Anthony is in love with his flat-mate, Karl. It is 1980 and their friends are dropping around them. They are scared, but they show it in different ways. Anthony, who tells this tale of new love half through epistolary journal entries and half through narration, withdraws into himself and his journal, where his varying emotions can become melodrama in secret. Karl shows nothing — at least through Anthony’s perceptions of him — but the continued love of partying and friends and his hipster lifestyle. Yet both have secrets that they are afraid to share with the other.
I was actually quite impressed with this story from new author Maggie Veness (I could only find one previous anthology story by her from 2008). There are some things that she has done very well with this story (the narration and the subtle clues of the larger picture) and some that needed a bit of work, namely the dialogue, which at times felt forced and stilted. Yet, for a new author this short format suits her, as narration works quite well in short stories. Here we see the narration through Anthony’s voice, his love for Karl and the excitement and fear of Karl finding out. That type of situation practically breeds melodrama, but here it was confined to the short journal entries where private melodrama is allowed. What little we learn about Karl and Anthony is delivered through the fear of the time of HIV outbreak, and is delivered by Karl’s spoken fears about meeting someone new, about falling in love and fearing what wanting that so badly means.
Though it is a snippet of their time together, it shows the beginning of a relationship that is steeped in secrets that beget more questions than answers. Honestly, I would have thought this story would work well for the Bittersweet Dreams titles at DSP, however, that does not mean that this story has an unhappy ending, simply unresolved and hinting at a troublesome future. In fact, I thought the subtle hints at the larger picture were done quite well, and certainly didn’t fall prey to the sometimes heavy-handed writing trap that new authors can fall into.
Maggie Veness is an author that I’d certainly look forward to reading again, just to see what she might be able to do with a longer story....more
I've long been a fan of Alan Chin's. His words seem to melt of the page and flow through me as I'm reading. His prose is often decadently smooth, with a rolling gait. So it is in his latest story, and aptly, as the story deals with the training of a particularly proud and regal horse.
Nathan is a recent high school graduate who, after falling on hard times, is taking the pace of his father's foreman and taking over the training of the family's race horses. The story begins as he sees their newest buy arrive on the ranch -- Haji. The beautiful sorrel is from North Africa and brings with him a stable boy, Yousef. Both are thrilling and exotic to Nathan, and as he grows into his responsibilities and his own awareness of his life, so do both of them grow with him, one on the track and one in his bed and as his newfound love. Add to that the harshness of life in Nevada and the racial inequality of the time (which is unmentioned, but could be recent historical or contemporary), and the situation becomes somewhat complicated.
The best part of this story is the beautiful prose. Alan Chin has a way of matching the prose to the story and here I often found the prose very musical, with a tempo that matched whatever action the horse is making at that time in the story -- a rolling gait, or the ferocious pounding beats of stampeding horses. Also, I found that the most interesting character of any in the story was in fact the horse, Haji. His story is a parallel to Yousef's. Though we know very little about Yousef (as does Nathan), we can understand him because Nathan understands horses more than people, and as such can understand Haji. He brings together the two characters, and in the end brings about their separation (you know I won't say more than that, but it is a Bittersweet Dreams title).
"A lovely horse is always an emotional experience for me, the kind that is spoiled by words. All my life I have often talked about horses -- hell, most of the time I seem to talk of nothing else -- but I have never been able to unravel my love of them using the commonplace adjectives of my limited vocabulary. To me they are a beautiful dream, to be admired but not scrutinized, lest they disappear before I can voice the words."
This is a story of young love, the period that is on the cusp of true adulthood, where your awareness of the world tilts to such an alarming degree. Many things can bring that change about and here it is the awakening of love for another man after Nathan's whole childhood purely spend on his love of horses. They help him understand the change in his life, and through them they also help him see his naivete when he feels that first sting and the first touch of the coldness in the world.
More than anything, though, this story is really about the love of animals, and how they can define and explain the things in our lives, or help us change them:
"I believe with all my fiber that until a man has loved an animal, a large part of his soul remains unawakened."
The Bittersweet Dreams titles from Dreamspinner are certainly not for everyone, and this story won't be either. I won't deny that the ending made me quite sad, but I'm also a realist, and I think that Alan Chin does a wonderful job with this story in portraying the shift between the idealistic adolescent and the reasoning adult. At the same time, the story is beautifully written and offers much more than the ending of a love affair. Definitely recommended....more
Dragged with apathy by his sister Effie to the local inn for this month’s speed-dating night, Elliot doeFull review published at Reviews by Jessewave.
Dragged with apathy by his sister Effie to the local inn for this month’s speed-dating night, Elliot doesn’t expect much more than a few friendly conversations with locals he’s known all his life and a drink or two. Not much ever happens in the West Country, and though his sister is excited about the night out to meet someone new after her recent break-up, Elliot is just tagging along to support his sister and her fear that not enough men will show up for the event to proceed. Apparently being gay doesn’t matter to the women showing up to the heterosexual event — they’d just like someone new to talk to. Yet, when Effie’s ex-boyfriend shows up and she ditches the event to cry all night in the restroom, Elliot is left at the table by himself. He is soon joined, however, by another man, a beautiful man in a crisp suit with a slight Eastern European accent. His name is Alexsy and he works for the hotel chain. At first, Elliot only sees the differences between them, though he is immediately attracted to Alexsy. The more they talk however, at the table and then later over coffee and brandy, Elliot sees their similarities as well as the attraction between them.
Just-You Eyes is one of the novellas of the First Time Anthology — the premise being set around the first time a character does something. Here, we see Elliot, emotionally stunted from his last relationship (a bastard named Bernie), almost socially awkward in his conversation with Alexsy, who is apparently well skilled in one-night stands, which he freely admits to Elliot. Elliot has never had a one-night stand, though the more he gets to know Alexsy, he can see the attraction. The whole story is set around one night, which like slowly peeling the layers of an orange, is one long seduction scene.
Seen through the POV of Eliott, we only see Alexsy the way Eliott sees him, which is prehaps more suave and self-assured than he really is. In Elliot’s eyes, Alexsy lives a carefree life — living in London, partying hard, having many different lovers. Alesxy is his ideal in many ways, and Clare shows us with this story how much and how little we can see about a person when we first meet them. The Alexsy of the beginning of the story isn’t the same as the man at the end. And though he might have changed some, the way that Eliott sees him has changed as well, after feeling desired for the first time in several years and maybe a little more sure of himself. I really enjoyed Elliot and Alexsy and was happy that we got to know so much about them in the short length of the story, though what we do know about them is less from what they say to one another and more how they say it. Like many a first date, or an awkward one-night encounter, the meaning behind their conversation says more about them than the dance they do around the actual words and gestures.
Lastly, I liked how the title showed the special connection between the two men. “Just-You Eyes” refers to the gaze of someone who is really listening to what you have to say. Alexsy has this quality as Eliott speaks, which is the impetus for their encounter to move forward. If Elliot didn’t have that reassurance, I doubt that they would have ever been able to make more than a passing acquaintance.
I really enjoyed this story, mostly for Elliot who just needs a good cuddle and friend. The strongest parts of the story were in the dialogue, the slowly peeling layers of seduction and truth. This is a sweet story and reminds me what I like about reading Clare London’s stories — the characters and the connection that grows between them. Recommended....more
From what I understand, this is the first novel reviewed on this blog that deals specifically with transgeReview #2 for Reviews by Jessewave
From what I understand, this is the first novel reviewed on this blog that deals specifically with transgendered people in a starring role. Sure, there have been books (not many, though) that deal with varying gender discussions in all sorts of ways, occasionally in the forefront, but not often, and very rarely about trans, intersex, or gender fluid people (thought that is a completely different discussion). Like all marginalized populations there is often several turnings of the tide, and with last week’s post by Jaye Valentine and Wave on men who cross dress (you can see it here, if you missed it), the growing group of m/m readers who are calling for books that look into the lives of a more diverse group of people, and this new shiny book by LA Witt just recently released by Amber Allure, it is high time, I think for a book about this subject that reaches this audience. Sure, not every book is to everyone’s taste for a variety of different reasons, but I’m happy to read an m/m book that delved more deeply into this subject, and I hope most readers agree with me. And though I would never have though to explore that in a paranormal subtext, I can see how the idea of shifting between genders, a familiar trope, can be used to illustrate the warring factions some people have between their brain and their body. Now that I’ve had my say — off to the review.
The book opens from the POV of Damon Bryce, worried about his girlfriend Alex who he hasn’t seen or spoken to in over two days. They’ve been dating for two years, and Damon is worried about the silence. Alex left him last to meet her parents, a pair of extremely radical fundamentalists, and the visits always send Alex into a spiraling depression that can last days or weeks. Yet, Damon loves Alex, and no matter how often she pushes him away for what seems no reason at all, or refuses to marry him, he knows he has to check up on her. When he arrives at her house, a nearly naked man answers the door and Damon’s first thought is in anger, assuming Alex is cheating on him. Yet the man is in pain, something about a terrible headache and he can barely walk. After getting the strange man settled on Alex’s couch, he finally listens to the man’s story — or rather, Alex’s story.
Alex is a shifter, a small group of people that are able to shift between both genders. He has been afraid to tell Damon because of the suffering and rejection experienced growing up in such a hostile home. Furthermore, Alex is regretful that she didn’t tell Damon before this point because now he’s stuck, unable to shift, after his parents drugged him and had a shady surgeon implant a black market device in his spine, which in their eyes will make him right with God. The loss of his female form is staggering. As a shifter that generally spends an equal amount of time in each body, he feels the extreme loss of half of his identity. Not only that, but the after-affects of the surgery seems the be the most terrible headache in existence.
Damon takes Alex to the hospital where Alex finds that the surgery had caused a spinal fluid leak, resulting in the terrible pain in his head. The situation isn’t serious, but they both soon learn exactly what his parents have done with their illegal actions. The implant may not be stable and could cause paralysis and death. The removal of the implant is incredibly expensive and infinitely more dangerous than the original procedure. And even if Alex is able to get the implant removed, he still might never be able to shift again. Alex also has to decide if it is worth pressing charges against his parents. He wants to save his little sister Candace from his parents clutches, but she already seems to be brainwashed against him. And on top of all that, how will Damon deal with him now being a man? Damon doesn’t know what to think. He loves Alex, but he keeps trying to find the woman he loves in the man standing before him. Can they have a relationship that isn’t sexual? Or is it possible that he can see past the biological trappings and focus on the person he loves with all his heart?
This is a slow story, that really isn’t a romance until quite far into the book. I have been very interested in other people’s reception of this book since it came out earlier this week and I have seen some people say that they don’t believe this is actually a romance. I disagree — sure, it isn’t typical, especially in m/m where the majority of our hero’s are strapping bucks with devilish smiles and killer sex drives. Maybe a better classification for this is a love story (and don’t get upset guys, I don’t mean that this doesn’t end with an HEA, which is all I’ll say about the ending). What I loved most, I suppose, is Damon’s slow realization of what love really means. Damon is a steady and empathic man. He isn’t afraid of what his friends and co-workers will think of Alex being a shifter. The issues he needs to work through are purely internal, and the issues he worked through and the support he offered were heartening to me.
Alex is an example of what a harsh world can make of a person. He is a puzzle to be solved as we slowly learn more about his childhood and how those experiences correlate to his fear of being touched at times, his deep pits of despair, and his self-medication with alcohol. The change of his body to match the gender of his mind at any given time has really been his only therapy in life, and when it is gone, he has no way to cope. What I found most interesting in the discussion within this novel about gender shifters and transgendered people were the differences between them. I loved Tabitha, Alex’s best friend and boss — a biological man who identifies as female, but until such time as a safer and better surgery is invented is permanently pre-op. When Alex loses his ability to shift he unexpectedly leans on Tabitha and can finally understand what it must be like to be faced with the possibility of permanently feeling like you reside in the wrong body. Still, Alex is lucky in that half the time he feels male. He still has a reprieve from that crushing feeling. The exploration of the issues was done very sensitively and thoroughly and presents a real challenge for the romance between Alex and Damon.
