Reach-Around Review: “How Does Your Garden Grow” by KIL Kenny

You know what a reach-around is, right? Well, in honor of Saturday’s release of Torquere Press’ fourth annual Charity Sip Blitz, each participating author is reviewing another’s story in a big, friendly circle.

You can start here with my review of KIL Kenny’s terrific “How Does Your Garden Grow?” and then work your way back to Kenny’s review of Kathryn Scannell’s “Salvage Operation” or forward to M. Durango’s very kind review of my “Last Dance.”

MY REVIEW of KIL Kenny’s “How Does Your Garden Grow?”

A rough-edged narrator, sparky humor, and a high-stakes take on the theme of “It Gets Better” combine to make KIL Kenny’s short story “How Does Your Garden Grow” a delightful read.

In this engaging ‘hail fellow ill met’ tale, Kaz and a group of friends from a Midwestern Pride organization rent plots in a community garden on a landmark farm. Excited but ill-prepared, Kaz soon finds himself locking horns with the green-thumbed tenant of the adjacent plot.

Devin has been through the wringer, and Kenny shows empathy and restraint when describing Devin’s recent past, injuries, healing, and heart. His prickliness is a highlight of the story, as is Kaz’s gruffly befuddled response to Devin’s attitude toward him. I especially appreciated that the injured Devin wasn’t a saint and that Kaz didn’t handle him with kid gloves. The very real emotions in this story definitely drew me in.

When the community garden is threatened by that age-old bully of farmers everywhere, the weather, Kaz and the Pride group rally to help Devin and the other gardeners protect their investment. It’s in the course of this external struggle that Kaz and especially Devin are finally convinced that with an open heart and a boon companion, things really can get better.

About the author: K.I.L. Kenny has tried her hand at everything from grocery clerk to corporate vice president — not always in the trajectory one might expect — and along the way has developed a stash of exceedingly various (and exceedingly superficial) knowledge wherewith to torment the hapless authors she edits. She indulges her most sadistic side by teaching English composition, and in mellower moods kicks back with salaryman yaoi. Her hairdresser calls her a people person, which just goes to show that “only her hairdresser knows for sure” is a load of bunkum. She lives in New York, but left half of her heart in Baltimore. Find her online at http://katie-kilkenny.livejournal.com/.

Kenny’s story is part of this year’s Charity Sip Blitz from Torquere Press. “How Does Your Garden Grow” and more than 30 other stories were donated by their authors and all proceeds will benefit the It Gets Better Project.

I’ll update here when I have a buy link from our sponsor, Rainbow eBooks, or you can check the Torquere website on Saturday, September 17, 2011 where there will be a special Charity Sips section.

Review Reanimated: A Strong and Sudden Thaw by R. W. Day

Here is the second in my occasional series wherein I reprint reviews I did a while back on the dearly departed RAINBOW REVIEWS. I understand Rainbow Reviews will eventually disappear, and since I was lucky to get to review some fabulous books there, I wanted to make sure those authors and their works continue to get the love they deserve.

Strong & Sudden Thaw Iris Print coverI reviewed A STRONG AND SUDDEN THAW by R. W. Day in its first edition, from the now-defunct Iris Print. The second edition is available from Lethe Press.

PUBLISHER’S BLURB:  The Ice fell upon the world nearly a hundred years ago, and if civilization didn’t rightly collapse, it surely staggered and fell ill a while. In the small town of Moline, Virginia, folks struggle to survive, relying on hybrid seed sent by the faraway Dept. of Reintroduction and Agriculture and their own faith in God and hard work. But when a mated pair of dragons starts hunting the countryside, stealing sheep, and attacking children, the townsfolk quickly learn that they don’t have the weapons or the skills to fight off such predators.

David Anderson is a farmer’s son who has explored the world through books. When he meets the new healer in town, Callan Landers, he doesn’t quite know what to make of the strange warmth stealing over him. It’s not until he surprises Callan with another man—and both men are promptly arrested for sodomy—that David finally realizes the truth about his own feelings.

