I was surprised that when I got into this story there was maybe a little less sex than I expected and a...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
I was surprised that when I got into this story there was maybe a little less sex than I expected and a lot more plot. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of sex! And Gene has sex with a few different guys. But sex is also used as a tool in the book, yet still as the main attraction that I expected from an erotica short. I enjoy that because erotica is all about the sex, but having a coherent plot to string it all together and to manipulate the sex into certain scenes and setting with an actual reason for it spices up the story a bit. It makes it sexier, I think, because your brain is involved a little with the action as well ;)
Gene is a rancher in this Old West type setting, which is reminiscent of sometime in the 19th century, though not explicit. He's been seeing the Deputy in the town for going on two years now. Bud is a good guy, sexy, and known around town as an honest man with a good heart and a strong body always around to help the town and it's people. Gene and Bud first meet when Bud moves to town and quickly grow to be good friends. What Gene first started to feel as only lustful attraction to his friend grew during their first year as friends to be more of a general interest and like in Bud. Yet, it isn't until a year into their friendship that they both finally admit that they've been keeping secret their feelings for one another and turn their friendship into something more.
But they're both men in a small town and while some might look the other way at a little play, it's still expected that two men not take up together permanently. So they, like the several other men in the town that they know like to play around with each other, go about seeing each other and living separate. They allow themselves to see other people, like when Bud is out of town on his Deputy business. That's how Gene gets to know John Bullard. It starts with looks and a subtle cruising and ends with them going at each other several times while Bud is out of town. But John seems overly interested in his relationship with Bud, and it isn't until Gene fucks the information out of him that he learns that John is a lawman himself, on the search for an elusive outlaw named Trace Warren. John seems certain that he's found his man -- Bud Silvey. And no matter how much Gene wants to deny it, certain things add up. He even looks like him. And if it is him, does Gene care? And will he help him out if he finds out that Bud has lied about his past?
I'd definitely recommend this short story if you're looking for an erotica story with cowboys (of the old type!). The sex is really hot and I enjoyed the little mystery and plotting that Gene goes through. Having Gene have real feelings for Bud made this more interesting to me, even though I wouldn't quite consider it a romance, there is a love story in there between the two. It's really hard for me to give erotica stories higher than a So So rating because the only real thing for me to judge on is the sex. It's a different rating system than romance stories, but I sometimes have a hard time judging them differently. Still, I enjoyed this one and I liked the little bit of plot there that moved the story along. It's worth a Pretty Good rating and worth a read if you're looking for something hot with lots of sex :)(less)
I'm always excited to get a new GS Wiley story to review, so I was eager to open this story. Historical Fiction/Romance isn't typically my favorite genre, but every now and then I get a hankering for it. This story was nice in that respect, because it can sometimes be daunting for me to dive into a long historical novel.
The premise of this story is the effect of war on men. Henry forges a special friendship, even a semi-loving relationship with Jack, another soldier in the trenches in France in WWI. No Man's Land is the "over the top", the area of death where no one seems to return. Henry is plagued -- both in the trenches and after the war -- with the images of broken and lifeless men. Near to rotting with trench rot on one foot and infested with fleas, nevertheless, they seem to find a special moment a day before Jack goes "over the top."
Eight years later, Henry is back in London working for the defense of other former soldiers such as himself, dealing with the effects of the war. He's a widower with a little girl named Louise. He deals daily with his broken memory and the secrets he's held to himself, but it isn't until he runs into Jack that the issues -- and the hope for more than lonely fatherhood -- arise once more for him. Only now, there are other difficulties between them, their memories, the illegality of their love for one another and the secret that Jack has held all these years.
I did quite enjoy this story. It's too short to really get into the story but for a 10k word short story, it does really well to convey the world and doesn't offer too much plot for it's size. The downside to that is that I think some will be disappointed not to get more of the romance between the two. Some pretty big issues develop between Henry and Jack, on top of the difficulty of trying to have a relationship in the first place and there really isn't enough time to get into the characters the way that I'd really like to. But, the choice of length aside, the author did well with the length and presented the story as a second chance between the two men and a start to something new. And it's definitely a story that I could see with a couple of sequels. There is quite a lot of story that is left to tell, in my opinion, and I would definitely be interested to read them.
If you're like me and like to read a historical short rather than delving into a longer historical work, then this should definitely be on your list. I liked the feel of the story, there's a pervasive air of tension, fear and depression in the story and Henry engages in his world by comparison to his experiences in the war. That creates a dire mood that is somewhat lifted by the appearance of an older Jack. I've always liked GS Wiley's writing, so this is another story that I connected with.(less)
I didn't quite understand what Rolf and Ranger were trying to do until I remembered the name of this story. And the format (twelve short sho...moreBrilliant!
I didn't quite understand what Rolf and Ranger were trying to do until I remembered the name of this story. And the format (twelve short shorts with Christmas as their only common denominator) works beautifully for such a large cast of characters, especially since so many of them are still partially unknown to us, or we only know them from third-hand information through the main characters. Getting to see them like this, their history in just a moment captured from one Christmas in their past or present says so much about each one of them and introduces us to a lot of new information. Wade, especially, is someone that I feel I have a completely better understanding of now.
