Behind Bars print version now available to order

3 more days until the release of Behind Bars, the second book in the Pandemonium series! Pick it up in ebook format along with the Cobbler’s Soleless Son—or nab both together at the same time in the print omnibus, Barred Souls, now available for preorder !

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Review: To Summon Nightmares

5/5 stars. Buy at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Less Than Three Press (Ebook) (Print)

To Summon Nightmares by J.K. Pendragon was pretty much everything I wanted to read when I started it a few days ago and then it just kept right on being everything I wanted at all times. I came home and rambled about it excitedly to my wife every evening (and, sometimes, texted her on my lunch break too). ((ETA: Actually fiancee! I got some questions so wanted to clarify, lol. We’ve been calling each other wife for years and sometimes I forget that not everyone knows us. Back to the review!))

It’s a paranormal story: Two boys, Jacky and Niall, are lovers. Still teenagers, they struggle with how to deal with Jacky’s abusive father and ultimately decide the best option is to summon a demon. Needless to say, the situation gets more than out of hand. Some years and a point of view shift later, we meet Cohen Brandwein, a popular author and internet vlog celebrity, who is moving to his aunt’s old house in a countryside town to try to get away from the stress of the media’s negative reaction to his coming out as trans. Little does he realize that he’s walking right into the middle of a horrifying set of serial murders, nor that the prime suspect is a hunky, self-admitted witch named Niall…

I loved both Niall and Cohen. Niall’s bravery and determination to do the right thing while agonizing over his sense of responsibility and lingering love is very tangible, but he’s kept from being a tortured love interest by both his sort of strange sense of being slightly off after everything that happened and also his blushing excitability (I was completely charmed by his being one of Cohen’s fans and trying to play off how starstruck he was). And Cohen was a delight as a point of view character. He was the perfect mix of reasonable but not gullible, clever and understandably dubious, risk-taking but with clear limits. He came to life in so many little ways—his decision to walk into town to get gas for his new car, and ending up sweaty and wheezing and Regretting yet still committed to this mission because dammit he started it was just. I feel you, dude, I feel you. It was a delight to get to read about him navigating through a mix of dealing with his family, his new neighbours, a new crush and, you know, horrible murders. And he and Niall were really sweet together.

Add to that a deeply enjoyable plot with a complex entanglement of risks and sacrifices all woven together with a really strong narrative voice, and Pendragon sold me not only on this but on picking up everything else of theirs. The only thing I found an odd choice (and even then, didn’t dislike, and it certainly doesn’t impact my rating) was having a complete point of view switch. I found myself wanting to get back into Niall’s head more, having already been there once, to get the full picture from both sides. That said, I still loved everything we got.

It’s been a few years since Pendragon wrote this, but I sincerely hope they do a sequel someday, because I will read it in a heartbeat. I want to see how Niall adjusts to his own [spoiler], and, of course, how Cohen reacts to [much bigger spoiler]. Because damn, that ending!

Review: Letters for Lucardo

5/5 stars. Buy at: Iron Circus Comics (ebook) | Iron Circus Comics (Print) | Preorder on Amazon

Letters for Lucardo by Noora Heikkilä is a graphic novel and the first of four books. The protagonist, Ed Fiedler, is a normal human, 61 years old and a scribe by trade with rather unusual employers—the Night Court, ageless royals with a taste for blood (so, yes, absolutely vampires). He has the even more unusual distinction of being courted by the handsome, eternally-33 year old Lucardo. As both grow ever closer, they have to deal with a variety of culture shocks—a human among the inhuman, a man just this side of elderly with the eternally youthful, and a tangle of mortality with and against immortality.

I loved the art and concept for this book when it first went up on kickstarter and jumped on the chance to contribute, and was so glad I did. I absolutely wish I had been able to buy in paperback, not just digital, but shipping to Canada is always a buzzkill. If there’s an omnibus of all 4 parts later? I’ll take the plunge for sure, because count me in as a new fan.

I found this work absolutely charming. It’s sweet and hot in equal measures, with a thread of potential tragedy running throughout, and a great sense of when to build drama and when to undercut it. Which is to say, it does one of my favorite things when characters are annoyed with each other, which is to get them distracted by how much they like (and are attracted to) each other.

