A Caryn Release Day Review: Nomad’s Dream by August Li

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

How do I describe this book?  It’s romance and adventure, a sprinkling of poetry and wisdom, a generous dash of fantasy and magic, all set upon the primal struggle between good and evil.  In short, amazing!

Isra is a Bedouin, a true creature of the desert in a way that transcends time (and initially had me thinking this was a historical book).  Granted, this book presents a very romanticized, Western view of the Bedouin culture, but the interaction between Isra and other people, and between Isra and the desert, gave an amazing depth to his character.  He knew he was attracted to men, and had resigned himself to being alone and refusing to take a wife, but he wasn’t truly lonely.  The desert provided him with all the nurturing he needed.

He had another secret from his clan members, and that was his friend Flicker, an arafrit, a creature of fire and air, who came to Isra from time to time, and with whom he shared all of his deepest thoughts and desires.  When Isra started to have recurrent dreams of searching, that eventually culminated in the face of a man, he turned to Flicker for help.  Flicker led him to an ancient temple, then disappeared.  And Isra found the man he’d been dreaming of – a beggar, a man with no name, no memories.  Isra bestowed the name Janan upon him, meaning heart, and took him to his home.

For Isra, taking this man into his home and into his protection felt destined.  And despite Janan’s distressing amnesia, he could feel that Janan was a good man.  They grew close, and then they fell in love.  They would have been content to continue living with the Bedouin, but Janan continually had a feeling of something left undone, some person left behind, and tantalizing but enigmatic glimpses of who he used to be, that would not leave him at peace.  He and Isra enlisted Flicker to help them find the secret of Janan’s past and identity, and set off on a quest to recover his memory.

I haven’t read an MM romance in this setting before, and I loved how the dedication was to “a certain Publisher and Chief Development Officer who lamented the lack of sexy sheikh submissions”.  I am sure that person is fully satisfied with this submission.  Both men are sexy, but more than that, they are truly heroic, although in a quiet, humble way.  They came across as authentically muslim, but from an Islam that is quite different from the fundamentalist sects that we in the western world associate with terrorism.  The desert itself is almost another character in the book as well, a place of stillness, potential, and abundant life to those who know how to find it.  In Isra’s words, life in the desert “granted freedom and, maybe even better, time.  Making a living didn’t cost a man’s every waking moment….One could ruminate on the meaning of life and God and fate and love and feel nothing had been wasted.” Even through the violence and danger the men encountered  as they found and confronted the person who ripped Janan’s life away, there was still a sense of the vast and eternal desert biding its time until the men returned.  My own personal experience of the desert included scorching heat and scorpions, and I am absolutely not a fan, but this book almost made me want to try it again – the writing was just that good.  Again, in Isra’s words:  “Stories are important.  They tether us to the past, to our place in time and the world.  They help us understand life and ourselves.”

Overall, highly recommended.  This is an author I will be looking for more from!

Cover art by Tiferet Design is perfect for the “sexy sheikh” the author was going for.  I pictured both MC’s a little scruffier myself, but this works…

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book details:

ebook, 200 pages
Expected publication: January 29th 2019 by Dreamspinner Press
Original Title Nomad’s Dream
ISBN 139781644050149
Edition Language English

A Stella Advent Calendar Review: Colina de Lavanda by August Li

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RATING 5 out of 5 stars

A Story from the Warmest Wishes: Dreamspinner Press 2018 Advent Calendar

Lord protector of whores, thieves, sorcerers, and deviants.

Owning a parcel of land the railroad needs to cross means Edward gets to run the border town around the station as he sees fit. What starts as a place to indulge his varied appetites becomes a haven to society’s castoffs, and if Edward encourages legends about its founder to flourish, well, he’s not so much a liar as a man who wants to protect all the cultures living in peace. Being mayor means folks might ignore his vices, but they also expect him to fix what goes wrong.

When a crushing heat wave and drought threaten not only the town’s diverse holiday celebrations but its very existence, Edward must turn to the one man he’d rather french kiss a timber rattler than face—the icily elegant Cantonese mage Edward walked out on but never stopped loving.

I was over the moon when I saw this new release by one of my favorite authors in this year DSP Advent Calendar. I am a huge fan of August Li, I found all the titles I read so far always so well done, each time I fall in love with the characters and the plots. I am sure I already said it, but the reason why I love the author so much is because August always creates amazing settings and new places to discover, with a magical writing that catches my attention from the first words.  Colina de Lavanda has all these qualities and so much more.

