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SPOILER ALERT!

Disappointed

The Druid Next Door (Fae Out of Water) (Volume 2) - E.J. Russell

Professor Bryce MacLeod has devoted his entire life to environmentalism. But how effective can he be in saving the planet when he can’t even get his surly neighbor to separate his recycling? Former Queen’s Enforcer Mal Kendrick doesn’t think his life could get any worse: he’s been exiled from Faerie with a cursed and useless right hand. When he’s not dodging random fae assassins in the Outer World, he’s going toe-to-toe with his tree-hugging neighbor. And when he discovers that the tree hugger is really a druid, he’s certain the gods have it in for him—after all, there’s always a catch with druids. Then he’s magically shackled to the man and expected to instruct him in Supernatural 101. All right, now things couldn’t possibly get worse. Until a mysterious stranger offers a drunken Mal the chance to gain back all he’s lost—for a price. After Mal accepts, he discovers the real catch: an ancient secret that will change his and Bryce’s life forever. Ah, what the hells. Odds are they won’t survive the week anyway.

Review:

Dear EJ Russell, I quite liked the first book in this series (as evidenced by my review here) which dealt with older of three Fae brothers Alun finding love with David and having some dangerous adventures in the Faery Land. As a result of such adventure, Alun’s middle brother Mal lost the use of his right hand. Faery Queen told him that the curse will disappear if they would be made whole, but the way Mal interpreted this was not too hopeful for him going back to his magical life anytime soon.

So now we see Mal living full time in the human land in the house that David, kind and grateful guy he was bought for him. Mal is also bickering with his new neighbor on a regular basis. Bruce Macleod is very conscious about the environment and Mal being a Fae even in the temporary exile sometimes does things that may seem reasonable to Mal, but annoy Bruce a great deal.

One day after another face to face altercation Bruce accidentally hurts Mal a little and this leads to David and his aunt Cassie appearing in Mal’s house to help him. Well, David appeared at Mal’s house before, but his aunt didn’t.

Surprise! As we know from the first book Cassie is a powerful druid and can recognize other druids. Apparently Bruce is one too and his love for nature was one of the indicators of that. As we also know from the first book Cassie is a woman of action, so acts she does.  She offers Bruce the internship with her (and when I say offers I mean insists that he should take it) AND decides to bond Mal and Bruce together so Mal could give Bruce a crash course in all things magical before he would start learning all things druid .

I want to be very clear here – the bond Cassie imposed on them was not sexual *yet*. To be quite frank I was puzzled as to why the bond was needed in the first place. However as the book proceeded I interpreted the bond to be an artificial and highly irritating plot device needed to make sure the second bond between the characters would happen.

It was just so weird to me. I am usually very hesitant to use the expression “lazy writing”, because I usually start questioning myself right away, thinking my writing skills and knowledge would never be strong enough to have a right to call writing professional’s writing “lazy”.

However, sometimes this is just how I feel and this is one of those times. Let me expand on what I mean by “lazy writing” in this book.  I feel like the writer could not be bothered to write an actual development of the relationship and instead imposed that weird bond on Bruce and Mal which did I am not even sure what it did.

So after Cassy bonded them, they have sex and ended up wanting each other more and more and it became some kind of D/s bond when Mal who never bottomed wanted to bottom and kneel for Bruce all the time and Bruce who never topped wanted to. Okay, I am perfectly happy to read about D/s relationship if it is executed to my satisfaction but both men instead constantly questioned whether what they want is the consequence of the bond or their own desires.  I could not understand how we got from Point A (we find each other hot) to Point B (we cannot live without each other). I could not understand how the relationship was developing?

And while on the publisher’s page the book warns of dubious consent, it is not as if Bruce even wanted to force Mal to do anything. I mean the first two times he did not know that the bond was activated, but then he constantly fights the desire in his mind to give Mal *any* orders, so I could not even read the book as having any true dubcon/ non con scenes that may work for me sometimes. It was just very weird.  

