First off, let me welcome you to my first entry for the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour! Some hearty soul entertained the great idea at Forward Motion Writers’ Community to better publicize our blogs, and this is our first month in action! From here on out at least one of my monthly In Shadows entries will be on the group’s choice of topic.

I’ve had the opportunity to read a number of great books in the last month, both fiction and non-fiction, that I’d like to share with you. My public library is a wonderful thing in that I’ve been able to not only find a couple of new favorite authors, but I was able to locate the one book that started me on the writing path many years ago.

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I’ll start with Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International series. Excellent reads! I’ve inhaled the first two books (the second is Monster Hunter Vendetta) and am impatiently awaiting the third’s release (Monster Hunter Alpha, out on July 26th.) Correia’s main character is self-depreciating, irreverent, and courageous to the extreme.

CPA Owen Zastava Pitt (Z to his friends) survives his boss turning into a werewolf at the office and attacking him. He ends up with a new job at Monster Hunter International, a mercenary organization that hires out to kill off the other dimensional and pure evil things that most people don’t believe exist. We see the workings of the operation as Z goes through Boot Camp, and are witnesses to his initial steps into a world he didn’t know existed. His first foray into the job is an assignment to save the world from an other-dimensional incursion of the Old Ones.

There were several times I laughed out loud at the way Z thinks or speaks, making Correia’s books that much better in my opinion. Both books have huge battles, hilarious viewpoints, and many thrills and chills. I can’t wait for the third one to come out!

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A blast from the past, Cary Neeper’s A Place Beyond Man made my day. The first time I read it was not long after it hit paperback form — 1979 or so. I must have read it a dozen times over my early adulthood before losing my copy. There have been times over the years that I really wished I could locate another, but it only ever had the initial print run. Recently I picked it up through an interlibrary loan. (Did I mention that I love my public library these days?)

On a future Earth, the planet is falling apart from the poisons Humans are pumping into it. (Man, that sounds familiar.) On the moon, a secret alien base exists, housing two species that study the potential fall of mankind, comparing it to the almost identical demise of one of their species centuries ago. After years of debate, it’s decided that the time has come to reveal themselves, but there’s some concern regarding cross-contamination. Since none of them have ever been on Earth without protective suits, will bacteria from the planet cause them disease? They locate a scientist who may be willing to help them, inviting Tandra with her toddler, Shawne, to the base.

I think what really drew me to this story was how out there it was for its time. In the late seventies, science fiction was science fiction, and romance was romance. The SF genre was still gripped in the hands of the misogynistic giants of the forties and fifties. (Not that they treated women in their novels horribly, but they were products of their time.) Not only did Neeper write a novel that consisted of science, but she created two diametrically opposed alien cultures, and literally spliced them together. The two species have entwined so completely, despite major societal differences, that neither would truly survive without the other. The book doesn’t spend inordinate amounts of time on the science, but more on the Human’s perspective as she comes to grips, sociologically and psychologically, with these two species.

To top it off, it was the first time I had ever seen a polyamorous romance involved. Not only was there romance in a science fiction novel, but there was cultural acceptance among the people involved — though it had never happened between the Ells and the Varoks before.

After rereading that novel in my twenties a number of times, and not finding anything more published by Cary Neeper, I finally looked at the inside for the copyright information. I’d thought that perhaps it was a pseudonym for another author, and I’d find out who really wrote the book. Who really wrote the book? Carolyn Neeper! The knowledge that a woman had written my most favorite book rocked my sheltered little world, (believe me…I was majorly sheltered) and I decided on that day that I wanted to write books for a living. (Which is not to say there weren’t a dozen excellent women science fiction writers of the time. From my experience, most women were writing fantasy, and I had yet to run across a scientific endeavor that had appealed to me.)

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Next up is Nina Here Nor There by Nick Krieger. It’s non-fiction, a journal or memoir of an individual walking the transgender path. It starts off with Nina socializing at the home of a lesbian friend, not quite fitting in and not knowing why. The book works its way through the convoluted path of the societal accepted view of gender. Through friends and roommates and serious introspection, Nina discovers the world of fluid gender where ‘male’ and ‘female’ aren’t a given. The reader is witness to Nina’s self-discoveries, her growing personal transformation, the pain of explaining things to her family, and the process of arranging breast removal surgery.

This book had a pretty strong impact on me in that it’s heavy on the feelings of being an Outsider. If there’s one theme in my books, it’s been writing the Outsider, and Krieger’s book dumps me right into the mindset of someone who hasn’t been able to fit in, and slowly discovers the reason why. (Isn’t that a one line description of half my characters?)

I liked Nick’s voice throughout, neither preachy nor whiny, simply explaining the experiences and emotions involved as he progresses through his first steps of self-transformation. The book might have ended, but he’s still changing. He began T (testosterone treatments) and continues to evolve as he becomes more comfortable in his own skin. For anyone interested in GenderQueer, or transgender issues, I highly recommend this title.

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Wow, this entry’s getting long! I’ve got one more to go, though, so bear with me.

I just finished Façades by Alex Marcoux. An excellent lesbian romance with complex characters and dark pasts. Sydney Marcum Has been through the wringer over the years, but is now one of the top managers in the music industry. Anastasia promises to be a superstar, but has some serious public relations problems going on regarding her sexual orientation. She’s going to lose her career if Sydney doesn’t accept her, and steer in the right direction.

It’s a long road for both characters as they deal with their own personal baggage, slowly learn to lean on each other for support, and triumph at the end of the book. They don’t immediately fall into one another’s arms, nor do they accept or admit even to themselves that what’s growing between them until it’s far too late. I really enjoy the slow progression in their relationship from antagonistic to tentative friends to trusted comrades. (I usually do enjoy the slow progressions — the ‘love at first sight’ thing has never been realistic to me, and I’ve stopped reading some authors because the romance progresses far too quickly.)

In the vein of ‘show, don’t tell’ however, the book can get a little confusing. That deep, dark past I mentioned above? You eventually see the back story in all its detail (which is great when it arrives!) But there’s no delineation between scenes, which pulled me out of the book as I realized I was seeing the past. The scenes are also not a single take between the current passage of time — the past is several scenes long, back story upon back story to deliver a solid punch to the current timeline. Once I knew I was in back story, it was just as entertaining; only the shift between confused me for that few moments.

When it’s a single scene, it’s easy to show the difference. A lot of authors do so, usually italicizing the selection. With several scenes together, though, that’s not feasible. People don’t like to read italics throughout pages and pages of a book. It’s not as easy on the eyes. Perhaps separate chapters could have been inserted for the longer sections, or a heading to let the reader know she’s looking at the past. (Of course, I can recall my own editing experiences where I’m told — ‘This is great! Now SHOW it to me! Write the scene!’ I’m wondering if that’s what happened here. LOL!)

Regardless of my personal foibles, I highly recommend Alex Marcoux’s book. I know there are other titles at my library, so I’ll be heading over there to check them out, too. It’s not often I find a lesbian romance writer that I really like, and Marcoux is a definite addition to my bookshelf!

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As I mentioned in the beginning, today’s post was inspired by the topic ‘What Books Are on Your Nightstand?’, the opening question in the inaugural cycle of the Merry-go-Round Blog Tour, an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers, and find out what’s on their nightstands, check out the rest of the tour! On the 11th, the entry was by D. Anthony Brown. Tomorrow, see what David Bridger has to say on the matter! Happy reading!

If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know! The comment form below will require a valid email address to ensure you’re a real person. (I don’t collect the addresses or do anything with them, so you won’t be getting future spam from me.) If that’s not to your taste, you can email me — the link is up above on the right.