I enjoyed that Ed’s age wasn’t treated as a barrier to sexuality in any way, either to Lucardo or to the artist. Ed comments that age wasn’t kind to his body, but Lucardo really does not give a damn. It’s drawn likewise—he’s no silver fox, and Heikkilä doesn’t shy away from the physical features that often come with aging, from sagging chins to thin ankles and everything else in between. But it’s drawn with respect and affection and acknowledgement that he’s still sexual, both to himself and others, rather than being treated as off-limits or grotesque as older bodies so often are in media. Likewise, his desire for romance, intimacy, and a lot of really enthusiastic sex isn’t either ignored or treated as abnormal. (This should probably not be so rare as to be praiseworthy, but it is. And it is so deliberately and easily handled as completely normal here!) Likewise, Heikkilä is great at character design; there’s a wide variety of characters with distinct and varied appearances (and a very multi-ethnic cast as well).

Oh, one note—this is not a book to read in public, at work, or around kids! There are a lot of graphic sex scenes and the heat index is quite high in it.

Despite the thread of potential tragedy, it doesn’t feel like it will end up a sad story. This volume covers the setup to that developing tragedy, sure, but mostly seems to illustrate the political background and players for the story to develop further in the later volumes. It’s cute, it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s visually delightful—and also, it’s a really good length, at 142 pages absolutely packed with content.

I for one can’t wait to see volume 2 announced on Kickstarter!

Review: Hexbreaker

5/5 stars. Buy at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I picked up Hexbreaker (Hexworld #1) by Jordan L. Hawk as part of a goal to read through the other Rainbow Awards winners, and I literally couldn’t put it down once I started. Irishman Tom Halloran is a New York copper with a dark secret; Cicero, a cat shifter, is a flamboyant Italian  bohemian working as a familiar with the NY Metropolitan Witch Police. Normally, the two police forces don’t work together, since one handles regular crimes and the other crimes of hexation, but when a hex causes problems that leave both of them missing a friend, the two decide to team up and take on a case that nobody else is interested in.

Friends, this is a turn-of-the-19th-century historical buddy cop police procedural soulbonding gay paranormal romance. If you aren’t at least intrigued by that description alone, I don’t know what to tell you.

The mystery is very solidly written, where the twists and turns of the plot all make sense, but you still need to read through all the pieces to see it really come together. The characters are even more so; everything they do at every turn makes sense for their characterization, motivations, hopes, and fears—even the things you really wish they wouldn’t do all come from that solid base of knowing why they do it anyway. Tom’s situation is absolutely believable and his genuine good nature shines through in everything he says and does, and Cicero’s sharp-edged abrasive affection likewise. They both come from very different social spheres, and seeing how they try to adjust to make that work rings very true to me.

Beyond that, the historical setting itself is an absolute delight (and I need to check out the reference book recommendations Hawk makes in the afterword). From tenement houses to tunnel gangs, from bohemian parlors to seedy dance halls, from anarchist publications to Oscar Wilde, you feel like you’re there—if it’s a there that includes professional hexmakers, spell forensic experts, and an entire group of people who change into animals and soulbond to witches, of course. Hawk blends this in seamlessly by capturing the spirit of the time through little details, such as playing off the boom in commercialism by using product slogans as keywords to set spells.

Ultimately, this story is fun. Hawk has a real talent for knowing exactly when to throw in some relief from the more intense scenes, and if I were to list every moment that made me grin, I would probably end up spoiling half the scenes, so I won’t—I can only encourage you to check this out to discover them yourself. It’s also got a very high heat quotient, my goodness. The sex is steamy, erotic, detailed, and absolutely avoids the pitfalls that you sometimes see where it becomes about the acts rather than the characters.

Hexbreaker winning best Gay Paranormal Romance in the 2016 Rainbow Awards might have been why I picked it up, but I’m going to purchase the next few books in the series immediately.

Rainbow Awards 2016

Print

I can’t possibly begin to say what this means to me. I got this news while I was on the way out the door to celebrate my 10th anniversary with my fiancee (which is one of those things that, if it happened in fiction, would be totally hard to suspend belief on, you guys), and I actually cried with joy. It’s so, so incredible to me that my first book was this well-received and I’m still more or less incapable of finding the words for it.

Congratulations to all the other winners and runners-up as well*, and please know that so much of the joy I feel is for you too.

In celebration of their placing authors, my publisher, Less Than Three Press, is holding a sale until midnight on December 9 where all the placing books are on sale for just $0.99. That of course includes Beauty and Cruelty, which is a full $6 savings. (EDIT: NOW OVER and back to regular price) . Please check it out—along with all the other winners, naturally! Beauty and Cruelty can also be purchased on Amazon. You can see details on it, along with my other books, on my Books page.

