In terms of m/m publishing this book is a bit of an oldie, having been published in 2007. However, I'm slowly working my way through Clare's backlistIn terms of m/m publishing this book is a bit of an oldie, having been published in 2007. However, I'm slowly working my way through Clare's backlist and came across this when I was looking for a book to spend my reward voucher on at Books on Board. Now, I have to admit, I did something a bit out of character for me when I bought this. I didn't look to see what the book was actually about. I saw the book was by Clare London and thought 'oh, her books and stories are always fabulous' and bought it unseen, as it were. A bit of a risk, I suppose, but I reckoned that Clare wouldn't let me down - and I wasn't disappointed.
I was a bit surprised then, when I discovered that this book is actually a set of four short stories, each having a paranormal theme. That is about where the similarity ends as Clare shows us in each of these stories just what a versatile author she really is. I'm going to take each story in turn.
Bonded This story is written in the first person and takes the viewpoint of a rich, handsome, spoiled chancellor of an unknown country set sometime in the past, possibly medieval. As the story begins he is brought a young, ragged man, named Oriel. Oriel has special powers - once he touches someone they have their greatest need fulfilled. He is a traveller who moves throughout the land, staying with people and helping them in return for shelter and food. The chancellor, Charis, is immediately attracted to Oriel and they begin a relationship. The joy of this book was watching the way that Charis changed from a jaded, wholly self-centred anti-hero, into someone that would risk his life for the gentle Oriel.
Trickery This book was also set in the medieval period but has a very different feel to the first story. This is a comedy which follows two hapless squires searching a tower for their royal master who has gone missing. The story is full of silly and sly humour, both at the expense of the squires as well as at the genre. Rapunzel it is not! It reminded me greatly of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".
Possession This was a horror story set in the Victorian age and told in an interesting mix of first and third person. The hero is the owner of an auction house which is gradually failing. A mysterious buyer comes forward and offers to sell some priceless rubies at the auction house, thus saving the flagging business, but only on the condition that he deals with Lucas in person. At the same time, Lucas is plagued by disturbing dreams where he is visited by a male lover. These dreams disgust and entice Lucas, especially as he is fighting an attraction to his best friend, Valentine. This story was genuinely creepy, particularly in the scenes with the mysterious buyer. The ending was a real shocker!
Threadbare This was my favourite story. Written in the first person from the point of view of Victorian mill owner, Edward, it involves his sweet relationship with a mill worker called Mori. Mori is a mysterious young man who is the leader of a small group of mill workers who work hard and produce fine cloth. In their spare time they weave an intricate tapestry, each taking turns to add to it. One by one, illness or accident carries off the workers in this group until only Mori is left to complete the tapestry. I can't say too much about this story without giving away spoilers but by the end my heart ached.
Each story is written in Clare's beautifully evocative prose. She is a master (or is that mistress?)of understated emotion, using a few words concisely to show us how the the characters are feeling. Take this passage from "Threadbare".
I just liked to watch him sleeping, surrounded by large, thick pillows that cossetted him, embracing him in their soft shell. I liked the way he stirred in his secret dreams, his eyes flickering under his lids, and his delicate hand clasping at the coverlet. I liked to see his dark hair spread on the white linen, and his legs tangled among the crumpled sheets. I liked the smile on his face when he eventually woke to find me still there.
In one short passage, the author has managed to convey all the pride, protectiveness, sensuality and love that Edward feels for Mori. Beautiful.
This anthology made me experience a whole breadth of emotion: From laughter to tears; from hate to love. It was at times surprising, breathtaking, horrifying and exciting. I highly recommend you read this book and I give it a grade of 'Excellent'. ...more
The book is a set of six m/m short stories. Each story contains a similar theme, in that the heroes are brought together by the action of a third partThe book is a set of six m/m short stories. Each story contains a similar theme, in that the heroes are brought together by the action of a third party who is sometimes a friend, sometimes not. I'll take each story briefly in turn.
The Perfect Match by Jaelyn Storm This is a paranormal story set in the 1920s. It was a bit of a surprise to be honest, as I thought all the stories were going to be contemporaries. The author makes a good attempt at utilising the language style and vocabulary of the time but this ultimately kept me at a distance from the story. The premise is that our hero, Adam, is lured out by a 'flapper', drugged and then brought to her 'master' as a birthday present. The story is told in the first person from Adam's POV, which worked well as we get to see his feelings develop towards Viktor. On the other hand, the fact that it was a short story meant that Adam fell in love too quickly (in the space of a week) and that left me with doubts about the HEA - this made me wonder about the rest of the anthology and how believable the other HEAs would be. This was the weakest story in the anthology, which is a shame because I liked the initial setting and idea.
