Liv Rancourt

Aqua Follies – book review

I was excited when Aqua Follies launched a week or so ago, not only because it was written by my friend, Liv Rancourt, but also because I was an early beta-reader on this book and have been following its journey from the sidelines. So I guess this book is close to my heart and I want to share it with you.


Aqua Follies – blurb

AquaFollies_Digital_LargeThe 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll. Homophobia.

Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.

From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because sometimes good things can come of it. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot.

The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?


Aqua Follies – my review

There’s so much to love about Aqua Follies. The mid-1950s is not your usual setting for a male/male romance novel, but Liv Rancourt brings that era to life brilliantly well. There are party phone lines, jazz lounges, and pomaded pompadours. There are blazers and ties for the men, curled hair and red lipstick for the women. There’s the behaviour ‘accepted for a young lady’ and the girls struggling to break free of the shackles. And of course there’s the awful social and legal persecution of men suspected of being gay.

Aqua Follies is not a ‘sweetness and light’ read. It’s gritty and uncomfortable much of the time, because the society these young gay men are forced to live in is just so horrible. They’re forced to hide everything they feel, hide everything they do, hide in fact their true selves from the world.

For Russell, this results in denial and suppression, deep shame at being ‘perverted’, guilt when he succumbs. For Skip, on the other hand, raised among musicians and theatre types, it leads him to boldness and sometimes rash actions.

Skip is a loveable character. He’s open-hearted and he follows his heart. He’s part of an accepting community, and although he has his own struggles, he’s fully accepting of himself and goes after love with everything he has.

It’s really Russell’s story though, and he is a lot more complicated, constantly battling himself, denying himself, despising himself. He comes across as an asshole a lot of the time as he tramples Skip’s poor heart again and again, but his fears are very understandable and real. I adored him in the first third of the book, really felt for him as he found his object of desire and battled certain dark thoughts while trying to conform to the hetero ‘norm’. Then I got mad with him during the middle — and felt every bit of Skip’s frustration as Russell blew hot and cold cold cold. By the end, though, he melted my heart with his eventual self-acceptance and earnest love for Skip, especially as he takes decisive action and changes things in his life to be with him. Even though his self-realisation takes a while to arrive, he gets there in the end.

Overall, it’s a fabulous book that brings the 1950s to life and tells a fairly difficult love story that continues to resonate in my mind. The writing is slick and accomplished, the supporting characters vivid and present, the sex scenes judiciously placed and by no means gratuitous.

This is a novel with depth and complexity at both the emotional and historical level — as much a novel of Russell’s coming of age and a portrayal of life in the 1950s, as a romance. I now want a sequel to see how Russell and Skip get on with their lives, because the ending seems quite open-ended, particularly given the precarious nature of such relationships at that time.


Buy links for Aqua Follies

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | More Stores

Book launch & review: The Secret of Obedience

Happy book birthday to my friend, Liv Rancourt, whose m/m novella The Secret of Obedience launches today. I was lucky enough to read an ARC and it’s wonderful…

My review:

obedienceThis exquisite little novella packs a solid punch of sass and feels. I love the frank narrative voice of Ronnie, “gay country boy” and ex-footballer, who acknowledges his naivety but goes the hell after what he wants. And that’s the sassy, eyeliner-and-lipgloss-wearing Sang — elusive, effervescent, Ronnie’s own “freaky, funky beauty”, who gives his “sugar cookie” a run for his money.

The language in this novella is wonderful. Liv has totally nailed her descriptions with witty images and clever details that are just spot on. And the banter between all the characters is saucy and honest and very real. The naughty scenes are hot and written at just the right level, and there’s no mistaking the depth and growth of feeling Ronnie and Sang have for each other across only 40 pages. Normally I find this length too short for strong character/emotional development, but not here.

There’s also a couple of well-drawn supporting characters, and a nod to the Washington state Referendum 74 to approve or reject the February 2012 bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

Overall the novella is a really neat little package with depth and diversity and satisfying levels of emotional intensity. The “secret” aspect of the title isn’t all that difficult to pick, but this is not a mystery story, so who cares. It’s about love and acceptance and fighting for what you want — and quirky fashion.

I love this one rather a lot. Highly recommended for m/m (in fact all romance) fans!

Official blurb:

Ronnie Durand is a country boy who transfers to the University of Washington after two years at Central. He’ll have to give up playing football, though finishing his education at a major university in Seattle — and being out and proud without having to look over his shoulder — makes the sacrifice worthwhile.

But finding friends at a huge school is tough, especially when the hottest guy Ronnie meets makes him doubt his own sanity.

Sang’s been on his own a long time. He’s only a couple steps away from living on the street, and he’s got dreams so big they don’t leave space for a steady boyfriend. Then he meets Ronnie, who just might be strong enough to break through his barriers… as long as Sang lets him in on one big secret.

Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Reading highlights – August and September

I have two months worth of books to reflect upon today, because somehow I missed my August post. But I’ll try not to go on about all of them and just present the highlights package. (That’ll mean ignoring any books I might have happened to re-read… of which there were four.)

AUGUST

Hindsight – Sarah Belle

Hindsight is a light comedy about a woman who comes close to destroying her marriage by letting her career as a PR agent to the rich and famous take over her life. She finds herself translated back in time to 1960s Melbourne, complete with husband, kids and neighbourhood, and rediscovers her relationship with same. It’s quite an entertaining look at how a modern woman survives in a world in which she doesn’t have so much as a landline telephone or TV, but I did have issues with the apparent message that a woman who drops her career and becomes a full-time mum is actually happier. Hmmm. This book was chosen by my reading group (all women, not all of them mums) and we had rather an interesting discussion about contemporary work-life balance among other things.

Between the Sheets – Liv Rancourt

Between-the-SheetsLiv Rancourt is one of my online buddies, and I received a review copy of her new romance novella… Here’s my official review!

Love on choir camp — the premise caught me from the start. Maggie is on a convention for school music teachers, when she kisses Randy first and meets him later. Since she’s been challenged by her best friend to hook up for the weekend, she’s off to a good start.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book/novella. It’s fast-paced with snappy writing and lots of ironic humour. The air between Maggie and Randy fairly sizzles, and there’s a fabulous emotional intensity to their encounters that makes it very clear to the reader they really like each other, even if they tell themselves they’re pretending.

The main characters are well drawn and believable, with vulnerabilities they succumb to but ultimately surmount. In particular, Maggie, who has considerable relationship baggage, is brave as she confronts what she wants and sets out to get it. And when Randy turns out to be a hot shot musician, I felt like swooning.

It’s a great length, easily read in one sitting without feeling too short. Although having said that I could have definitely handled more Maggie and Randy. I desperately wanted to see them play music together.

Last Line – Harper Fox

One of Harper Fox’s early novels was re-released for kindle, so of course I had to read it immediately. This is by far the most emotionally harrowing of her novels, about two UK special agents, one of whom was tortured and brain-washed in the past, making him really vulnerable to manipulation by the bad guys. It all turns out well in the end, but not for the faint-hearted.

Other books read in August included Ghostly Treasure by Suzanne Stengl (a novella by another online buddy). On the audiobook front, I listened to two of the Phryne Fisher novels by Kerry Greenwood — Rudigore and Urn Burial.

SEPTEMBER

The Broken Kingdoms – N.K. Jemisin

the-broken-kingdoms-by-nk-jemisinThis is the second of N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy (fantasy), the first of which is The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I read and adored (and reviewed) a few years ago. The Broken Kingdoms has been sitting on my kindle all that time since. It’s set ten years after the first book, in a city overshadowed by an enormous supernatural tree, where someone is mysteriously killing godlings (children of the three main gods). Oree is a blind woman who can see magic… and paints using magic. She hangs out with godlings, has been in a relationship with one, but finds herself a pawn in the plot of those seeking to kill them. She also befriends a fallen god and helps him find himself again.

The Broken Kingdoms is very very different to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, although written in a similar style. It’s not nearly as complex or political, for one thing, and although Oree is a determined protagonist (and it’s fascinating to have a book narrated by a blind woman), I don’t think I connected with her as much. Moreover, there just isn’t as much to the story. And as for the end… well, let’s just say that if you’re someone who likes a ‘happy ever after’ ending for relationship subplots, you’ll feel like throwing the book (or kindle) across the room. On the whole I enjoyed the book enough to finish it (and I only finish books I like), but I didn’t love it.

More September books

Other books read in September included Stranger on the Shore and Fair Game (All’s Fair), both by Josh Lanyon. Both of these are mystery novels with a m/m romance angle. I liked Stranger on the Shore in particular, with its Gatsby-inspired 20-year old child kidnapping mystery solved by a journalist who stays with a wealthy dysfunctional family on Long Island to research the story for a book.

Currently I’m reading the latest in Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner fantasy series, Shards of Time. I do love the first two or three in this series, but although the subsequent books don’t reach the same heights, I rather enjoy them anyway. One of the things that has struck me about this one is how like a D&D setup some books in the series are. More on that next month! In the car I’m listening to Jane Austen’s Emma.

Lucky Seven – snippet from the WIP

Today I bring you a very short snippet from my work in progress, courtesy of the Lucky Seven game. I’ve been tagged by Liv Rancourt, who posted a snippet from her quarterfinal entry in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award — Hell… The Story.

Mine is still very much a work in progress, unpolished and raw. I’ve recently written a new opening scene, from which I’ve selected the snippet below (approx 7 lines from page 7 of the WIP – as per the rules). Alas, I still don’t have a working title yet.

Some background: This is a fantasy novel about Adehl, a young woman who has been living a lie so that she might ride with an idealistic spiritual group and wield earth magic. But then she makes a decision that will cause her entire life to unravel and seed a secret reform movement…

Doneyah’s mouth hung half open and the fingers on Cloud’s bridle spasmed. Adehl felt an insane urge to laugh. She had imagined a hundred different reactions to her announcement. Leave the Vuusah? Impossible! Once the Vuusah have chosen you there is no going back.

