If I'm correct, this book is Kate McMurray's first published novel. At least, fro...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader for Kate McMurray Week!
If I'm correct, this book is Kate McMurray's first published novel. At least, from her Goodreads info and a quick look. It does list her short "In December My Heart's Full of Spring" as being released first but, as it is available now for free, I'm not sure if it was ever published or not. Anyway, the whole reason for that is that I always find it rather interesting to go back and read an author's first published book when they're more well established. Sometimes you find that you hate it and you don't really understand how an author ever turned their writing around, and sometimes you find that the quality was always there. I think I found this somewhere in between, which is the best place for it now in retrospect, if you ask me. It means that at least in my opinion, Kate's writing has gotten better and her stories more interesting and dynamic with practice, showing growth and not a plateau in talent.
So, naturally, that means that while I liked this book and found it an engaging read it didn't really wow me. But, in knowing that I was going back to read an author's first book, an author I find myself quite fond of, an interesting thing happened. I biased my own expectations and ended up liking the book more than I thought I would. It's a bit like when I finally ended up watching the Sixth Sense and thought, huh? I had heard too many praises. Only the opposite was what happened here. And that's a good thing to happen for me, as the reader :)
In part, this is a mystery and a contemporary romance, those two things here being somewhat different. The framework of the story is wrapped up in the mystery, how just after NYPD cop Noah meets a cute guy named Harry in a bar while on vacation in Florida, he sees on the news that Harry has gone missing and is pulled into the investigation as the last man who saw him. But the filling in between that framework is much like a contemporary romance. When Harry comes stumbling out of the forest beat up and running from his captors, the two are reintroduced and Noah is set to bodyguard duty until they can figure out just who was wanting to kill Harry and why. That's the real meat of the story.
And honestly, I found myself wishing that there were a bit more synergy between those two elements. The story easily moves between action, with the two dodging a hail of bullets to quiet downtime in their safe room at a resort getting to know each other and Noah slowly opening up about his past traumas. The problem for me was that at times these two things seemed to get a bit out of proportion, with those moments together taking precedent and leaving the mystery behind to pick up later. And the problem there is that the story, at times, seemed to lose momentum.
In all, this was a really fun book to read. It's mostly light and easy to read, but the action kicks it up a notch to make it more exciting. And it's easily satisfying, ending in a solid, feel-good HEA. It's not a bad book to take with you on vacation, which I suppose is apropos ;) And at the very least, if you find yourself a fan of Kate McMurray and having not yet read this book, then it's always interesting to go back and see where an author started.(less)
I really liked Jude and Rex's story much better than Jason and Danny's. In this sequel, we get much more into the story and the background of...more3.5 stars
I really liked Jude and Rex's story much better than Jason and Danny's. In this sequel, we get much more into the story and the background of the characters (though, honestly, it is heavily biased towards Jude, as to be expected), which worked for me. I thought that Jude's fears were written well after the trauma he'd witnessed and the loss he'd had, but wasn't overdone.
I feel like this series has a lot of pacing problems. I can't pinpoint exactly what it is that bothers me, but it feels like the characters are very internalized into their relationships so that the outside world only gets a little bit of page time. This means that internal conflict has to push the story forward (which worked more here, less so in Sweet Reunion). Still, that means that there's a bit of a stop/start feeling of the pacing that jarred me a little bit at some points and left me a little bored in others where it would lull out.
Still, my problems aside, I found this sequel much more enjoyable than the previous story.(less)
This was an okay read, though it could have been a lot better if the plot didn't skip such huge time periods. We also neve...more**spoiler alert** 2.25 stars
This was an okay read, though it could have been a lot better if the plot didn't skip such huge time periods. We also never really get to see them work through their problems. They just hold them all inside and then poof! the minute they tell the other about their feelings everything is hunky-dory. I mean, one guy almost went to prison because his gold-digger twink boyfriend wrecked his car while drunk and then tried to pin it on him, and the other has gone through a trifecta of loss: he gets cancer, his lover leaves him for a man in the waiting room at the hospital, his lover and new boy toy then die, and then his best friend dies. That's a lot of issues to never need to work through together.
