A review of Friends in High Places (Far Seek Chronicles #1) by Andi Marguette

Read July 2013

Online summary: “Outlaw Torri Rendego and her crew pilot the Far Seek to the mining colony of Newburg on Old Earth to smuggle out rare black opals, in fulfillment of their latest contract. So far everything goes as planned until Torri learns that Kai Tinsdale, her Academy bunk mate and now a Captain for the hated Coalition, is there to break up the dangerous but profitable smuggling rings. Will Torri and Kai survive another test of their fragile bond as they battle nefarious forces to complete their conflicting missions.”

My review: If I didn’t care for Friends in High Places quite as much as the other works of Marquette’s I’ve read — at least early on — that’s in no way a put-down. It’s still really enjoyable and certainly well worth reading.

Both main characters are extremely likeable, and I especially appreciated the contrast between them. Torri’s sort of a female Han Solo, something of a “scoundrel,” for those of you who remember The Empire Strikes Back, though she’s a helluva a lot smarter than he is; Kai’s a loyal, by-the-book officer in the Coalition armed forces, though she’s beginning to wonder if her loyalty may be misplaced. T and K were roommates at the Academy, and Kai has absolutely no doubts where that loyalty is concerned. Secondary characters, though their appearances are brief, are more well-drawn than in a lot of books, too, adding depth.

The writing is a bit less smooth, less crisp than in Marquette’s other works, at least at the very beginning. Once you’re drawn in to the story, though, it’s not a problem at all. (Note: this in absolutely no way is meant to imply that the writing is “bad”; from what I’ve read, I’m not sure Ms. Marquette’s even capable of writing badly.) And while the plot’s not exactly revolutionary, it’s still interesting, and keeps you turning pages, which is the whole point, right? Anyway, the tropes of science fiction and space opera are by now so prevalent, there’s nothing wrong with an author employing any one –or ten — of them in her work; in fact, it’s damned near unavoidable. I was particularly impressed by how Marquette incorporates back-story in the action and in the dialogue, avoiding the large “info-dump” trap so many authors fall into, especially in the SF and UF genres.

A caveat — or maybe kudos: Yeah, there’s sex. Not tons, but more than a little. It’s well-written, and, frankly, it’s pretty erotic. If that’s not your thing — well, you should still read the book, damn it!

All in all, a very satisfying reading experience: Competent writing and editing, though something tells me Marquette’s prose doesn’t really require a lot in the way of redaction; engaging characters; consistent, well-paced plotting; plenty of suspense.  Very definitely recommended. I generally like to put several months between reading books that are part of a series, but I can assure you I’ll be reading more of the Far Seek Chronicles at some point.

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A review of Protector of the Realm (Supreme Constellations #1) By Gun Brooke

Online plot summary: ‘With the fate of entire civilizations at risk, the galactic battleground makes for unusual alliances and unexpected passions as two women from very different worlds join forces. When Commodore Rae Jacelon of the Gamma VI space station apprehends the alluring but decidedly dangerous Kellen O’Dal, it is the start of a breathtaking love story, as well as a dangerous rescue mission. A space adventure filled with suspense and a daring intergalactic romance.”

My review: Protector of the Realm is book one in Gun Brooke’s Supreme Constellations series. Call it science fiction, call it space opera, but PLEASE don’t use that awful neologism, sci-fi. Personally, I’ll go with science-fiction, as it seems to have a good deal more depth than what’s generally considered space opera. Whatever you call it, though, this is an extremely enjoyable novel. The writing is skilled, mechanically, the plot compelling, the drama abundant, and the pacing, for the most part, keeps you happily turning the pages. The entire cast of characters is very likable and the romance is, well, romantic. I don’t always like to compare writers, but, there’s something of Radclyffe, here. I don’t mean that it’s derivative in any way, I just offer it to those who may not be familiar with Brooke but do know Radclyffe’s work.

The two main characters are strong, resourceful, determined, independent and engaging women. If that sounds like the formula for a Mary Sue character, both women have realistic vulnerabilities to balance their strengths. Their romance proceeds slowly enough to be believable, but, when they finally “hook up,” wow! And, Armeo, the young boy they both vow to protect, will charm readers as easily as he charms everyone he encounters in the novel.