It wasn’t true, of course. They just didn’t like to acknowledge it.

“What do you mean, leaving?” Doneyah’s voice grew louder, almost a growl, and she shook her head as though to clear it. “When will you be back?”

“I’m not coming back.” Adehl gathered the reins in one hand and prepared to fend off Doneyah with the other.

And off she goes to screw up her life and give hope to other minority groups in the process.

The rules of the Lucky Seven game are:

  • Go to page 7 or 77 in your current WIP… Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 sentence or 7 lines—as they are!
  • Tag 7 people to do the same

It’s true a snippet this short doesn’t tell you too much, and there needs to be a degree of flexibility to arrive at an excerpt that hangs together and is interesting; but it’s fun all the same.

I’m not going to tag anyone specific for this one, because I think anyone and everyone should feel completely free to select a snippet from their WIP if they choose to. It’s a great option for a post — so if you’re a writer reading this, consider yourself tagged!

Lather: The Twinkle Jackson Story ~ Chapter Four

It’s becoming something of a tradition among one of my writing and blogging circles to hold a blogfest that takes the form of a Round Robin Tale. Basically each blogger contributes a progressive chapter to the story — it ends up a completely crazy mashup of styles and genres, but is loads of fun to participate in.

The current story has unfolded on the following blogs so far:

and the whole story will be housed on the blog of Laird Sapir — who inspired the activity and also created the fantastic graphic to represent the story. It’s my turn to contribute chapter four — but first I strongly encourage you to read the first three installments if you haven’t already.

SparkleSudz

LATHER: THE TWINKLE JACKSON STORY

Chapter four

After his initial shock faded, Twinkle gulped and stared at the hooded figure. Grass brushed the hem of her cloak and she cast a very real and somewhat slinky shadow; yet Twinkle knew she was connected with the Golden Goddess who had commandeered his television the previous evening.

He quaked at the thought of what the Golden Goddess wanted him to do.

The newcomer stepped closer, her hood falling back to reveal a cascade of ginger curls and a wide smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Hi, Twinkle,” she said, thrusting out a hand adorned with a twisted gold ring.

Something tugged at his memory and Twinkle retreated a step, his gaze darting between her youthful face and the ring. His heart thudded as he tried to make sense of it. “I’m not coming with you,” he said.

A vibration in his back pocket signalled the receipt of a message – probably the one he’d been waiting for – but he didn’t dare retrieve it while his dad might be watching from inside the house. His dad would probably burn his favourite toy if he knew about the illicit smart phone.

“Sure you are,” the woman said, and began humming the tune to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Upon completion of the main melody, she looked at Twinkle expectantly.

He shook his mop of unruly hair. The woman was crazy… and he was just about to say so when his phone vibrated again. He clenched his fist. “Look, I have somewhere I need to be.” A revving in the distance sounded like Gary’s motorbike. Dammit. He was early.

“Yes. You do.” The woman’s smile collapsed into a frown. “I thought this had all been explained to you? Didn’t she say I’d be coming? My name is Jupernia.”

“Doesn’t mean I agreed to anything.” The revving grew louder and Twinkle threw a glance towards the bottom of the empty driveway.

Jupernia inhaled sharply as she detected the motorbike’s approach. “Look, we need to hurry. How can I persuade you?” She grabbed a fistful of his hair and tugged. “What about conditioner? You could have hair all glossy and shiny like mine… or like the Golden Goddess’s!”

Twinkle was unprepared for the yearning which overtook him at the word ‘conditioner’. He remembered his once shiny long golden locks and – just for a moment – he wavered. But if his musical plans came to fruition, he would have all the conditioner he wanted without ever having to use Sparkle Sudz Soap again. “No – conditioner is not enough,” he declared. “Not to do that.”

But in his moment of indecision, Jupernia clamped some sort of manacle around his wrist and started dragging him away from his dad’s house.

“Hey!” yelled Twinkle, pressing his fingers into her arm. But now that she was so close, the scent of her hair product was playing havoc with his conviction. “What kind of conditioner‽”

The revving filled the air now and belatedly Twinkle realised it was far too loud and of too deep a pitch to be Gary’s motorbike. A wind seemed to rush up out of nowhere and an immense shadow fell upon Twinkle and his would-be abductor.

“Shit!” mouthed Jupernia, the word grabbed by the wind or drowned out by the roar. Or both. Twinkle followed her gaze upwards to behold a flying… thing. The jagged edges of its disk-shaped hold, from which ten knobbly appendages protruded, blinked with lights. The appendages curved down to squash his dad’s vegetable patch as the vessel landed like a moon vehicle. “It’s one of Lobstink’s cursed crustaships!” Jupernia shouted. “Run!”

