Tuesday 31 August 2010

DIK Challenge/ M/M Challenge - Camp Hell by Jordan Castillo Price (Psycop 5)

My DIK pick for August is Camp Hell by Jordan Castillo Price, one of Jenre's picks. I think I just made it under the wire.

Camp Hell picks up immediately where Psycop 4 ends. Victor has decided to take the plunge and investigate exactly why Heliotrope Station (Camp Hell) and all mention of its residents has been erased. But when someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to bury the past, is it really safe for him to be poking around?


My favourite of the series. I think perhaps because the characters are so settled in. Both mysteries (Victor's investigation into the La Salle hospital and his investigation into Camp Hell) are completely interwoven into the story.

I very much appreciated Vic's sarcastic humor here, as it balanced out some of the tragic and sad history of Heliotrope Station which we experience firsthand as Vic undergoes hypnotic regression.

If possible the paranoia quotient gets even higher, mainly because it permeates the whole book this time rather than just being a part of it.
"I have to tell you something. But I think they're listening." Which sounded incredibly paranoid, I realized, but only after I'd said it.
And there's also the sense of a conspiracy of silence. It's not 100% clear who the bad guys and good guys are. I'm very, very interested to see where the story goes from here. I don't think we've heard the last of Heliotrope station and the FPMP (Federal Psychic Monitoring Program) it feels like there's more to come.

Victor and Jacob's relationship gets stronger here, but they're still working on it. :) JCP manages to get across in a couple of sentences what takes other authors pages and it makes the story so much stronger.
"...We're both on the same side, right?"
Jacob's gaze had moved from the wall to my eyes. I wanted to squirm. "You've got to start acting like it," he said.
They're still not quite as honest with each other as they could be. As Crash puts it:-
"...You guys think you're so virtuous because you both fall into the same bed every night, but I'll bet you haven't had a single conversation that was a hundred percent honest..."
I think Crash knows exactly how to hit a nerve, but Jacob's and Victor's lies seem mainly to be each of them trying to protect the other. But it's still lying.

Crash makes another welcome appearance. I like how he rubs Victor up the wrong way. (Loved his comment about the fight with a lamprey). In a way it's like they're - Jacob, Victor, Carolyn, Lisa, Crash - this very dysfunctional family.

There's a nice balance of humor and suspense. The pacing of the story is excellent, Jordan Castillo Price knows exactly when to ramp it up and when to tone it down. And the story doesn't exist in a vacuum, their day to day lives and jobs carry on. Even though Vic is trying to find out about Heliotrope Station, he still has a day job and also a life outside that job that he has to deal with.

In Camp Hell a lot of questions have been answered. But I think there are some things that have only just had the surface scratched. (I hope the alcohol being/not being a psyactive is cleared up at some point). I am now in the unfortunate position of having to wait for book 6. :(

Edited to Add, Afterthought - One of the reasons I think I like this one the most is that in a way for me it feels that Jacob and Victor's relationship is the only normality in an increasingly hostile world. Thinking of the other m/m books I've really enoyed - A Strong and Sudden Thaw, Wicked Gentlemen, The Administration series - it's how these relationships develop, survive and grow stronger, even though it seems that the odds are stacked against them. Camp Hell (especially the scenes between Stefan and Victor) had that dystopian feel. I will definitely be re-reading this series again.

M/M Challenge - Secrets by Jordan Castillo Price (Psycop 4)

In Secrets Victor becomes aware that perhaps some of his paranoia is justified. Heliotrope Station (Camp Hell) where he spent two years being 'trained' in his psychic abilities isn't mentioned anywhere on the internet, come to that neither are any of the former inmates...including himself. At the same time Jacob is dealing with a particularly unpleasant case involving sexual abuse at a retirement home, a case he doesn't want to talk about with Victor. Things are starting to unravel.

After the previous book I was a little worried that maybe I was overglomming Psycop in my attempt to get to Camp Hell before the end of August. (Hey there are still a few hours left). But I needn't have worried, Secrets is back on form with a vengeance.

