The "last" (sob, sob) of the Adrien English mysteries, it delivers on all the loose threads from Death of a Pirate King and gives a satisfying ending...moreThe "last" (sob, sob) of the Adrien English mysteries, it delivers on all the loose threads from Death of a Pirate King and gives a satisfying ending to the series, though I certain hope Lanyon will someday be inspired to write more.
The mystery feels much more low-key than in previous installments, but that's a good thing, leaving the broken relationship between Jake and Adrien front and center. It's not very often that I want a couple to get and stay together as much I wanted that through the last couple AE mysteries and Dark Tide is no exception. The tension and fragility of their relationship is as engrossing as ever and I read the whole thing in a single night.
Hard Fall is a book that was recommended to me by a friend many moons ago and it's taken me this long to work my way around to it.
After overall gun-s...moreHard Fall is a book that was recommended to me by a friend many moons ago and it's taken me this long to work my way around to it.
After overall gun-shy feeling I've been having about disappointing books, my trip to Chicago found me in the airport sampling through a couple different books before I settled on Hard Fall, sucked in by its distinctive voice.
The set up isn't anything really extraordinary; it's a romance between closeted Mormon cop Joe and sort of ex-con, Kabe and though Joe has a lot of internal conflict about taking up with Kabe, the outcome of the romance is never really in question.
What sells the story for me is Joe himself. The story is in first person, told from Joe's point of view and there were a lot of ways that Joe's character could have gone sour for me, but instead, Buchanan managed to make him realistically complicated with a light, loving touch that I really appreciated.
One of the things I liked most was how Buchanan handled Joe's connection to the Mormon faith. I think it's easy for a lot of authors to make fun of faithfulness, whether they do so 'ironically' or not, but instead, it fit naturally on Joe, even given his homosexuality. Though deeply closeted and fearful of exposure—which is pretty natural, given the rural isolation, and potential/expected intolerance, of the area in which he lives—Joe is at peace with his queerness and is, more or less successfully, balancing it with his faith, which is as integral to him and as deeply rooted. I liked that it was respectful of Joe's faith, while still coming up as critical of the prejudice within the church/faith.
Whenever I read stories about gay characters of faith, I generally expect there's going to be some heavy angst about the character trying to reconcile the two; the fact that Buchannan bypassed it and that Joe had come to terms long before the story had started was a refreshing change.
Though I'm not always a fan of stories where the romance is (or seems to be) a sure thing from the start, I did like it in this case. I liked that the conflict was mainly Joe's and it was less about his queerness than it was about coming out and the effect it would have on his life and the natural terror of your first real relationship, especially while so deeply closeted.
The converse side of that is that we don't really get to see or know a lot about Kabe and he doesn't really have a conflict or as much growth through the story, but it's not a distracting loss or a regretful one.
The relationship with Joe and Kabe, though relatively uncomplicated, nonetheless doesn't lack for chemistry and it falls into place with a similar no-fuss, no-muss simplicity that worked really well for me. Though I like angst and drama as much as the next gal, the relative lack of overwrought drama was lovely and refreshing, as well.
And lastly, but probably most importantly, I like that Buchanan didn't take the easy way out of any of the situations she put her characters in. Though the characters went through a certain amount of growth, none of them were entirely different people by the end of the story. Though there was narrative resolution, no one's life was tied up in a neat bow. There were still issues they'd have to deal with and face; parts of their lives that remained unresolved in realistic ways and though Buchanan gives you a satisfying HEA, there are still consequences to the story's actions.
My biggest complaint is that I felt the ending dragged a bit and could've concluded a couple chapters before it did, but it's a minor complaint and didn't really impact how much I really enjoyed the story. This is definitely a recommend. (less)
**spoiler alert** For me, the worst thing about Willa Okati's And Call Me In the Morning is that it's not a bad book. It just wasn't a book I really f...more**spoiler alert** For me, the worst thing about Willa Okati's And Call Me In the Morning is that it's not a bad book. It just wasn't a book I really found good, either. The book suffers from the same problem I have with a lot of books in the romance genre, which is extreme predictability.
Not just that our intrepid star-crossed lovers will get their HEA (though I never really had a doubt about that) but even down to the finite, small details like the big anaphylactic shock crisis of Zane and the strawberries. Not only were all these elements introduced in the first third of the book (hello, Chekhov, my friend, we meet again!) but they were signaled, like a flag-man guiding down a jumbo jet. I felt like Okati was shouting, "LOOK HERE, LOOK HERE!" and the most surprising thing about the book, I think, was that Eli didn't take the job at Duke.
At the end of the day, what I like most, what's my greatest narrative kink is the way(s) in which a writer defies my expectations. At no point did I feel like I got that, here.
More than this, the predictability of the book was further weighed down by the lack of any significant conflict throughout the story. If you're going to do the two (ostensibly) straight boys fall for each other trope…
Look, this can go two basic ways that I can see; either there was a latent queerness in them that they realized/decided early on was societally and personally unacceptable and they buried it years ago, only to be brought out by this particular person at this particular time or, after decades of fairly contented heterosexuality, this burning beacon of awesomeness comes along to make you redefine your sexual identity to a different place on the bell curve than you thought. In either case, there's a journey there.