For those who are hard-core science-fiction devotees, you won’t find startling world-building here. The setting and the plot are genre standards. However, competent writing, an interesting story, admirable lead characters, a host of very likeable, well-drawn supporting characters and plenty of suspense, all make for a very entertaining reading experience.

A review of Ash, by Malinda Lo

Online plot blurb: In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.

Note: I categorized <i>Ash</i> as “Female protagonists” rather than “lesbian protagonist” because, though there’s a good deal of foreshadowing of a same-sex relationship, we never see it come to fruition.

My review: Malinda Lo’s Ash, a retelling of the Cinderella story, is fairly predicable, but, a pretty enjoyable read, just the same. There’s a certain charm to Lo’s writing that keeps us turning the pages, even though we know what’s going to happen. The writing is evocative without being florid, and the story is, at times, anyway, enchanting, in its way. But…and, didn’t you know there’d be one.…

I never feel like we really get to know Aisling (Ash), though we spend the entire book with her. We never understand her motivations. It’s as though things happen just because the author wants them to happen,. Of Kaisa, I especially wanted to know more. There’s little depth to her character, which is most disappointing. You’re teased with a sense that it would be very rewarding to get to know her, but that opportunity is thwarted. Yeah, it’s a fairy tale. I get that. But, it’s also well over two hundred fifty pages, and the principle characters, at least, absolutely need to be more fleshed out.

I guess my biggest disappointment here is that there was so much potential that was left unrealized. While a reasonably enjoyable way to pass a few hours, Ash ultimately fails to deliver, especially emotionally. While the ending of a story such as this should evoke a deep sigh of contentment and leave a really warm feeling inside, my only reaction when Ash and Kaisa step forward and kiss was, “Oh, that’s nice,” and then I looked around for the next book to read. We have to take the author’s word for it when, as Ash and Kaisa kiss, Ash knows she is home, because Lo merely tells us, she never shows us.

And, dammit, she had the whole book to do so.

I’m very glad I read Lo’s Huntress before this, her first novel. After the unsatisfying experience of Ash, I might never have read Huntress, and that would have been a shame for it is truly wonderful.

A review of The Temple at Landfall (Celaeno #1) by Jane Fletcher

Online summary: Lynn feels more like a prisoner than the chosen of the Goddess. Transfer to another temple is her chance to taste a little freedom on the journey, but all does not go to plan and her dull life is shattered by the dangers and choices that await her.

My review: As usual, I’ll assume anyone reading this has already checked out the book’s plot summary on Goodreads, Amazon, or elsewhere. Since others have extolled some of the virtues of the The Temple at Landfall, maybe I’ll have a go at a few of the detractors.

First, the romance: Some have complained about the briefness of Lynn and Kim’s time together before they’re separated. Personally, I think Fletcher quite adequately shows their growing attraction, albeit subtly, and there is more than enough time spent at the way station, after the snow lion attack, for strong feelings to develop. Incidentally, I liked that it occurs without any physical closeness, not that I have any aversion at all to sex scenes, but, given Lynn‘s background, they would be out of place so early on. It’s once Lynn arrives at Westernfort that I think things proceed too quickly. I’d like to have seen the couple gradually spend more time together, so their first time together doesn’t have that instant lesbianism feeling of bad girl/girl flics.

It’s also been suggested that, given Lynn’s inexperience, what she feels may be just a crush, and that’s not without merit. But, you know, first romances can sometimes be “the real thing,” your first crush can be “the one.” I think what makes the romance work is Kim’s character. she’s really not quite the “player” the Rangers portray her as. But, again, I would like to have seen things develop more slowly. The “avoid, avoid, avoid, have sex” thing doesn’t quite work. The sex scene, when it comes, though, is nicely written, and its mild eroticism doesn’t feel at all gratuitous.

