A Free Dreamer Review: Olympia Knife by Alysia Constantine

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Born into a family of flying trapeze artists, Olympia Knife has one small problem: When her emotions rise, she becomes invisible. Everyone in the traveling circus has learned to live with this quirk; they banded together to raise Olympia in a loving environment when her parents vanished midair during their act, never to return. But the same fate befalls Arnold, the world’s shortest man, followed by one act after another, until the show is a crumbling mess of tattered tents and terrified troupers. Into this chaos walks Diamond the Danger Eater. Olympia and Diamond forge a friendship, then fall in love, and, together, resolve to stand the test of time, even as the world around them falls apart.

The first word that comes to my mind when I think about Olympia Knife is strange. Closely followed by sad. And kind of creepy. I’ve never read anything like this and I was a bit unsure whether I liked it or not. But it’s so unusual and memorable, I just had to give it the full five stars.

First things first: This is classified as literary/genre fiction and as such doesn’t have much of a love story and definitely not your run-of-the-mill HEA. The ending is very open and leaves many questions unanswered. I’m not always a fan of open ends, but in this case it fit the tone of the whole book perfectly.

I love circus settings, especially historical ones. They give you so many possibilities. It can be utterly magical and charming or it can be utterly terrifying and creepy. Olympia Knife was definitely more creepy than charming, though it did have a bit of a magical air.

People keep disappearing in the middle of their acts, Olympia keeps turning invisible and there are some other otherworldly things going on, so I guess this would qualify as Fantasy. The circus acts, especially those in the sideshow, are all fakes and don’t have any magical abilities. The correct genre correct is probably magic realism, combining reality with some fantastic elements. It’s an unusual genre and I really enjoyed it.

There isn’t all that much action but I didn’t mind. This was a very slow book and it was all about the atmosphere of the book. I was completely immersed into the world and it sometimes took a while for me to resurface.

At times, this book does get pretty brutal and very intense. It was a hard read and it really took a lot out of me. “Olympia Knife” is such a gritty, intense and heartbreaking read. It’s one of the most extraordinary books I’ve ever read.

If you’re looking for an easy, magical romance, this is definitely not the book for you. I think this is a case of love it or hate it. And I loved it. I’ll have to keep an eye out for future releases by this author. If you’re easily triggered, you might want to check out the content warnings on the publisher’s page.

The cover is utterly gorgeous. It’s the kind of cover that I’d love to have in my physical bookshelf, just to show it off.

Sales Links:  Interlude Press | Amazon

Book details: ebook, 212 pages

Published November 2nd 2017 by Interlude Press

A Stella Review: Sweet by Alysa Constantine

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Rating: 3,25 out of 5 stars

SweetNot every love story is a romance novel.

For Jules Burns, a lonely baker, it is the memory of his deceased husband, Andy. For Teddy Flores, a numbed-to-the-world accountant who accidentally stumbles into his bakery, it is a voyage of discovery into his deep connections to pleasure, to the world, and to his own heart.

Sweet is also the story of how we tell stories—of what we expect and need from a love story. The narrator is on to you, Reader, and wants to give you a love story that doesn’t always fit the bill. There are ghosts to exorcise, and jobs and money to worry about. Sweet is a love story, but it also reminds us that love is never quite what we expect, nor quite as blissfully easy as we hope.

I’m in the minority here cause readers seem to have loved Sweet. I didn’t love it but I liked it. I don’t think I’ll going to reread it in the next future but I am so grateful to have discovered a new to me author.

Jules is still recovering from the death of his husband Andy, a recovering spent in Buttermilk’s kitchen, his bakery, doing what he knows and does better, be a pastry chef. He doesn’t have a lot of relationships outside her kitchen, apart from the awesome ‘Trice. When he meets and starts to feel something for the cute Teddy he has no idea how to act on it. Maybe he is not ready to leave Andy on the past. But he has to make space in his heart for a new unexpected love or he will lose his second chance at love.

I had little troubles with the book from the start, I liked the writing since it was unusual in some parts and well done, but too many times the sentences were too long and I had to go back and reread them because it was so easy to me to be lost in them. Surely it was just my limit but it was a huge deterrent.

Moreover I didn’t love the MCs, I found them childish and unsure of their minds. I still liked them, I get glimpses of real life in their scenes, tender and romantic till the end. Although all the positive elements, Sweet didn’t fully catch my attention. I have to admit the first half was pretty good, it warmed my heart reading Jules’ blog posts and the teasing with Teddy. Then there was a change, or better an addiction in the cast whose name I’m not going to mention cause I don’t want to spoil it, from that moment to me the story lost its value and credibility and I wasn’t able to find something good to cling on.