And the format really works and must have gone over really well, as seen with Rolf and Ranger's most recent FCR short story release, "Jackson High", which has the same vignette format.(less)
I loved this one. So great to see not only Paul when he was younger, and see him in a different light, but to see him from a new perspective, especial...moreI loved this one. So great to see not only Paul when he was younger, and see him in a different light, but to see him from a new perspective, especially Phillip's and David's when he's not totally put together and still finding his place. Plus, I love hearing him talk about Maine, his grandmother and the boarding house and tenants :)(less)
I don't know why exactly, but I was really, really excited to read this book. It makes no sense really, because I...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
I don't know why exactly, but I was really, really excited to read this book. It makes no sense really, because I rarely read historical novels and Joanna Chambers is a new author to me. Perhaps it was a latent psychic power because once I started this book I never wanted to stop. I was forced to stop to get some other reviews done, but if I hadn't been forced to I don't think I would have. I was immediately drawn into the lush prose and the strange love/hate dynamic between David and Balfour.
David's actions in the first chapter of Provoked introduce him to us so perfectly. Jostled in an excited crowd to see the death of two men charged with treason for their part in an uprising against the government, David watches on helplessly. He worked on their case as part of their legal defense, but he's still a junior in his field and there wasn't much he could do. But, what he could do was work tirelessly, and in the end it didn't make a lot of difference. David throws himself into everything and this was no different. To put the families of the condemned at ease he shares with them his own childhood. He was raised by a farmer in a country village in Scotland but worked and did everything he could to further his education. Now, he's gone up in the world and is working among the higher classes in Edinburgh. Still, he isn't far from his roots. Being a witness to the deaths of these two men is something that he owes them.
Over a thoughtful and depressing meal later that evening another man sits to dine with him. He's handsome and confident with an interesting face. He introduces himself as Mr. Balfour and after a considerable amount of shared whisky, David finds himself on his knees in a wet alley. He can't stand that he always falls prey to his demons and tells himself that this time will be the last time. Or at least, that's what he always says. Balfour seems surprised by his behavior after their tryst and has a rather more hedonistic outlook on life. Where David is bound tightly to his morality and refuses to move into a life of dishonesty by marrying a woman and starting a family, Balfour seems to have no problem with that. He's looking for happiness, he says, and the only version for him is the one of his own making. Ideals have no place over them.
It is a surprise to David some months later when he again runs into Balfour while dining at the home of his boss. In the meantime, the case that brought about their first meeting, that of the weavers, barges back into David's life. Euan, the younger brother of one of the men brought down in the case needs his help. His brother Peter wasn't hanged but is en route on a ship in chains for his part in the conspiracy. Euan needs David's help to find Lees, the government man who infiltrated their group, incited them from a small idealistic group into an active anti-government rebellion and then turned them in. David wants to help Euan but is afraid for him. He's just a kid who, like him, has also worked himself up to a higher education and David doesn't want him to throw all of that away by searching for vengeance, and he knows that his brother wouldn't want him to either. But Euan won't be swayed, so David agrees to help him find Lees, knowing that it will most likely be a lost cause.
When Balfour comes up as a possible identity for Lees, David doesn't want to believe it. He also doesn't want to continue forming an attachment to the man. It's gone past the physical with them and David can't allow himself to sin in such a way, nor allow his heart to be handled by a man often so callous, and so fundamentally different from him.
I want to have the sequel now! I say that, not just as someone who really liked this first book and wants more, but also as a reader who wants more of the story. There are two arcs -- the romance and the quasi-mystery plot -- the first of which definitely spans the series. I'm not sure about the second, though. Was the external plot just a part of this book and the next one will see these two guys in a different situation dealing with different issues? I don't know. But, as far as the romance arc, this story was really just the setup for what is to come, which leaves me really wanting to see where their relationship will go. That, after all, is what really brought this story forward for me and what drew me in. David and Balfour are two such interesting characters and together they have such interesting conversations. The writing of these two guys and their evolving dynamic hit a sweet spot. The language is beautiful and I really felt like I was getting to know both of them well. David, of course, isn't difficult to read. Balfour offers a delicious treat because what he says and obviously thinks/believes are often different and puzzling those things out (along with David) filled their interactions with meaning.
I definitely recommend this one to all readers of m/m romance, not just those that like historicals. And I'm definitely going to be looking out for more books by Joanna Chambers :)(less)
Luk is in his last year of magical learning at the Parth School and readying himself for the Festival of Parth, a...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
Luk is in his last year of magical learning at the Parth School and readying himself for the Festival of Parth, a celebration of the graduation of the senior students by performing a test of magic that will occur before the townspeople. Luk's fellow classmates are a small group and he's known them for years now, progressing academically and socially. The other boys rally around Pat, an outspoken bully who likes to circulate cruel gossip. A favorite subject is the mask maker, a reclusive young man who lives on the outskirts of their village society.
Luk is sent to the mask maker's shop to find out the progress of the masks for the festival. Once there, he has a strange encounter. Luk is completely enamored of the shop and the beautiful artwork on display, but the mask maker is at once compelling and unfriendly, not coming out to speak to him face to face. Their unfortunate first meeting, however, leads to a second and third, and the two soon become friends.