When David and Callan stumble over a secret in a nearby abandoned town, their personal problems fade before government politics and corruption that threaten lives. It seems the dragons aren’t the worst dangers facing Moline.

Strong & Sudden Thaw Lethe cover MY REVIEW: What a splendid surprise this novel is!  Set in a richly imagined future, featuring themes of bigotry, reactionary religious fundamentalism, government predation, and the baffling appearance of dragons, this is a romance in the oldest sense.  David’s story is a hero’s progress from ignorance to understanding, from innocence to experience, at great peril and against great odds, resolved at great cost and closing with well-tempered hope in a still-uncertain future.

But this is no picaresque adventure.  The novel’s post-apocalyptic Virginia may resonate with elements of current events, but A Strong and Sudden Thaw is neither allegory nor cautionary tale. Its heroism is not clothed in triumphalism, but rather in the undeniable – and ambiguous –  realism of the setting.  How can a frozen future engineered by a cynical government, isolated communities mired in a fearful return to old-time religion, and dragons, of all things, be elements of a realistic plot?  The novel is so deftly written, and so seamlessly plotted, that we readers don’t for a moment question the inevitability of each tragedy any more than we fail to sigh with relief at each escape or smile through a tear or two at the scant but significant victories.

Day writes in a straightforward style that belies the complexities of the plot and characters.  The measured pace of the narrative reflects the pre-industrial conditions to which David’s part of the world has returned after a frozen century.  The novel feels historical, in tone and structure.  Even though we are introduced to the dragons within a page or two of lifting the cover, the lilting prose and bucolic setting lull us.  There is great darkness here, but Day reveals it slowly, in graduated doses, such that by the time we reach the story’s climax we have been through the same developmental process as David; if we are not as changed as he is, at least we will not soon forget his tumultuous coming of age.  Nor will we dismiss the lessons of the hard-won and incomplete truths at the heart of the conflict.

David’s first-person voice is itself a marvel of youthful vigor and countrified understatement (for example, he says of the man who will be his lover, “His smile was like an invitation to a harvest feast”).  He lives a quiet life, hunting and farming with his family, but David himself is not a quiet character.  He is full of curiosities that will never be satisfied within his narrow (and narrow-minded) world.  The world is bigger than the town of Moline, he knows, but he is already resigned to knowing the wider world only through books.  We taste the leading edge of David’s bitterness because, unlike him, we know he is fit for greater things.
Those greater things begin to reveal themselves to David in the person of Callan, the new healer from far-away Florida.  Callan’s sophistication and kindness go a long way to waking up David’s dormant senses of self and wonder and possibility.  The erotic feelings David develops for his new friend confuse him, but he suffers no tedious bouts of self-hatred; his self-acceptance is not easy, but it is interesting.  David is upright and stalwart and honest, all good qualities in a chivalric hero, but he’s no simp, and he’s not perfect.  When the first of many crises strike, David makes a youthful, foolhardy error in judgment whose serious consequences set the larger plot in motion.

With great depth of feeling, and without undue sentiment, David’s affair with Callan progresses as the larger plot evolves in ever-widening circles, each more sinister than the last.  A happy ending is no foregone conclusion, and, at the risk of spoiling things, it doesn’t happen.  But what does happen is tremendously rich and satisfying.  The protagonists aren’t destroyed, nor must they resign themselves to a life of discreet conformity.  In fact, the society that sought to destroy them is itself shaken to the point of destruction. In return for David’s and Callan’s roles in preserving something of the world that would happily have eliminated them, and in recognition that they now have devastating knowledge of the power and intentions of the government, David and Callan are able determine the course of their own lives, an outcome impossible to imagine at the beginning of the novel.
Solidly fantastic and classically romantic and unabashedly gay, A Strong and Sudden Thaw transcends genre and niche so spectacuOut of the Ashes coverlarly that it is hard to imagine any reader not being ill-served by missing it.

(Disclaimer: I’m presenting these reviews as they originally appeared, no matter how strong the temptation to edit my past self.)