I’m surprised, and a little dismayed, by all the various objections to the introduction of science-fiction elements. (Please, please don’t say “sci-fi. Okay?) This really isn’t a fantasy novel, as some have suggested. I had only read a few pages when I began wondering where these people came from, as it‘s clearly not a post-apocalyptic society on Earth. After a few more pages, I wanted to know how the technology of imprinting originated, and it is technology, make no mistake. By the time Lynn and the nuns, in the company of the Rangers, set out for Landfall, my interest had become captured by the characters, and those earlier questions may have been put on hold, but they were still there.

To those who complained that the science-fiction elements were intrusive, on the contrary, they’re the essential underpinning of the tale. Without them, there’d be no story. What, some witch casts a spell and suddenly certain women can manipulate DNA and transfer genetic material? Sorry, not buying that this could be pure fantasy in any way, shape or form.

I imagine such complaints mostly refer to the appended journal of Peter McKay. For me, it’s a perfect ending to novel, nicely, even poignantly answering the questions raised earlier. For those who suggest it should have been placed at the beginning, I think that might well have ruined the novel, taken away the mystery of how the highly advanced technology of Imprinting exists in a society on a level somewhere between the Roman Empire and the medieval period. In addition, it would have made technology the focus rather than the characters and the conflict between Sisters and the Heretics. Placed at the end, when we’ve invested ourselves in the characters and the world Fletcher has built, the diary seems almost nostalgic, and a satisfying denouement.

At least one reader complained about how, in the absence of men, some women essentially “become” men, even in the absence of a sexual duality. I assume she means the self-centered, belligerent, dictatorial, power mad, reactionary demagogues. In other words, some women in this society become “the bad guys”, so to speak, which that reader equates with men.

Sorry to disappoint the Robin Morgan/Andrea Dworkin types out there — and, honestly, I completely understand and sympathize with your righteous anger — but good/bad is a human trait, not a gender-based one. Hope that doesn’t smack too much of Manicheism for your taste. In any society, hierarchy is going to arise, and there are always going to be the “haves” who want to hold on to whatever it is they have, particularly if it’s power. To call the authoritarian characters in Fletcher‘s novel “substitute men” is to fail to understand the human condition.

I like the book a lot. I thought the characters were great, especially Kim, and enjoyed the world Fletcher has created. To be sure, some elements were predictable, but, the story itself was enjoyable enough and the characters likable enough, to overcome that.

So, why only four stars? While the writing was competent, I though it could have been better. When I was finished, I felt about Fletcher a little like I do about Jo Rowling: great storyteller, but just okay as a writer. I no way was the writing bad, I just thought it wasn’t up to the level of the story itself. The exception, I felt, was the diary at the end, which wouldn’t be out of place in any annual collection of the year’s best science fiction.

My other problem with The Temple at Landfall is that the villains of the piece, some of the Sisters and Major Rozek, are painted with such a broad brush as to be more caricature than character.

That said, I would definitely recommend this and will certainly read the rest of the series at some point.

A review of Infinite Loop, by Meghan O’Brien

Online plot summary: “Regan O’Riley has just about given up hope that she will ever find a woman into shy, geeky programmers. She yearns for a connection, but can’t seem to make the first move. Mel Raines knows all about making moves. After a childhood under the thumb of her alcoholic father, she avoids intimacy by drowning herself in fiery, fleeting encounters with strangers.”

My review: As I was reading Infinite Loop, Meghan O’Brien’s immensely enjoyable and very, very sexy first novel, I couldn’t imagine not giving it five stars. That it ultimately failed, in my estimation, anyway, to deserve that accolade in no way detracts from how thoroughly entertaining it was.