The crustaship engine cut and the world lapsed into silence. Then the haunting notes of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star filled the air.

A shudder ran through Twinkle’s body as, powerless to resist this particular tune played properly, he stood transfixed by the giant space crab. The music continued, sounding like a child at an electronic keyboard, and he hummed his favourite harmony.

“Don’t listen to it!” Jupernia screamed. She clapped her hands over Twinkle’s ears, but the music resounded through his bones and would not be quashed. She moaned. “How the hell did he know?”

As the music continued, a ramp lowered from the suspended body of the crustaship. Out swarmed an army of shrimp-creatures, who surrounded Twinkle and Jupernia with guns raised.

A moment later, the shrimp-creatures flung themselves prostrate to the ground as an immense metallic lobster-shaped figure creaked and jerked down the ramp. Long red eyestalks protruded from behind a visor; the eyestalks swivelled towards Twinkle, twitched and refocused on Jupernia. “The boy looks perfect, councillor!” The booming voice silenced the music. “My Shrimperators told me it would be so. He’s exactly what I need to activate my most fiendish scheme ever!”

“M-my lord?” Jupernia stiffened and seemed ready to bolt. Her hand squeezed Twinkle’s wrist.

“Get up, oh, faceless minions!” he roared and the Shrimperators scrambled to their, er… feet. The lobster-monster’s puffy red claw beckoned. “Bring the boy to me.”

 ***

Want to know what happens next? Me too! We’ll all have to tune in to Richard M0nro‘s blog sometime in the next week or so.

Thanks for reading!

 

Inside the mind of a hoarder

Today I’ve been sorting through my filing cabinet and discovering all sorts of fabulous and strange artifacts I previously stashed away. Some are worth keeping, others not so much…

Very-Inspiring-Blog-Award2To help satisfy the requirements of the Very Inspiring Blogger meme — bestowed upon me by the wittily wonderful Liv Rancourt a week or so ago — I’ve decided to share with you ‘seven facts about me’ in the guise of seven of the more interesting filing cabinet factoids. I’m sure it will be most revealing of my character — heh.

1. Pages from The Age newspaper dated
18 February 1975

This had me stumped until I opened the pages to find a centrefold about the Kings and Queens of England. I don’t know when I decided to keep these pages (certainly not in 1975!), but I don’t think I need them somehow. It has, however, proved quite interesting to see how The Age looked nearly 40 years ago.

2. A piece of unused gift-wrapping featuring Mr Men

Honestly?! This was in the folder labelled ‘miscellaneous’ (as were many of these items) and I can only assume I thought it handy to have a pictorial representation… no, I have no idea what I was thinking.

3. Handouts on Electron Microscopy

Many of you may not realise that, not only am I an engineer, but I actually have a doctorate. Electron microscopy was a huge part of my thesis, and for one of the university open days we prepared handouts to explain what electron microscopy is. I used some of my electron micrographs (er, photos) on it. Here’s what a FLY looks like in the scanning electron microscope!

Images of a fly under the Scanning Electron Microscope (taken 20 years ago!)

Images of a fly under the Scanning Electron Microscope (taken 20 years ago!)

 

4. Correspondence with ‘famous authors’ – gasp!

Back when I was a mere 20-year old, I wrote (by hand — this was just before email came in) to a couple of my favourite authors, and was very excited to receive responses. Perhaps the most entertaining was my correspondence with Stephen Donaldson: first I wrote to him asking if he could send me a map for his fantasy works, Mordant’s Need; then, upon being told there wasn’t one, I created my own and sent it back to him requesting his feedback. He responded with a very nice letter saying I’d done a pretty good job, and hand-marked some minor changes. Gee, I was so excited! (To be honest, it still gives me a little thrill.)

5. A sketchbook in which my 11-year old self sketched pictures of a mythical school called ‘Kalmora’

I spent hours on this project. It was a girls’ school, and I worked out who was related (sisters had similar colouring), who was friends with who, and when my black texta ran out, all the black-haired girls left the school to be replaced with an influx of brunettes (heh). I drew them in class, on the netball court, in the schoolyard having lunch. Honestly, it’s hysterical. Here’s an example of my DREADFUL drawing skills! Note the emphasis is not on art, but on logic. Every element has to be present and make sense.

Drawing not my thing - will stick to writing!

Drawing not my thing – will stick to writing!

 

6. Every iteration (including hand markups) of every (unpublished) short story I ever wrote

These number only four, and I only ever attempted to get two of them published. The first is a disaster (the first page bored even me upon re-reading this afternoon), but the second is a piece of writing I’m really proud of. It isn’t a standard story structurally, which is its problem, and one day I may revise it or extend it or turn it into a novel. The thing is I love this piece of writing as-is and I still can’t bear to change it, after nearly 10 years and a few minor revisions. It crossed my mind this afternoon that I could share it on this blog, because it’s only about 2000 words, but I’ll have to think about that a bit further.

