I know this has nothing to do with writing, but I’m a grandmother for the first time, and I guess that means I have an obligation to be insufferably proud of my little man.
TITLE: The Half of Us
Ye gods, these two guys are hot together! It’s no secret that I love this series, and Book Four is just as good as the rest of them.
Jason starts out a little bit clueless and a lot self-centered, while Abe is sweet and out of his element when it comes to the sexy doctor he meets by chance. They end up at Abe’s place at the end of their first evening together, and once they get a taste of each other, there’s no going back.
Jason has an ex wife and a couple of kids, and he’s feeling distanced from all of them. Abe is exactly what Jase needs to get his head on straight and get his life in order. I love the fact that they just fit each other so perfectly, even though on the surface, they may seem worlds apart.
That’s one of CC’s great talents, though. She has a real gift for characterization, creating memorable personalities that take on a life of their own in the reader’s mind and heart. Even when her stories take a dramatic turn, she injects some humor into the situation, mixing the good with the bad until it feels just like real life. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to meet any of these guys walking down the street or in the grocery store. They’re that well-developed. And this is one of the few authors who never gives me fits with their grammatical errors. Believe me, that’s no small feat.
At this moment, The Half of Us is as far as the series goes. This makes me sad, but I still have a couple of Cardeno C. books that I won in contests at the end of the year. I’m spacing them out, so I don’t use up all of that scrumptious writing at once. Hopefully, by the time I’ve finished the books I already have, there will be new ones to buy. If Cardeno C. isn’t already on your auto-buy list, I have one question for you: why the hell not?!?
TITLE: More Than Everything
Book three in The Family series. I have to confess, this is the one that made me want to read the series in the first place. I’m a sucker for a well-written menage story. And, as of this weekend, I’m happy to say that More Than Everything has won second place for Best Polyamorous book in the 2014 Goodreads M/M Romance Group Member’s Choice Awards.
The story is narrated by Chase, in the form of flashbacks. It’s received a lot of flak about those flashbacks, but I think they work wonderfully. They give us unfettered access to Chase’s memories and personality. And though the book is the story of Chase, Scott, and Adan (whom we met in Strong Enough, book two), these chapter introductions allow us to see how Chase evolves from an awkward teenager to the extraordinary man he becomes by the time the three men find their path to happiness.
I mentioned I’m a sucker for a good menage story. I’ll add here that I love them all the more when the group finds a way to make a permanent, committed relationship work. Part of what’s gotten me off my butt and resolved to work toward publishing my own fiction was the loss of my best friend last May. Aside from being such a special person in my life – she was my eldest daughter’s Goddess-mother – she was a strong proponent for polyamory. MG was one of the first people to use the term, and a frequent guest speaker on the subject.
I know how difficult it is to get such a relationship right. It takes more commitment and determination than a conventional relationship, and is met with resistance from all sides because people tend to think of it as a kink, something one does because one is avoiding commitment, or an excuse to play the field rather than devote oneself to one’s partner. Of course, some people do use menages that way, but I’m very happy with the way this author treated the subject. She clearly understands the challenges and the rewards of a polyamorous relationship, and she writes of them with warmth and grace.
This is, without any doubt, my favorite book in the series so far. Though Cardeno C. is renowned for her true-to-life characters and heart-warming stories, the heroes of More Than Everything stand out as some of the most engaging characters I’ve encountered in quite some time. I adore Chase, especially. He’s the type of guy I can imagine being my best buddy, hanging out with him on a Saturday afternoon or sharing movie nights during the week (I’ll bet he’d even watch musicals with me). He’s just one of those characters who leap off the page and make a place for themselves in your heart. Watching him grow up in this book was a true pleasure.
Needless to day, this one is a keeper. I’ve downloaded it to every device that can run the Kindle app, so I have it with me anywhere I go. I’m glad I read the series in order, rather than starting with More Than Everything, as I was tempted to do. It really is a great series. Cardeno C. is a wonderful writer, and this one put a huge smile on my face. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
TITLE: Sixty Five Hours (and The Twelve Days of Christmas)
Simply an amazing story! I must have had my head under a rock for the past couple of years, because I only just read this story for the first time. It came to my attention when it’s sequel, The Twelve Days of Christmas, was offered as a free read for the holidays.
Both of these books are free at the time of this review on All Romance Ebooks. I strongly recommend downloading them. Sixty Five Hours is funny, sexy, with two of the warmest, sweetest heroes you’ll ever meet. It takes place in the high-pressure world of a Chicago advertising agency. With one of our heroes an out and proud gay man, and the other deeply closeted, you might think you were in for a great deal of angst. Not so. This little gem deals with issues like coming out, societal intolerance, and even HIV, with a tender touch that always maintains its sense of humor.
The chapter headings are hilarious, the sex steaming hot, and the interaction between the heroes is just perfect. The secondary characters are gems in their own rights. It’s told in first person, from Lucas’ POV, and I just loved his honesty and confidence. Even his clueless moments manage to be charming. He and Cameron really were made for each other.
I read these two books backwards. That is, I read the holiday story during the Christmas break, thought it was sweet and delightful, but didn’t get around to reading the first book until this week. As much as I enjoyed Twelve Days, I absolutely adore Sixty Five Hours. If you’re suffering a bit of post-holiday blues or stress, do yourself a favor and download these books. Together, they’re 57,775 words. Sixty Five Hours gives you the HFN, and Twelve Days gives you the HEA.
One final tip: you might want a tissue handy at the end of Twelve Days. But it’s a happy cry, not a sad one.
Title: Return on Investment
That’s right, no stars for this one. It is, unequivocally, my pick for Best Book of 2014.
There’s been a lot of buzz about his book not fitting in anywhere. Having been on the fringes of the publishing world for a good many years, I can easily see how an editor would be afraid to take a chance on this one. After all, I am an avowed fan of Aleksandr Voinov, and even I had a hard time convincing myself to dig into Return on Investment. I took Economics in college, and found it rated second only to Political Science in its ability to bore me to tears. And it’s hard to argue that Return on Investment isn’t about the economy. It’s right there on the cover, “SEPTEMBER 2008, AND THE BANKS ARE DYING . . .”
It touts itself as a “gay financial thriller,” and it is all of that. But it is also so much more. It enticed me and seduced me. At times, I wanted to reach through the miles separating me from Aleks’ home in England and simply give him a hug. There are scenes in this book that must have been harrowing to write. But, oh, the reward for giving it a chance! Looking back, I feel so stupid for not trusting Aleks to tell a story that I want to read. I really should know better by now.
From page one, I was riveted. If I had one wish as an aspiring writer, it would be to mind-meld with Aleks and download his talent for pacing a novel straight into my brain. There are no guns, no car chases, no explosions that weren’t of a sexual nature, and the only running is done under the supervision of a personal trainer, but this book is no less thrilling for not having any of those “Bond” moments. And that is all down to the skill of Aleksandr Voinov. I have said it before, and I have no doubt that I’ll be saying it in the future: Aleksandr Voinov is one of the most talented writers in modern fiction. His understanding and sheer mastery of plotting, characterization, narrative, pacing, and all of the other bells and whistles of writing, are breathtaking. I’ve seen a candid shot of him editing a friend’s manuscript, and the force of his concentration is fierce to behold. And scary – very scary.
This book was not what I thought it would be when I read the blurb, or even when I read the sample chapter. It wasn’t what I thought it would be when I was halfway through it, and wondering how the Prologue was going to play into Martin’s story, since most of the book is from his viewpoint, while the Prologue is written from Francis’ POV. The ending was nothing I would have guessed, yet it was exactly what it needed to be.
So many of the characters in this book were not what they appeared to be on the surface, and that’s precisely how the financial world works. Nothing it as it seems to be, no one is as they present themselves. It’s all tissue paper and lies, and yet, it’s all so crucially important to day-to-day life.
I learned a great deal about events I lived through, seen from across the pond and from a European point of view. Reading the Author’s Notes at the end of the book was enlightening. Return on Investment was rejected by a publisher of gay literature, by gay romance publishers, and by a literary agent, who recommended more drama to make it into a proper thriller. I think Aleks made the right choice in publishing it himself. He was able to keep it true to his original vision, and I can say without reservation that it would have been a tragedy to alter this book in any way. And while we’re on the subject of self-publishing, I just want to say that the formatting in this book is more attractive than that of many I’ve read from more established publishing houses.
You’ll notice that I categorized this book as a M/M contemporary romantic thriller. It has many romantic elements, but it is not strictly a romance. If you’re seeking hearts and flowers and feel-good moments with rainbows and kittens, you’d do best to look elsewhere. This book is raw and harsh and glittering with transient wealth, littered with villains and ne’er-do-wells, everymen and heroes. It is its own entity, in a class by itself, and a brilliant piece of literature.
I’m not going to rob you of the pleasure of discovering how things turn out in Return on Investment. I purchased my copy through the Kindle app on my tablet. At that time, and at the time of this review, the book was available on the KindleUnlimited service. I was tempted by this for about half a minute – until I learned that I wouldn’t actually own the book, and it could be removed from the service at any moment, at which time I would lose my access to the book. Hell with that! I’m glad I own my copy. You should purchase your own rather than run the risk of losing this gem. Just remember what I said about rainbows and kittens. Voinov is usually dark, but that’s okay. I like the dark just fine. We’re old friends.