There are quite a few surprises within, and let me tell you, it has been quite difficult to talk around them all (so I hope I’ve done a good job). Some readers may find fault with the ending, but I didn’t. I was surprised that I wasn’t surprised, if that makes any sense. The ending is definitely open to interpretation, which I thought really worked for the couple and I could see their way forward in a very clear light. LA Witt has impressed me in a quite a few of her books with the deep psychological dynamics that arise between her characters. She has her characters really work through their problems. I’ll leave that up to you to decide if you felt the same with this book. I was certainly satisfied and I came away from the book still thinking about what she wrote days later. No matter your reception to the story, that’s worth a lot. Last, but definitely not least, during my reading I kept thinking of this story as a GFY plotline. Now, I’ve changed my mind. I think this is a story about finding someone who is the right person for you. I think that is the real message Witt was trying to show.
NOTE: As for the use of pronouns, I stuck with a similar usage as the novel. NOTE 2: I think this is one of the most beautiful Amber Allure covers I’ve seen yet, and I think it does justice to the story.
Original GR Review - June 30
I've been a fan of LA Witt for a while and I'm always a fan of her stories dealing with very deep and convoluted relationship dynamics. This is another story in that vein, but this time she tackles the subject of gender and people who are intersex all with a very clever paranormal twist.
Alex is a shifter (gender shifter) that was born male. While every shifter is different in this society that reflects a contemporary US, Alex is pretty even divided in which gender he prefers, simply changing his body to match the gender he feels in his mind. There are two problems, however. One, Alex has been dating Damon for two years now -- as a female, and hasn't yet worked up the courage to tell Damon that she is male also; and two, Alex's radially fundamentalist mother and step-father have been pressuring Alex to surgically implant a device that will cause Alex to become static, remain in one gender. The story starts from the POV of Damon, not having seen or heard from Alex in over two days after he knew Alex was meeting her parents. He goes to look for her and finds a man in her house. After a very surprising conversation for him, Alex tells Damon that she went to her parents house, where they proceeded to drug him and have a shady back-alley surgeon implant a black-market device into his spine against his will. For the time being, until he can make sure that the forced surgery wasn't botched, whether to decide to press charges against his parents, and whether it will be possible for him to have the implant removed, he is stuck in the male form. Along with his manic depression over sometimes being in the wrong body and his fear that he'll be stuck that way forever, Alex will have to work out his relationship with Damon, a completely straight man who can't seem to find the woman he loves in the man that now stands in her place.
I thought this was a beautiful story about what it means to love a person -- their soul and not the trappings that surround it. Who are we really at our core, and what difference does societal pressure put on us to conform? LA Witt deals with some heavy issues here and this is not a light read, though the emotions are well balanced throughout the novel. The pace is very slow, as much of the story from Damon's POV revolves around his growing awareness of what it means to be a shifter, and how he can stand by Alex. Can he find a way to love the man? Or will he be able to see that the man and the woman are the same person? It is a very interesting take on the GFY trope, and one that I felt was handled very well.
Kudos goes to Witt for her creation of Alex's friend Tabitha and the gang at The Welcome Mat, the bar which Alex bartends and also Alex's safe haven away from the world. I also loved the sub-plot of Alex's little sister Candace, though I wish that we'd gotten to know her a just a little better. Most of all, I found this story fascinating. Usually with a slowly paced book such as this, I find myself reading at a slow pace, but I devoured this book, unable to put it down.
A favorite for sure, and possibly my favorite of LA Witt's works so far....more
In January I reviewed a book that I knew very little about by a new author that I had never read. I didn’tFull review posted at Reviews by Jessewave.
In January I reviewed a book that I knew very little about by a new author that I had never read. I didn’t know anyone who had read the book, and taking the gamble, I ended up finding a story that was breathtaking in its scope and almost flawless in its characterizations. That novel, Aisling: Guardian (reviewed here) is the first book in the Aisling series by Carole Cummings, published by Prizm, the Young Adult division of Torquere. From the very first pages, I was hooked — deeply engaged in the story of Dallin Brayden, a no-nonsense and highly reasonable Constable for the city of Putnam in a world that resembles pre-industrial England, and the prisoner turned fugitive that deeply enthralls him, Wil Calder, a scrappy waif of a man who makes up for his physical inadequacies with wit, a skewed moral compass, and the vast need to survive at any cost. That book started a love affair for me with these two characters and I have since waited on tenterhooks for the next chapter in their sprawling story. Thankfully it is here, released today to buy from Prizm, and it is a beautiful continuation of their story, from the slow, piecemeal building of trust by a man that has suffered in the worst ways and betrayed by all those he ever believed loved him, to the seeking of knowledge they undertake together to understand just why they are the center of a maelstrom of political factions, religious zealots, and now newer, even larger foes.
Beginning immediately at the end of the first intstallment, Dallin wakes up from a dream where he has been Called by the Mother to take up his duty as Guardian and where he sees Wil for the first time in their shared dream, tending to the threads of man, plucking, twining, and weaving the world’s fates. Dallin finally believes. The forced exile from his homeland in Lind at the age of ten separated him from his birthright, the knowledge and training he would have had were it not for Siofra, or Wil’s jailor’s interference, and which without has turned him from a life of pious belief in the Mother and Her Gift of the Aisling into the factual Constable he is, ruled by strict reason and a logical, quick mind. The knowledge presents a dilemma for Dallin. Where once his logical mind considered the Aisling a myth studied in the cloisters of faraway religious sects, the evidence of its reality forces him to trust to faith, a new concept. This new belief means that he will have to appeal to a duty higher than the one he holds most dear, the justice and law he serves as a Constable, because if Wil is the Aisling and Dallin has indeed been Called by the Mother, then he is in fact the Guardian. No longer is Wil his prisoner to ferry back to Putnam for arraignment, but his charge to protect in his quest. Though, no matter the different groups hot on their heels, Wil and Dallin still have very little idea just what their quest is. Night after night, Wil plucks at the strings in what he believes is his duty, while only getting vague prophecies from the Father and subdued silence from the Mother. Wil feels more alone than ever with the growing burden of his duties, yet slowly Dallin’s kept promises, gentle encouragement, and almost reverent respect bloom into a slowly growing friendship, and ultimately begrudging trust.
As they cross the country on their way to Lind, the Mother’s Cradle, where they hope to get some answers to anything and everything, they grow slowly closer and find a way to work together to find their own answers. It seems that not only does Wil have power as the Aisling, but so does Dallin as the Guardian. And it will take all of Wil’s belief and encouragement in Dallin for him to let go of his logical mind and embrace his birthright, just as it will take Dallin’s steady faith in Wil for him to let loose the power he is straining to hold back. Only with the other at their side will they be able to face the slowly gaining Siofra and the new knowledge of the origins of all their powers. Most of all, however, it will take everything Wil has to face his own demons — the guilt, the betrayal, and the lies that have shaped who he believes himself to be, and the matter of the fact that no one, not least himself, knows exactly who he really is.
If the strength of the first novel lay in it characterizations of Wil and Dallin, then the strength of the second is in the world-building. The first novel was rather cryptic with information, which served a purpose — not only in respect to the reader’s intelligence, which I really admired of Carole Cummings, but to outline the sea of intrigue and betrayal in which the two are cut adrift. They are almost clueless, basing their information on myth, lies, and their own intuition. Of their enemies, allies, and duty, just about everything is conjecture. But where the first novel sets out to pair up our two hapless allies and explain how they came into each other’s lives, the second sets out to seek answers. This is a book which, like the first, makes you work for the payoff. The factions at play are slow in realization — to the characters and to the reader, like slowly defining the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave, on the cusp of a new level of perception, one in which the characters realize they are the dice in a much bigger game, along with bigger players.
While finally understanding the game in which they are playing is definitely satisfying, the heart of the story remains with Wil and Dallin, and how they react to it. I think that Carole Cummings made quite a smart choice in the slowly building relationship between the two. Wil is fragile, continually toeing the line between sanity and insanity, constantly changing his mind of which he would prefer — knowledge or ignorance. His capture at the age of six by Siofra and the decades long imprisonment and brainwashing under the influence of the “leaf” and subsequent forceful dreaming to Siofra’s wishes has nearly broken him. It has made Wil distrustful in everyone, but most of all the Mother and the Guardian, who Siofra constantly taught him were his enemies. No matter knowing the logic of Siofra being a kidnapping megalomaniac, he is also the only person to have shown Wil kindness for most of his life, and that kind of brainwashing is almost impossible to recover from. He takes pleasure in what seems to Dallin inconsequential things — the hoarding of apples for the horses Miri and Sunny, the finding of a pre-historic arrowhead. In Dallin’s words:
“Wil was—incredibly, implausibly and against all sense and reason—an idealist. With the widest, most contrary streak of fatalism Dallin had ever witnessed.”
With newfound trust comes a solidifying bond between the two, allowing them to change and grow, embrace themselves and each other, and also for romance to bloom.
The writing here is top-notch. It is beautiful and I often found myself going back paragraphs just to read it again. There were many times I cried (which is rare for me, trust me), not out of sadness but for the simple beauty of two characters who have only each other and are learning that it is a gift. In many ways this book is also a setup to the final showdown in the next and final novel of the series, no matter how much clearer the world is becoming. There is still quite a bit that we don’t know, which makes me all the more eager for the final installment in December. Perhaps what I admire most about this series is not the many different threads that Cummings is continually juggling (and subtly showing) for the reader, which I do greatly admire as it must take a great amount of skill, but instead the fact that at this two thirds point in the story, Wil and Dallin are almost completely different characters from when we first met them, and we’ve seen their evolution every step of the way.
Lastly, this is a series that I would recommend to everyone. The romance is slow, but the buildup is worth it, and almost more powerful for its abstinence. It takes a good amount of detective work to put the pieces of this story together, which is refreshing after reading so many stories in m/m where all the information is given to you up front. I appreciate that Cummings respects her readers enough to let them glean their own conclusions from what she has offered. I also reclaim the right to not yet rate this book as DIK (same as I did the first), no matter that if I actually were going to be stranded on a desert island and had time to choose which books to take I would definitely count these among them. I’m simply waiting on the final novel to see how two of my favorite characters of 2011 fare in their final battle....more
Phillip Sedgwick has been a junior associate at one of San Fransisco’s supernatural law firms for six months. As a cover, he also teaches law at a locPhillip Sedgwick has been a junior associate at one of San Fransisco’s supernatural law firms for six months. As a cover, he also teaches law at a local college. The work is strenuous and Phillip often feels like he’s signed his life away over to the senior partners. He must come at their beck and call, and when he is given a week to pursue an investigation into the illegal activities of Daine Paradis, who owns the bakery Fabulous Cakes just around the corner from his job at the university, he knows that it would be unwise to refuse. So, with a week to pursue finding evidence to move forward in prosecution of Daine, who is alleged to be using his supernatural power for fire to make his cupcakes the best in the city, Phillip finally gets his chance to taste the cakes he’s heard so many wonderful things about. What he finds when he gets to Fabulous Cakes, however, is not only a man who seems to take pride in being the hardest worker at his business, and completely unaware of his powers, but a sexy, caring, honest, and humble man that calls out to him in every way. Now, unsure of exactly who is putting pressure on him to find that Daine is breaking Superpower Law, he is forced to carry out an increasingly dangerous investigation, while at the same time unable to stay away from pursuing a relationship with Daine.
Daine has loved to bake since he was a little boy. Not only is the creation of new flavors and the act of making them his passion, but he loves the affect they have on his customers and the community. Supporting the local Girl Scout troop, as well as gearing up for the annual baking competition, whose previous two winners now have national chains of their stores, is a full time job. Since he has taken the bakery over from his father in the last three years, he hasn’t had time for dating. Keeping the business completely aboveboard, specifically in the interest of making sure his workers all have proper documentation is difficult, especially since his deliveries have recently stopped coming and his bakery has been broken into on numerous occasions. Despite all that, his hard work has paid off — there are daily lines around the corner from his bakery for his daily confections, and a new man he likes to think of as Mr. Gorgeous has been stopping by to taste his cakes and flirt with him. Daine really likes Phillip, but he hates lawyers after his parents up and left him for Venezuela years ago after some kind of legal trouble with his uncle. Everything seems to be going right, until he realizes in one day how everything can go completely wrong, and how little you can know about those who love you.
