A MelanieM Review: A Forbidden Rumspringa (Gay Amish #1) by Keira Andrews


Rating:  5 stars out of 5

When two young Amish men find love, will they risk losing everything?

Forbidden Rumspringa coverIsaac Byler’s life changed when his family moved from their Amish home in Ohio to follow their new bishop to northern Minnesota.   Their previous bishop and settlement, while holding to the Amish ways, was never as strict as the Swartzentruber Amish life they are expected to lead in Zebulon.  All it took to shake up their community was a horrible accident that cost their small Ohio town the lives of several of their teenagers on a Rumspringa.  Now in Zebulon, that outlet and glimpse into the English world is forbidden as is all but the smallest contact with the outside world.  Every aspect of their lives is rigorously charted, inspected and regulated by their bishop and laws.  And Isaac is feeling smothered and guilty about the fact.

Isaac is also turning 18, an age where he is expected to join the church and marry, two things he has been avoiding at all costs.  The reasons behind his continued postponement are ones Isaac refuses to acknowledge.  But that’s about to change as well.  His parents have apprenticed Isaac to the community’s carpenter, David Lantz, a young man supporting his mother and sibling after his father died.  Isaac has been avoiding David too because being near the carpenter raises unseemly and forbidden feelings in him that he is supposed to save for his wife.

When David and Isaac start to work together, their attraction and feelings towards each other grows as does their guilt and confusion over their futures.  David too shares Isaac’s desires, and he harbors another secret as well.  But can their love withstand the pressures of their  families, community, and religion to conform and marry?  Or will they take the chance on a life together outside in the English world and face the possibility of never seeing home and family again?

What a fantastic book!  I had heard rumors about this novel circulating around certain LGBTQ internet groups for a little while but it still I was unprepared for the engrossing stunner of a story that is A Forbidden Rumspringa by Keira Andrews.   Andrews brings us into the heart of the Amish, in particular the  type of Amish known as the Swartzentruber, a super conservative, almost fundamentalist, religious sect within the Amish community that believes in zero contact with the outside world.  I mean a total rejection of anything that could be said to be modern, English, or prideful.  That includes rubber wheels for their buggies, shoes outside of church, and a rigid adherence to a strict “by the bishop” lifestyle where everyone is under constant surveillance and every part of their lives dictated by their bishop and religion.

Keira Andrews introduces us to this society and new settlement through the eyes of Isaac Byler, a 18 year boy, who is questioning their new lifestyle under their bishop and his future as it has been laid out for him by his parents and community. What little freedoms they had in their previous Amish community in Ohio have been left behind them when they fled their settlement because of an accident that killed several teenagers on a Rumspringa.   For those readers unfamiliar with the Amish lifestyle and religion, the Rumspringa is (in some Amish communities) “a period of adolescence in which boys and girls are given greater personal freedom and allowed to form romantic relationships, usually ending with the choice of baptism into the church or leaving the community.”  In other words, a time to get wild and get it out of their system before accepting communion and becoming a part of the church and community.  But due to that tragedy, an Ohio settlement shatters and a splinter group that includes the new bishop and several families leaves, heading to Minnesota in search of an isolated stricter life.

All this information as to their past history is imparted through Isaac’s memories and musings. How I loved and understood Isaac.  He is at a juncture in his life where he is expected to join the church, marry and start a farm of his own. None of which he wants to do.  Not only is Isaac (and his best friend) chafing under the new restrictions but Isaac’s beloved older brother has left for the outside world and been shunned for his actions.  Isaac is a bundle of questions,, guilt, and forbidden attractions towards men, especially the carpenter, David Lantz, to whom he is to be apprenticed.  Andrews pulls us completely into Isaac’s world, so intimately that we feel as though we are his constant companion, privy to all his thoughts and feelings.  We are so much a part of Isaac that we feel connected to him by his interactions with his family, his love for his brothers and sisters, the responsibility he feels towards his parents, everything that he treasures that is now starting to butt up against the clear realities of life in Zebulon.  Because nothing is thriving in Zebulon except the bishop.

Slowly as the narrative proceeds,  the author enlarges the reader’s view of Isaac and Zebulon to include the community’s farms, neighbors, and the group in general as Isaac interacts with various members of Zebulon. What a contrast between the healthy Amish community in Ohio they left and the starving, reduced one in Minnesota.  That no family can grow enough, make enough supplies or have enough resources to survive is adding to the  pressure for Isaac to stay and help support his family.  The portrait of this type of Amish community is startling.  I am sure that the pressures and strains represented here are the last ones to come to mind when you think of an Amish family but this story and its well drawn characters push the reader into forming other opinions or perspectives here.  Another gem of this story and author.