The story opens with a wonderfully domestic scene, Victor and Jacob are moving in together. Which of course involves a little moving day nookie.
"You left a bite mark!"
..."Good thing you don't have to work tomorrow."
"You shit."
Of course everything is down hill from there. Jacob gets called away to deal with a case. And Victor (currently on medical leave) is left trying (and failing) to sort out their new living quarters. The case weighs heavily on Jacob but he doesn't want to talk about it with Victor. And Victor having recently found out about the complete lack of information on Heliotrope Station begins to feel (not unjustifiably) that everyone is keeping secrets from him.

I thought the mystery in this one was much more integrated into the story. Although the mystery itself is a separate thing, it impacts on Jacob and Victor's relationship. Jacob doesn't want to talk to Victor about it because he doesn't want to burden him. But he does feel able to talk to someone else about it - which doesn't really do much for Victor. Victor realizes that Jacob is keeping secrets from him, but doesn't know if that's the only secret he's keeping. And it seems that everybody (bar Victor) knows about the lack of information on Heliotrope Station and doesn't see anything strange about it. Especially towards the beginning of the story you can almost feel Vic's paranoia coming off the page. Everyone (with the possible exception of Carolyn who can't lie) is keeping secrets. And it's only when these secrets come out and are revealed that they can move on. Though as Victor says at the end
"I'm not so sure I like the new, improved, honest you. Let's go back to pretending everything's fine the way it is."
There was a lot more of Crash (Jacob's ex, the empath) in this one, which immediately ramps up the sarcasm quotient. Crash is one of those characters who can't resist metaphorically poking at the sore spot with a stick. He's an empath, so even though Victor doesn't want Crash to know he's attracted to him, Crash knows anyway and takes full advantage. I love Victor's justification to himself that it's Crash's green hair that does it.

I think this is the first time that Victor and Jacob's relationship is put to the test. Which makes for a very realistic read. You don't just ride off into the sunset together and everything's fine from then on. Relationships take work. It's working through the problems that makes them stronger and is far more interesting to read about.

One other thing that's explored here is Jacob's almost fetishistic attraction to Victor's ability. As Carolyn says in her blunt way.
"Victor, you've got to get out of here...Whenever you're in the room, Jacob turns into a walking hard-on. I haven't got the time for it..."
Victor starts to think that maybe they are like opposite ends of a magnet and that's why the attraction is so intence. I wonder if this is a thread that JCP will pursue?

A definite recommendation from me for anyone who hasn't yet read it. Onward and upward to Camp Hell.

Sunday 29 August 2010

M/M Challenge, Body and Soul by Jordan Castillo Price (Psycop 3)

Psycop 3 continues the story of Victor and Jacob. This time in between looking for a new house or apartment where the two of them can live together, sans ghosts. Victor is involved in a case of three missing people. Unfortunately unlike the previous case (in Criss Cross Psycop 2) where he couldn't seem to get away from the dead, this time they are proving very difficult to locate.

I have to be honest I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as the previous story. Saying that, this is still some of the best m/m I have read recently. So I almost feel overly picky even mentioning it.

Unlike the previous story which integrated the mystery with the relationship stuff. This one is more of a story of two parts. The mystery (for me) was not as interesting as the interaction between Jacob and Victor. Though it is interesting seeing how Victor handles himself in his job when he's not working with Jacob (as he did in Psycop 1, and in Psycop 2 Jacob was kind of involved as well, where here the two are separate).

What we do get here is a lot of insight into Victor. He's almost painfully honest with himself to the point where he over analyzes, which kind of leads him into assuming what people are either thinking or are going to say or how they'll react and then he bases his responses on these assumptions. It's no wonder he sometimes struggles with what he's going to say.
"I could feel him staring at the side of my face, waiting for me to have a coherent thought and speak it out loud. He'd gotten eerily adept at not filling in any awkward silences with my over the last couple of months. Damn him."
It's these little touches that let you see how their relationship has developed. Jacob doesn't rush Victor to speak, he waits for the words to come.

Ironically you would think that Jacob would be the one who was most secure in himself and the relationship. He's out at work and with his family, whereas every time Victor gets a new partner he struggles with telling them that he's gay. But here I think we see that Jacob is not maybe as sure of Victor's feelings. You could take this back to the first story when you think about what both of them saw the murder suspect as. (Don't want to give away spoilers for book 1)

I like stories which take protagonists out of their comfort zones. And this story opens with Victor and Jacob at Thanksgiving with Jacob's family. And the presence of children is great because it means the protagonists get asked socially inappropriate questions. Which they then have to decide how or if they're going to answer. Something of a minefield for Victor.

