This, the second book in LB Gregg's Men of Smithfied series, begins just as explosively as the last book. Our hero Seth is stressed. He has a high pow...moreThis, the second book in LB Gregg's Men of Smithfied series, begins just as explosively as the last book. Our hero Seth is stressed. He has a high powered job, plus he is grieving for his twin sister, who died of cancer three months prior to the start of the book, and who left him the guardian of her six year old daughter, Molly. When we first meet him he is waiting for his weekly massage. His usual masseur is not able to come and the replacement is David, who is so skilled that Seth becomes rather *ahem* overheated, much to David's complete outrage. Later that day, Seth sees David again, waiting tables at a bar/restaurant. There's attraction but also antagonism between them as they try to hook up, sort out Seth's many misconceptions and deal with ex-lovers, stalkers and Molly's biological father.
I liked Seth, really liked him. He was, to be honest, a bit of a bastard. When we meet him at the beginning he seems your typical selfish Alpha male, but he has also has a number of things going for him. Firstly, he's trying his best to look after Molly, even whilst trying to cope with his own grief. He's endearingly clueless about how to look after children and treats Molly a bit like a mini adult, but I liked how he really did care for her and wanted what was in her best interests, even if it didn't tally with his own. Secondly, he genuinely loved his sister and grieves her loss. He spent the last few months of his sister's life caring for her at the expense of a long term relationship with someone he loved. Finally, he's honest and upfront with people. He doesn't mince his words, which sometimes makes him seem abrupt, but I liked how he wasn't prepared to lie or hide the truth. David wasn't so clearly defined. In fact he came across as a bit too good to be true and even his inexplicable temper tantrums weren't enough to change the fact that he was rather too perfect. However, I did understand that David was supposed to be the polar opposite to Seth and therefore balance him out.
This was a fast paced read, full of LB Gregg's trademark humour and wit. If I have any complaints it's that there was a little too much crammed into this short novella and as a result the ending was rather rushed, even if I did see it coming pages before it happened. Having said that, I read this compulsively from start to finish and was satisfied when I closed the book. I didn't like this book as much as Gobsmacked, but it was still a good read, meaning this book gets a grade of 'Very Good' from me.(less)
I have a pretty strange sense of humour. I like silly visual gags and people who are in potentially embarrassing situations. With that in mind, the op...moreI have a pretty strange sense of humour. I like silly visual gags and people who are in potentially embarrassing situations. With that in mind, the opening chapter of this novella hit all my funny buttons and I laughed out loud. I mean, how could you not laugh when a gay man storms into a Catholic church during an Ash Wednesday mass, denounces his lover as a cheat and liar and proceeds to hit him over the head with a bible? It certainly got my attention, that’s for sure.
The gay man in question is our hero and narrator, Mark. Earlier that morning he discovered his live-in lover, Jamie, in bed with the landlord. The rest of the book follows Mark over the next 3 days as he comes to terms with his lover’s betrayal, makes more discoveries about Jamie, before finding that his perfect man was actually under his nose the whole time. The book is basically about relationships: The ending of one relationship and the start of another; the relationships between Mark and the townspeople of Smithfield; the relationships within families. This all takes place within the slightly oppressive atmosphere of a small town in the depths of winter.
I have to admit I had very mixed feelings about Mark. At first I had a great deal of sympathy for him as he realises the extent of Jamie’s betrayal. However, as I got to know Mark better, I began to see how really self-absorbed he is, to the extent that he has behaved quite selfishly in the past. Mark is also very reactive, as can be seen from the opening chapter. He doesn’t seem to think things through very clearly before acting, which then leads to further trouble later on. Even a simple thing like a misplaced remark has him over-reacting and on a number of occasions I wanted to give him a bit of a shake and tell him to climb out of his own arse. Having said that, he does redeem himself by the end and part of my delight in this book was watching Mark come to realise what an idiot he has been. I am hoping that my reaction to Mark is one that the author was hoping for. At least I had a reaction.
In contrast, the other hero, Tony, is very reliable. He’s strong, dependable, sensible and thoughtful. The complete opposite to Mark and just what Mark needs during the few days where his life is turned upside down. Tony reminded me very much of a certain LA cop, except that he is firmly out of the closet – but that was no bad thing. I liked that it was obvious to the reader that Tony was attracted to Mark – even if Mark couldn’t see it himself – and that Tony was man enough to admit his mistakes, even before Mark wised up to his own mistakes.
