Review of Smooth Like Latte by Rawiya


Rating: 3 stars

Brendan Walsh’s life has been devoted to pleasing his father, Alexander Walsh, head of Walsh Financial Corporation.  Unlike his older brother who defied his father and left to live his life on his own terms, Brendan went to school and got his degrees with one thing in mind, working for his father and taking over the business when Alexander retired.  And to achieve those goals, Brendan has also stayed in the closet, well aware of his father’s homophobia.  Living the closeted life in exchange for money and success had never been a problem for Brendan until he meets Latte, a barista in the coffee shop in the lobby of their company building.  One latte macchiatto later, and an attraction is formed between the two men that will change Brendan’s life forever.

Devori “Latte” Jenkins, artist and part-time barista, is in the groove at Cathy’s Coffee , making his coffee creations and talking to the customers when he sees Brendan Walsh in line waiting to place his order.  Devori is gay and the man in line is not only handsome but setting off his gaydar.  A quick conversation and Brendan leaves his business card with phone number along with his tip.  A phone call, then a date which leads to a weekend. But when Brendan confesses to Devori that he’s hiding the fact that he is gay from his family, Devori must decide if he can accept being the  secret boyfriend of a closeted gay man or will Brendan give up family and fortune for love?

Smooth LIke Latte is a short story of 99 pages and a very sweet tale at that.I could easily see Devori and Brandon as boyfriends struggling to find a way to make things work, given diverse background and disapproving families.  But a sweet story is sometimes just not enough to make a really good story.  To accomplish that, you must have realistic characterizations, dialog consistent with the age of the characters, and a great editor(or one you listen to). While I think the characters of Devori and Brendan are certainly more than superficial creations, their dialog and actions are those of much younger immature man.  I can’t think of any one of their apparent age using the terms “wuss” or “mushy” or making a list of goals that any preteen girl would recognize 1.) I want him to be my boyfriend  2) I want us to move in together in 6 no 3 months 3) I want to marry him and have kids etc.

A lack of uniform characterization continues with Alexander Walsh.  Obssessed with family name, business and a homophobe, he makes his views on gays clear to Brendan and when Brendan comes out to his father, Alexander rants about his son being a sinner, that he will burn in hell, how  could he do this to him, etc.  Homophobic and realistic.  Yet in the epilogue Alexander is so happy that Brendan is not going to be a competitor in the business world that he reinstates Brendan’s trust fund immediately, and happily turns over a hundred million dollars with no hesitation, totally at odds with the characteristics  previously introduced and used as the main reason Brendan has not come out earlier.  Considering his previous stance on gays, especially gays in his family, that seems highly unlikely. Then there is the time frame. Devori and Brendan meet, have sex, declare their love, melt down and breakup and finally reconcile – all in one week’s time.  Again so very Tiger Beat. Perfect for a young hormonal preteen angst yet not for those older.

The other big issue here is the odd use of some terms or in one case, a word is used in a manner that makes no sense.  The sentence is :”The duplicity of submission and domination was exquisite.” I think the author meant combination as duplicity means “deceitfulness: the fact of being deceptive, dishonest, or misleading”.  And there are so many more word choices that are just off or plain odd.  From a “figurative 2000 weight”, a “daylong swelling”, “to culminate a bittersweet moment”, “duration of the late evening”,right up until he “held onto his back muscles” and a “downtrodden look”, which is even worse in context.  And then there is the problem of a degree in publicity which we don’t have here in the US, you can get a degree in Advertising or Marketing but not publicity. The diverse writing styles of the story , which can change by the paragraph, almost seem as if it was written by more than one author, it has a “teen” sound, an odd/misuse of words that sometimes comes with poor translations,florid purple prose,combined with some passages that are very well written with none of the problems I have noted.  All very odd indeed. And then to cap it all off, you have the florid terms of bodice rippers such as “lily white thighs”, “chocolate brown pools”, and “swollen vessel” and “pink jewels”.  All of which are issues that a great editor and concrit partner could have taken care of and turned this sweet short story into a terrific short story.  The elements are there and the author’s bio says it is the author’s first solo work.  I wonder what their next story will bring.  I am very curious given the rollercoaster that is Smooth Like Latte.