A journey that doesn't really happen in ACMitM, something I find more than a little unbelievable in a story about two men who are 40+years old. Zane is accepting of redefining their relationship from the start, without a visible qualm or second thought anywhere along the way. Zane's panic attack at the end is really more about self-esteem and his fear of being happy than his sudden sidestep into queerness.
Eli, who is, after all, the POV character through all the book's events, seems to have the requisite shaky nerves, but rather than taking us on an internal journey through Eli's qualms and fears and the breakdown of his masculinity as constructed, Okati instead forces Eli's positional shifts based entirely on external (and clichéd) events, like the need to stand up for Zane and himself to their bigoted coworkers or the aforementioned anaphylactic shock scare. Moreover, the need for Eli to 'get over it' feels like it's couched more in Eli's ability to hold hands with (or kiss) Zane in public than to go through a restructure of the person as whom he's always defined himself.
It feels even more damning in the lack of any real, dimensional secondary characters to help pull the slack. The only two women of the piece, Diana and [name:] are pretty much there to be the yentas for Zane and Eli. I can't think of a single moment in the story that they were part of that didn't somehow involve them enabling the relationship between Zane and Eli and I, at least, found their characters painted in too broad strokes to even be particularly interesting.
Taye and Richie largely seem to exist to be "the good gays"; Taye is Eli's mentor into the world of gayness and, other than almost killing Zane and bringing about the big "climax" of the story by doing so, Richie largely exists to be Taye's partner and show Eli that gays can, too, have loving relationships. I like them better than the women, if only for their willingness to be That Gay Guy and mentor Eli through his Gay Panic, but there's no more real substance to them than there is to Diana and .
Because the secondary characters feel so entirely functional—existing only to serve a particular plot function—the lack of internal journeys for Eli and Zane feels that much less convincing and that much less (again, for me) interesting. I just didn't care about this story, these guys, their friends. There was nothing there that engaged me on an emotional level and, though Okati's prose is perfectly workmanlike, it tells a great deal more than it shows, which is much less convincing.
Going back to the climax, the trouble there is the same trouble I have with a number of TV shows which is this: attempting to create dramatic tension by threatening to kill off one of the main character only works if the reader/watcher has reason to believe you'll follow through with the threat. JJ Abrams goes out of his way to not kill his characters, even when to not do so creates narrative absurdity and a break in the willing suspension of disbelief. Joss Whedon (and Eric Kripke, for that matter) are held in such terror by fandom because we all know, all too well, that they are more than willing to pull the trigger and will do so with glee.
Within the romance genre, the likelihood that the author will actually kill half of the couple they've spent these hundreds of pages to build is unlikely, in the extreme. And for quite reasonable reasons: people generally read romance to get their HEA. The stories where the protagonists die usually get classed in a different genre.
So while Zane nearly dying from the consumption of strawberries in his shake was supposed to be the huge, pivotal scene of the story, I found it's dramatic effect nearly nonexistent because of a) the long, telegraphing wind-up to get to that part and b) the fact that Zane dying would ruin the romance and there was still another 40 pages to go. Quite frankly, I had no expectation that Okati would pull the trigger, and thus it makes the entire wait to see if Zane will live or die rather flat.
While flawed, it is abundantly obvious to me that at least some of my issues with ACMitM are subjective and taste oriented, rather than an actual fault of the writing or construction process. And, at the end of the day, I feel as though it's an excellent example of a story that is written well enough but that still falls completely short, simply for not hitting the reader's preferred narrative kinks. (less)
**spoiler alert** I recently joined a m/m romance group on Goodreads to try and increase my repertoire of books. Though there's a fair number of epubs...more**spoiler alert** I recently joined a m/m romance group on Goodreads to try and increase my repertoire of books. Though there's a fair number of epubs out there, the quality of work produced varies a lot from book to book and I was hoping to get some recommendations to help me find the 'good stuff'.
The group has a kind of challenge each month to read books in different genres. One of the February challenges was to read something with transgender or cross-dressing as the theme and a rec led me to Crossing the Line by Laney Cairo. At 46 e-book pages, it's really a short story, not a book, and a quick read.
I really wanted to enjoy the book more. The relationship between 18 year old Isaac/Belinda and the older Nathaniel (I don't think we ever get an age on him) is both hot and sweet. Watching Belinda find herself and explore her identity and sexuality through her first lover is delightful and I read most of the story with a smile.
However, it does feel like the author tried to cram a novel's worth of story into a short story and the ending is both incredibly abrupt and sloppily attached to the rest of the story, making me feel like Cairo either was in a rush to finish or didn't know how to end it and just slapped something together. Either way, it puts a sour note in what was otherwise toothsomely sweet.
In an expanded version, I would've liked to have seen more of Belinda's birth and development in its earlier stages; when she first began experimenting with her identity and figuring out that Isaac was really (or mostly, since Belinda doesn't seem to identify as trans, in contrast to her friend Lisa) Belinda. I would also like to see more of what happens with Belinda after Nathaniel, that all-important redefining and re-finding of self after the first big love-affair.
