A VVivacious Review: That Doesn’t Belong Here by Dan Ackerman

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Emily and Levi are out on the beach when they find a silver pickup truck in the middle of the ocean. When Emily and Levi go to investigate they find someone trapped in the back seat, injured.

But this someone isn’t human, it’s something else and nothing like anything they have seen before but as it turns out that isn’t even the most interesting thing about Kato. Because the fact of the matter is that Kato is part of a sentient species.

Levi is struggling with himself and his sexuality. Making things worse is the fact that Kato seems to like him and not only is Kato a man but he is also not a human and Levi can’t seem to deny that he feels something for Kato too.

This is a really short story at least as far as I am concerned. My reader puts this at 146 pages but with the speed that I flew through the pages,this book might as well have been 50 pages long instead of thrice that.

This book had me hooked from the beginning. I read the first chapter which I found in the author’s email requesting the review but I couldn’t stop after having read only a single chapter and I would have seriously bought this book just to find out what was next if it had already been published. But it wasn’t so I couldn’t, but I did download a sample off of Smashwords which had a lot more content but still not enough to satisfy me and I remember going off on a hunt to find a book to distract me until I could get my hands on an ARC. Thankfully I got it the next day and I finished it in the same day.

God this book was unbelievable. It had such an amazingly well-executed premise and just the concept of this book had me so hooked, imagining that there is a sentient species right here on Earth that we know nothing about. I also loved the author’s idea of not having Kato be an alien because initially, I thought that was the lines along which this story would be headed but it didn’t and I fell a little bit more in love with this book.

As if that wasn’t enough to make the story good, the author tops it off with some amazing characters, perfect in their imperfections. I was already in love with Kato throughout the book but I didn’t realise how much till Kato finds himself in trouble and then I couldn’t wait for him to get out of it. But what was surprising is how much I loved Levi. I think I loved the fact that Levi wasn’t super model hot and he actually had some fat on him. The fact that Levi is confused, doesn’t quite understand who he is and at the same time struggles with his body could have gone really wrong because I don’t appreciate a self-deprecating personality in denial but Levi, God Levi makes it work. What was amazing about Levi was how his inner worth always shone through and his quiet strength was always on display no matter how blind he was to both these qualities of his. I also loved Emily, she is just such a contained character and I loved her independence and her confidence and her tendency to worry. This was one woman that I genuinely admired.

I can’t think of a single character in this book supporting or otherwise that wasn’t memorable and I truly fell in love with all of the nice ones and hated all the other ones.

The story doesn’t let up for a second because even though the story line moves slowly the pace of the book is fast. Things move slowly but at the same time it feels like everything is moving by too quickly or maybe it was my own reluctance of not having the book end coupled with my eagerness to know what happens next that made me feel that way.

This book ends suddenly, it is like reaching the top of a crescendo and instead of being gently guided down you find yourself in a free fall. I loved the ending but at the same time, I wanted more. This book truly had a dichotomy of emotions rising up in me.

There are a few loose ends that aren’t tied up in this book. Firstly, the fact that we never find out how Kato ended up in that trunk and secondly, we never find out what Charlotte wanted to discuss with Kato. Not that I mind too much. As far as I am concerned this book was perfect in spite of its flaws.

This book is amazing but it was imagination that flows throughout this book that has me so enraptured with this book and all its characters.

Cover Art. I really like the cover for the book not because of the picture that adorns it, which to be honest I find a little childish but what I love about the picture is that I can see how that image inspired this body of work or vice versa which makes this image more than just how it looks because it might look childish but it has depth.

Sales Links:  Preorder at Amazon 

Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: October 1st 2017 by Supposed Crimes, LLC
ISBN13
9781944591892

Review: Loving Hector by John Inman

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Loving HectorDillard “Dill” Brown is not sure what to say about his life.  Dill is tall, gay and writes m/m romance novels.  He has published 3 books, none very successful. At the age of 30, he has a closet full of fast food uniforms due to the fact that his writing barely pays his rent, and a mother in denial that her son is gay.  Then everything changes.  He gets drunk, meets a man he swears he won’t forget but does in his stupor, finds a dog he will call Chester, and puts his feet firmly on the path to true love and happily ever after.

Hector Pena is also on that road with Dill, but he just didn’t realize it at first.  There are a couple of misunderstandings to  get over before they really start to connect but the biggest obstacle?  That would be Hector’s exboyfriend, Valdemaro.  Valdemaro is not ready to let Hector go, to the point of beating and physically restraining him.  Only one thing is keeping Hector from calling the cops.  And that would be the fact that Valdemaro is a cop.  Dill  will  do whatever it takes to keep Hector safe, put Valdemaro in his place and make sure Dill, Hector, and Chester the dog reach their HEA, including gathering together some of the craziest, zaniest group of people to do it.