I gave Sweet 3,25 stars because at the end I liked it and I’m still curious to read more by Alysia Constantine.

The book design and cover illustrations by CB Messer is simple, clean and different. Nicely done.

Sales Links:  Interlude Press | ARe | Amazon

Book Details:

Published February 4th 2016 by Interlude Press
Kindle Edition, 209 pages
ASIN B01BA0E5SG
Edition Language English

Coffee Sip and Book Break with ‘Sweet’ by Alysia Constantine (author interview, excerpt and giveaway)

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Sweet 1600px COVER (RGB) - Front

Sweet by Alysia Constantine
Release Date: February 4, 2016

Goodreads Link:
Publisher: Interlude Press
Cover Artist: C.B. Messer

Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Alysia Constantine, author of (Sweet).  Hi, Alysia, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Can you share a little  something about your story with our readers?

  • Tell us about your book.

Sweet is a love story, and also a story about how we tell stories.  I think these two things are related—most of us grow up having heard all manner of fairy tales and love stories, and we build expectations as a result of that, and our real lives don’t quite measure up.  Especially for those of us who are gay—we’re under a lot of pressure to be romantic and fall in fairy-tale love, or else be accused of fulfilling the stereotype about promiscuous gays.  On the surface, Sweet is the story of how two men—Jules, a baker mourning the loss of his husband Andy, and Teddy, a frustrated accountant—meet, how they court through pastry and shared pleasure, and how they fall in love.  But it’s also the story of what we expect from a love story, and from our own lives.  I might call it a self-conscious love story.

  • How difficult was it to get into the main character’s head?

In this story, the chapters shift between being close in POV to Teddy and close to Jules, but the main character is actually the third-person narrator, who occasionally interjects into the narrative to remind us that s/he is telling a story, that everything is an invention.  (To me, much as I hope people get caught up in the story, Sweet is about stories themselves, about narratives, and about how we invest in them.  Most of us get told throughout our childhood—no, throughout our entire lives—called something like “The Natural Inevitability and Superiority of Straightness,” and it’s a narrative in which we come to believe, unless something goes “wrong.” (That’s Freud’s idea, thank you Siggie.))  In my mind, that narrator is actually the main character.  The voice is half Cynical Omniscient and half Fairy Tale Believer, and I think it’s a voice very natural to me, very close to my own.  And, I would wager, a pretty common tone for those of us who’ve grown up gay or queer in a culture that’s generally hostile to anybody who’s not straight.  You get used to living as a pess/optimist: you’re prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.

  • Is this book a standalone or do you plan on visiting it again?

As I see it now, it’s a standalone.  The novel I’m working on next involves circus performers… a very different world!  I’m interested now in thinking about margins and outsiders—the circus really allows for that.  Sweet is about pleasure, to me.  I think I’ve written what asked to be written there.

  • Why did you choose to write M/M stories?

I don’t exclusively write M/M stories—the novel I’m writing now is about women in the circus.  But I am interested in gay/queer stories, and those are the stories I’m more inclined to tell, because those are the stories that are so often silenced now, or are missing from the past, and those are the stories I wished were taught in my English class as a miserable gay teen in the midwest.  Sweet was just naturally a story about two men falling in love—I don’t think the characters could have been anyone other than who they are.  I also felt a bit resistant to putting lesbians on display in a novel, making their lives a thing for consumption (women are always put up for view, lesbians most especially—it seems like men are much more rarely made the object of everyone’s gaze), but I’m past that now.  Not to say it isn’t a very valid critique, but I’m ready to write the stories I wished were there—about queers, no matter the gender.  And I think I’ve found a home for a story about lesbians that isn’t a salacious or voyeuristic home.  Interlude Press has, more than I can say, affected me so deeply—I wish it had been around when I was growing up.

  • Where do you find your inspiration?

For Sweet, I was inspired both by my past as a baker/pastry chef and by thinking about how and why we tell stories, and how powerful it can be to have a story that reflects some part of you.  I was inspired by the narrator’s voice, when it started speaking in my head, because it felt vital to me.  More than just a love story, this was answering back to all the love stories I’d ever read.  I was also inspired by all the good food I’ve eaten, and some really good recipes.  I try to keep myself inspired that delicious way.  I live in NYC, which has so much good and interesting food… I’ve inspired myself a lot.