There are many pluses here: Great characters, not just the two principles; realistic growth of both main characters, which adds the depth needed in a novel; some gorgeous descriptive passages; a really sweet romance; some off-the-charts sex; plenty of humor and wit; drama — not exactly cataclysmic, but enough to liven things up from time to time; intense emotion; believable dialogue, including some totally cute geek-speak; some cool pop culture references; an improbable premise made credible. Oh, and did I mention the totally hot sex…

Characters, and character growth: Mel, street cop, something of a “player,” realizes she’s dissatisfied with her job and her lifestyle; Regan, adorable computer geek beginning to wonder if she’ll ever find “The One.” Regan’s not only a computer geek, but of Irish descent. (Somewhat geeky, unrepentant Hibernophile reviewer sighs wistfully.) After what Roger Ebert would have called a “meet cute” opening, they decide, after only a few week’s acquaintance, but an undeniably strong mutual attraction, to take a mega road trip. Improbable? Sure, but, they’re obviously falling for each other, and, as Buffy told us — god, was it really sixteen years ago? — “love makes you do the wacky.” Both characters, despite obvious strengths, exhibit considerable vulnerability. In a sense, though both are adults, you could almost call this a coming-of-age story, as Mel and Regan are ruled by childhood trauma. Mel is still working at the impossible task of trying to live up to her father’s unrealistic expectations, and Regan’s insecurities are the result of high school bullying. How they help each other overcome their individual bêtes-noires is the story’s driving force. What’s impressive here is that, despite the intensely emotional personal issues involved, Mel and Regan are both completely engaging, likable, and entertaining, the most fun characters I’ve read since Kate Allen’s Alison Kaine and Stacy, in fact.

The road trip, and the instant romance: As I said, improbable, but somehow, O’Brien makes it all work. The frequent and effusive professions of undying love, potentially cloying and hokey, even in a romance, don’t seem at all out of place, here, largely because the intensity of feeling results from the character growth that both women are experiencing, and it seems perfectly natural.

Some have referred to this as an erotic romance, but, I prefer the word sexy. Did I point out, very sexy? To me, erotica’s primary raison d’être is to titillate, to arouse. In Infinite Loop, the focus is on the characters, the romance and how the characters grow; the sex is just (very enjoyable ) lagniappe. I’m reminded of Katherine V. Forrest’s comments about sex scenes as a unique means of developing character, displaying facets of the characters you wouldn’t see in more mundane scenes. That’s exemplified in O’Brien’s tale. Of course, these scenes are one helluva lotta fun, too; if that’s what you’re looking for, look no further.

So, why only four stars? What’s unsatisfying to me, despite how much I enjoyed the book, is that it really isn’t a novel, but a string of, admittedly quite pleasant, individual vignettes. Though there are several dramatic incidents throughout, there’s not enough sustained conflict to lead us to a satisfying climax and denouement, though there are plenty of other climaxes. (Wink-wink, nudge-nudge.) Since this one structural defect is the only issue I have with Ms. O’Brien’s book, I still highly recommend it. It’s fault is in the area of serious lit-crit, but as sheer entertainment, it’s an unqualified success.

A review of Summer Knight (The Dresden Files #4)

Plot Blurb from the internet: “Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment

Ever since his girlfriend left town to deal with her newly acquired taste for blood, Harry Dresden has been down and out in Chicago. He can’t pay his rent. He’s alienating his friends. He can’t even recall the last time he took a shower.

The only professional wizard in the phone book has become a desperate man.

And just when it seems things can’t get any worse, in saunters the Winter Queen of Faerie. She has an offer Harry can’t refuse if he wants to free himself of the supernatural hold his faerie godmother has over him–and hopefully end his run of bad luck. All he has to do is find out who murdered the Summer Queen’s right-hand man, the Summer Knight, and clear the Winter Queen’s name.

It seems simple enough, but Harry knows better than to get caught in the middle of faerie politics. Until he finds out that the fate of the entire world rests on his solving this case. No pressure or anything…

My review: Summer Knight is volume four in Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, and, yep, same old, same old: Harry’s down and out, is faced with a seemingly endless series of impossible obstacles, defeats bad guys/girls who are far more powerful than he, “snarking” all the way, cleans up his act a little,. plays D&D. (Okay, the last one’s new.)

Of the previous Dresden novel, I wrote “it’s as though, if women didn’t have breasts, there’d be no reason for them to be in the novel at all.” Happily, the blatant sexism seems to be on hiatus, here, but at heart, I think, Harry’s still a male chauvinist, as are most dudes who tout their chivalrous natures.