Cover: What a delicious cover. Cover by Shane Willis of RAD ACT Photography, great job.

Review of Stone Rose (Lost Gods #3) by Megan Derr


Rating: 5 stars

It has been nine hundred years since the death of the Basilisk and the Kingdom of Piedre has continued to pay the price for the loss of their god. The kingdom is being torn apart by feuding religious factions.  The Brotherhood of the Black Rose wants to make sure that the Basilisk never rises again, using its assassins to kill all that stand in their way.  The Brotherhood of the White Rose is using all its resources to try and bring the Basilisk back permanently.  And standing in between them is Prince Culebra, the latest mortal incarnation of the Basilisk, God of Death.

Bone white in coloration, eyes covered in black cloth, the Prince is a beautiful and deadly being.  He is also lonely, depressed and still grief stricken over the loss of his lovers, one to the mermaids of Kundou, the other to his grief over the loss of his brother.  It has never been harder to be the avatar of a God.  Targeted by assassins all his life, feared and hated by his family, Culebra moves through the castle with Ruisenor as his only confidant and protector.  That Ruisenor happens to be an enormous snake of unknown origin matters little to the Prince as snakes have always been his friends and companions. Lately the assassination attempts have increased in number as the anniversary of the Basilisk’s death approaches.  Only Ruisenor’s lethal intervention has kept him alive.  Culebra is aware that something must change and soon or he will surrender to his depression and death.Will the arrival of Prince Midori Kawa of Kundou spark that change?

Megan Derr’s Lost Gods saga just keeps getting better and better with each succeeding book. The Lost Gods series continues with the  outstanding Stone Rose, the third in the series and the third Lost God, the Basilisk. .  As the cover color indicates, the Stone Rose is a tale of darkness and death, from the land to the very God itself.  Piedra, the  kingdom on the map of the cover, is a hard land, covered in stones with rocky mountains and black forests that reek of death. Derr gives us a clear understanding of the kingdom with one sentence. “Piedre was more like a solemn temple, where no one dared to speak above a whisper.” Perfection.  The darkness of Piedre extends to its people who are dusky skinned with black hair and eyes.  As with the other kingdoms (Kundou and Pozhar), Piedre has been in decline since its god died. It’s populace is starving, the climate is changing, and its royal family is doing everything it can to hold onto power.

Culebra, like the Basilisk he embodies, has eyes that can kill which is why his have been bandaged since birth.  A reference to eyes and sight permeates the language of Piedra, an exquisite detail Derr has used throughout the Lost Gods to great impact.  “Eyes slay them”, “May kind eyes guide you” or “May you always gaze into friendly eyes”.  The colloquialisms  or expressions add to our understanding of  Piedre’s culture and gives the tale a layer of authenticity. And as Piedre is the land of death, those references color their speech as well.  Call someone a “corpse eater” or carrion feeder if you wish to be derogatory, “Bones and blood!” make a very satisfactory exclamation, and then there is the prayer “Blood the living to honor the dead. We live because you died. Life and death cannot exist without each other. In the name of the Basilisk, amen.”  Each phrase, each remark adds a layer to our understanding of the Piedre and their god.  I love the way Megan Derr builds her worlds from the little touches in the dialect to the population’s physical appearance, every detail is covered.  Once you enter into her world your immersion is complete, there is nothing to jar you loose.

Megan Derr outstanding characterizations continue in Stone Rose as well as a new twist to the saga.  In the previous books, Treasure (#1) and Burning Bright (#2), the identities of the Lost Gods were not revealed until the end of the story. With Prince Culebra as avatar, the Basilisk is already present at the beginning of the tale.  At least in its human form.  But again, nothing is ever as it seems.  What can appear to be a solid image can turn out to be a refracted likeness instead.  I love Culebra.  Every part of him isolates him from everyone around him, except for a selected few individuals and his snakes.  In a land of dusky skinned, dark haired people, he is the color of bleached bones from his skin to his hair.  The black bandages around his eyes only highlight his differences.  Culebra can taste death with a flick of his tongue and communicate with all the species of snakes who gather around him.  But he is also completely human in his need for love and companionship and his despair over his loss of his lovers.  Culebra seduces us from the beginning as he does Midori,

