Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Review: Ice Demon




Title: Ice Demon

Author: Elizabeth Watasin

Publisher: A-Girl Studio

Genre: Steampunk, Victorian, Action/Adventure

Length: 104 pages

Published: October 22, 2014

Blurb:

“Thee, of stars”
 

A ship of dead with iced men who shatter; The Terror sails into the Port of London during England’s worst winter, bringing insidious ice fog and a hidden killer. Secret Commission agents, Artifice, the artificial ghost, and Jim Dastard, the animated skull, track their murderer to the frozen Thames’ Frost Fair, only for Art to discover a deadlier danger—one involving the women she holds dear. A steampunk, gaslamp and horror mystery set in the world of the Dark Victorian series.

Review:

Art and Jim Dastard are back in the always so dark and delicious Dark Victorian universe! And this time, they're faced with a murder mystery that's as icy as the ice demon. If one isn't familiar with Elizabeth Watasin, you'll see how this short and sweet but oh so exciting and fast-paced novella will showcase her many talents, one of them being that she sure knows how to grip the reader with her out-of-this-world imagination. And most of all, it's her characters that always pop out of the page, always so witty and animated. Ice Demon is no exception; it has all the charm that you expect from Elizabeth. Yes, the nature of this story is dark and filled with menace and intrigue, but it's balanced with many whimsical moments that will tickle the funny bone. I always feel like I don't say enough about Elizabeth's story within a review, and that's only because I really don't want to ruin all the fun and surprises that await for the reader. All I can promise is that if you're a fan of steampunk, mystery, and action, you'll get a kick out of this book and the series as a whole. If there's only one negative thing that I can say about this one is that it's too short! But it certainly whets the appetite for the next book in the series, Everlife. And I'd recommend reading the other books in the series first before diving into this one, so to better see how the plot thickens and how the characters and their relationships develop. Once you do, you'll be hooked, and it will make reading Ice Demon all the more fun - and rewarding.

Rating: 5

Friday, January 23, 2015

Book Review: Cover Him With Darkness




Title: Cover Him with Darkness

Author: Janine Ashbless

Publisher: Cleis Press

Genre: Paranormal, Erotic Romance Fiction

Length: 228 pages

Published: October 14, 2014

Blurb:

In a remote and mountainous part of Europe, a priest keeps a dark secret beneath his chapel—a prisoner. Even the holy man does not know how long he has been there—hundreds of years, perhaps, or even longer. The priest's fear is that anyone in his parish would ever come in contact with his mysterious and unholy charge. But what happens is even worse than he could have ever imagined. His lovely young daughter Milja, whose innocence and devotion to God he prizes over all else, trails her father into the cavern and catches a glimpse of the prisoner, a beautiful being like the most handsome of men, and yet not. She looks into his eyes and sees pain and wisdom and eternity. Unable to keep away from this silent creature chained to an altar stone, she is torn between family loyalty and her growing connection to their prisoner. One day her father discovers their forbidden intimacy and sends Milja off to America to be raised by her aunt in Boston. Cover Him in Darkness is a dark and thrilling story of an archangel banished from heaven and the human woman with whom he falls in love.

Review:

Cover Him with Darkness is kind of a miracle. I make it no secret that I frankly am not a huge fan of the paranormal romance genre for reasons that I still can't quite pinpoint why. And yet, once in a while, I take a chance on another and another, to see if at least one just might seduce me to "the other side." Cover Him with Darkness took me to that other side, and bewitched me. 

And I know exactly why. 

Janine Ashbless's writing style is beautiful. It shines like gold. She has this kind of magical way of sucking you into the story. Not only could I see what was going on in this story, but I could feel it as if I were Milja: her wonder, her pain, her despair, her urgency, and her forbidden love. And the archangel, as dark and mysterious as he is, and downright scary, I couldn't blame her for falling for him. The writing takes you into that danger, page-after-page. This book would be a page turner if it weren't for the writing that left me so breathless that at times I had to pause and take a break because it really is that exquisite. But then there were times that I couldn't just rest. I had to keep reading on. I was swept away by how daring this book is---how it's blasphemous, menacing, and just so dark. This may isolate some readers, especially those who are religious and who're expecting angels in their paranormal romance to be all warm and uplifting. The book's religious themes and the liberties it takes with them might offend some. This book won't make any apologies about that. And the eroticism here is just as bold---and it's sexy as hell. The church settings and religious undertones augments that eroticism and makes Cover Him with Darkness a pretty intriguing reading experience. It has murder, violence, and so much more. It's also a very well-researched book where I can tell that the author put much love into: that's a bonus! 