Especially well done is the familial bonds and community ties that hold Isaac and David in place.  You feel the emotions and love that tugs at them at the same time you totally understand the guilt and fear that threatens to overwhelm them.  David’s character is one that straddles both communities, that of the English or outside world and that of the Amish.  But deep within David remains that love and ingrained religious beliefs that continue to frame his life if not his thoughts. He is another great character, someone who is brave, troubled,and confused yet is still the impetus for the actions and events to come.

If those ties are all you have known, what amount of courage does it take to even think of leaving it and your families forever behind?  Huge questions posed by the author and characters on an intimate scale.  And every bit of emotional turmoil and pain is relayed from page to reader in believable scene after scene.  The descriptions, the dialog, and the settings are all so authentically elevated and yet on the same level as each other.  It all rings true.  Not one aspect appears more realistic or well researched than another.  The reader will throw their heart into this story and characters.  And that will make it hard to leave them all behind by the time this tale is over.  Luckily for us, Keira Andrews will pick up their story in a sequel to come.

A Forbidden Rumspringa is one of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words’ best stories of 2014.  As is that remarkable cover, so evocative of the novel and the Amish community found within.   I highly recommend this book to all readers, add it to your TBR list today.

Cover Design by Dar Albert.  Best cover of the month and of 2014. Love it.

Sales Links:    All Romance eBooks (ARe)     Amazon          A Forbidden Rumspringa

Book Details:

ebook, 231 pages
Published September 3rd 2014 by KA Books (first published August 31st 2014)
edition languageEnglish
seriesGay Amish #1
settingMinnesota (United States)


In The Spotlight: An Interview with Amy Lane on The Granby Knitting Series (Giveaway)



spotlight on books


 The Granby Knitting SeriesGranbyKnittingMenagerie[The]LG

by Amy Lane






The Winter Courtship of Fur Bearing CrittersHow to Raise An Honest Rabbit coverKnitter in His Natural HabitatBlackbird Knitting in a Bunny's Lair cover







One of my favorite series just got a long awaited update with the release of Blackbird Knitting in a Bunny’s Lair by Amy Lane.  It’s a story I waited to read for over 2 years.  And I loved it.  To celebrate its release and the new printed series collection, Granby Knitting Menagerie by Amy Lane and Dreamspinner Press, I invited Amy to stop by for an interview about the series, its characters, and perhaps, even its future.

Contest:  To celebrate the release of Blackbird Knitting in a Bunny’s Lair and the Granby Knitting Printed Collection, we have 2 prizes to giveaway to some lucky commentators.  From Amy Lane…an e-book copy of Blackbird Knitting in a Bunny’s Lair, OR a random skein of yarn from Amy’s stash!  I can hear you knitters salivating already! And from me a paperback copy of The Granby Knitter’s Menagerie.   

You must be over the age of 18 to enter and from the continental US or  Canada.  Make sure you leave your email address in the comment where you can be reached should you be chosen.  Contest ends 6/26 at midnight.

Introduction to the Granby cast of characters (via DSP series blurb):

Welcome to Granby, Colorado, a small town at the foot of the Rocky Mountains where it snows eight months out of the year and knitting is a mashup of art form, necessity, and religion. Here you will meet:

* Rance “Craw” Crawford, owner of the local alpaca farm and fiber mill, who courts tenderfoot Ben McCutcheon with awkwardness and the most lovingly handcrafted knitted garments known to man.

* Jeremy Stillson (also known as Jeremy Bunny), ex-con and ex-grifter, who comes to work for Craw and learns the secrets to being honest are in both the yarn he learns to use and in Aiden Rhodes, his young co-worker, who has a very direct way of dealing with life and seducing Jeremy.

* Stanley Schulz, yarn buyer and Craw’s ex-lover, who discovers the joys of knitting alone—and then discovers the joys of knitting for Johnny, a delivery driver with a shady past. Join this menagerie of knitters as they craft to keep their toes toasty and their hearts warm.


You’ve met the people, now meet their creator, Amy Lane!

Now on to our interview with Amy Lane….

STRW:  Does the Granby Mill really exist? Why Colorado?

