Thursday, December 29, 2011

Book Review: The Cliff Road Chronicles: Tales of the Brotherhood of Darkness

The Cliff Road Chronicles: Tales of the Brotherhood of Darkness
Anne Fraser
© 2011
By Light Unseen Media

‘Lo Peoples,

Her Tangh-i-ness has returned with more substantial, decidedly non-Twillight vampire fare.

Between the time the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie came out in 1992, and when the Buffy the Vampire TV series launched in 1997 to address the movie’s oversights in characterization, Anne Fraser came up with her own take on friendship amongst the supernatural. 17 short stories later, she celebrated the lives and loves of a gay vampire couple and their vampiric, magical, immortal, and lycanthropic friends located somewhere in Fletcherville, Maine. I bring up mention of Buffy purely because Anne Fraser also masters the delicate balancing act of handling an ensemble cast that could easily be overshadowed by its principals.

I’ve been told I started backwards. I first read All Places That Are Not Heaven by Anne Fraser the same authoress as in The Cliff Road Chronicles. That was the previous review. For my own twisted reasons, I remain enamored of All Places That Are Not Heaven and its antihero. So I allowed life to intrude when reading The Cliff Road Chronicles. I simply felt loath to establish a new bond with Fraser’s intended vampire hero: Gideon Redoak.

However, I eventually found that I regretted my procrastination. As one reads deeper into the short story collection there is meat here. (Yes, Her Tangh-i-ness is aware of the clunk of that particular metaphor when discussing vampires.) But I mean that the stories in The Cliff Road Chronicles ponder not only what true love is but how does one act when love requires action? How does a vampire in love reconcile the specter of human death while remaining involved with that human? Does a brutally abused Dark magician remain one forever? Can vampires grow and change with the times? What do the broken-hearted or aimless undead do with themselves? And most importantly, when did Fairy Godmothers start blowing clove smoke and sporting PVC skirts?

Ahhh. Another writer who enjoys the inclusion of wicked humor along with the darker moments, inclusion of LGBTQ/People of Color characters and a grounded romantic approach. My must-reads in The Cliff Road Chronicles include: Return to Red Oak Hall, A Gay Old Time, Reprise, To Burn in Hell, Lost Boy, Fairy Godmother, Mistress Estrella and Follow that Falcon! Mind you, these stories are primarily non-erotic but feature occasional, brief, tasteful adult passages involving references to gay and straight love-making. Her Tangh-i-ness is a supporter of the Erotic in literature.

Note: This copy of All Places That Are Not Heaven was an electronic edition acquired from an editor upon the reviewer's request. Her Tangh-i-ness usually reviews on a for-the-love basis. No lucre has been involved.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: All Places That Are Not Heaven

All Places That Are Not Heaven
Anne Fraser
By Light Unseen Media
© 2011

‘Lo Peoples,

Her Tangh-i-ness always enjoys reading Speculative Fiction that includes LGBTQ characters. Being a member of The Outer Alliance makes it easier to find noteworthy reading to share with others who delight in the same.

Long Before Sookie Stackhouse dallied with vampires and werefolk in Bon Temps, Louisiana; and just after Anita Blake started flirting with similar company in Saint Louis, Missouri; a Bi-sexual male vampire professor and former actor prowled Toronto and New York. At the same time in Europe, a hetero female vampire lived as a Prince. The stories in the anthology All Places That Are Not Heaven feature two of the dazzling undead: Adrian Talbot and Genevieve de Monet.

The Rosedale Vampires, Vampire Blues, Vampire Conventions, Acting’s in the Blood and Speak Easy are the stories about Adrian Talbot. These third-person stories progress chronologically by when they were written.

Watch and Ward and A Babe in Arms present Genevieve de Monet also in the third person. Fans of strong female protagonists may appreciate her as a literary digestif compared to the plat principal Adrian Talbot provides.

Honestly, it took a bit before this reviewer became entranced with Anne Fraser’s world. But once settled in, I no longer regretted the journey. I, too, snickered at the inclusion of some real-life personages such as the library technician from “Fort Book” and the law offices named for other vampire writers: Huff, Baker, Charnas, and O’Brien. Anne Fraser frequently inserts humorous dialogue exchanges between characters such as Sweat Sock à la Fowler with a request for a side of Grilled Jockstrap.