Bound by the constraints of such a short story, Belinda's conflicts are quickly and easily resolved—hiding her identity from her mother, conflict or potential conflict at school if outed, finding a place to live and figuring out a life plan once she is outed and rejected by her mom. It can be handwaved because it is such a short story, but it would've been interesting to see those conflicts explored more deeply and in more detail.
On the other hand, I found it really delightful that the revelation of her full gender identity to Nathaniel turned out to be such a non-issue, even though Nathaniel identified as "bent but not gay". His open-mindedness, his naked and obvious pleasure in Belinda herself and in their sex life, his obvious care…these were all tremendously appealing qualities. As an older man (and a 'shiftless' artist, at that) picking up a young, queer cross-dresser, it could've been a much seedier and much more sordid relationship. In the wrong hands, it really would've come across as manipulative and creepy. But though I was preemptively cringing against that very eventuality, it never materialized and instead, Nathaniel turned out to be pretty much everything a first love should be. I really liked that.
As well, I liked that, though Lisa's mom is first presented to us as an alcoholic—another character that could've easily been blown into a judgmental and irrational stereotype—she's instead presented as caring and supportive in ways that Belinda's mom is definitely not. There's a unexpected richness to Cairo's characterization that was really a pleasure to read after having been burned so many times. I'd definitely be willing to look into more of Cairo's work and see if the bungled ending is an endemic authorial problem or a fluke.
And I really need to look into finding more good trans and/or crossdressing fiction.(less)
To be honest,I didn't get very far into Where The River Ends; it's folksy, aw-shucks style and weird issues with gender and illness/disability made me...moreTo be honest,I didn't get very far into Where The River Ends; it's folksy, aw-shucks style and weird issues with gender and illness/disability made me supremely uninterested in picking it up again after I'd put it down for a break from its homespun platitudes. Just not my kind of book.(less)
So on the one hand, Janey Chapel is someone I know, someone I've met, someone I admire. On the other hand, the reason I know her, have met her and adm...moreSo on the one hand, Janey Chapel is someone I know, someone I've met, someone I admire. On the other hand, the reason I know her, have met her and admire her is, initially, at least, because of her writing.
So reading Maritime Men was just as much a pleasure as I thought it was going to be.
From a writing standpoint, Chapel hits all the right notes: her characters have distinct voices and personality and the tight, terse language of her prose follows and enhances that of her characters and the world in which they live. (I feel like I have so much more to say about this, but it's tangential to the actual review) The dialogue reads naturally, sounds real.
As a reader, the chemistry between Eli and Cooper is vivid and hot, but I never feel like it's being spoon-fed to me, it's just there, for me to pick up and feel much more viscerally than if Chapel told me how Meant For Each Other these guys are. In part, this works because she created an existing (platonic) relationship for the two before changing the playing ground between them…but it wouldn't work nearly so well if Chapel wasn't so talented at writing the characters in a way that shows their existing rapport.
Very personally, I like men who act and talk like men (though what that means isn't inelastic)—especially when they're military men—which is what Chapel writes. Their communication is present, without being voluble and overwrought. There's not a lot of brow-clutching or hand-wringing. Cooper (the POV character) doesn't spend a lot of time worrying or speculating about what it all means, where it's all going, whether this is all True Love. By his own words, Cooper's a simple guy with simple wants and that comes across. Though this approach doesn't work for all stories, I felt like it did work here, fitting with the character and the situation (and the scope of the story).
And, though at 48 pages on my Nook, there's not a lot of room for deep plot, the relationship between Eli and Coop fills up the space and time beautifully. I'm glad I already have Anchors Aweigh ready to go on my Nook.(less)
I wrote a much longer review about the many things I disliked about A Summer without Rain, but I felt like it was too long for Goodreads. If you're in...moreI wrote a much longer review about the many things I disliked about A Summer without Rain, but I felt like it was too long for Goodreads. If you're interested in it, it's here: The Long Version. (warning: spoilery)
My problems with the book are threefold. Firstly, I don't particularly like yaoi style stories: overly emotional (and entirely unrealistic) pretty boys (not men) who cry (a lot) and whine (a lot) and declare their love in flowery, can't live without you soliloquies. Secondly, the story itself is badly written. This includes technical flaws like typos, grammatical and formatting errors, as well more subjective flaws such as poor dialogue, unrealistic characterization and plotting and the lack of character development or growth. And lastly, though the book is ostensibly set in Ireland of the 1920's, Gordon fails to utilize or even show adequate research for her background; it reads more like modern America from the language of the prose and dialogue to the situations and viewpoints of the various characters. Including cursory mentions of the word 'bloody' and the Black and Tans does not constitute adequate research or evocation. If I hadn't been reading the book for a specific purpose, I would have never labored through the entire thing and, at the end, I found no satisfaction for having done so. (less)
**spoiler alert** There are two things that I just don't like in my fiction: lots of crying (by men or women) and the unironic use of the word "lover"...more**spoiler alert** There are two things that I just don't like in my fiction: lots of crying (by men or women) and the unironic use of the word "lover". Live for Today has lots of both.
Unfortunately, I feel like that's only where the books problems start.