Loving Hector is the first book I have read by John Inman and it has me reaching for the rest of his titles immediately.  Dill, Hector, and the crazy group of characters that enrich, support and drive them batty had me laughing for hours.  John Inman rests the story in the somewhat capable hands of Dill Brown, 30 year old gay m/m romance novelist and collector of fast food jobs.  It is told from Dill’s off kilter and very funny rambling POV.  Now I am aware that this type of stream of consciousness, scattered narrative is not everyone’s cup of tea and that it can depend on exactly who and what type of character’s thoughts are constantly flowing over the page.  But I happened to find Dill hysterical, his view of the world compassionate and openhearted, so I enjoyed spending time  inside his very creative and observant mind (thank you, John Inman).

For an example, here is Dill eyeing his Gramps, a crazy old coot who just happens to love his gay grandson:

When Dill was finally able to step out onto the sidewalk, the two men eyed each other up and down like a couple of Sumo wrestlers getting ready to rumble.

The top of Gramps’s work pants were tucked up under his armpits so that his belt buckle was directly under his chin. Dill could see several inches of pale, shiny shinbone gleaming between the man’s pant legs and the top of his socks. One of the socks was white with little red and blue stripes around the top, and the other was white with little yellow and green stripes around the top. The second sock drooped down around the ankle because the elastic was shot. The first sock looked like it was three sizes too small and by the way it was strangling his grandpa’s leg, Dill figured it would probably create an embolism sometime in the next seven or eight minutes that would kill the old man dead. The shoes were brown-and-white saddle shoes, the sort you usually see in old pictures poking out from under a poodle skirt. The laces were missing. The trousers were brown and shiny, and the lumberjack shirt the man wore was a horrendous green and orange plaid and big enough to hold three grandfathers. It was without a doubt the ugliest plaid Dill had ever seen in his life. If it was a tartan emblem for a particular clan of Scottish Highlanders, then they must have been a clan of color-blind, troglodytic morons.

There was a fat pocket watch in one of the shirt pockets which dragged the left side of the shirt down lopsided from the way it was supposed to hang, making his grandfather look as if half of him was doubly affected by gravity, and the other half wasn’t affected by gravity at all. He wore a woman’s wristwatch on one arm and a man’s wristwatch on the other. Even with three clocks, Dill would have bet his life if you asked Grandpa what time it was, he wouldn’t know. To top it all off, the man’s fly was wide open. Dill kept expecting a moth to fly out. Better that than a hundred-and-fifty-year-old dick.

Wrap a feather boa around Gramps’s neck and slap a derby on his head and he would look like the poster boy for cognitive dysfunction. Dementia’s Hunk of the Month.

Ignoring the persistent throbbing of his poor hung-over head, Dill scooped his grandfather, or what was left of him, into his arms. “Hey, Gramps. It’s great to see you.”

That gives you a very good taste of the sort of thing you can expect from Loving Hector.  Over the top descriptions that leave you with a very clear picture of who and what is going on with Dill at any given moment.  I love the characters John Inman has created for this story.  Yes, some come very close to stock characters or caricatures we have seen before, the horny grandpa, the loony mom, the overly patient dad, etc. But the author puts his own spin on them, endows them with plenty of heart and soul, bringing them to life on each page they inhabit.  This goes for two of my personal favorites, Miss Lily  the Vietnamese owner of Yum Yum Donuts and her German baker husband, Thorolf.  I loved these two immensely, and not just because of their interaction with Gramps.  Here is Dill’s description of Miss Lily’s hair:

She had hair enough for six Vietnamese immigrants, and she wore it piled high on top of her head in a celestial arrangement of blue-black curls and swirls and flips and dips and interwoven ribbons and fluttering metal butterflies and a chop stick or two, and what looked like a windshield wiper from a ’53 Buick sticking out the back. Dill figured the blueprint for that hairdo was so intricately complex that Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan, working in tandem with fourteen Cray computers at their disposal, couldn’t have figured it out. Hell, I. M. Pei must have been her hairdresser. Maybe he just designed weirdass buildings on the side. This was his true masterpiece.

No, Miss Lily is a masterpiece, and so is Thorolf, and the rest of the gang.  Inman manages to make this gang zany while still keeping them human, a lovely feat.  But at the heart of this story is Dill and his love for Hector. Hector has his own story to tell and his recent past is not pretty.

And this is where we arrive at my one real qualm with these story.  Hector is a victim of domestic violence, a very real and underreported crime in the gay community.  His ex boyfriend is not only physically abusive but a police officer which is every victim’s worst nightmare, no matter their sexuality or gender.  To see how real and combustive a threat this combination is, just pick up any current headline.  I can think of two offhand in The Washington Post over the last several weeks and neither of them involved comedy or ended well for the victim.  I really wish that Inman had chosen another avenue to demonstrate Valdemaro’s unsuitability as an ex boyfriend.  He could have chewed tobacco, smacked mimes or hated dogs, anything but be someone who doled out beatings in the same manner he gave out parking tickets.  It makes me uneasy to see such a real problem a part of a story with a comedic romantic bent.  Had that element been missing, this rating would have been substantially higher, as it was it almost pushed this rating into 3 stars.