Thank you so much to the Rainbow Awards judges for this honor.

*At the time I put this link  up, the URL directs to the contest-hosting page, but it should shortly be updated with the full list of winners as announced on Elisa Rolle’s blog and Twitter.

Halloween 2016 IF – Author’s Notes

Thank you, once again, so much for playing in this little Halloween event. I hope both players and readers enjoyed it—I know I had a wonderful time!

I want to give a huge shoutout to everyone who played! My biggest fear when I started this was that nobody would comment and it would flop before it even started, and you all stepped in and instead, under your direction, this became something incredible—28,000 words of it, in fact! An extra special shoutout goes to Vikarmic, who did the impossible and commented to every single day.

In thanks, a little giveaway! Vikarmic, if you can leave me the email address associated with your kindle and the name of a story you want to read, I’d love to send you something! I also put all the other commenters in a hat and drew one at random—the lucky winner is Dranachronisms. So, Dranachronisms, if you have a kindle, please let me know the email for it and an ebook you’ve been wanting to read so I can fire something your way (or otherwise drop me a way to get you an ebook <3). I can’t get something for everyone, but I want to say how I’m so grateful for every single person who played, and want to thank you all so, so much.

If you enjoyed Septimus and Sweet, you will always be able to read it again from my Extras page.  If you’d like to support my work in general, I hope you’ll consider checking out my Novels and Short Stories to see if there’s anything you’d like to buy, and following me on Twitter and Tumblr to keep up to date on my work as it comes out. As well, if you read and like my other works, please consider giving it a good rating and/or reviewing on Goodreads! I can’t stress how helpful a good rating is in drawing in new readership and supporting me. 

Finally, what you’re all here for— Q&A! Feel free to ask me anything you want about the story, what my writing process was, things people may have suspected but not had confirmed, whatever. Wonder what would have happened if you’d done X instead of Y? Ask it here! I mean, for starters, I had a totally different story planned if people had Sep go “fuck this eldritch bullshit” and drive away, lol. Also: Is this sort of thing something people would like to see me do again someday?

So: Ask me whatever you’d like and, once again, thank you and happy Halloween!

[Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 |  Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Conclusion | Author’s Notes]

Halloween 2016 IF – Conclusion

In the end, it wasn’t much of a decision.

Sweet’s father couldn’t be set free, and putting him back to sleep would just leave the problem for the future, however near or distant. Leaving him alive in any way left open a connection between him and Sweet that might never close, might always keep Sweet captive in some way. Trying to channel that power back to change him was, in some ways, even more horrible.

So they would destroy him.

It was done quickly, but not with malice. Despite everything Septimus had gone through, despite everything he knew Sweet had gone through, he couldn’t find it in himself to hate the creature. It was what it was, and it was doing what it knew how to do. It didn’t have anything inside itself to care one way or another who suffered in its path, so nothing it had done was actually cruel.

Sweet had hated him, but had wanted something more, too. Septimus could feel that, almost taste that, and he bundled it up in the rest, in that forgiveness and regret and killing intent, and he released it all at once.

Fire exploded around them, heat and flame, instant and fatal. The screaming outside stopped. The void outside stopped. A multitude of stars closed their eyes.

And Sweet drew a sharp breath in as he felt the sudden end of a connection that had been there as long as he had been alive.

Septimus closed his eyes too, rested his forehead against Sweet’s, and pulled on the bandage.

They collapsed in a heap against the wall outside the basement door—or, rather, what had once been the basement door. It was a twisted, blackened thing, the wood warped beyond all recognition and barring all passage. The basement, and everything in it, had burned, but the house above still stood.

Finally, unsteadily, Septimus exhaled. His breath felt raw, and that foreign heart still beat in his chest, but they were both too tired, too drained from that to be much more than human right then. He wondered if it would return someday, if they would fill back up with that strange power.

That was a thought for another day, though.

“You okay?” he managed, with a slow, tired tongue that didn’t want to form words.

For a few moments, Sweet didn’t answer. Then he nodded and shrugged at the same time, looking up at Septimus with his eyes that refracted hundreds of times, as they always did. But there were only the two, and they were in the right place, and they were flooded with unshed tears.

“I don’t know,” Sweet said. “I think so. I haven’t really… processed.”

“Yeah,” Septimus said softly.

“The power won’t come back. I mean, the electricity,” Sweet said, as if that was what was important right now. “He powered it. The house.”