But first, a disclaimer: Live for Today is actually part of a series. It is, in fact, the final 'book' in the series. From what I've gleaned, the protagonists, Luc and Justin are only the main couple in the very first book, but it seemed like they were in the background of many or all of the rest. However, I didn't read any of the previous books in the series and so all my reactions to it are based on it as a standalone story. Reading the previous installments may have changed some of my perceptions about the book, but they wouldn't have changed them all.
First is the most obvious: I think Lynne could have given a better nod to potential new readers. Though it wasn't terribly hard to piece together the relationship between Justin and Luc, the other relationships between peripheral characters was left a lot more opaque, giving the feeling of being invited to a party where everyone already knows each other and you don't know anyone.
As I said above, this is the last book of a series of 12 books, so I both understand why this is so and I understood what I was getting in to, coming to the series so late (though I thought they were less interconnected than they apparently are), but it would've been nice if Lynne could have given a new reader a greater in.
2. The problem with stories where the couple starts out in (romantic) trouble, is that you run the risk of losing your audience before you ever get to the make-up sex. Couples in trouble are usually couples at their worst, bitter, defensive, hurting each other for the sake of hurting each other… If this is the state from which you introduce your protagonists, if this is your reader's first impression of the putative heroes, there's a high risk of your reader coming to dislike your characters for being assholes and jerks before you get a chance to show their good side and the chemistry that brought them together in the first place.
Which was definitely the case here. Having no previous history with Justin or Luc, no view of them when their relationship worked, I found them both intensely unlikeable and felt no real investment in whether their relationship would founder or resolve.
Worse, I didn't think either character got any better or more likeable as the story went on. Though Justin had the 'excuse' of his medical condition, he still read very unsympathetically, alternating between screaming high drama and tearful high drama in a way that felt vaguely abusive. On the other hand, Luc (O, saintlike Luc) seemed clearly Lynne's favorite, putting stoically up with Justin's every tantrum and put-off, grateful only to have whatever scraps of attention Justin was willing to bestow on him. But I have no fondness for martyrs and I had no fondness for Luc. More than anything, I saw him as Justin's enabler, a feeling borne out by the fact that it took another character stepping in to make Justin get his head on straight.
3. Going back to a bigger picture, I feel like the scope of the story was way too big for the time and space Lynne devoted to it. 80-some pages just isn't long enough to do justice to a relationship in crisis, the long road to recovery created by Justin's medical crisis and creating a fitting end to the series. As a result, Lynne does a lot more telling than showing (which is generally less convincing), a lot of skimming over both physical time and Justin & Luc's emotions, and a lot of reliance on cliché storytelling to crutch the story along. Trying to compact such a big story into such a short form does story and reader a disservice and it showed. More than that, for a book whose title and blurb talked about "living for today" and Justin's recovery, I felt like not enough time was given over to that motif and plotline, glossed over shallowly in favor of...nothing in particular.
4. I'm just not a fan of Lynne's writing style. That's purely personal—and subjective—but there it is. Lynne writes men who cry in pretty much every scene. No, seriously. She's continually having Luc and Justin refer to each other as 'his lover', 'his partner', 'his man', 'the man that he loves' and I find it clumsy and off-putting. Just use names, ffs! More ephemerally, I feel like there's a lack of adultness in the portrayal of Justin and Luc. Everything between them is such high drama, all screaming or tears, life or death, flouncing away from each other in a high dudgeon, or begging tearily for forgiveness. Did I mention the crying? All the crying? Yeah. And then lastly, Lynne is one of those writers who peppers her sex scenes with verbs like "sawed" and "stabbed" and "howled", which I find extremely unsexy, so I didn't even have the smut to fall back on.
I do wonder how much of my opinion would change if I'd read the entire series, or at least the first book that detailed Luc and Justin's initial romance, but the quirks that turned me off Lynne's writing seem unlikely to improve by going back to earlier books. And given how much I didn't enjoy reading this, I'm just not willing to give it a try.(less)
I found this book a great pleasure to read. The romance between the protagonists was gradual and well-built, blooming into great sweetness and a deep...moreI found this book a great pleasure to read. The romance between the protagonists was gradual and well-built, blooming into great sweetness and a deep emotional investment on my part. The secondary characters were interesting, fleshed out and real-feeling. The plot was fast-paced and interesting and I stayed up way past my bedtime reading.
I do have some minor nitpicks; in particular, Allen is not really good at clearly communicating where her characters are in space or in relation to each other, a flaw that becomes downright confusing in action sequences or in a group scene, but her strong world-building, story telling, dialogue and characterization make it a relatively minor consideration.
Less a nitpick than an observation, Allen also writes romance that's light on the smut. Her love scenes are generally fade to black or are written coyly, but I also don't think a good story requires smut, so it's more a warning for those who do like graphic and/or detailed sex scenes with their romance than a hindrance. All in all, I highly recommend Downtime for those who like sweet, plotty romance.(less)
This was a book that I wanted to like far more than I did. While the story is an interesting one--ghosts, murder, passion and romance, the author's ch...moreThis was a book that I wanted to like far more than I did. While the story is an interesting one--ghosts, murder, passion and romance, the author's choice to write her story with not only historical subject matter but with a style that harkens back to the time period made the story much less powerful than it would've been otherwise. The prose is rather purple and passive, which has the effect of taking the passion right out of the words and making it more intellectual than emotional. Because the story hinges on the passions of its characters, it lessens the whole impact of the story and while I was interested, I wasn't invested.