One plus point for me was the setting. The snowy winter in New England was a perfect counterpoint to the warmth of the people who live there. I have a special fondness for NE, having visited a few times (once in a very cold March) and the people there are very similar in temperament to my native Yorkshire. The secondary characters, especially Mark’s family, didn’t appear very often, but when they did, there was a real sense of love and commitment to each other. The descriptions of the cold environment, especially in the scenes at the end of the book, gave depth to the book and emphasised the importance of the setting within the story.
I really enjoyed this novella. It was a smooth, fast paced read with some lovely use of descriptive language. There was no overblown prose here, everything was written for a reason – as should be the case in such a short medium as a novella. Despite my reaction to Mark, I can see that this is a superb effort from a first time author and I’m giving it a grade of ‘Excellent’. I very much look forward to the next in this series. Oh, and that was another great thing, there were no scenes setting up the next heroes in the series. The whole book was focused solely on Mark and Tony and their relationship. Bonus!(less)
The opening scenes in this book perfectly set the tone for what is to come. We meet Freeman, our enigmatic hero, sitting in a seedy club, nursing a be...moreThe opening scenes in this book perfectly set the tone for what is to come. We meet Freeman, our enigmatic hero, sitting in a seedy club, nursing a beer whilst watching a young man give the club’s owner a reluctant blow job. In fact the book reminded me very much of a British gangster film. It has all the classic characters: The dodgy businessman; the heavy muscle bodyguards; the handsome right hand man; the put-upon wife; the not-so-innocent young man; the honourable hero. Much of the book takes place in seedy clubs, back alleys, warehouses or in Freeman’s flat and nearly all the action takes place at night or in dark places. This lent a claustrophobic air to the whole book adding to the sense that everyone is trapped somehow by circumstance. Alongside this we are given the wry, bleakly humourous observations of Freeman, our first person narrator.
In fact this whole book hinges on the character of Freeman, but he’s a sneaky narrator. I got to the end of the book and realised that I still knew next to nothing about him. We never find out what his job actually entails, or his background, or even too much about his past. We have to glean all information through the odd offhand remark or throw-a-way comment; through inference rather than being told directly. It’s a long time since I’ve been made to work so hard for a character and I have to admit I found it a refreshing change. Added to this is the knowledge that Freeman is also an unreliable narrator. He deliberately hides important information from us, just as he does the other characters, letting us see what he wants us to see, so that at certain points of the book I was as surprised as the other characters when he chose to reveal what he’d been doing. Freeman isn’t perfect though, he is completely aware of his own failings as a person, especially his inability to open up to others or to hold a conversation.
In contrast to Freeman we have Kit. Kit is young, impulsive, selfish, proud and a magnet for trouble. Much of his behaviour can be attributed to his youth and a certain naivety. He’s managed to get himself caught up in a life of lies, drugs and prostitution, yet remains wholly optimistic that he could walk away from it at any time. He appealed to all my maternal instincts which wanted to take him home and feed him as well as give him a slap round the back of the head for being a fool. Freeman is attracted to Kit but for various reasons can’t act upon that attraction, mostly at first because he initially feels Kit only wants him out of a sense of obligation. Eventually, Kit is able to convince Freeman that he feels more than just grateful for his help, and they have tender, beautiful sex. Clare London always writes a great sex scene and this was no exception as she combined emotion with a good dose of reality, showing that sex can be clumsy as well as hot.
It’s very difficult to explain any part of the plot of Freeman without giving away spoilers. The reader is drip-fed information throughout the book and it’s not until a climactic scene towards the end that all is finally revealed. I have to admit I was completely fooled by the mystery and I hadn’t guessed at all what was going on so this was just a great scene for me where I sat, openmouthed as all was revealed. Actually, this scene links with the first point about the book being part of a gangster film as it was very stagy. All the characters had their positions and as each new aspect of the mystery was uncovered we were shown the reactions of the people in the room, like a camera focusing on them to gauge their reactions. Marvellous.