Still, I enjoyed reading the story and I liked Derrick quite a lot. I just wish it hadn't been riddled with so many issues that were mentioned and then never addressed.(less)
I've meant to read this for a long time now, and lately I've been on a SF kick, especially an interspecies union kick, so I thought I'd pull this one...moreI've meant to read this for a long time now, and lately I've been on a SF kick, especially an interspecies union kick, so I thought I'd pull this one out. Though the writing is solid, it wasn't much for me. There's very little little world building and the aliens weren't very alien, just humans with wings. What I like about the alien/human pairing in these stories is working through the differences, the culture shock, the alien world... whatever it is as long as it is actually alien.
The romance is really quite sweet and I imagine that most people will enjoy it. There wasn't enough of a connection for me between the characters to make up for the lack of the other elements I was hoping for -- so I was ultimately disappointed and ended up skimming a few parts (the sex) because I just didn't feel it.(less)
Super cute! Nate is the cute, slyest, most honest and real and well written child I've seen written in m/m. He made this book the reason it was so fun...moreSuper cute! Nate is the cute, slyest, most honest and real and well written child I've seen written in m/m. He made this book the reason it was so fun to read.(less)
More than any other author who writes "gay" books or stories, I think that Victor Banis has come to be my favorit...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
More than any other author who writes "gay" books or stories, I think that Victor Banis has come to be my favorite with his short stories. There is so much craft needed to make a short story really great and I think, a lot of restraint. This story is so touching and heart-warming, combining tone (like a tired body before a nap) and the voice of Mike, solid man of the earth, nearing the end of his life… with just a bit of southern drawl and geriatric snark.
It has only been three days since Mike's longtime partner Adam died at the beginning of the story. His kids and Adam's kids, now all brothers and sisters for a long time, are on a constant rotation watching out for him. It isn't a secret, even though none of them want to give him a hard time about not eating or sleeping, sneaking a drink here and there, and worst of all, succumbing to delusions. He's heartbroken in the quiet, private way an old man is when faced with the loss of his other half. He carries on going into town and getting up and around the house so that his kids won't worry even more about him -- then breaking down in private. The only solace in his grief, apart from the love he has for his kids and they for him as they hover around him, is a hawk that continues to visit him, acting strange for a hawk and giving signs that have a very clear meaning to Mike.
This is a bittersweet story, and though that means there isn't a traditional HEA, I felt like the story did end happily. It is all presented, of course, in a way different readers could conflict upon the point, but when the story ended after it's inevitable course, I felt lighter and a bit happier than when I started it. It is foremost a love story, and though one character has passed and there is only a brief flashback, the love between the two of them came through really strongly, shown by the way that Mike's ingrained habit of operating as half of a whole is still so obvious. All of the secondary characters have distinct voices, difficult to achieve with such limited page time for each one. But what sets the story apart is the voice of Mike:
All of a sudden, I wanted to see the creek again, the place where Adam and I had first made love. Seemed like I hadn't been there in ages. If I’d known he was going to leave me the way he did, all of a sudden without any warning, his big ole heart just quitting on him, I’d have talked him into going down there with me a time or two, for old-time’s sake. A mattress and clean sheets weren’t all there was to lovemaking, in case you didn’t know. Front seat of a truck works just fine too. I could give you a whole list of places, if you wanted to know. Adam was a man of strong appetites, and he wasn’t shy, either.
This is a story that I'd love to keep around and read when I felt like I needed to. The reach of such a settled and still completely in love couple is much further than any sadness that might happen as consequence of the two growing old together. Not only are those things unavoidable in life, but in this story they serve to contrast and highlight the love that permeates this old, modern family that Mike and Adam created together.
I love Victor Banis' writing, he's such a pro and this short story settles right in when you start reading it, as if it isn't trying at all but still spectacularly succeeding. It is hopeful and beautiful. I would have loved to see the story of the couple together earlier in their lives, but then, that had no place here. This story ended up exactly as it should have done and has the kind of finality about it that you know it couldn't be much improved, and certainly not from me.(less)
This third installment in the Falls Chance Ranch series sees further exploration of the relationship and family of Dale, Paul, Flynn, Riley, and Jasper as well as the exploration of Dale's issues as he finally starts to get a grip on his new life on the ranch.
