Elle Reads

Elle Reads (4/24/21)

I’m gonna skip the whole “Sorry I haven’t posted in a while” thing because 1) I shouldn’t apologize for having a life and 2) releasing your first book is kind of a lot. And I did say I was gonna ignore the internet and hibernate, so at least I’m consistent.

I did want to share some “Post-Release” thoughts and feelings but honestly I haven’t quite parsed everything out in my head, even though it’s been a few months. It’s tough to sit with the feeling of releasing your story into the wild and just waiting, soul-bared. The short version is I disconnected and tried to stop thinking about “all that self-publishing stuff” for a while. I wrote a lot. I read a lot. I listened to a lot of music. And then it was March, and I had a deadline coming up for my next book release (which is also now out), and now I feel like I have better footing underneath.

Sooo, with that said, here are some wonderful things I’ve read lately that are still banging around in my head.

First up is The Starian Cycle series by Iris Foxglove. Shown above are the first three books; The Traitor’s Mercy and The Duke’s Demon are both available now, and The Prince’s Vow comes out on June 22, 2021.

I found The Traitor’s Mercy while searching for some satisfying m/m BDSM smut, and I’m still shocked I stumbled upon something I absolutely adore for a multitude of reasons. Not only did this scratch an itch, I became an instant fan of the writing style, characters, and the world splayed out in this story. This series has five books planned, and as of writing this post there are currently two available to read.

The first book, The Traitor’s Mercy, takes place in an alternate universe with a biological imperative kink. That was a new one for me, but oh, it’s delightful. The citizens of this universe are either natural doms or subs, alignments which have political implications, as well as sexual, within the noble hierarchy.

The first book follows Sabre, a man whose family has been executed for treason to the Starian crown; though, at the last minute, Sabre’s life is spared. He’s then paraded into the center of town for one of Staria’s pleasure houses to claim.

Enter the House of Onyx, led by a former courtesan who’s paid off his debt to the most notorious pleasure house. Laurent de Rue is unique, self-made noble in Starian society, and his House of Onyx caters to the more unique interests of Starian nobility – more on the S&M side of BDSM – and Laurent discovers that Sabre is a true masochist, a rarity among courtesans.

World building can be overwhelming for me, but The Traitor’s Mercy eases you in. And the CHARACTERS—the other courtesans of the House of Onyx are all distinctive, charming, and often hilarious. A big cast in a fantasy setting can also be overpowering, but each one is given appropriate screen time, and the banter prevents any dull moments.

If you love the idea of a found family of sex workers in a lavish and political fantasy world, with some delicious BDSM scenes thrown in—please, please, start reading this series! The second book, The Duke’s Demon, holds up to the same level of artful prose, with a lovely gothic environment and an extremely endearing demon.

Novae is a webcomic by a duo known as Kaiju. It seems like I started this comic ages ago, but I keep coming back to it because it’s so fucking gorgeous and amazing (and still ongoing!). Full color, tantalizing artwork, interesting characters—this is one of those comics where every page has me in awe at the artistry and the writing.

This Paris-based historical romance features an apprentice astronomer named Raziol, who’s studying under Christiaan Huygens, a real life Dutch astronomer from the 1600s. Raziol is soon introduced to Sulvain, a mysterious mute man who turns out to be a necromancer, the last of his kind. As Raziol and Sulvain grow closer, they get swept up in a series of strange and gruesome murders that occur in Paris, with other magic-wielders (called Magoi) showing up as either friend or foe.

Aside from the art being utterly breathtaking, there’s true beauty in laying ancient scientific discovery alongside magical elements, showing where the mysticism and wonder overlaps between the two. And Raziol and Sylvain’s story is tender and sweet—even as Sylvain beings to admit what he is, Raziol’s curiosity of the unknowns in the world render him less easy to frighten away.

Novae updates on Mondays and Thursdays but has plenty for any new reader to catch up on. If historical queer romance with a side of fantasy is your thing, please check this webcomic out post-haste!

Elle Reads

Elle Reads (1/30/21)

Well the first month of 2021 is almost on the books. Oh and my first book is releasing on Monday 2/1/21 so maaaaybe check that out?

For this week’s readings, I have only one question: Do you like flirty bad boys falling for the precious nerdlets in their life? Yeah, I thought you might. This week I re-read and finished the webcomic Long Exposure by Mars Heyward and read the book Smash & Grab: RELIC #1 by Maz Maddox.

Long Exposure is the story of Jonas Wagner, a senior in high school who gets paired up with his old bully, Mitch Mueller, for an environmental science project. They decide to investigate a flood that once wrecked their town and end up stumbling into a seemingly abandoned, fenced off area of the forest where they both gain surprise superpowers! From there Jonas and Mitch navigate high school, concerned friends, shitty parents, a suspicious black vehicle that seems to follow them wherever they go, and coming to terms with their feelings for each other.

I started this comic ages ago and remembered I hadn’t checked in on it in awhile. Then it took me about 20 minutes to track it back down because I’d forgotten the name and also hadn’t bookmarked it. But I found it and it’s now COMPLETE! There are also print editions available at Indy Planet, which offer some additional gorgeous cover art.