The main difficulty I had with this story was that the length was too short and therefore suffered from some of the same problems that I often have with short stories in which I make this same complaint. We only get the bare bones of the story and the characters. Luk and the mask maker are both barely outlined archetypes (the golden-hearted popular and talented boy and the down-trodden and misunderstood outcast). The setting and world of the story are also not very well described, though that is less important and what we do get we pick up through the story, which is always nice. The biggest problem for me, however, was that more time seemed to be paid to setting up the story than in showing us the connection between the two boys. Their first meeting is well shown, and a really good scene, showing the characters best through the writing in the whole story. It ends there, however. The rest of their interaction comes through a rather quick summary to bring us swiftly to the end, and that telling passed over the most interesting part -- their connection and, more importantly, why they connected. A big part of that is the mask maker and his history. We get some of this as the young man talks about his father, another one of the best scenes in the story. In fact, I would say that the mask maker is the most fully fleshed character here, for sure, but all we really understand of our narrator, Luk, is in the reflection of and reaction to him, which isn't much.
I was also a little bit confused in that the characters here are definitely in the young adult range. I would guess… 17? I believe that at one point the mask maker admits how young he is, which comes from his statement that he started running the mask store on his own at age 14, but I don't remember him stating an exact age at the present time in the story. Still, the fact that one of them is in school and that this is a really sweet tale with no sex (just one small kiss) made me think of this as young adult.
In the end there just wasn't enough detail for me to really care that much about the story. So, while I found it cute, I wasn't emotionally invested in their HEA. I won't implore you as to whether you should or shouldn't buy this story. It's only $1.99, but depending on how you feel about the story will define how you feel about the price. And since I didn't have to buy it because it was given to me for review, that didn't come into play for me at all. How I feel about this story is representative of how I've felt about all the other stories I've read by Spencer Rook. So, I would suggest you decide to buy this or not depending on how you feel about the author.(less)
To be honest, I wasn't going to read and review this book, but I decided to try it out anyway. i think this is th...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
To be honest, I wasn't going to read and review this book, but I decided to try it out anyway. i think this is the longest thing I've read by this author and definitely the first thing in a long time, at least over a year. So I was curious. I was at first … nervous, shall we say. I knew this was going to be tale of the fae from the beginning of the story and as it unfolded and I started to see a rather cruel side of the fae I wasn't sure whether this would be to my taste or not. I've learned over the years that while I love stories of the faerie, I'm not a big fan of them when they only show a cruel and terrible side of them with no redeeming qualities. I prefer, instead, a lighter side. But, in the end, I was very happy with this story and I enjoyed reading it very much. I even stayed up through the night to finish instead of waiting until the next day.
Ciarnán McKay is in route to visit his sick uncle when his party is attacked. All his guards are killed and he barely makes it away by the swiftness of his horse. His flight leads him to a manor very like his own. They quickly shelter him and nurse him back to his proper state. While there, he becomes friendly with the family -- the two brothers, Lord Tiernan Roxbrough and his younger brother Leannán Roxbrough. The situation at Oakwood Manor seems a bit strange, but Ciarnán quickly learns that the brothers' parents died the year before, leaving Tiernan the Lord of the estate as the oldest and their sister, the middle child, already married and moved away. The strange vibes come from Mr. Boyle, the steward and friend to the late Lord Roxbrough. He seems displeased by many things, but the brothers assure Ciarnán that he was once a disciplinarian to them like their father and old habits die hard. Tiernan leaves quickly after Ciarnán arrives to visit his intended wife, and in the week that Ciarnán has delayed his visit to his uncle, he and Leannán become close, both of them recognizing the attraction to the other. But their days of walks into the woods and picnics under the trees on the estate (as well as a few shy kisses) must be put aside so Ciarnán can finish his intended trip. Leannán asks him to stop by for another visit on his return.
A month later Ciarnán returns to Oakwood Manor, but finds a very different scene than the one he left. Tiernan is still gone, leaving Leannán with Mr. Boyle. Leannán has changed, however, and urges Ciarnán to leave and never return… that no matter their feelings it is the best choice for all, no matter how obviously difficult it is for Leannán to turn Ciarnán away. But when he leaves, Ciarnán can't seem to stay away. When he hears rumors about the strange fae happenings at Oakwood Manor at a small inn not far away, he returns not knowing what he'll say to get Leannán to reconsider. Instead, he finds Mr. Boyle talking to a beautiful and strange man with wings, and learns the truth of the whole situation: that Leannán is one in a long tradition of lords from Oakwood Manor who are required to pay the tithe. His sacrifice will ensure protection for his family and replenish the fae in a seven year cycle of renewal. By not leaving as he should, Ciarnán is taken prisoner under the hill to work as a servant for the cruel fae queen, where he'll be released after the sacrifice of Leannán. No matter how much he tries and how many friends he makes among the fae, there's no escape. And now that Leannán and Ciarnán have more time together, even if it is borrowed time, they'll make the most if it, falling further in love.