After a tumultuous summer of getting caught in mines, the discovery of Gam Saan, and a very celebratory commitment among friends and family at the ranch, fall has set in and winter is quickly approaching. Dale is given a work project, his first real project since his breakdown, which brings back a lot of the problems he's had trouble working through at the ranch. Combined with that stress, Dale continues seeing strange people and animals around the ranch. His analytical mind cannot leave an unsolved problem alone, and whether the origins are his own anxiety or a real mystical connection to the land doesn't seem to matter until Dale starts having extremely realistic dreams that uncover clues about a spiritual place on the ranch they call Mustang Hill, a spot where nothing grows and Dale finds strange markings. New friends from Three Traders, Luath and Darcy, return in this book as Dale starts to really believe in his place on the land and that his extraordinary mind for facts and figures also relates to seeing connections between people and places that the others don't.
This book is somewhat different than the previous ones, for several reasons. I've seen other readers have varying feelings about this book where most of them loved the previous ones for these reasons. For one, it is at least a third shorter. Where the second book, Three Traders moved beyond the internal and explored the whole of the ranch and the characters of the family, Mustang Hill is in many ways a retreat to the style of the first book. Without losing the connections made in the second book, this time the story is again a solitary journey for Dale. He's regressed in several ways that remind us of the first book. He is also dealing with a very private understanding of the land and why he can see certain things that only Jasper can see, and sometimes sees even more than Jasper.
The mysticism is something that I am always interested in, so I really ended up enjoying this book, even though it is a bit more subdued and certainly less exciting than TT. This is also Jasper's area of expertise. Having grown up Cherokee in the mountains of Virginia alone with his grandfather, learning the lore and essentially raised in isolation and of a lost period of time and Native American culture, he's connected with spirit and land more than anyone else. We have seen and gotten to know Jasper the least of the 5 main characters at the ranch, but he's one that I've always been really interested in. He's quiet, an observer and he has immense respect for everything around him. The discovery of the spiritual site atop Mustang Hill allows Dale and Jasper to connect in a way that they haven't before, and for us to see a side of Jasper up close that has always fascinated me. As a part of that, we get a lot more of his history and the history of the Shoshone area around this part of Wyoming.
I plowed through this book. It is the last of the completed books. The fourth book, Silver Bullet, isn't finished yet. I tried to slow myself reading this book because I really don't like to read WIP but this book was so much shorter that I found myself finished in a day. I'm really sad that I have to put this story down for a while. I have no idea of the schedule of releases, how fast these authors write, but I have a feeling that I'll be waiting quite a while to read the next book. No matter how much I'm trying to talk myself out of it…. I love these characters too much and I wouldn't be surprised if later today I can't stop myself from picking up the first chapter of Silver Bullet.
It will be a while before I'm able to review Silver Bullet, even if I do start reading it as it is being written. So I really hope that you all have enjoyed my reviews (more of a lengthy profile!) of this series. This series has become quite important to me. Of course it isn't without it's own problems, no matter how much I have gushed about it. Still, it's one of the best serials I've read. I have been really happy to see a lot of you pick these books up! It is such a good feeling to find a series that you love like this and then for them to be free. If you have the time and patience to read such long books, I couldn't recommend these more!(less)
I always read the books that JL Merrow writes, so even though this is a time travel romance (which I don't usuall...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
I always read the books that JL Merrow writes, so even though this is a time travel romance (which I don't usually like), I decided to go ahead and read it. And I'm glad I did -- none of the things that usually bother me about time travel romances (like the lack of details about the time travel itself) were present here. And most of all, this story had the charm that I've come to expect from this author, making it a pretty good book.
Ted Ennis works at the Cri, as an all around helper to put on the plays and events at the theater. His boss got him the job, his former partner's best friend, now looking out for Ted, and now a friend to Ted himself. And Ted needs looking after -- he's been pretty lost in the past year and a half since a car accident not only damaged his body and gave him severe head injuries, but made him a widower and an orphan on the same day. So, Ted isn't sure what to believe when he leaves during a performance for a smoke break and finds that himself standing in a Victorian era London. At first he thinks that he's walked onto a Dickensian movie set, maybe some new BBC historical drama. But when he meets Jem, a beautiful corner rent boy who doesn't seem to understand why Ted is asking him about his role and the set, he starts to wonder if it's his mind acting up again. He's had lots of problems before actually… hallucinations and things like that, but this seems completely different. And when he returns to the theater only to look out once again upon a completely modern Piccadilly Circus, he chalks it up to his damaged brain.