As well, the story's end felt rushed, especially in comparison to the slow wind up to the denouement.
Overall, it wasn't a bad read, just not a really good one and the potential for it to be a much better story is frustrating.(less)
**spoiler alert** What surprised me most about Oleander House (and pleasantly so) is how willing Blue was to put the simmering romance between Bo and...more**spoiler alert** What surprised me most about Oleander House (and pleasantly so) is how willing Blue was to put the simmering romance between Bo and Sam on the back burner, in favor of her plot. Though the romance is a strong thread throughout and feeds into the haunted house plot, the haunted house is definitely her A storyline and the romance more the subplot. More, the haunted house plot-line was (although telegraphed much earlier than it took the characters to figure it out) interesting, quick-paced, had internal logic and fed well into her romantic subplot. There was also a decent creep factor here. I love haunted house stories and there were subtle rumblings here that reminded me of Marble Hornets (not a book), or House of Leaves, or even The Haunting of Hill House. Though I think the 'resolution' of the haunted house plotline was a little weak at the end, it was still logical, dramatic and fit well with the story Blue had set up. The secondary characters were good and balanced, fleshed out and individual and the dialogue was excellent, natural and snappy as actual conversation.
On the other hand, I wasn't entirely sold on the romance angle. And this is why:
The thing is, I liked Sam. Though he did sometimes the kind of typical dumbass things you expect in a horror/paranormal story, they weren't out of character and they didn't strain the credulity of the story. They were the kind of dumbass things that people less paranoid than I would do in that kind of situation. At worst, Sam underestimated the danger he—and everyone else—were in, and that's…well, normal. And though Sam sometimes pushed his attraction to his married, supposedly straight boss in ways I thought were inappropriate and unwise, it was hard to hate, or even dislike him too much, for it, given the situation with the house and the way Bo would push back just as hard.
Which brings me to the other half of the equation: Bo. It's obvious from the text that we are supposed to feel for Bo. I mean, he's the other half of the romantic protagonists; the story doesn't really work as a romance if you don't like them as a couple. But, for me, Bo's behavior was pretty unlikeable.
I mean… I feel for anyone who is so terrified by their own sexuality that they force themself into a loveless and unfulfilling marriage in an attempt to make it go away (it never works, btw). That is indeed a kind of tragedy. On the other hand, Bo was the one who initiated the flirting, Bo was the one who made the first move by touching Sam in ways that you don't touch your employees (or even your close friends, unless you have benefits attached), and—and this is the most damning, imo—Bo is the one who continued to flirt and push, even after pushing Sam away and saying he wasn't interested, that he couldn't cheat on his wife, yadda yadda yadda…
And here I'd like to make a sidenote about a couple things that bother me a lot about modern romances and that come into play here:
1. The idea that we are helpless against attraction and, concurrently, if you have a deep attraction to someone, it is your right and duty to explore it, regardless of the consequences. Frankly, I just call bullshit on that entire idea. I feel like I could go into much greater detail about this and how much it makes me froth at the mouth, but my bottom line about it is "be a goddamn grown-up and keep it in your pants!" and I don't want to get too far off my topic.
2. The idea that, as long as no genital contact happens, it's not cheating. Now there's a certain amount of idle, meaningless flirting that I don't think is cheating. But flirting with intent, coy, covert touching, kissing, emotional infidelity…all that is definitely cheating in my mind. Fidelity is not just keeping that nickel between your knees; it's also giving away those things that should only belong to an SO, including intimacy and intimate trust.
In Oleander House, both Bo and Sam are, I think, guilty of the first and I do wish Sam had been more definitive in pushing Bo away, both in mind and deed. However, I did feel like Sam had a greater awareness than Bo that they were in commission of the second and I felt that Bo was certainly a lot more guilty of it and of being an asshole because of it.
Because here's my thing: it's one thing for Bo to be unfaithful to his wife. And bottom line, that's not okay. I don't care if the relationship is dead and vacant; you divorce or you stick with your vows. But putting that aside, I thought it was incredibly cruel and selfish for Bo to continue to tease and chase Sam, who he knew was attracted to him, after declaring that nothing could happen between them and using his marriage—and ostensible heterosexuality—as a shield to hide behind.
Attraction happens. It doesn't always happen to or with the right person, or the appropriate person or in ways we want it to. And I accept that. I think that's okay. It's what we do with that attraction that matters. And, knowing that someone is attracted to you…it's knowing where they're vulnerable. It's spotting their Achilles heel. And to use that knowledge, to manipulate the person and their attraction to you, to make yourself feel good, to give yourself the pleasure of their attraction, with no intention of following through on it…it's shitty, assholish behavior.