7. A folder labelled ‘research’

This turns out to contain a bunch of pamphlets, flyers and clippings about miscellaneous topics — from crystal healing to winemaking to decomposing bodies — that might come in useful when writing fantasy. (I have written a scene with a decomposing body, actually.) Nevermind that all this information is doubtless available from a Google search… Nevermind that I can’t actually remember what’s inside the folder anyway!

***

So there you have it. Some insight into the brain of a hoarder. But I confess it’s been quite fun to go through all this stuff — and that’s why I’ve kept it, after all. Not sure I need to keep every revision of every story, though…

The rules of this game say I need to nominate three others to play, so I’m tagging

The Rules

Display the award logo on your blog.
Link back to the person who nominated you.
State 7 things about yourself.
Nominate three other bloggers and link back to them.

Now tell me what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever stashed away for a rainy day? When you came across it again, did you keep it?

 

Four things I want my writing to accomplish

It seems I’ve finally gotten around to my promised post on “Why I Write” in response to Liv Rancourt’s guest post in December.

I should point out, though, that the focus is not so much on why I slave away for hours at the computer when I could be relaxing… it’s rather on what’s important about the art; what I’m trying to achieve when I sit down to spin stories about made-up characters in a make-believe world.

So, following Liv’s example (which was in fact inspired by a similar and most excellent post from Veronica Sicoe), here are five four things I want my writing to accomplish.

1. I want to make readers feel

For me, emotion is at the heart of everything. When I read, I want to feel right alongside the characters — to grieve with them, love, share their wonder, fear, joy. I think that’s the sign of a truly immersive experience, which is what I want out of a novel.

So naturally I aspire to achieve this with my own writing. I would be more thrilled to have people cry or be anxious or love my main characters (warts and all) than commend my prose. There is nothing better than commencing reading a book that gives you shivers because the characters engage you immediately and you suspect you won’t be able to put it down.

2. I want to make readers yearn to travel

I often joke that I’ve been taking the Mary Stewart tour of the world — but it’s actually not so far from the truth. Although best known for her Merlin books, Mary Stewart also wrote a bunch of thrillers featuring young women who get themselves into sticky and dangerous situations in beautiful locations. She brings places to life so brilliantly, that her novels have sent me to Delphi in Greece, Hadrian’s Wall in the UK, Provence in France…

OK, so I know I’m writing fantasy in make-believe worlds, but I want to bring these worlds to life so thoroughly that readers wish they could go there. (Just as all those millions wish they could go to Pandora…) It’s another element of the immersive reading experience.

3. I want to catapult ‘everyday people’ into the heart of action

While I’m talking about Mary Stewart… her mystery-thrillers tend to be about everyday women who become embroiled in dangerous plots. This is my favourite kind of mystery — perhaps because I secretly yearn for adventure?

Similarly, the stories I find myself interested in writing are about women who are striving for something and find themselves amid events far bigger than they anticipated — whether by their own doing or otherwise. They’re not setting out to save or change the world, but somehow they seem to end up having an impact. Yet they are still personal stories — they are nowhere near epic fantasy, which focuses on large-scale events. I want to explore the human journey in the context of how individuals can have an impact.

4. I want the fantastic to illuminate real-world issues

To quote from my post on Why I Write Fantasy from back in April 2011:

The fantastic provides a canvass for the exploration of grand themes. Ultimately the imaginary world becomes the stomping ground of a cast of characters who are tested by love, betrayal, prejudice, greed, violence, guilt, hatred, rage along with everything else. Fantasy allows us to strip everything back to the bones and invent the perfect crucible into which we toss our characters to see what they’ll do.

We who write fantasy can skew the environment to suit our purposes and shine the light on those issues we want to focus on.

Since it’s late and I can’t think of a fifth point right now that wouldn’t be regurgitating Liv’s and Veronica’s points (which you should totally read if you haven’t already) I’m going to leave this at four things, instead of five.

I can sum up the whole shebang by saying I aspire to engage people’s hearts and souls with my fiction — a noble goal, hopefully someday achievable. This is what I’m working towards, in any case.

I would love to hear readers’ thoughts on this — and encourage other writers to follow suit and post your own list of what you want to achieve with your writing. Thanks for reading!

 

Book Review: Forever and Ever, Amen ~ Liv Rancourt

Last Monday marked the launch of my friend Liv Rancourt‘s paranormal romance novel, Forever and Ever, Amen. Since I was lucky enough to score an Advanced Reader’s Copy, I thought I would share my thoughts on the book, which has been published as an e-book under the Crimson Romance label.

First, the official awesome blurb to put you in the picture:

Molly, a forty-something single mom, tangles with the wrong guy and gets a hell of a hickey. That blotch is really a demon’s mark, and she’ll have to face the three things that scare her most to get rid of it. First, Molly loses her job and then she has a near-sex experience with her philandering, not-quite-ex-husband. Worst of all, she has to sit by a hospital bed, wondering if her son is ever going to wake up.