I think when I go back to re-read this one, it will be the domestic and house-hunting scenes that draw me. For me the mystery in this one came second place (apart from how it served to see more of Victor) to the developments in the relationship between Jacob and Victor. I think in this story they have moved to a new level. I still think maybe Victor is a little unsure of himself, which leads to Jacob feeling a little unsure of the relationship as well. But that's what makes it interesting.

Onto Psycop 4.

Saturday 28 August 2010

Winner of...

the What Turns You On giveaway is


She posted the first comment and the number chosen at random.org was one. I have a copy of Phenomenal Girl 5 waiting for you.

Friday 27 August 2010

M/M Challenge Criss Cross (Psycop 2) - Jordan Castillo Price

Criss Cross is the second in the Psycop series by Jordan Castillo Price. And I must admit that I like this one even more than the first. The ghosts that surround Victor are getting pushier than usual and it seems that his medication is now causing more problems than it solves. He has a new partner and following the events of the first story, Jacob is now living with him. Things are getting a little out of control. Victor really needs to work out what is going on, before it's too late.

Because of the circumstances of the previous story, Jacob has now moved in with Victor. This has pushed them into a domestic arrangement sooner rather than later. I love how this keeps Victor off balance. He has this way of dealing with his life - everything a certain way - his white appartment, his drugs and Jacob pushes his way in there - not in an aggressive way, but he's just there.
"He (Jacob) had this way of lying diagonally on the bed so that when I got up and looked back at him, I wondered how the hell I'd even fit in there."
Sometimes it's like Victor doesn't quite know how to deal with him. It's this awkwardness that makes him endearing, that balances out the sarcasm.

I think my favourite thing is the contrasts between them. How Jacob likes to talk dirty during sex and is very vocal, whereas Victor is more cerebral and can never think of anything to say.
"Speaking of dirty: Jacob's a talker...Not that the words aren't sexy as hell - I just worry that I'll sound like an idiot if I'm the one saying them."
Jordan Castillo Price gets you straight into how their relationship works. Jacob is so sexual and overt and Victor is slightly more repressed.
"No wonder I worried about talking dirty; talking in general seemed to escape me."
I liked the mystery in this one as well. Especially the more paranoid aspects in the first half of the story. Even when Victor doesn't seem to be aware that something is wrong. I think that you as the reader are aware that there's something not quite right - a creeping suspicion that tickles the back of your head as you're reading.

This one gets another big recommendation from me. And I'm looking forward to reading the remaining books in the series.

Monday 23 August 2010

What Turns You On in a Protagonist...

...this post is not going to be as provocative as the subject makes it sound. :)

After reading Psycop 1 last week I've been thinking about what really makes me like and root for a protagonist. Looking at my favourite heroes and heroines - Marcus Falco, Miles Vorkosigan, Kate Daniels, Elena Danvers, Nadia Stafford, Adrien English, Jaz Parks, Gen (from The Thief) - there is some common ground there.

So without further ado - my three favourite things to find in a hero/heroine.

Sarcasm, Painful Honesty, and not Shutting Up

Lol - I love me a sarcastic hero. Someone who has a withering put down always ready on the edge of their tongue. Someone who has a clever comment to deliver at a moment's notice.
...Jack said, "You saw my note, right? It said 'wait'."
"That was a note? I thought it was a haiku."(Made to be Broken - Kelley Armstrong)
Someone who doesn't always keep quiet when perhaps they should because they just have to push it that bit further.
"I pointed out that he'd been no help at the ford. He pointed out that I had climbed a tree. I pointed out that I had no sword. He offered to give me his, point first." (The Thief - Megan Whalen Turner)
Someone who doesn't always understand the meaning of too much information.
"...I can't think with my underwear stuck up my crack. I know it's a weakness, but it's just one of those things." (Bitten to Death - Jennifer Rardin)
And if in doubt you can always state the truth.
"...Now she believes I'm a liar. Probably because I lied to her." (A Hunger Like No Other - Kresley Cole)

Keeping the Brain Switched On

One of the other attributes that I rank highly in a protagonist is whether or not they think. I hate when I read a book and start wondering at what point the hero put their brain into neutral. (Usually this happens to serve a particularly unbelievable plot point.) Smart people are sexy. People who keep their brain ticking over no matter the situation are fun to read about.
"I could tie you to the bed, you know."
"No, you can't. It's round and you don't have any rope." (Twilight Fall by Lynn Viehl)
(Hmmm, perhaps this is a little linked to the previous point).