It was so easy to follow Edward throughout his town’s roads, solving problems and trying to finally put roots with Shu, the man who owns his heart. The line binding their souls is so frail and strong at the same time, Edward just needs to be brave and open his home to the beautiful mage.

This short is a second chance at love story, set in a magical town, where everything can happen and sometimes the unthinkable can be real. I was intrigued and curious about the plot, I wasn’t expecting what happened and I was so intensely surprised, Colina de Lavanda was of course a huge winner to me. I read it for a second time two days after the first read, cause I was missing the emotions and astonishment the story gave me.

I feel to recommend it if you’re looking for something different, you won’t be disappointed.

The cover art by L.C. Chase is simple and fitting, I like it.

SALE LINKS  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

BOOK DETAILS

Kindle Edition, 57 pages

Published November 30th 2018 by Dreamspinner Press

ASIN B07L1HLXKW

Edition Language English

Cover Reveal for Nomad’s Dream by August Li

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Title: Nomad‘s Dream

Author: August Li

Release Date: January 29, 2019

Category: Paranormal

Buy Links:  Dreamspinner Press eBook and  Paperback
Blurb:
Two men, each with a hidden destiny. Can they defeat a web of deceit and dark magic to ensure their fates intertwine?
Bedouin Isra al-Grayjaab’s dreams lead him to Janan, an amnesiac beggar on the street of Qena—one who steals his heart and starts him on a seemingly hopeless quest. With only their wits, Isra’s knowledge of the desert’s secrets, and the aid of a mercurial djinn, they must recover Janan’s past. But neither can predict his true identity or the lengths others will go to see that his mind remains broken and his true power out of his reach.
In a sweeping romantic adventure that takes them across the Eastern Desert to the modern streets of Cairo and on to the luxurious Red Sea Coast, Janan and Isra seek a truth that will either bring them into each other’s arms or tear them apart forever.

Pages: 200

Author Bio:
August Li plays every game as a mage. He thinks the closest thing to magic outside of games and fantasy is to bring things into existence from nothing, which he does in words and images. As a proud trans man, he hopes to bring diversity and representation to all those who want to see themselves in the art and stories they enjoy. He’s a perfectionist, travel enthusiast, and caffeine addict.
Gus makes his home on the coast of South Carolina, where he spends his days in search of merpeople, friendly cats, and interesting pieces of driftwood. He collects ball-jointed dolls, tattoos, and languages. He believes in faeries and thinks they’re terrifying… but still wants to meet one.
Fox-Hat’s Den on Facebook: www.facebook.com/FoxHatsDen/
Twitter: @Ninja_Gus

A Free Dreamer Review: Incubus Honeymoon (Arcana Imperii #1) by August Li

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

As the so-called magical creatures go, I’m low on the hierarchy, and my powers aren’t much good to human mages. I’m a lover, not a fighter, through and through. I’m also selfish, lazy, and easily bored. But I’m damned good at what I do.

Too bad that won’t get my arse out of this sling.

Do one—granted, uncharacteristic—good deed, and now I’m held hostage to an arrogant faerie prince, trying to track down the one who summoned him while dodging gangbangers, gun runners, and Nazis. Add the powerful mage guilds scrambling to gather firepower for some doomsday event they’re sure is around the corner, and my cushy life of leisure might be nothing but a memory. On top of that, something’s compelling me to change on my most fundamental level. I’m not sure what I’ve got myself mixed up in, but nothing will ever be the same.

Bloody hell.

===

Featuring a new twist on urban fantasy combined with fast-paced action and intrigue, the Arcana Imperii series books are standalone adventures, each completely accessible to new readers.

I probably wouldn’t have picked up “Incubus Honeymoon” if it hadn’t been published by DSP. The title kind of leads you to expect lots of sex and not much of a plot. But since this is a DSP title, I knew there would be mostly plot and little to no romance in it. And that’s exactly what I got. This is, first and foremost, a fantasy novel that also has some elements of romance and sex in it.

The blurb promises “a new twist on urban fantasy”. That’s almost an understatement, if you ask me. While the elements the story is made up of aren’t exactly new, the combination of said elements was what made this book truly unique.

We have three very different protagonists in this story. Blossom is your typical Fey of the old stories: a ruthless bastards who only ever does what suits him best. Then there’s Dante, a normal human who knows nothing about magic but who’d do everything to keep his little sister safe and happy. And finally we have Inky, an incubus and the only one of the trio who has something resembling a human conscience. I don’t think I actually liked either Blossom or Dante, but that was fine. I definitely understood Dante’s motivations and Blossom is Fey and Fey are always jerks.