Crash and Burn by Catt Ford This story is based around a blind date. Rafael is set up on a double date with Peter and they hate each other from the beginning. Due to various circumstances they get snowed in together where they find common ground and the romance goes from there. I enjoyed this story at the beginning when the two men argued quite viciously with each other. You could tell there was a spark there and that it would lead to mutual passion. However, once again the short story format didn't work with the characterisation as the change in Raf happens too quickly. One minute he's angry and bad tempered and the next he's a completely different person. The HEA was believable though - there were no declarations of love but a willingness to carry on and see how the relationship worked.
Third Time's a Charm by Chrissy Munder This was my favourite story in the anthology. It was a really sweet tale of doctor Nick and construction worker John who meet when John brings one of his workmen to the clinic where Nick works. John wants to ask Nick out but feels as a blue collar worker he is somehow 'beneath' Nick. When John does ask Nick out, Nick turns him down because he is too busy with his work for a relationship. It takes a crisis on the construction site to bring the two together. The only negative point I have about the story is that Nick's excuse for not seeing John is a bit flimsy. Other than that, this is a well written story with believable characters. Once again we are left at the end with a promise of things to come, in fact I wished that the story were longer as I wanted to take some of that journey with them - the mark of a good story.
Dear Alex by Clare London In this story Ms London has been very brave by writing her first person narrator, Alex, as a bit of an anti-hero. Alex was very difficult to like at first but, through some very good plotting, he does change (or perhaps change back) into someone rather likeable after all. My only quibble would be that the other hero, Robbie, is a bit too nice. The plot centres on our two heroes who work for a gay 'agony aunt' magazine column titled 'Dear Alex'. The two men have had a relationship in the past which was broken off by a very selfish Alex. I really enjoyed this 'second chance at love' story and Alex's gradual realisation that he had turned into someone quite unpleasant was wonderful to read.
How to Woo a Straight Man by Jaymz ConnellyI was a bit confused as to where this book was set. The words used made me think that it was set in England at first, but then I would occasionally come across the odd Americanism. This then made me think that the book was written by an American who hadn't done their research properly. It was only when I reached the end of the story and read the author blurb that it became clear - Ms Connelly is Australian. I wish she had made the setting clearer in her story - used a city name for example, as the language inconsistencies kept pulling me out of the story. The story revolves around Chris who leaves a night club on his own and is attacked by three homophobic skin heads. He is rescued by Vic, who takes him to the hospital and then sees him home safely. Vic is straight but starts to have feelings for Chris as their relationship develops over the next few weeks. I think we can all see what happens next. I'm not such a big fan of the 'I'm straight, oh no I'm attracted to this man, I must be gay' story line, but this was handled very well and I did believe that the two men would be happy together.
Three on a Match by Nicki Bennett The final story in the anthology was another great story. The main problem I had with it was the choice of name for the lead character. The main hero is called Burk. Now, in the UK, a 'berk' is a gentle insult for someone who is stupid or clumsy. You can imagine my disbelief when I had to apply that word (albeit spelled differently) to a hero. Burk is descended from German immigrants - hence the name - but it still pulled me right out of the story every time I read it. The story itself is a lovely story of a very shy man whose friend puts his details (with a pseudonym) into the gay dating agency site where they both work. Burk is attracted to the man who runs the company, Adrian, and cannot believe it when Adrian himself contacts him. I also liked that what could have been a very awkward 'big misunderstanding' was handled sensitively. The story was very enjoyable and was my joint second favourite with 'Dear Alex'.
I've written more than I meant to about each story. I hope I haven't bored you too much by the lengthy review. I do recommend you read this anthology and I give it a 'Very Good' rating as I will definitely read it again....more
I'm embarrassed at how long I've had this book in my TBR pile. I'm not sure why it kept getting passed over, except that I had the impression that itI'm embarrassed at how long I've had this book in my TBR pile. I'm not sure why it kept getting passed over, except that I had the impression that it was possibly a sombre read and I needed to be in the right mood to read it. That impression turned out to be accurate as this novella deals with the issue of PTSD and how life can be changed forever by something out of your control.
The story is told in the first person by Riley who works in counter-terrorism. He and his small group of 3 other co-workers have worked for months to target and bring down a terrorist cell group. The work is done now, and the men have a day's down time before heading back to base for reassignment. Riley and two of the men, Ramirez and Grady, are lounging at the beach, just killing time and attempting the difficult task of trying to relax after the excitement of cracking the case. The fourth man, Adam Nolan, has taken himself off to be alone. Riley worries about Adam, but the other two advise him to let Adam be. Whilst hanging out together the other two men look back on some of the times when Adam has been harsh with Riley, but their memories are only half the story. Using flashbacks, the story then takes us to those times and shows the reader what really happened between Riley and Adam.