Long Exposure is a quintessential soft, nerdy boy meets hard, angry boy love story. The art style is grunge-y and incredibly unique. The characters are relatable, especially Jonas; I really appreciate a protagonist who is not conventionally attractive. It gives the comic an edge of authenticity, as if it could have happened down the street in your own hometown. Now that Long Exposure is complete, check out the Mars’ upcoming webcomic, Ride Or Die, or support them on Patreon!

In Smash & Grab, paleontologist Simon is working late in the basement of the American Museum of Natural History on preparing a newly-discovered fossilized dinosaur egg when he’s attacked by mysterious and scary men in black. Then he’s rescued by a snarky bat-wielding punk with a pink mohawk named Dalton. After a quick explanation that the fossil of Simon’s focus is being sought by a cartel-adjacent fossil collector, they escape on the road to avoid capture. Oh and did I mention Dalton can also shape-shift into a raptor? As Simon and Dalton road trip south from New York toward Dallas to escape the vicious hitmen after them, they start catching feelings for one another.

This was the first book I’ve read that went anywhere near the “shifter” trope. Smash & Grab is so full of charm and personality and man, I really have a thing for flirty, tattooed bad boys, I guess. The plot and action scenes in this story are solid, as well as the relationship that blooms between Simon and Dalton (Dalton’s “Pretty Simon” pet name now lives in my head rent free). Given that this one is part of a series I’m very excited to read the next installment.

Also, if you are more keen on listening to your stories, an audiobook version of Smash & Grab was released this month.

Elle Reads

Elle Reads (1/23/21)

I’ve been in a huge funk since the holidays ended. Like, I’m past hanging in there. I’m a pinched nerve. And this week the heavy weariness of everything culminated into me happening upon some dark romance/erotica: a two-part-so-far novella series and a yaoi comic.

Stigma by Marloong – available on TappyToon

Stigma is the story of Sehyun and his chance encounter with Boris, a young man with a troubled past who lives with his older sister Elena and her daughter, Anya. Boris rescues Sehyun from a group of assailants in a dive bar bathroom, and the story progresses as their lives continue to overlap.

I don’t want to give too heavy of a synopsis because a LOT happens in this series. I realized after reading this I might have a thing for sad, broken boys finding happiness with each other, so this hit a lot of my interests. There’s a fantastic found family with diverse characters, and the way the story gets into each of the main characters’ pasts was a welcome distraction from the darker overtones. The dialogue is spot on and rarely cringeworthy (which in my experience is typical for yaoi titles).

And then there’s the art – it’s absolutely breathtaking and stylish, with a raw edge that lends to each character’s personality. There are several moments of quiet scene-building that never feel forced or tiresome, creating an intense atmosphere around the action.

You can read the first few chapters for free on TappyToon, or the entire scan on Mangago, though I strongly suggest supporting the artist if you are able. Major trigger warnings, too, so please be mindful!

A Taste of Ink (and its sequel, Lost in the Linework) is available on Amazon, B&N, and Apple Books.

A Taste of Ink follows Trinket, who lives with his architect boyfriend, Zee. Trinket makes a last minute decision to get a tattoo to commemorate his and Zee’s 2-year anniversary. At the tattoo shop, Trinket meets Mini, an irresistibly brash tattoo artist, whose salacious small talk gets under Trinket’s skin as easily as his needle and ink.

I basically mainlined this story and its sequel, Lost in the Linework, over the course of a day. This is the sort of storytelling (and heat) that rewrites my coding and typically requires me to sit and ruminate for a few days. But I’m not, because if I don’t get this review out, I may combust.

I have a skimming problem when I read. My eyes dart down the page to catch a line up ahead, and I have to force myself back, often re-reading paragraphs. I get lost. Half impatience, half short attention span. But for this book, I hung on every fucking word. Every sentence pushes this story forward, charged with tension or sex or well-narrated exposition that gets in, does its job, and gets you moving again. There’s few words out of place, if any. The prose carries you, effortless. The details are exquisite – the poetry Trinket gets tattooed on his body (which I also want to read now), the concepts of possession and permanence, feeling trapped and provided for all at once. A single sentence starts poetic and ends in shivers.

Wouldn’t have thought I was interested in anything with cheating–it’s always been something I skip when I go on TBR adding sprees–but now I’ve seen the light. And the light is really fucking beautiful and forbidden and hot. The dirty talk in this story has flavors — Mini’s is raunchier, pushing the envelope, while there’s a sweet, yearning intensity to the exchanges between Trinket and Zee.

I don’t think I’m supposed to be rooting for Trinket to make a choice one way or the other, and that’s fine. I’m perfectly content to sit back and watch as opposite edges of Trinket’s life escalate, curving toward one another, like waiting for a comet to strike the earth. If you’re at all interested in dark romance/erotica/kink, please give this a purchase!

Elle Reads

Elle Reads (1/15/21)

As a firm believer that reading helps me become a better writer, I’ve decided to track some of the books I read over the course of a week. I’m not going to set any specific reading goals because, as those Nationwide commercials say, life comes at you fast.