REVIEW: The second book in The Family series. This one sold itself to me on the strength of the excerpt I read on one of the sites where I buy books. I loved the ideas of the professor and the construction worker pining for each other from afar, stealing glances when they thought no one was looking. On the surface of it, Spencer and Emilio have nothing in common. There’s the age difference and the fact that they exist in entirely different worlds, Emilio’s almost brash self-confidence versus Spencer’s shy reticence, and the fact that they’ve experienced “family” in completely opposite ways. But both characters are quite likeable, and I found myself rooting for them from page one. He may have thought he was only going to get a hot hookup, but Emilio handles Spencer with care and considerable sensitivity. He’s not just a horny guy looking to get laid; when it becomes clear that Spencer isn’t the quick hookup type, Emilio moves into relationship mode with scarcely a hitch in his stride. As expected, Cardeno C handles the emotional highs and lows beautifully. I love the way Emilio draws Spencer out of his shell, and I love the fact that, though he was shy and slow to recognize Emilio’s attraction to him, Spencer quickly decides that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and that he’d be a fool to let Emilio get away without giving their relationship a chance. Both of these men are realistic and believable, as are their circumstances and reactions to events unfolding before them. Because this is a series, we also get lovely secondary characters who enrich the story and make us long to read about their own escapades. I enjoyed this book very much, and would recommend it to anyone who loves warmth, humor, and sexy man-loving in their books.
TITLE: Something in the Way He Needs
Book one in The Family series. First, allow me to say how much I love the name Asher. Always have, always will. Daniel is another of my favorites. Put them together, and you already have a good start. Add Cardeno C’s talent to the mix, and you can bet there’s a good read coming your way.
Asher and Daniel are worlds apart. It doesn’t seem as if they have anything but physical attraction in common, but that’s where Cardeno excels – in creating a realistic, lasting bond between people who don’t seem like they make much sense together on the surface.
Enough people have recounted the plot of this story. The only thing I want to add is that the writing is top-notch. I had to wait a long time before I could afford my own copy of this book, and it was worth the wait. As always the sex is hot, the plot is tight, and the secondary characters make you yearn to know their stories. Cardeno C doesn’t disappoint. Asher’s toppy tendencies mesh well with the hidden submissiveness Daniel has never allowed himself to explore. This isn’t a book about the D/s lifestyle, however. It’s about two men from different worlds who were meant to heal each other’s hearts.
This is a strong start to a new series, one which definitely makes me eager to read the rest. Recommended read.
TITLE: Running Wild
I’m not a fan of books about motorcycle clubs. It’s not that I think all bikers are thugs, because I’ve met quite a few of them, and I know that many of them are very active in charity work in their communities. I’m pretty sure it has more to do with how vulnerable a motorcycle rider is to grievous bodily harm. Their appeal is undeniable, but I’ve seen how dire the consequences of even a mild accident can be.
But the trend toward MC (motorcycle club) romantic fiction is strong – and growing. It’s so strong that any reviewer of romantic fiction is bound to have to read some of it, eventually. I’m no exception. I’ve read a few of them, which ones I will not say. I won’t publish a review of a book if I can’t find something positive to say about it. Unfortunately, every MC book I’ve read so far has treated the bikers in the story like there’s a cookie cutter out there labelled “Biker,” and you can just change some of the colors to make each one individual.
Not so with S.E. Jakes’ new Havoc series, of which Running Wild is the first. The characters here are more like the real people I’ve met, more interested in running their businesses and protecting their members than raising hell and causing misery in the surrounding community. That’s not to say that the bikers in this book are treated as if they’re angels with slightly tarnished halos. They’re real men who have seen a lot of the bad that the world has to offer, and who have built themselves a safe haven. They are neither saint nor sinner, but a believable mixture of both.
The narrator is not a biker, but a car thief. And an adrenaline junkie. Not too long out of military service, Rush is just trying to stay out of trouble, and trying to help his friend Noah do the same. They’ve been looking out for each other since juvie, and their relationship is the focus of one of the book’s subplots.
The real story is the delicate balance of the relationship between Rush and Ryker, a member of the Havoc MC. I love Ryker. He’s had Rush’s number from the beginning. Tough, fierce, and “angrily beautiful,” Ryker is everything a biker doubling as a romantic hero should be.
As always, Jakes’ writing is raw and visceral, grabbing you by the collar (and by the heart) and dragging you along on the ride of your life. The line between right and wrong gets a bit blurry along the way, and it’s hard to know who to trust at times. As for the sex, Jakes writes some of the hottest sex scenes out there. It’s difficult to write really top shelf erotica, keeping the sex vibrant and exciting while avoiding the innumerable traps that lie in wait for the erotic writer. You know the ones I mean – the ones that turn a potentially good book into porn without plot.
A touchingly sweet thread of romance runs through the plot of Running Wild, involving red roses and a shared love of The Grateful Dead. And there’s humor, mostly at poor Rush’s expense when he realizes he’s prone to speaking his thoughts out loud in Ryker’s presence. That was a sweet trait that made me smile every time.
With so much done right in this book, why not give it the full five stars? Well, I’m a devoted fan of Prophet and Tommy, the main characters from Jakes’ Hell or High Water series, which means I’ve seen just how good Jakes is. This book is really good. Those books are off the charts. It’s very difficult to define, but somehow Jakes didn’t quite reach the excellence of Long Time Gone, or Daylight Again, books two and three of the Hell or High Water series.
What does all this mean, in terms of recommending this book? It means you should read it. For me, it’s head and shoulders above the rest of the MC romances out there. And give some serious thought to reading some of Jakes’ other work, especially the Hell or High Water series. But be warned, that series is part of a greater universe, which I like to call the EEverse, but which the author calls Extreme Escapes, Ltd. Running Wild is a good start to a new series, one which I’m looking forward to continuing. So do read it. If you like MC romances, you should love this book. If you don’t like them, Running Wild might change your mind.
You won’t even mind having to take the bitch seat.
If asked to single out one attribute to characterize Kari Gregg’s writing, it would be her ability to make you feel whatever she wants you to feel. She writes emotion in such a way that you’re right there, in the moment.
This is a book that I’ve had my eye on for quite some time. Money has been tight in my home for the past couple of years, and I don’t have the luxury of buying all of the books that appeal to me. So I have a complicated TBR list which I’m constantly updating and tweaking so that when I do free up some discretionary income, I can select something that is exactly what I want to read at that moment.
Collared was well worth the wait. It was everything I hoped it would be, right down to the ending. It was sexy, thought-provoking, and well-written. I loved the way Connor, though an admitted submissive, draws a firm line between the fantasy of submission and the legal reality of being considered a slave. As he watches his rights being systematically stripped from him, his despair is every bit as in character as his overpowering desire to please his master.
The characters of David and Emmett are equally well-realized. They approach Connor from entirely different perspectives, but with similar goals. I don’t like giving away plot details, so I’ll leave it at that. I really wouldn’t have changed anything about this book. It was worth every penny I paid for it. Highly recommended.
TITLE: More Than A Superstar
This is the second story I’ve read from Nic Starr, the first being Waiting, Hoping, Wishing, which was published in the Love’s Landscapes anthology by the Goodreads M/M Romance group. Like that story, this one shows Nic to be a writer of great promise. She has an excellent command of the English language, with no distracting grammatical errors or badly spelled words to call attention away from the story.
There were no glaring problems with this book. The things I would change are small. I’d love to have had more time to spend with each of the heroes, especially Rob. It felt like too much attention was given to events outside of the relationship for a book of this length. The characters were well-drawn and engaging, the sort of people you can easily imagine being part of your life.
I feel Like I’m being a bit harsh to give 3.5 rather than 4 stars to this book, but I do it so that I will have somewhere to go when, as I believe will inevitably happen, Ms. Starr reaches her full potential as a writer. I expect great things from her, and I can recommend this as a sweet read for those of you who don’t mind a little less sex in your romance stories.
A copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.
TITLE: A Simple Romance
This was the first audiobook I’ve ever – erm – read? I won it in a contest (thank you, J.H. Knight and Dreamspinner Press), so I joined Audible and settled in for several hours of listening pleasure.
And a pleasure it was, indeed. While I was poking around on the Audible site, checking out what was available, I sampled several different books. Among them, one of my personal favorites, and boy, did that open my eyes to the audiobook industry. The book I sampled was one I’ve read several times in print. I adore the characters, and the storyline has me hooked. The audio version, however, was barely tolerable. The narrator had a whiny voice that grated on my nerves. I just knew I’d never be able to sit through the entire series if I had to listen to that voice. In contrast, Nick Russo’s voice was pleasant. It was a voice I could listen to all day (which is exactly what I did). In fact, I went searching for other books narrated by him.
My book of choice is erotica. It’s in the name of this blog for a reason, after all. When I thought of audiobooks before, I wondered what it would be like, listening to the erotic bits, hearing them in a stranger’s voice instead of my own, familiar inner voice. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. It flowed naturally, and my guess is that this was largely due to the narrator (at this point, I imagined listening to the erotic scenes in my favorite book with that whiny narrator, and cringed). Not to self: if I ever publish any of my fiction and decide to include an audio format, it pays to hire a quality narrator. This leads me to a question: how are narrators chosen?
