Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Miles to Go by Amy Dawson Robertson

"Soldiers who are not afraid of guns, bombs, capture, torture or death say they are afraid of homosexuals. Clearly we should not be used as soldiers; we should be used as weapons."~Letter to the editor, The Advocate

One of the pleasanter finds while scouring the universe for the good read, is a newly published novel by “newcomer” Amy Dawson Robertson called Miles to Go (Bella Books, 2010)

It is labeled as a "Rennie Vogel Intrigue", which indicates that there are more works to follow, and which will focus on this wonderfully drawn title character. Women readers will love this character, and justly so.

Rennie Vogel is a tough woman who is loyal to her country, and to that end, has spent years honing her skills as an FBI counter terrorism operative. She is ambitious, but knows all to well that the government is reluctant to include women because of their inherent inability to perform as men do. Ready for a fight? The training for this field of endeavor is rigorous, and we soon discover that Rennie is in top form, often outperforming all others.

As the book opens, we find that Rennie is being considered for a newly formed Counterterrorism Tactical Team, CT3, and because the agency is required to include women, she is competing with other women for two available positions She clearly stands out above the rest, and is a likely candidate, however, in all likelihood she would be selected as alternate. This does happen, but there is surprise awaiting her. The team leader feels that the best woman should run a race with the man who scores lowest on the team. This delights Rennie and clearly pisses the one man chosen to compete. In a wonderfully exciting chapter, you’ll find yourself rooting for her, as she musters all the energy of Wonder Woman to cross the finish line first.
Even though she has proved herself over and over again, she is made to feel that if anything goes awry during a mission, she will be held responsible. And, although she feels confident, this “curse” is always in the back of her mind.This idea haunts her, but becomes her impetuous to succeed at all costs.

Although this is truly Rennie’s story throughout, Robertson introduces other fascinating characters by telling their story in parallel time. This works well, as it not only builds the excitement level, but tickles our imagination as to what we think will eventually happen.

Rennie and her team are deployed on a mission to wipe out an Iranian radical named Ahmad Armin. He is a former nuclear physicist who was convinced to defect by the CIA, but as a result of the agencies' involvement at the time of Mossadegh, he embraces a nationalist ideology that leads him to the thought of eliminating all US involvement in the area, and the world. He also makes headlines with the kidnapping of an American journalist, as well as the assassination of this brother. He is clearly the enemy.

Early on in the mission, Rennie's whole company is wiped out by a surprise sniper attack, and the woman who was deemed their albatross has to carry out the mission solo. Because of her particular skills, as well as her determination and quick mind, she accomplishes the impossible. While doing this, she discovers the kidnapped American, and decides to include her rescue in her mission.

Now, one of the things we learn about Rennie is that she is has had to suppress her private life in such a way as to only have furtive and unsatisfying encounters with other women. She is a loner, carries a lot of familial baggage, and has replaced her loneliness with her job. This is about to change quite unexpectedly. The woman she rescues possesses something that Rennie is drawn to.  The journalist Hannah is drawn to Rennie in a quite unexpected way as well.

One of the impressive things about this book is the author’s ability to convey sexual attraction and desire without unnecessarily interrupting the exciting story line. And exciting it is. This is a thriller, and although we soon expect that all will turn out in Rennie’s favor, the challenge of keeping us in suspense is met with success.

Will Rennie and Hannah have a future? Will Rennie’s career be affected by her unorthodox behaviors? Alas, this is where you need to step in and pick up Miles to Go to find out.You will be very pleased you did, and will want to follow Rennie as her life unfolds in future novels.  Amy Dawson Robertson has created not only a winning heroine, someone who we will come to love and respect, but a terrifically exciting read as well. Enjoy!

Next time I will be review Christopher Rices’s newest work, The Moonlit Earth, so stay tuned.

Stop by the website and listen to my first BlogTalkRadio show with James Magruder, author of Sugarless. I am hoping to be able to do the same with Amy.