I'm not sure what else to say about this excellent novel except simply: buy it, read it for yourself if you want to be seduced, bewitched, and bewildered by this dark side. Even if you aren't sure if you want to go there, by all means, give Cover Him with Darkness a chance. It's worth it!

Rating: 5 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Very Enchanted Evening: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

I'm going to keep this review of Hedwig and the Angry Inch short and sweet. 

It was one special night, as was expected, but the general excitement and love was overwhelming in the most beautiful way. From start to finish, the show was exciting, heartwarming, and felt like a triumph for John. After the show, I got a hug and kiss on the cheek from him, which basically made my year practically and this year just got started! Such a sweet, shy, and adorable person John is. Another highlight was John and Stephen Trask kissing, and us fans singing Midnight Radio to John before he left the building! He seemed embarrassed and chuffed at the same time hehe. This woman, man, and night was everything! If you're in NYC or plan on taking a trip there within the next 8 weeks, go see the original Hedwig in action. The show and John's performance is truly something magical! 






(These photos were swiped from playbill).

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Album Review: Vulnicura


So, I don't often write album reviews. Not here, not even on Amazon, because I always find it difficult to express in words how I feel about a musical/sonic experience, especially that of the work of an artist that I've admired since my teenage years. But I will try the best I can this time. I won't get into detail about why Björk means so much to me and why her music and art touches me so much on a personal level, but I definitely know why she's still so admired: she's unique, an original, an acquired taste, and yet, somehow, she manages to still be so...accessible and just simply wonderful. She makes the music that she wants, and does it on her own terms. Not even a handful of artist in this day and age---and hell, even before this age---have this kind of creative power and freedom. Above all, Björk is essentially one of very few contemporary artists who has made a name of herself by simply being her true self, nobody else. Over the years, her music has become less and less accessible to the masses, less pop, more avant-garde---some may even say ambitious and pretentious---but again, it's not that the woman doesn't care, it's just that she's ferociously independent and does what she wants, sharing us her music that really does get more different, exciting, eccentric, and brilliant. And fans love her for it and can't possibly ask for anything more. And as always, she gives us more.

So what makes Vulnicura so damn special?

I think many can easily compare this one to the sonically expressive, dark and icy landscapes of Homogenic. And some fans may even say that this album reaches that same glorious, epic heights as Vespertine with its lush soundscape that takes us so close to heaven that we can just see and taste it through her voice. I think those comparisons are fair, but I see Vulnicura as a beast of its own kind.

Vulnicura is darker, sadder, more heartbreaking. Let's face it, the big elephant in the room (or album) is Matthew Barney, her ex/father of their now teenaged daughter. Though Björk doesn't mention his name in any of the lyrics and didn't mention him in her statement on how this album is her "heartbreak album", it's made pretty loud and clear throughout the album and in the lyrics that their relationship is over, their love and bond is broken, and Björk is left trying to musically document her emotions, feelings, and mourning during that dark period of her life. The name of the album to me is a clever play on vulnerable and cure. Such a perfect play on words, perfect for this masterpiece.