The Powers That Be assign Cass to help her. He’s an angel who’s trying to earn a seat in the celestial choir by helping out a human in need. Vanquishing the demon would be his ticket up, but only if he plays by the rules. He’ll never earn his wings if he loses his heart to the lovely Molly. But she has even bigger things to worry about. She stands to lose her soul.

And here’s my review, which I’ve already posted on Amazon and Goodreads:

foreverandeveramen_LR

Forever and Ever, Amen ~
Liv Rancourt

Molly isn’t your average Romantic Heroine. For one thing, she spends as much energy caring for and worrying about her two rampant teenage kids, as she does dreaming about her guardian angel. Throw in the struggle for her soul with a demon, an ex-husband she’s clearly conflicted over, a job she hates, and a new entrepreneurial baking endeavor, and this story has many more dimensions than your average ‘Romance’.

I confess this threw me a little as I sat down to read my Advanced Reader’s Copy. My expectations of a ‘Romance Novel’ involve a fairly focused guy-girl storyline, often with little in the way of fleshed out secondary characters, and only minor subplots. But once I adjusted to (and embraced!) the fact that this book has far more substance than that, I settled back and very much enjoyed the journey.

In fact, Liv packs a lot of story into this little book. The many characters are clearly and individually drawn — including Molly’s daughter’s vampire boyfriend and a couple of hippy vegan occultists — and all story threads entwine relentlessly around Molly, hiking up the tension as her life disintegrates around her and she’s forced to reevaluate and reinvent herself in order to triumph.

But at the heart, of course, is Cass, Molly’s guardian angel. He appears in shiny surfaces at regular intervals to provide advice and encouragement, all the while trying not to fall for Molly, which is forbidden. One of the sexiest things about their relationship is that for most of the novel he exists in a different plane and cannot touch her — and when he finally breaches this restriction, Molly cannot look at him or he’ll be bound to the earthly plane. URST galore!

Rancourt’s writing style is witty and sharp with a good dose of humor, especially the dialog, which is used liberally. It all combines to generate a fast-paced and entertaining read. A small gripe I have would be that the demon is ultimately defeated a little too easily, but all the subplots are resolved with aplomb and if maybe the very end whisks by a little quickly I can forgive it.

It’s not often you see a forty-something woman as the romantic lead in such novels, and Molly is a worthy flag-bearer! If you like a gentle romance with a lot more going on than normal, this is definitely a book you should pick up!

 

What I read in 2012

I ‘read’ something like 30 books in 2012 (as far as I can remember). This isn’t a huge total, but it’s quite a few more than I suspected. ‘Not reading’ was one of my huge frustrations last year — I couldn’t seem to fit it in!

Thank all the gods for audiobooks. Around two-thirds of the books I enjoyed last year were played to me in the car during my horrible work commute. This completely justifies my car-purchasing criterion of a USB media input for the car stereo system. Without audiobooks, I would have been tearing my hair out.

So what did I read?

In the car:

Robin Hobb marathon (8) — A friend lent me the audiobooks of pretty much all Robin Hobb’s works and I listened to The Liveship Traders trilogy, the first two of the Rain Wild Chronicles, and the complete Soldier Son trilogy. My favourites are definitely the Liveship books, but the Soldier Son books included some very interesting aspects… I always intended to blog about them but never got around to it.

Two by Kate Morton (2) — This year I listened to The Shifting Fog and The Distant Hours. I enjoyed both these modern/historical sprawling tales in Morton’s unique style, but not as much as The Forgotten Garden, which I loved a few years ago.

Several by Jasper Fforde (4) — I’ve just completed the first four of the Thursday Next books. The first, The Eyre Affair, is the best by a long way. These are not my usual reading, but they’ve been some light entertainment in the car.

Several by Kerry Greenwood (~4) — I’ve listened to about four of the Phryne Fisher 1920s detective novels. These are a lot of fun, and a fascinating view of Melbourne in the 1920s.

1984 (1) — I had never actually read George Orwell’s 1984, sad but true. I think it’s one of those books whose magnificence is revealed by the time you finish it. I’m not sure I liked it, but I appreciated it for sure.

That’s 19 audiobooks (at least)

In paperback:

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (3) — I had to read these to see what all the fuss was about, and enjoyed the first one in particular. They are very well written, although probably a bit grim and dark for my usual tastes. (Please NOTE: There are some other books I have not read, despite all the hype…)

Necklace of the Gods (aka Eona) by Alison Goodman (1) — I have just now completed the stunning sequel to The Two Pearls of Wisdom (aka Eon), after attending the launch nearly two years ago. This is writing and plotting and storytelling I can only aspire to… I might have to focus on this duology in some more depth at a later date.

Two Nightrunner novels by Lynn Flewelling (2) — I have a soft spot for this fantasy series, although I don’t think the later ones (The White Road and Casket of Souls) match the first three. Nonetheless, a good fantasy romp in a traditional style.