"“Our bond is different. You’ve never used the power voice on me, and trust me, I’d know. Maybe you have to pass your druid O levels before you qualify, or some shite.” “Are you positive? Have you behaved that way before? Begged someone to allow you to blow him? Begged to get fucked? Promised a guy anything? Everything?” Mal wouldn’t meet his eyes, and if that didn’t tell Bryce what he needed to know about consent, then none of Mal’s glib words would hide the truth. “No,” he muttered. “You’re the first.” “A first time for me too.” Bryce was suddenly too hot in the sun, despite the cool breeze on his back. He ripped his hat off and threw it on the grass. “Aren’t we just so fricking special?” “You’ll not convince me you’re a virgin.” “Hardly. But I’ve never—” Why was this so hard to admit? “I’ve never topped anyone before.” Mal’s mouth fell open. “You’re joking. Nobody can aim like that. Not their first time.” Bryce sat down on the grass, facing the slough. “Guess I’m a fucking prodigy.” He let his arms flop over his knees. “What the hell are we doing, Mal? I’m so turned around and irritable this morning, it’s as if my clothes are lined with sandpaper”

 

 

 

Cassy behaved weirdly from the beginning, because guess what? She could have told Mal to tutor Bruce without bonding them and Mal would have done the very same thing. Then after she started all that she lectures them how to mitigate effects of the bond or not mitigate the effects of the bond. It was just bizarre.

Same as in the first book, in this book the men also have to go on the quest in Faerie land and I enjoyed it more than in the first book because the story was more suspenseful and at the end made more sense to me than in the first book. However the storyline was also a major disappointment to me because I felt that it was a a missed opportunity for the men to actually work together and get to know each other better instead of one of them trying to get some information out of Mal and Mal constantly sabotaging himself and lying to Bruce as to what was going on.

I was not mad at Mal, because he did not have much choice, but I was still disappointed. I am not trying to grade the story that was not on page, but let me be very clear that what was on the page did not work for me at all, even if it was well written and as far as I could notice copy editing was pretty good.

Grade: C-

 

Dissapointed

Foxglove Copse (Porthkennack) (Volume 5) - Alex Beecroft

A standalone contemporary novel in the Porthkennack universe After a massive anxiety attack, Sam Atkins left his high-powered job in the City and committed himself to life on the road in a small van. Six months in, he’s running out of savings and coming to the conclusion that he might have to go home to his emotionally abusive family. Needing time to think, he takes a walk through a copse by the Cornish roadside, only to stumble upon the body of a ritualistically killed sheep. As he’s trying to work out what the symbols around the animal mean, the sheep’s owner, Jennifer, and her nephew, Ruan Gwynn, come upon him. Ruan is a kind-hearted young man with a large supportive clan, and since he and Sam feel almost instant attraction, he doesn’t want to believe Sam is a sheep-killing cultist. In fact, the moment he lays eyes on Sam’s miserable solitary life, he wants to rescue the man. But as the killings escalate, he and Sam need to stop whoever is actually to blame before they can concentrate on saving each other. Word count: 66,700; page count: 245

 

Dear Alex Beecroft,

I always enjoy your writing and usually buy your new books hoping that I will enjoy the story as well. Sometimes it works sometimes it does not.

As blurb tells you this book is set in the small town of Porthkennack and part of another series that Riptide publishing seems to be fond of doing – each book is a stand –alone basically, but it is set in the same city and sometimes the characters from the previous books make a very minor appearance.

I have not read (and not planning to read right now) any other books in the contemporary Porthkennack universe and I was not confused reading this one at all.

Let me just get this out of the way – I thought that the book was beautifully written and I liked two main characters a lot which is a big deal for me in Romance novel.

As blurb tells you Sam had an anxiety attack at his previous job which paid the bills well but was not bringing him happiness. His family was not very supportive of him, in fact they were emotionally abusive (and still are when Sam called his mother couple of times in this book) and after several years of therapy he managed to leave them and his past life behind. Since he gave away almost all his savings and code writing was not paying much, he found himself in dire financial condition and he is now living in his car in the town of Porthkennack.

Sam didn’t kill Jennifer’s sheep, but Jennifer and Ruan found him right near by examining it. I understood the desire to blame somebody who is the most convenient to blame, but frankly I thought Aunt Jennifer was being an idiot and decided to bring the charges against Sam I am not even sure why she did that.  I think she said to make police look for the real criminal because she didn’t seem to really believe that Sam did it either (no blood on him should have been a big clue).

In the meantime Ruan discovers that other bad things were happening in town – somebody is engaged in the online bullying of teenage girls and his niece Tegan is the one who makes Ruan aware of the issue. One of her classmates committed suicide and Tegan and her other friend think that bullying may have something to do with it. Tegan wants help from Ruan to catch the bastard who may be doing that and Ruan decides to ask Sam who mentioned that he was good with the computers during their unfortunate meeting.   I personally thought that Ruan had a lot of nerve to ask Sam for help after his Aunt brought charges against him, but it is made clear in the text that Ruan was attracted to Sam and didn’t believe that he really was the villain.