This is a short novel which only slowly allows room for world-building (more on that later), so the pace of the story moves quite fast. I really liked the characters — Phillip is passionate and driven, though possibly in over his head, and Daine is impossible not to love. I worry sometimes when a character seems to be perfect in every way, but I didn’t feel like this was the case here for two reasons. The first is much of the story is told from Phillip’s POV, which is admittedly admiring, as he is falling in love with the man, and secondly, Daine is so unfailingly honest and humble that it made sense for him to be a sort of shining light, a genuinely good person. I was also happily surprised that the book is more about two men who really try to work together and help each other, instead of (in Daine’s case) angsting about what was going wrong in his life.
I had a difficult time reading this story at first. I immediately liked the characters, and I loved Daine, but I really didn’t quite understand what was going on. Was this magic they were talking about? The world-building is sparse, which I usually prefer to being beaten over the head with backstory. Still, because I liked the growing romance between Phillip and Daine, I kept reading and I found that the answers slowly came. By the end of the story, I could see that this is really only the beginning of understanding the world of the Elemental Superpowers. Hopefully, the next few books will center on the other elements — water, earth, and air, and the development of the world will proceed to grow. The advancement of the world-building arc really makes a lot of sense, in the aspect of the overall series. Of course, I would have loved to know more about the world. At times, I also wondered actually what the dileniations in the law were (Was it the success of his bakery? Is using his powers at all a violation?), or to hear more about Phillip’s backstory, but they weren’t necessarily important to the story, and I admit, I’m probably alone in wanting to hear more about specific laws!
Still, this was an enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. I’ve read quite a few books by both of these authors before, and I was curious to see the result of a working partnership between them. I have enjoyed their books separately and I found that I could see a bit of both their styles in The Cake. Most important though, to this baker and owner of a major sweet tooth, were the frequent and imaginative references to different flavors of cake. Yum! Even though it might sound strange, I’m starting to wonder about that Buttery Popcorn Cupcake…
I think that fans of both authors would enjoy The Cake.
Though not a horror connoisseur, I do love a nice, juicy scary story from time to time and hauntings are my favorite. So I was excited to see what delightful evils TA Chase and Carol Lynne could create with their co-authored novella, The Haunting of St. Xavier. The story begins when Jason Bentley, an entrepreneur who creates erotically-themed gay resorts, buys the remains of St. Xavier Monastery for a new project. The brooding building has stayed silent and empty for 50 years, and like all abandoned and neglected buildings, it is believed by the locals to be haunted. Jason doesn't believe in ghosts -- he is a pragmatic man who understands business, the things you can do when you put your mind to something, and the temporary hands of a new lover. He starts construction, and immediately the work site seems to be plagued with bad luck and misfortune. Doors that are well oiled get stuck, mysterious stains seem to appear in the hardwood floors, and before long one of his stonemasons dies from a fall off the bell tower. The delays are adding up and so are the unexpected bills as Jason and his team constantly re-evaluate the runaway project. Jason, however, will not give up, even when his strong disbelief in the paranormal starts to waver after seeing a nun covered in blood on the fourth floor and then being injured himself.
Jason knows he needs answers and heads to the place most likely to have them -- the local Catholic church. There he meets Deacon Ryan Christopher, presiding over the church in the wake of the Priest's recent death. Ryan has heard of the recent death at St. Xavier and it has awoken his curiosity about the place. As a medium, Ryan can speak to ghosts, though he has been afraid of the ability since his abuse at a young age from whom he believed to be his imaginary friend, a pedophile who used to live in the house he shared as a child with his drunken stepfather. After the church took him in as a boy, he has felt indebted to the Bishop and Father. Now, as he keeps pushing back the date of his vows into the Priesthood himself, he sees Jason's arrival and his subsequent interest into the secrets that the Bishop refuses to reveal as a sign from God -- to choose the path of honesty in his homosexuality. The attraction between Ryan and Jason only seems to strengthen the bond he feels with the first gay man he has allowed himself to be interested in. Their growing relationship is soon muted, however, by the growing anger of the spirits inside the monastery, and Ryan soon learns that he has a closer connection to the place than through Jason.
There is quite a bit of wealth of detail with this story, which really excited me. Not only do we have the growing relationship and the mystery of the haunted monastery, but we also have the history of the characters themselves. Ryan, in particular, is a fascinating character. He is late to accepting himself (and his nature as a sexual being, by proxy), as a result of his place in the Catholic Church, his relationship with his mentor, the Bishop, and his childhood as a sexually abused boy. The first half of this story was quite a treat as all of these layers are revealed. As the mystery of the monastery is explored, so is the relationship between Ryan and Jason -- a symbiotic shedding of the secrets of the past and the healing there can be in the truth.
The story, as it is set up to be, is quite a good one. The problem I had is that the great payoff from all of the detailed setup never comes, like a story that is missing 100 pages of continually progressing plot. A relationship between a recently reformed playboy and a priest is rife with problems that must be overcome without the added psychic ability, hauntings, and past abuse. Yet, after those issues were set up, they seemed conveniently thrust aside for a convenient ending, wrapped up nice a neat. Similarly, I found that the haunting subplot was dealt with in the same way -- a slowly revealing mystery that conveniently "clicks" into place for the characters a little too nicely, leaving many questions unanswered and many avenues completely unexamined. The subject matter presented and so slowly explored in the beginning is too large to explore in such a short time. This story either needed tighter writing or more pages to explore both plotlines. This rushing to end the story naturally bothers me (and I seem to encounter it quite a bit in this genre, though less often lately), but it also means that the characters often feel inauthentic. Ryan would need more time to come to terms with his sexuality, no matter the situation he is placed in. I also find it hard to believe that Jason would immediately be excited without reservations at feeling deeply for another man for the first time. Sadly, these things were never dealt with.
One of the shining stars of the story was Roland, Jason's charmingly flamboyant assistant, who always put a smile on my face when he was on page. Even though the ending left me unsatisfied, the mystery of the bloody nuns and the haunted monastery was interesting and kept me reading. Though I found the end less scary, I certainly felt a few chills while reading the story. With a little more work this could have been a delightful story, but I can't enthusiastically recommend it. It is certainly worth reading if you're a fan of Carol Lynne or TA Chase. It is also a good book for those who like scary, but not too scary. I'd also like to give kudos to April Martinez for the cover design, which I find incredibly appealing and drew me to the story. All in all, this is a solid three star read that will please some, but doesn't hold up to critical reads. Conditionally Recommended....more
The Nu Hayven is a command and transport ship currently ferrying two races, Aenjels and Deamonds, to their new home of Morn after their home3.25 stars
The Nu Hayven is a command and transport ship currently ferrying two races, Aenjels and Deamonds, to their new home of Morn after their home planet was destroyed by a supernova. The races have been opposed for hundreds of years, sometimes with outright hostility and other times by forcing their races to isolate themselves so as not to provoke unnecessary tensions. Aside from the outright hostility bred into each of their races for the other, the forced separation has bred ignorance as to each race’s way of life. All they seem to know of each other are the masks they wear to antagonize their enemies. Needless to say, both groups being forced into co-habitation for the duration of their stay is causing no end of grief to each race’s commander, Mykel (Aenjels) and Lusaffar (Deamons). This is their last chance at survival, however, and they need to do everything they can to assimilate their people in order to stay in the good graces of the Intergalactic Council, the governmental organization that has allowed them passage in order to save their races from extinction.
Mykel and Lusaffar know that they must find a way to work together in order to set an example for their respective groups, but it is very difficult. Besides the unease of being attracted to another of the race they despise, they are both unwavering alphas (though IMO Mykel is more of a beta that wears alpha stripes), though they might show it differently (Lusaffar with aggression and Mykel with cunning). Still, they must come to some sort of reconciliation, because there is more than one person on the ship who has laid a trap for them, and whether they mean them harm or are trying to manipulate them, the only way the races will make it to their new home without killing one another will be to band together.
I will admit that I had a difficult time at the start of this book. I was thrown by the names (and I’m sure you can see the connection) — Mykel, Yoeseph, and Gayebreel for the Aenjels, and Lusaffar, Azrayle, and Baylelle (Belial) for the Deamons. They are somewhat loosely based on the actual angels, but since those characterizations vary even within canon, they seemed to be influenced more by the creation of these groups of people from an alien planet. Still, in my mind I kept wondering what these races actually had to do with the various religious mythologies of ours. Or, considering that we’re going by these as fact, how these are two different races if they are supposed to come from the same race of beings. We never do get the history of the races and how they came to be enemies, so I let it go and tried to see it as a tool the author used to show the distance between the Aenjels and Deamons.
After that point, I did enjoy the story. I liked Mykel and Lusaffar as characters. The opposites attract theory is here in abundance, which isn’t a favorite of mine. Still, it works for a story because their relationship is an example of the intermingling of their races. There is a surprisingly little amount of sex in this book for a story that involves a demon with a frisky tail (at least in my reading experience!), but it was replaced with quite a bit of building sexual tension, which I liked. This tension is the way that Mykel shows Lusaffar that he needs to be taken seriously, as a co-commander and a partner (no matter how many times Lusaffar calls him “Pigeon” to get a rise out of him), and I admired Mykel for not being a weakling when not in public display.
This is the first of a series, with more couples to come (I can already spot two), so there might be quite a bit more world-building in the future to satisfy me. I hope so, because I wanted to understand these races better, and through them the characters. I had one other difficulty with the book, which might be of my own opinion, but I’ll share it since it might bother others as well. There were several instances when a particular detail, object, or piece of culture popped up and the action or dialogue would pause for exposition. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Not only am I pulled out of the text, but I wonder why, if this information is important or the author knows I’m going to read it at a later date, there isn’t a previous mention dropped in earlier? Unfortunately that happened several times by my count and, as a result it made the details seem less important than they should be.
I have read one other Jade Archer book previously (Sandpipers’ Secrets), and I must say that I enjoyed that book more. It could be a matter of sub-genre. However, I would still recommend this book. If you’re a fan of the author, love angel/demon stories, or happen to really be interested in the space setting, I’d give this a try. Otherwise, this book probably isn’t for you.
In The Werewolf in Red, it is the five year anniversary to the night that Sylver and Hunter met at one of Sylver’s cancan performances at the Red BanaIn The Werewolf in Red, it is the five year anniversary to the night that Sylver and Hunter met at one of Sylver’s cancan performances at the Red Banana Revue in Philadelphia and Sylver wants both of them to take a trip to Philly to celebrate at the club. Yet, Hunter hasn’t told Sylver about the financial trouble he has fallen into as he secretly battles the ancient vampire Vlad for the world’s oil shares (which is the beginning of Vlad’s plan to take over Earth), after risking his fortune and losing it. Now, Hunter is broke, the company is falling into ruin, and he has been acting distant towards Sylver for weeks. Sylver can only imagine one reason for his despondancy and lack of interest — Hunter must be cheating on him again. In a sudden burst of temper (of which they both have many), Sylver leaves to visit Philly on his own deciding that two can play at infidelity (so what if his wolf is loyal to the core?), while unknowingly walking right into Vlad’s clutches. On top of that there is a crazy menagerie of supporting characters, each who have their own agenda, or need something from Sylver and Hunter. Sorting out everyone else’s messes is tough work (even though Sylver usually has a hand in creating them), but can they solve their own mess and stop Vlad? Maybe, if they get their priorities straight. In Sylver’s words, “If I don’t get rid of this boner, I won’t be able to walk, let alone fight!”, or more precisely, “Fuck first, then save the world.”