Blurb

Not every love story is a romance novel.

For Jules Burns, a lonely baker, it is the memory of his deceased husband, Andy. For Teddy Flores, a numbed-to-the-world accountant who accidentally stumbles into his bakery, it is a voyage of discovery into his deep connections to pleasure, to the world, and to his own heart.

Alysia Constantine’s Sweet is also the story of how we tell stories—of what we expect and need from a love story. The narrator is on to you, Reader, and wants to give you a love story that doesn’t always fit the bill. There are ghosts to exorcise, and jobs and money to worry about. Sweet is a love story, but it also reminds us that love is never quite what we expect, nor quite as blissfully easy as we hope.

 

Praise for ‘Sweet’ by Alysia Constantine from Publisher’s Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-941530-61-0

Pages or Words: 246 pages
Categories: Contemporary, Fiction, Gay Fiction, M/M Romance, Romance

Excerpt

“Speakerphone.”

“What?”

“Speakerphone. Put me on speaker so you can use your hands. You’re going to need both hands, and I won’t be held responsible for you mucking up your phone. Speaker.”

Teddy set his phone on the counter and switched to the speaker, then stood waiting.

“Hello?” Jules said. “Is this thing on?”

“Sorry,” Teddy said. “I’m still here.”

“It sounded like you’d suddenly disappeared. I was starting to believe in the rapture,” Jules said, and Teddy heard, again, the nervous chuckle.

Their conversation was awkward and full of strange pauses in which there was nothing right to say, and they focused mostly on how awkward and strange it was until Jules told Teddy to dump the almond paste on the counter and start to knead in the sugar.

“I’m doing it, too, along with you,” Jules said.

“I’m not sure whether that makes it more or less weird,” Teddy admitted, dusting everything in front of him with sugar.

“It’s just like giving a back rub,” Jules told him. “Roll gently into the dough with the heel of your hand, lean in with your upper body. Think loving things. Add a little sugar each time—watch for when it’s ready for more. Not too much at once.”

Several moments passed when all that held their connection was a string of huffed and effortful breaths and the soft thump of dough. Teddy felt Jules pressing and leaning forward into his work, felt the small sweat and ache that had begun to announce itself in Jules’s shoulders, felt it when he held his breath as he pushed and then exhaled in a rush as he flipped the dough, felt it all as surely as if Jules’s body were there next to him, as if he might reach to the side and, without glancing over, brush the sugar from Teddy’s forearm, a gesture which might have been, if real, if the result of many long hours spent in the kitchen together, sweet and familiar and unthinking.

“My grandmother and I used to make this,” Jules breathed after a long silence, “when I was little. Mine would always become flowers. She would always make hers into people.”

Teddy understood that he needn’t reply, that Jules was speaking to him, yes, but speaking more into the empty space in which he stood as a witness, talking a story into the evening around him, and he, Teddy, was lucky to be near, to listen in as the story spun itself out of Jules and into the open, open quiet.

When the dough was finished and Jules had interrupted himself to say, “There, mine’s pretty done. I bet yours is done by now, too,” Teddy nodded in agreement—and even though he knew Jules couldn’t see him, he was sure Jules would sense him nodding through some miniscule change in his breathing or the invisible tension between them slackening just the slightest bit. And he did seem to know, because Jules paused and made a satisfied noise that sounded as if all the spring-coiled readiness had slid from his body. “This taste,” Jules sighed, “is like Proust’s madeleine.”

They spent an hour playing with the dough and molding it into shapes they wouldn’t reveal to each other. Teddy felt childish and happy and inept and far too adult all at once as he listened to the rhythmic way Jules breathed and spoke, the way his voice moved in and out of silence, like the advance and retreat of shallow waves that left in their wake little broken treasures on the shore.

Only his fingers moved, fumbling and busy and blind as he listened, his whole self waiting for Jules to tell him the next thing, whatever it might be.

Buy the book:

Meet the author:

Alysia Constantine lives in Brooklyn with her wife, their two dogs, and a cat. When she is not writing, she is a professor at an art college. Before that, she was a baker and cook for a caterer, and before that, she was a poet.

Sweet is her first novel.

Where to find the author:

 


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Giveaway

Enter to win a Rafflecopter Prize: $25 Interlude Press gift card to one winner, e-copies of ‘Sweet’ to five additional winners.  Must be 18 years of age or older to enter. Link and prizes provided by the author and Pride Promotions.
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