Amy Lane: About five years ago (okay, *exactly* five years ago) Mate and I went on a 20th anniversary vacation to Colorado. Why Colorado? Because our timeshare went there. There is NO other reason– I kid you not. While I was there, of COURSE I went looking for yarn– and it turned out that there, at the end of what looked like a long country road (but what started out as a little suburban road) was an alpaca and sheep farm/mill. They had a little shop (I took no pictures!) but the yarn was… lovely. I haven’t knit any of it up– not even five years later–because I can’t stand the thought of not making something lovely enough to do it justice. Here is the blogpost I wrote back then– and I did manage to get some pictures of the alpacas 🙂 http://writerslane.blogspot.com/2009/…

STRW: How did a series/story about wool, knitting and such a diverse group of characters come about? What was your inspiration for this series?

Amy Lane:  As for the characters? Well, Rance came from Granby itself. The people there were nice– friendly, kind– but not exactly chatty. Granby really *is* in a bowl valley. There is a sense of isolation there– of intense community. It was lovely, but we obviously did not fit in. So that made me wonder… what would Rance Crawford do with a tenderfoot? Well, mostly worship him from afar, actually!

STRW: I love the patterns you incorporate into your stories. How do you choose which ones to use. Pattern or storyline? Which comes first?

Amy Lane:  I actually write the story first, and then decide which of the projects the characters talk about can make something simple enough and interesting enough to work! With Jeremy, the half-mittens are some of my all-time favorite projects. So easy, and so useful. Every writer I know wants a pair!

STRW:  Jeremy Bunny. He’s my favorite. Why was what happened to him so necessary? How did such a wounded, beautiful man happen and become such an important part of this series?

Amy Lane: Jeremy Bunny… wow. See, I wrote two sentences about him in the first story– I said he was an ex-con that Craw found panhandling on the streets of Boulder, and that he wanted to go straight. And I implied sort of a chemistry between him and Aiden. The rest of it… I had to make an ex-con/ex-conman who was redeemable. Oddly enough, working with kids sort of gave me the way to do this. I worked with a number of young people who HAD been arrested–and the thing that caught me most often about these kids was the things they didn’t know about life. Some of them were so VERY innocent about the things we take for granted– things like food, or clothes that fit, or how people could be kind with no underlying motive. It sounds cliched–but very often, they just didn’t know. It’s this core of innocence in the center of all these really questionable “life skills” that drove Jeremy for me. LIke Aiden said, emotionally, he was the same age as Aiden– just coming into adulthood. But in the meantime, he’d accrued a sort of horrific karmic backlog. It was nice and all that he’d reformed–but that part of his life cut a swath through innocent people. That’s why, for me, it was so important that he protect Stanley. Stanley was innocent, and Jeremy had some dirt on his hands. That fact that he would do this gives us the last puzzle piece of redemption. He’d more than earned it.

STRW: I loved that Angora rabbits and alpacas are represented along with sheep in the creation of yarns. As a knitter I gobbled up these stories as well as a lover of romance. What’s your favorite yarn to knit with?

Amy Lane: I’m a sucker for basic wool with a touch of luxury fiber in it– and I am a color way *slut*! The color way truly depends on what mood I am in that day– or eve THAT HOUR that day. All the pretty colors– I want to knit them all.

STRW:   Is the series truly over?

Amy Lane:  No! I have a plan for Eli and the Naked Alpaca Hats Band 🙂

STRW:  *still cheering over the news*  Do you have a favorite character in this series and why?

Amy Lane:   LOL– I’m a bad mommy, because I think I just sort of outed my favorite character by writing him a whole other book. Jeremy–hands down, he’s my favorite. I know a couple of people got upset that he was so much older than Aiden, but I know, by the end of the story, most of them realized that Aiden was the dominant one, the protector, and the old soul in that relationship. I loved that– loved that reversal, and loved Jeremy’s tentative sweetness. Yes. He’s my favorite, but Aiden was a close second. But it’s a hard fight– grumpy Craw, flamboyant Stanley, gentle Ben, suave Johnny– I really did love them all.

And it’s been my pleasure to answer the questions– thanks for asking them 🙂

Cover art by Catt Ford who created all those incredible covers in the series. I have included all of them as well.

Books in the series in the order they were written and should be read:

The Winter Courtship Rituals of Fur-Bearing Critters (Granby Knitting, # 1)
Super Sock Man
How to Raise an Honest Rabbit (Granby Knitting, #3)
Knitter in His Natural Habitat (Granby Knitting, #4)
Blackbird Knitting in a Bunny’s Lair (Granby Knitting #5)

Book Details:
Buy Links: Dreamspinner Press      Amazon

GranbyKnittingMenagerie[The]LGThe Granby Knitting Menagerie by Amy Lane Paperback: Buy links above.

ebook, 244 pages, A Granby Knitting Novel

Published May 2nd 2014 by Dreamspinner Press (first published May 1st 2014)
ISBN 1627988742 (ISBN13: 9781627988742)
edition languageEnglish
seriesKnitting #5

(Catt Ford, I love your covers.)  Here is another to drool over…..