I loved both of the prior stories in this series, but this installment really took the cake. This series is quite different from most paranormals, mostly because the focus is on the humor and cheeky plot, instead of world-building. Usually incredibly campy and always ready with a comeback, Sylver is a great character who constantly seems to get himself in trouble, and relish doing so. An admitted exhibitionist (and wow, there is some hot public sex in this book) and a kick-ass alpha character no matter the number of frilly dresses he ruins having to shift on the fly, Sylver is the kind of character I love to read about — he defies stereotypes. He is a cross-dressing alpha male werewolf, he is fiercely loyal, and despite always poking his nose into everyone else’s business, truly wants to help people. His actions and voice perfectly suit Mimi Riser’s type of humor, because everything Sylver does (as well as the rest of the plot) is way over the top. Hunter is a character that you can’t help but love, even though he’s a cheater (well, a reformed cheater, anyway). This book showed the lengths Hunter goes to in order to please Sylver and abstain from sex with other partners (which, apparently, is almost impossible for a werecat in this world) much more than the previous books did. When you put Sylver and Hunter together, they are constantly at each other’s throats, trying to out-top the other, whether in bed or in a fight, though with their relationship there isn’t much difference between the two! At the same time, they are perfect for one another, as only they could hope to keep the other in line.
**spoiler alert** There isn’t much left to Dorian’s life anymore. There is his art, and the students he teaches at the local college; there is his unr**spoiler alert** There isn’t much left to Dorian’s life anymore. There is his art, and the students he teaches at the local college; there is his unrequited crush on his straight best friend Josh; and there is his obsession with the statue of the Archangel Raphael at the church of St. Gregory’s. They all seem to lead him to depression, pain, and a long-standing guilt, though none do so more than his rapidly escalating sex addiction, where each rough encounter gives him a moment of truimph and fulfillment, then leads him into a miasma of guilt and shame. The only thing that gives him some comfort is the statue of Raphael, though his lustful thoughts toward the angel only deepen his guilt. Then, there is Mark, the first man in a long time who has shown him the least bit of respect — something that Dorian can’t see that he deserves. The real question put to Dorian is: Who is the angel and who is the sinner?
I enjoyed this story quite a bit. Like a Prayer is a Classic Sip from Torquere, so it has been around for several years now, but I’m happy that I read it. It faces a problem that many other short stories do, when the ideas presented are a bit grandiose for the limited space of exploring them. While some parts of the story fell behind, the rest of the story made up for it. The theme presented here, and the major lesson that Dorian is faced with is self-redemption from his guilt over his sex addiction. This part of the story was done very well, and I felt like I got to know Dorian quite well by the end of the story, where his self-depreciation from the sex addiction had almost stooped to madness. He has been at odds with his own religion (Catholicism) for many years due to his sexuality, especially in the face of the myriad of nameless men that pass through his bedroom every night. The beginning of the story shows this reconciliation between the two parts of him with his first confession in three years and the dialogue between Dorian and the priest. This is also shown by his dual innocent love for the purity of the angel Raphael, while alternately sexualizing him, to the point of having to restrain himself from touching the statue.
The difficult part of the story, for me, was the actual romance. The POV is solely Dorian’s, and Mark is only in around 25% of the story (in my estimation). There is a short scene in the first half of the story, then no more until the end. Naturally, then, the romance came off at Insta-Love. I wouldn’t have minded Insta-Lust (No, siree!), nor would I have minded Mark and Dorian being on the road to falling in love at the story’s end. I thought this would have been more natural, and it certainly makes more sense. I can understand, after seeing Dorian’s experiences with lovers, that he might think what he was feeling was love, when the first man who came along showed him some respect, but the story is just too short to expand upon their relationship when the focus is on Dorian’s personal journey. In my opinion, it is better not to qualify those feelings at all. Instead, leave the characters with the opportunity to fall in love. Furthermore, there was a sweet sex scene between Dorian and Mark, but the majority of the sex in the story isn’t erotic at all (which is the point — however, it is still forceful and depreciating to Dorian).
This story was much more about one man’s depression as the result of two conflicting parts of his life than a romance, though I still enjoyed it very much. There is a lot of sensory detail in the writing that I enjoyed, particularly from Dorian’s keen eye for art. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable story that has certainly stuck around for a while instead of falling into obscurity. Though I would have liked more of the story development between Dorian and Mark, I enjoyed the story for what it was.
Haron and Wiskar are like two very different sides of the same coin. They both work in tandem to create a world, then they move on to another. Yet, foHaron and Wiskar are like two very different sides of the same coin. They both work in tandem to create a world, then they move on to another. Yet, for all that they can accomplish when they work together, they are very, very different. Wiskar, who is rough and often foul-tempered, likes to create the hunters and predators of the world — the wolf, the vulture, and other carnivorous animals. Haron, who is sweet-tempered and endlessly patient with Wiskar (often to the point of being dreamy), likes to create the gentle creatures of the world — the bunnies, the herbivores, as well as anything of beauty, like sweet-scented flowers. They have worked as a team creating worlds for Sky Holder for millions of years, and have fallen deeply, passionately in love. Or so Haron believes. Yet, getting Wiskar to admit to liking anything, even remotely tolerating anything without a hint of disdain, even himself, is toiling.
So, like any sweet and intelligent (though maybe slightly devious) man that he is, Haron decides that he will have to do something to get Wiskar to throw him down and ravish him, or they can not go on creating worlds, especially since Wiskar tends to create all of his animals in about the same amount of time Haron likes to lovingly craft a single flower. So, when Wiskar challenges him to a battle of creation, he knows that his wits can beat Wiskar’s strength any day. More than anything, however, Haron understands what this test of wills is all about, and the possible outcome if he can win.
This little story by G.R. Richards was, I admit, not what I expected it to be, and I was happy with the story as it turned out. I love the snarky voice it is told in. It is also told much like a fairy tale — short, sweet and to the point. That works well for a short story, especially one where there is world building. I often have trouble getting into short stories that aren’t contemporaries for that very reason. The voice in this story (which is mostly Haron’s POV, though it changes between Haron and Wiskar) is funny and led me to believe that the world-building wasn’t very important. The story is really all about Haron and Wiskar, who are two extremes that we know are meant for one another from the moment we see what they create. The way those extremes are described, Haron as a sort of doe-eyed, innocent princeling type, and Wiskar, the gruff, can’t bear to talk about emotions and ready to dunk his head into a barrel of beer, lumberjack type, are almost satirical of a typical fairy tale romance, especially between two men. It led to a light and funny read that I really enjoyed.
There were a few things that I didn’t really understand, specifically dealing with the corn and beans and the racks of elk (this is dealing with their duel), but it didn’t sour my enjoyment of the story. Though, I do think that if I had understood a lot of those little details I would have gotten more from the story. It could be just that those are references that I didn’t really understand. Still, I don’t think they lead to any great revelations, as this isn’t the sort of story that I feel is supposed to impart some sort of meaning other than the enjoyment of the story itself. It might be that I am wrong, but I enjoyed it for being light-hearted without trying to drive home any sort of message.
I really enjoyed the two loons, Susan and Bill, who share a similar relationship to Wiskar and Haron, yet also watch from the sidelines in bemused silence. I was a bit startled by the way the two men get to the different worlds by “Divine Vessel” (and you will be two, I think). It reminded me a bit of a scene in Pedro Almodovar’s film Talk to Her, where a character runs around in a giant re-creation of a vagina (that’s all I’ll tell you, I swear!).
This story was, however, quirky and with it’s own sense of humor. For that, I enjoyed it very much. Recommended for a quick, light read with lots of imagination.
Splattered is the story of man who has just emerged from a Fine Arts doctoral program as Dr. Dick Livingston, real name Richard, though that doesn’t sSplattered is the story of man who has just emerged from a Fine Arts doctoral program as Dr. Dick Livingston, real name Richard, though that doesn’t sound as sexy as Dick (well, at least when you’re thinking with one…). Dick works as a buyer for a gallery, scouting talent and meeting artists. On a trip down the California coast, Dick meets Dan, an artist with an unusual medium — not only does he paint with his cock but with his whole body, and he welcomes Dr. Dick to join him on the massive canvas for the first painting of the series that will come to be known as the “Come Series.” With as much messy fun as they have creating art with a performance that is the literal definition of “doing the dirty,” there are sure to become very, very rich.
As soon as I read the blurb for this story, I knew I had to read it. Nothing could be hotter than two sexy guys slathered in paint, rolling around… ahem… you get the picture. This story certainly lived up to what I was expecting — it is funny and sexy. There really isn’t much time to get to know the characters since it is a very quick read, but I still felt like I got a pretty good picture of them in so short a time. There is also very little time for much plot, and most of this story is filled up with the one main sex scene with just enough information to put in in context and round out the characters. For the amount of time allowed in the short length, this was done very well, though I would have loved to get to know Dan better (the POV of the story is Dr. Dick’s).
From the very beginning of the story, the mood is set, as our narrator stops at a local bar for a nightcap after visiting the opera Faust. This aloneFrom the very beginning of the story, the mood is set, as our narrator stops at a local bar for a nightcap after visiting the opera Faust. This alone tells us a bit about the story to come. Goethe’s Faust (the version of the German tale the opera is based on) at its basic elements is a story about a man whose lust, be it for knowledge or earthly pleasure, convinces him to give up all dignity, and in his ignorance and greed, ends up ruining the lives of countless others. In this tragic story by Victor Banis, our narrator is the nameless man who witnesses a man’s confession about his dealings with the devil, or Faust in disguise, and in his witnessing of the forthcoming tale, hears a story of greed, betrayal, and murder.
After bringing the man home from the bar, who tells him that he isn’t gay, our narrator sets him up to sleep on his couch. As the man undresses, our narrator remarks to him “You look like a man who has something on his mind.” To which the man later replies, “I’ve really wanted to tell someone…I killed someone.” The best thing about this story is how the dialogue compliments the mood set early on, before they ever leave the bar. The mood is reminiscent of Hitchcock, which is often alluded to just to sing praise, but in this case, actually accomplishes the same things that made Hitchcock so famous — the setting of a scene as if to make every viewer/reader is a participant, make them feel that this unnatural thing happening can happen to them at any time, for no reason other than happenstance. A man walks into a bar, another man joins him in conversation about the opera, then proceeds to hint that the man invite him home. Once they’re home, as if scripted, the man begins to spin his story. The motivations of the man our narrator brings home aren’t ever quite understood, just as they are supposed to be. He is an enigma, he is representative of the cloaked man who brings doom into our lives. Maybe some readers will not see this at all. To them, the man’s story might not even be real, and therefore the man becomes a master weaver, who for whatever reason is playing a game. That is the best part about this story is that it means so many different things, and Neal, the man telling the story — we know nothing about him except what he wants to show us, which admittedly, isn’t much.
Neon Yellow: Obsessive Adhesives tells the story of Jason and Spencer. Jason is a playboy. Well, maybe not a playboy, but he certainly** 3.5 stars **
Neon Yellow: Obsessive Adhesives tells the story of Jason and Spencer. Jason is a playboy. Well, maybe not a playboy, but he certainly never wants for a date. He is easy-going, incredibly sexy, self-assured, and until his friend Sky settled down with his partner, Jason was content to play the field and have as much fun as he could on a nightly basis. Now, seeing how happy Sky is with his new man, Jason decides that it couldn’t hurt to keep his eye out for someone that could give him more than a night of fun, and almost immediately, Jason realizes that he’s already found that person and has been looking at him across the office for months. Spencer puzzles Jason. At first thought Spencer seems bland and boring — an accounting nerd. Yet, the more he gets to know Spencer and the more he gets the shy man to blush, he realizes that Spencer is possibly one of the most interesting men he has ever met. Behind the glasses, the button down and bland office attire, and away from the office where Spencer is always dutifully at work, Jason comes to know a new side of Spencer — passionate, innocent, and beautiful.