Adrian Talbot’s straight, unrequited love interest, Jake Fowler, inhabits the first four stories. Nothing titillating (in this reviewer’s opinion) happens between them although they develop a strong if unexpected friendship. Acting’s in the Blood the last of the Adrian Talbot-Jake Fowler tales is my second favorite story. The late Anne Fraser herself thought highly of her novella Speak Easy and Her Tangh-i-ness agrees. This story near outshone the whole collection. Jake Fowler doesn’t make an appearance. Speak Easy is tinged with explicit homoeroticism, tragic romance, but it also addresses the need to be loved unconditionally. and demonstrates what happens when one’s sexual preference and expression are judged more harshly than just being part of the Prohibition-Era underworld. Read it and try not to weep.

A Babe in Arms has to be my third favorite of the collection. Anne Fraser explores the difficulty of a relationship with a “traditional” male with a wandering eye and a resolute female who adores her scamp of a lover despite his frequent betrayals. These two just happen to be vampires rather than mortals. By the story’s end, Genevieve can finally abandon her Ice Queen image and entertain a polyamorous arrangement. Go Genevieve!

Note: This copy of All Places That Are Not Heaven was an electronic edition acquired from an editor upon the reviewer's request. Her Tangh-i-ness usually reviews on a for-the-love basis. No lucre has been involved.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Book Review: Hellebore and Rue

Hellebore and Rue
Drollerie Press

'Lo Peoples,

Her Tangh-iness has been remiss in the blog department. She is delighted to return to defend the honor of works unfortunately besieged by the small-minded. As an Outer Alliance member and as an ally to the LGBTQ community, I applaud and am committed to inclusion especially in the worlds of the Fantastic.

Whenever I read a work of fiction, I am longing to be transported. I want to love what's going on and to love whomever it's happening to. Editors know this and the best of them patiently sift through hours of preternatural wordage in order to yield a suitable harvest. I bow to the wisdom of Joselle Vanderhooft and Catherine Lundoff here.

Twelve tales of women loving women and their magic brought me the required ensorcellment. Milleus ranged from a slightly altered here-and-now to a fantastical futureverse. Certain stories reverberated with the burr of a fast-moving dragon's scales, obscured their happy endings as in gazing into a cloudy crystal ball, and plunged the reader into another character's existence in the literary equivalent of bi-location. Several stories in particular act as threshold guardians with their shared archetype of a troubled stranger bringing challenge to an established magic-worker and two intimate companions relying upon one another to battle malefic forces.

Standout stories included: And Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness by Lisa Nohealani Morton where a good deed yields an unexpected and unforgettable sacrifice; Trouble Arrived by C. B. Calsing brings us down to the swamp where a card dealer faces off with the cheated man who once taught her all the tricks she knew; Personal Demons by Jean Marie Ward caught me totally off guard with a tale of what happens when a serious practitioner gives proof of the reality beyond the flesh; Connie Wilkins shared The Windskimmer where two seasoned conjurers of Sky and Green magic combine their arts to avert tragedy.

Special mention must be made of Rachel Green's multiple viewpoint tale, A State of Panic, where arcane detective work eventually leads a female police sergeant to a deadly ancient diety.

For those who appreciate a touch of wicked absurdity, do partake of D is for Delicious by Steve Berman; I want to follow Kelly Harmon's heroines of Sky Lit Bargains in a longer work if not a sequel; Gloam and Quinn Smythwood educated me as to the ills that attend corpse lights and life-stealing things that walk the earth; Witches Have Cats by Juliet Kemp answers the question: is a familiar that is not a feline just as familiar? RRain Prior takes a rogue elemental and a wandering songstress and pits them against one another in Bridges and Lullabies by RRain Prior; Thin Spun by Sunny Moraine gives an interplanetary exile a new appreciation for her adoptive homeworld and an end to her longing for a lover; and in Counter Balance by Ruth Sorrell a grandmother, a granddaughter, and the granddaughter's lover make a stand against a goddess.

Note: This copy of Hellebore and Rue was an electronic edition acquired from an editor upon the reviewer's request. Her Tangh-i-ness usually reviews on a for-the-love basis. No lucre has been involved.