“We… could probably power it,” Septimus pointed out with a weak laugh. “If we wanted.”

“Not now. Maybe not for years.” Sweet seemed to look inside himself, unsure. “Maybe not ever. We spent a lot on—that.”

He couldn’t say it, or didn’t want to. There was no point in forcing it, though, not this soon.

“Yeah,” Septimus said. “…m’cold.”

“Me too.”

“And tired.”

“Me too.”

“And alive.”

“Somehow,” Sweet said. He managed an unsteady smile. “Want to go to bed?”

“Yeah,” Septimus said. “For… however much of the night is left.”

I don’t have anything to do tomorrow,” Sweet said. He rose unsteadily, shaking the burned remains of the gauze bandage from around himself, and held out a hand to help Septimus up.

Septimus took it, and they almost both tumbled over again, but managed, if only just, to get upright. “Damn,” Septimus said. “I don’t know what I’m feeling.”

You don’t know what you’re feeling,” Sweet grumbled, half-supporting Septimus and half being supported as they dragged themselves up the stairs. For a few steps, neither of them said anything, and then Sweet let out a wet little laugh.  “I can’t believe you married a guy you’d known for three months.”

“I think it was a bit more permanent than marriage,” Septimus said, mustering up a dry humor. “Hopefully it works out.”

“I think it will,” Sweet said. “I’m an optimist.” They paused in the upstairs hallway. “Do you want me to take my mom’s room?”

“Don’t be an idiot.”

Another strange, wet laugh, and they headed together to Sweet’s room and fell down together on the bed.

“Shit,” Sweet whispered. “The comforter.”

“I’ve got it,” Septimus said, and pulled it over them.

They both paused, silently trying to figure where he’d pulled it from—then both simultaneously decided to deal with that another day too. They just pressed together for warmth and comfort as they fell into an uneasy sleep.

And though Septimus was woken hours later by Sweet sobbing, he was a little glad, because eldritch horrors and cosmic power was one thing, but holding someone and rubbing their back and soothing them—that was something he understood.

[Happy Halloween and thank you for playing!
Please check out my Author’s Notes post for a thanks, a giveaway, and Q&A!]

[Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 |  Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Conclusion | Author’s Notes]

Halloween 2016 IF – Day 25

[New and want to jump in? Please read the Instructions, but go ahead!]

Septimus’s brows creased in stress and fear as he closed his eyes and thought about all their options: everything he’d laid out, everything they’d thought, everything they could do.

Warmth. Hope. Dreams. Love.

Fire. Destruction. Fear. Sacrifice.

He knew which of the two he preferred.

He opened them again, feeling a little more resolved, and looked at Sweet. Sweet seemed both scared and hungry, small and large beyond all reckoning, as foreign god and human upbringing churned inside him, his flesh hardly enough to contain him.

Septimus loved him.

He loved him just as he was. The Sweet who had originally covered his eyes so he wouldn’t see what now seemed like such a small horror, that uncomfortable moment in an old film. The Sweet who had invited him out here, bought pie, played games with him. The Sweet he’d spent long hours exploring. But also this Sweet: the one who had lied to him about his nature, who had brought him into the den of some deep terror, who was filled with space and eyes and void.

“Sep?” Sweet asked him in a very small, very unnatural voice.

“Yeah,” Septimus said. He smiled and leaned over, pulling him close.

And he kissed Sweet.

It was a symbol so long as it carried the meaning with it: Passion, a future together. In so many fairy tales, it was the signifier for every other promise, marriage and union and happily ever after. He tried to pour that all into it, kissing him with everything he had, all of his love, all of his hopes, all of his dreams.

For a moment, Sweet was frozen with surprise, stiff against him.

And then he let out a little whimper in that voice that wasn’t a voice, winding his arms around Septimus, bandages catching against him, mouth opening onto eternity.

Septimus kissed that as well, determined to accept it all.

When the kiss finally broke, both were breathless, airless. The room had seemed to fade out around them into darkness lit by strange lights; Septimus refused to look at that, at anything except Sweet.

“I love you,” he said, and surprised himself by not stumbling over saying the words for the first time. “I want to stay with you from now until the end of time. I promise that—I swear that.”

Sweet stared at him. Flesh came and went, reforming and vanishing, eyes opening and then blinking closed into nothing again. He said, softly, “I want that too.”

“Then say it. Promise it.”

“I love you,” Sweet said. It came out shyly, and his arms dropped from around Septimus, but only so he could find Septimus’s hands, squeezing them. He let out a weird, echoing laugh. Is this really happening?