The plot itself is truly breathtaking. There’s so much action and drama and so many hidden layers, it was really hard to put the book down. This is an urban fantasy setting and the author does a brilliant job of combining the fantasy elements with current events. Climate change, Trump, terrorism and nationalism were cleverly interwoven with the magic of the story. That’s one of the things that really stood out to me and me absolutely love this book.

As I’ve mentioned above, there really isn’t much of a romance to be found. There’s an established couple that becomes quite important but their love is not a main focus at any time. There are a few semi-explicit sex scenes and a few more off-screen, which makes sense, considering Inky is an incubus. But again, the sex was not a focus point.

Oh, and there were cats. I love cats and well-written cat characters are always a huge bonus for me.

This was shaping up to be a 5-star-read for me. But there were just too many POVs throughout the story. Sometimes it actually got a little confusing because of that. Ultimately, that’s the thing that made me knock off half a star.

“Incubus Honeymoon” is the first part of a new series by this author and it shows. While the story doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, the plot quite clearly isn’t fully resolved. And I’m really looking forward to what happens next.

I can’t believe this is my first book by August Li. He’s obviously a brilliant author and I’ll need to check out his other works.

I think this book will appeal to all fans of urban fantasy. It’s definitely an interesting new twist on well-known fantasy elements. Read it, I’m sure you’ll like it.

The cover by Blake Dorner is perfect. Inky looks exactly like I’d imagined him and he has his super cute cat with him.

Sales Links:  DSP Publications | Amazon

Book details:

ebook, 274 pages

Published July 17th 2018 by DSP Publications

Fantasy Spotlight on Incubus Honeymoon (Arcana Imperii #1) by August Li (guest blog )

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Incubus Honeymoon (Arcana Imperii #1) by August Li

DSP Publications
Cover Artist: Blake Dorner

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Interview with August Li

Trans and Enby Characters, Own Voices, and the Challenges Therein

I’ve written a lot of blog posts to promote this book. I was happy to see Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words offered a series of interview questions and that I wouldn’t have to think up an entire subject on my own. The interview starts with the statement “You can answer any or all of the questions.”

I only ended up answering one. You’ll see why.

How much of yourself goes into a character?

Quick answer: it depends. Empathy aside, a writer really has to draw on their own experiences, and if not specific experiences, then similar emotional events. Everyone has love, loss, frustration, and inspiration to draw from. A writer doesn’t need to deal with exactly what the character does if they can find a time when the emotional impact was similar. That and some research is usually plenty.

The easiest characters are those closest to me in personality—in this book, Dante with his anger at the world’s inequity and injustice, coupled with a sense of futility, that nothing he can personally do will fix anything, came easily from my feelings about the world at the moment. I also work hard to make sure the nonhuman characters exhibit motivations that set them apart, so the differences are more than cosmetic.

But the truth is one of the characters in this book is more personal to me than probably any I’ve yet written.

I’ve always been very open about being trans, and I’ve even, to an extent, documented some of my physical transition. Yet it’s been many years now since I came out, but I’ve never used my Own Voice and written a trans or nonbinary character until now. Why?

One thing that made me hesitate is that I don’t necessarily want to shape people’s notions of trans and nonbinary people, and maybe especially not with this character. Jet can be kind of nasty. Jet uses their skills to harm people they don’t like or don’t agree with, rather than trying to understand those people or come to any kind of an understanding. While not a bitter or unhappy person, Jet is defined by what they hate—granted, that’s tyranny, racism, inequality, etc.—more than by what they love. Jet does not go high. Jet is not opposed to the use of force. Jet smokes a lot of weed and has a lot of sex with whoever strikes their fancy. Altogether, a hell of an introduction to a nonbinary person for those who have never met one in real life or fiction. I wondered if I was doing the right thing. I debated on making Jet a cis person or toning down their more… controversial actions. But I couldn’t do it. Jet IS a nonbinary person; Jet IS a resistance fighter and one who thinks the ends justify the means. Jet likes to stir up shit and fuck with people. Remove any of these characteristics, and they are a different person. And in my opinion, they’d have suffered a tremendous loss. I’m curious how others feel about writing underrepresented characters who are morally ambiguous.