Ted isn't sure what to think when the same thing happens during a performance the next night. Once again he sees Jem, leaning against the lamppost, looking sexy and appealing. But a quick one off isn't fair to the memory of Ted's dead partner, so Ted does everything he can to convince Jem to get to know him, go out for dinner, take a walk. Over a series of nights and stolen time during performances, Ted and Jem meet and get to know each other, until Ted is forced to learn just how he's traveling through time.
There are two things that I really loved about this story, no actually, three things. First, it's pretty short, settling in at 27,000 words. And the length is perfect… just perfect. I sometimes worry with a book that just a little longer than a short story because it gives license to write a bigger story but with still not much more room to showcase it. But the pacing here is done just right, and I finished the story feeling like it was perfectly timed. They get to know each other maybe a little fast, but other than that, everything fit just right and felt like it was where it should be.
One thing that I really loved were Ted and Jem. They're both complex characters, though we only really learn about them from their own recollections about their lives. In the case of Jem, since we don't get to see his POV, we learn quite a bit less, but I never felt as if I didn't get to know him well. Ted's POV is most often centered on himself. He's dealing with a lot, and not only his past relationship and what he'd think of Jem, but the time travel issue itself and what exactly he's doing in 1880s London. So a lot of what we learn about Jem is done through casual observation in his words, his mannerisms and his behavior. He accepts Ted's story about where he's really from with grace, but very subtle cues let us in on how he really feels. He is, in a way, reserved, or he is from Ted's POV. So much of the relationship they build is somewhat of a farce, and they don't really get to know each other until all the cards are on the table near to the end of the story. Still, they have a strong connection, one that I could see the chemistry of from the first scene together.
And last, the crux of the story relies on the time travel, not only as a device to get the characters together but also to manipulate them into choices about their future and the climax of the novella. I mentioned before that I don't usually like to read time travel romances, partly because it's just not a theme that attracts me. The main reason, however, is because I find it infuriating when the characters take their situation for granted, or without looking into why they've traveled time. Unless there are already answers, in a sci-fi futuristic book or something, which usually isn't the case actually, I expect the characters to be completely dumbfounded and want to find the answers. And when that doesn't happen, when the author glosses over the time travel and only uses it as a device to put two characters from different times together, it just really bugs me. So I loved that Merrow made the time travel central to the story. Ted has to figure out why and how it is happening in order to manipulate it to get their HEA, and that is what made the story most enjoyable for me.
Of course, part of the fun of a time travel story is having fun with the displaced character. I find it more fun to see a historical character in a modern time, personally, but the other way around can be fun too. There's a great little bit in the middle of this story where Ted and Jem travel around Victorian London so Ted can see the things that he recognizes from modern times and how they're different. This gave the story some excitement for me because it's fun. And like I always expect from this author, the story was saturated in sensory detail -- the unfortunate odors of London in the 1880s, the sounds in the market, and the story has a wealth of historical detail that firmly tethers this story in time.
Dead in LA is the book that shows just how economical Lou Harper's writing is. It surprises m...moreReview posted for Lou Harper week at The Armchair Reader.
Dead in LA is the book that shows just how economical Lou Harper's writing is. It surprises me even now to write that this book of two stories is only 28k words simply because my memory from reading it is how full of plot and detail it was. Of course it depends on your style and preferences, but I always admire an author who can get their word across without a whole lot of words -- I'm the exact opposite! As you might have noticed and indeed bemoaned from my incredibly wordy reviews :)
Both of these stories, "Dead in the Hills" and "Dead in the Valley" focus on a separate mystery while the overall arc of the story that connects them is the building relationship between Jon and Leander, two completely fascinating characters! I say that because at this point (after reading the first two stories and waiting for the rest to come) I still feel them on incredibly shaky ground, no matter how far they've come from their beginnings as roommates in "Dead in the Hills". And they, in so many ways, are an opposites attract story, not in a sortof comically stereotypical way (like… the twink and the cop or something) but simply because when I first started reading this book I thought… wait, is Leander really going to become Jon's romantic interest? I just couldn't see it. It wasn't until after they were firmly established as friends with benefits (or roommates with benefits) that they both really started to open up for me as characters and I could see past their superficialities. Jon is an art student, but of course in a completely responsible way (art advertising) that he might not have ever really gone in to anyway, and Leander is a psychic who finds things that people have lost. Now, sometimes those are puppies (like the "unlucky Chihuahua" LOL) and sometimes those are missing people. Jon has a hard time at first believing in what Leander does until he offers his roommate a ride to a job and sees it for himself, not only the accuracy of Leander's visions but what it also does to him. His ultimate understanding of Leander's job is what slowly softens him to Leander's charms, even through all of the trauma and guilt that Jon still has after his wife's death.