My basic impression of Summer Knight was “Is it ever gonna be over? Are we there , yet?” It wasn’t really boring, exactly, just felt like it went on for-effing-ever. Hell, it seemed like the scene in and around Walmart was almost a book in itself. The scene at Murphy’s apartment seems unnecessarily long, too. There are other examples. This book could’ve, prob’ly should have come in at under three hundred pages. I mean, I finished reading four, maybe five other books while working my way through this one.

Technically, I don’t have any issues with Butcher’s writing, here. Stylistically? While it’s not life-altering, it’s a competently told tale. That said: Jim Butcher just kvels to write metaphors. Admittedly, simile and metaphor, used judiciously, are among the hallmarks of good writing, but, in Butcher’s hands, so damned much stuff is “like” other stuff that it becomes an affectation. To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum’s character in The Big Chill, “Ever gone a paragraph without a metaphor?”

And the repetition: “Vast” is a terrific word. It concisely conveys the idea of immensity as few words can. Use it twice in the same freaking paragraph, with the space of two sentences, for gods’ sake, and you strip it of its power. Now, it just means ”big.” Hells bells…

A couple of thoughts: Harry is able to defeat a Queen of the Sidhe, not, admittedly, without help. In Faery, no less. On her home court, so to speak. Really. With that kind of power, why the hell is he worried about the White Council or the Red Court? Also, Aurora is able to immobilize Harry with a look, but, on the stone table, she plants “both feet against my chest…kicked hard and drove me back.” Did she exceed her magical power quotient, or something?

While there were parts I liked, even a few I liked a lot, as a whole, the book was just okay. Not sure I’ll bother with Harry anymore. Kind of a “if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all” feeling to them, now.

A review of The Providence File (Madison McGuire #2) by Amanda Kyle Williams

In a discussion about a different book, and on a different forum, I recently commented that Amanda Kyle Williams’ Madison McGuire novels were what Bond would be if female and gay. That’s the Fleming Bond, of course, not the glitzy Hollywood version with busty broads, glitzy gas-guzzlers, and gadgets galore. There’s nothing glamorous about the world of spies in William’s espionage novels. They’re gritty and have a feeling of reality to them that many spy novels lack.

The second entry in Williams’ series features lesbian CIA op Madison McGuire’s return to the Company, after a brief retirement, to infiltrate a terrorist training camp in the Middle East. Written in 1991, it’s a little dated, but that really doesn’t really affect the reading enjoyment and, since that part of the world is still a hotbed of intrigue and unrest, the book remains topical in many ways

The writing itself is both technically competent and emotionally compelling, and the narrative is fast-paced and fun to read. The Providence File has plenty of drama, suspense and intrigue to keep you turning the pages. More than that, though, it’s a very interesting character study posing several thought-provoking questions regarding friendship, whether or not long-term relationships are compatible with being a covert agent, and the issue of innocent people as collateral damage. In an era of Wikileaks, and the government spying on its own citizens, it also touches on the question of whether it’s okay for agencies like the NSA, FBI and CIA to violate the law as long as it’s in the “national interest,” and, whether or not, when the putative “good guys” resort to the same tactics as those they oppose, they can  still be considered “good.”

Madison McGuire is a complex character, strong enough to be one of the best at what she does, but not without her vulnerabilities. Not a Mary Sue by any means. I liked her character in the opening novel, Club Twelve, but even more so here, I think because we get to better understanding of her overall character. The surrounding characters are also realistic and well-defined.

So, crisp, proficient writing, engaging characters, interesting plot with plenty of drama. Definitely highly recommended.

A review of Death du Jour (Temperance Brennan #2)

Internet blurb: Assaulted by the bitter cold of a Montreal winter, the American-born Dr. Temperance Breman, Forensic Anthropologist for the Province of Quebec, digs for a corpse where Sister Elisabeth Nicolet, dead over a century and now a candidate for sainthood, should lie in her grave. A strange, small coffin, buried in the recesses of a decaying church, holds the first clue to the cloistered nun’s fate. The puzzle surrounding Sister Elisabeth’s life and death provides a welcome contrast to discoveries at a burning chalet, where scorched and twisted bodies await Tempe’s professional expertise. Who were these people? What brought them to this gruesome fate? Homicide Detective Andrew Ryan, with whom Tempe has a combustive history, joins her in the arson investigation. From the fire scene they are drawn into the worlds of an enigmatic and controversial professor, a mysterious commune, and a primate colony on a Carolina island.