The author herself was gracious enough to answer this question. In response to my email, she replied, “The process on my end was pretty easy. I did get to listen to several audition samples and Nick’s reading really clicked for me.” It really clicked for me, too.
As for the story itself, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can’t attest to some of the usual things I cover in my reviews – general formatting, spelling, punctuation, and the like – but the elements of a good story were all present. The characters were vibrant and, the plot believable without any obvious gimmicks to detract from the enjoyment of the book. I would happily read or listen to another story from this author. In fact, you can count on me checking out her other work.
The title does a good job of setting up the story. It is a simple romance, a lovely, warm, sexy story with a satisfying happy ending, just perfect for this time of year when readers may be looking for something sentimental without being too cloying or obviously seasonal. I highly recommend this audiobook and this author.
TITLE: Better Than New by Charley Descoteaux
kintsukuroi: “to repair with gold”; the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and the understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.
This story . . . Ye gods, this story . . . Words fail.
At a little over 8000 words, it’s just not enough. I don’t mean there’s anything missing. I mean that I didn’t get enough time with these characters, with Ben and Theo and their friends from The Broken Cup. The premise is simple – Ben is the owner of a coffeehouse, and Theo is a college student who has been crushing on him for months. The story is an erotic romance that details the coming together of these two young men.
It’s so appropriate that the very first paragraph is the definition of the Japanese word for something that, in English, would be indefinable. Somewhere, in some language, there is a word that is capable of expressing everything that this story makes me feel. It’s precisely this sort of gem that makes reading every last story published by the Goodreads M/M Romance Group worth the investment of your time. I’ve read hundreds of these stories over the past year or so. On the whole, they are entertaining, enlightening, titillating, and occasionally – as in this case – sublime.
Sublime: adjective; of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe. Synonyms: exalted, elevated, noble, lofty, awe-inspiring, majestic, magnificent, glorious, superb, wonderful, marvelous, splendid.
Yes, I think I’ve found the right word.
At the time of this review, this story is a free read available through the Goodreads M/M Romance group. If you enjoy M/M romance, I highly recommend joining the more than 16,000 members of the #1 resource on the internet for M/M Romance fans.
YEAR: August 2014
LENGTH: 200 pages
GENRE: M/M contemporary romance
HEAT LEVEL: Adult only, erotic
RATING: 5 out of 5
THIS IS FREAKING AWESOME!!!!!
That was my first reaction to this book, but I’m a professional reviewer now, so that just isn’t enough. Professionally speaking, this book has it all – characterization, plot, the kind of vibrant emotion you want in your erotic romance, and sizzling, volcanic, better-wear-your-oven-mitts-before-you-touch-your-ereader, raw sex. Don’t let anyone tell you this is anything other than a brilliant erotic journey from passing ships in the night to a deeply passionate love affair that just happens to involve power play and riding that edge of pain that hovers between more, please and stop right now! My favorite quote:
“And if we’re talking flaws – I get a kick out of flogging people, then fucking them.” Warmth ran up Sam’s spine. “That’s a flaw?”
You should buy this book. Then you should look for the sequel, Just Business, which is due out next summer, and buy it.
A copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.
I love this badge. Mostly because it embodies everything I want my blog to be about – because love is NOT a subgenre. The phrase I’ve been using is, “Love without limits.”
I know that means different things to different people, but I take it quite literally. There should be no limits to love. There should be no limits imposed upon who we are ALLOWED to love. I put that in caps because I find it profoundly offensive that anyone can take it upon themselves to judge or limit or apply RIGHTS to the concept of love.
I have friends and family who identify all over the spectrum, and it kills a piece of my soul that they can be denied the right to be legally married to the person – or people – they love.
That’s three paragraphs beginning with the word, “I.” My freshman Comp teacher taught me that using a word to begin a sentence or paragraph three times in a row should only be done to make a point. She also told me I’d write the Great American Novel, and she was clearly wrong about that, but I think her advice on style is pretty accurate. This blog entry is about what I believe. And I’m not alone, because a terrific group of authors, with some of whom I am privileged to have a sort of stalkery friendship (you know who you are, Julio & Aleks) have put an enormous amount of effort into making sure our voices are heard this month.
My following is tiny. Really, really small. But I hope that the few folks who do follow my blog will look into this Queer Romance Month idea.
I’m just getting started in the world of blogging. I’m dragging myself out of the shadowy realm of unpublished writing contests and simply talking about writing, and gathering the courage to put my words out there for people to laugh at or (far more likely) ignore. I promised my family and myself that I’d put at least one short story up on my blog and tell people where it is so they can read it. I promised I’d do that this year. Since one of the stories I’m writing is M/M, and another is a bisexual menage, maybe Queer Romance Month is just the kick in the pants I need to really do it.
Exactly how brave am I?
TITLE: Dead Man and the Restless Spirits (Dead Man #1)
REVIEW: A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
I should begin by mentioning that this book is presented in the form of three stories, all focused on the new and growing relationship between Denton Mills and “B. Maurell (apartment 309).” Denton played a guest role in the Spirit Sanguine series, and now he’s starring in his own series. Oddly enough, as much as I loved Harvey and Gabe, I found Denton’s story even more engaging. I adore his love interest, and his new guy’s pet cat is a marvelous secondary character.
You should approach this book the way I did – not knowing much about it, other than it plays a part in the Spirit Sanguine universe, and that it was written by Lou Harper, whose romantic comedies have had me in stitches since I first read the short stories Tomfoolery and Seduction.
The original version of this review was ridiculously long, filled with bits of dialogue and narrative that caught my fancy. I’ve agonized over writing it for two weeks, and finally decided that it wasn’t my place to rob you, the reader, of the experience I enjoyed so much. You deserve the opportunity to meet these characters and get to know them just as the author wrote them. He really did get it right. And it was lovely to get a little visit from Harvey and Gabe.
The final word is this: I wouldn’t change a thing about this book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys M/M romance with a mystical twist. Or, really, anyone who enjoys M/M romance at all.
TITLE: Lightning That Lingers
REVIEW: A new release of a classic contemporary romance written by the husband and wife writing team, Tom and Sharon Curtis. You’ll find their books published under the names of Laura London, for historicals, and Robin James, for contemporary romance, if you’re scrounging in used book stores. But now they’re available as e-books, so they can be carried with you everywhere, reissued under the authors’ real names. And that’s a wonderful thing, because everything written by this couple is golden. Their work shines among the romantic literature of the 1980’s, just sexy enough that you should keep it out of the reach of your adolescent daughter, but not explicit enough to scar her if she should stumble upon it by accident (ie, pilfer your romance collection while you’re not looking, as my children have shamelessly done).
Lightning That Lingers is my personal favorite among their contemporary romances, winning out by a slim margin over The Golden Touch (a title which I have always felt was an excellent description of the writers’ talent). It’s the story of a meek librarian who gets dragged to a male strip show by her enthusiastic coworkers, only to come face-to-um-groin with the most beautiful man she’s ever seen. As she struggles to keep breathing – “Pump, heart, pump.” – he is utterly charmed by her. And the chase is on, with witty dialogue, heart-warming hijinks, and a simmering mutual attraction that builds to the thoroughly satisfying consummation. But that’s not the end of the story. Why is Philip trapped in a profession he despises? How can their very different lifestyles be reshaped to accommodate both of them? How can Jennifer save his soul?
I will not do this treasure the disservice of revealing any more details. For a very reasonable price, you can read it for yourself – and you should. Whether or not you were ever a fan of the Loveswept line of contemporary romance, or of category romance in general, read this lovely story. Philip and Jennifer have maintained a place in my heart for three decades, and when I read this gem again, it was as fabulous as I remembered. I laughed, I wept, I yearned, I sighed. I fell in love all over again. If you enjoy a good love story, you’ll fall in love, too.
TITLE: When You Were Pixels (Syntax #0.1)
REVIEW: Holy WOW! I fell in love with this story from the Acknowledgements page. That’s how good it is.
Or, more accurately, I recognized the soul-deep bond of the terminally smart-assed. After laughing myself sick, I showed the Acknowledgements to my family, who also laughed like loons, all the while nodding and agreeing that the author’s writing style did indeed bear an uncanny resemblance to my own when I’m in a particularly snarky mood. I then turned the page, prepared to chuckle and grin my way through what promised to be a rip-roaring, rollicking good time.
As is the case with all the best assassins, I never felt the blade until my life was pouring out onto the floor. This writer wields his words as if they were the finest of obsidian blades slipping between the molecules of my integumentary system and cleaving muscle and bone as if they were butter on a summer’s afternoon. Like a character in a Japanese ghost story, I found myself holding my head in my lap and wondering about the peculiar perspective I seemed to have suddenly acquired until it dawned on me a few minutes later that I had, in fact, been decapitated so neatly and expertly that I hadn’t even felt my soul exit through my now rather gory neck. (It would have been neater – and probably more efficient – to have used a lightsaber rather than a katana, but I’m sticking with the Japanese theme).