To Spencer, Jason represents the unattainable man. He is sexy and outgoing and Spencer cannot allow his new attentions to go to his head. He knows that for men like Jason, this innocent flirting is just a fun game. The minute he gives in, Jason’s attentions will wander somewhere else and he, painfully shy and a virgin at 22, will be heartbroken. Why would someone like Jason be interested in him anyway? Surely it must be some kind of game. Spencer is used to games and he is used to being picked on, bullied, and made fun of — which is why he gives no thought to each successive neon yellow post-it note attatched to his computer screen every morning at work. For the past month these little notes have been waiting for him and as time passes they seem to get more and more dangerous. What most would consider stalking, Spencer knows is probably just an office game to make fun of him again, or possibly to out him in front of everyone. Then, as he gets to know Jason on a personal level and finds that the man isn’t like the persona he projects, the notes become dangerous, ultimately leading to vandalism, breaking and entering, and a possible threat on Jason’s life.
This book is a good, solid read. I liked the characters quite a bit. I sometimes felt like we could have gotten to know Jason a bit better, as much of the story focuses on Spencer, but they were both well drawn and likeable. I liked reading about a character like Spencer who is incredibly innocent, but not for some dramatic reason or by nefarious outside actions in his past — he is simply a shy man who has found life easiest to navigate by staying alone and keeping out of other people’s ways. I liked that when he found he could trust Jason, we saw him bloom before our eyes. Spencer is incredibly passionate about geology. He is a self-professed rockhound, spending whatever free time he has in Herkimer, NY looking for Herkimer Diamonds. The progression of their relationship is slow, though it only spands a couple of weeks. The romance part of the story was done pretty well, though I would have liked to see a bit more time go by in the middle, before the climax of the story, just so that the changes in Spencer didn’t seem rushed.
For all that this book had going for it, however, I still wish there had been more, simply because it didn’t feel complete. Perhaps the reason is that I’m tired of reading about the stalker theme, but I didn’t feel like this aspect of the novel worked. The suspense and abject fear work well to bring Jason and Spencer together, but the rest of the sub-plot didn’t make much sense. If the story had been significantly lengthened so that we have time to get to know all of the secondary cast of characters well (as they are, they aren’t really fleshed out), the the identity of the stalker would have made sense. As the story progressed and neared the scene which reveals the stalker and all of the plot comes together, I didn’t really have any candidates for who it could be. It is a bit like a mystery in the way it should be constructed — there should be some red herrings and a plethora of secondary cast members, where from 2-4 should be possible candidates and 1-2 probable candidates. Yet, I didn’t even know the possible suspects that they considered and we only met one of the characters who they considered might be the stalker on the page. So, when the time came for the big reveal, it fizzled and didn’t pack the punch that I had hoped for, simply because I had no clue why this character was stalking Spencer. In essence, it felt like the whole sub-plot was present to capitalize on the hurt/comfort theme, and when you take it away, then the story is actually a sweet romance that I would have enjoyed reading much more by itself.
Catalyst tells the story of Logan, an accomplished Dom whose cravings for blood have recently crossed the line into negligence to his** 4.75 stars **
Catalyst tells the story of Logan, an accomplished Dom whose cravings for blood have recently crossed the line into negligence to his latest sub, ultimately putting him in the hospital after Logan’s haze of lust at the taste caused him to slip and nick an artery with his sterile razor. The story starts in the office of Dr. Kasper Bromley, a psychiatrist, with a hesitant and slowly building dialogue between patient and practitioner. Logan came for help, finally telling himself that his cravings are sick and he can go no further. Since the incident only a month or so prior, Logan has only been able to come by pricking his own fingers and drinking the blood. The harder he tries to resist, the quicker he seems to fail at his self-imposed limits.
Kasper, for all that his money, education, and connections may seem, is not a happy man. He has done everything in his life to please other people, mostly his father, who even in death seems to hold a hand over his son’s decisions. Yet, even with this knowledge, Kasper continues to believe that he is content, if not happy, with his life. It takes his new patient, Logan, to show him a world where submission can mean a break from the daily rigor of keeping his life in constant control. The more Logan tells him of the culture, the more Kasper’s fantasies of submission spiral away from him. The more he fantasizes of Logan, however, the less he is able to hide from Logan’s steady and watchful gaze. Logan can see that they’ve crossed a line somewhere, but now the only blood he craves is Kasper’s. Unable to keep his rigid conformity, Kasper unleashes his deperation to please and their roles reverse. Now Kasper is the student, and Logan sets out to teach him everything he knows. Ultimately, however, their lives are moving in different directions. While Logan is slowly coming to balance his cravings for blood, Kasper’s desire to please at whatever cost is affecting the trust that Logan has implicitly placed in his care, as his doctor. With that trust breached, their relationship is set up for failure, and Kasper seems hell-bent on pushing his limitations further than humanly possible.
The most beautiful aspect of this novel are the characters, Logan and Kasper. To deal with a topic such as blood play in a contemporary setting and for the fetish not to come across as a glorification or purely for shock and awe, the reader needs to feel a connection to the characters and understand why this fetish is important to them. The understanding that is implicit in the writing of this book shows that the authors gave these characters the care that they deserved, and because of that I felt for them and cared about their growth. Logan starts to learn this early on as an aspect of his therapy with Kasper. Why does drinking blood make him feel powerful? Is it really a sickness, or is it a fetish like any other that happens to have a higher risk? For all of Logan’s hangups at the beginning of the story, he really is quite a healthy man. He first felt the taste of blood as he lost his virginity and bit into his lover’s neck as they came. That association, of blood with release and reward, fueled his fantasies and over the years became a full time addiction. One thing cannot go without the other. Kasper, on the other hand, is a very repressed man. In fact, he has repressed his repression, living in a safe world and inside a safe mind. The passion that is fueled by his conversations with Logan give him the oppurtunity to relinquish the control that he has so tightly bound himself to during the 37 years of his life. The problem that Logan soon begins to understand, is that Kasper cannot trade a habit of control with an addiction to submission without first dealing with that repression. The consequences of shifting those feelings onto a fetish that can be dangerous are an absence of limitations, and an absence of limitations is asking for trouble.
First released in 1991 and re-released last year by Lethe Press, Getting Life in Perspective tells the life story of three gay men. Rick Carton, an editor for a Boston gay-oriented publishing company, has watched many friends and past lovers die at the hands of the latest monstrosity sent to plague gay men, AIDS, and now has been told that he has a similar disease in symptom, though somewhat different and lesser known, yet which is slowly killing him just as surely. His dire prognosis is leading him down a path of self-actualization in which he realizes that he's living a life that never dreamt of. Most of all that upsets him, though, is the fact that he hasn't found love in his life, though he's had plenty of sex, and he seems to have lost the wonder of seeing the world in the way he once had during his youthful days marching for human rights throughout the 60s and 70s. Urged by his best friend to take a holiday for his health, he retreats to the Texan countryside to help prepare a old rundown Spanish estate for sale, and hopefully, find inspiration to create the novel he's always wanted to write.
The country is good for him. Breathing fresh air and working in the garden is not only healing him physically, but spiritually as well. So comes the day when he takes the advice he'd given in the past to young writers as he sits to write his novel. He imagines sitting down and having a conversation with his characters and letting them tell him their story. Like the creation of a tulpa, two men emerge. Ben comes first. He is the embodiment of all that Rick has ever been attracted to and he is remarkably insecure at first, like a lost little boy begging to be understood. He tells Rick his story -- his enrollment in a Jesuit seminary in the 1890s and the subsequent feelings of otherness. As he continues his tale through seminary, the downfall of his family, his life as a tramp and the shanty towns along the rivers on the way to Chi-town, Rick also comes to meet Tom, another man/character sprung from his consciousness (or the land he now resides?), who has braved his mother's care and death, then the loss of his job with the failing economy. Now untethered and dreaming of the adventure he could not pursue while his mother was dying, he buys a train ticket to Chicago where he hopes to meet his childhood friend Johnny, the only person who he felt ever really understood him. Like Ben, Tom tells Rick of his adventure -- of meeting Literature professor Eli Hauptmann on the train and his subsequent discovery of the alternately sexual community of scholars, poets, artists, and philosophers of the late 19th century.
Told in alternating viewpoints between the three men, and spanning two different times of transition in American and gay culture, the story follows the fated meeting of Ben and Tom and their search across the West for a place to live peacefully and Rick's own parallel discoveries of life, love, and the pursuit of the Clear Light, a place of new perspective in the ever present mortality of life.
There is so much I felt while reading this truly beautiful story that I feel as if I'm bursting at the seams. I've only read one previous book written by Toby Johnson (with Dr. Walter Williams), Two Spirits (reviewed here). Like that book, the storytelling here is superb. Essentially a coming of age novel, no matter at which point each of these characters are in their lives, this is a story of adventure, of learning from life, and understanding. It is a story about the history of all marginalized groups everywhere and their slow, perpetual work toward the benefit of their community and humanity. This is a story in the vein of the Bill Moyers interviews with Joseph Campbell -- a dialogue of sorts challenging the nature of the ever-changing mythos of homosexuality. And lastly, this is a story about finding love and having the courage to accept that sometimes it breaks all the rules.
Though I must say that I find gay spirituality a fascinating topic, I'm still a lover of stories at heart, and the real heart of this story is the journey undertaken by Ben and Tom. Though their era is often referred to as a simpler time, their personal experiences show that misfortune knows no restraint by the era in history. Ben and Tom face trial after trial in their youth, until they learn to embrace the margins and take up residence there with what they previously believed were the dregs of society -- tramps, hobos, queers. Their love story is triumphant because they truly love each other, which is consistently shown in this story to be a spiritual birth. Their journey is meant to be instructive, not only to Rick, but to everyone, that love should be treated with the same reverence a priest would give to God. As a product of that joining between the two of them, they nurture each other until they ultimately overcome the fears that were previously strangling them. This is possibly one of the most obvious themes -- the hero's journey -- which among others, are stamped across the pages saying "Joseph Campbell was here."
The only real difficulty that I had with the story is that the narration often strays into what a character from the later part of the novel calls "sermonizing." I sometimes felt like the fourth wall had broken down and I was in a seminar. Now, that depends on the reader whether the subject interests them enough to enjoy it or over look it if they don't. While I found the discourse interesting at times, it often repeated the same theories from different angles all at the same problems, which made the reading sometimes tedious. Thankfully, I loved the rest of the story so much and these parts, though while often, tended not to last very long. To some extent, this is to be expected, as Toby Johnson set out to write a Gay Spiritual Romance, which by nature means that he's starting a discussion with the reader. I simply wished that sometimes I had been left to discover the message on my own, through the characters' journey.
I must admit that I feel a bit ashamed after reading this novel, that while I thought I was very up on a piece of my own history, I had largely based my knowledge on the queer movements of the 60s-80s (from Stonewall to Homosexual Theory to AIDS marches on the Reagan administration). There is quite a bit of information here, all set up as a story within a story within a story -- a nesting doll of comparative experiences among gay peoples that spans time. It might be helpful for some to have some knowledge on the subject, though definitely not needed. While I find the teachings of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and the like interesting, I must say that I know quite little about these teachings, and some of these texts (the Upanishads for example, are referenced quite often), yet it didn't diminish my understanding and enjoyment of the novel, no matter how I might have sometimes wished for a lighter delivery.