Dead in LA was probably one of the most enjoyable books I've read this year, and in some ways that's because of the mysteries and in others the relationship. The relationship is also what makes this book like a really early part of a series. Of course, these are the first two stories in this series, but what I mean is that by the end of both there's still a great deal of uncertainty about their relationship and a lot they'll need to work through. Both of these stories, for me, were really about getting to know the characters individually and that makes me even more excited for the coming ones, because I get to see more about where their relationship will progress.
This book also shows how well the episodic mystery format is working for Lou. Making the mysteries somewhat shorter allows for more possible directions for the story to go because we, as readers, aren't completely committed to a long mystery plot while the characters are growing with their relationship. That is what makes the next stories in this series exciting to me.
Also, a note about the cover, which I really love. Lou mentioned that it doesn't really scream romance (which is true) but that it does really highlight that these are mysteries. That works well for me with these two stories -- the cover seems aligned with how I feel about them in any way -- but also, I think that the lack of a naked torso makes your book stand out in new ways these days, when I feel like most others I've heard from… we're just tired of those covers.(less)
ZA Maxfield is one of those unspoken authors that just naturally seems to go onto my Classic Great M/M Romance Authors list, and I think that this book is a good illustration of why she deserves that spot. I read a lot of likable m/m romances, but it takes a little something extra to sink into the story. The more of this genre that I've read I've realized how that has less to do with how much I like a plot, and more how the author extends the story into wordplay -- one of the biggest reasons that I review a book first on it's execution and only after on the author's choices. The best books use prose like an extra limb, manipulating the reader's emotions not by what they say but how they say it.
Grime and Punishment certainly isn't original, but ZA Maxfield does do something pretty important that allowed me to get closer to the characters. They're playful, both in words and jokes, and in intimacy. And humor and playfulness is important in this story to offset the angst. I've made the mistake in the past of leaping from angst to unpleasant and therefore bad for the story, but whether you're an angst fan or not, angst is really only the angst we talk about when it's overused. In a story such as this, where the characters are working through some pretty heavy emotions and dealing with some seriously unpleasant situations, angst is a natural factor. But, it was needed and balanced nicely with little moments of humor.
Equal parts romance and individual journey, "Grime" is the story of a man who shows up to clean the scene of a suicide to find that the man who killed himself is his first love. Jack is co-owner of The Brothers Grime, a crime scene cleanup company that sees the worst of people's messes, as well as their lives. When Jack receives a call from old friend and fuck buddy Dave about a neighbor's suicide, Jack is thrown headfirst into bad memories that he told himself he'd dealt with. Nick was Jack's first love, and after a betrayal of the worst kind, Jack hasn't seen the man. The last remnants of Nick Foasberg represent closure to Jack, but actually confronting the grisly remains brings up those ugly memories. But even worse than Nick's teenage betrayal, Jack must face his own past: the teenaged boy that lost his idealism and Jack's subsequent lack of progression into adulthood. Worst of all is confronting Ryan, Nick's cousin and the man who was housing Nick and trying to help him get back on his feet. Also, the man who looks almost exactly like Nick.
A walking shadow of his past love is haunting to see, as is the man's anger -- at Nick, at Jack and at himself. A nurse and a beacon for lost causes, Jack is drawn in right away to the man's familiar beauty and his need to shoulder the burden and face the scene himself. The two butt heads from the start, arguing (of all things) over their right to clean the scene themselves. It isn't long before Ryan's anger spills over onto Jack and Jack learns that Ryan doesn't know the full story of Nick's betrayal. But those aren't Jack's secrets to tell, especially a dead man's who isn't there to answer the accusations.