In other words, Genao has written a story so heart-rending, so profound, so poignant and human and raw that I could only bleed and weep helplessly alongside the hapless narrator.
Many writers don’t seem capable of producing a story that leaves the reader feeling satisfied without giving the MCs an HEA, or at least an HFN. The warning is there, near the end of the section called Story Info, but I’m sure there will be those who grouse that they feel cheated of their happy feelings. Let them grouse. This story is a masterpiece, exploding all of the usual conventions of romantic storytelling. Yet, I have rarely read a story more deeply romantic than this one.
Mr. Genao has given us a unique gift, the product of a vibrant mind and lively intellect. It’s a story that will live in my mind and my heart for years to come. I’m still in a sort of fog, going through the motions of my daily life, firmly in the grip of a book hangover.
I wish I lived next door to Mr. Genao, so I could share tea with him and spoil his cats shamelessly while pilfering the contents of his brain at my leisure. Well done.
TITLE: Witch Hunt (Preternatural Affairs, #1)
YEAR: January 2014
LENGTH: 232 pages
GENRE: Urban Fantasy
HEAT LEVEL: No Sex, Lots of Profanity, Intended For Adults
RATING: 4 out of 5
REVIEW: I’d given up reading books about contemporary witches some time ago, mostly because the people writing them didn’t know squat about either witchcraft or ritual magic. Reading them was an exercise in frustration. Watching a few episodes of Charmed doesn’t qualify one for writing about witches, but publishers seem to be fine with putting out any amount of crap because, after all, there aren’t such things as witches. Actually, I happen to know quite a few of them, and they aren’t too happy with what passes for occult literature these days, either.
Witch Hunt is an exception to the overwhelming rule. It’s entertaining – i.e., hysterically funny – and smart (mouthed). It also pays more than lip service to the basic principles of ritual magic and the elements of magical tools. Of course it’s fantasy. Magic works in this fictional universe in a much more concrete way than it does in the mundane world. Also, there are demons. Several classes of demons, in fact, with their own cultures and languages. And, like all well-written comedy, this book is much more intellectual than it would appear on the surface.
Another pet peeve is bad grammar. I couldn’t find any in this book. Well, not any that isn’t intentionally used to depict an individual character’s voice. There were more than a few f-bombs, but as the story is written in first person and from a decidedly male perspective, the profanity fits. (I do realize that not all males curse, but most alpha male characters in modern fiction do, and this one is no exception.)
In short, this is a fun, action-packed, rollicking good time with very little in the way of romance or sex – an extreme departure from my typical choice of reading material, but I’ve always admitted to being an eclectic reader. Wholeheartedly recommended for anyone looking for fun escapism.
TITLE: The Highest Bid (Naughty Bits, #4)
REVIEW: If this were any other writer who includes elements of BDSM in their work, this would have received five stars from me, but this is Joey Hill, and I hold her to a higher standard. Her Nature of Desire series sets a high bar for BDSM literature, and it’s only by comparison with her own excellent work that this book, Naughty Bits IV: The Highest Bid, suffers. Joey has a grasp on the finer points of BDSM. Her work is not merely a catalogue of the latest sex toys or a postmodern Kama Sutra with an emphasis on athleticism and flexibility. Joey’s characters are realistically drawn, with clearly defined motives and story arcs that make sense and leave the reader feeling as if they’ve stepped briefly into the lives of real people, sharing in their most intimate moments.
Yes, the theme of this series is unrepentantly erotic. Joey has a rare talent for using eroticism to show us the beating hearts of her characters. It is the window through which we are able to see the inner workings of their relationships, their needs as well as their desires. We are privileged to witness the transformations of their hearts and souls as they learn about each other and come to terms with the demons that have been holding them back from leading fulfilled lives.
The love story that has been told over the course of this series is as profoundly spiritual as it is deeply erotic. Madison and Logan’s romance is like a flower, slowly unfurling as we watch, and in this volume it has reached it’s pinnacle. As I said at the beginning of this review, if this had been any other writer, I could have justified giving it five stars. It’s not just another BDSM novel. But as I write this, I can’t help thinking of Rough Canvas, the sixth book in the Nature of Desire series, which remains the best M/M romance, and one of the best all-around romances I’ve ever read – and I’ve been reading romance for more than thirty years. Rough Canvas is my standard for excellence, and The Highest Bid didn’t quite reach that high. Nonetheless, I highly recommend it to any reader who enjoys books with a strong BDSM theme. It is not for those just dipping their toes into the BDSM pond. Some of the elements of the fantasy that is at the core of this book are likely to be a bit daunting to the novice reader. But if you enjoy Joey’s work in general, you’ll undoubtedly like this series.
I received an ARC in return for an honest review.
TITLE: Sharp Love (Gambling on Love, #2)
AUTHOR: Ava March
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
YEAR: June 2014
LENGTH: 199 pages
GENRE: M/M Historical Romance
HEAT LEVEL: Adults Only, Erotic Content
RATING: 5 out of 5
REVIEW: This is not my first book by Ava March, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything I’ve read by her so far, but Sharp Love is without doubt her best work to date. On the surface, it would seem that the main conflict of the story could be cleared up with one honest conversation – a definite no-no in romantic literature. Somehow, Ms. March works her magic so that it is not only acceptable, but only right that the main characters are so reticent with their emotions. In fact, it would have been downright unbelievable for either of these two men to let down a lifetime’s habitual guard and open themselves not only to ridicule and rejection, but to the distinct possibility of loss of position and income in a time when such things were all that stood between a man and starvation.
Morgan is, of course, the towering driver/bodyguard from the first book, All In With the Duke. His love interest is childhood friend Will Drake. It’s clear from the first why these two men are drawn to each other, and impossible not to root for them to clear away the rubbish of old hurts and recent slights and allow themselves to enjoy the love they feel for one another.
Ms. March writes authoritatively about the period, and well she should, with over a dozen books set in the Regency era. Her characters never fall into the trap of coming across as women done up in trousers and a beard, as happens in some other M/M romances. They are realistic people who come across as perfect products of their time. The author is a gifted writer with excellent command of the tools of her trade.
In short, there should be nothing holding you back from delving into this new series, the third of which is due to be published later this year. I await it with bated breath.
TITLE: All In with the Duke (Gambling on Love, #1)
AUTHOR: Ava March
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
YEAR: November 2013
LENGTH: 314 pages
GENRE: M/M Historical Romance
HEAT LEVEL: Adults Only, Erotic Content
RATING: 4 out of 5
REVIEW: When I received an ARC of the second book in this series, Sharp Love, it was the perfect excuse to treat myself to the first book in Ava March’s Gambling on Love series, All In With the Duke. I’m glad I read this one first, because it introduces characters that will play key roles in the second book. Plus, I love these two men. Max and Tristan are both real men, despite Tristan having an almost feminine beauty. There is nothing feminine about him, though. He isn’t simply a heroine given a masculine name, as happens in M/M historicals fairly often. Having thoroughly enjoyed her Brook Street Collection, I wasn’t too worried that Ms. March would make that mistake here.
Nothing about this book disappoints. Characters are beautifully drawn, both main and secondary, the narrative flows easily, the plot is logical and not too fanciful, the sex is smoking hot, and the conflict makes sense and is resolved in a believable manner. And while I will repeat that the sex is smoking hot, it isn’t in any way over the top. Each sexual encounter between Max and Tristan furthers the storyline and reflects the growth in their relationship. The only quibble I have is that the epilogue got just a bit sappy at the very end. That is to say, the first part of the epilogue enhances the story, but the last few sentences were a touch too sweet. It certainly didn’t detract from the story as a whole, nor did it change my opinion of the book. I strongly recommend All In With the Duke and am looking forward to the second book.
TITLE: Lay Me Down (Reveler, #2)
REVIEW: Well, as I speculated at the end of my review of book one, Darkness Falls, the characters in book two benefited enormously from having been given a 100 page head start in book one. Maisie and Steve don’t require nearly as much time to rev up their motors – only about 20% of the book, rather than 68%, as in book one. The plot is better constructed, too, and things make a bit more sense in the second installment of this series. Book three is planned for June of 2014, and my guess is that it will feature Harlen Fawkes, a Chimera Marshal first introduced in book one. It’s anyone’s guess who his romantic interest might be.
Lay Me Down is a bit shorter than book one, but the characters accomplished pretty much everything they’d set out to do. The only real issue is that we still don’t know just what the circumstances of Steve’s childhood were. Supposedly that will be wrapped up in book three, since presumably this is tied to the big reveal about the main villain of the piece.
On the whole, the series thus far is entertaining enough, with the occasional spark of witty dialogue or brief flurry of action to liven up the journey. If you’re thrilled by the idea of dream walkers, though, nothing compares to Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dream Hunters, who are part of her Dark-Hunter universe. She sets the bar pretty high there, but be warned: once you set foot in her world, you might never want to return.
I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
TITLE: Darkness Falls (Reveler, #1)
REVIEW: The premise of this novella was what drew me in. I have a long love/hate relationship with dreams, and have given lucid dreaming a try in an effort to control my own nightmares. So I wasn’t really surprised when this story bore little resemblance to actual methods of lucid dreaming. It’s fiction, after all, right? Dreams are complex and nebulous things that have eluded understanding for as long as humans have been dreaming. Therefore, it’s forgivable that there seems to have been little to no research into the mechanics of dreams. Forgivable, but disappointing.