This is the most "naked", personal, and honest that Björk has been since Homogenic and Vespertine. This is not an album chock full of singles that you'd hear on the radio or in the club (it's not Debut or Post). The most accessible (possibly the only "radio friendly") track on Vulnicura is the sweeping, majestic opener, Stonemilker. And even that's a stretch. None of these songs are "pop", and yet it's too "pop" to be "classical". It's simply Björk, and this is her opening her heart and bearing her soul to the world about a universal feeling: love, and the burden of carrying this dark pain once its gone. You can truly feel her pain in what is the real star of the album, Black Lake, the longest and definitely saddest and most heartbreaking track on the album. And the most personal, with its many hints to Björk's lost love. And then there's Lionsong, which sounds like Björk's denial ("maybe he will come out of this/loving me/maybe he won't") while also accepting that their love "has reached its peak and transformed". With all this darkness, there's also that light that wakes up her "stubborn clock" to see the sense of it all. She looks back on the memories with History of Touches of the last time they'd ever express their love physically, intimately, and romantically. Family, though sonically dark, complex, and haunting, humbles her and helps her to pay respects to that relationship though lost, still created something more important than love: "a mother, a woman, a father, a child." Notget is another soul bearer---a post-break up song---seeming to speak to her love while also being a declaration of her newfound freedom from pain and death while also trying to analyze the meaning of that and love itself, and how though their pain is the same, they both must heal differently. Often people compare a breakup to death and mourning. This song sums up those feelings, and has the beats and strings that makes it another breathtakingly sonic experience. Atom Dance is her solution and cure from her pain by "dancing to earth, transformation". And by being at one with the universe and with that "atom dance", the "ugly wound" will instead be a celebration where "hearts feel their own home." This song features the gorgeous Antony Hegarty making a cameo. Together, they propose for us to dance this "atom dance" and be whole again. But after that dance, we're taken back to the reality of how a breakup can silence us, and make us "numb, banned from making noise." Mouth Mantra may very well be the sister of Homogenic's "Pluto," except instead of angry, it's melancholy, honest about the pain, and yet, strong with its cry of "I am not hurt." That negativity, that feeling of wanting to "implode" in this "black hole", is turned into triumph ("Now I sacrifice this scar") and even gratitude ("I thank this trunk"). Quicksand may also be the love child of "All Is Full of Love", showing respect to the "abyss". Here, I was moved by these lyrics:

When I am broken, I am whole
And when I'm whole, I am broken

But with that, Björk feels like her feelings are like "a mother's philosophy," a "quicksand" that she's going down with. Taking the pain, the hurt, that black lake, and that darkness with her. And then there's the light, her daughter. Ultimately, Björk warns that "every time you give up, you take away our future, and my continuity and my daughter's." Could that be her speaking to Matthew Barney, or just a general declaration of how love, at the end of it all, conquers all, even pain, darkness, and death?

The song ends in a pretty abrupt way that is somewhat upsetting and strange, and yet...maybe in some way, that was calculated, since love can easily just end like that, and still leave us yearning for answers to all those questions we feel before and after love. After love's afterlife, what then? What happens next? What do we do? What should we do? How must we feel? Should we feel at all?

There are many solutions, many answers, and many philosophies that can answer those questions, and Björk explores that in what truly is her most personal album to date. It's a "heartbreak" album indeed, and is as "universal" as Björk herself hoped it would be. Again, her music nowadays isn't meant to be "accessible", but is it universal? Yes indeed. And is this album worth all its hype?

Yes, and I'm not saying that just because I adore her and her work. Even though this album wasn't meant to come to us this early, Björk was so clever by not addressing the leak, but simply giving us her art the right way, right now (digitally, anyway), while having us wait until March to release it physically as was originally planned. Even if we did have to wait 2 months from now, Vulnicura would have been worth the wait. It's as amazing as was anticipated. The beats and string arrangements are gorgeous, and the collaboration between Arca and The Haxan Cloak is a match made in heaven. In more ways than one, Vulnicura reminds us as to why Björk is an international treasure, so original, unique, loved and respected. I thought she reached her peak at Vespertine, but Vulnicura proves that her genius is still lush, powerful, thriving, and somehow, just beginning.


Monday, January 19, 2015

March Madness!

It's only three weeks into January and a lot has been going on in my life, all good, and fun!

I don't talk about my day job (I just don't feel it's anybody's business really), but I'm pretty excited on getting a new job, and it will be in the field that I went to school for! I'm moving on up in the world!

This upcoming Wednesday, I'll be seeing the original Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell) perform at Broadway's Belasco Theater. I saw Neil Patrick Harris's Hedwig last year. He was fabulous (and a nice and fun guy, I've met him twice, once at a gay cabaret club/restaurant and after the show, total sweetheart). But to see the original Hedwig, on opening night, and front row, I'm chuffed!


But the real mind orgasm will be on March, where it will be all about my most favorite artist of all time, Björk!


