Happy Valentine’s Day my lovely readers!
I know, I know, it’s a made-up holiday. But I think there’s something lovely about celebrating romance in the middle of winter. Even if your version of celebrating it is delighting in the quirks of the genre and maybe not necessarily romance in real life.
(Personally I will be celebrating it in real life, but hey, I’m a newlywed.😉 )
So maybe you’re finding yourself at home with no plans for Valentine’s Day. Sure, you could watch re-runs of The Bachelor, but why not spend the wintry day curled up with a quick romance read? Not sure what to read? Here are three speed read romances, vastly different from each other. What makes them a speed read? They are all less than 200 pages. And don’t worry. All three of them got 4 stars or more here on Opinions of a Wolf.
Braided: A Lesbian Rapunzel
By: Elora Bishop
Mood: You believe in fairy tales and happy endings!
Length: 61 pages
A lesbian retelling of Rapunzel. Gray, a witch’s daughter, visits Zelda every day. The witch switched Gray’s fate into Zelda, so now Zelda is the one entwined with the spirit of the tree that the people worship. She must live on the platform and every day lower her hair for people to tie ribbons and prayers into. Gray feels horrible guilt over their switched fates, but she’s also falling in love with Zelda.
Listening to Dust
By: Brandon Shire
Mood: You like a tragic romance that makes you cry. Keep the tissues handy for this one!
Length: 142 pages
A chance meeting between orphaned British writer, Stephen, and American soldier, Dustin, leads to a passionate love affair in England. But when Dustin chooses to go back home to his small Southern town to care for his mentally challenged brother, Stephen is left behind, sending letters that are never answered. He finally decides to follow Dustin home and arrives only to discover that Dustin is no more.
Love Among the Chickens
By: P.G. Wodehouse
Mood: You enjoy slapstick and want to laugh. A lot!
Length: 176 pages
Jeremy Garnet, a novelist, is living a relatively quiet bachelor life in London when his old school friend Stanley Ukridge shows up. Ukridge is starting a chicken farm with his wife, Millie, and wants “Garnie old boy” to come stay with them. He’ll get to write in the country in exchange for a few hours of work a day. In spite of the fact that Ukridge is planning to run the chicken farm without any prior knowledge or studying “the better for innovation, my boy,” Garnie takes him up on it. Of course, life with the eccentric Ukridge surrounded by chickens isn’t quite the quiet writing environment Garnie was planning on. Not to mention the Irish professor neighbor’s lovely daughter that Garnie can’t quite get out of his head.
Note: This short story, which is humorous horror, was originally published in 2011 in the online horror magazine 69 Flavors of Paranoia (volume 3, menu 13). I recently discovered that 69 Flavors of Paranoia is now defunct. Their website and Facebook page are completely gone. An investigation of their twitter finds that they did not delete their twitter but they have not tweeted since evidently announcing on January 13, 2015, that they are now out of commission (view the tweet here). They did not give advance notice to any of the authors who had been published so that we could archive our stories from their zine, nor did they create an archive themselves. They, in fact, completely deleted their entire website; they did not even move it to a free host. It appears that the Internet Archive primarily archived their issue table of contents and not the stories themselves. You can view the table of contents for the issue that contained my story here. Since I never gave up my copyright nor can the story be read in their publication anymore, I have decided to re-publish it here myself. I don’t feel the need to resubmit it to other magazines right now, as I have other projects I am working on. I do hope you all enjoy it. You can view links to the rest of my publications on my Publications page.
“The Tale of Leroy of the Backwoods of Vermont”
Leroy never saw no need to leave these here backwoods of Vermont, kinda like m’self. His mama birthed him here when she was only fifteen years old in the family log cabin right up on this here hill. Her mama done whupped her good when she found out she had a bun in the oven, but her daddy put a stop to it. Every babe is a gift from God. Ayuh. That’s what he’d said. So he was birthed, and his mama done named him Leroy.