What’s less forgivable, though, is the short shrift these poor characters receive. The heroine is a cardboard cutout up until 68% of the way through the story. It takes that long for her personality to emerge, but when it does emerge, she’s witty, sassy, and thoroughly likeable. What a shame she wasn’t present for the entire story. The hero shows up on page one as a sinister character who seems as nebulous as the dreams he polices. Is he sliding down into madness? Is he trapped in a job that makes him one of the bad guys? What is he hiding from, his…boss? coworker? friend? There’s even a sly suggestion that he bats for both teams – not that being bisexual would have thrown me, but why even mention that guys find him as attractive as girls do, if we’re not going to get at least a hint of M/M action? Sure enough, though, he perks up around the same time the heroine does, just in time for a charming physical interlude that, while not quite sweet, was pretty mild in comparison with much of the contemporary romance genre.
The fact that I genuinely liked these characters when they finally showed up in their own story is the only reason I plan to read the second installment of the series. One hopes that, having spent 100 pages laying the groundwork, Maisie and Steve just might deign to pop up in living color from the beginning of their own story.
I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.
REVIEW: From the moment I began this book, I was completely blown away. Alex and Damon captivated me from page one. The story flows smoothly, and is told with a delicacy of touch that testifies to the author’s deep affection for this couple. The disenfranchisement of anyone who does not fit within a narrowly defined model of behavior is hardly a new topic, but this story treats the issue with a fresh perspective, and I enjoyed it immensely. I’m upset that Amazon and Goodreads only allow for five stars in their rating systems. I need more stars! Do yourself a favor and read this book. Why do I love it so much? Read on.
Gender identification is a tangled and murky road, even for those who have no choice but to tread it. But the message here is not limited to the gender issue. One of the things I love best about this story is that it doesn’t pretend that it’s only those who struggle with gender identity who suffer from prejudice. Many of the people I know deal daily with the struggle between being themselves and toeing an arbitrary line laid down by the ubiquitous powers that be – will they lose their children if someone finds out they’re gay? When others at work openly wear a cross or a Star of David, do they dare risk their job by wearing a pentagram? We like to think we live in a society in which certain civil liberties are guaranteed. It may not be illegal to be queer, but legality often plays second fiddle to the reality of certain prejudices. Things like love and faith should be intensely personal issues, but we live in a society in which the prevailing attitude is still, “My way or the highway.” And “my way” is straight and Judeo-Christian. If you’re not just like everyone else, your family, job, housing, and even your life could be forfeit. The injustice heaped upon the hero/ine of this book after s/he is victimized by her own family feels all too familiar to me.
That’s what makes this such an important book, and part of what sets it apart from this writer’s other work – at least, as much of it as I’ve read. Everything I’ve read from L.A. Witt has been entertaining, sexy, clever, and witty (pun inescapable). She has an exceptional grasp of her craft, producing some of the best examples of erotic romance I’ve read, whether alone or with one of her writing partners. She’s prolific and talented. But this book stands out. I’ve read some unfavorable reviews. People have different tastes. Still, this book rises beyond mere entertainment or escapism. It is important. Reading Static has expanded my understanding of gender and its role in our culture. And it’s done so in the same clever way so many social issues were aired in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone series, and Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek franchise. Call it science fiction, fantasy, alternate reality, and you can get people to listen, catch them when they’re open to feel the true impact of your message. That’s not trickery. That’s good writing. Good writing entertains, educates, enlightens. Excellent writing does it in such a way that you don’t even realize it’s happening. Static is excellent writing.
But don’t take all this to mean that the book is one long diatribe against discrimination. This is a love story, driven by vibrant characters struggling with real problems. And while many of Ms. Witt’s books feature an abundance of steamy eroticism, Static contains only one truly erotic scene – albeit a fairly long one. I recently read a review of one of her books in which the reviewer complained that she preferred less angst in her porn. I don’t know about Ms. Witt, but I was offended by the comment. The difference between porn and erotica is fairly simple: a recitation of sexual acts that contains little or no plot or character development is porn, while erotica is an otherwise complete story containing explicit sexual acts which drive or enhance the plot. As usual, Ms. Witt writes a beautifully balanced erotic romance starring sympathetic characters and a plot that, while it contains some fantasy elements, is absolutely relevant to modern society.
I felt as if I knew Alex and Damon. Their story touched me on several levels, and I was rooting for them all the way. Thank you, Ms. Witt, for penning this wonderful tale. And thanks, also, to Riptide, who provided a copy for the purpose of an honest review.
TITLE: Daylight Again (Hell or High Water, #3)
REVIEW: I have a habit of highlighting favorite passages in my Kindle books. My copy of Daylight Again looks like a patchwork quilt, with all the color-coded highlights and notes and bookmarks. I got hooked on S.E. Jakes’ Extreme Escapes, Ltd. universe when I received a copy of Catch A Ghost from a publisher in exchange for an honest review. Of course, I immediately fell in love with Prophet and Tommy. Long Time Gone cemented the feeling, and I’ve gone on to read the rest of the EE, Ltd. books, as well as the Men of Honor series, in which Prophet (yay!) makes the occasional appearance.
Prophet is one of those characters who just gets under your skin from page one. Irascible, contrary, impatient, damaged, loyal, determined, sarcastic, sexy, plagued by PTSD, flashbacks, and what could politely be termed a dysfunctional family background, Prophet is a heroic figure who can’t see himself as a hero and doesn’t believe he deserves anything good in his life. He met his match in Tom, a handsome Cajun whose childhood memories could rival Prophet’s for their nightmarish qualities, and who believes himself to be a good-for-nothing jinx who can only get his partners killed and is better off alone. Together, these men are beyond hot, downright combustible, sweet and raw and raunchy, and oh-so-perfect for each other.
Do you have to read the first two books before reading Daylight Again? Hmm, I guess not. But why would you want to skip any of this wild ride? If you want the fullest enjoyment, read all of the EE, Ltd. books before tackling this one. I highly recommend them, though you will most likely experience some frustration along the way. I know I did. Keep in mind that these stories are all works-in-progress, with more to come in the (blessedly) near future.
While some of the endings have led me to rant impatiently (most notably Dirty Deeds), the ending of Daylight Again was everything an avid fan could desire. I went into it knowing that there were two more Prophet and Tommy stories to come, so I expected some threads to be left dangling. The ending here was a big reveal that I saw coming a while back, so I got to enjoy a moment of smug satisfaction. I believe I even exclaimed, I knew it! even though no one else was in the room. What can I say? I really get into this universe and all of the incredible men who inhabit it.
As I’ve come to expect, this book was free of errors – grammatical or spelling – and an absolute, pure, undiluted pleasure to read. If you enjoy an erotic M/M story with plenty of suspense and action (of all kinds) and tons of biting wit, smart ass replies, moments of self-doubt, steadfast loyalty, death threats, tattoos, sexy piercings, mercenaries with disabilities, tandem parachute drops, two men who will do anything to protect each other, and tropical drinks with those cute umbrellas and big straws, I’m pretty sure you’ll love this book, too.
TITLE: It’s Complicated (Tucker Springs, #7)
REVIEW: Okay, hats off to the author for having the guts to take on such a difficult topic in the first place. As is reflected in several of the reviews posted elsewhere, this is a setup guaranteed to generate strong negative feelings in many readers. Although I have to say I was floored by the number of postings I’ve read from people who refused to even read the book. They don’t like to read about characters who are having problems with their relationships. They don’t like to read about the ex coming up pregnant and putting further stress on the relationship. Or – my personal favorite – they don’t want their porn diluted with so much angst. You know what? That’s probably why this author writes M/M erotica, not M/M porn. I’ve read several of Witt’s books, though not the Tucker Springs series, until this one. Frankly, Tucker Springs is priced out of my budget for books of this length (150 – 220 pages). It’s Complicated was provided to me for reviewing purposes, and I’ll admit, I had to grit my teeth and put on my professional hat before starting this one.
Sure, it’s easier and more fun to read about the first flush of new love – the heat, the passion, the intoxicating and near-constant state of arousal. It’s fun while it’s happening to you, too. But we don’t live our lives in this frenzy of new love. Having been married for fifteen years, I have a front row seat to the way day-to-day life grinds down the sharp highs of romantic love. If we’re lucky, though, it mellows into a sustained heat that is rarer than new love. Rarer, even, than unicorns in this world where people tend to bail at the first hint that they might actually need to work at maintaining a relationship. As a mother, I can tell you that raising kids is the hardest job I can imagine. It’s also the most rewarding. Nothing of value comes to us without working for it. I fell in love with my husband the night I met him, and he felt the same way from the very beginning. But I can guarantee that if we’d just trusted that things would always come easily, we wouldn’t have lasted three years, let alone fifteen. And while L.A. Witt does write some pretty hot sex, this is by no means porn. Her sex scenes advance the story, whereas porn is simply sex for it own sake, with little to no character development or contribution to plot or pacing.