The best part of this story is Jack's own journey toward enlightenment. The romance is sweet at times and poignant at others, but mostly only because of Jack's slow realizations just what romance means to him. Jack is happy to be a hit a run type of guy before the past shows up to haunt him, but spending time with Ryan and bonding, again of all things, over their gruesome task of cleanup shows him the security in having a partner in life instead of only sex. But Nick's treachery is insidious and the rest of Jack's hasn't a piece of cake either. The loss of his other great love, being a firefighter, comes with a major work-related injury. He's floundering in a stagnate life, refusing to accept change. Despite the brief thunderstorms between them, Ryan is fresh air and sunshine in his life and the specter of Nick that has been telling him how love only brings pain slowly starts to drift away. Though I think that a point of view from Ryan could have added some much needed perspective a few times and I didn't really like the manner in which Jack's secrets come to light, I felt that for the most part ZAM made all the right choices here. Though the real charm of the story, for me, came with the several points of epiphany that Jack has as he allows himself to be open to change.
This is a relatively short novel, so there's really no excuse not to pick this one up. For some reason it seems like I read somewhere that this was part of a series called The Brothers Grime, but I have no idea if that's true or not. I'm not sure which characters would move the story forward if it were the start of a series, but I certainly wouldn't complain. I'd never complain about getting a new book from ZA Maxfield :) And this one was definitely satisfying!(less)
Kegan lands in New Zealand alone and lost. He'd been looking forward to getting away with his fiancee after his c...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
Kegan lands in New Zealand alone and lost. He'd been looking forward to getting away with his fiancee after his cousin and best friend committed suicide. His grief is wrapped up in his love for his fiancee, especially when she ditches him at the gate for the restroom only to leave the airport, and Kegan to realize that he's been left while flying over the Pacific. The loss is compounded by the fact that Kegan knows that his fiancee was the main reason he removed himself from his cousin's life. He doesn't understand how he could let himself choose a cheating and selfish woman over his best friend, and the thought that his actions might have contributed to his cousin's loneliness at the time he needed him most… it's almost more than he can bear. Kegan decides to take his vacation traveling around New Zealand alone and figure out his life and what he really wants.
Dominic is a Kiwi. We meet him first as he moves into a new house, finally leaving the home of he and his late partner. It's been two years, but Dominic is a shadow of the man he used to be. He has no problem admitting that he wish he'd died as well. Moving on without him is too hard. His best friend Lisa surprises him by coming to stay with him for a week, and it is during that week -- while Lisa drags him out of the house day after day -- that the two stop at a restaurant and end up sharing a table with a lonely American traveler, named Kegan.
The two guys have an immediate chemistry, but it takes both of them willing to move on and embrace a new time in their lives to have any chance at a relationship.
Of course, my biggest problem here was the insta-love. I mean, I would say that this ends in an HFN, but some might say an HEA. I just had a problem believing that after spending so little time together they could fall in love enough to propagate an around the world move to be together and also in that time have been able to move on with their pasts. I get that Kegan could maybe do it. I liked that the author made his move to New Zealand not only to be with Dominic, but also as a fresh start in his life and career. I could see him making the decision that he needed a fresh injection into his life and he might make that leap because he needed a chance anyway. But I didn't understand Dominic at the end of the story. There's a part right at the end, where Dominic… I guess he sees the ghost of his dead partner. It was a strange paranormal twist that I only partly grasped. But, I understood the message which was that he wanted Dominic to move on. It seemed like an easy way to make it okay for Dominic to let go and be okay for him to fall in love, when in reality it just seemed to rushed for me to accept and without a lot of the work he'd need to undertake. He was just so messed up in the beginning.
I'm sorry to say that I can't really recommend this. I've read one other story by this author which I enjoyed -- Return to Destiny -- but this story felt a bit unfinished to me. I think that I actually would have enjoyed learning more about Dominic's partner. In books like this that explore a new relationship after one person's (or two) previous partner died, I usually feel like it's important for the new love interest to learn about the previous one. And certainly, I think it might have helped this relationship between Dominic and Kegan to develop at a faster pace (since the time line was so short) because Dominic could let go of some fears and memories and share them with Kegan. I don't know, just a thought. But I definitely would have liked to know more about him. It would have shown us even more about Dominic.(less)