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REVIEW:  Liesmith by Alis Franklin

REVIEW: Liesmith by Alis Franklin

liesmithWorking in low-level IT support for a company that’s the toast of the tech world, Sigmund Sussman finds himself content, if not particularly inspired. As compensation for telling people to restart their computer a few times a day, Sigmund earns enough disposable income to gorge on comics and has plenty of free time to devote to his gaming group.

Then in walks the new guy with the unpronounceable last name who immediately becomes IT’s most popular team member. Lain Laufeyjarson is charming and good-looking, with a story for any occasion; shy, awkward Sigmund is none of those things, which is why he finds it odd when Lain flirts with him. But Lain seems cool, even if he’s a little different—though Sigmund never suspects just how different he could be. After all, who would expect a Norse god to be doing server reboots?

As Sigmund gets to know his mysterious new boyfriend, fate—in the form of an ancient force known as the Wyrd—begins to reveal the threads that weave their lives together. Sigmund doesn’t have the first clue where this adventure will take him, but as Lain says, only fools mess with the Wyrd. Why? Because the Wyrd messes back.

 

Dear Ms. Franklin,

I heard about this book from a couple of online friends and when I saw the blurb I was all over it and asked Jane if she could get a review copy for me.  There is a lot that is great about this book – the concept is certainly fresh and the writing is engaging. I enjoyed the way queer was portrayed.  (I haven’t tagged the book “m/m” because neither character identify as gay). But.

I think the book assumes a familiarity with Norse mythology in general and the Loki mythos in particular. Unfortunately, prior to reading, the sum total of my Loki knowledge was based entirely Tom Hiddleston’s performances in the Marvel movies. I’m here to say that’s not enough.  I suppose for readers who don’t mind a little (or a lot of) confusion or who are happy to wait a great deal of time for explanations and who don’t mind some things not being explained at all, Liesmith might work better.  I’m not that kind of reader.

I don’t mind looking things up – there are often words I don’t know or things I have questions about but when it is is a near-constant interruption to my reading as was the case here, something isn’t working.  It’s not just that the book is a modern Loki myth. It’s that it takes the old stories and gives them a twist.  To understand what was twisted, you have to understand the original. There is some explanation in the book – it is doled out sparingly (I expect this was in an effort not to info-dump – which, on its face, is a good thing) but then some of the explanations end with “stop me if you’ve heard this before…” or “you know how the story goes”.  The problem was, I hadn’t heard it before and I didn’t know how the story goes.  So I had to look it up.  That happened a lot. A. LOT.  Just when I felt I was sinking in to all the good and entertaining parts of the story, I’d be interrupted again by something I didn’t understand and then I’d have to spend some time looking it up.  Sometimes it was easy but sometimes, it involved a bit of fossicking and that took time.  When I got back to the book, I felt like I had to pick up a complicated cat’s cradle all over again. I’d read, relax, become confused, feel stupid, Google something… – rinse, repeat.  In the latter third of the book, I tried not looking things up and just going with it.  I’m not sure I fared any better that way.  I was confused by the ending. It was a little too opaque for this reader.  But then, I tend toward the more obvious anyway.  The people who recommended it to me didn’t indicate they had any difficulty with following the story, so it is quite likely others will not share my confusion.

I’m also not a gamer but my husband is so I felt like I could mostly follow along with the many gaming references in the story and there at least, I felt a little more like I was in on the joke.

Sigmund wondered when he’d started running on video game logic. He figured this was the sort of thing lobbyists warned about.

There was a device commonly used in the text which threw me a bit.  It looked something like this:

Travis rolled his eyes—

(toward Ásgarðr)

—heavenward. “Con call to our Chinese manufacturer,” he said.

In the book, the part I have bolded is in italics.  The one above makes complete sense and is easy to follow but that was not always the case (for me at least).  For instance, the first time I saw (jotunn) interrupting a narrative train the connection wasn’t anywhere near as obvious to me.

I really liked how Sigmund wasn’t the typical romance hero.  He wasn’t even a typical romance geek.  He is a bit on the chubby side, has acne and is developing a double chin. He’s not very good looking – except for when he is passionately involved in something and then there is a light in his eyes which makes him interesting.  He’s… ordinary in many ways.  He’s the kind of geek you might actually know rather then the ones which commonly populate romance novels (ie the ones which are secretly gorgeous).  Lain is an altogether different type of romance hero too.  I can only applaud this.

I enjoyed the humour in the story – there are a lot of heavy battle type scenes and things get pretty dire for many of the characters, so it lightened the atmosphere considerably and provided a break in the narrative tension here and there.

“I hate to break it to you, but that guy makes Stephen Fry look straight.”

“Wait. Stephen Fry is gay?”

“Ohmigod, how are you alive?”

“I thought he was just British!”

The romance is sweet, not very explicit and the story has a hopeful happy-for-now ending.  The relationship is really just beginning so it fit.

I really liked that the book was set in Australia and that some of the Dreamtime myths were mentioned to give the story some local flavour. There is some idiom used which might confuse some US readers but there is not a lot of it so I think it will be okay.  I wasn’t sure about the cover. The guy on the cover looks like he could be an Aboriginal but neither Lain nor Sigmund have that ethnicity so I’m not sure who he is supposed to be.

I found the book hard to grade because my overwhelming feeling about it is confusion. I just felt lost a lot of the time and I’m really not sure how much of that is on me and what kind of reader I am.  However, while I was often confused I was also often charmed, so I’m going with a C.