Until next time, happy reading..
Robert Jaquay.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sugarless by James Magruder

“Hell is not hot. Hell, when I visit, is a cold, barren plain where mistakes are permanent and mothers and lovers go missing.” Rick Lahrem

In the pursuit of our identity as LBGT folks, most of us, depending on our age, had precious few resources at our fingertips to guide us in our jouney of self-discovery. For me, and earlier generations, there weren't many books or other resources. We truly had to "go it alone."

I am sure we all can tell the story of when and how we became aware of our differences, and likewise, we can tell the story of how much of a challenge it was for us to even conceive of “coming out” let alone doing it.

Today, whether you are an adult or adolescent, there are coming out books galore,and among these are those that are categorized as “coming of age” novels or bildungsromans. It is my distinct pleasure to introduce you to one of the very best I've even encountered, the super first novel by James Magruder, called Sugarless (Terrace Books, 2009).

Magruder tells the story of a young 15 year old named Rick Lahrem (rhymes with Harem), who, as the story opens, lives with his mother stepfather and stepsister Carla in a picture perfect suburb of Chicago. It is a “quirky” family, but one that I’m sure you can all identify with.

His step father Carl is an apelike licensed psychologist who occupies much of his leisure time in his “booger chair while making Rick life miserable. His sister Carla is a sexed up “burnout with low-slung torpedo tits” who can do no wrong, and his mother Marie, lost in her everyday household world, becomes transformed through the love of Jesus. This conversion is a significant component in the drama that unfolds.

Then there is Rick, who is feeling the surges of his sexual awakening, and is decidedly different. As he so aptly puts it, “Different is the kiss of death in high school”. However, for Rick, having the inclination or willingness to live his difference catapults him into an adventure that not only sets the stage for the rest of his life, but offers him that glorious moment when he understands just who and what he is.

One of Rick’s differences is his absolute love for Broadway musicals. Although he has never been to one, he got bitten by the bug while watching the Tony Awards (this is so familiar to me!). Whenever he can, he takes the opportunity to go to his favorite record store and carefully select his next “friend”. The process simultaneously excites and overwhelms him, as he is especially careful not to let anyone know he is indulging himself in this way. God forbid, he gives away the fact that he is a “show fag.”

Rich is a sophomore in high school, and one of the graduation requirements is to pass two quarters of Oral Communication. The adventure I spoke of begins after Rich reads a touching story in speech class and is summoned to the school’s performing arts office to speak with the instructor, Mr. Wegner. Wegner, and his student assistant Miss Schuette recognize his talent, and suggest that he join the competitive speech team, and in particular, participate in the Dramatic Interpretation category. To this end, he is given a scene from Mart Crowley’s Boys in the Band! And this, dear reader, is where the fun really begins.

The experience of Rick embracing this assignment in preparation for competition is not only a laugh riot, but this 8 minute exercise becomes the path to his enlightenment. Now, in order to for this to happen, the author adds a wonderful, yet controversial element to the story.

On one of his excursions to purchase yet another cast album, Rick meets Ned Bolger. Ned is a teacher from another school, but more significantly, he was one of the judges for Rick’s first completion. He not only believes in Rich, he excites him. To say that he seduces Rick would clearly bypass the reality of Rick’s own desire. Rick is ready, and what better choice than his being with someone who not only shares his love of musicals, but “inspires” him to do his very best.

From this point toward the transformational ending, James Magruder captures our attention every step of the way. Although this may not be our particular story, it is still ours to relate to. The writing is crisp and the images the author captures are very real. In other words, not one moment is wasted. You may find yourself torn at times as to the propriety of Rick’s relationship with Carl, but oddly enough, it is so matter of fact, that it works without offending.

Not only will you laugh a lot, but I bet you’ll get a few lumps in the throat along the way. The characters are wonderfully drawn, and the pacing of the book obliges you to read until you find out just what happens. I actually finished the book and began reading it again, not only finding it as good as I thought it was, but even better.

As I said, Sugarless is James Magruder first outing as a novelist, and he is currently working on his next. You owe it to yourself to pick this one up, so don't delay.

Until next time, Happy Reading!