Bo runs hot and cold throughout the novel, pushing himself at Sam and then shoving Sam away. I know that it's a product of that same, tragic fear, but my response to that is, "Man-up, strap it on, and get a hold of yourself." It's a reason, but it's not an excuse for his behavior. It's even worse when Sam draws this behavior to Bo's attention (and speaking of, I'd like to give Blue a big round of applause there for not only acknowledging the problem, but having Sam bring it to Bo like a freaking ADULT), Bo acknowledges it…and then goes on to repeat the same behaviors. And, again, I get why Bo does it. I think it's entirely psychologically valid, especially for his character.
But it's still asshole behavior.
And, as a result, it's harder for me to be invested in a relationship between Bo and Sam, when I think Bo is kind of a jerk. What I said to the husband was this: "It succeeds as a story, but it failed as a romance."
That being said, I am willing to see where Bo and Sam go from here and to give Bo the chance to get his shit together and become a partner more 'worthy' of Sam (I feel like I want to write a whole 'nother essay about 'worthy' and 'deserving', when applied to interpersonal relationships, especially romantic ones, but that's a subject for another time). I've already bought the next three books of the series and I'm looking forward to Blue's evocative but no-nonsense prose, I'm looking forward to 'seeing' Sam (and the other characters) again and I'm looking forward to the next investigation. I think we all know I'll likely be reporting back.(less)
**spoiler alert** There's an art to short story writing. I think it's much harder than writing a novel, because a short story has such a limited space...more**spoiler alert** There's an art to short story writing. I think it's much harder than writing a novel, because a short story has such a limited space to introduce the characters and the conflict and then create a satisfying resolution. It requires a specific economy of vision and language that's hard to carry off.
Kiss Me does not carry it off.
First—and most importantly—there's no conflict. There could've been conflict. There was a set-up made for conflict—a relatively insecure photographer dating a porn star who wants a real relationship—but Craig didn't follow up on her set-up, instead penning the couple's fairly uneventful dates, where their biggest 'problem' is the unlikeable Mal's case of blue-balls when Alejandro won't put out until the third date!
Mal's insecurity about Alejandro and Alejandro's career comes briefly into play a few pages from the end—too late to create any tension or do much good—but is resolved quickly by Alejandro's heartfelt reassurances.
Which leads into my next problem: lack of realism. Okay, the entire set-up of the gorgeous photographer and the equally gorgeous porn star isn't one that reeks of realism. But. Within the boundaries of your set up, you still need to create an acceptable level of realism for your reader to swallow the tale you want to tell. A mistake that Craig makes—and one that is all too common in the genre, imo, is the lack of realism inherent in the concept of immediate trust/total communication.
Mal and Alejandro are immediately open to each other, pretty much on first contact. They look at each other and know how the other is feeling, know that the other is just as into him as he is to them. They verbally pour out their feelings to each other and confess how no one has ever made them feel like this before…pretty much on first meeting.
…and my willing suspension of disbelief comes to a crashing halt.
Real relationships are more tangled than that, more uncertain. By the time we are adults, our scars have taught us to censor what we say and to withhold total trust until said trust is earned. We might think we've glimpsed our soulmate across a crowded room, but we don't say so on first meeting…unless we want the object of our desire to think we're psycho. And if we're on the receiving end of such a declaration after first meeting…we're likely to think something is functionally wrong with the other person, up to and including psychosis.
More than that, from a writing standpoint, it's easy, lazy writing. Communication is a negotiation, it's a slow process of learning a similar but foreign language as we study the vagaries of how our partner does—or doesn't—communicate. Miscommunication is inevitable (and a good source of conflict/tension) and so when the two main characters are openly, unguardedly communicating and in total sync with each other, especially on short acquaintance, it throws me out of the story. Because relationships just ain't that easy.
Another problem I had was with characterization. Alejandro and Mal read too much alike. Though I read the story in epub format, the natural formatting of the story itself meant that there were times I wasn't sure who was talking, their voices too similar to tell them apart. (it probably didn't help that I started disinterestedly skimming about halfway through, but it was a problem before then) Other than their physical appearance, there wasn't a lot to distinguish them otherwise, either, and I felt through much of the story that Craig herself couldn't make up her mind how to characterize them—Mal, in particular.
Initially, Mal is presented to us as relatively shy and uncertain, amazed that someone as gorgeous as Alejandro would be interested in him. Later, he comes off as toppy and aggressive, driving the relationship and always pushing Alejandro for more. Then, toward the end, his uncertainty surfaces again, just in time for Alejandro to soothe it away. Too, even the presentation of his job as a photographer seems inconsistent and indecisive—first he's struggling and just starting out, then he's actually on the cusp of success and expanding his business into other states…it feels all over the place and ill thought-out.
The greatest disappointment for me is that the story did have a lot of potentiality. I liked the dynamics that put the big, buff porn star as the physical bottom of the relationship and I would've been interested in how that played with a toppy Mal if he hadn't also come off as kind of a jerk (the tantrum in the parking lot when Alejandro didn't put out on the second date REALLY turned med off). Alejandro as a successful, moderately famous porn star and Mal as a just-starting-out, 'average' guy had a lot of potential to it, from the issues of infidelity (or perceived infidelity), an income disparity, experience disparity, etc. The set up was rife with conflict threads Craig could have picked up and it was a disappointment that she didn't choose to go with any of them.