Author Bio:

Amy Lane dodges an EDJ, mothers four children, and writes the occasional book. She, her brood, and her beloved mate, Mack, live in a crumbling mortgage in Citrus Heights, California, which is riddled with spiders, cats, and more than its share of fancy and weirdness. Feel free to visit her at http://www.greenshill.com or http://www.writerslane.blogspot.com, where she will ride the buzz of receiving your e-mail until her head swells and she can no longer leave the house.

You can follow Amy Lane via:

Goodreads Author Page



Author Spotlight: Leona Carver & her latest release, No Ocean Too Deep (Contest)



spotlight on books


No Ocean Too Deep Carver_Cover



No Ocean Too Deep by Leona Carver

Begzada Dastyaf, a warlord of the desert Amirate of Ujmah, descends into the deep sea to find his beloved prince and cousin, Sharouk. Not only must he navigate a strange new realm, but he must master an unfamiliar body and learn the ways of the folk who live within that dark and watery place … all while struggling with an unwanted attraction to his resentful sea folk guide, the witch Nils.


My name is Leona Carver and I’m here to talk about my new novella, “No Ocean Too Deep”, and the world in which it unfolds. I’m pleased to offer an e-copy of No Ocean Too Deep to give away.

Contest: To enter the draw, please leave a comment and an email address. The contest runs until midnight EDT June 1st, at which point I’ll draw a name from a bonafide hat.

  Where will duty and love take you?

The vastness of the ocean triggers a deep sense of awe. There are a myriad of ecosystems and flora, fauna, and in-between creatures (florauna?), and we know so little about it. Every week there’s some new discovery, an animal or a piece of footage of a place that had never been seen before. It is absolutely stunning. Immersing myself in that world both thrilled and challenged me, making No Ocean one of the most satisfying stories I’ve written.

I’m from the school of, “Write what you don’t know.” I find that I’m most passionate about those stories that challenge me, make me ask questions, make me fling out the long arm of imagination to grab at answers. Dastyaf and Nils travel in a place where there is very little light and the senses are both impaired and enhanced by the characteristics of the ocean. The challenge was to describe actions, emotions, and communication without the use of vision. I drew on research about the abilities of sharks to sense the electromagnetic fields of other animals, and had Dastyaf learn the language of scents and pheromones, which gives the sea folk a nearly telepathic ability to sense the thoughts and feelings of others. If I had had the word count at my disposal, I could have filled entire chapters with Dastyaf learning his new body.

No Ocean Too Deep-Carver_Image 1

In addition to the difficulties of communicating in the sea, sans sight but with enhanced taste and skin receptors, that world adds another complexity: The entire place is alive. Tiny organisms exist everywhere, from harmful, to benign, to beneficial, and the culture of my sea folk needed to reflect that. They depend on their slimy coatings for protection; therefore, touching is limited and, when it does occur, it indicates a deep level of trust. Sea folk healers understand how some organisms can be used to fight malign organisms, how the deeper briny waters can be used to kill weaker microbes. Witches use that thick miasma of life to cast their magic, to the extreme of the leviathans, giant creatures built from the less-sentient organisms.

No Ocean Too Deep- Carver_Image 2


The people were adapted to fit the environment, influenced by existing sea creatures. Sea folk come in all forms. The Angler Fish Deep Sisters: mighty huntresses wielding bait made of light, spiky with bone, their males little more than nubs and pustules attached to their skin. The Sirens: though they can be from any species, so long as they are witches, tend to be more vulnerable species. In No Ocean, they are delicate, translucent, highly venomous jellies, and their giant nautilus entombs a leviathan.

Environment is character: Active in the story, equipped with motivations and needs, acting on the other characters and reacting to what they do. In No Ocean, the environment is partially responsible for the existence of the leviathans. They would not be possible without the soup of microbes through which magic travels and acts on the world. When witches die, if they hold onto their lives strongly enough, the sea answers them and weaves them into herself. They are eaten away over time, losing more and more of themselves as their leviathan armour grows, until they become the silent, monstrous guardians of the ocean.

It was my intention to share my love of the ocean and all she holds, and create a new and interesting world to play in. Hopefully, this came through!