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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Review: Get What You Need by Jeanette Grey

Review: Get What You Need by Jeanette Grey

GetwhatyouneedDear Ms. Grey,

Greg London is a gay engineering graduate student who shares a house with three other guys.  The most recent addition is Marshall Sulkowski, a senior undergrad who is studying history while on a baseball scholarship.  As it happens, Marsh is “bi-ish” – “Girls are fine. Guys are better” – and both are crushing on the other.

For most of the book, the guys are at cross purposes.  Greg  thinks he’s such a geek; he can’t understand how someone so hot and sporty like Marsh could want anything serious with him and from the other side,  Marsh thinks Greg is so smart and together he couldn’t possibly want a serious relationship with a guy like Marsh.  In some ways, it was a version of the “big misunderstanding” which is my least favourite trope.   Here, I could understand why they were reluctant to lay it all on the line and state clearly how they each felt and what they each wanted but it was still frustrating most of the time. (I recognise this is a double standard somewhat because back when I was dating, being emotionally brave was really challenging for me.)  In their own ways, the internal feelings of each guy was understandable but it did take a very long time before they actually just said something flat our rather than dancing around it all.

Marsh’s dad found out Marsh was bi over the summer and has withdrawn funding for the portion of the tuition the baseball scholarship wasn’t covering.  Marsh is at a crossroads in his life because of it.  He’s been told all his life he’s nothing but a dumb jock and he’s completely demoralised.  Because of that, I was prepared to cut him some slack for his lack of forthrightness with Greg – but only a little.

Greg is a workaholic, desperate to succeed and keep making his parents proud.  He is also the guy that everyone else comes to when they need help and he basically can’t say no. This means his schedule is ridiculous and he is making himself sick by burning the candle at both ends.

Gradually as these guys hook up, they (particularly Marsh) take small steps to be emotionally vulnerable but they don’t really talk until quite late in the book.  That made it a bit difficult to see the relationship as more meaningful than just sex.  Good communication is one of the hallmarks of a HEA, in my opinion and they demonstrated pretty crappy communication most of the way through the book.   That being so, I thought the exchange of “I love you” was too quick. I could understand each wanting more but until they really started to talk to one another, I couldn’t understand the deeper emotion – or at least, I didn’t trust it.

Because we get a fairly even share of each main character’s POV,  the reader mostly knows what is going on in the other’s head. Sometimes it meant I wanted to flick my fingers against both guys’ foreheads.  Thank goodness Yulia was around for Marsh to act as that person.  Yulia was a little different than the usual “best friend” stereotype because she and Marsh had occasionally had sex.  It is mostly now just a very close friendship; the last time they had sex was about a year before.  I really liked how the story showed Marsh to be genuinely bisexual.  It wasn’t just something that was paid lip service.  It was nice to see it portrayed in a non-erasing way.

There was a bit of pronoun abuse in the some of the sex scenes but they were otherwise pretty good and not so numerous as to take over the book.

One of the things I really liked about the sex between these two guys is the sexual persona Greg takes on.  He doesn’t want to be vulnerable. He’s worried Marsh only wants to scratch an itch with a convenient body.  He therefore takes a more aggressive role in bed than he would naturally choose (which is freeing in its own way).  They both enjoy the sex they have but there are things Greg would like from Marsh that he won’t allow himself to ask for because it requires a level of emotional vulnerability he’s not prepared to risk.   Usually I dislike when flipping who the receptive partner is in anal sex is a big deal in a book.  Because very often, it is presented like a menu choice which has to be ticked off some arbitrary list.  But here it was a big deal. It meant something and the groundwork for this was laid all the way through the book.   Greg is a person who’s life is so closely controlled, ordered and scheduled, he longs to let go and have someone else take charge sexually.  But that’s reserved only for someone very special.  Marsh, on the other hand, had been usually a top but he loved bottoming for Greg. He didn’t have the same… not hangups… emotional linkage perhaps (?) as Greg did, so he didn’t find bottoming particularly vulnerable. I had the sense they would have a very interesting and varied sex life once they got the communication thing down.

Marsh and Greg appear to be opposites in many ways but Marsh actually loves to take care of Greg and Greg needs taking care of – left to his own devices he will burn up from the inside out.  Marsh needs a cheerleader, someone to be on his side and give him encouragement and Greg does this for him.  So I felt that even though the guys are very different, they complement each other well and I thought they could make it in the long term.

I enjoyed the writing style and I liked Marsh and Greg – separately and together.  There wasn’t much about baseball – which surprised me because Marsh is in college because of a baseball scholarship. There was no discussion about any difficulty he might have (or even that there was no difficulty) as regards his sexuality within the team and there were really only passing mentions of training and such.

There weren’t that many females in the story . Yulia didn’t seem to really have a life apart from Marsh and I would have liked to have seen her have more depth rather than just to be there to give Marsh a slap upside the head.

Once Greg and Marsh started talking to each other, things got much better but that really only happened at the end of the book, and up until then the story was kind of frustrating for me.

It hadn’t been the plan to spill his guts to Greg the way he had. The minute he’d started talking, though, it had all come pouring out, and it had been terrifying and freeing, speaking aloud things he’d put so much effort into keeping silent.

A reader who doesn’t mind misunderstandings in her/his romance novels will probably enjoy Get What You Need better than I did.  That said, I liked it and would read more of your work. Grade: C+.

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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