One of the things I most love about characters such as Miles Vorkosigan, Kate Daniels and Marcus Falco is that even when the situation is turning to complete shit all around them, their brains are still constantly churning over the possibilities.
"Hello, dove." He grinned at me. "Look at that: you don't have your pretty knife and I've got your hands. What are you gonna do now?"
I rammed my head into his nose.' (Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews)
They can be saying one thing, doing something else and thinking something else entirely. It makes for an exciting and thrilling read.


Again this kind of links to the previous post in some ways - the character having their brain switched on- but it's also to do with the character behaving organically. I think it's important that if an author establishes a character will behave in a certain way that they are true to that. Put your character in the most awful situation imaginable but have them behave in a way that is true to them.

A brilliant example of this (and I'm going to write about it without spoilers because it just shouldn't be spoiled) is what happens to Miles Vorkosigan in Memory. Something awful happens. But it's been established since the beginning of the series that he follows this strategy of 'forward momentum' (keep going, just keep going). And up until this point it's worked pretty well for him. But in this case things just get worse and worse. He should stop...but he can't. As a reader you can see the inevitable disaster of the situation, but you also understand that Miles is behaving like Miles would.

So what are the attribues you most like your heroes/heroines to have? I have a copy of Phenomenal Girl 5 to give away to one poster to this thread. Winner to be chosen by random number at random.org on Saturday.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Winner of the...

...Stalling out on a series giveaway is :-


whose comment was the 6th on the thread by someone who wanted to take part in the draw. Number chosen at random.org was 6.

Donna - keep an eye out for my e-mail. :)

Tuesday 17 August 2010

M/M Challenge, Among the Living by Jordan Castillo Price (Psycop 1)

As I'm intending to read Camp Hell (Psycop 5) for my August DIK book, I thought I better get my finger out and read the previous 4 books in the series. Also this will make a serious dent in my m/m challenge .

I'd heard only good things about the Psycop series so I was looking forward to reading it and wasn't disappointed.

Among the Living introduces us to Victor Bayne - the psychic half of a Psycop team. Victor's psychic talent is that of a medium - he can talk to the dead, specifically for his job victims of crime, murder victims. The book opens with him hooking up with Jacob Marks (a non-psychic(Stiff) from an adjacent precinct) at the retirement do for Victor's current partner. Victor (who's in the closet) has the idea that this will probably be a one time thing. Then a serial killer strikes and suddenly Victor finds himself working with Jacob. The only problem is this killer isn't leaving any ghosts behind, and any living witnesses can't seem to agree on what the suspect looks like.

I loved this story and highly recommend it to anyone who likes m/m who hasn't read it already.

Written in the first person this gets you straight into Victor's head; to my delight he has an incredibly sarcastic inner voice. I have a weakness for saracastic protagonists anyway, but his comments were especially entertaining.
I'd always thought that rules were just for people who tended to get caught.
Hmmm. Maybe right up until the moment you get caught.

There is a chemistry between Victor and Jacob from the start, which is slightly combative in a way.
"What's in your mouth?" he said, and his voice was a sexy, low purr.
Not physically as such but there is a friction between them. This is a good contrast, it kind of knocks Victor off stride.

One of the things I thought was very interesting was how Jacob and Victor see the suspect. (The suspect's appearance can vary.) Especially because it lets the story end on such a cracking last line (Jacob gets the last word) and you can almost imagine the non-plussed look on Victor's face.

We're also introduced to a couple of other psychics. Jacob's partner Carolyn who Victor refers to as 'the human polygraph'. And another who has the ability to give the correct answer to yes/no questions - which sounds a very simplistic talent in a way but for police work could be very useful.

In short, this is a brilliant introduction to the Psycop world and makes me very glad I have the next four stories ready to go.