I mentioned earlier that I have a difficult time reading books with really cruel fae characters in a situation like this, where the characters are being held captive by them. So I was really pleased to see a well balanced representation of the faerie characters. The queen is quite Machiavellian, but she's really the only one that is shown as cruel. The others range from remote and aloof to Ciarnán to friendly and sympathetic and we get to see Ciarnán spend much more time with these characters. Most of the story takes place under the hill, while the two are held captive. I also thought that the relationship between Ciarnán and Leannán was sweet but not too sweet. The tone that comes across when they spend time together is really loving and they reassure themselves a lot of their feelings for one another. Sometimes this bothers me in other books, it can be a bit much. But it never went too far to me into sickly sweet territory, partly because of their circumstance (which requires reassurance), but also because of the time period. The story isn't placed firmly in any time or place, but resembles a historical period with Irish influence. And the "love that dare not speak it's name" type romance set apart from their world and in a place where anyone is free to love anyone else (the faerie realm) went really well with the sweet romantic periods the two had when they're together. And even more than these two things, I liked that their relationship was very much based on how they felt, individually, about their circumstances. Ciarnán never refuses to give up looking for a way to escape, because he's facing the prospect of losing Leannán and then having to carry on without him. Leannán, however, vacillates between his need to accept his fate to assure the well-being of his family (and assure that one of them isn't taken in his place) and his desire to forget the circumstances and envision a life with Ciarnán. His feelings fluctuate with the actions of the faerie queen.
I won't get into it much, but I really really loved the fae characters that get close to Ciarnán, Sorcha and especially Cáel. If there is one thing that I didn't like about the book, it's that the turn in the climax of the story rests on what seemed to be a rather easy bit of information. The answer to all of Ciarnán's problems just seemed to come a little out of the blue for me, and while it didn't bother me a lot, it made me sigh a little. I would have preferred the outcome to come a little more organically.
I definitely recommend this one and I really enjoyed reading it!(less)
This review is for both Poacher's Fall and Keeper's Pledge, and is posted at The Armchair Reader.
I hadn't read Pleasures with Rough Strife previously...moreThis review is for both Poacher's Fall and Keeper's Pledge, and is posted at The Armchair Reader.
I hadn't read Pleasures with Rough Strife previously when it was first released, and I admit that I'm a bit happy that I got to wait and read it now in it's second incarnation as Poacher's Fall, along with the new sequel, Keeper's Pledge. I'm not sure how much has changed between the first story and it's revision and new release, but I think I would have been a bit disappointed if I didn't have the second story to read after I finished it. No matter much I enjoyed it, it was a bit of a teaser. Not to say that it wasn't a well-rounded short story on it's own -- no, just that I was really glad that I got to see most of the relationship development in my first read and all of that comes in the second story.
That is the reason I'm reviewing these together. In a way, they're just one story, and they should be read together as such. I'm not a huge fan of historicals, but I am a fan of JL Merrow and I'll always read whatever she writes. I know that in the hands of this author, I'll enjoy the story. And I really did. This is a beautiful story and in a period that I'm rather fond of in historicals, the time around the Great War in England, the early 1900s or the Edwardian period because of my love of Maurice by EM Forster (which I've read about a dozen times!). I can't claim any sort of historical accuracies or not, because I don't really know much about this time in history, but I thought that there was a seamless integration of historical detail that didn't detract from the story for a modern reader, which is something I think is important for readers who might not be huge fans of historicals either.
The story is rather simple -- poor man meets rich man and they defy their fear of persecution and even more to share a life together, no matter the lies they have to perpetrate to share that life. When they first meet, Danny is a young man who lives on the land of Philip Luccombe. Danny regularly poaches on their benefactor's land in order to feed his family, and after the death of his father, who used to work on the estate, he has to take care of his mother and younger siblings. Just before Christmas, Danny is on his way back with a few snared rabbits and decides to climb a tree for a sprig of mistletoe to brighten up his mother's Christmas. But, the tree and grounds are icy, and he falls.
Philip is a rather lonely man. People think him strange. He rarely leaves his home. But most don't know the real reason he's locked himself away -- he's grieving for the man he loved and lost to the Spanish Flu. Having a new person in his home over the holidays is at first difficult for Philip, but Danny's charm and vivacious zest for life bring him slowly out of his shell. They quickly become friends, talking over Danny's sickbed, as both learn more about the other man they are starting to have feelings for over the Christmas season.
Keeper's Pledge returns to the couple a short time later. Danny is now the gamekeeper of the estate and he and Philip have a carefully cultivated life and secret romance. It is the most they can hope for -- to be left alone and in love. But, some of Philip's relatives come to call over the Christmas season, disrupting their lives and putting a damper on their relationship. Having relative strangers in the house makes it almost impossible to sneak away for secret trysts, especially when one is rather openly queer and quite perceptive. At the same time, Danny must deal with family troubles in the form of his younger brother, who seems headed for real trouble and desperate to break away from the family.
I think that Keeper's Pledge is where this story really shines. I really enjoyed reading Poacher's Fall, but it's much like the setup to the real story. I'm so happy that Jamie decided pick this story back up, because it really turned out well. This story is sweet and clever and really, really well done in the amount of space, a short story and a short novella. It only further shows the talent this author has. Make sure you pick these up!(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.
Not only sweet, heartwarming and cute, but well paced and not overly plotted for the small amount of space available in the short form. It's done very...moreNot only sweet, heartwarming and cute, but well paced and not overly plotted for the small amount of space available in the short form. It's done very well without losing the charm of being an easy read.(less)
Very cute, and though I can't complain because it's free, this story could have been much longer and more fleshed out. Still, heartwarming and just th...moreVery cute, and though I can't complain because it's free, this story could have been much longer and more fleshed out. Still, heartwarming and just the type of story that I love so much from Ms. Derr.(less)
I've found in the past that Xavier Axelson has a rather unique style of writing, though always somewhat different...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
I've found in the past that Xavier Axelson has a rather unique style of writing, though always somewhat different from work to work, and this novel is no different. In part allegory and seen as a cautionary tale from the eyes of the somewhat naive and innocent Virago, Velvet tells the story of a small kingdom brought down by vice and power. Virago is the royal tailor, as was his father before him. And just like his father, he gives counsel to the King. But where they were once young playmates, as close as brothers, the power of his newfound station and the power he grants to others, makes King Duir drunk on himself and his closest friends and counsel, the rest of the young boys they grew up with in the shadows of their fathers.