We first met Midori when he was a Captain in the Kundou Royal Navy. When we last saw him, his ship was transporting Prince Culebra and Count Krazny of Pozhar away from the Kumita after the mermaid attack.  He reappears in Piedre, demoted and banished for his efforts, mourning the loss of Prince Kyo.  With his green hair and blue eyes, Midori brings that wonderful world of Kundou with him, refreshing like a sea breeze. When Midori strides off the ship, he does so right into our hearts.  His banishment and demotions have made him more thoughtful and yet have freed him to become someone new.  With Midori, Derr also gets to have some fun.  In an altercation with soldiers, they call him a “fish” and “merslut”, he counters with “sharks” and the fight is on.  I loved that scene.  Midori was also the one who consoled Culebra on board when his lover  was devoured by mermaids.  Past, present and future are all tied up with Midori, a memorable characters among memorable characters.

Next is Cortez, the Black Princesa and Fidel the Dagger, both ex assassins for The Brotherhood of the Black Rose.  Next to Culebra, Cortez is one of the most commanding characters of the story and one of the most remarkable women I have come across in recent fiction.  Deadly and compassionate, hard yet still able to love, Cortez’s persona is so beautifully realized, so layered that I found it hard to find her equal in other stories.  Former whore, Cortez is a master of death but she only kills when the “killing” feels right.  She is as complex as Culebra, perhaps more so. When searching for a comparison Anita Black and Lara Croft came to mind, so did Xena.  But with her scarred face and body, what beauty she has left is buried deep within her and that separates her from the crowd. Fidel will get inside of you too but it takes a little longer. There is Dario, the lover left devastated by his brother’s death and Culebra’s dismissal of him.  I loved him too from the moment we see him in his drunken stupor. Can a enormous viper be a main character?  Absolutely.  Ruisenor slithers through the pages of the story, acting as puppy and predator, bodyguard and guide, a delightful addition to a great cast of characters.

Stone Rose diverges from the other stories in that the main romantic coupling is m/m/m instead of m/m.  Threesomes are not something I usually read but here it not only works but in some respects it is the only things that makes sense once the reader gets to know Culebra and understand his needs and insecurities.  You will mourn the loss of Granito (and go back to Treasure to pick up any references you may have missed then) and rejoice in the possibility of new love for Dario and Culebra.  Megan Derr has done just such an outstanding job with every element that I sit here in absolute amazement.  She has made me love and understand threesomes! *shakes head*

And while I wept all through Burning Bright, here she called up the laughter as well as sobs, all the more incredible in a book consumed with death and destruction.  There are still plenty of shocks and twists at the end, as sacrifice and rebirth are still major themes as the Lost Gods return to their lands.  What an ending!  I thought I saw the beginning of a quibble there but the more I thought about it, I know Derr is setting something up for us in the future and she hasn’t let me down yet. So the quibble wobbled and vanished in a poof of light and I am left, as I was at the end of the other stories, temporarily sated,  yet bereft and longing for more.  *shakes a fist at Derr*

So, now we journey next to Verde in Poison, the 4th book in the series.  Here I hope to see Allil, the White Beast of Verde and get reacquainted with one of my favorite characters in the series.  When we last saw him, he was gravely wounded in Pozhar and on his way back to Verde. It looks to be as traumatic, dramatic and addicting a tale as those before it.  I have no idea what to expect and I love it like that.  This series has had me mystified, incredulous, delighted, laughing hysterically and sobbing my eyes out.  Who knows what Megan Derr has in store for us?  I for one can’t wait to find out.  Bring it on!

Cover by London Burdon.  I love the covers in this series.  Each cover different and yet the same.  A map of Piedre on the cover and black for the death and destruction it stands for. Simple, elegant and perfect for the stories behind them.

Due to the complexity of the sage and in order to understand the characters and world building, the books should be read in the following order. Megan Derr’s Lost God series in the order they were written and should be read:

Treasure  (Lost Gods #1) Kingdom of Kundou  – read my review here

Burning Bright (Lost Gods #2) Kingdom of Pozhar – read my review here.

Stone Rose (Lost Gods #3) Kingdom of Piedre

Poison (Lost Gods #4) Kingdom of Verde (coming next)