Lethe has also published the sequel to A STRONG AND SUDDEN THAW. It’s called OUT OF THE ASHES. I haven’t read it. If you have, I’d love to hear about it!

 

My “To Be Continued” Kink

Classic Hollywood Film SerialI love serialized novels. Even at their most literary, serials deliver guilty pleasure of the just-five-more-minutes-mom, reading-under-the-covers variety. When I was a kid my mom and stepdad moved us to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, light years from most of the extended family in New England. Those were the oil-crisis years, years of visiting once a year if we were lucky. Long-distance calls were expensive, but even kids like me whose parents didn’t believe in weekly allowances could get their hands on postage stamps. I wrote short, desperate letters to my maternal grandfather: “Write me a story!” And he did: rapturous, silly adventures featuring a protagonist called Fat Ivan and doled out in half-ounce doses via air mail. Born in 1914, as a kid my granddad had spent the nickels he earned delivering ice in movie houses where newsreels, cartoons, and yes, serials, preceded the feature. I didn’t realize until years later that my granddad’s stories had a lot (a really awful lot) in common with C.S. Lewis’ Narnia tales. Back then I didn’t care. I lived for those letters, but I didn’t fall in love with the epistolary form. Nor did I develop an affinity for telenovelas, soaps, or series TV. Nope. I fell in love with serialization.

I delight in the narrative hooks that cannot be denied. I barrel toward each cliffhanger with no plan B, no parachute, nothing but the delirious faith the storyteller will catch me before I hit bottom. I wonder about the reckless abandon with which I embrace serialized fiction, and after a bout of navel-gazing I have an answer of sorts. In the decades since my granddad’s Fat Ivan stories I’ve learned a lot about myself.

I’m queer, and I’m kinky.

I’m a bisexual (who’s discovering pansexual leanings) with strong submissive tendencies, a masochist streak, and more than a dollop of the size queen about me.

These traits influence my reading choices, of course, but why serials? Here’s what I came up with:

The Prince's Boy coverAuthors of serials control the scene. They’re the literary version of a skilled mind-fuck Dominant. They draw me in with their seductive hooks, ramp me up with a tightly paced arc, and then – divine monsters! – edge me for installment after installment. My newly installed goddess among author Dommes is Cecilia Tan, whose incomparable The Prince’s Boy is now complete and available serialized at the Circlet Press site, in two ebook volumes, or in a collector’s edition. The Prince’s Boy is a fantasy quest romance fueled by sex magic and wonderfully fluid, affecting prose. It’s not to be missed, and I’m still mourning the end of almost two years of faithful weekly updates.

Something about genre fiction lends itself particularly well to the serial format; science fiction, fantasy, horror, sure, but also romance (think Dickens if you want the long view). M/m favorite Jordan Castillo Price offers serials through her monthly newsletter and web sites, and in very 21st century fashion has invited reader involvement in the development of new plots and characters. Her completed Zero Hour is a masterpiece of dystopian-futurism, a cracking good adventure yarn, and a moving romance all at once. Reading her new installments (now also available as an ebook) and knowing I’ll have to wait a month for the next one is the cognitive equivalent of orgasm denial, and my mental masochist adores the pain.Zero Hour bannerThen there’s the readerly size queen in me. I cut my teeth on queer serials with Trewin Greenaway’s four-fat-volume Cronnex series about a pair of horny and confused demigods. (Sadly The Cronnex is no longer available but you can read my review of it on the GLBT Bookshelf.) I have a subscription to Matthew Haldeman-Time’s fantasy soap opera In This Land which is still going strong at over 250 chapters. Gimme more! (Another in this category is Maculate Giraffe’s hurts-so-good Slave Breakers series which includes three novels and numerous side stories. Long and wide, if you get me.)

So there it is: devotion to serial fiction for the submissive pain-slut size queen. Reading as kink. It’s not an original idea, but the connections tickled me. What about you? Are there queer serials you’re following? What keeps you coming back for more?