She'll be releasing her new album, Vulnicura, and she'll have a Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) exhibit, and she'll have a book out around that same time, and she'll be performing at intimate venues in NYC! I'll be going to her Carnegie Hall shows, and I'll be seeing her FRONT ROW at City Center. This will make it the 5th, 6th, and 7th time that I'll be seeing her in concert! And naturally I'll be seeing her exhibit either before or after those concerts, and see it many more times most likely. And of course, I'll be buying that book too. Obviously, I'm an enthusiast of Ms. Goddess Sparkle ;).

Not sure what else the future will hold, but so far, 2015 is so fun and promising!

Vanessa

Saturday, January 10, 2015

It's Oh So Quiet (In A Good Way!)

So it has officially been 9 weeks since I've taken a break from writing (with exception to the reviews, blog posts, and author page posts, which have been many, hehe). I'm kind of amazed how fast time has flown. Not surprisingly, I really don't have that "itch" to write anything new. There will be a few short story publications this year, but as far as anything major, right now, I'm only resting on finding a home for the glam rock novel that some of you already know about and can't wait to read ;). Whether it finds a home sooner or later, I'll look forward to working on its sequel, and I'm feeling a third book on the horizon too, but for now, I've stepped back, and just letting the waiting game run its course. I have the patience of a saint! All in all, I'm just very, very quiet. Oh it's oh so quiet...


And that's not a bad thing at all! I'm enjoying all this quiet, actually. I've been getting a lot of reading, movie watching, and music listening done. I almost forgot how much I missed just absorbing many new books, films, and music like a sponge. I still don't have all the time in the world, but I do have time to make time for them now, and I'm loving the luxury! The Criterion Challenge so far is a lot of fun. I'm glad that some people are taking notice of it and have seen some of the movies that I've watched/reviewed so far. The LGBT film reviews seem to always catch the attention of my followers on my author page. I've been getting a lot of non-erotica reading done. I will have a lot of books to review for Cleis Press/Viva Editions in the future. Wayward Ink Publishing so far has been so fabulously professional, and the editors have been such a pleasure to work with! "No fuss, no muss" is basically how it's been with this publisher as a whole, and I love them for that.

So this year may not be the year of being prolific. I want to keep it that way. Unless an anthology call speaks to me in the future (like it has to be a very unique theme, something that I seldom see or have never done before), I honestly want to take a hiatus from writing short stories, and focus more on getting at least one book of mine out to the world this year. Well, maybe not have one published, but at least have one book acquired/sold to a publisher. Just one! That's enough for me. We'll see!

Vanessa 

LGBT Movie Review: Heavenly Creatures

My LGBT movie of the night is: Heavenly Creatures (1994)

 
Synopsis:

Thrilling and provacative, Heavenly Creatures is the highly acclaimed, true-life story of the shocking crime that stunned a nation! When circumstances bring together two bright and higly imaginative teenage schoolgirls-they quickly form an unwavering bond-creating a fantasy world that only they can share. But soon their parents, disturbed by the intensity of the friendship, the girls vow to stay together, devising a secret plan that leads to shocking consequences! With captivating performances and startlingly original visual effects, Heavenly Creatures is gripping entertainment you won't soon forget!

My review:

Before there was Lord of the Rings, there was Peter Jackson's gorgeous, refreshing, but oh so chilling lesbian romance/drama, Heavenly Creatures. Because this movie is based on a true story, it's pretty hard to not be intrigued and sucked into it. The two leading actresses, a very young Kate Winslet playing the intelligent, witty, and daring Juliet Hume, and Melanie Lynskey, who totally owns the part as the slightly awkward, dark, but passionate Pauline, are truly the stars of this movie. Their incredible friendship turns into a whirlwind romance. It unfolds in the movie at first in an innocent and charming way, until it takes a really dark and disturbing turn. The way this was done was brilliant, sad, and oh so tragic, like the movie and the characters themselves. I've seen this one dozens of times, and I'm still moved by Heavenly Creatures from start to finish. It's just one chilling movie, even more so in that it takes place in New Zealand, a relatively quiet and peaceful country, but juxtaposed with Juliet and Pauline's terrible crime, it reminds us that nowhere in the world is greener. Everything from the dialogue, acting, and cinematography is so remarkably real, and so exquisitely directed with a perfect cast. In my mind anyway, Heavenly Creatures is a modern classic, and one of Peter Jackson's best movies!