I wish Goodreads had half star ratings. I would give this a high three/low four. For the most part, the book was a lovely, entertaining read. The worl...moreI wish Goodreads had half star ratings. I would give this a high three/low four. For the most part, the book was a lovely, entertaining read. The world is one you're quick to fall into. Jack and Sutton are distinct, vividly drawn characters and you're quickly involved in them as characters and as a couple. I really liked that it didn't feel like Allen didn't rush the romance, letting it develop sweetly and naturally.
I only have two issues. One is Allen's writing and is the same problem I noticed with her previous novel, Downtime: Allen isn't great at visuals and physical orientation. I'm not always sure where her characters are: in relation to each other and in relation to the surrounding space. It's a peeve of mine; it's harder for me to enjoy the story if I have to stop and figure out where everyone is. The other issue is really more of a nitpick; though I was entirely invested in the story and enjoyed it a lot, it did feel meandering and not as tight or as focused as it could have been. In both cases, neither was a dealbreaker, and I still found it a highly enjoyable read; enough to give it 4 stars. (less)
In recent years, I have not really been a vampire fan. It's a truth that's hard to spot, given that I continue to read the Anita Blake and the Souther...moreIn recent years, I have not really been a vampire fan. It's a truth that's hard to spot, given that I continue to read the Anita Blake and the Southern Vampire books and True Blood is still appointment watching for me, but it's true, even so. A good story will always suck me in, but a vamp story will seldom get a second look from me to even find out if it's good.
Which is why it was both a surprise and delight that I enjoyed reading Jordan Castillo Price's Channeling Morpheus for Scary Mary so much. Though I generally try to approach all books with an open mind and heart, I'll confess that I came to this one really expecting to dislike it. I haven't had the best of look finding m/m books that I enjoy, lately, and between the vamp thing and everything else, I was feeling pretty cynical about the whole thing. So JCP had a lot of prejudice on my part to overcome and the fact that I did enjoy the book as much as I did is a testament to how hard JCP worked to involve and enmesh me in the world she'd created. Successfully.
I think I might have felt somewhat less satisfied, as a reader, if I hadn't come into the book knowing that it was an omnibus of five novellas that had been published separated; read as a single whole, there was some transitional choppiness from one novella to the next and that could've been confusing and/or irritating if I hadn't come in with that previous knowledge.
I also thought that Wild Bill felt like a pretty blatant Spike (BtVS) rip-off, look to feel. But neither of those really minor mental stumbles was enough to overshadow the story that Price was telling or my interest in it.
I liked Michael; he was the right balance of bravado and vulnerable for his age and character; his stubbornness and determination, even when scared and in over his head (which he frequently was) won me over. He didn't spend a lot of time hand-wringing and brow-clutching; he was always very action-oriented, practical and yet, not afraid to cop to his feelings or to let himself be protected or feel protected when necessary. I liked Bill, who was not an all-seeing, all-knowing slick Euro-vamp, but instead a being trapped physiologically—and arguably mentally—at an age not much older than Michael and just as scared and uncertain beneath a similar veneer of jaded bravado.
Though each novella was, perhaps, fairly predictable, I never had a strong sense of where the greater story arc was going and I love that uncertainty. I don't want to be certain of where the story is going and, though I felt reasonably sure that Michael and Bill would end up happy in the for-now sense of an HEA, I was entirely interested in how that would happen and how that happiness would be engineered.
On the other hand, I do wish Price had taken the time to perhaps flesh out each story a little more. The character of Mary is, in theory, so integral to Michael; his best (and seemingly, only) friend, the one from whose death all Michael's subsequent actions spring. She felt like a gun on the table that was underused. Not that I would've wanted Mary to show up as a vamp later; I think that would've been trite and overdone. But I think I would've liked to have seen more of who Michael was, and that would've required Mary.
Which leads into my next thought; though I loved the book and I loved Michael and Bill, I felt like JCP's vision was a little myopic when it came to anyone outside of them. Other people were only characterized thinly, shallowly, and Price's prose—which was otherwise blunt and interesting—seemed to fall down and become more confused when she was juggling more than two characters. More than once, I felt confused as to what was physically happening and though I could piece it together, it stood out from the rest of the time, when she painted the picture of Michael and Bill so vividly.
I think most of all, I really loved Price's voice for the book and her style in general. It was blunt and unsentimental while still being emotional. It read perfectly for the characters and for the overall tenor of the book. There was a palpable sense of both Bill and Michael's isolation and their fringe existence—separately and together—set apart from the bright teem of 'normal' society. There was an equally vivid sense of how both Bill and Michael were looking for connection while simultaneously—especially in Bill's case—being afraid of it. Those emotions are not things a reader—or, more fairly, I, as a reader, want to be told. They're things that need to come through relatively sub-textually, through voice and setting and action and I felt like Price nailed it.