My review: I liked this one a helluva lot more than the first book, Déjà Dead, though I’m not totally sure why. Part of it, of course, is the relative absence of Detective Claudel, who is one of the least pleasant characters I’ve ever run across in any genre. For the most part, Reichs’ prose flows much more smoothly here than in its predecessor, which I had found rather choppy. The plot is a bit contrived in places, but, ya know, despite the protestations of some reviewers, coincidences do happen; sometimes similar events follow one another bang, bang, bang, bang, then totally stop. In any case, I thought the plotting was pretty logical and consistent, with a nice mix of the suspenseful and the quotidien. Tempe is a likable character and I particularly enjoyed the scenes with her daughter, and wish we’d seen more of her. Tempe’s sister, on the other hand…

So, a lot of things I liked. But…

While not as prominent as in the opening book of the series, Reichs still absolutely lurrrves her some metaphors, so much so, I thought for a minute I was reading Jim Butcher. Still, that tendency is a more under control, here, and, for me, more of the similes worked than in the first volume, though there were still a few clunkers.

And…while I’m a great admirer of detail in the interest of realism, once again, it feels overdone. We don’t need to know exactly how Tempe fills out the top of a case form, or every turn on every freakin’ road she and Katy take on the way to the beach. That the pathologists use color-coded folders is an interesting detail, but we don’t need them listed individually. The details of Tempe’s work are often fascinating, but, I’m not sure every chemical needs to be named.

The “romance”? Well, I could take it or leave it. Probably, leave it. It didn’t affect my rating, however.

In conclusion, a very enjoyable mystery, technically well-written, but with a few annoyances held-over from the first book. Definitely recommended.

A review of Angel Food and Devil Dogs, by Liz Bradbury

READ June 2013

Summary from the internet: “When private detective Maggie Gale is called to a college to discuss the suspicious suicide of a gay professor, she shakes hands with the attractive Dr. Kathryn Anthony, who smiles at her with a faint but unmistakable touch of lust. Thrills, humor, & hot lesbian romance combine in this classic who-done-it style mystery that’s also about romance.”

My review: Wanna know one o’ my biggest pet peeves? No, you don’t give a crap, but I’m gonna tell you anyway: A seemingly capable author spins an enjoyable, interesting yarn, provides us with a potentially likable protagonist, surrounds her with other engaging characters, creates in us a pretty good vibe about things, then proceeds to shoot herself in the foot in so many different ways that you decide, hmm, maybe I don’t really want to get to know these folks better, after all.

Several reviewers referred to the book as “well-written,” but, personally, I found the writing pretty clunky and choppy, particularly in the early going, and the dialogue, especially in scenes more related to the mystery, awkward and unconvincing. Interestingly, this seems to improve markedly once Maggie and Kathryn get together. The scenes featuring the two of them, beginning with an early-morning walk in the snow, are by far the best written of the entire book and the dialogue between them is very believable,. Bradbury seems to be more comfortable with her characters than with the rest of the narrative.

Minor quibbles: Maggie’s interrogation technique, for an experienced cop, is superficial, at best; I kept expecting follow-up questions which never came. Also, copy-editing is much needed; I know this is only a 99-cent Kindle edition, but if you‘re putting it before the public, it’s worth doing it right, irrespective of price. There’s also the fact that, despite a few red-herrings, I was positive I knew the identity of the killer the moment his character was introduced; the author overdoes her attempts to make him affable and out-going.