No Ocean was inspired by a simple prompt: Write a romance involving mecha. Somehow, that translated into organic armour built from corals, anemones, squids, fish, crabs, etc. Thankfully, Less Than Three Press went along with it. Because, once that seed was planted, it grew into a leviathan of its own. No Ocean Too Deep-Carver_Image 3There are deep seas, deserts, castles, a hostile Republic, and even a distant jungle nation to explore. No Ocean is only the beginning.


I’m currently working on the sequel, in which Dastyaf hunts for the ingredients needed by sea folk witches to maintain their sentience and fight their leviathan nature. Once that hurdle is overcome, he’ll need to deal with the Republic. Last we saw them, the Republic had rebuilt their fleet and commenced another invasion.

As well as the direct sequel, there will be a companion series beginning with The Clockwork Centurion. This will be another M/M fantasy/romance set in a Jules Verne-esque version of post-Roman Briton, with the heavier steampunk aspects that No Ocean Too Deep mostly missed out on, other than the Republic’s weaponry. Eventually, the characters from each series will meet and we’ll see what happens.


Sword fighting, probably. Topless sword fighting, if I have my way.

Leona Carver


No Ocean Too Deep Carver_Cover

Book Blurb:

To buck the brutal rule of the Republic, Amirzade Sharouk and his men pull off a desperate plan: Destroying the Republic’s fleet by joining forces with the legendary sea folk, masters of the leviathans, immense living weapons born of the sea and magic.

Though the gamble succeeds, one of the leviathans vanishes with a valuable human, straining an already tenuous alliance. Her caretaker Nils needs to find her as quickly as possible to redeem himself before his superiors. His search is further burdened by Dastyaf, a furious human warlord and liability in the marine realm. But after combing the deep ocean and discovering the dangers it holds, Nils realizes he may need the human more than he thought, to save his mission and himself.

Buy Links:       Less Than Three Press          Amazon             Smashwords             ARe

Book Details:

ebook, 174 pages
Published April 9th 2014 by Less Than Three Press LLC
original title:No Ocean too Deep
edition languageEnglish
series: A Loose Screw

Author Bio:

Leona Carver lurks in a Canadian basement with a cat and an aerospace engineer, one of whom helps with the science while the other scratches at the window to get out. She writes novels and short stories with a penchant for genre mash-ups—because fairy tales need space stations, historical romance needs steam powered cyborgs, merpeople should wear mecha, and all of the aforementioned need a little love. Or a lot of love.

Leona has published two M/M romances through Less Than Three Press: Piper, a space age version of the Pied Piper, and No Ocean Too Deep, a deep sea rescue with giant coral monsters and angry desert warriors.

Follow Leona Carver at: Leona can be rousted from her cave via email (leona.r.carver@gmail.com) or on her website (leonacarver.wordpress.com).


Review: Queens of the Apocalypse by Rob Rosen


Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Queens of the Apocalypse coverFabulous drag queens Destiny St. James, Kit Kat, and Blondella Bombshell were making preparations for their first show of the evening when all hell broke loose and life on earth was forever changed.  Protected by the steel walls of their dressing room, formerly a meat locker in a converted old restaurant, the drag queens never saw the solar flares that reduced most of the earth’s population to zombies.  But once outside, the direness of their situation is soon made all too clear.  Zombies are everywhere and only a message left on Blondella’s cell phone indicates that other people might have made it through alive, including her boyfriend in New York City.

What ensues is no less than apocalyptic road trip across American, one that would include the remnants of the US Army, Cher and an armload of Bob Mackie costumes, a few bedazzlers and strangely enough, true love for all three.  Not even the destruction of civilization as we know is enough to keep these girls out of their Jimmy Choos (knockoffs) and red nail polish!  Watch out, zombies, the Queens of the Apocalypse are headed your way!

I love, LOVE Queens of the Apocalypse!  Just when I think I am all “zombied out” by all the zombie books, undead tv shows and movies, along comes this fabulous (what other word could possibly fit) novel by Rob Rosen and I am back in the zombie fan club.  Of course, no other zombie story that I am aware of has such flamboyant, totally impossible and outrageously lovable stars  like Destiny, Kit and Blondella!  Nothing gets these girls down, including world annihilation and solar flares.