One recurring theme in Clare London's stories is that of a character who, for whatever reason, is closed off and unable to express his thoughts and feelings. This is certainly true for this story. Riley is attracted to Adam, but is so afraid of saying the wrong thing and having Adam react badly, that he says very little. Adam is suffering from the effects of a past assignment gone wrong, and yet he won't talk about it, choosing to be aloof and cut himself off from others rather than allow anyone to help him. There were two consequences to having such closed off characters, one positive and one negative. The positive is that as a reader I felt that these understated characters were realistically portrayed. Their inability to discuss their feelings meant that more is shown rather than told to the reader. The yearning that Riley feels for Adam is shown through his actions and the way he has obvious respect for Adam. In return Adam's feelings for Riley are shown as a gradual thawing as he becomes more talkative, as well as the way he acts protectively towards Riley. The negative consequence is that I found it difficult to get to know the men very well. Even as narrator, Riley is closed off to the reader, sharing little of his feelings. This meant that I felt a certain distance from the characters as though I was an observer of them, rather than a full participant in their lives.
The real winner in this novella is in the style of the writing and the description. Clare London is always so precise, so well placed with her descriptive language - not a word is used without their being a reason, nothing is wasted in a sentence. Thus the atmosphere of the story shifts between lightness and dark, from the oppressiveness of being in close quarters with the same men for months, to the freedom of the seashore and the wide ocean beyond, which holds a fascination for Riley, and for Adam too, although for very different reasons. The sights, sounds and smells of the setting are given to the reader in exquisite detail through the use of a well chosen word or phrase. So much so that I could almost feel the sand between my toes or smell the sea air. It was masterfully done.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this novella. It combines the relaxed lethargy of the men on the beach with some tense action sequences. The story ends with a promise of things to come, and an acceptance that life is to be lived once the past can be laid to rest. If you like stories where every character wears his heart for all to see and the two heroes engage in long emotion filled discussion, then you might find this story a little frustrating as the reader really has to work to pick up the clues about how the characters feel. I liked it and recommend Footprints to those readers who like tightly written, character based stories....more
I was really looking forward to this book after reading and enjoying St Nacho's so much. I was also very interested in seeing how ZA Maxfield was goinI was really looking forward to this book after reading and enjoying St Nacho's so much. I was also very interested in seeing how ZA Maxfield was going to redeem the character of Jordan. In St Nacho's Jordan is the bad guy, the wall between Cooper and Shawn. He is selfish, needy, violent and aggressive. He uses emotional blackmail to force Cooper to stay with him. He abuses their friendship and then shuts Cooper out at the end of the book. To be frank, he was not a nice man.
This book picks up some months after the last book. We're never told how long, but it's long enough so that Jordan has gone through therapy, plus had some time gaining qualifications as a sports and massage therapist. He's a changed man. Gone is the out-of-control, desperate man we see in St Nacho's. Instead Jordan is coming to terms with his past and, although he is still wholly guilt-ridden, there's a calmness and a maturity about him which made me warm to his character. The result of this change is that Jordan now seeks to make amends by trying to please people. He likes his job because he knows he is bringing some relief and pleasure to others, but on the flip side he now hates causing any pain and upset.
Jordan comes to St Nacho's because he wants to be near Cooper, plus he was attracted by Cooper's description of the place. What was most interesting is that St Nacho's is almost a different town in this book to the previous one. In St Nacho's the town is described as hot and sleepy, with accepting, friendly people. In Physical Therapy, the town is still sleepy, but is rainy, cool and often shrouded in mist. Some of the people are friendly, but many hate and revile Jordan for his past deeds. I really liked that the author had showed this contrast and the way that it fitted into the two different stories. Cooper needed sunshine and acceptance, Jordan needed somewhere peaceful and the opportunity to atone for his past.
That atonement comes in the shape of Ken who is recovering from an injury caused by a drunk driver. It is a situation steeped in irony that the one person who Ken feels a connection to after the accident is Jordan. Throughout the novel there is the repetition of the word 'right': In their touch, their personalities and their feelings, leaving us with the sense that they were 'meant to be' despite all the difficulties and oppositions that they inevitably encounter through the book. Ken is younger than Jordan and only just at the point where he feels he can come out to his family. I liked that Ken acted like that young man; slightly impetuous, almost forcing himself onto Jordan at one point, before panicking and backing down in the next. He was the perfect foil for Jordan's measured carefulness.
As always in ZA Maxfield's books the secondary characters, no matter how little page time they get, were delightful. Izzie the ex-body builder; Ken's teenage brother, Mark; Jordan's mother and many more wonderfully complex characters were woven seamlessly into this story adding a depth which complemented the main pairing of Jordan and Ken. We even see a bit of Cooper and Shawn but not so much that it detracts from primary romance.