On the other side of the slate, the characters are, as I say, likable for the most part, the mystery is well-plotted, if transparent, and I like the fact that Maggie’s character is multi-faceted: An PI who was an art major is pretty cool. Also, Bradbury doesn’t succumb to the common fatal pitfall of telling, not showing, and I found that particularly impressive. In addition, while I have absolutely nothing against explicit sex scenes, I appreciated the way Bradbury was able to make the sex highly erotic without having to use those stiff clinical terms, or more offensive porn-speak, not to mention ghastly euphemisms like “dewy petals.” (Barf. )She leaves a lot of the specifics to our imagination, which is far more erotic.

So, what are my major issues? you ask. First,  I was uncomfortable with the opening scene. To me, the characters come close to making fun of Mickey, the young man with mental issues, not in so many words, but just the overall feel to the scene. In a similarly vein, there’s the Bart Edgar character. We’re told he’s a klutz, inept at his job. No, not told, we’re bludgeoned with it. After the first ninety-nine times, we get it; time one hundred is overkill. Yeah, such people are annoying, especially in cases of nepotism. I get it, but it bothered me that Bart is ridiculed at every turn, without even a tiny hint of sympathy.

I was disturbed, too, by the main characters’ attitude about closeted people, especially Maggie’s dismissive attitude toward the character, Rowlina. Remaining in the closet may, indeed, be potentially damaging, but, although I admit Ms Bradbury is far more learned on LGBT issues than I, it seems to me, that it’s no one’s business but that individual’s, and certainly not a subject for mockery.

Lastly, there’s Maggie herself. After rescuing Bart, she freely touts her exploits: “I’m a hero! I’m a hero!” Yes, she was, but the character would be much more attractive if she downplayed rather than trumpeted the fact. Similarly, we’re told of an earlier affair with a beautiful professor. Yep, no way our Maggie’s gonna be with anybody who’s not drop-dead gorgeous. The reference would have worked just as well if it were simply a “professor,” not a “beautiful professor.“ Everything seems to be about pumping up Maggie in the reader’s eyes, but, to me, it has the opposite effect. The pièce de résistance, though, is the scene in Maggie’s workout room, showing off for Kathryn. That almost comic book-like scene convinced me that, as I had suspected, Maggie’s biggest fault is an overwhelming sense of self-importance. It was awfully unappealing in a generally likable character.

So, though it did enjoy the book in general, and the interactions — not just the sex — between Maggie and Kathryn, in particular, my objections were just too much for me to overcome. I doubt I’ll venture further into Bradbury’s series; there are just too many turn-offs which outweigh the good things about Maggie. I hate to say this, because I greatly admire anyone who publishes a book — having myself been working on one for almost two years — and there are good points to this one, but I really can’t justify recommending Angel Food and Devil Dogs.

A Review of Out of Sight (Denise Cleever Thrillers, #3) by Claire McNab

Blurb summary:  “A vicious terrorist group is operating deep within the wild reaches of Australia’s remote Kimberley region. Though the government is aware of their presence, the group’s cat-and-mouse tactics and absolute secrecy has made it impossible to stop. The only way to destroy this powerful threat to national security is from the inside. And no one’s better under cover than hotshot Intelligence Agent Denise Cleever.Using every ruse she knows, Denise infiltrates the terrorist training camp – knowing full well that if she is found out, her ruthless ‘comrades’ will torture her to death. But when she is ordered to kill someone as a final test of her loyalty, she faces the most difficult choice of her career: take an innocent life – or lose her own”

My review: I didn’t enjoy this one as much as McNab’s first two books in the series. It was a bit drier. Not bad, but sort of bland. Not much of a climax, and what there was ended really quickly. Not as much suspense as I’ve come to expect from McNab, either. Just at the end. And Norbert’s ultimate fate was really obvious, too. Snap!!!

As usual with Claire McNab, the writing is fine from a technical standpoint, not always a guarantee with Naiad releases. Okay, it’s a bit dated, and the terrorist training could use a lot more detail. It’s a little dry, as I mentioned, but still an pretty enjoyable reading experience, and there are some nice descriptive passage of the scenery of the Aussie bush.

One consistency issue: At one point, we’re told that there are four compulsory classes at the terrorist training camp; no more than five or six pages later we’re told that there are three. Naiad never had the best editing, I know, but anybody shoulda caught that one.