I also didn’t want to use it as a crutch. There are almost as many gay romances as straight at this point, and it’s hard to stand out amongst them. God knows it’s hard to stand out in mainstream fantasy. Trans and nonbinary characters are starting to get more attention—finally; yay!—but it’s still a much smaller pool. And it’s easier to be a bigger fish in a smaller pool. I really didn’t want that. I didn’t want my book to get attention just because there’s a nonbinary and an asexual character; the book and the characters mean too much to me. The solution to that was a simple, though brutal, one: I made sure this was the best book I could possibly write. I did everything in my power to construct a world and a plot that would compel readers, that is hopefully complex but not confusing. I revised and revised, weighing each word. My editorial team helped a lot too. A lot. Bottom line, I wanted to write a damn good urban fantasy. Some of the characters are queer. While that matters, I don’t want it to qualify the previous statement. I hope I’ve succeeded in what I set out to do.

Finally, and this is probably going to get a little personal, so if you’d rather skip to the blurb or ogle that gorgeous cover art by Blake Dorner, no foul. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but there’s some pain tied up with all of this for me. Since I came out as trans, I’ve lost people. People who I thought would always have my back turned against me. I wasn’t allowed to visit my grandfather before he died, and I won’t get to see my grandmother either. But on the other hand, I have a publisher, Dreamspinner Press, who changed my name on my entire backlist without me even asking. I have a community of friends who helped me raise money for surgery. I’ve met the person I hope to spend the rest of my life with. Still, it was scary to come out, and using my Own Voice and writing a trans character was similarly scary. It brought back some of the bad. But it brought back a lot of the good too, and I can’t wait to write more trans and nonbinary characters. As a reader, do you like reading about these characters? What are some of your favorite books featuring them?

Book Blurb:

As the so-called magical creatures go, I’m low on the hierarchy, and my powers aren’t much good to human mages. I’m a lover, not a fighter, through and through. I’m also selfish, lazy, and easily bored. But I’m damned good at what I do.

Too bad that won’t get my arse out of this sling.

Do one—granted, uncharacteristic—good deed, and now I’m held hostage to an arrogant faerie prince, trying to track down the one who summoned him while dodging gangbangers, gun runners, and Nazis. Add the powerful mage guilds scrambling to gather firepower for some doomsday event they’re sure is around the corner, and my cushy life of leisure might be nothing but a memory. On top of that, something’s compelling me to change on my most fundamental level. I’m not sure what I’ve got myself mixed up in, but nothing will ever be the same.

Bloody hell.

===

Featuring a new twist on urban fantasy combined with fast-paced action and intrigue, the Arcana Imperii series books are standalone adventures, each completely accessible to new readers.

About the Author

August Li plays every game as a mage. He thinks the closest thing to magic outside of games and fantasy is to bring things into existence from nothing, which he does in words and images. As a proud trans man, he hopes to bring diversity and representation to all those who want to see themselves in the art and stories they enjoy. He’s a perfectionist, travel enthusiast, and caffeine addict.

Gus makes his home on the coast of South Carolina, where he spends his days in search of merpeople, friendly cats, and interesting pieces of driftwood. He collects ball-jointed dolls, tattoos, and languages. He believes in faeries and thinks they’re terrifying… but still wants to meet one.

Links:

DSP Publications

Amazon

Social media links:

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Fox-Hat’s Den on Facebook

A Stella Release Day Review: Gone by the Board by August Li

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RATING 5 out of 5 stars

The sea is full of jealously guarded secrets, but everything washes up eventually….

Betrayed by a trusted partner, Nathan figures he might as well be lost and heartbroken in the sunshine, and he heads to the coast of South Carolina, to stay with a friend and find a new direction for his life. But despite his efforts, he is lost in the fog, unable to find a guiding light and sometimes unable to find a reason to go on. His only respite from depression and anxiety is the soothing rhythm of the tides and the comfort he draws from proximity to the water.

When the sea sends a lifeline in the form of a strange and beautiful man, it’s easy for Nathan to ignore all the things that don’t add up about his new friend. But the tides can turn without notice, and it’s those mystical traits that will either finally lead Nathan safely to shore or drown him in confusion and despair.

I probably have a weakness for this author, some of his stories, like The Kitchen Boy or The Union of Sun and Moon, were a huge success to me but Gone By the Board is exactly what I like to read, exactly what I want from books like this. Maybe it’s just cause August Li has a way with words that are able to bring me in the characters’ world and let me live and breath their lives with them. This is a specific quality of the author writing, the reason why I come back to his books (new and old ones) quite often. His works are always so evocative and well done I can’t have enough of them.