Rob Rosen made me believe in and fall in love with these drag queens from the very start when we meet them in the process of getting made up for their evening show at the club.  The dialog between the girls in the dressing room is affectionately snarky and hilarious, while remaining down to earth and totally real.  Making notes as I read became impossible as the story and those fabulous girls kept me enthralled in their journey across country and life and death situations they encounter.  It’s that old ‘laughing through the tears” storyline, but mostly laughing even as the living dead surround them and their circumstance often seems hopeless.  But Rob is not interested in stereotypes, although some of the situations and scenes can be downright campy.  No, Rosen has delivered some confident, intelligent, and resilient individuals who persevere no matter how high the odds or zombies that are stacked against them.  Destiny, our narrator, Kit and Blondella just keep rising to the occasion when presented with new obtacles or surprises, like an undead Drag Queen friend of theirs, Creature and a wealth of SuperSoakers as artillery!  With wigs askew, makeup running, and cracked nails, these wonderful characters demonstrate compassion, and a largesse of heart that keeps this story poignant as well as comedic.  Because even with all the death and mayhem surrounding them, there are such great comedic episodes that will have you laughing till your cheeks hurt. And there are still those quiet moments of reflection and despair, often at night, where the frightening reality of exactly how slim their chances are of making it is driven home for them and for the reader.  This is such an amazing story.

Rob Rosen’s tightly told and layered narrative never falters or bogs down. Instead we and the Queens are moved along at a fast pace, just barely (and sometimes not at all) keeping ahead of the zombie hoards now roaming the city streets and countryside.  Voracious, stiff and groaning, the zombies here are both heartbreaking and scary.  And they never stop coming.  Rosen’s plan for them was as surprising a twist as all the other elements found here.  I loved it.  And Queen Creature too.  Because for all the quips and bon mots Destiny, Kit, Blondella throw out, underneath all that bravado is the heart-rending reality of a world forever traumatically changed. It’s a new reality where all everyone they knew has died and returned as zombies. Vanished as well is all the support and social structure people count on, that of the United States of America as most probably all other countries too.

And even though Rosen has created some wonderful companions/love interests for our heroines, the sad fact is none of our merry band of survivors can be sure that there are more like them out there.  So struggle on they do, with hope, love, and a great deal of attitude, they are drag queens after all.  But yes, love interests arrive and they are as interesting a lot as the drag queens they fall in love with.  There aren’t many characters here (as you can well imagine) but those still talking and walking are as layered and realistic a group as the main characters.

Queens of the Apocalypse is one novel that has it all.  It has humor, suspense, horror, romance, and an absolutely outstanding ending.  Its as if Rosen went through the literary pantry pulling everything off the shelves and tossing them into his author mixing bowl.  And what he came up with is a smashing fictional dish that satisfies everyones palate.  A goodly dose of guffaws is balanced with a bouquet of tears, a pinch of spice and snark to go with the softness and surprise of love found amongst the ruins of society.  Really I can’t wait to go back and read it all over again.

I highly recommend you put this on the top of your TBR stack if you aren’t already reading it now.  It is one of ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Best of 2014!

Cover art by Wilde City Press.  I certainly wish I knew the name of the artist behind this fabulous cover.  It’s utter perfection and almost too big in attitude to be reduced to the size of a cover.  I love this!

Book Details:

Published January 29th 2014 by Wilde City Press
edition languageEnglish
Buy Link:  Wilde City Press

Review: Song of the Spring Moon Waning by E.E. Ottoman


Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Song of the Spring Moon Waning coverStudent Wen Yu is studying for the Emperor’s exams when a note is slipped under his door asking him to return the song thrush given into his care while the owner was sick. The only problem is that Wen Yu was never given a song thrush.  Although Wen Yu tries to put the mystery of the note aside to continue studying for his exams, he is unprepared when a second note arrives containing the same message.

Perplexed and intrigued, Wen Yu finds studying impossible and starts to look for the mysterious Liu Yi, the author of the note.  The trail of clues leads Wen Yu to the emperor’s castle and the beautiful imperial eunich Liu Yi.    Liu Yi is suffering from a mysterious ailment and believes that the ancient poems in his possession will contain information that will end his affliction. But the poems are in an unknown language. To get that information Liu Yi hopes that Wen Yu can translate the manuscript for him.  Soon Wen Yu finds himself obsessed by the collection of mysterious moon poems and his need to help Liu Yi.  The more time he spends with the beautiful Liu Yi and the poems the less time he has for studying, forcing Wen Yu to question what matters most in his life, obligation or love?

