Review of The Walls Have Ears (College Fun and Gays #3) by Erica Pike

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Review written for and first viewed at JoyfullyJay as a part of Boys Masturbating Through Walls Day:

Rating: 3.25 stars

Harley Santos, newly arrived from small town, Maryland, is trying to adapt to his new life as a college freshman in Philadelphia.  While he had his fears about city living and life on campus before he left home, Harley has found he likes his roommate and college seems pretty cool.  In his first week in his dorm room he listen through the thin wall to a student masturbating on the other side.  When this becomes a regular occurrence,  Harley starts masturbating along with his unseen neighbor. Shared moans become whispered words between walls and a strange relationship developes between Harley and the unknown boy next door.

After Harley and his roommate, Ryan, have a chance meeting with the two hot guys, Devon Marx and Tasha Novokov, rooming next to them, Harley thinks he knows which of them is his nightly “companion”. But that guy, Devon, asks Ryan out instead of Harley, and Harley is heartbroken believing that Ryan has been mistaken for him. The other roommate, Tasha,  is dark, handsome, straight and seems intent on befriending Harley.  What’s a gay boy to do when everyone he is attracted to is not attracted to him?

This is a short story whose main attraction is the prickly little porcupine known as Harley Santos.  I found his character to be snarky, pissy, and quite adorable. And totally not deserving of the predictable plot he has found himself in.  Harley comes from a large close knit Portuguese family in a small town in Maryland.  He’s tortured himself with scary images of the dark side of city life and the what if’s of college gone bad.  He’s slight in stature, slender in physique so I can see his behavior as a shield he erects against slights and injury, real or perceived. So does it seem realistic that he falls “in love” with the guy next door just because they are masturbating together?  It doesn’t to me.  Lust yes, love to the point of his heart breaking when Devon picks his roommate? Ummm, no.

Harley then transfers his affections to Tasha while maintaining that he loves Devon who loves Ryan who is understandably confused about the whole thing because no one is talking to each other. Got that? Instead letting Harley get his snark on, Erica Pike turns him into avoidance guy, and then has him sobbing his heart out so traumatized that he is stuttering again (we didn’t know he stuttered to begin with).  To use the current lingo, Harley so doesn’t deserve this.

By the end of The Walls Have Ears, I was beginning to wish that This Reader Didn’t Have Eyes because the ending had me blinking in disbelief.  Erica Pike can write realistic characters AND put them into realistic situations, at the same time.  Just don’t look for it here.

Cover.  Cover Artist Dakota Trace. I just don’t care for the cover for the series .  Different color, different model on the top, same bad graphic on the bottom.

Publisher: No Boundaries Press

Review of The Ronin and The Fox by Cornelia Grey

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Reviewed for JoyfullyJay on 3/10/12

Rating: 3.75 stars

The Ronin And The Fox

Following a dispute with his lord, Samurai Hajime left his master’s realm to become ronin, a masterless samurai.  As he journeys through one village, the innkeeper begs him to stay and help drive away a kitsune or fox spirit that is bedeviling the village.  Lacking destination or purpose to his life, Hajime agrees to help.  A seductive encounter with Katsura, a gorgeous young man in his room at the inn leaves Hajime reeling and drained. Imagine Hajime’s surprise when upon capturing the kitsune, it turns out that the fox spirit is the same young man who seduced him that first night at the inn.

Being captured is the least of Katsura’s troubles.  The pearl containing his soul has been stolen by an unscrupulous healer who has forced him to do his bidding.  It is the yamabushi or religious healer, not Katsura, who is the real cause of the village’s problems.

Hajime feels sorry for the kitsune and is honorbound to help Katsura retrieve his soul and save the village from further harm.  But their partnership is not without obstacles, including former samarai, spells, encounters with water spirits, and issues of trust.  Will they obtain the pearl and save the village and Katsura?  Or will the kitsune’s own nature bring disaster upon them both.

I will state right from the start that I liked the characters of Hajime and Katsura.  Hajime is a person who, having achieved his goal of being a samurai, finds himself a round peg trying to fit into a square hole.  He’s kind, a man of honor who doesn’t do well with authority and just wants to help people.  Definitely not samurai material.  Katsura is a long-lived kitsune but still retains his impulsiveness and folly of youth.  It is due to his own stupidity and gluttony that his pearl was stolen.  How can you not love a spirit who is his own worst enemy?  They are the best part of this story.

I wish the author had taken her story and placed it in modern Japan.  I would have loved to see how Katsura dealt with today’s Japan.  Instead she set it in Shogun era Japan and all the problems with this novel tumble forth.

First the dialog and the phrasing.  Cornelia Grey tries for dialog as it might have been spoken in feudal Japan, using the titles of  “samurai dono” when the innkeeper is speaking to Hajime.  This is an old form of “sir” not used today.  But then phrases such as “he was in his early twenties”, “I could have timed that better”, or Katsura saying being a fox spirit “has got to have it’s perks” brings the story to a jarring halt and dispels any idea that these are men/beings of antiquity.  Further references to Katsura’s “alien gold eyes”, “stroke of genius”, “where on Earth” and “throw his life away” left me reading in disbelief.

The author also tells us repeatedly that Katsura is wearing an orange yukata but never informs the reader that it is a summer kimono.  Most people are aware of what a kimono looks like and had she used that term instead, it would have clarified what he was wearing. Yet, later on, Cornelia Grey tells us that the healer is wearing “his tokin—a small black hat tied just above his forehead”.  Better editing leads to better continuity.