Bidden by Duir to create a coronation vest better than any other, Virago finds himself drawn to vice -- to the sumptuous calling of a unheard of fabric from faraway lands -- velvet. With the kingdom in a state of antiquity from years of isolation and compounded and savage laws for the most meaningless things, Virago finds himself drawn to the fabric alongside the clarity it brings him, just as an unheard of plague seems to be taking hold of the population. Throughout this, Virago finds solace in his one truest and most hidden desire -- his love of men -- in Seton, a lute player new to the country and wise in the knowledge of the differences in the rest of the world. Virago must wake up, and see the court and his old friend for what they have become before he is destroyed along with the rest of them.
I noticed from several reviews that I've read that many people found this to be somewhat melodramatic, but I have to disagree. I suppose I can see it somewhat in the style of writing, which uses a somewhat Renaissance era style of speech and even writing (lots of exclamation points and whimsical lyrical tone to the voices of the characters). But in the story itself, I found the style and plot to be much more of a large metaphor of the downfall of society instead of melodrama. It is somewhat reminiscent of Sodom & Gomorrah, if only by the climate of greed and debauchery (and not in detail, obviously, since one of the greatest laws which sends someone to the death in this story is homosexuality). So I found just cause between both the stylistic writing that went well with the culture of the city, making it seem centuries behind the modernity of the rest of the world (which is told in the first chapter by the merchant's wife and occasionally by Seton), and the metaphorical nature of power in the story.
As far as my enjoyment of the story goes, I did enjoy it -- though I found myself having to make myself read the first half. Not that the story wasn't good, but that the story is setting the tension piece by piece and at times it was a little overwhelming for me, watching Virago step into the traps laid before him. If I hadn't known there would be a satisfactory HEA (maybe technically HNF, but I think HEA) from the first chapter, it would have been even worse for me. I really enjoyed seeing how the story played out though, as some of that tension was eased for me. And all of that comes about from the world Virago sees. One act, a pretty brutal scene, changes everything for him and allows him to see what he turned a blind eye too before. That is when I really found myself into the story.
I have only read one story by this author prior to this, Lily and it wasn't so much to my taste even though I admired the writing. So I was happy that I really enjoyed this novel and I'm really happy to recommend it!(less)
I believe that this is the first I have read by Ms. Beaumont, and it was a short, cute story. The setting is...moreReview posted at Brief Encounters Reviews.
I believe that this is the first I have read by Ms. Beaumont, and it was a short, cute story. The setting is near Salem and in the time directly after the witch trials of Salem, directly in the wake of the lingering hysteria of the time. People are quick to accuse others of witchcraft based on any number of shaky facts (curdled milk, scars) and for any reason, whether earnest belief or thinly veiled revenge for other slights.
Both of these are the case for Jacob, the town's only doctor and a man who has lost all of his family. His mother came from Wales and passed down her homeland's herb lore within the family, something in which Jacob frequently uses along with the scientific medical knowledge he learned from his father. He's used these to great avail -- he singlehandedly saved most of the town from death in the previous year's outbreak. But, he also sees ghosts and has an ability himself, which along with his familial knowledge he uses to cast protections on the town, his family and friends.
But he does have enemies. Hiding his homosexual nature is difficult when fathers are urging their daughters to gain his hand, and his solitary, unwed nature leads many to consider the rumors of his past relationship with another man in town, his best friend who he lost to the past year's outbreak. All come to the notice of a man traveling through town on his way back from Salem, Inquisitor Marcus Swan. Jacob finds him beautiful and enthralling despite the danger he poses, but the message his dead sister brings to him from his mother beyond the grave suggests that the fate of the two men are intertwined.
For a storyline such as this, which had a healthy amount of detail and world-building, the story is pretty short. I didn't feel the overwhelming crush of a story with too much plot smashed into a really short word count, but I did feel as if there could have been a little more time for the two men to get to know each other. I probably would have been happier had this ended without a firm promise of a relationship, simply because it would have been more real to life. But then, the story does take shortcuts. Obviously, you can't expect here for the story to be historically accurate. So, some suspension of disbelief is required, though how much is up to you.
Otherwise, the story was quite cute. There are no explicit scenes -- there is one that fades to black. I had a bit of a problem with this because it happens at the time of the climax of the story and I never really understood what happened, paranormal-wise because so little was explained. Of course, the main focus of the story is on the relationship, rather than the paranormal world, but I explained above why some of that didn't work for me.