Review Reanimated – Chaos Magic by Jay Lygon

One of the ways I become a better writer is by reviewing. I used to review a lot more, but I’ve scaled back due to writing and real life demands. One of the sites I used to review for, the terrific RAINBOW REVIEWS, has also closed to new reviews (though you can still view the site for now). I’m also slowly updating a list of all my reviews over on my GLBT Bookshelf pages.

I thought I’d give those older reviews of mine a second airing here, especially because I was fortunate to review some really fantastic books. So here’s the first in an occasional series. (Disclaimer: I’m presenting these as they originally appeared.)

CHAOS MAGIC by Jay Lygon

Publisher’s blurb:

Sam is a broken young man, searching for temporary escape from his demons–inside and out. Running from abusive ex-lover Marcus, the God of Fear, Sam finds himself in the arms of the hottest man to step foot into his life: Hector.

Hector proves to be the Daddy Sam needs and wants, but the road is a very rocky and often terrifying one. As Marcus digs his claws deeper into Sam, it threatens to tear apart everything Sam and Hector have built together.

My Review:

What an enthralling book! A unique premise, absorbing voice, unexpected imagery, and a cracking pace combine to make Jay Lygon’s Chaos Magic a novel worth reading more than once. Genuine darkness and breath-stopping sex add to its edginess, and the complexity of the plot and characters leave readers panting for a sequel.

Sam is a film critic whose career is starting to take off just as his personal life seems to tank thanks to an abusive relationship with a bad Dom. His irrepressible sensuality and reckless enthusiasm for anything-goes kinkiness seem in real danger of winking out as Sam succumbs to the depression and self-doubt of Fear. That’s the God of Fear, his ex, Marcus.

Fortunately for him (and for us readers), Sam is also a witch from a land- and fertility-worshipping clan, so he’s got the chops to keep his head above water, if only barely, by steadfastly worshipping his own personal pantheon. His scruffy apartment is full of altars to gods his family worships, like Fertility and Agriculture, and to gods he’s identified by virtue of his own powerful magic. Here is our first indication that Lygon’s story is several cuts above the run-of-the-mill paranormals out there: These new gods include Deal, the Goddess of Negotiation and Crash, the God of Computers, but most notably Sam worships Angelena, the Goddess of Traffic. She’s a biker dyke with “asphalt black hair,” “concrete gray eyes,” who smells of “grease and hot metal.” See what I mean? We’re in new territory here, exciting, clever, and funny territory.

Unfortunately for Sam (but not for us readers), he’s in denial about his own nature. Oh, he’s great with being gay, content as a confirmed bottom (this is no saccharine coming out or discovery story), but there’s more to him than he’s willing to acknowledge, even when staying in the cosmological closet threatens to destroy him. His sporadic and impetuous uses of sex magic and chaos magic fail to change reality, either objectively or in Sam’s mind, and Sam’s refusal to heed the word of his gods make him a narrator for the ages, unreliable and lovable in equal measure.

Enter Hector, Sam’s ideal Top. At first blush, Hector completes the traditional pairing of big, rich, older Dom with smaller, poor, younger sub. But there are twists galore in their liaison, not all of them happy ones, and their troubled relationship plays out on a number of levels, both cosmic and mundane. The questions we (and Sam) harbor about Hector’s motivations drive the conflict and keep the pages turning even more furiously than the skillfully-wrought scenes of BDSM sexuality or the burgeoning love story. Watching Sam transcend his no-strings bottoming to learn a deeper range of sensuality and ultimately come into his own full power is captivating, disturbing, and utterly delightful reading.

Lygon injects the BDSM love story and the magical-realist bildungsroman with some very dark notes of domestic violence and mental illness; that the hopeful (I won’t call it happy) ending is believable is a testament to the skill of the author and the power of the story. If I have a criticism of the book it is that Hector’s misapplications of his power make his love for Sam suspect to the point of being irredeemable. The rather precipitous ending does not resolve our lingering questions about Hector’s worthiness of Sam’s love or Sam’s future emotional safety with Hector, though one imagines the planned sequel will address them. I wouldn’t dream of missing it!

{This review originally appeared at the Rainbow Reviews site.}

Books 2 and 3 in the series are also available from Torquere.