Robert Jaquay

Monday, June 7, 2010

Chatting with Radclyffe, (L.L. Raand) author of The Midnight Hunt

After reviewing L.L. Raand’s The Midnight Hunt, I was able to connect with author Radclyffe, and chat with her a bit about the book and other things. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

RJ: Hi Rad, I just posted my review of The Midnight Hunt (Bold Strokes Books, 2010), which, as you will see, I loved. Before I get into specific questions about it, I’d like to ask some other questions. My desire here is to introduce you to the readers of this blog, and perhaps give something new to those who have already read you-but would like to know more.

I lived in Albany, NY  for 30 years, and it appears that you live in nearby Valley Falls, is that the area where you are from originally? You use the Albany setting in Midnight Hunt, and it was such a treat knowing just where your characters were.

Rad: I grew up about 40 miles north of here in Hudson Falls. One of my romances, When Dreams Tremble, is set in Lake George, New York and loosely based on some of my experiences when I was a teenager working up at the lake. My current work in progress—another romance (Desire by Starlight)—is set in Vermont, approximately 40 miles east of where I currently live. While I don’t always set my works in areas where I live or have lived, I do try to choose locales with which I’m familiar because it’s easier to infuse the story with the small details that make the setting come alive for the reader. In many of my works, the setting itself is an important part of the work.

RJ: You have your own publishing house, Bold Stroke Books ( ), would you share about it and its inception?

Rad: Bold Strokes Books grew out of my lifelong love of gay and lesbian literature and my desire to be part of the process that defines and supports so much of our lives.

RJ: I know from your bio that you are a retired surgeon, and I know you are not the only surgeon turned author, but what prompted you to make the shift? Was the writer in you active during your other career-or did the author in you take over the surgeon?

Rad: I wrote my first full-length work when I was still a surgery resident, and I have written actively for the last 30 years. Writing never interfered with my surgical career, or vice versa. However, I didn’t start my own publishing company until I was ready to retire from surgery. Three full-time careers is more than anyone can handle!

RJ: I love your personal “discovery moment” after reading Anne Bannon’s Beebo Brinker. I’ve so often heard that reading Well of Loneliness is the moment when many women find out the secret desire the harbor is not theirs alone-what was it about Beebo that spoke to you?

Rad: I was young—only about 12, and beginning to realize that I was different than other girls my age. I didn’t have a framework or point of reference for that difference until I read this book, and realized that although I didn’t know anyone else who felt the way I did, these characters were proof that I might one day meet someone else like me. Of course, I loved Beebo’s rebellious nature and her bravery in striking out on her own, and her refusal to give up on love even though the path had been a difficult one. She w:as a hero. Her creator, Ann Bannon, remains one of my heroes to this day.

RJ: I find it fascinating to “go back in time” and discover the literary treasures that influenced us. Do you think today’s readers should take the time to do this? I mean, I myself want to read Beebo Brinker?

Rad: I know quite a few readers who have “discovered” lesbian fiction in recent years and have read many of the earlier works and enjoyed them. It’s always important to place works in context, because as you know, gay and lesbian works did not get published in the 50s and 60s with the kind of “happy ending” that we see today, or even the frankly affirming characterizations that we’re used to. Nevertheless, these very talented authors manage to create positive images for their readers, and for that reason, I think these books are still quite enjoyable.

RJ: I hope this is not a duh question, but by taking on the name Radclyffe, is this your homage to her and this important work?

Rad: I chose my pseudonym over a decade ago when I was posting a fair amount of fiction online and wanted to have a recognizably “lesbian” identity. I think it’s a cool name and I relate to it very strongly—and of course, Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall Is one of my literary heroes.

RJ: My dear friend, who happens to be a straight woman, mentioned to me that her mother suggested she read Well of Loneliness, and she remembers it as one of her favorites? Does this surprise you? Do you find that you have a significant “straight” audience, or is that hard to tell?

Rad: I don’t really have any way of knowing the breakdown of my reader demographics, but I do know that I have received encouraging e-mails from self-described straight women as well as straight men.

RJ: I suppose it is somewhat difficult for young people today to understand the kind of “I am not alone” moment you describe after you read Beebo Brinker, do you think it is still a lonely road for many?