Considering the story on the level of my own enjoyment though -- I liked it. The lighter side of the story is presented, instead of something that seems as if it would be inherently dark. It is a nice little read for Halloween and something I'd recommend if you're looking for short and sweet.(less)
I've gotten a bit behind on my reviews lately (partly due to GRL) and several of the ones that have back...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
I've gotten a bit behind on my reviews lately (partly due to GRL) and several of the ones that have backed up have been anthologies. I have to tell you that reviewing an anthology, for me, is quite daunting. I just can't seem to do a review without reviewing each story -- even if I don't set out to. But the great thing is that the anthologies released by Storm Moon Press recently seem tailor-made for me. And when you add in one of my favorite sub-genres of paranormal, demons (and sundry), I knew that I had to accept this one for review no matter how far behind I was. Surprise, surprise -- I pulled it out first, completely neglecting the others.
I want to apologize to all those authors because I just couldn't resist. And while none of these stories were my favorites (none were my least favorites either) I've found in SMP's past anthologies, the diversity between them was really wonderful. These four stories work really well together simply because they're all incredibly original in different ways. Don't expect your typical demon/angel trope here. They do however take the atmosphere of this time of the year into the tone of each story without it becoming … Halloween-y.
They each have something to praise about them, so in the end my review format for anthologies works for this one.
The Devil's Midway by SL Armstrong & K Piet (3.75 stars) Genre: m/m Historical Paranormal
Though he should be an old man by now, Thaddeus finds himself managing the traveling Le Carnaval du Diable, the demon Belial's pet project. But, though he generally can keep the carnival and all it's traveling act and crew under wraps, he's frustrated that the badass demon still has his sights set on him. Owing to the catalyst that brought him to sell his soul to the Devil and how that intersects with his faith, Thaddeus has always remained autonomous. Though the big man below owns his soul and therefore his long, unending future, he doesn't own his mind or actions, which makes him the only one who can deny Belial. But the chase seems to turn the demon on and he uses every advantage he has to break Thaddeus down and get him into his bed, some of which are devious enough to be worthy of the demon he is.
The place this story succeeds the most is in the sexual tension created between Thaddeus and Belial. They're both incredibly stubborn, and Belial has enough arrogance for both of them, that their sexual come and go turn into a game of wills. Thaddeus is afraid that if he did give into his carnal desires and sleep with the demon he would lose his independent thought he cherishes. It is all he has left that hasn't been laid claim to and he doesn't want to chance it. Belial, though, is very difficult to say no to, especially as he continues to find ways to try to torment Thaddeus into submission. While there were some other small bits of plot that help to expand the world, this is the essence of the story.
The problem then for me, was that I didn't really understand the ending. I have no doubt with these two authors that the choices they made were deliberate, but they either didn't work for me or I didn't understand the story as I thought while I was reading. It was certainly enjoyable, and I really liked the world (I'd love to see more!), but the ending didn't seem to add anything in particular to the story other than follow through on what is probably Thaddeus' true characterization. So, I ended up feeling like this story wasn't much more than a snippet of a larger world. No real romance, per se -- or at least the story didn't progress enough for me to consider it a romance. And, like I said, that's probably what the authors were going for, but this time it didn't work as well for me.
All of what I expect from these authors is in this story, the quality of writing is undiminished. I simply had a bit of a snag with the direction of the end of the story and my hope that there would have been more before it ended. A good, strong start to the anthology!
Hell Bound by Alina Ray (2.75 stars) Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Craig wakes to find himself in darkness -- a shifting void that slowly reveals a dreamland resembling Hell. He learns quickly, though, that he is indeed dead and has traveled to the underworld for punishment and redemption for his actions in life. Too bad Craig can't remember anything about his life except random details like pop trivia. He's ushered through punishments and recollections by the demon Karawan, a sexy young red-skinned hunk that gives Craig "Ideas", even during his rather harsh punishments that are intended to cause pain. A human who derives pleasure from pain is something that Karawan has never heard of before, but something that he admits intrigues him, along with the human himself. When Craig starts to regain his memories, they're both in a for a surprise. Is Craig in the right place? or, did he do something terrible in life that he hasn't remembered yet? Either way, they both find themselves finding pleasure in a place where happiness is supposed to be impossible to feel…
I am of two minds about this story. I originally gave this story a Not Feelin' It rating simply because it ended on a low note for me, after starting quite strong. But after a little reflection, there is actually a smart and original hook to this story. The first half of the story, where Craig arrives in Hell and Karawan introduces him to the various tortures meant as punishment, is quite strong. There's an atmospheric quality to the writing that portrays Hell as a void which is incredibly eerie. The addition of Craig's amnesia means that his point of view is rather distorted. Karawan is shown to have a more trustworthy point of view, and interestingly enough, a rather naive and sheltered one. I could never quite tell if it is his lack of experience, his own personal quality, or a representation of the whole race of demons, but Karawan isn't the cruel master one expects by allowing us to see his reasoning behind torturing humans.
The problem I had was the very quick transition from "getting to know each other" to the ending and a quick change in tone (from suspenseful and mysterious to almost sappy). There is a very quick series of events that revs up the pace and it really didn't work for me. It left me feeling like the two wouldn't have as strong of feelings as they did at the end because we don't get to see the point where they actually get to know one another, just hear about a bit of it. It goes hand in hand with the ending, and I could see that the author had an endgame in plan from the very beginning. I had actually wondered if that was the way the author was going to go right at the beginning, and for the most part I was right. It's an interesting little trick of reasoning which made the story stand out a bit more for me, hence the raised rating. Unfortunately, the execution left some things to be desired and because of that, this was probably my least favorite story of the anthology.