From title to storyline, Song of the Spring Moon Waning has all the lightness and delicacy of a Chinese brush painting set to words.  I am hard pressed to express just how easily the reader slips into this mesmerizing world, one that is ancient in feel and lyrical in tone.  Like most traditional Chinese poetry, Ottoman’s story deals in vivid expressions and juxtaposition of nature and the world around them.  The author captures the grim realities of a student studying for the Emperor’s exam, hoping for a better life for himself and his family versus the splendor of the imperial palace and those that reside there.    The mundane, realistic lives of the merchants and city dwellers  is contrasted with the magic of talking turtles and song thrushes with messages to impart to those in need as well as those who are needed.    Even the language of the story seems to flow with the rhythm and images found within ancient Chinese poems themselves.  And what may seem to be simple and straightforward is actually quite complex in design and message.  From characters to plot, Ottoman’s story has so many layers to it, and yet it never feels heavy or unwieldy.

With each new twist of plot or vivid description, the author infuses the tale with such enchantment  and age that it acquires a feeling of timeless storytelling. You can almost hear the parchment rustle or the faint whisper of an ink brush across the silk of the painting as the tale unfolds on the pages before you. The love poems between a dragon and a jade rabbit act as an impetus for a mortal love between student and imperial eunich.  But that mortal love may also hold a much longed for solution to the immortal lovers separation, thereby completing a cycle of romance and love.  Additionally, there are secrets that lie just below the surface for those involved in this timeless pattern, no matter if that facade is unworldly or earthly. One more intriguing aspect to this surprising story.

So much about Song of the Spring Moon Waning resonated with me,  including that amazing cover.  Having always loved ancient China, from its history to its artwork,  the manner in which Ottoman drew on and then seamlessly folded into the story elements  gathered from Chinese lore and culture made me further appreciate this author’s creativity and style.  This goes for components that might have inspired as well as those Ottoman imaginatively created.  The Chinese Moon Goddess and the rabbit, the dragons and the pearls, all are recognizably Chinese elements that people might be familiar with.  Taoist shamans of ancient China, the Wu, were said to communicate with animals, so the inclusion of the talking animals of the story, the turtle and the birds, felt both inspired by ancient lore while feeling imaginatively fresh.  And I could picture the Dragon of the Jade Mountain conversing with the Jade Rabbit, Great Physician of the Moon Palace, just by looking at a picture of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain,JadeDragonMountain12 so important to artists and Taoists alike.  Even the rhythm of ancient Chinese poets is hinted at by the flowing narrative with its delicate touch and references to  early Chinese culture, whether it be clothes or  food offerings.

Then at its heart is the love that springs forth between Wen Yu and Liu Yi.  At first glance it appears to be a gentle love story, but appearances are deceiving. Just under the surface lies a relationship of complexities and secrets where nothing and no one is as they seem.  The one person who seems so straightforward in background turns out to be the one with the most to hide and perhaps lose.  And Liu Yi who has already lost so much when his parents sold him to the palace as a eunuch, also appears to be a character that has it all, at least in material terms. What a complex character.  He is the one who has not only come to terms with his past and physically altered condition but Liu Yi is also the one who has gained the most materially but is not afraid to lose it all.  What is the truth of gender? Is it physical or what lies inside? And does love comes with requirements or boundaries?  Is the love between a dragon and jade rabbit any less than that of mortals? This aspect of the story may be the most amazing of them all.

Only the end of the story felt less complete as quite a few main plot threads were left unresolved. Just as the characters set out on a quest the story ends.  I found this abrupt ending startling considering the thoroughness and attention to detail Ottoman brought to the book as a whole. But upon contacting the author, I found out that Song of the Spring Moon Waning is the first in a series, so the unresolved plot points made sense as they lead into the sequel, one I can’t wait to read.  Do I wish it had continued past that point?  Absolutely, but I am not sure that I would have been happy at any break in this throughly addicting story.  It’s just that good.

Song of the Spring Moon Waning has so much to offer.  It’s enchanting, the love stories haunting, and the plot both imaginative and layered.  Ottoman has delivered a story that surprised me with its twists while captivating me with its atmosphere and lyrical narrative.  Consider this story one of ScatteredThoughts Best Novels of 2014.

Cover artist Aisha Akeju has done an amazing job.  This cover is gorgeous and perfect for the story within.  Again, one of ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Best Covers of 2014.

Book Details:

ebook, 32,000 words
Published January 15th 2014 by Less Than Three Press LLC
ISBN13 9781620043004
edition language English
You can follow E.E. Ottoman on:

Review: The Engineered Throne by Megan Derr


Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Sailing ShipA lifetime of abuse at the hands of his father sent Vellem into the service of Bellemere’s Army Corps of Engineers, first as an apprentice at the age of 10, then in the Royal Corps of Engineers where he became the youngest Captain of the Engineers.  His older brother found a different path at the royal court, anything to stay away from  their abusive drunk of a father and a mother who hid from her life behind drugs in her rooms.