This book won’t be to everyone’s taste; for a start it was very dark, with only occasional black humour to lighten it. Everyone in the book is hiding something both from each other and the reader, which is quite disorientating, but also means that the characters are complex and, well, very human. There is a pervasive sense of hopelessness throughout the whole book and even the HEA doesn’t wholly dispel that feeling. Clare London’s prose can only be described as sparse, pared down to the bone and stripped of all unnecessary description – both in terms of character’s feelings and setting – so those of you who enjoy lush, overblown descriptions may find this rather disconcerting. These were some of the things that I liked about the book, things that made it a bit different from the usual m/m read. However, those of you who like your romance to be sweet and fluffy won’t like this book at all.
Along with everything I have said above, there is Clare London’s exquisite writing. Her vivid descriptions of the seedy underbelly of the city, the rank, fetid places where nice people just don’t go and the creation of this calm, cold, yet utterly sympathetic hero makes this one of the most unusual, interesting books I’ve read in a while. I highly recommend that you read this book and I salute the author for being brave enough to write something so refreshingly distinct.(less)
The book is basically a ‘straight to gay’ storyline which is a theme that Jet Mykles has used a lot, especially with the Heaven Sent books. However, w...moreThe book is basically a ‘straight to gay’ storyline which is a theme that Jet Mykles has used a lot, especially with the Heaven Sent books. However, whereas previously we have had the books written from the point of view of the supposed straight guy, this time the hero is Steven, the gay guy. Steven meets Devon, a young straight man, when he moves into the same apartment block as Steven. Steven takes Devon under his wing and, along with his neighbour, Patty, looks after Devon whilst he is finding his feet. Steven is very attracted to Devon as he pushes all Steven’s ‘gorgeous young guy’ buttons and much fun is had by the reader at Steven’s expense as we watch him trying desperately to keep control of his rampaging hormones whilst around Devon. The scene where Steven has to go into Devon’s apartment to wake him up is particularly delicious.
I liked Steven a great deal. He is a kind-hearted man, and perhaps at first I thought a little too kind-hearted. He is also very honourable, putting the needs of others before himself and trying to deny his growing attraction to Devon because he didn’t want to jeopardise their friendship. I was less sure about the character of Devon at first. I thought that he took a bit too much advantage of Steven’s generous nature, although this could have been put down to the usual thoughtlessness of young men just away from home for the first time, plus he was a bit of a slacker. However, by the end of the book Devon had redeemed himself and I think had become a more mature adult as a result of Steven’s influence. The only other character was Patty, the fag-hag neighbour. Even though she was described as white with blonde hair, my brain insisted in seeing her as a black woman. I have no idea why, except that she spoke with a cadence which reminded me of Whoopee Goldberg so maybe that put the picture in my head.
I spent a very pleasant couple of hours with these characters. I liked the fact that we saw the ‘straight to gay’ storyline from the gay man’s viewpoint; I liked that there was character growth on the part of both heroes, with Devon learning to stand on his own two feet and Steven learning to trust that Devon wasn’t going to run out on him; I liked the sex scenes which were emotionally fulfilling as well as hot. However, when I got to the end I was vaguely dissatisfied. I wished that the story had been longer; that there had been some scenes where Devon and Steven really talked, especially about past hurts on both sides. There was a lot of information thrown in almost as an aside, such as the problems Devon had with his family and the disappointments Steven had suffered with men in the past and the book would have been more substantial (in page and emotional terms) had those themes been given more of an airing. With that in mind, I’m giving this book a grade of ‘Very Good’. (less)
**spoiler alert** How do you know that the book you are reading is something special?
For me it's by one of two different ways of reading. I either can...more**spoiler alert** How do you know that the book you are reading is something special?
For me it's by one of two different ways of reading. I either cannot put the book down; have to finish it; read to the exclusion of everything until it's over and I surface, blinking into the world or I savour the book by reading it in chunks; taking my time; thinking about the book when I'm not reading it; wake up in the morning to the happy thought that I've more of the book to read; feel sad when it's done, like I've lost a good friend.
I read this book the second way, taking over three days to read it - which is very unusual for me.