This week I ended up reading two books that have similar subject matter: tabletop RPGs! I have played a few in my time and always enjoyed it, though sometimes I don’t feel I have the patience to do them long term. That and I tend to want to spend too long creating my character and pouring over all of the details. But my nerdy heart definitely enjoyed that they were an important detail in these two books!

Please note that these reviews will feature some spoiler-y aspects of these stories, though I promise not to give away any major plot twists!

Roll For Initiative by Alex Silver

Roll For Initiative is a novella focusing on video game designer Gui and his friends, who are all avid tabletop RPG fans. His new roommate Paz works at the local coffee shop and is responsible for delectable and indulgent baked goods popular among Gui’s group of friends. However, Paz is initially icy and pedantic about the space that he and Gui share. He takes to leaving his complaints on sticky notes for Gui to find the morning after, as their work schedules are opposite one another. This combined with Gui’s late hours as he slogs through a pre-release crunch for his work’s new release, Day Dreamer, leaves Gui feeling equal parts frustrated and exhausted, enough for him to confront Paz, where their tension boils over into some much-needed stress-relief.

First off, can I just say how relatable the whole roommate situation is? They’re such a necessary evil that almost everyone has had to deal with. I feel like the tension between Gui and Paz was nailed perfectly, especially when it comes to a steamy head. I’m kind of a sucker for frustration sex, and Paz gets Gui riled up in all the best ways that leads to some pretty hot encounters.

I also love books where we get to see some intimate details of a character’s hobby or passion. For this story, it’s Paz’s baking. As someone who enjoys baking myself, I absolutely loved all the descriptions of baked goods that Paz creates (especially because CHOCOLATE). Baking is a special kind of love language on its own, and Gui is precious in the way he adores and inhales Paz’s confections.

Coincidentally, I’ve read a few criticisms of romance stories lately where readers DNF based on miscommunication between the main characters. What I enjoy about Gui and Paz’s story is that eventually they do break down their walls and talk things out, and only then do they allow their feelings for one another to grow.

Roll for Initiative is the first book in the Table Topped series. The series is set to follow others in Gui’s friend group, and I think Roll for Initiative does a fantastic job at introducing these characters. I definitely want to know more about them, especially Theo, who is trans, and Jude, Gui’s younger brother who also aspires to work in video game design. Theo and Jude are featured in the book of the Table Topped series, Charisma Check, which releases on January 18th, 2021.

Favorite lines:

“The last thing I need is another scramble to find new housing because my dick thinks it has good ideas. It doesn’t.”

“This week I’ve learned there is a correct way to align the boxes in the pantry, hand the toilet paper roll, put away the cutlery, and just about everything else. A correct way that differs from the way I’ve always done it. Not that I’m bitter about it.”

Natural Twenty by Charlie Novak

Natural Twenty is the story of Leo, a florist who loves flowers to the extent that they cover his body as the subject of his tattoos. He runs Wild Things, a florist shop in the city of Lincoln, and outside of work his only obligation is to his needy Staffordshire terrier, Angie. On his way to work one morning, Leo notices a new storefront opening down the street from his flower shop, a bookstore called The Lost World. Intrigued by a clever sign and some LGTBQ+ friendly decor, Leo makes a point to stop in, where he meets Jay, the bespectacled curly-haired owner, who he is immediately smitten with. Soon Leo is invited to The Lost World’s game nights, where he plays D&D with Jay and Edward, Jay’s gloriously fashionable best friend. As Leo and Jay grow closer, bonding over books and a trashy 80’s cop show, they both learn how to open up to one another.

I don’t even know where to start with this book. A tall, hunky florist with sleeves of tattoos? An adorable rambling bookstore owner with an amazing back piece with pierced nipples? Leo and Jay are both such wonderful characters and the love that blossoms between them is stunning. I also loved Edward and the many references to Castlevania that came along with describing his eccentric style and cosplay persona.

I loved how the use of flowers and their meanings gave a time honored tradition a new spin. Whether the author already had this knowledge or did their research, it absolutely worked for me. I enjoyed pausing the story and looking up what certain flowers looked like, as I hadn’t heard of a lot of the varieties mentioned. The chapter subtitles that mentioned a type of flower and its meaning were a lovely touch.

The steam in this book is extremely hot and contains some of my favorite tropes: height difference, titillating dirty talk, partners switching up their roles in bed. And it’s perfectly counterbalanced by gorgeous, romantic prose that never felt contrived or corny.

I also enjoy walking away from a romance book with a message, no matter how simple. One of the main conflict resolutions in Natural Twenty is asking for help from those you love, and it’s one that resonates with me personally. It’s tough, and it takes a lot of vulnerability to rest your burdens on others. I think it was handled with grace in Leo and Jay’s story.

Oddly enough (because there are only so many D&D puns) the second book in the Roll for Love series is also called Charisma Check and comes out January 19th, 2021. It focuses on Edward, the elegant and eccentric best friend of Jay, and his cosplay arch nemesis, The Masked Gentleman.

Favorite lines:

“You can’t trip and fall into somebody’s ass.”

“So why, hours later when I was lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, could I feel nothing but a heavy weight on my chest and a sinking feeling of loneliness?”