Monday 16 August 2010

Stalling out on a Series

I started reading Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh this week - for the second time. For some reason I never made it past the first 50 pages on my first attempt. I'm not sure why because I love Singh's writing. I kind of noticed that I'm falling behind on the Changeling/Psy series and decided it was time I caught up before I got so far behind that I couldn't catch up.

This got me to thinking about the other series I no longer read - why did I stop reading them? Okay, some of them it was because they changed radically from the original concept but for some of them it seems I just stalled and never started reading them again. Are there any similarities between the series I've abandoned or is it just that I spend a lot less time reading now that I have in previous years. (Two or three years ago I'd manage at least three books a week, now if I manage one I'm doing well.)

So anyway I thought I'd look at a few of the series I'd stopped reading.

Changeling/Psy series by Nalini Singh. I have to admit this one is a bit of a mystery. (Not a good start to the post - sorry about that). I have the next two books in the series following Hostage to Pleasure on my TBR pile. But for some reason after I gave up on HtP the first time I just never got round to it again.

The Stardoc series by S. L. Viehl. Another series I love and stopped reading at Rebel Ice. Now I think I know the reason for this one. I seriously overglommed - I went into Cherijo overload. I think I read from Stardoc to Eternity Row in the course of two weeks. I need to go back and read the series from the beginning taking everything in properly. The thing I like about this series is that it has an end point. The last book (I think) has just been released. So now would be a good time to get back to it.

Stephanie Plum series. I stopped reading at book 8, possible earlier. This is the first series mentioned that I don't really have any interest in getting back to. Even though I have books 9 and 10 on my TBR pile. I think I realized I was reading the same book over and over. I also don't think it helped that at the time I was reading some fantastic fanfiction that dealt with Stephanie and Ranger in a much more interesting way than the series. I have the idea that the book that put me off is the one where Ranger and Stephanie finally got together (half a page IIRC) and after several books building up to a firework display complete with shooting stars...it was more of a damp squib really.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R.Ward. Now I'm very naughty with this series and I admit it. The main character I'm interested in is John Matthew and because of the way the books are structured you can flick through and read one character's arc and find out what happened to them first. However in Lover Avenged he turned into a bit of a wanker which kind of put me off reading the rest of the book properly.

I never got past the first book in Meljean Brook's brilliant Guardian series I think because they're just so darn long and I feel the need to have a large chunk of time available to sit down and read them. I read the first book on an 8 hour train journey. And I just haven't have any long train journey's since then. This is definitely another series I want to get caught up on. Love her writing and The Iron Duke is possibly the book I have most looked forward to in the second half of this year.


If nothing else this has helped me decide that my reading challenge for next year will be to catch up on as many series as possible.

So do you have any series that you've abandoned that you want to get back into? Or once you've given up do you never go back? I have a copy of Sexiest Man Alive by Diana Holquist to give away to one poster to this post. Winner to be chosen by random number at random.org on Saturday.

Sunday 8 August 2010

Winner of the Book Prejudices Giveaway...



She posted the 4th comment from people who wanted to enter the giveaway and the number picked at random.org was 4.

I have a copy of The Vampire Shrink to send to you.

Friday 6 August 2010

Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane

Before I start, something I don't have to say very often on the blog - but just to let you know I received this book to review.

Unholy Ghosts is the first in the Downside Ghosts series and introduces us to the world of Chess Putnam a ghost hunter in the employ of The Church of Real Truth. In a world where the dead have risen (as ghosts) and attack the living, it's Chess's job to expose people who fake hauntings for compensation and to banish the real ghosts. Chess has other problems, she's a drug addict and owes her dealer a lot of money. He's willing to forgo the debt if she clears some ghosts from an unused airport, but it's not as simple as it sounds.

Before I started reading this I had some misgivings. Stories about addicts have two possible endings - the addict either kicks the habit or dies. But there has to be some growth, some change, in real life things can go on indefinitely but in fiction readers get bored. To be honest I really don't want to invest the time in a series where the protagonist dies at the end.

But overall I'm glad I put my concerns to one side and read the story. I was interested to see if Stacia Kane could make Chess a sympathetic heroine - I think you need to be able to understand or piece together why characters are the way they are. If you can't have sympathy then there needs to be something - a dark edge of humor for example. Would the reader understand why she is the way she is or would you be left wanting to figuratively slap her and tell her to get herself together.