Still I loved Dill and his gang.  How can you not love someone who looks at all the fast food uniforms in his closet and calls them The Closet of Humble Beginnings, not looking at them as a line up of failure but as a means to make money and still have the energy left over to write.  I like that man, and his family (related and otherwise).  I liked his lover too.  So off I go to see what else I can find that Inman has written.  Pick this one up, there is a scene where flying donuts come to the rescue….you won’t want to miss that or any of the other hijinks that ensue.

Cover art by Paul Richmond is perfect for the story and the couple within.

Review of Alien ‘n’ Outlaw by K. C. Burn

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Rating: 4.25 stars

R’kos is the youngest child of the Emperor of Ankylos and the most different.  Unlike his brothers and sisters, he has an adventurous nature and no desire to enter into the standard triad marriage of their species. As the time for his arranged marriage draws near, R’los commandeers a family shuttle and heads out into space, eventually landing on Elora Ki.  R’kos is in search of human male companionship.  Just their smell so intrigues R’kos that he ends up in a bar, sniffing each human who comes in.  But the Ankylos sense of smell is so acute that he can smell hate, fear, corruption along with kindness, love, lust and happiness.  So far, no one smell has agreed with him.  Until Darien enters asking the barkeep for help.

Darien Lancaster is the son of a wealthy industrialist.  His father shipped him off to become a miner when he found out that Darien was gay but  he escaped, traveling the galaxy under assumed names and trading illegally to make a living. Darien hates what his father’s businesses have done to people, including inflicting an incurable disease on miners.  To counteract his father’s actions, Darien has become something of a Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and buying goods for the poor and sick.  Now he owes money to an infamous drug dealer who is hunting him down. Just when he thinks he is cornered a hooded stranger comes to his rescue.  The stranger?  R ‘kos whom Darien calls Ricky.  It takes both their efforts to get off planet where Ricky  accompanies Darien on his trade routes.  Ricky is having the time of his life and Darien is coming to depend on Ricky for friendship and then so much more.  It’s not just passion they feel for each other but love.  Then Ricky is injured and Darien must contact the people  who  seek to lock him up. Darien will risk everything to save Ricky and he must convince Ricky’s father and the Alliance that Ricky was not kidnapped, a crime which could send Darien to prison for the rest of his life.

I will admit that R’kos and I got off to a shaky start.  I mean really, a lavender Mr. Clean? With purple eyes and a nose in overdrive? And yes, there’s that misunderstood thief with a heart of gold, who just needs someone to love and believe in him.  Cliche territory seemed to surround me. And then, none of that mattered. Both R’kos ne Ricky and Darien got to me, I fell in love with both of them, found some really nice plot details  and ended up being swept away on the journey with them. *shakes head*.  Usually I go on about great characterization, or personas flatter than a frozen pancake but here I am just going to say I loved these two, not really sure why they captured my heart. I only know they did.  I cared for them despite his oddball coloring which was never completely explained or why a herbivore has a hive structure for their species.  Interesting details though they didn’t make sense to my naturalist mind.  Didn’t matter.  See what I mean?  I loved that big hairless Ricky who wanted more from life than any other Ankylos and went out to find it.  And ended up meeting Darien who is trying to make up for the pain and suffering his father inflicted on his brother and others. Darien is so alone that he captures both our understanding as well as compassion.  Loved him too.

I appreciated how Burn gave us an updated Robin Hood in space as well as a horrific reason that Darien chose to become an illegal trader.  The creation of a disease that so alters the human minors that they become gnarled twisted mindless beings called Chimera is horrific.  Black lung, asbestos, leprosy and more jumped immediately to mind.  Burn took those and then added even more symptoms to give us an interplanetary disease of nightmares. And then made it personal to Darien and the reader.  Great job.  Some science fiction stories only tweak one or two things, put it on a spaceship and expect it to be real science fiction.  No that does not make a story credible science fiction.  Give us world building, new species and make it seem realistic or possible.  And that definitely occurred here.  So believable that I am with Darien about living on Ankylos.  I felt his panic along with him.  It was just too alien, the complete lack of privacy unnerving and Darien knew he would not be able to adjust.  I found that credible too because I wouldn’t either.

To me, there is really only one substantial mistep.  KC Burns tells us of the big rift between the speciies over a mineral called Wolframite, in fact, the very lack of the mineral caused a protracted war between the Alliance (humans) and Ankylos with huge losses on both sides.  It is a major plot point in this story so imagine my astonishment upon finding out exactly what the wolframite was needed for.  I won’t tell you but to me it showed an amazing disregard to prior story elements, especially considering the  substantial impact on the characters and interspecies relations the war had and all for a throwaway bit of humor.   Why  that was not caught and pointed out to the author who hadn’t shown too many errors up until then I will never know.  Getting past that plot pothole, than my one last quibble is one of backstory.  Darien’s brother became a Chimera and Darien has been looking for him as he has travelled.  I would have liked more of that history. Perhaps KC Burns will give us a sequel and another journey for Darien and Ricky.  I would love a second visit to their universe.  But no more overly “cutsey” elements, they aren’t needed.  You have a good story, trust that to be enough.  So I do recommend this but let me know what you think.  Can you fall in love with characters just because? Either way, I hope to see these again.