That said, there were some slow spots in the middle of the book that made me somewhat impatient for the story to move on. On the whole, I liked the ability to hear each character’s perspective on events (via alternating POV from chapter to chapter), and the writer managed to avoid merely retelling each event from both points of view ad nauseum. At times it was difficult to feel sympathy for Christine, the ex-wife, though I think she was intended to be a sympathetic character. That’s not too far from real life, though, where even the people we love can be the source of enormous stress and negativity.
This is a well written book, and I don’t think it’s revealing a spoiler to say that the happy ending is made all the more believable because of the problems these people have endured. If you’re looking for fun and fluffy, this isn’t the book for you. If you enjoy heartier fare, this might be a good fit for you.
TITLE: Hostile Ground
REVIEW: I’ve read a handful of Witt and Voinov’s books, both those written individually and together, and there hasn’t been one I didn’t like. As a reviewer, I have the opportunity to select which titles I’ll read for review, so maybe I’m just good at predicting what authors I’ll like. Whatever the reason, most of the titles I’ve read since signing up to write reviews professionally rather than just for my own pleasure have turned out to be great finds for me. I’ve chosen to read authors who are new to me, and that’s how these two writers came to my attention.
Witt and Voinov are a great team. Their stories are always engaging, and their characters tend to be the sort who stick around in your thoughts even after turning the last page. In Hostile Ground, Mahir/Saeed is an undercover cop who, in the course of his investigation, meets the enigmatic Ridley. As his boss, Ridley holds the key to a successful sting for Mahir, and their undeniable physical attraction makes it all too easy for Mahir to stay close to Ridley – and his secrets.
This could have been just another enemies-turned-lovers trope, but Witt and Voinov make this commonly used device their own, adding enough fresh elements to make the story feel new and innovative. And, as usual, the sex is smoking hot. Ridley has an intense, dominant nature that brings out a submissive streak in Mahir that he’s never before experienced. He’s always considered himself a top who bottoms occasionally just for grins.
Any further commentary on their relationship will give away too much of the fun, I’m afraid, so I’ll leave it at that. The secondary character of Kinza, Mahir’s nephew, was fun, if a bit predictable. As the mother of a teenage son, I compliment the writers on their ability to bring to life the amazing ability of teenagers to be totally selfish and scatterbrained one moment, and completely together and responsible the next.
To help you decide whether this is the book for you, I will say that I enjoy the Market garden series, another collaboration by these writers, and L.A. Witt’s Static. If you liked any of these, you’ll probably like Hostile Ground, though it is a good bit grittier than the Market Garden books. If you’ve never read any of their books, but enjoy steamy stories about undercover cops who find love in unexpected places, I can’t think of a single reason you wouldn’t love this book.
TITLE: The Unwanted
REVIEW: I don’t read YA novels. My teenage children keep pushing them on me, and I keep trying to stir up an interest in them, but they just fall flat for me. When I was their age, I read the Dragonriders of Pern, the Dune saga, the Chronicles of Amber, and the like. I still love those stories, and they’re hard to live up to, I’ll admit. So when I realized that the book I’d agreed to read and review was a YA urban fantasy, it took me a while to summon the will to read it.
To think of those wasted weeks I spent procrastinating, when I could have been enjoying one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. Although, really, how was I to know that the story of a 16 year old boy who discovers that his dead mother is in fact a very lively Amazon warrior princess, and that he is foretold by prophecy to be the savior of the people who never wanted him in the first place would be anything but pretentious, tedious, and dull? It shouldn’t work, but it does.
In his second novel, Jeffrey Ricker gives us a wonderful modern fable (in the sense of incorporating elements of myth and legend, rather than a moral tale with animal characters) that has all the snide sarcasm and blushing fumbles toward first love that one would expect from a nerdy teenage boy. Jamie is absolutely authentic, and as unlikely an epic hero as one could find. But when the goddess Athena herself tells him he’s destined for greatness, what’s a boy to do?
The characters are vibrant and engaging, the plot entirely believable within a fantasy universe, and the pacing struck a good balance between narrative and action. If this is the beginning of Ricker’s career, I’m looking forward to his growth as a writer.
While I would not call this a romance, there is a romantic element to the story. For those among you who care about such things, be aware that the main character, Jamie, is gay, and the romance is between him and another boy. I mention this because there is no hint in the blurb that the hero is gay. It shouldn’t matter, but I’d hate to see bad reviews put out there simply because someone was caught with their prejudice showing and feels cheated out of eight dollars. We are shown some sweet kisses, and there is the suggestion that more happens behind closed doors, but there is no graphic sex in this book.
I received a copy for reviewing purposes, and I’m grateful that I was lured out of my genre for this.
TITLE: Straight Shooter (Rear Entrance Video, #3)
REVIEW: Like the previous two books in this series, Straight Shooter is written with a decided turn toward the comedic. The copy I read was an uncorrected proof provided for reviewers, so I couldn’t comment on the formatting of the finished product. I can say that Ms. Belleau has excellent technical skills along with a good sense of pacing and characterization.
In this final installment of the Rear Entrance Video series, we spend the entire time in Austin Puett’s head, which can at times be a fairly confusing – if not downright bizarre – place. Poor Austin, you see, is confused about pretty much everything in his life, except hockey. The one fixed star in his universe is his future as a professional hockey player.
At the start of the book, Austin has two goals – to repair his relationship with his roommates, especially with Bobby, who has been going through some intense life changes of his own (Wallflower), and to avoid getting kicked out of the room he rents in the house shared by the other characters from the Rear Entrance Video series. After some painful introspection, he comes to the conclusion that what he needs is to be taken in hand by Master Puck from Mischievous Pictures Studio. Austin, it seems, gets off on being humiliated and insulted.
This is something I’ve never understood – the longing to be cut down and humiliated – so for almost the first half of the book, I was immersed in a completely alien mindset. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to understand this troubled young man. At times I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
But as it turns out, that’s okay. I don’t want to only read books about people who are exactly like me. And somehow, Ms. Belleau managed to bring me along on Austin’s journey so that by the time he figured out what he needed, I was right there with him, cheering for his happy ending with Liam. That’s quite a gift. At no time did I feel like I was reading a preachy story that tried to shove an alternate lifestyle down my throat whether I wanted to know about it or not. In an oddly gentle journey that paralleled Austin’s own self-discovery, I gradually grew to understand exactly what these two men needed from each other. And I wanted them to make it.
So, for me, there’s something a little bit magical about this story. I’m very glad that I read it. I can’t help but feel that I’m somehow richer for the experience. It’s not high literature, by any means. The subject is one which other writers have treated in a brutal, gratuitous manner. What’s different about this book is that it makes a statement – literally – that, Gay, bi, queer, transgender, straight-with-exceptions . . . whatever, it’s all good. But it doesn’t just say those words, it demonstrates them. It lives and breathes them. Well done, Ms. Belleau.
abrupt cliffhanger, action, bad boys, child abuse, contemporary, damaged hero, erotica, ex-military, m-m erotica, m-m romance, mercenaries, mystery, power exchange, special forces, tattoos, virtual sex
TITLE: Dirty Deeds (Dirty Deeds, #1)
REVIEW: There’s a phrase I’ll repeat a few times just to keep things on track, because though Dirty Deeds is not a long story, it is an extremely complex one. Ready? This is brilliant writing. Remember that.
As with each book in the larger Extreme Escapes, Ltd. universe, this story is about complex men, some with downright psychotic tendencies, who can’t even begin to have functional relationships until they start to deal with some of the issues from their pasts that have made them the sort of men who can do the jobs that EE, Ltd. pays them to do. These aren’t the sort of guys who can find an HEA, or even much of an HFN, without overcoming decades’ worth of mistrust, betrayals, failed relationships of all sorts, and an understandable reluctance to hand their enemies a ready-made weapon to be used against them (i.e., a loved one).
So the idea that each of their stories must play out over the course of multiple books makes sense. It’s not merely a marketing ploy, as so many serials seem to be lately. S. E. Jakes has no need to resort to such tricks to keep us eagerly, even anxiously, awaiting the next title in the series. And I have to say, even though the relationships remain unresolved for Prophet and Tom, and Blue and Mick, the stories are satisfyingly robust. They leave us with the feeling that, even though things are dicey for them, ultimately they will work through their ghosts (kind of an inside joke, which you’ll understand if you READ THE SERIES) and forge lasting relationships filled with passion and adventure. This is brilliant writing.
Unfortunately, Dirty Deeds fell a bit short of the mark with regards to the ending. I don’t think it has anything to do with the length of the novella. Hence the loss of a star. It’s certainly possible to write a complete, fulfilling story within a short format. Though I don’t know what prompted Jakes to cut things off basically mid-scene (leaving me to pound my fists in useless fury upon my poor desk), I’ve decided to chalk it up to the author trying to give us a clever cliffhanger. I forgive you, Ms. Jakes, and I will continue to be your devoted fan. Even though it’s taken me four days to calm down enough to write anything resembling a coherent review.
But that’s a statement in itself, the fact that I connected with these characters on such a deep level, that I came to CARE so very much about what happens to them. That’s the author’s true talent – no, her gift. In every book I’ve read, the characters are the focus. Sure, there’s action, sometimes enough to stop your heart. There’s also hot, hot sex. Doesn’t matter. It’s all about the characters. This is brilliant writing.