Rad: While I think we’ve made great strides in the last 40 years since Stonewall, we still have a long way to go. I get e-mails every single day from readers who tell me that my books and those of the authors I publish are a lifeline for them. Many of them are just coming out and don’t have access to a support system to help them. Our literature provides validation, comfort, and hope to many.

RJ: Here's a question from a former librarian: Do you think a special section or some identification should be created for GLBT books? Or, should they be integrated into the collection so as not to create a

Rad: This question comes up often in regards to bookstores—what matters most to me is that readers who need and want our literature can find it. If that means shelving them separately in a LGBTQ section, then I have no problem with that. What I’d really like to see is a double shelving process—a lesbian romance in the romance section as well as the LGBTQ section, for example. However, understanding that bookstores and libraries may only purchase one copy, I’d vote for easy identification so readers can find us.

RJ: You clearly have a devoted readership. I imagine that you hear from them, and they relate their stories to you. Do you also get inspiration from these revelations, or are most of your ideas from your own experience and, of course, your imagination?

Rad: My stories pretty much come from my own imagination, dreams, and fantasies.

RJ: There is also a listserv, (  ), devoted to your works, and although I just joined, it seems as though this forum really opens you up to a whole other dimension of reader involvement. Is this where you test-drive some of your writing-or just a way to stay in touch with your readers?

Rad: I’m always interested in reader feedback as a litmus of what the reading public is interested in— literature is a dynamic form of communication, changing as our culture and society changes. A lesbian romance from 50 years ago looks quite different from a lesbian romance today. I do not, however, write “for the audience.” I write the stories that interest and excite me, and am grateful when readers enjoy them. My Yahoo list is a way for me to communicate with those readers who have supported me, many of them for years, but I don’t alter what I’ve written as a result of feedback. I certainly think about comments that have been made, but in the end, an author must write what moves them.
RJ: Ok, now I am going to shift to The Midnight Hunt. In your Hunt You Tube Video (  ) you talk about asking your readers to take an adventure with you, to go on a journey-and discover that they are on the same path together. As I said, you have a strong following, were you concerned that this new outing would possibly alienate them?

Rad: No, not at all. I felt that some readers might have the preconception that they would not “like” this kind of story because traditional romances are the most popular form of the genre and this is a paranormal romance. My hope was that the readers who weren’t sure that this was something they would like (or who were pretty sure they wouldn’t like it) might give it a try if they understood that at the core, these are still the same kind of characters that I always write, dealing with the same kind of issues, and falling in love.

RJ: You chose to write under yet another pseudonym for this series, and although I know the reason why, could you tell the readers of this blog why you did this?

Rad: Paranormal romances are pretty big departure from traditional romances—I felt this change was large enough to signal to my audience to expect something different, and I did this by using a new pseudonym. There is also a large contingent of readers who really like paranormals but who would not read traditional romances. Again, by changing my pseudonym, I avoid the confusion that might be associated with my other pseudonym.

RJ: I know after the review was published, I heard from a couple of people who siad that they didn’t usually go to books with werewolves and vampires in them., but said that they thought they would give it a try after reading the review? Are you finding this true as well?

Rad: Yes, fortunately, I’m hearing this lot, which makes me very happy. All you can really ask is that readers give your work to try. Some will discover that they like it and others will find that they prefer different authors. We’re fortunate in today’s world to have many fine authors writing for the gay and lesbian community, as well as the reading world at large.

RJ: In choosing this particular genre you choose to focus on the wolf-were. I took a mild swipe at the Vampire “phenomenon” in my review, and happen to love the wolf theme. What made you chose the wolf-were for your main character?

Rad: My goal in this series is to write about a variety of preternatural species, including Vampires (I like dark heroes and Vampires are nothing if not dark). However, I think any series needs a strong core, and for me it’s Were society. It makes sense to me that the Weres would spearhead the movement toward social equality and civil rights because they live in community. They have children, they have a strong affiliation to their pack, and in my world – they are psychically and physically connected. And I know from my readership that many of the emotional and psychological attributes of Weres as I write them are very popular—the heightened sense of responsibility, loyalty, protectiveness, and devotion to the mate.

RJ: I found the idea of having another self just below the surface, and having it aching to emerge quite exciting. Is this a way for you to speak to those of us who have that other self inside us, begging to come out, along with all the conflicts, if we chose to do so?