I wanted to write a review on this great book, spread the word and tell everyone what a wonderful experience reading this book is. However, after spending a couple of days with bits of a review going round my head, I've realised that I can't write a review without including spoilers, can't describe why I loved this book so much without discussing major plot and character developments and I don't want to do that.
Instead, I'm going to talk about two things in this book which struck me as unusual and which added to my enjoyment of the book as a whole. I think I can do this without giving anything away.
Firstly, the characters.
Like most books, Mitchell introduces us to the characters of Aaron and Joey early on and as a reader, I was left to make judgements about them. Nothing unusual there. However, as the book progressed I realised that the first impressions I got of these characters were actually not quite right. It's not that the characters changed or developed away from my initial assessment of them, but rather that my assumptions about them were wrong, and proved to be wrong later in the book. I hope I'm describing this in a way you can understand! It's actually a bit like real life when you meet someone new for the first time - you make very quick assumptions based on their looks and what they say to you at that first meeting. However, when you get to know someone better, they can be quite different from that first impression. This just blew me away when I realised what Mitchell had done. It was so clever and very unusual.
Secondly, the sex.
I've mentioned before how I get very bored with books which contain multiple sex scenes and can even get to the point of exasperation, wondering whether the book will ever get back to the plot. Well, in this book the sex was central to the plot. Each sex scene (and there were numerous) was written to show either something about one of the characters or something about their growing relationship. At no point did I feel bored or fed up with all the sex, in fact I found myself looking forward to the next sex scene to see what would be revealed next. Again, I was amazed when I realised what was happening.
I urge anyone reading this to go out and buy this book. Even now, three days later, I'm still thinking about parts of it - again the sign of an outstanding book. I'm giving it a grade of 'Excellent', but to be honest, Collision Course goes beyond that grade.(less)
I decided to buy this short story from Samhain and I'm very glad that I did. It's the summer and John is in his first job since leaving College. His c...moreI decided to buy this short story from Samhain and I'm very glad that I did. It's the summer and John is in his first job since leaving College. His car's in the garage so he walks into a nearby diner for lunch where he meets Keith who is spending the summer working at a waiter to pay his way through College. John and Keith hit it off straight away both in their interactions and their sexual chemistry. Keith, however, doesn't want to end up as a notch in John's bedpost so he makes him wait. The result is both tender and explosive. I've mentioned before that I like this author's style of writing and this story complemented his descriptive style: I could feel the heat of summer soaking through the entire story and I felt deeply the frustration of John as he faced his first summer in a job, unable to go and enjoy himself at the beach as he had done in previous years. In many way this was a story about growing up and learning how to be an adult as much as a love story. Both John and Keith were believable, well rounded characters and I was entirely satisfied with the ending. Overall, this was an interesting and engrossing read with a grade of 'Excellent' and I'm going to look out for more published works by this author.(less)
I have to admit I have a bit of a soft spot for pasty, thin, black haired goth boys so this story sounded just my thing. It was. Adam is a straight la...moreI have to admit I have a bit of a soft spot for pasty, thin, black haired goth boys so this story sounded just my thing. It was. Adam is a straight laced college student who gets on better with older adults than people his own age. He's working for the summer at a water park when he meets Buzz. Buzz is the opposite of everything Adam usually finds attractive. He's a goth, he calls him 'dude' and listens to noisy bands. Buzz comes on strongly but Adam resists him for a month, growing closer and more fond of him the whole time. When they do come together it's delightful and explosive.
I liked the witty, outgoing Buzz and thought that he and Adam worked well as a couple. I also enjoyed the ramped up sexual tension between them and the way they were so openly affectionate with one another. The only slight niggle I had was a case of a disappearing bottle (you'll have to read it to see what I mean) but that wasn't enough to spoil my enjoyment of this great short story.(less)
This anthology consists of three novellas all along the theme of cross dressing. Those of you who know me will know that I like my gay men to be, well...moreThis anthology consists of three novellas all along the theme of cross dressing. Those of you who know me will know that I like my gay men to be, well, manly, so theoretically, I should be turned off by stories about men dressing up as women. Let's just say, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed these stories.
I shall write a bit about each one in turn.