I have to admit that I really liked our heroes together – they have had that quiet, gentle chemistry I enjoy so much in this writer’s books and for that reason I am all the more disappointed that the story didn’t take its time to develop their relationship. Yes, they were very sweet together. NO, I do not have a clue as to *why* they decided to get together, especially because I didn’t get any hot sexual attraction vibe from them either. NO, I am not complaining about the absence of hot sex – there were couple of not very explicit sex scenes, which would have been perfectly fine for me, but I got the impression that we were supposed to see that the boys fell in love, that the attraction was because they liked each other as people, and I just don’t get how one can like one another as a person when they just met.

I am not sure how I feel about lets catch the bad guy storyline either. Initially I liked it very much because I had no idea where it was going and how all the horrible things were connected together and whether the occult was involved or not. It was suspenseful and interesting, but I thought that at the end it just fizzled out. I mean motivations for the bad things happening made perfect sense, but it seemed to me that the only family villain could come from was given to us early enough in the story and sure enough, that’s where the villain came from. To add insult to the injury the villain themselves was a completely new person.  I was disappointed.

Grade: C/C-

 

Good story

Cutie and the Beast (Fae Out of Water) (Volume 1) - E.J. Russell

Book one in the new Fae Out of Water series Temp worker David Evans has been dreaming of Dr. Alun Kendrick ever since that one transcription job for him, because holy cats, that voice. Swoon. So when his agency offers him a position as Dr. Kendrick’s temporary office manager, David neglects to mention that he’s been permanently banished from offices. Because, forgiveness? Way easier than permission. Alun Kendrick, former Queen’s Champion of Faerie’s Seelie Court, takes his job as a psychologist for Portland’s supernatural population extremely seriously. Secrecy is paramount: no non-supe can know of their existence. So when a gods-bedamned human shows up to replace his office manager, he intends to send the man packing. It shouldn’t be difficult — in the two hundred years since he was cursed, no human has ever failed to run screaming from his hideous face. But cheeky David isn’t intimidated, and despite himself, Alun is drawn to David in a way that can only spell disaster: when fae consort with humans, it never ends well. And if the human has secrets of his own? The disaster might be greater than either of them could ever imagine. Word count: 76,300; page count: 303

Review:

Dear EJ Russell,

I enjoy the retellings of fairy tales in m/m romance and “Beauty and the beast” had always been one of my favorites. I however never read any of your books so I borrowed this one from a friend. For the most part I really liked it. The blurb describes the set up perfectly. Alun Kendrick is our “Beast”, an old and powerful faerie of Seelie court who was cursed couple hundred years ago for the reasons which would become clear to you if you decide to read the story. For a while now he had been working as a psychologist for super natural community and he also counsels humans who had been diagnosed with PTSD from the encounters with super natural community which took place despite the Secrecy Pact. Alun has a problem, his office manager who also happens to be a werewolf went on maternity leave and it is unclear whether she would even return to her position.

In any event, Alun needs a temporary coverage for now. He is working with the temporary agency whose owner is aware that Dr. Kendrick only wants super natural candidates for the positions in his office. Too bad the owner is out with the flu that day and the other person decides to send David to cover that position. The problem with that decision was that David’s several previous placements hadn’t been successful – supposedly he tends to cause various conflicts in the work place. What kind of conflicts we never learned exactly but we definitely learned the reason and it was not David’s fault and I cannot tell you about the reason because it would be a pretty big spoiler. But the woman who was performing owner’s duties liked David and wanted to give him another chance. She also was not informed that Dr. Kendrick did not want human candidates to be sent to him, so David went to start his new job.

When Alun met David, he was shocked because he realized that David was human and because he was attracted to David. David was attracted to him as well, but Alun tried very hard to replace David by leaving many messages with the owner of the agency who was still out sick.

David was adorable in the best sense of the way. Sweet, kind guy who wanted to make the doctor’s office if not an enjoyable then a comfortable place for his patients and who ended up helping more people than he expected. So the guys were attracted to each other very fast – if you are looking for a slow burn romance, I do not think this is a book for you. On the other hand Alun is trying very hard to fight his attraction because of what he went through in the past and just because he did not want to endanger David since allegedly human and faerie do not really mix in long term relationships for all kinds of reasons.