This is certainly not a light read, and you should know that this book is meant for more than enjoyment. It isn't quite heavy, though, especially in the way that Two Spirits was sometimes difficult to read. There is a brief attempted rape (I refuse to read non-con, yet this did not bother me), and those who are sensitive to religious issues might take heed. I do, however, encourage those who might balk at the idea of this story to try the book anyway. Even if you absolutely hate the spiritual discussions, the story within is a gem and Ben and Tom are characters that grew to mean very much to me. The secondary characters alone are reason enough to read the story. The numerous shades of people Ben and Tom meet on their journey remind me so much of Cormac McCarthy's characters. They're simply a delight to read. Though I marked off some points in my review, this is definitely a keeper, and I plan on reading it many times in the future....more
This first book of the Men of Honor series by S.E. Jakes tells the story of Tanner and Damon. Tanner is an Army Ranger who has spend the last year mouThis first book of the Men of Honor series by S.E. Jakes tells the story of Tanner and Damon. Tanner is an Army Ranger who has spend the last year mourning the loss of his best friend Jesse on the force and in their Special Ops team after his untimely death in battle. Left in a position where Jesse was slowly dying and all he could do for his friend was ease his pain, they have time to talk before Jesse passes and Tanner is rescued 10 hours later. He is left with a request from Jesse — to wait one year and then visit his boyfriend Damon, the owner of a BDSM club and a famous local Dom and repeat to him his dying wish — that Tanner sub for Damon for one night. Tanner is a soldier through and through. He is honorable, honest, tough and smart. There is no way that he can deny his friend’s request, no matter that he’s a top and has never bottomed for anyone, much less subbed. BDSM is not his scene, though he doesn’t begrudge anyone their lifestyle. Yet, in honor of his fallen friend and hoping to alleviate his lasting guilt that he couldn’t save his friend, he heads to Crave at the one year anniversary of Jesse’s death, needing to bear this one night of submission to put his grief behind him.
Damon has been grieving for Jesse for the past year, caught in a helpless cycle of denial, pain, and guilt over Jesse’s death and the failure of their relationship. He feels guilty that he fought with Jesse before he left. From past experience in the forces himself, he knows that no soldier can go into battle with other things on his mind and expect to make it out alive. He also feels guilty for the secrets he’s kept from Jesse, from everyone over his life but his best friend LC, and wonders if he had confided in Jesse, would it have made a difference in their relationship anyway? Would it have balanced a relationship that was built upon Damon fixing a broken Jesse and not asking for anything in return? When Tanner comes to the club with his request, it angers him — at Tanner, at himself, and at Jesse, who wouldn’t leave the forces for him and got himself killed. Therefore, he takes Jesse’s dying wish, and in anger, forces a public scene on Tanner, on a man who he knows isn’t a sub in a mockery of Jesse’s dying wish.
Despite their explosive first meeting, both Damon and Tanner can’t seem to stay away from one another. As the days go on, as their relationship progresses into something neither one expected, they start to realize that maybe Jesse knew what he was doing when he set up their meeting. Though both of them seem to make mistakes at every turn, they start to understand that being vulnerable to one another and together is better than being safely closed off and alone, and that what they expect of each other they should be able to live up to themselves. They have a lot to learn about themselves before a relationship between them can actually work, but it is worth it to try. Still, they are both stubborn fools and no matter how they might initially identify as a Dom or sub, or how those identities change over the course of the story, it is like pulling teeth to get either of them to really submit to the other in any way.
Though there is some variation on the roles they play (and they get very complicated when they, or we, try to understand them as either Dom or sub), both of these men are Alpha males (ergo, lots of masculine growling, fighting, and sexing). For Damon, being a Dom is a part of his life that has grown out of his fear to relinquish control in any way, to anyone. For Tanner, he hasn’t allowed himself to admit that what he really desires is to bottom. Originally, he sees this as submitting (especially since the situation is in a BDSM context) and he hates that his attraction to Damon is strong enough to get him to give up his cherry for the first time, no matter how many times he insists that he’s a top. Damon does all he can to steer the progression of their relationship into a sort of training for Tanner to become his sub, though there isn’t really anything in play but power dynamics (no whips, etc.). Their relationship is a bit of a runaway train and it is Damon’s only way of pretending that he’s in control of it. Though he has been outgrowing the BDSM community for some time, only staying with it for Jesse’s sake (who needed to submit to him), it is his only way of controlling his feelings for Tanner and the guilt he feels. On the other hand, Tanner very soon realizes that he needs Damon and more importantly, that Damon needs him, and he sets out to fight for Damon when Damon starts to break down and refuses to fight for himself. The dynamics of the characters in this story, and also the secondary characters (LC’s book is next, but he is a very important character in this book as well) are so layered that it was thrilling to read this book, which relied mostly on internal conflict to usher the plot along. I think this can be difficult for a reader to enjoy unless it is done very well, because having so much conflict within a relationship can make the book overly angsty, while at the same time turning the reader off of the characters (too whiny, TSTL, etc.). This book was set up to be an ansty read from the very beginning, but I was pleased to find out that the characters don’t dwell on their emotions too much, just enough to convey their feelings to the reader, so the book didn’t feel overly dramatic.
Brady’s Choice starts with our narrator Brady walking into a job interview and seeing his ex-boyfriend across the table. Brady really wants this job,Brady’s Choice starts with our narrator Brady walking into a job interview and seeing his ex-boyfriend across the table. Brady really wants this job, though he thinks that he is probably underqualified, but he’s mortified that he might have to pass up the opportunity if he’s going to have to work with Philip, who is working on the project as a sort of liaison for a partner company. It has only been a short time since their separation, but each has started a new chapter in their lives and changed greatly. They are equally shocked to see one another, and after fumbling through the interview, Brady escapes and slowly starts to tell us the story of the slow decline of their relationship and how they came to be where they are today. The unexpected meeting throws their lives to a halt. Not only does Brady have a choice, but so does Philip — revisit the past to make a new future together, or go their separate ways and explore the relationships they have with other men?
I have long admired Anne Brooke’s stories, because she is a master of the short form. There are typically two types of short stories in the M/M genre (that I have seen), which are the one-scene sexcapade and the novel that got mashed down into one-tenth its size. Anne has a way of writing a short story with the same effect that another author would use 300 pages to tell. They are effective because they’re highly honed and there are no frivolous scenes, and in a medium where every word counts more than a sentence counts in a novel, the effect is that each scene, each bit of dialogue means more to the reader.
The characterizations in this story are what makes the story shine after you’ve considered the concise writing. Brady and Philip are two normal men who are not yet fully matured to handle a heavy relationship. Neither man has found what they need in themselves, and they look for that in their partner, which in turn begins the downfall of their relationship, and in the end, is the impetus for the coup de grace employed by Philip the is the very end of their relationship. Then, after their separation forces that maturity to grow in each character, they meet again and the old attraction takes place. Can they take a second chance? Or will it be futile to believe that those old hurts have fully healed, enough so that they’re willing to break the hearts of the men they’re currently involved with? All of these questions are raised within a 20 page short story, and a mighty fine one it is.
The Manny Diares tells the story of Evan Ross, who has only recently been straddling the threshold of the closet. He’s been firmly shut in it his wholThe Manny Diares tells the story of Evan Ross, who has only recently been straddling the threshold of the closet. He’s been firmly shut in it his whole life, even from himself, enough that the only thing that made him realize he might be gay is when his girlfriend of 3 years starts to get horny. Having been brought up as nice Baptist children, Evan and his girlfriend were waiting to do the deed until marraige, but after moving to San Francisco together so Evan could go to art school, the nice young lady started feeling the taboo desires of pre-nuptial sex. Suddenly, Evan’s excuse of being a “gentleman” won’t cut it with his girlfriend’s burgeoning inner sluttiness and he is forced to realize that the real reason he’s waiting until marraige is because he has absolutely no sexual interest in her. Fast forward to six months later, at the start of this novel, and they have broken up, she is off with her new boyfriend and knocked up, and Evan is firmly straddling the threshold of the closet. He won’t cross it, even though all his new friends are urging him to, until his best friend Trini, a loud and bi-sexual Phillipino woman takes him out and practically pushes him into the arms of a hunky Russian naval officer on leave. Finally, deciding that it is the right time to make the choice, he takes the sailor into a dark corner and… well, I won’t tell you, I’ll just tell you that it doesn’t work out so well for poor Evan.
Evan is alternately thrilled and nervous about starting his new life out of the closet. He can finally do what he wants! But the stars just don’t seem to be aligned until he meets the doppleganger of his hunky celebrity crush, Clive Owen, in line at the cafe at the SF MOMA. The man is in a hurry, but things seem to be looking up for Evan. He helps a little girl who is alone at the museum, and spends all day with her talking in made up languages and making up stories about all of the artwork. When the little girl’s mother arrives, she’s elated that her daughter took to Evan, as most people are put off by her daughter’s strange imagination. Learning that Evan is strapped for cash and looking for a job, she offers him a position as little Monica’s nanny and Evan accepts. The problem, as Trini tells him, is that all of those strange things the lady has done (like buying him a Vespa and having him rub lotion on her back out by the pool) are pointing to her being a cougar in disguise and eager to make Evan her cabana boy. it seems that Evan is really in for it, though, when Monica’s father Liam comes to visit and he sees the man from the cafe for the second time, just as he’s weilding a cardboard sword, wearing a knights helmet, and sporting a construction paper moustache.
What is great about this story, is that it is at typical fall in love with a man who is unavailable or in a position of authority who is straight plotline, but told in such a funny way that it seems fresh and new. The only problem is that there were some very big glaring problems in the story that ultimately took away my enjoyment and left me with a dissatisfied taste in my mouth. Ultimately, as I finished the book, I could look back on pieces of the book that were incredibly good, and some that were equally bad.
The main draw to the story, and its high point, is the narration by Evan. He has a very funny voice that a few times left me in stitches, and most of the time was incredibly enjoyable. There were a few times where the humor fell flat, but I really didn’t mind as the rest made up for that fact. Also, his two friends, Trini and her cousin Rodel, were even more hilarious that Evan was, as they’ve been around the block a few million times and had quite a bit of advice for every wrong turn Evan made in his social life. The problem though, was that after a while their humor started to wane because it was not backed up with very good characterizations. Oddly, Trini and Rodel were exempt from this, and though they each came off as a bit of caricature of a stereotype (Rodel specifically, of the over-the-top twink), they were enjoyable enough and they still served their purpose of being the snarky and jaded friends with numerous one-liners to dish out at a moment’s notice. Evan, however, flopped all over the place. When we first meet him, he’s very shy and unsure of himself. He’s struggled with his sexuality (or, we’re told he has), but then as soon as he’s forced into a sexual situation with a man for the first time… wham, he’s finally free to be himself: a diluted version of Rodel, bitchy, campy, jaded and alternately sappy and on the prowl for Mr. Right. He often goes back to that shy, demure character, but then he jumps back again. I felt like I never really understood who he was.
The character problems that I had with Evan is a great example of the biggest problem that I had with this story. Since we never see the actual transition between these two states of being, whether they be different parts of Evan’s character, the different periods in the growing relationship between Evan and Liam, or even a block of a scene, we miss out on the most important part of every change in the character’s lives. It felt a bit like eating a bologna sandwich without bologna. The jump in the character’s feeling or in the plot almost always lost me, and I’d have to go back and find what I’d missed. Usually, I’d find the characters thinking and acting one way, and then at the beginning of the next paragraph, thinking and acting in the totally opposite way. How can you feel affected by a character, or relate to them if you don’t get to see them learn their lessons, question themselves, and force themselves to change and grow? Ultimately, when the story neared the climax and the relationship was tested, I found that I didn’t much care if they remained a couple or not, because I didn’t much care for the characters themselves.
DNF Reason -- This book was for review on Jessewave's blog, but was disqualified due to m/f content. It wasn't going to be a great review anyway ... IDNF Reason -- This book was for review on Jessewave's blog, but was disqualified due to m/f content. It wasn't going to be a great review anyway ... I had several problems with the writing (dialogue, plotting, pacing, etc.), so I didn't feel particularly interested in finishing it for my own benefit....more
I was drawn to this book immediately the moment I saw its cover on the Dreamspinner website. The gorgeous cover, painted by artist and cover artist PaI was drawn to this book immediately the moment I saw its cover on the Dreamspinner website. The gorgeous cover, painted by artist and cover artist Paul Richmond, was strangely serene and peaceful, and I remember at the time hoping that the beautiful art on the cover accurately represents the pages within. I bought the book the day it came out, and immeditely upon reading, I was captivated. This story is based on a single idea — one that has been explored countless times in literature and film, yet which when paired with Eric Arvin’s beautiful prose and the genre of m/m romance itself, becomes truly unique — the travel into the afterlife for answers about life. death, and the love that you found along the way. Here, Eric Arvin takes our young Odysseus through an epic adventure in the afterlife, each encounter with a strange being or situation demonstrating a major moment of his life that Joe is due to remember, for only in acceptance and remembrance of his successes and failures in life will Joe learn from them and be able to move on. From childhood friends to teenage heartbreak, from struggling to come out to finding love and failure as an adult, Joe’s memories get succeedingly difficult to face, until becoming too difficult all together. If he does not face his past and find a way to understand it, he will never move on, stuck in the limbo of his Journey. Even more upsetting, if he doesn’t finish his Journey, he might never learn who the alluring stranger is who periodically shows up to give him courage, and as a result, Joe might never unravel the greatest mystery of all — his death.