Rad: The parallel is obvious between the preternatural species (the “others” who are different, and thus persecuted for their difference) with being gay. I felt this was important and something readers would be able to resonate to. But I also wanted to explore the fundamental dichotomy between our animal natures and the effects of socialization and civilization on how we express ourselves physically, sexually, emotionally, and psychologically. This was my way of exploring our more primitive natures.

RJ: Sylvan is such a marvelous character,and her inner struggle keeps the tension at a peak. She also is clearly responsible to her duties as the Alpha. You say that she is a typical Radclyffe character.What does that mean?

Rad: Sylvan is a hero in the archetypal sense—highly responsible, self-sacrificing, brave, valorous, as well as stubborn, unyielding, at times inflexible. She’s both easy and hard to love. Anyone familiar with my work will “recognize” her, and quite a few readers have drawn parallels between Sylvan and two of my most popular characters—Cameron Roberts, the Secret Service Agent in the Honor Series, and Reese Conlon, the sheriff in the Provincetown series.

RJ: Hunt's other main character, Drake McKennan,  and she is a medic. Any chance there’s a bit of you in her?

Rad: I don’t think so—Drake is far more patient and calm than me. I think there’s a little bit of the author in every character, if we write characters who ring true. How else can we instill them with genuine emotion if we don’t draw from our own? While none of my characters are ever autobiographical, but some are a little bit more of me than others.

RJ: You actually have at least two pairs of women moving towards a possible relationship, as well as a good amount of frustrated desire leaking out from your characters, and you add the extremely pressing issue of having Sylvan mate-less. Interestingly, Sylvan is less concerned about this “need” than those around her. Do you feel it is in our nature to seek a mate, regardless of the trials and tribulations we may face,or should some of us be free to move with the Pack?

Rad: On the whole, I believe that humans are social animals and we are driven to connect to individuals and greater society. Of course there are variations within that spectrum, and some individuals may do very well without “a mate.” However, if the drive for “union” weren’t a strong force for the majority of the population, I don’t think romances would be as popular.

RJ: Your books have a strong sexual content, and it appears that one comes (no pun here) to your works expecting this. I know the authors who blazed the trail for you could not get away with being this explicit-why did you choose to do so?

Rad: I by no means intend any criticism of the pioneering authors who came before me, and there are many reasons why their works were written the way they were. When I began writing, I wanted to show that the love between women was sexual and physical as well as emotional—that our love is every bit as passionate and consuming and rewarding as that which exists between a man and a woman. As a lesbian, I desire women physically just as I admire and respect them, and I believe those feelings should be reflected in our love stories.

RJ: You have several series, and now are starting a new one. Does the idea to create a series happen as you write, or do you plan this out in advance?

Rad: Some of my series are planned, and others evolved after the first book was written. Even with the planned series such as The Midnight Hunt, I really concentrate only on one book at a time with just a general idea of where the other books will take us. One of the most exciting things about writing is the unexpected direction that our stories take as they emerge.

RJ: Clearly, among your readership, there are those who are fond of a particular work. Is there one that stands out among the rest? Is it fair to ask if you have a favorite?

Rad: I do not have a favorite. There are things I like about every book, and there are definitely some that I like more than others, but I couldn’t pick out one and say this is it. Among reader favorites are the Honor and Provincetown series, Fated Love, Passion’s Bright Fury, and Turn Back Time.

RJ: You are such a prolific writer, and I'm sure there is someting new on the horizon. Would you share with us what that might be?

Rad: My next book--Trauma Alert--is due for release July 15, 2010. I'll be launching it in Provincetown, MA with a reading and signing at Now Voyager Bookstore, July 3rd. This is the first in a new series of stand-alone romances featuring first responders. This one features a trauma surgeon anda  firefighter.

RJ: Thanks Rad for sharing your time with me. I look forward to Trauma Alert,  and am also eager to read Blood Hunt, which is next in your Midnight Hunter series.

Rad: Thank you Robert.

Read more about Radclyffe and L.L. Raand at and .

Until next time, Happy Reading.

Robert Jaquay,