That’s a mere 6 paperbacks! I can’t think of any others…

On the kindle:

My kindle reading hasn’t been too much more voluminous, and has consisted mainly of a few releases by some of my online WANA buddies (once again, I haven’t gotten around to posting about any of them yet…). The most notable are:

Wicked Sense by Fabio Bueno — This is a YA paranormal, which is evidently selling VERY well indeed.

A Vampire’s Deadly Delight by Liv Rancourt — A novella about a woman who harbours a vampire-slaying superhero within. Very entertaining and original.

The Love of her Lives by Sharon Clare — Sharon’s first paranormal romance publication.

In addition to the above:

Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott — I was a beta reader early this year for this recently released novel by my very good friend. It’s a modern gothic fairy tale about two sisters and their not-so-imaginary friend. The prose is lyrical and this fairy tale goes to a very dark place (as do most of Kirstyn”s works). I hope to have Kirstyn on the blog in a few weeks to tell you more about it.

Forever and Ever, Amen by Liv Rancourt — I was lucky enough to score an advanced readers copy of Liv’s forthcoming paranormal romance publication. I will post more detailed thoughts closer to its release date!

That’s another 5 on the kindle, plus possibly a few more…

I’m not especially happy with this tally, especially as there are so few recent releases on there. And especially given how few I actually read as words on the ‘page’… PATHETIC!

One of my missions for 2013 is to allocate more dedicated time for reading the old fashioned way (and here I count the kindle!). I’m not going to set myself a target number, but I would like to get back into the habit of reading in the evenings.

After all, reading is one of the cornerstones of being able to write well.

Moreover, I have this PILE of paper backs I want to read… actually, multiple piles. And then there are all the titles I wrote down throughout the year as other bloggers wrote posts or answered questions — on this blog or theirs — about their favourite books. Aaargh!

Of course, there is the risk that I commence reading at around 11pm and then find myself propping my eyes open with toothpicks at 2 or 3am… As has been happening this week. Somehow I need to find a happy medium.

How did everyone else go with their reading this year?

 

Why I write – 5 reasons from Liv Rancourt

Paranormal and/or Romance author Liv Rancourt is my guest today and I like her post so much I think I’ll follow up next week with one of my own on the same topic. She’s addressing a question I ask myself frequently… Why do I write?

She’s also included an excerpt at the bottom from her recently published short story, The Santa Drag. I hope you enjoy and consider checking out her story.

Take it away, Liv!

*******

First I want to say thanks, Ellen, for the chance to do a guest post for your blog, and for your patience with my somewhat flexible deadline…

Why I write

In a recent blog post, Veronica Sicoe articulates the five things she wants to do with her writing. (Jump HERE for her post.) It’s a very thoughtful piece, and as I read it I thought, “Wow, I’m not sure I could come up with a similar five things if I wanted to.”

So of course, I decided to try.

With just a hint of a drum-roll, here are the five things I want my writing to accomplish. Assuming I can come up with five, that is

1. I want to write smart…

…because I believe if you write smart, you’ll make people think. While I know not everyone wants to grapple with IDEAS when they read – some people watch reality TV, too – I’m talking about little thoughts, more of the, “Wow, that’s sort of interesting,” scope. IDEAS belong to angst-ridden twenty-somethings, anyway. If I can gently prod someone into looking at things in a slightly different way, then I’ve done my job.

2. I want to write funny…

…because a spoon full of sugar helps…well, you know. Laughter is the lubricant that keeps the grinding gears of life turning. Wow. Deep. Did I just say that? I laugh at myself and, affectionately, at my characters. Life is strange. Enjoy it.

3. I want a place for all my previous obsessions to hang out.

I’m a neonatal nurse and for awhile I compulsively searched eBay looking for the perfect mid-century china and I can design and execute some pretty esoteric needlework patterns and I love singing Gregorian chant. And some, if not all, of that has turned up in my fiction, and will likely continue to do so. It saves on research time if you’ve already lived it.

4. I want to tell the truth, as I see it.

And I’ve had fifty years to experience it, so in theory at least I should have a handle on it. I don’t care how crazy your plot line is, if there’s not a substrate of truth in how the characters respond, then your readers won’t have as much fun reading it, and you can write clever dialogue till the cows come home, but if your reader can’t imagine anyone actually SAYING it, then you’ve lost them. It’s like peeling an apple. I throw down a bunch of ideas, then try to peel the B.S. away until only the good stuff is left.

5. I want to entertain readers…

…to surprise them, and most importantly, to make them set the book down with a warmer heart, no matter how gritty the subject matter is. In my books, the good guys win. Just wish real life was more like that…

And that, my friends, is what I want to do with my writing. I can’t say I’m 100% successful, but these are worthy goals. What about you? What do you want to accomplish with your writing?

Thanks again, Ellen! Happy Holidays!!