He doesn’t even remember his name when he wakes up naked in the field of barley. He doesn’t know who he his, where he is, or who the strange and beautiful man is who shows up with an eager dog and tells him that if he has the courage, they will meet again and the end of the journey the man insists Joe must take. When the man disappears and he has nothing more to do, he sets off to explore. It seems as if each little thing, the feel of the grass on his toes, or the image of the night sky brings upon a memory. Slowly at first, he starts to remember things: his name, the face of his mother, his first memories. So far he has let his feet wander where they may and he has come across the largest tree that he’s ever seen, with the largest treehouse he’s ever seen, spiraling level after level into the boughs. Feeling compulsed, David follows a big of music into the treehouse and comes across a man playing a guitar. He says his name is Baker and that he is to be Joe’s guide through the Second Existence, and his Journey. They set off, getting to know one another and bonding like old friends as they take on and deal with one encounter after another of people from Joe’s life that he is destined to face.
I loved this book so much for the breadth of scope it encompasses. It is insightful into the nature of celebrating life and honoring it in a way that includes honoring death as well, not as an ending, but as a transistion from one form to another. The story was also hilarious at times, as Eric Arvin took real advantage of certain situations to show the difference between different periods of Joe’s life and how they manifest themselves after death — Joe’s childhood friend 3P, who teaches Joe how to regain his childhood; Joe’s grandfather, who in life was keeping some secrets of his own, but who, in the afterlife, has wings like an angel and loves to swoop through the pink candy clouds and roll and dive through the air, joyous in a way he never was in life; and also Guy, Joe’s vain best friend from college, who is more of himself in death than he even was in life, having made his body into a monstrous display of masculinity, a giant with a giant penis and the leader of a fraternity of men who spend the afterlife playing naked wrestling, having constant sex, and being a group of brothers in a glaring tribute to the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue scenes of frolicking half-naked men. These were only a drop in the bucket of the amazingly varied characters Joe meets in the afterlife, each a bit more magnanimous than they were in life. I particularly loved Phil and Mitch, the gay talking horses
The world itself is beautifully built, a place that is an extension of the mind. It isn’t unusual to see the world quite literally shifting around a character to reflect their mood. It is a place a bit like Oz, yet also with the depth of the dreamscape in the movie Inception. The place is like a blank canvas, it only limitation being the boundaries of the mind. This lends to each day being an act of creation, and we see this as we learn who Joe is along with him. The slow reveal of each piece of Joe’s life builds the suspense of what is coming. We, the reader, nor Joe understand exactly what that is, but we know that there are things coming that he will have to face that are difficult. In the end, how did he die, and what role in his death did the Stranger have?
Home Again opens in the hospital room of Noah Forman, who has been in a coma for four weeks. Upon opening his eyes, he is surprised to see his brotherHome Again opens in the hospital room of Noah Forman, who has been in a coma for four weeks. Upon opening his eyes, he is surprised to see his brother Ben, to whom he has been estranged, not his partner Clark. Immediately, his first fear is that Clark has died in whatever accident has landed him in the hospital. He is quickly reassured, however, that that isn’t the case. Before Ben can explain why Clark isn’t there, Noah assumes that Clark is being kept away from the hospital by his brother, both of whom used to be best friends before they told Ben that they loved one another. After they both came out to Noah’s family, each as gay men and as a couple, they have been estranged from Noah’s family, of which Clark was always close after the death of his mother at eighteen. When Clark finally makes it to the hospital, Noah can’t understand why he looks so much older, until he finally realizes that the last date he can remember is three years prior. The doctors are worried, however, that Noah doesn’t seem to have any brain damage, and they decide that there must have been some emotional event that Noah doesn’t want to remember. On top of this revelation, Clark seems to shy away from any reminders of the past three years, all of which Noah assumes were shared as a happily domesticated couple.
About half of Home Again is told through flashbacks to the time when Ben first befriended Clark in high school. At that time, Clark also meets Ben’s younger brother Noah, the black sheep of the family, and is immediately smitten. I thought that the past/present dynamic worked well for the story, as we need a great deal of back-tracking from where the story starts to understand how the two characters came to be in the hospital room. I did, however, have a problem with how they met. When Clark came home with his new friend Ben, he was seventeen. The problem is that when they meet, Noah is only thirteen. There is no sex until Noah turns eighteen, but the romance is basically already established at this point. I suppose I could have overlooked a great deal of this if I felt like the situation was properly explained, but I never really felt like I understood it. Noah, at age thirteen, is already sneaking out of the house every night and having sex with strangers, while Clark, at seventeen, is not only virginal, but incredibly naive. Not only has he not realized that he is gay at this point, but he also hasn’t sexually woken yet. This is explained a bit by Clark’s nature as well as most of his time as a teenager spent caring for his dying mother. I also understand the message that the author was trying to prove, which is that people mature at different ages. Yet, for all that Clark debates during this time that they are at two different emotional stages in life, it really makes no difference if he is falling in love with Noah at the same time. This is, ultimately, where the problem lies — we’re told this by Clark, but at the same time we aren’t shown that they are at different places and must come together at a later point when they’re at the same stage in life. It really felt like a way to prolong the sex until it wasn’t seen as a criminal act.
I felt like this problem was interspersed throughout the book — the general rookie mistake of telling instead of showing. There were numerous instances throughout the story, specifically where the characters didn’t stay true to themselves, that I never grasped because most of the story was told to me. There were also several times, like I mentioned before, that the characters changed, made uncharacteristic statements, or made very strange decisions that just didn’t seem like them at all. There was even one point in the story where one character, in a moment’s notice, turns into some sort of feral beast and tries to mark his territory on the other by grinding his cock into the other in front of another character (in very strange company, in my opinion). There were several examples like this that dragged me out of the story and made me think … what?
There were also some problems with the pacing of the story. A few times the action would pause at a precipitous moment, only to go back and tell how the character came to that place and why. Examples like these should be woven throughout the story, so that we almost accept them by osmosis; that way, when the character gets to that moment, the pace of the story isn’t interrupted and we understand the character’s actions or feelings without realizing how we got there. This happened a few times as well, when an aspect of the characters would suddenly appear and I had no indication of why (both Noah’s interest in submission and his jealousy). At this point, in the present part of the story the characters have been together for what amounts to somewhere between 6-8 years, so the sudden emergence of new traits that are previously not alluded to drew me out of the story. Furthermore, the reason that Noah is in a coma in the first place is never answered. We never learn about the accident that put him into the hospital.
The good news about this is that these are all things the author can work on. These are all problems that will get better the more the author writes (and the more constructive criticism and editing they receive), and I hope that Cardeno C.’s further stories reflect that...
I very much enjoyed this story, which though sex plays the majority of the on-screen time, actually tells us a quite a bit about the characters. Not oI very much enjoyed this story, which though sex plays the majority of the on-screen time, actually tells us a quite a bit about the characters. Not only are the sex scenes extremely hot and not only do their interactions during sex tell us about the characters and the dynamic of their “triad,” but through Sam’s POV early in the story, we learn a lot of the backstory of who they are and how they have come to be in the menage that they are in. This must be a particularly difficult thing to do in only 6k words, so I really admired the way the authors worked their pasts into the story. In particular, we learn that they have had a long two years as a triad, which have been difficult and almost impossible to get through in one piece. Billy is William’s Godson and Sam is William’s long-time partner. So when William and Sam took Billy in and the sexual tension developed between William and Billy, you can imagine the strangeness that arose within the three of them. William felt guilty for his feelings for his best friend’s son, whom he’s known since he was born and Sam in particular felt like he’s been tossed out of his life and home. Sam didn’t share the same history that William and Billy did, so he felt left out. Yet, it seems that one of the ways they work all of this out is through sex, and the particular games they play. It seemed to me that these were three characters who really needed the kink to give their relationship the stability it needed.
I was a bit disappointed by this story. This is not really a romance, but it is a hookup. I would have found it more redeeming if the story had some rI was a bit disappointed by this story. This is not really a romance, but it is a hookup. I would have found it more redeeming if the story had some really hot smexxin’, but it was pretty much meh for me — as was the storyline. If there were more time for the characters to get to know one another, I might be able to accept the famous-person-falls-for-a-commoner type plot, but in all eventuality, it was pretty much of a booty call. However, if it had been left at that, I might not have cared as much, but in an effort of making the story more romantic, I suppose, the author wrote in that Russ London, the famous musician, gives Jake one of his prized possessions, to remember their time together. If that were the case, why wouldn’t they see each other again? It was all a bit far-fetched for me, which like I said before, might not have bothered me if I really got to know the characters better. As it was, they were pretty much stock stereotypes acting out a role that never really goes anywhere. How is that romantic? If the author had called a spade a spade, and made this story a sex romp (which is pretty much all it was, even though there was only one sex scene with some fake sentimentality), I would have enjoyed this just for the sake of owning up to what it is. But, it seemed to me that the story couldn’t make up its mind, and perhaps that is why I cannot give this story a higher rating.
I would give this one a pass, when there are so many other wonderful stories out there. The writing was not bad, but just like every other aspect of the story, was pretty meh. Which, in a short story (when everything counts for more), made this one of the endless stories with faceless characters that never make it very far. But, like I said, if the author were to give these characters a longer story, I would be happy to read it to really be able to get to know the characters. I wouldn’t count out this author, though this is the first story of hers that I’ve read, but I might go for a longer story if I pick up one of her books in the future.
The Heart of Texas is the tale of two families: their sordid history, professionally and personally, a study in how two families that could have beenThe Heart of Texas is the tale of two families: their sordid history, professionally and personally, a study in how two families that could have been so similar are so different, due to their choices, and the two men that reconnect them after over twenty years of simmering hate, greed, and secrets. Riley Hayes, the second son of Gerald Hayes, the spearhead of HayesOil, opens the book in a rage over the meeting he just attended with his father and his older brother Jeff, who has just been left the multitude of shares in his father’s company. Riley had expected them both to get equal shares. Jeff helps run the day to day operations along with Gerald as well as securing contracts and other operational duties (though Riley has wondered at times just how nefarious his brother and father have become to be so successful in their dealings), and Riley has taken charge of the research and development portion of the company. He maps, finds oil prospects and draws up the information for his father and brother to acquire new assets for the company. He has put his life and soul into his work, and when his father tells him why he won’t share equal holdings in the company — that he’s irresponsible, a playboy, and doesn’t have a wife and stable family, and loosely refers to his bisexual best friend Steve — Riley assumes that the real reason is his father knows that he has preferred both sexes himself, though, admittedly, he seems to prefer women. To placate him, his father tells him that he will change the contract to split the company evenly between the brothers if Riley marries for love for at least a year’s time. Hurt and angry, Riley thinks of the one way he can contractually adhere to his father’s wishes, yet still shove the contract in his face. He will marry a man, and he has the perfect man in mind, Jack Campbell, the son of his father’s arch rival and former business partner.