Leroy’s folks; they didn’t trust the gubmint none. No sir. The gubmint’s the one that’s been slowly takin Vermont from the good, rignal born, old-timers and handin it over hook line and sinkah to them dammed librals. Leroy’s pappy–he alwuz insisted he married Leroy’s mama on purpose, but Leroy alwuz suspected that it was more of a shot gun affair–anyhow. He alwuz tole Leroy, “Boy! Don’t you take nothin from nobody. We’s bettah than that. We’s take care of ourselves n our own. Don’t you be like them dammed useless welfare folk.”
So his mama done taught him right there at home while his pappy went to work in the mill down the road n Gram cooked n kep house. Sometimes, Grandpappy’d take him out n teach him all’s’bout huntin and fishin and survivin without the food you kin get in a grocery store. Ayuh. Course, ventually, the gubmint done made him go to school, but it was only down at the gubmint school close by, and well Leroy, he warn’t never near the top of his class, if you know what I’m sayin.
I was friends with good ole Leroy back in the day. Ayuh. You might say that. I’d scaped from that gubmint school soon’s they let you. Been out a few years. Leroy, he was gettin close to it. Anyway, Leroy’s folks n mine, they was all on us to do our share fer the families. I’d done took to collectin fiddleheads n beer cans an sech on the side of the road when I warn’t workin in the mill with the rest of the fellers. That sorta thing’s alwuz more fun with a buddy along, so I done asked Leroy to join me on one sech excursion on a…..well durn. It musta been a Sat’day afternoon, cuz I don’t recollect havin gone to church in the mornin.
So, we was out on one of them thar back roads. Y’know, the ones that alwuz have big ole ruts in em n sometimes a farmer or a backwoodsman’ll come puttin along in his ole truck with the sharp edges, nothin like them new trucks with them pussy-ass rounded edges. An the forest, well it just come right on up near the side of the road with just them thar drainage ditches betwixt the two. Makes fer more interestin collectin that way. Sometimes you see a critter or some sech. Well, it was late spring-like. I recollect that, cuz I was collectin me some fiddleheads. They make a durn good supper if you cook em up right good with a big ole dollop of butter, y’know.
Anyway, so I was toolin my way along in one of them drainage ditches that run along the side of them old-fashioned dirt roads. It was real muddy-like. Course I didn’t care cuz you gotta wursh the fiddleheads anyway, an I had me some real good boots. Leroy, he was pokin his way along on the other side of the road. He done got a bit further down than me when he call out to me. “Hey, Bobby!” He done shout it just like that. “Hey, Bobby!”
“Yeah, what?” I done called back to him.
“Lookee here. Lookit what I found.”
I sighed n looked up expectin a whole bunch of nothin. Leroy, he warn’t exactly strong in the head department, if you know what I’m sayin. Well, thar stood Leroy. He was a scrawny kid, Leroy was. Ayuh. Scrawny n tall topped off with a shock of red hair, but not the tempmint to match. Anyhow, thar stood Leroy holdin up a squirrel by the tail. This squirrel, he wuz the deadest durn thing you ever done saw. I mean his middle was squirshed flat. His head and hind end looked like two hills with a valley in-between, an little bits of guts all full of road dirt was stuck to the poor thing’s middle. I done shook my head, cuz, y’know, guts ain’t never a fun thing to see, an I said, “Leroy! Whatchoo doin pickin up the road kill?”
“Road kill?” He let out a he-haw kinda laugh an bent forward. “This ain’t no road kill. This here’s supper!”
“Leroy, you damn fool!” I went back to my bizness, searchin fer the good fiddleheads. “T’ain’t right to eat roadkill. Them critters done suffered enough gettin squirshed to death without you hackin em up and makin one of yer god-awful stews out of em. Sides. Poor critter’s covered in dirt!”
“Bobby, you know better than to waste perfectly good food that you don’t got to pay good money fer.”
I done fixed my gaze back up at him. He was standin there with his feet planted a good couple feet apart lookin the most stubborn I ever done seen him. “I don’t believe you will. Even you ain’t that stupid.”
“It ain’t stupid to eat food God done left in the middle of the road fer ya,” his forehead had got all wrinkled and sech.