I did find it to be a story of two parts. For the first 150 pages I found it harder going. Addicts tend to be rather tunnel vision in their thinking - I've had a fix, I'm having a fix, I will be having a fix. She owes money to her dealer, she's having to hide her habit from her employer, we get the feeling that something terrible has happened to her but we don't what it is. There's a reason that she's an addict.

The language and names of some of the characters takes a little getting used to. Church employees talk in complete sentences, characters who live in the Downside have weird names - Terrible, Bump, Brain and don't like to use the words - and, are, have, can etc.

On page 153 for the first time I empathise a little with Chess. We learn very little about her from her own thoughts even though it's written in tight third person. It's Terrible's (her drug dealer's enforcer) observations of her that allow us to see her better than she lets us. It's also through him - I think - that she starts to see herself in a different way, the way that he sees her. Terrible thinks she's brave, Terrible knows she'll solve the problem. She also has incredible chemistry with him. When he says (paraphrasing) that he lets some women do whatever they want to him. You can almost feel the heat coming off the book. He was my favourite character. It was from this point that I really got into the book.

It's also from this point that there's an increasing sense of paranoia and claustrophobia that was incredibly well written. There's a scene where she's running away from the bad guys but you're not 100% certain whether they're there or not. Is it in her head? Is it a result of the drugs? And Chess doesn't seem completely sure either. The sense that she's losing it is palpable. At certain points it felt like we were brushing closer to the horror genre than urban fantasy.

One of the characters says - It's like a little hell, this world - and that really encapsulates it for me. There's a beautiful quote by Christopher Marlowe that could have been written for Chess, to describe this world.
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place, but where we are is Hell,
And where hell is there must we ever be.
One thing I must mention before I end the review which I didn't really appreciate until the end of the book is that I didn't have a perfectly clear picture of how the world worked. The city where Chess lives seems very isolated, like a little world of its own. When the people of this place die their ghosts get sent to the City of Dead which is underneath the church. But is there a City of the Dead for EACH city, or is this the only City of the Dead. What about if you're born in this city but move somewhere else, which City of the Dead do you end up in. Or after the apocalypse (when the ghosts roamed free on Earth for a week) is this all that remains of humanity?

I think if you like films like Dark City, Perfect Creature, Gabriel ((which I do :), also very insular, claustrophobic tales ), you know the ones - it's always night, it's always raining - then you will enjoy this book. If you like a darker, different tale this is one I'd recommend, just bear with the first 150 pages.

Monday 2 August 2010

Book Prejudices

Hi. My name's Lesley and I'm going to admit that I have book prejudices. In some ways this is a good thing, otherwise every time I went into Waterstones I'd be maxing out my credit card. But maybe it also means that I'm a little harsh on some books that I might otherwise have enjoyed.

Now I'm talking more here about things that stop you picking up a book in the first place or things that you read on the cover which mean that the story has to work harder to pull you in. (Niggles and grumbles with the actual story is a post for another day.)

The Cover itself

Now I hate to admit this but covers do play an important role in book purchases. More if it's a first time author. If it's come down to a choice between two books and one has a great cover and the other has a god-awful one, I know where my money's going to go. I think e-books get away with this more because they aren't going to be on your bookshelf where you have to look at them.

Cover Quotes

I try to take little notice of these because a lot of the time there seems to be little consistency in the recommendations. But one thing that does set off my readerly defences is if a quote says - laugh out loud funny, or any variation on that theme. Mainly because I then open the book almost challenging it to - 'Make me laugh!' And once you're in that mind set it means that the story has to work twice as hard as it might have done without the quote.

Strange character names

If an author is going to call their character Calliope, Ricochet or Teakettle. I wish they'd remember that the reader is going to be stuck with that for the whole book. I'm not saying don't use the name, I'm saying make sure you have a good reason for using it rather than Cathy, Richard or Thomas.

For example Cherijo in the Stardoc novels has that name because it's an acronym of her experiment designation. Also there's probably a little more leeway in science fiction.

Please tell me I'm not alone in my Monday morning moaning. Does anyone else out there share these prejudices or do you have some of your own? I have a copy of The Vampire Shrink by Lynda Hilburn to give away to one commenter on this post. Winner to be chosen by random number at randomnumber.org on Saturday.