Riley knows that the only way he will get Jack to agree to the marriage is to blackmail him. After the breakup of the company 20 years previously and the falling out between both families, the Campbell family has fallen into financial ruin due to Jack’s father’s gambling addiction, debts to their ranch, and Jack’s baby sister’s heart problem, which has gutted the families bank accounts. Knowing that the Campbell’s stand to lose everything and that he holds a secret that Jack doesn’t yet know, he offers his contract of marriage to Jack for one year. Jack refuses to accept, assured that he can find a way to keep their ranch and his pride at the same time, until Riley tells him that his sister is pregnant, and she might not live to term due to her weak heart. Cursing the name Hayes, Jack feels that he has no choice but to accept, in order to afford the healthcare that could save his sister’s life.
The following months deal with a whole slew of family members that hold a whole slew of secrets, and despite their hate for one another, Jack and Riley find that they are leaning on one another throughout the messes of scandals that pile around them and that they will need one another to make it through this year of marriage with their sanity intact.
At the center of the story are Riley and Jack, who for the first half of the book, loathe one another. Obviously, Jack hates Riley, not only for the family he comes from, but for blackmailing him (which he soon finds out about). At the same time, I still feel a bit puzzled at why Riley held animosity toward Jack and the Campbell family, although for the most part it seemed to be tinged with pity at their poor state. I suppose that he envied them, having grown up in a cold home with only his little sister Eden as a true friend. It is easy to hate Riley until you understand his motivations, or at least why he felt like he needed to act the way he has done for most of his life, trying to beat his family at their own game, even while destroying lives in the process. Jack, on the other hand, is presented as a bit of a martyr. He sacrifices of himself daily for his family and his pride. Yet, I found that I had a difficult time coming to like him as well. I never felt like he was a pushover, in fact I felt like he more strength than Riley and he was often the one calling the shots in their sham marriage, but I didn’t understand his decision to immediately capitulate to Riley’s contracted marriage when faced with his sister’s pregnancy. He doesn’t seem to tender any other possibilities of providing for his family and sister. I wondered, then, if this was maybe just a setup for the story to get underway. It felt disingenuine to his character and I wondered why he would even consider such an offer except at the last resort.
The only two characters that I didn’t feel were totally fleshed out were the villains of the story, Gerald and Jeff. I felt like I understood Gerald until the very end, when his character seems to shift, and he is remorseful. Is it just that he finally sees the consequences of his greed? I wanted to understand more, but I ended up assuming that this was why. I wouldn’t mind that normally, not knowing for sure, but this story shifts POV between several of the characters of the family, and to shift into Gerald’s POV once or twice throughout the story is inviting his thoughts to the reader, without fully explaining them. On the other hand, Jeff himself was an enigma to me. The point, it seemed to me, was to present him as the embodiment of evil, without giving any real evidence as to why he is the way he is, except for the fact that he was raised in a cold-hearted family (even though the other children didn’t turn out that way). In wanted to know more about Jeff, how he came to be the evil man that he is, and what exactly his motivations are, other than a sick sense of megalomania. I don’t think that it justifies the crime by understanding how the criminal came to commit it and why. So, I didn’t understand why he was protrayed the way he was.
Though the soap opera style of this story might not have been to my taste, I think that it was done rather well. The characters become more interesting the further you read and the scope of this novel is very large for RJ Scott to attempt. The whole story is a giant web, the characters interconnecting with each other, always with a secret to be revealed and a new emotional bomb about to be dropped into the middle of the families, just waiting for them to scurry about trying to put the pieces back together. It is an intricate plot line and I thought that the various pieces were juggled well. I liked that, while Riley could have been made out as GFY, he wasn’t. He had a prior inclination to men, even having experiemented some. Also, I thought the setting was portrayed very well, having grown up only a few hours away from this area all of my life, I really felt the Texas countryside, as well as the feeling of Dallas within the pages and I applaud RJ for her representation of a place so far from where she lives, geographically and culturally. The only character than I really loved was Donna, Jack’s mother. She was a real spit-fire woman who refused to bow down to the pressure she’d felt her whole life, to don the hat of a Dallas debutante, and to curl up and surrender under the weight of all she had to face in her life. I only wish that we could have seen more of her.
This story is told by Cayce, a famous author who has become somewhat of a literary socialite, as Cayce assumes the voice of Jake to tell Jake’s downwaThis story is told by Cayce, a famous author who has become somewhat of a literary socialite, as Cayce assumes the voice of Jake to tell Jake’s downward spiral of jealousy and ultimately death after inadvertantly being the cause of death of the man he was jealous of, Garland. Garland had fallen in love with Cayce (I assume, though we can never be sure), just as everyone had, including Jake, but Garland had something that Jake never did, Cayce’s infatuation. Infatuation was pretty much as far as Cayce would go in his love for others, his main love being himself. Garland was beautiful, androgynous, with a style and affectation all his own. He entranced others, including Cayce. But, after a while, Cayce’s infatuation turned sour and Garland hated this change. In front of everyone, Garland himself started to change, becoming desperate for Cayce’s affections in public and becoming a bit of a liability at Cayce’s infamous parties.
** 4.5 stars **
At one such party, Jake watches from the edge of the crowd as Garland and Cayce battle their wills in front of everyone, Garland sadly desperate to regain Cayce’s affections and Cayce acts disgusted at Garland’s public display. Yet, it is all a game they play, which Jake finds out. He sees that the time is right for him to do something, and during a trip to the bathroom, he finds some simple sleeping pills in the medicine cabinet. This one act of jealousy to remove Garland from the party marks the moment Jake’s life turns toward it’s end. When Jake realizes that his action is what ultimately caused Garland’s death, his life is ruined. Facing the guilt of what he has done, his life quickly spirals out of control.
I really loved this story. Like all of Rick Reed’s works there always seems to be a haunting hum in the background of the storytelling. And that is exactly what this was — storytelling. With the rolling gait of the words and the story’s moral of the downfall of jealousy, this story came across like those in the oral tradition. It is a cautionary tale about what one man will do to secure the affections of the man he thinks he loves. And it is only one little mistake, which without other factors outside his control would have made little difference in the outcome. It is a petty act that makes Jake feel better, to one-up Garland in what he believes is their battle for Cayce — but which not for this one petty act by Jake, Garland would still be alive. He may not have meant for this outcome, but he caused it, and that knowledge begins his own downfall, aided by what could either be the ghost of Garland himself, or the ghosts in Jake’s memory of him, coming back to haunt him in revenge. That’s a pretty horrific thought, isn’t it? These are the types of stories that Rick Reed writes best.
This short story starts after the events in the blurb take place. Joel is late getting off work. Usually, he leaves work at stops at Chocolate DreamsThis short story starts after the events in the blurb take place. Joel is late getting off work. Usually, he leaves work at stops at Chocolate Dreams for his daily truffles and interaction with sexy Italian pastry chef Aaron around 4:30. So when Joel shows up thirty minutes late and is met by a very angry Italian man, he’s baffled as to why Aaron is upset with him. Aaron soon tells him, giving Joel an earful about how he could have been in an accident, hurt and Aaron wouldn’t have known he was okay. But Joel does know the reason that Aaron is upset with him, and it isn’t because he’s late, not completely anyway. The day before, Aaron finally got the courage to ask Joel on a date. He’s been in love with Joel for a while now (and Joel likewise), but when Aaron asks Joel if he has plans for Valentine’s Day, Joel balks and, quick on his feet, makes up an imaginary boyfriend. So when Aaron finds out that Joel has lied to him, he heads to his house to confront him.
But Joel has been burned badly in the past and hasn’t yet recovered. His family is quite wealthy and Joel’s money has attracted a lot of bad men over the years, the last of which cheated on him and broke his heart at the same time that Joel was paying for his lavish tastes. Joel says that he’s afraid of looking like a pathetic idiot in front of Aaron, not having a boyfriend on Valentines Day (BTW, yeah right, tell that to me!), when in all actuality, being hurt one more time, from a man he loves as much as Aaron, will do Joel in for good. The two might be right for one another, but outside influences will be the only way Joel will let down his walls and allow Aaron to love him.
I found this story when looking for something good to read for Valentine’s Day, and I have to say that I was happy with my choice. Being a lover of sweets I love stories about candy makers, chefs, or stories about food in any kind. While there was actually very little here about food, I didn’t mind because I liked the characters and what could have been a stock story at times had some very witty dialogue. The characters also didn’t fall right into bed, which I admired, especially in a short story where there is often room only for sex.
The story starts off with two characters who, while they only know each other over a few conversations at the bakery, have fallen in love. I was worried that their love wouldn’t be believable, that it would feel like insta-love, but their willingness to work through Joel’s problems really showed that they cared about each other, especially from Aaron. Joel has a harder time admitting his feelings for Aaron, because of his past relationship, and he often used his words to cut at Aaron to turn him away. I love Aaron in these moments because he doesn’t get hurt by Joel at all, he just shrugs it off and gets back to trying to help Joel feel more confident in himself. All of these things made their sexual encounters mean more when they finally got around to them.
At times funny and with a light tone, this story is written well, but ultimately relied solely on the sexual element, which left me a little bored.
JakAt times funny and with a light tone, this story is written well, but ultimately relied solely on the sexual element, which left me a little bored.
Jake is getting tired of the endless road trips he has to take for his job. Driving back and forth between San Francisco and Los Angeles every weekend is getting to be incredibly boring. What can he do to spice up the drive a little? Why, drive naked of course! Partway into his trip, he's having the most fun that he's ever had and decides to pull over to help the sexy young hitchhiker who looks to be having a hard time finding a ride.
Les is a musician, heading down to LA for the weekend for a gig. He's quite surprised when the man who pulls over to offer him a ride is completely naked. Yet, the man is attractive and he's getting desperate to get to LA, so Les agrees when the driver, Jake, points out that it is a bit awkward for him to be naked and his passenger to be fully clothed. They're having a pretty good time flirting and admiring each other during the whole drive, until Jake becomes distracted by the show Les is putting on for him and speeds past a highway patrolman.
Jake and Les are nervous about being pulled over naked, but it seems that the cop's day has been quite monotonous as well, and all they have to do to be on their way is give him a little show.
This is the first story that I've read by Rob Rosen and I find this to be a highly subjective story to review. There isn't a whole lot to the story other than the sex, which for me, was quite a bit dull. The writing is good and I wasn't bothered by the improbability of the premise (which, lets face it, is quite improbable, especially on such a highly traveled thouroughfare) because of the tone of the narrative, which was light and fun. This story certainly doesn't take itself seriously, which is nice to read. This really only left the one thing that I mentioned earlier to critique, the sex, which like I said, is subjective to each particular reader's tastes and peferences. I would have enjoyed this story much more if it were two, or even three times as long. As it stands now, the story was way too short for me to get to know the characters, or even for any real scene (sexual, or non-sexual) to come to its natural conlusion without rushing through the story too quickly.
I have heard a lot of great things about Rob Rosen's stories, but this one didn't really work for me. I am looking forward to reading more of his works, though. If you are a fan of Rob Rosen's stories, perhaps you might like this. Otherwise, I wouldn't recommend this story.
I really love stories about awkward and self-conscious characters. Inevitably, I know that I’m going to get to read a story about someone finding theI really love stories about awkward and self-conscious characters. Inevitably, I know that I’m going to get to read a story about someone finding the courage to come out of their shell. They seem to be the best characters, perhaps because they’re more relatable, or because love inspires them to become a better person. Its a bit shmaltzy, but in an “aww, how sweet” kind of way that, if done well, can be genuine and not saccharine. This story hovers right on the line of overly sweet, but doesn’t go all the way. If the dancing hadn’t been the focus of much of the story, I’m sure it would have been too much. But, because on a fundamental level, dancing is primal, it allowed me to see Todd and Nate connect in a way that is difficult to achieve in a short story. I have high standards for shorts, because it requires a lot more skill to pull one off successfully and truthfully. Thankfully, though the dialogue here was a bit too sweet at times, the dancing carried the story enough that I enjoyed it very much. It was a wonderful interlude to my day and I recommend it for those times when you need a bit of a break from a long novel or a particularly melodramatic or melancholy plot. Happily Recommended for a light read.