I dropped the fiddlehead I’d done plucked into my paper bag. “Aw, now you’re just joshin me. You know better than to eat it now. I can see you thinkin about it.”
Leroy done stomped over from down the road so’s he was leanin down an lookin in my face real close-like. “I’ll go eat it right now, an you kin watch me.”
Well, it ain’t easy to get good entertainment up in these here hills, so I said I’d come watch. Leroy figured he’d just tell his mama he done got hungry and et early. My place was the closest to whar we were, y’see. Ayuh. This place rightchere. He done cooked it up right thar on that same stove. My mama was out in the garden, an my pappy was over visitin his pappy. I called out to my mama that we was hungry and was gonna fix us up some of the food we done found on the road. She just sorta grunted at me. Mama warn’t never much on words. I got myself around and warshed and done cooked my fiddleheads up in that butter like I done tole you before right good while Leroy, he went out back to skin and prep that durn squirrel. He come back in, an he started fricasseein it with some gravy mah mama had left over in the fridge whilst I set myself down and ate me some of them nice buttery fiddleheads.
You warnt to learn how to cook it? I can teach you later. Right, right, first Leroy.
So Leroy he done make himself this fricassee. I was gettin all ready to be mad at him for wastin my mama’s gravy when he done set himself down with a bowl and a spoon, and he just started spoonin that squirrel into his mouth like it was the best dish at the church potluck. The whole time he was starin at me with this…..weird grin. Like he was some coyote who knew the farmer left the chicken coop open, n he was about to get himself an easy all you can eat buffet. I got all froze like watchin that smile in that gaunt face of his. Watchin him eat that thar fricassee.
His spoon, it clanked at the bottom of the bowl, an he done lifted the bowl up and licked it clean. He put that bowl down, n he said, he said, “See? I done tole you. Ain’t nothin wrong with eatin a critter, no sir no way.”
I shook my head. “I still say. T’ain’t right,” an I got up and started to warsh the dishes when Leroy, he made this funny sound. Kinda like he got himself stuck in a zipper. I turned around, n thar’s Leroy, standin next to the table, holdin his bowl with a funny look on his face. I mean, his face was all twisted up. One eyebrow up here, another down there, his mouth in a weird twisty line, his nose wrinkled up.
“Leroy!” I snapped. “What’s wrong with you? If you gonna puke up that damn fricassee, you better get out the back door and out of my mama’s kitchen!”
An that. That’s when he sorta half-pointed at his stomach. It was wigglin. All on its own. Kinda like how a lady with a bun in the oven, her tummy will wiggle when the babe moves around? Well that’s what his was doin, only his belly was flat.
Then Leroy, he done scream and double over. He started screamin out, “Help me! Help me, Bobby! Oh it hurts; it hurts!”
I dropped the dishrag, right there on the floor, right next to the sink. I done grabbed him an tried to help him stand up. “I gotcher,” I told him. “I gotcher.”
His eyes, they got all wide like a little kid’s do when he done first see a scary movie. I dunno why, but I looked down. Inside his stomach, thar was a shape of a squirrel. I mean you could see the outline of his head all’s the way down to his fluffy little tail. Seein that, well, I done lost my grip on Leroy, and he fell down on the floor, writhin in pain. He looked just like a snake. Ayuh. He let out the biggest durn yell I ever heard. I think the only time I ever heard one close was that time Frank down the road done got his foot stuck in a bear trap. My mama, she must’ve started to yell an come runnin then, but I didn’t notice. No way, no how. Cuz right then a squirrel covered with blood an mucous an bile an whatever all else was in Leroy’s stomach done come bustin out of his gut. Bits o’ Leroy hung from his teeth, an his beady black eyes done give me the once-over. I ain’t never seen nothin so frightenin in all my born days then nor since. No way. That squirrel, well then that squirrel, it shot me a look. That look said, it said, “Tit for tat. Tit for tat.” Then it skedaddled on out the door.