Septimus gave him a half-smile, heart pounding, wry. “We’re either going to die together or live together,” he said. “It seemed like a good time to say it.”

Even with the room gone, it felt like something wasn’t quite right. Not quite done. He didn’t even have to think, though, to realize what it was.

He was giving Sweet his heart. It had to be literal.

But—

“I’ll give you my heart,” Septimus said, “if you give me yours. That’s… what this kind of promise is supposed to mean, right? That kind of exchange. Sharing. Not something one-sided.”

Sweet stared at him. His eyes grew larger and larger, opening onto infinity, until only the sensation of Sweet’s hands in his kept Septimus grounded.

Okay, he whispered.

And suddenly it was the two of them again, and Sweet looked normal, human. Septimus drew a breath, trying to understand what was about to happen.

Sweet’s chest opened.

His ribcage popped like a gate, doors swinging wide, showing only nothing inside, his black-purple heart pumping void into himself. Septimus stared at it, morbidly excited, then let out a shout as a sudden pain and heat shot through himself as well, a sharpness in his chest like he’d been stabbed.

There was a horrible creaking feeling, a popping, more pain, unbearable pain, and he felt his own chest crack open.

He didn’t dare look down. He didn’t want to see himself bleeding out, his insides working, or, worse, something more unnatural.

Sweet, though, was staring at Septimus’s chest. “Is it all right?” he asked in his normal voice. “Really?”

Septimus almost didn’t dare speak. He knew he had to. “I’m giving you my heart,” he repeated, and heard the wheezing of his own lungs from the outside. “Give me yours.”

Sweet smiled.

And he reached into Septimus’s chest.

It hurt unbearably. He was screaming, couldn’t help it, squeezing his eyes shut and unable to watch as Sweet tore it free. He felt, for a moment, a horrible cold nothingness, his body struggling to function with nothing there to allow it, but with it came a sense of relief. He didn’t need to feel anything like this. With no heart, there was nothing to feel with and no need to do so.

And then Sweet placed his own heart in Septimus’s chest and he felt it start to pump again, blood and emotion and something else. Once, twice—

His ribcage slammed closed. Again, an unbearable pain welled up in him, and this time, as he screamed, he felt heat racing through him. He could taste eternity, feel reality spinning around him, and knew that he could touch some greater power now. Bend it to his will. Their offering to each other had doubled, quadrupled, rushed back through each of them in turn and reflected and grew, finding more and more to build off of. He felt like he could grant wishes, reset time, give life or death at will—

Septimus opened his eyes, drawing an unsteady breath.

The sound of screaming continued, but it was no longer Septimus doing it. It was Sweet’s father, that petty, old thing, a great creature who had once been powerful enough to be a god but now barely could keep its eyes open. He was screaming and tearing at what Septimus realized was a small, portable world they’d created around them to give them space to do this, a circle within Sweet’s father himself.

The basement room, all of it, had still been inside Sweet’s father. They were still there. And they could tear him apart if they wanted, as they left.

Sweet was pressed against him, arms wrapped around him, breathing steadily with his eyes closed. For a moment, Septimus worried that he’d fallen asleep, but no; he was just reacting to whatever he felt within him of this power, or, perhaps, just to Septimus’s humanity. They were tied together, Septimus realized, by the bandage he’d used to act as a guide home.

All he’d have to do was follow it and they’d be out in the real world. But he knew that Sweet’s father would come pouring out of the hole they’d made, chasing them, trying to get his son back to eat him, too stubborn to stop.

They had enough power now to deal with him. They could put him back to sleep for however long it took the next foolish cult to bring him back. They could burn him in their joint power so he would be destroyed. They could take the connection he had to Sweet and reverse it, so Sweet could devour him instead. Or they could wake him, let him free to do as he wished to the world.

The unmade decision hung heavily around them as Sweet’s father raged and tore at the edges of their world, threatening to break it open.

“I don’t know what to do,” Sweet said softly, wryly. “He’s still my father. But he’s not good. He’s not human. He doesn’t feel what I do, because he can’t.”

“I’ll decide,” Septimus said gently.  “Sometimes we need other people to make these decisions for us. Will you trust me? Will you forgive me?”

“I do,” Sweet said.

[Please decide what Septimus will have them do about Sweet’s father.

Please keep in mind that this is the last chance to influence the story,
as Day 26 will be the final part and thus the outcome!]

[Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 |  Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Conclusion | Author’s Notes]