About Something by Jet Mykles Shawn is a student in the final year of a Drama degree. His professor is a young, well respected director, Roscoe, who has cast Shawn as Benedict in a production of Much Ado About Nothing. Early on in the rehearsals, Roscoe asks Shawn to swap roles with the actress playing Beatrice, as the director feels that Shawn would be better in a female role. At first Shawn is horrified: He knows that he is small and looks effeminate and has strived for most of his teenage years to project a more butch image and take on the overly masculine roles in theatre class. Roscoe convinces Shawn that he should play to his strengths and so he finally accepts the role of Beatrice. Alongside this is Shawn's gradual realisation that he is attracted to his Professor which releases deeply repressed feelings for other men as well. This, coupled with Shawn actually enjoying dressing up as a woman, leads to him opening up to possibility that he might be bisexual.
This was my favourite story out of the anthology. I liked Shawn and the feeling of empowerment that he felt when he embraced his sexuality and how comfortable he felt wearing women's clothing. I also liked his confidence in approaching his Professor and his pragmatism in adjusting to his growing feelings for Roscoe. There were a couple of issues: Firstly the novella ended quite suddenly and I would have liked to have seen more of the reunion between Shawn and Roscoe, and secondly, Shawn was an 'all or nothing' type of guy, changing his wardrobe and sexuality very quickly and yet there was no fall out as a result of this. None of his friends seemed to mind, quite the opposite in fact, nor was he taunted or troubled by other students which seemed rather unrealistic to me. However, these were minor issues in relation to a well written romance, containing a touch of yaoi and tonnes of Jet Mykles' cheeky humour so gets a 'Very Good' rating.
Sometimes Life's a Drag by JP Bowie This London set tale of blackmail, murder and stalking is firmly played for laughs with a cast of what seems like thousands. Our hero, Patrick, wins the part of singer in a cabaret act which is the vehicle for fading star drag queen, Kenny La Fontaine. Kenny is a vicious bitch who rules his cabaret club by sacking whoever gets in his way and playing on his dubious star connections to get what he wants. However, Kenny is being blackmailed by a former lover, who is then murdered whilst collecting the blackmail money. Suspicion falls on Kenny, but it all seems too obvious to be true. Added onto this is Kenny's stalker who silently watches him wherever he goes. The policeman investigating the blackmail and murder case is Ian Bannister. Kenny is attracted to Ian, but Ian is attracted to Patrick. Thus begins a completely camp and farcical turn of events involving lots of bitching, screaming, loving and general mayhem.
It was all a bit over the top for my liking, even if the characters were probably true representations of the sort of people you would meet behind the scenes at a drag queen cabaret club. All the characters speak in a British accent very reminiscent of the 1950s Ealing comedies, which isn't particularly in line with how Londoners speak today and, to be honest, got on my nerves a bit. Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad for those readers outside the UK, who would probably think some of the British phrases are quite cute, but I just got a bit irritated by it. As well as this, many of the characters are not particularly likable especially the poisonous Kenny who gets almost as much page time as the two heroes. An interesting look at backstage shenanigans which gains a grade of 'Good'.
Woman's Weeds by Kimberley Gardner This story was an interesting romance between David, the director of a small community theatre company and Keiran, an actor who auditions and gets the role of Viola in Twelfth Night. The story focuses almost entirely on this pair and especially how Keiran's love of dressing in women's underwear and clothing impacts on this relationship. There are a couple of other things thrown in, such as whether the theatre company has to compromise its casting in order to attract funding and a jealous ex-boyfriend, but mostly it's about the attraction between David and Keiran . David has not met a cross-dresser before and Keiran is nervous about telling David about his cross dressing because most gay men find it a turn off. Out of the two men, I liked Keiran the most and I felt the author had done a good job in making him a sympathetic character and showing how dressing as a woman made him feel. David was a little less rounded but I liked the way that his reaction to Keiran's cross dressing was developed throughout the story. The only main annoyance with the story was that again it finished quite abruptly and that I also found the character of David's sister a little irritating at times. Mainly though this was a lovely romance with an added cross dressing twist so gets a grade of 'Very Good'.
Overall, I enjoyed this anthology. The stories were all quite different from each other, despite all being on the theme of the theatre and cross dressing. So did it make me change my mind about my 'manly' men? Not really, but it did give me an insight into why men might choose to dress in women's clothing.(less)