Vellum rose swiftly through the ranks of the Engineers, winning Bellemere’s wars through perseverance and cunning, becoming renown for his engineering skills and intellect.  When his brother arranges a marriage for Vellem with one of the younger princes of the enemy kingdom of Talladith as a way to foster peace and make an political alliance, Vellem agrees. He wishes nothing more than to make a new start for himself faraway from his parents and the aggressive kingdom of Bellemere .

Vellem is looking forward to his marriage and using his skills and the accompanying Corps of Engineers to help Talladith rebuild that country’s infrastructure that had been destroyed through years of continual warfare with Bellemere.  But even as Vellem and the wedding party journey to Talladith, all is not as it seems.  But no one is prepared for the tragedy that will strike and Vellum is left to decide if he can go forward to rebuild amongst the ruins of everyone’s hopes.

I consider Megan Derr is one of the finest fantasy fiction authors writing in the m/m genre today.  Time and again she manages in her series and stand alone novels to capture the essence of the world she is building in such a manner that the universe, her characters and the societies through which they move appear seamless and utterly realistic to the reader, even when dragons fly through the air and mages work their craft in fantastical ways.  A Megan Derr fantasy novel is one where no element of the story is neglected.

Her world building is impressive.  We learn about the land’s topography, the geography, the political layout, the flora and fauna…it all there giving her plots a remarkable foundation upon which to stand.  Important in The Engineered Throne are the rugged mountains and rivers that help define the kingdoms.  As Vellem and his party travel through the region, Derr’s descriptions give the reader a real feel for the area and the treacherous terrain the party must navigate through, making the land as much a part of the story as the characters.

Her plots are always layered and intricate.  In The Engineered Throne, the reader is kept guessing as to where the actions are taking the characters, making it almost impossible to extrapolate the events to come.  And what shocking events they are.  I think that even with some prior warning with some troublesome occurrences along the way, what occurs to the characters we have become fond of is so believably rendered that their pain and shock becomes ours.  Without giving anything or too much away, the plot of the story has such complexity and depth that nothing is as it seems on the surface and as the story continues, layer after layer is exposed making the story that much richer and rewarding.

But in order to pull it all together and make the reader care about the book, you must have characters that the readers will commiserate and sympathize with, relating to the characters so thoroughly that our emotions are tied to theirs.  That absolutely happens here with Vellem, Koit (his brother), Perdith the prince of Talladith that he marries and all the rest.  Although the book is told from Vellem’s point of view, the fullness of characterization of the others comes through nicely as seen through his eyes.  I loved the fact that, instead of the usual warrior or mage, Vellem is an engineer, and that in that capacity, he wins his wars.  That is a lovely twist in this strange world that has both dragons (his little golden dragon is enchanting) and guns.  Vellem, a victim of childhood abuse, does not see himself as others do.  So at first the readers opinion of him is his, then slowly through the words and actions of those around him, the true nature of this man is revealed both to the readers and finally to himself.

Another aspect of this story is that no character is considered a “throw away”.  By that I mean, the “red shirt” actors of the Star Trek series. You know, the ones that were there specifically as the disposable character soon to die in the next scene.  Soon to die, no care was taken to make them people we would care about. Not so here. We care about them all from the beginning as each is such a personable creation that they come alive in only a few pages.

There is a romance situated at the heart of this story but it is a very slow climb to fruition.  Strangers and enemies through politics at the beginning of the story, Vellem and Perdith have many obstacles, including a lack of communication between them, to overcome before love can set in.  If you are looking for a story consumed with romance and a sexual relationship between the main characters from the beginning, this may not be the story for you.  There is far too much going on for Vellem and Perdith to drop everything for romance and it would negate all the carefully crafted personas for that too happen.

This is a long novel at 346 pages but Megan Derr uses every word to craft an enthralling fantasy saga.  In fact at the end, I felt as though there were more stories (and adventures) left for Vellem and Perdith and the rest of the crew.  I hope that Megan Derr will revisit this couple or perhaps some of the other characters in this remarkable story.  I want to know what happens next.  You will too.  Grab this up and prepare for a wildly eventful journey into fantasy and beyond.

Cover Art by Megan Derr is exceptional.  It works beautifully to draw the reader in with its fantasy elements and misty tone.

Book Details:

ebook, 346 pages
Published November 13th 2013 (first published November 12th 2013)
original title The Engineered Throne
ISBN13 9781620042724
edition language English