More, I felt a real and present sense of regret when I reached the end of the book, wanting to read more, know more, see more. There's nothing better or more satisfying that an author can do for me. (less)
The short review is that I very much liked Bound and Determined by Jane Davitt and Alexa Snow and, though the BDSM elements mean that it won't be to e...moreThe short review is that I very much liked Bound and Determined by Jane Davitt and Alexa Snow and, though the BDSM elements mean that it won't be to everyone's taste, I do highly recommend it. You know a book is good when you keep pausing your video game to read just a few pages further.
B&D is the story of Sterling, a college student just starting to figure out that he's a submissive and into kink, and Owen, a college professor Dom with a fearsome (in a good way) reputation. Thankfully, Davitt & Snow sidestep the potential pitfall of the double power imbalance by making sure that Owen is not (currently) one of Sterling's teachers, a thoughtful lightness of touch that I would say characterizes the entire story.
As well—and as mentioned above—the book revolves around Sterlings discovery of and education in the world of BDSM. It's a (beloved) cliché trope, one that has the potential to go wrong in so many ways. If you're at all into BDSM stories, you know what I'm talking about: the authors that get the kink all wrong, the stories that feel like the exposition and explanations were pulled straight from Wikipedia, the authors that sacrifice interesting and dimensional characterization to lavish all their attention on the kink…the list goes on and on of the ways a BDSM book can turn into a disaster and I really liked and respect the way Davitt and Snow bypass those pitfalls.
Despite Sterling's relative youth, and periodic age-appropriate behavior, Sterling and Owen are adults—and thinking adults, at that. Though Sterling sometimes acts rashly and Owen sometimes has his head up his ass, it's never out of character and it's never childish, or stupid; they read as real, human flaws.
The kink itself reads as detailed and knowledgeable without coming across as boring or anvilicious. Sterling and Owen spend a lot of time in discussion—what they're going to do, what they're feeling about it, fears, turn-ons, post-mortems—but Davitt and Snow do a really excellent job of incorporating it within the action and spreading it out in natural sounding dialogue so that it never felt onerous or dull. Quite the opposite; they did a really excellent job of infusing the prose with Sterling's sense of wonder, Owen's pleasure and their mutual sense of desire. Though a Dom/sub relationship is one that plays with power, I never felt as though Owen didn't respect or didn't care about Sterling or that Sterling was without agency in the relationship.
As characters, I liked both Owen and Sterling. They were different and distinct from each other, had a dimensionality to them that felt unforced and real and I found them both to be interesting people. I do wish we'd gotten a little more of Owen; it felt like there was more back story to his relationship with his (dead) parents and, other than his relationship with Michael, we don't know much about him at all, but it wasn't something I noticed except in retrospect and Davitt and Snow had their hands full with Sterling's history with his family and his journey through the story, so I can't really blame either of them for giving us less of Owen in the interests of keeping the story as tight and smoothly flowing as they did.
The ending stands up well to the rest of the story, which is always an important point for me; a bad ending can seriously sour an otherwise excellent story. It didn't feel rushed, it felt like a natural extension of the story the authors had set up and it delivered on the story's promise. All in all, a really delightful read that I'm sure will become an equally delightful re-read. (less)
**spoiler alert** I'm sure I'll have a longer review up on my blog at some point, but the short version is that I didn't enjoy this book at all. I tho...more**spoiler alert** I'm sure I'll have a longer review up on my blog at some point, but the short version is that I didn't enjoy this book at all. I thought it was terrible on a number of levels and if I could give it a zero star rating, I would've.
From a technical standpoint, the dialogue was stilted, the prose was exposition heavy and excruciatingly detailed in the way the author needed to describe every piece of furniture in every room, every garment each protagonist wore, every feature of the cars they drove... I felt like she should have gotten paid for product placement ads. The POV was all over the place, changing midscene, adding the POV of random characters for a page or three paragraphs...never to be heard from again. As well, the secondary characters themselves were one-dimensional and one-note (the protective brother, the fat, sweaty bigot, the record producer with a heart of gold) and the plot was contrived, cliche and hinged on ridiculously overwrought drama. The characters had no growth, perfect people and a perfect couple besieged by the world around them, rather than their own issues and problems. And the constant inclusion of song lyrics throughout the text was just painful to read. Don't even get me started on the female bashing that was prevalent throughout the entire book.
Another deal-breaker was the denouement. After having spent the first two hundred pages of the book illustrating in excruciating detail how perfectly, psychically, emotionally and mentally attuned Evan and Jesse were, it was just bad writing to have their relationship crisis hang on Evan breaking up with Jesse 'for his own good' and not have Jesse see through it and to have Jesse suddenly paralyzed by doubt with a relationship that was rock solid up until that moment. Frost then proceeds to undermine their break up at every step with the way they can't leave each other alone, continue to declare their feelings about each other and start pining themselves into the grave before a hasty and anticlimactic get-back-together forty pages later.
And then, from a personal standpoint, I don't like insta-romances, where the characters fall in love at first sight and are declaring their love within hours or mere days of first meeting each other. It's a valid story telling archetype and lots of people love it, but I am not one of them. I want chemistry and people WORKING for their relationship and all the realistic hesitancy and miscommunication and dramatic tension that goes along with it. This was not the book for me.(less)