Leroy, he was writhin on the floor, graspin at that hole in his stomach with one hand an reachin out to me with the other. Well, I didn’t know what to do. Just then, my mama, she come runnin in an see the blood an guts all over her nice, clean floor. Then she sees Leroy with his guts pourin out of him, n she starts screamin. “What done this? What happened, Bobby? Tell me what happened!”
“It was a squirrel, mama. A squirrel et its way out of him!”
Leroy, he was slowin down with the movin an the writhin, n he let out a gasp n collapsed back on the floor. His eyes hangin open.
My mama. She believed me that a squirrel done it, but we knew them thar cops from down the hill wouldn’t, so we just tole them that Leroy done gutted himself like them Japanese soldier fellers do sometimes. I dunno if they believed us or not. Truth be tole, no one from down off the hill missed Leroy that much.
But us? Us good ole-fashioned Vermont folk up on the hill? Oh we remember Leroy. Ayuh. And that, that’s why not even the mangiest, strangest lady or feller up on this hill, no matter how hungry, no matter how skeered of the gubmint, they won’t never eat no roadkill.
© Amanda McNeil 2011
When Australian astronaut, Jack, crashlands on a planet during a mission and is the only survivor, he fears the worst. What he finds is a planet surprisingly similar to Earth–even speaking English–only with a culture of peace and non-violence. Seeking to survive as a homeless person, he starts busking with a guitar he finds, playing Earth songs. Before he knows it, he’s discovered and becomes a rock star, introducing the planet to Earth’s greatest rock songs, while claiming to have written them himself. But rock star is an awfully high profile for someone who is technically an alien.
This was my final accepted ARC from 2014, and I think it’s a fitting review for the last day of 2014 here on Opinions of a Wolf. This was an interesting read that kept me moderately entertained, although it wasn’t the rollicking good time I was initially expecting.
The book jumps right in to Jack as already a rock star on Heaven (the alien planet) and tells of his arrival and how he became famous through a series of flashbacks. This nonlinear storytelling works well with the plot. Starting with semi-familiar rock star territory, the book slowly reveals what is different about this planet, as well as about Jack.
It is evident that this was originally a three part series, as the plot consists of three distinct parts that, while connected, keep the book from having an overarching gradual build-up of suspense. Jack has three distinct episodes of action, and that lends the book and up and down quality that feels a bit odd in one novel. I actually think I might have enjoyed the book more if it was kept as a trilogy with each part’s plot fleshed out a bit and the overarching conflict made more evident. An overarching conflict does exist, but it is so subtle that the opportunity to build suspense is mostly missed.
Personally, Jack didn’t work for me as a main character. While I don’t mind viewing the world through a bad guy’s eyes, I usually enjoy that most when I get a lot of depth and insight into who that person is. Jack holds everyone, including the reader, at arm’s length, so I both saw the world through his objectifying eyes and couldn’t really get to know him at all. That said, I can definitely see some readers enjoying Jack and his viewpoint. He lends the unique ability to let people see the world both through a rock star’s eyes and through an astronaut’s. A reader who is into both famous people’s biographies/autobiographies and scifi would probably really enjoy him.
Similarly, the humor in the book just didn’t strike my funny bone. I could recognize when it’s supposed to be humorous, but I wasn’t actually amused. I know other people would find it funny, though. Readers expecting a Douglas Adams style humor would be disappointed. Those who enjoy something like Knocked Up would most likely appreciate and enjoy the humor.
There are certain passages that sometimes struck me as a sour note among the rest of the writing. Perhaps these are passages that would be humorous to other readers, but to me just felt odd and out of place in the rest of the writing. Most of the writing at the sentence level worked for me. It was just the right tone for the story it was telling. But periodically there are passages such as the one below that made me gnash my teeth:
Natalie is a rare beauty. A creature of potent sexuality. Someone you would step over your dying mother to penetrate. (loc 8803)
I take a seat in McCarthy’s desk chair. It’s comfortable. Luxurious in the way a set of stainless steel steak knives might feel to a psychopath. It’s beautiful and firm and smells nice, but in the wrong hands this chair could be used for evil. (loc 6821)
Again, perhaps this is humor that just didn’t work for me. I’m not certain. If you like the concept of the rest of the book, there are only a few of these passages that are easy to pass over. If you enjoy them and find them humorous, then you will most likely enjoy the book as a whole as well.