When the Hounds Come Out to Play by Azalea Moone (3.75 stars) Genre: m/m Paranormal
I also had a difficult time with this story, but only for a bit. The beginning is almost funny, and certainly cute as we're introduced to the Hounds of Hell, dog shifters coming to the surface for Halloween night to reclaim lost souls. I liked Ryu immediately, who is like a fish out of water but attracted to the sunlight that burns him. He reminded me a bit about Ariel, from The Little Mermaid, who is obsessed with humanity but gets burned by them in her naivete. The story later got difficult for me and left me with a bit of an uneasy feeling. Trying to understand and feel empathy for Grant is a tall order, and I had to reconcile my own feelings with Ryu's, all while watching him become a little bit more jaded as the story progressed. I think, though, that this story might have left the most impression on me, even though it wasn't my "favorite".
I was initially a bit confused about the direction the story took, when we learn who Grant and Jalen really are, and upset that the story wasn't a romance, but it made sense after a while. Ultimately, I'm glad that the story didn't turn romantic, because that would have confused me even more. Of course, part of my uneasiness also comes from knowing so little about Ryu, but then I think that was deliberate. And it makes sense why the author would choose to keep so much detail from the reader, unless she wanted to sacrifice the mood of the story, which is built on the suspense and threat of danger from several different directions. This story had the most Halloween atmosphere for me, and that's not because the holiday makes an appearance in this story but because to Ryu, who doesn't really understand humanity before his night away from the graveyard, Halloween only makes everything more confusing, and therefore it is disorienting to him and the reader.
I definitely liked this story and I loved that it was something different. I'd love to hear what other readers think about this one!
The Seventh Sacrifice by Tali Spencer (4.5 stars) Genre: m/m Paranormal Romance
Finally, I think this story was my favorite of the anthology. I was waiting for that sizzling chemistry and for a story to take it a little further than some of the previous ones in the anthology. Beltrane, a Spanish descendant of conquistadores, is visiting his cousin in Bolivia, a female TV journalist who was recently horribly abused by her boyfriend. Beltrane follows his friend's directions to visit a sorcerer in the ancient city to buy a charm or talisman to get revenge on the man who betrayed his cousin, the woman who is like a sister to him. Only, the sorcerer isn't what Beltrane expected at all. Not only is he surprised that some of this seems to be real, but the man himself intrigues him -- not to mention Kitara is one of the most beautiful men he's ever seen.
Kitara is much more than a sorcerer. Descended from the ancients and shackled to the area around the church for centuries only makes the past betrayal and anger at what the Conquistadores did to the Incan culture. It turns out that he needs Beltane as much as the man needs him, or even more. Strangely enough, the man who he was immediately attracted to when he walked in his store is Spanish, and could be the key to unlocking the imprisonment placed on his people all those years ago. Only, he'll have to sacrifice him first!
I really liked the dark edge to this story. I think, in the end, I consider this a romance. I'm glad that Kitara doesn't act human. If he did, this would easily be a romance, but I'd rather him be as he is in this story -- larger than life, still retaining his god-like abilities and way of thinking. In many ways, Beltrane is a pawn to Kitara, but by the end of the story I wasn't so sure of that, even though it seems that way, outwardly. But the dark edge to their relationship and sex in the form of betrayal and sacrifice and slavery.
If I had to choose one story from this anthology to expand into something larger, or a sequel, it would be this story. Not only did I like it enough to want to read more, but there's the growth of the relationship between Beltrane and Kitara, as well as the plethora of detail and possibility about the world.(less)
Has it really been FOUR YEARS since the second book in this series came out? It seems so. I read this se...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
Has it really been FOUR YEARS since the second book in this series came out? It seems so. I read this series back when I first started reading m/m in early 2010 and it has remained at the top of a very competitive list of all time favorite series. I've been so excited to read it that I spent all day yesterday reading as soon as I got the book, eager to read more about the royal family, the amazingly awesome world and to find out more about the overarching plot that was left up in the air at the end of the last book. The problem with waiting so long for a book is that it's almost impossible to live up to the overlong expectations. While it mostly did, I still found some problems with it that didn't work for me and left me unsatisfied, especially since I don't know how long I'll have to wait to get more of the story. Part of that is that I have much higher standards now than I did when I read the first two books -- if I read them now they might not be five star reads, I'm honestly not sure. Overall, though, I liked it and it was wonderful to go back to this world and visit these characters who I really love.
Colton, the fourth child of the King and King-Regent of Regelence has watched two of his brothers make love matches. He could only dream that the man he has fallen in love with as he's grown up could ever feel the same for him and that they could have a similar life together. The problem is that the man Colton loves, Sebastian (known as Wentworth for the name of his previous husband) is a rake and has quite the reputation of bedding easy men. That reputation, combined with his seeming disregard for Colton's rather obvious feelings, convinces Colton to take charge of his life, especially after witnessing Wentworth in a compromising position with another man at a ball. He decides to give up his pitiful unrequited romance and devote himself to a new career -- the breeding of racehorses.
The change in Colton's behavior puzzles Sebastian. As the Captain of the Guard, he knows the royal family well and the new Colton along with his now direct and driven behavior (not in his direction, as he is used to) worries him. Trying to guard Colton is more difficult now that he has changed and he sees him differently than before. Colton, like his brothers, has a problem with getting into trouble, and Sebastian is the type of trouble that a prince should be kept away from.