I really liked this book. In fact I liked it so much I can't really think of any negative points. There were a few things which didn't bother me but may not appeal to some readers. Firstly, this book is very angst ridden: Jordan is still trying to come to terms with his guilt both about the accident and his subsequent behaviour plus Ken is grieving over his loss of mobility and the death of his friend. If you don't like angst, then this book won't be for you. Secondly, despite it being an accident, Jordan has killed a child and does spend time reflecting on that accident and the fallout from it. If you find that type of storyline upsetting, then again this book is not for you. Finally there is a subplot involving spousal abuse, and although there's no actual scenes depicting this, it may also be upsetting for some readers.
Overall, this was a delightfully written, very engrossing book with strong believable characters and situations. ZA Maxfield is one of my auto-buy authors and hasn't disappointed with this book. I highly recommend it with a grade of 'Excellent'....more
The setting at the start of the book is one of the most unusual I've ever read: A Goth Convention. I don't really know much about goths, especially thThe setting at the start of the book is one of the most unusual I've ever read: A Goth Convention. I don't really know much about goths, especially that they hold an annual convention. However, it doesn't take long to get into the sense of fun and companionship that the convention brings. Our two heroes, Nick and Brandon meet at the convention and have an instant attraction, which they are both happy to act upon. What started as a weekend fling deepens into a relationship when they swap numbers, email and IM addresses and stay in touch. There's a slight hiccup though, as Brandon is a closeted cop, whereas Nick has been out of the closet for many years and doesn't want to go back. This relationship is further complicated when Nick accidentally uncovers something dodgy at work which may or may not put his life in danger.
As you can see from above, there are a couple of themes in this book. I'll start with the mystery aspect because that was the part of the book with which I had mixed feelings. Firstly, I'll have to say that it was one of the most unusual mystery plots I've read. Nick works in Las Vegas for the Nevada Gaming Commission. He's an IT specialist whose job it is to check the chips or EPROMS in slot machines to make sure they haven't been tampered with. When an ex-colleague is murdered Nick uncovers a possible fraud with the chips accidentally sent to him by the dead man (before he was killed, obviously) and then sets out to work out who is behind the faulty chips. In order for the reader to understand the intricacies of the slot machines chips and how they can be used fraudulently it is necessary for there to be lengthy passages in the book dealing with how a slot machine works, how the chips can be tampered with and also quite a lot of information about Nick's day to day work life. I could see why the reader needed to know this because otherwise it would have been almost impossible to understand how and why the fraud was taking place. Having said that, those passages were a bit dull and slowed the whole pace of the book down. A number of times I was tempted to skip over them, but I knew I wouldn't be able to follow the mystery if I did. So, although the mystery was quite unique it didn't hold my attention a great deal until the pace started to speed up towards the end, leading to an exciting, action-packed last section.
What did hold my attention, though, was the relationship between Nick and Brandon. Almost from the first moment there's a crackling sexual tension between the two men and the way they explore their sexual attraction throughout the book left me quite hot under the collar several times. James Buchanan always writes fantastic sex scenes and this book was no exception. I found out all sorts of interesting details about rope and bondage play and the way that it is used in a loving relationship. However, it wasn't just the sex which made their relationship work. Nick had recently come out of a bad relationship and his self-esteem is pretty low. Brandon helps him to become more confident in himself, even if Nick does make some bad errors of judgement along the way. Nick is very likable and I found his attitude about being a goth and how that impacted on how people viewed him rather wry and amusing, as was Brandon's reaction when he sees Nick in his work clothes. Brandon is the most complicated out of the pair. His job means that he has to keep his sexuality under wraps and so he tries to give off a 'heterosexual vibe' whilst out and about with Nick. This involves flirting openly with women, distancing himself physically from Nick and denying anything other than friendship. For the out and proud Nick this is difficult and puts a strain on the relationship.
Only one thing made the day less than idyllic for Nick. No playful hugs, no kisses on the strand, no sitting on the rocks wrapped around each other... no touching at all. What might have been hopelessly romantic was dropped to reasonably fun. Nick might have tried to sneak a kiss or three, but Brandon probably would have bolted if he did. He was obviously nervous enough just being here with Nick; Brandon spent every moment as though someone he knew might turn the next corner. It was almost a relief to get back to the ship.
In some ways I could see both sides of the argument. I felt terribly sorry that Nick was missing out because he was unable to be publicly affectionate with Brandon. On the other hand, I related to Brandon's fear that his job and his safety at work might be compromised should anyone find out he was gay. It was the skill of the author which made it possible for me to sympathise with both characters in this way.
There weren't many other secondary characters as the story was very much focused on Nick and Brandon, but those who appeared, especially Nick's odious ex and detective Orozco, who is investigating the murder of Nick's colleague, were well drawn.
Overall, this was a great story of two men who are attempting to overcome personal difficulties and be with each other. The mystery, as I have said, was pretty unique and James Buchanan always produces well researched, tightly written prose. Cheating Chance gets a grade of 'Excellent' and I have no hesitation in recommending this book to those who like mysteries and hot, character based romance....more