Speaking of sex, several reviewers have criticized the emotional disconnect during sex in this book. My take on it is that it’s intentional. Neither of these men is present in his own life enough to experience true intimacy with another human being. They search for it in clubs where anonymous lovers have almost silent encounters and part without exchanging names. They try to find themselves and each other in virtual sex via IM. Cillian has a history of sexting with Prophet, from the Hell or High Water portion of the EE universe (the EEverse?). His encounters with Mal go miles deeper than he ever did with Prophet, proving that Prophet had the right idea when he bailed on the one attempt Cillian made to take it into real life (Long Time Gone). So the idea that they could open themselves up enough to have a conventional hookup just doesn’t fit the profile of either of these men.
And can we just take a moment to enjoy the name, Cillian? I’m a big fan of Gaelic and Celtic names. Also, it gives me a giggle every time I hear his name in my head – properly pronounced Killian, as the celtic “c” never makes a sybilant “s” sound, but rather a hard “k” sound. Thus Cillian is a-killin’ again. Hm. But I digress.
So, for anyone who has begun their love affair with the men of EE, Ltd., this is a must read. I would, however, recommend that you read Catch a Ghost and Long Time Gone before starting Dirty Deeds. It will make things clearer and more poignant, because there’s a devastating revelation fairly early in the story. Ignore the complaints. Take the warnings with a grain of salt. Read these books. I promise, you’ll be frustrated, enchanted, heartbroken, enraged, aroused and enraptured.
After all, this is brilliant writing. You can quote me on that.
TITLE: Long Time Gone (Hell or High Water, #2)
REVIEW: Long Time Gone is, simply, a wonderful book. My review of Dirty Deeds, by the same author, contains an overview of the Extreme Escapes, Ltd. universe, which I like to call the EEverse. This universe is populated by, complex men, some with downright psychotic tendencies, who can’t even begin to have functional relationships until they start to deal with some of the issues from their pasts that have made them the sort of men who can do the jobs that EE, Ltd. pays them to do. These aren’t the sort of guys who can find an HEA, or even much of an HFN, without overcoming decades’ worth of mistrust, betrayals, failed relationships of all sorts, and an understandable reluctance to hand their enemies a ready-made weapon to be used against them (i.e., a loved one), to quote myself.
Front and center among these men are Prophet and Tom. This is the second book centering on their romance. An easier way to think of the EE, Ltd. books is to put the traditional concept of a series out of your mind. Rather, substitute the EEverse, within which there are unique solar systems comprised of the separate relationships of Prophet and Tom, Blue and Mick, and Cillian and Mal. To understand any one story to the fullest, you really should read the entire series. Hell or High Water is the portion of the universe devoted to Prophet and Tom, while the Dirty Deeds series (of which Dirty Deeds the novel is the first installment), tells the story of Cillian and Mal. Clear? Hmm.
Back to Prophet and Tom. At the beginning of the book, the author places this quote: “We are all searching for someone whose demons play well with ours. Kind of sums it up, right there.” At this hefty page length, we get plenty of what we love most about these guys: passion, anguished memories, tragic pasts that bleed into the present, scorching hot sex, alligator wrestling, appearances by other guys we love, adventure, and sweaty, deliciously erotic moments that affirm that these two men are perfect together.
Long Time Gone is a great example of why so many people have S. E. Jakes on their auto-buy lists. As always, the characters drive the story, establishing a firm foothold in our hearts from page one. Literally. The opening scene involving Prophet is just one example of why we love this guy so much. He’s the toughest of the tough, and so desperately in need of the haven Tom represents for him that one just wants to hug him – even though he’d likely rip our arms off for the attempt. Definitely read Catch a Ghost first, if you haven’t already. Reading Free Falling would also enhance your enjoyment, because Blue and Mick make a couple of memorable appearances here.
Wholeheartedly recommended. A must-read.
TITLE: Catch a Ghost (Hell or High Water, #1)
REVIEW: I’ll be honest: I’m effing furious with Tom right now. Yeah, I was going to handle this the way I handle most of my reviews – discuss the author’s skills, talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the plot, yada yada. Then I realized I was practically vibrating with fury, and that said something – maybe everything – that you need to know about this book.
Prophet is a difficult character. Always will be, as far as I can see. And Tom is a complex and wonderful man. Together, they make sense in so many ways. I’ve grown attached to them over the course of 260 pages. The key thing to know before getting into this story is that it was designed from the beginning to be part of an ongoing series. I think there are four books planned at this time.
As far as the technical aspects of writing go, S. E. Jakes is an accomplished storyteller. But beyond anything else, this story is driven by the characters, and they are the reason you will come back for more. The author offers up the whole enchilada for our delectation – suspense, action, hot, hot sex, and even a few yummy guys from some of her other work who pop their heads in to remind us why we love them.
So, yeah, great writing skills here, but the truth is that you’ll either love Prophet or hate him (I’m too much like him to be able to grouse about his bad behavior). I don’t think it’s possible to straddle the fence where this guy is concerned. That’s why we read these stories, isn’t it? Yes, he engages in risky behavior and generally makes us want to smack him upside the head ala Jethro Gibbs in NCIS. Hmm, come to think of it, they might share a couple of personality flaws. Never mind. I’ve got to go start the next book, Long Time Gone. After that, I’ll have to check in with some of the other guys that circle the Extreme Escapes, Ltd. offices while I wait for book three.
TITLE: College Boys (Men of Holsum College, #1)
REVIEW: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Daisy Harris had me at her author bio.
But really, College Boys is a sweet, sexy erotic novel. It’s one of the most believable college boy romances I’ve read. Both male leads are realistic guys; no female characters in men’s bodies, all angsty and into their emotions. We’ve all read those books where one or more male characters is simply a female character with the gender pronouns replaced (he for she, him for her, etc.).
There is humor, heat, self-doubt, and a believable stumble into love. Even the talk of forever isn’t too over the top. I remember being that age and holding on to that fervent belief that this guy would be THE guy. It was nice that one of the characters was into the gay political life on campus, but not in a fanatic, 24/7, screaming from the rooftops way that these characters so often seem to be. There are no cookie-cutter gay guys here. Just guys who happen to be gay.
The sex was refreshing – hot and sweet at the same time. I liked the way both guys were feeling their way around what they enjoyed in the bedroom (no pun intended). There were no moments where I wondered where that extra hand had come from or had to pull out of a scene to figure out whether what they were doing was anatomically possible.
These are genuinely likeable guys, which surprised me because college romances are usually over-the-top sex-fests with way more cuss words than the average human says over the course of a year. Of course, they cuss – they’re guys, aren’t they? But they only do it when it’s the realistic thing to do (i.e. whenever confronted with another testosterone-riddled youth or in the throes of sexual overload).
I recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t like college romance (for the above-listed reasons) and to anyone who enjoys a sweet, sexy love story with a great HFN (if not HEA) ending.
And to Ms. Harris, I’ve never missed an episode of The Walking Dead, either. *wink*
TITLE: Inspire Me: A Hot Rod Novel
REVIEW: This was a new author for me, and even thought the copy I reviewed was an uncorrected advance proof, I was pleasantly surprised to find very few typos or other mistakes.
The story was a nice piece of escapism, easily holding my attention over the course of a couple of evenings. I liked the male lead, Raine Reyes more than the other characters. Because of events in his life, he’s more mature than your average 26-year-old, and very clear about what he wants in life – the complete opposite of the heroine, who doesn’t seem to know what she wants in her career or who she wants in her bed. She constantly blames her reticence on their age difference – she is 41 to his 26. It was only logical, given his background, that he wasn’t willing to continue to beg for her attention when she kept pushing him into a neat little box labelled hot hook-up.
While the sex was fairly hot, in places it seemed forced, as if the characters were performing someone else’s fantasies rather than their own. This is particularly true of the menage scene near the end of the book. While it was a great scene from an erotic standpoint, it didn’t seem in character for either of the men involved, especially Fitz, a former lover and coworker.
As I said, it’s a nice piece of escapism, with some enjoyable sex, and in a certain frame of mind I don’t ask for more than that from my fiction.
TITLE: If It Drives (Market Garden, #7)
REVIEW: This review is based on an uncorrected advance proof, provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
While previous titles in this series star the fabulous rentboys of Market Garden, If It Drives presents this fascinating and alluring world through the eyes of Callum, the driver for James Harcourt, a well-to-do financier. Appearing in previous books as the character Rolex, James has enthusiastically availed himself of many of the delights to be found at the Garden, including Nick, who has a pivotal role in this newest book.
It’s a real joy to get this new perspective on Nick. What a wonderful character he has turned out to be! He proves to be an essential factor in helping Callum and James work out the dynamics of their evolving relationship. And getting a glimpse of the HEA that Nick and Spencer are enjoying is an enormous bonus.
But Callum and James are the stars of this story, and with over 170 pages, Witt and Voinov have plenty of room to tell it. In previous books, we’ve seen that they are masters of the short story format. The craft of telling a story in 12.500 words is very different from that of telling one in 42,500 words. Characterization, plotting, narrative, it all changes based on the length of the work. This pair of authors seems to be able to do it all with equal skill. They understand pacing at any word count, and each book is a gem in its own right.