The Samurai era started about 646 ce and ends in 1868 with the Meiji Restoration.  Japan was an isolationist society with layer upon layer of rules and rituals that governed society and its castes.  Such phrases and words such as timing, aliens and perks are modern and mostly Western in origin let alone “where on Earth”.  Also samurai followed a code of conduct called “bushido” which  translates to the way of the warrior.  It is honor, courage, and freedom from the fear of death.  Yet, Hajime says he was “trying to be honorable and kind, as the bushido instructed”and that he “didn’t want to throw his life away”.   *Shakes head*  Well, no, bushido doesn’t instruct that, in fact, bushido even demanded that sepukko or ritual death be committed in certain situations.  So actually, yes, do throw that life away, bushido demands it.

I got the impression that much of this story has been drawn from Manga and not history.  Hajime is actually a boxing manga and anime series. Also the kitsune has some attributes  that come from yuri/yaoi manga fandoms and not Japanese folk tales.  The fox spirit is Japan’s answer to our own Coyote trickster.  It can change shape, possess people in some instances and loves to play tricks, especially on the arrogant and unworthy. Here the land is drained of its energy by the fox spirit and the kitsune drinks Hajime’s blood. The vampiric nature of Katsura seems to have its basis in Shouji Ai or lesbian manga as the Japanese folktales do not mention this.

Writing historical fiction, even one that has fantasy overtones, can be tricky, as mistakes with dialog, dates and culture are easily pinpointed and distract from the story.  Cornelia Grey had a wonderful novel here and she buried it under poor word choices, unintentionally funny dialog, and uneven editing.  And that is such a shame.  Hajime and Katsura deserve much better.

Cover.  The cover is lush and portrays a scene in the book beautifully.  I wish the book was as well done.

A Review of Burn by T. J.Klune

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This review was written for  and posted on JoyfullyJay on February 20, 2012:

Rating: 3.75 stars

Burn is the highly anticipated second book by author TJ Klune, whose debut novel, Bear, Otter And The Kid was a wonderful and well received story of a young man coming to term with his sexuality within the confines of family neglect and maternal abuse.

“My name is Felix Paracel, and when I was nine, I became angry at my mother and killed her with fire that shot from my hands.”

With those words, T J Klune again takes us  into the mind of another young man seeking out both his identity and his destiny, Felix Paracel.

Burn takes place in an alternate Universe where Elementals, those people who can control the elements of fire, earth, wind, and water, are a minority race on Earth.  There are many of the same historical markers (i.e, WWII but with Elementals having helped win the war against Germany), but just alien enough to throw off familiarity.  Felix and his father have fled underground after Felix killed his mother. They took new identities and lost themselves in the metropolis of Terra City.  But the darkness is rising with intolerance and bigotry are now the ruling forces within the Government.  Much like Nazi Germany, the rights of Elementals are being taken away, and they are being rounded up for experimentation and incarceration.   As in any epic tale, it is time for the One to appear to save his people and that is Felix.

Burn is the first volume  in the Elementally Evolved Trilogy.  Here TJ Klune is striving for epic storytelling. He has created an ambitious Creation saga, complete with a huge cast of characters, a Tree God, and, of course, the Savior figure, the One…known here as the Findo Unum—the Split One—whose  “coming has been foretold for generations”.  Along with Felix, there is Seven, his Iuratum Cor, or Felix’ heart/mate, and a group of people who make up Findo Unum’s guard of warriors.

I was really looking forward to this book after reading Bear, Otter And The Kid because of its warm, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking characters.  T.J. Klune had warned everyone that this was different in scope than BOATK which would have been fine if the quality of storytelling remained the same.  Unfortunately for me, it did not.

In reaching to create such a large vision in Burn, the story became weighed down with too many timelines (Felix is narrating the tale from the future, then Felix is relating the story in the present, back to the future tense, then Seven is telling Felix the story of the past, then to the present and so on).   At one point, Felix (future) tells us about a betrayal that will happen soon (present), but then loses any emotional buildup as it takes another chapter to happen while they all train.  Sigh.

T. J. Klune has a wonderful way letting dialog paint a picture of a character, and that is true here. Tick and Tock the Clock Twins to Otis, a brain damaged gentle giant, come instantly to life through their words.  Seven too seems realistic, driven and obsessed with finding Felix and keeping him safe . It is the character of Felix himself, age 24 when the first chapter starts, that seems in so uncertain.   His “voice” seems to vary between that of a rebellious teen to one of indeterminate age, sometimes on the same page.  Can you care about someone when you can’t get a grip on who they are?  I don’t think so.

Repetition in the narrative is another killer here.  I think the author did it on purpose, trying for a certain greek chorus effect, but it merely becomes irritating and bogs the story down further. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I read about Seven’s “ocean eyes”.  This becomes a problem when you start anticipating that phrase instead of paying attention to the story.

There are several riddles figured into Burn that are supposed to shock you at the end as they are revealed.  I won’t give anything away but while one is well concealed the main  secret is easily guessed at from the very beginning so the shock value is lost. Again I blame overly dense, repetitive storytelling and wonder where his editor was.

It is not until the last two chapters, that T. J. Klune’s talent starts to shine.  It is here at the end that the promise of real storytelling that flickered throughout the majority of the book roars into life.  The writing is crisp, the action dynamic, and the story comes alive with all the fire and wind that Felix commands.

And it is that promise at the end that will make me continue with the series.  I can hope that with this volume out of the way and the exposition done, that the story of Felix Paracel will become more concise, more linear, and of course, elementally evolved.

My rating:  3.75

Cover:  I love the cover for this book.  Nice imagery and perfect for the story within.