Gone by the Board is a moving story, it’s about Nathan and his deep struggle with a dark depression, very hard to live with. Add to it a breakup with a husband who deserves really nothing from life, least at all a man like Nathan. So Nathan decides to move to South Carolina where his best friend Rachel lives in a peaceful place along the beach. Just what Nathan needs. Some quiet to put his life back on track. And then Brume happens.

Since I received this story I already read it twice and I surely will reread it sooner. Something caught my heart. Don’t let the blurb scares you, this is not a dark story, although it deals with important themes like depression and anxiety (SPOILER ), they aren’t there to turn the story into a dark one, like often books that deal with those themes do, they put me down and give a sense of resignation, the bad kind of it. Although these themes, Gone By the Board is sweet, light, heartwarming and so full of feelings. And with an unexpected HEA. I was waiting for the author to develop the plot into the obvious (to me) kind of ending, instead he went to the opposite and it was more perfect. I still smile rethinking of it.

I didn’t reveal a lot of important details in this review, because I don’t want to spoil anything at all. I think the right way to approach this reading is knowing just what the blurb tells you and no more. That way, this new release will conquer you, surprise you and leave you with fluffiness in your tummy. I feel to recommend Gone by the Board if you are looking for something different and real even if real it can’t be.

The cover art by Anne Cain is just perfect, so well done and fitting. I can see Brume and it’s just how I imagined him in my mind.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

BOOK DETAILS

ebook, 98 pages

Publication Date: May 24th 2017 by Dreamspinner Press

ISBN 1635334977 (ISBN13: 9781635334975)

Edition Language English

A Stella Review: THE KITCHEN BOY by August Li

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RATING   4 out of 5 stars

The Kitchen BoyKitchen servant Yoli is one of only three men who know a carefully guarded secret about High Commander Koehen, the brilliant general who united their lands against a common invader. The enemy wants that secret, and they are willing to use either kindness or cruelty to obtain it.

Yoli must decide if his loyalties lie with the commander, who has shown him more affection than anyone in Yoli’s life, or with his own best interests. High Commander Koehen’s attention is capricious at best—he summons Yoli only when it is convenient for him, and Yoli knows there’s little hope of a future together. Is a glimmer of a hope for love worth sacrificing a chance for prosperity beyond his wildest dreams?

 

I read The Union of Sun and Moon by August Li last year and I was pleasurably surprised by the style of the author. As soon as I saw The Kitchen Boy I wanted to read it. This is a second edition but I missed it earlier. And now that I read it I’m surely going to  devour whatever else they wrote in the past. I like their style so much, it’s hard to explain but I get a sense of peace and sweetness.

The Kitchen Boy is the story of Yoli, who after having been sold by his own father when he was only six years old, works now as a servant in the kitchen of the High Commander Koehen, the man who was able to fight for the union of a great kingdom. The same man suffers of very hurtful migraines that only Yoli seems able to relieve, although their meeting is not just the medical kind. Until the enemies will capture Yoli and torture him to discover the weakness of Koehen.

This was a great story, I was caught from the start and couldn’t put it down till the end. It greatly engaged me with the amazing characters and world building. We get to know quite enough of the world the story is set in, I honestly wasn’t expecting so much in  not so many pages.

The author made me like the characters a lot, even the supposed bad one Brunarious. Of course Yoli was my favorite, a pleasure to see. So strong and brave and generous in his simpleness. He went through so many abuses and hurt in his life. I get to feel his deep emotions, the fear to hope for more, the sense of inadequacy, his loyalty to a man who showed him a glimmer of a future he never hoped to dream for himself. I enjoyed not just his hot time with Koehen, our hero, but his learning scenes with the wizard Vlaad (which maybe needed to be explored a little because there was more to know about the magician and his relationship with the MCs and maybe I was hoping in some menage moments).

I liked this story a lot, well written and developed, great characters, good tempo. All of these made The Kitchen Boy one of my favorite books in the mm fantasy genre.

The COVER ART by Anne Cain is well done and fitting, I can easily see Yoli in it, learning to read. Still I have a note to make, I would have been happier to see a cover made by the author, I like August style, in the writing and in the design I saw around.

Sales Links:   Dreamspinner Press | ARe | Amazon

BOOK DETAILS

ebook, 2nd Edition, 126 pages
Published April 6th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press (first published February 2nd 2013)
ISBN 1634771273 (ISBN13: 9781634771276)
Edition LanguageEnglish