Through their dance of attraction, his own heavily guarded secrets threaten to come to light, along side a possible danger to Colton. Combined with the escalating tension among the political alliances of the government and the danger to his own family, the situation is set to explode in one way or another.
Maybe I don't remember the first two books well enough (it has been a long time since I read them), but my biggest problem with this book was there was just so much going on. So much of the story is devoted to the relationship between Colton and Sebastian that there is very little time for the overall plot arc to move forward. This saddened me because there are continuing references to things about to happen that seemed to get pushed off to the next book. I felt like… I had to wait so long to read more of this series and then I only got teasers. How much longer will I have to wait for a progression in the series? That's not to say that the story itself wasn't good. It works really well as a standalone book, I just wanted more of the overall plot.
The best part of reading this book, for me, was simply returning to this world. I absolutely adore the characters -- all the brothers and the consorts a few of them have (esp. Nate, from the first book, I LOVE Nate). Then there is Trouble and Rexley, the brothers' father and sire who are one of my favorite couples of the series even though they haven't gotten their own book (I would love to read it though!). They really have a lot of fun, which I like. You can tell that they're really a family who loves each other. The world itself is fun to read about and would never get old for me.
I thought the relationship between Colton and Sebastian worked really well. They deal with a lot of the issues you'd encounter in a contemporary story and the story is really focused on their relationship, with only little pieces of narration throughout the story from other POVs. There is a steadily building tension throughout the story. Their relationship is founded on secrets and lies, something that we know but Colton doesn't. The pressure builds and builds over the story, teasing up and up with all the other serious things going on. Sadly, in the end, it just didn't seem like a big deal to me. The ending fizzled. It really couldn't deliver unless Sebastian was hiding something utterly horrible because there is so much emphasis put on his secret and his past. That rather anticlimactic revelation along with the absence of more information about their trouble with the I.N. made me a little upset with the ending. Perhaps I wouldn't be as disappointed if I knew I might find out in a few months, or even within a year, but I'm afraid it will be at least another one or two years, maybe even more. I can't fault this author for her writing pace, but it does make it difficult to become invested in a series that is rarely updated. For me to be satisfied to wait, I wanted to be given a little more.
I know that nearly everyone who reads m/m will be reading this book and there will be nearly as many opinions, but I have to say that even though 80% of the book (roughly) was really satisfying to read, the last 20% let me down because my expectations had grown so high, because of both the wait and the lead up during the story. The story was really enjoyable to read either way. I hope that your opinion differs, I truly do, but I'd say everyone should read it anyway, and I know that almost all of you will be, very soon. :)(less)
This is the first historical that I've read in a while. I find that they aren't usually my favorites and...moreReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
This is the first historical that I've read in a while. I find that they aren't usually my favorites and no matter how, looking back, I may have enjoyed them I always find it an uphill battle to become interested in one. I usually quit not too far into the story simply from lack of interest. That didn't happen here, and it was for one reason only. The usual reason is heat -- if the story is excessively smutty I can usually get into it, lol. This story has very little sex and then that is rarely explicit. Instead the mysterious secrets kept by Benedict Wilmot and his search into the life of Preston Meacham was what kept me interested. It might stand to reason that if I read more historical fiction that I might find this story unoriginal, I don't know. However, because I don't often read it, I found this story to be a new one to me and completely engaging and exceedingly well written. How I have several books by this author but had yet to read one I have no idea. I will be rectifying that mistake very, very soon.
After mistaking his employers actions as advances, Preston is thrown out in fear of his life and left only to retreat with his earlier heartbreak and scars from the war and battle at Salamanca at a molly house. There, he escapes into his desires and memories of his fallen lover and comrade in the daily sale of his body. Benedict Wilmot has secrets of his own, ones that have broken him down into a scarred man with only his pride and conscience to drive him. That absolution lies in with Preston Meacham, who is unaware that his knowledge of his own history is incomplete. Seeking to protect and care for the man he inadvertently wronged, Ben finds his way to the molly house to make Preston's acquaintance, only to start a relationship with him that quickly moves past client and whore and towards lovers. Ben's obsession, however, with the appeasement of the guilt he's shouldered can lead only to the destruction of everything Preston has ever known about himself and their newfound relationship.
The strength of this story lies with the deliverance of information to the reader along with the pace. The story is perfectly timed in doing both and in it's resolution. I most often find that authors might not give timing and pace the same concern as plot, but then the latter cannot be successful without the former. I was happy to see that this author, who I had formerly not read, worked with this. I think part of it comes from the plot, yes, but also the inherent structure of a historical novella. While I would not call this a exploration of the Victorian novel, it does retain some reminiscent form, through the rigid and well placed structure of plot, timing and pacing.
I mistakenly went into this story expecting a BDSM relationship. While there is some level of kink, it isn't fundamental to the relationship in the way that most would expect. Without explaining why, as that is an inherent part of the secrets Ben holds, I think that readers who are looking for historical BDSM should be cautioned that they won't find it here. Not only in how it relates to the story and characters, but also in the fact that there's very little of it and what is part of the story is extremely small and unexplored.
This is definitely a story that I would recommend and I'm excited to read more of this author's work. I was pleasantly surprised with the level of writing and I thoroughly enjoyed the story.(less)