The sex is as hot as ever, and never gets repetitive or stale. The scene where Nick schools Callum on the proper application of driver kink is particularly delightful. But the meat of this book is the love story, and Witt and Voinov are masters at using their sex scenes to drive the emotional story to its conclusion. After reading If It Drives, I want more – more Market Garden, more of anything written by Witt and Voinov.
TITLE: It’s All Geek to Me
REVIEW: This is one of the funniest books I’ve read in years! It begins with Jez visiting his friend, Tel, in hospital after Tel’s unfortunate close encounter with a BMW. Strung up in traction, Tel is mourning the loss of his treasured issue number three of The Amazing Translucio, Uncanny Secrets variant, which was a casualty of the accident. What’s a best mate to do, but trudge to a nearby comic shop in search of a replacement copy? There he encounters Rhys, the gorgeous guy behind the counter who is, like, the poster boy for Getting Geeks Laid. It’s lust at first gawk, and Jez immediately returns to Tel’s bedside, begging for a lesson in Geek speak.
Told entirely from Jez’s POV, this story delivers on several levels. It’s funny, at times sweet, with charming characters who could easily be pulled from the comic shops and sci-fi conventions I’ve attended. Despite an instant and clearly mutual attraction, Jez and Rhys share nothing hotter than a peck in the cheek the first few times they get together, which I found a nice change of pace. Of course we expect sex in our erotica, but there has to be a great story, too. That’s where this book stands out from the crowd. The author takes the time to establish a realistic and believable relationship between these two guys. When they finally do end up in bed together, though, the sparks fly and there’s nothing sweet about what goes on between the sheets.
I won’t spoil your fun by giving away any more of the story here. The author is proficient in characterization, dialogue, pacing and plot development, and setting the scene. Oh, and she’s a wicked funny, did I mention?
A copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.
TITLE: Payoff (Market Garden, #6)
REVIEW: This review is based on an ARC, provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I should begin by confessing that this is the first of the Market Garden stories that I’ve read. A copy of Payoff was provided to me in exchange for an honest review, but I have to admit, I was concerned about my ability to provide an effective review coming so late to the table, as it were. As it turned out, I had no problem getting into the story. These authors did an excellent job of diving into the action, yet also weaving in enough backstory that newbies like myself can enjoy the book as a stand alone story. No mean feat when working with fewer than fifty pages.
In fact, these authors work very well within this brief page count, balancing dialogue and narration efficiently and effectively. Tristan and Jared’s relationship began in a previous volume, but I was immediately drawn into the opening scene as if I’d known them all along. Their dilemma is believable, and the course of events over the evening covered by the story is plausible and well-paced. Keep in mind that this is a story about two male prostitutes and the client who has hired them for an evening. The sex is scorching hot and the language is raw. In fact, the sex scenes are written with a wonderful subtlety that, in my opinion, is the real gem these authors give us. While every sex scene is hot, sweaty, and enthusiastic, the interaction between Tristan and Jared is rich with emotion that, while never resorting to treacly sentimentality, conveys the true depth of feeling these men share.
Technically, I found no grammatical errors, and the prose was clean and easy to read. Nothing pulled me out of the story or left me puzzled over where that extra hand came from. This book is polished and professional. The conclusion was logical and satisfying, with a definite happy-for-now and an implied happily-ever-after.
In short, though this was the first book I’ve read in the Market Garden series, it won’t be the last.
TITLE: Bound to be a Groom
HEAT LEVEL: Adults Only, Erotic Content
REVIEW: The first thing that struck me as I began to read Bound to Be a Groom was what a beautifully formatted book it is. I have hundreds of books on my e-reader, and most of them have some sort of formatting error. I’ve grown accustomed to overlooking them, putting them out of my mind. From cover to author bio, this is easily the most beautiful book I’ve downloaded.The story is set in Spain and England in the early years of the Napoleonic Wars – just before Wellington joins up with Spanish partisans to repel the tyrant, who is placing his brother on the Spanish throne. But the heart of the story is the relationships being forged between two convent-raised girls, a Spanish nobleman, and an English Duke.I had a hard time getting into the story, at first. In fact, it was not until almost a third of the way through the book that I really became invested in the characters. This might have been because the beginning of the story concentrates on Anna, who has a tendency to come off as rather cold. It’s not until Sebastian begins to play a greater role that I really began to care about these characters. Sebastian truly is the beating heart of this novel. It is his warmth and willingness to give Anna everything she needs that makes possible everything that follows.
It is the way Ms. Mulry handles the complexity of Sebastian’s character that makes the rest of the book work so well. After Anna, Sebastian, and Pia travel to England, reuniting Sebastian with his former lover, Leigh, the story flows easily and naturally to its entirely satisfying finish. Where the first third of the book often seems forced, the last two thirds are deftly written, with a keen understanding of what makes a healthy D/s relationship – and a healthy polyamorous relationship – work. Where Anna is Dominant, Sebastian is submissive – but he is submissive only in the bedroom, in a way which allows him to maintain all of the power and arrogance of Spanish nobility the rest of the time. Pia is a softer sort of submissive personality, and Leigh is another Dominant. Two Dominants, two submissives, each unique and fully realized in a balanced relationship that demonstrates the author’s skill at characterization. The sex is explicit, and though the Dominants are demanding, they are also very loving toward the submissives. Ms. Mulry has crafted a believable HEA among four very different people.
Ultimately, it was a pleasure to read Bound to Be a Groom. If I had picked this book up and read the first chapter, however, I would not have bought it. And that would have been a shame. For all of my frustration with the beginning of this story, I am very glad that I had an opportunity to read it, and would recommend it to anyone interested in polyamory, bisexuality, or D/s play.
TITLE: Acheron (Dark-Hunter, #8)
PUBLISHER: St. Martin’s Press
YEAR: August 2008
PAGE/WORD COUNT: 728 pages
GENRE: Urban Fantasy Romance
HEAT LEVEL: Sensual, Depictions of rape, violence, and extreme child abuse make it unsuitable for readers under 18
REVIEW: I loved this one so much that I now own several editions of it, including one signed by the author, which is hidden away in a box for safe keeping from the kiddies.
This is easily Sherrilyn Kenyon’s masterpiece. The Dark-Hunter books have always been a great escape for me, but this one goes beyond mere thrills and fun times on the streets of NOLA. All the way back to the ancient world when multiple pantheons clashed for control of the human world, and one royal house in ancient Greece gets caught up in the war.
Acheron has always been the most enigmatic character of the series, present in all of the books, yet standing distant from the men and women he commands in the fight against evil. Here we see his life stripped bare – quite literally. It begins before his birth, with the seeds of conflict that will doom him and his twin brother to unimaginable torment.
Acheron is not for the faint of heart. It is a raw, gut-wrenching look at how a child who has been deprived of the most basic needs and subjected to the cruelest torments grows into a man whose every thought is bent on the preservation of the human world that has always rejected him. In her author’s note, Ms. Kenyon writes that her own childhood was blighted by abuse, and that writing Acheron’s story was cathartic for her. Any reader who has endured a similar childhood can’t help but recognize a fellow survivor. This tale couldn’t have been penned without such an intimate knowledge of the journey of the benighted soul of a profoundly abused child. For a reader who has not survived abuse – especially sexual abuse – I can see that this sort of journey would be difficult to credit, even seemingly melodramatic. I can only say that I found it to be an accurate account of what it takes to heal such scars. For myself, Acheron’s story lead to a draining of old wounds I’d thought long since scarred over. Ultimately, this book felt like a gift, speaking directly to my heart with a message so profound that I find myself turning to it over and over, seeking out all of the gems of wisdom scattered through it so generously.
Without having read the previous fourteen books set in the world of the Dark-Hunters (I include Fantasy Lover, even though it’s not an official Dark-Hunter book, because Julian and Grace Alexander make several appearances in later books), much of Acheron’s impact would be blunted. You have to have fought and laughed at Acheron’s side, witnessed how he watches over his fighters, how he mourns for his lost friends and loved ones, how he keeps himself apart even while he is inextricably entwined in the lives of those he has vowed to protect.
I’m not going to recount the story here. Synopses abound on the internet. This review is meant to help those trying to decide what to read next. I know there are more paranormal series out there than the average reader has time for. I’ve read quite a few of them, and the ones that rise to the top for me are the Dark-Hunters and Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark. The Black Dagger Brotherhood has been running out of steam, and I’m just not up to paying hardcover prices, so I’ll wait for the paperback release of The King. I used to be an avid fan of Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld and Alien Huntress books, but her focus has changed over the last couple of years, and her books just aren’t as much fun as they used to be. Laurell K. Hamilton has been on my auto-buy list for years, but as much as I’d like to argue the point, it’s undeniable that she has been steadily losing readers for a few years now.
At what point does an author decide to serve her audience rather than her muse? It’s a question that every author of a long-running series must confront sooner or later, it seems. But Kenyon and Cole are still going strong, in my opinion. Time and money force me to pare down my reading lists, but these two authors remain at the top of my paranormal list.