is built on the concept that powerful mages need to be careful what they wish for, because they might get it.

In other words, if someone says “don’t make me call my flying monkeys” you can bet that they really have flying monkeys on call. (This happens and it’s awesome).

But magic is the power to essentially wish things into being. Including “True Love”, because that seems to be the only power on Earth or in Faerie capable of stopping the Queen Bitch Titania. Who also happens to be mad as a hatter, along with being nearly all powerful.

But not quite. The sorcerer Rogue has the idea that the one thing she can’t win against is two equally powerful mages who willingly share power equally. And the only thing that would make that possible is complete trust. In other words, true love on both sides.

rogues pawn goodreadsThere’s two problems. Rogue wished for a woman who might be capable of being that equally powerful sorceress and might be able to love him. What he got was a woman from our non-magical world with great potential, and he spends a good chunk of Rogue’s Pawn (see review) manipulating her and the situation so that she can come to control her power.

Manipulation does not make for a good path to trust and eventual love, so Rogue makes as many problems for himself as he does solutions. Neither he nor any of the fae know much about love, if anything. His learning curve on that subject is incredibly high, and the cost is one that is paid not only by himself, but also by that woman he brought to faerie, Gwynn.

rogues possession by jeffe kennedyWhile the story in Rogue’s Possession (see review) may seem by the title that Gwynn is “owned” by Rogue, it isn’t strictly true. It also isn’t strictly not, as she spends much of the series having her agency taken away, and then fighting to get it back. Rogue is trying to seduce her rather than own her, but his ability to understand her true nature comes in fits and starts. Two steps forward, one step back.

Meanwhile, Gwynn has promised, because she had no other choice at the time, to give Rogue her first-born child. She did not stipulate a time, but Titania drugged them both and made sure Gwynn got pregnant. Titania wants to steal the child for her own really disgusting purposes. She needs to be stopped.

Rogue finally finds the way to Gwynn’s heart. Or, in the face of the overwhelming threat, Gwynn decides that since she’s already pregnant, she might as well reap all the benefits of her status. The worst has already happened, so giving in to Rogue’s seduction seems like a reward in comparison.

Together, they have the power to beat Titania back from her campaign to control both Faerie and Earth. But in order to do that, Gwynn has to trust Rogue utterly. Which is something that he has not exactly earned. But still desperately needs.

His wish for “True Love” has bitten him, too. And it’s the best thing that ever happened to him and to Faerie. But only if they all survive.

Escape Rating A-: This entire story, from the beginning in Rogue’s Pawn, works because of Gwynn’s voice. The entire story is in her first-person perspective, so we see this entire strange new world through the eyes of someone who has our sensibilities. As she tries to make sense of things to herself, she also makes sense of them for us.

There’s a thread through the entire series about Gwynn’s agency or lack thereof. At the very beginning, she loses control of her immediate future because someone has to train her in using her incredibly powerful magic. Otherwise, her every thought transforms the world around her beyond bearing.

But that training is both emotionally and physically painful; everything she learns leaves her with a bad case of PTSD and an unwillingness to trust anyone who has been responsible for anything that’s happened to her.

Especially Rogue.

She learns painfully that every thing in Faerie is limited by promises and vows; no words are casual. It is only in this final installment that she knows enough about what is happening around her to understand why Rogue has done the things that he has, and how much he is bound by events that occurred before he wished her into Faerie.

The revelations about the true nature of the Fae, and the true insanity of Titania, make Gwynn (and the reader) understand how high the stakes have been from the very beginning.

The world, as a great writer once said, is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine. That may be true, but Gwynn’s world is marvelous strange, and there are fantastic and wonderful stories told there.

Rogues Paradise Button 300 x 225

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Censorship, Stalking and the Blogger Blackout

blogger blackout badge

We interrupt our regularly scheduled book blogging in order to bring you a slice of real life where too many worlds are intersecting.

YA author Kathleen Hale admits in her Guardian essay that she didn’t just tweet and post online about her extreme unhappiness with a one-star review she received on Goodreads from a YA book blogger, she fully cops to stalking the pseudonymous blogger in real-life. Hale received the blogger’s address through misrepresentation, and paid an internet search firm to find her work address and phone numbers.

The Guardian essay (here) reads like a piece of fiction, but it isn’t. And the blogger has decided to stop book blogging as a result of this harassment.

Because yes, it is harassment. Parking in your car outside someone’s home, looking in the windows and backyard to see if the furnishings and the dog match pictures on Pinterest, all constitute stalking. Which is illegal.

Hale’s purpose was to shut down or shout out her critic. Not someone who had stalked her, but a book reviewer who received a review copy of Hale’s book and did exactly what she claimed she would do; she posted an honest review on Goodreads. She didn’t criticize Hale as a person, she criticized her commercially available work.

Which is something that book bloggers do every single day. Because we love reading in general, even if we don’t love a particular book. So we share what we liked, and what we didn’t. We provide our own opinion, not speaking ex cathedra, and all we ask is that our readers use our words as a tool for evaluating what they choose or don’t choose to spend their own time reading.

I use my real name in this blog. I am fairly easy to find. The conduct of Hale and those who support her is frightening, and it creates a chilling effect for any blogger who finds some of the books they read as less than stellar.

That chilling effect I refer to is just another name for censorship. It is a way of frightening people into censoring themselves, so that they do not publish material that the censor finds unacceptable. In this case, it has both worked and not. The original blogger has chosen to stop blogging; her real life has been threatened and she has had enough.

Many of us are taking the opportunity to highlight this offensive behavior and the negative effects it has on the book and reading community. This week, many book blogs are posting a blackout day or week to commemorate this event. The blackout has been organized by Dear Author with this post. She is publishing essays this week to give a brief glimpse of what it would be like for publishing if we all stopped providing reviews. The Book Pushers will also be blacked out for a day, as am I.

Instead of a book review, I’m posting this essay to show my support for Dear Author and the blackout, and to go on record that my reviews will not be written in fear.

I am also a gamer. A female gamer, one of the 48% of the gaming population that identifies as female. (Much as I hate giving in to the need to prove my creds here, I will say that my copy of Dragon Age Inquisition has been on pre-order for months.) Women who write critically about video games and the video game industry are stalked, catfished and receive death threats, unfortunately on a regular basis. I hear an echo of Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu’s treatment in this case where an author stalks a critic, and I am chilled.

But now cowed. And especially not silenced.