Liv

Excerpt from The Santa Drag
by Liv Rancourt
The Santa Drag2

So the only paying gig Mackenzie can find is playing Santa in the Mall…

On a particularly busy Saturday, I was tired and thinking more about a double shot of espresso than I was about the pile of kids who wanted to sit in my lap. The weak winter sun was making its circle over the atrium where the Christmas Village was set up, and my roommate Shauna was buzzing by every so often to giggle at me from the sidelines. She was trying to get all of her Christmas shopping done in one day, which was a good trick for someone with as many fertile brothers and sisters as she had.

“Come sit on Santa’s lap.” Maya, the photographer and kid-wrangler, invited the next kid in line approach my golden throne. Well, it was fake gold, but the kids didn’t know that.

“No,” said a little girl with a stubborn crease between her brows. She was dressed in Seattle’s version of Christmas formal, a stiff, red velvet dress, likely made from organic fabric dyed with beets and rose hips. On her feet were two-toned leather MaryJanes that probably cost sixty-five dollars. At least the green corkscrew ribbons tied around her blond pigtails looked like they belonged on a child. I made myself as approachable as possible, getting down to her level and producing a big smile.

“Come on, Thula,” her mother said, tapping one French manicured nail on her cell phone. “Go sit up there with Santa so we can take your picture.” She sounded as if this was just one more thing to knock off the list.

“It’s okay, sweetie.” Maya put on her encouraging smile. Maya was a tiny thing, barely bigger than most of the kids we saw, with long dark hair, a tiny gold hoop pierced through one nostril, and bugged-out eyes that looked like they’d been molded out of chocolate. She was non-threatening as an adult could possibly be. The kid stared at her and bit down on her bottom lip. At least she wasn’t crying. Yet.

“You want to come tell Santa what to bring you for Christmas?” I kept my voice pitched down somewhere under my sternum. It helped that I had one of those raspy lady voices that earned me a permanent spot in the tenor section whenever I sang in choir.

“No.”

Sometimes less is more when you’re dealing with preschoolers. We went back and forth for several minutes until the kid went from biting her bottom lip to letting it pooch out and tremble. Never a good sign. Finally, after a ton of coaxing, she was more-or-less close to me, squatting down on the other side of one of the big pretend presents that ringed my throne. That was good enough for her mom, and Maya snapped a picture.

When she was done, the little girl glared at me from behind the big, glossy red ribbon that topped the present. “Bring me a baby brother,” she bellowed and took off running.

Mom’s glare was meaner than the kid’s had been. Hey, it’s not like I made any promises.

The kid ran full tilt past the pseudo-Tyrolean houses that made the Village, and out through the crowds of shoppers. She stopped in the middle of an open space and cut loose, her sobs echoing around the smoky glass dome that covered us. We could hear her carrying on until she and her mom got swallowed up by the Ross store at the end of the north hallway. The whole place fell into a bit of a hush when she was gone, as everyone exhaled in relief. This close to Christmas, none of us needed a crying child to ratchet up the stress level.

A young mother was next in line. She came into the Christmas Village and positioned a slightly damp baby on my lap, moving as if something hurt. The baby was so young that Mom still looked a little pregnant under her loose denim-blue shirt. Or maybe she was already pregnant with number two. I’m not so good with the principles of baby production. Well, I understand the basic concepts, but haven’t had that many opportunities to put them into practice.

The brief quiet was interrupted by a yodeling squeal that I recognized. I stared into the crowd until I caught Maya looking at me funny. I stuck on a smile as close to my normal, jolly-Santa shtick as I could get, and she settled back down behind her camera. The reason for my roommate Shauna’s squeal had me completely rattled. In the two or three beats I’d looked out from behind my wire-rimmed glasses as Mack-the-girl, I’d seen Shauna giving someone a big hug. A really handsome someone. Joe McBride. Joseph Timothy McBride. The actor. The real-life, got a soap opera gig and several commercials and you saw him in Scream 2 actor. The only guy I ever really loved.

Ooh, now she’s got a problem! Will Mack turn all Creepy-Kringle? Will Joe recognize her? What’s a Santa to do? 😉

The Santa Drag is available from Still Moments Publishing, Smashwords, and Amazon.

About Liv Rancourt

Liv Rancourt writes paranormal and romance, often at the same time. She lives with her husband, two teenagers, two cats and one wayward puppy. She likes to create stories that have happy endings, and finds it is a good way to balance her other job in the neonatal intensive care unit. Liv can be found on-line at her website & blog (www.livrancourt.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/liv.rancourt), or on Twitter (www.twitter.com/LivRancourt).

*******

Thanks for hanging out here, Liv, and sharing with us your deepest thoughts and an excerpt from The Santa Drag.

foreverandeveramen_LRIs it also OK to mention your forthcoming publication under the Crimson Romance label — Forever and Ever, Amen — ?? Can we get excited for you??

To reiterate Liv’s questions (to writers) at the end of her post: What about you? What do you want to accomplish with your writing? Please do leave us a comment!

As mentioned, I intend to follow up with a similar post on ‘Why I write’ next week, and I hope other writers reading this will feel inspired to do likewise!