Overall, this is a piece of scifi with the interesting idea of turning an Earth astronaut into a rock star on another parallel planet. Potential readers should be aware that the book was originally told in three parts, and that is evident in the book. They should also be aware that the main character is both a self-centered rock star and a self-centered astronaut, while this viewpoint may work for some, it will not work for others. Recommended to those who enjoy both celebrity autobiographies/biographies and scifi who can overlook some bizarro coincidences.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
When out-of-work actor Lorenzo Smythe is approached in a bar by a space pilot with a job offer, he agrees to at least go meet the man’s boss and discuss it. Quickly, however, Lorenzo finds himself being kidnapped into outer space and impersonating a missing important politician, John Joseph Bonforte, under slight duress. They must keep the public from knowing the politician has been kidnapped and successfully participate in a Martian adoption ceremony or face interplanetary war.
I was excited to pick up another Heinlein, and he definitely didn’t disappoint. Similar to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein presents a delightful mix of wit, Hollywood glamor, and thought-provoking political speeches all in a well-imagined and engaging future society.
In this version of the future, space exploration has led to the discovery of inhabited other planets and two distinctly different opinions on how to interact with those lifeforms. Either dominate in a manifest destiny style or come to mutual cultural understanding and trade. The politician Smythe must impersonate, Bonforte, is the leader of the latter faction. This novel could easily have turned preachy with such a premise, but Smythe himself isn’t too keen on being friends with the aliens. As an actor, he is committed to playing his role beautifully. As a person, he isn’t sure he agrees with Bonforte. This position allows Heinlein to explore both sides of the question, as well as the gray area in-between. No easy answers are presented, but slowly what is more just is revealed.
Juxtaposed with the political plot is the whole aspect of Smythe being an actor who believes fully in his craft as an artform. Smythe takes himself very seriously even when others do not. At first, others view him as full of himself, but slowly they come to respect him and his talents. Smythe’s large self-esteem may at first cause the reader to roll their eyes as well, but it gradually becomes apparent that having confidence in yourself and your abilities as a professional is not a bad thing.
I was a professional, retained to do a very difficult professional job, and professional men do not use the back stairs; they are treated with respect. (loc 1660)
Although characters at first seem two-dimensional, the main characters slowly become more fleshed out and well-rounded. Nothing and no one is quite as simple as it at first seems, and Smythe is a great example of that.
What really makes the book, though, is its unexpected wit. It’s not so much a laugh out loud book, but it’s very much a snort of amusement style of humor that takes the book from interesting to highly enjoyable.
My vocal cords lived their own life, wild and free. (location 40)
I was as angry as a leading woman with her name in small type. (location 1068)
The romance lacked creativity or sparkle. It is easy to spot the instant it comes up, but it doesn’t come across as natural or meant to be. It mostly feels like the woman transferring her affection for Bonforte onto Smythe. I found it a bit squicky that she fails to ever really see Smythe as Smythe, not even after falling in love with him. Thankfully, the romance is an incredibly minor part of the book. The book is also slightly dated by the overwhelming presence of paper and microfilm. We’re talking the spaceship has a library with print books and microfilm. In general even classic scifi tends to imagine a future with at least slightly different versions of books and information exchange. I found it a bit odd that Heinlein failed to do that.
The ending is not unexpected entirely but it is satisfying and with enough fun details to entertain. Of the various options for an ending to this story, the one Heinlein took is enjoyable and makes sense within the world he has created.
Overall, this is a fun piece of classic scifi that tosses together acting and politics in outer space with Martians who look like toadstools and a heavy sprinkling of wit. The romance leaves something to be desired, and the tech isn’t particularly predictive or imaginative, but these are minor aspects of the story. Recommended to fans of witty scifi who don’t mind a dash of political intrigue.
4 out of 5 stars