I am not sure if I should call their attraction Insta!Love . It probably was but because Alun was as I stated fighting it for a while, it did not read as rushed to me as it could have been, especially since his fears made total sense to me even if they did not make sense to David.

But David is a glass half full kind of person, somebody who wants to help people and see the best in them. I wondered why I have not interpreted him as an annoying Goodie two shows kind of character and decided that his quirks were amusing and made him feel more real to me.

Basically I thought these two suited each other very well and it really worked as a retelling of “Beauty and the beast”. However, it so happens that both men spent a lot of page time in Faerie land in the second part of the book. Faery Royalty wanted another loyalty oath from everybody apparently and Alun had to make an appearance as well. I won’t tell you how he managed to get back but got back he did.

I don’t know what I think of that part of the story. I mean it was still a good read, but as much as I understood that Alun needed to face his past, I was not quite sure why he could not do so in our world. It felt a little artificial to me.

B

SPOILER ALERT!

Strange book

The Heart of the Lost Star - Megan Derr

 

 

Kamir is on the verge of losing everything. Knowing full well he can't meet the ultimatum his parents have issued, he instead finally puts in motion his plans to live completely independent of them. His plans are interrupted, however, by the unexpected return of his despised ex-husband—and thrown even further into upheaval when he ends up comforting the man he's secretly loved for years. Jader may not know where he comes from, but he knows where he belongs and what he wants—until he helps rescue some stranded Bentan travelers, one of whom looks almost exactly like Jader, throwing his life and everything he thought he knew into tumult. Scared and overwhelmed, Jader flees—and lands unexpectedly in the arms of a man he's always seen, but never really noticed.

Review:

Dear Megan Derr,

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, but the second one did not work nearly as well for me, so I decided to ask my book friends if somebody could loan me this one and lucky enough somebody did.

In this book two other characters whom we briefly met in the previous books get their chance at happiness. Actually I am almost sure but not positive that we met Kamir before, maybe he was just mentioned as one of the Lesto’s potential matches and I did not care to reread second book just to double check this small detail.

I do not think readers will be lost if they start reading this series from this book, but I highly recommend checking out “High King Golden Tongue” anyway which is about how High King Sarrika and High Consort Allen fell in love. Also a brief reminder that in this society gender seems to be mostly about choice – you are what gender you said you want to be, there are also several trans men who were or will be getting pregnant and giving birth.

We are introduced to Kamir when his “delightful family” wants him to find a good match or they will disown him. Kamir already put one marriage behind him – the one which he entered at sixteen and his husband abused him. Kamir loves his two children, but he divorced his husband and wants to never have anything to do with him ever again. I thought Kamir was a delightful character, taking in strides everything that the life threw at him and just trying to survive and make sure his children will have a good life too.

Jader succeeded Lesto in the position of High Commander of the Imperial Army and of course his job keeps him very busy. As blurb tells you by complete accident he acquired a family from the country called Benta which he never knew he had. Jader is from the Islands, or so he believed himself to  be from there all his life before he saved people from Benta who came to visit the Empire. I am not hundred percent sure whether the Islands are considered to be just an independent territory within the Empire, or a separate state, but it was made very clear in the book two how different many Islanders’ cultural traditions are from the Mainlanders’ cultural traditions.

Of course Jader is not happy to realize that he may have more complicated heritage than he realized and while his spirits are low he meets Kamir . They briefly met before but that’s the first time they actually got to have a conversation and basically decided to spend more time together. They even begin brief love affair.  Of course just when they realize that both of them want to get to know each other better Jader is ordered to go visit Benta and get acquainted with his new family for few months. Of course King Sarrika is mostly interested in strengthening his alliance with Benta , and Jader serves at the pleasure of the King so off he goes.

Basically from about forty percent of the story till almost the very end ( ninety five – ninety six percent of the story on my Kindle our heroes are separated and the chapters take turn between describing to us what is happening to Kamir and to Jader.

I have to confess because I was not completely happy with the second book in the series not only did I borrow this one, I skimmed some reviews and I did know that the men will have to endure pretty long separation. I also knew that they would be writing each other letters.  I do not mind epistolary novels at all, but I felt that in this one letters exchange did not work as a substitute for the development of the relationship.  Because the beginning of the courtship between two guys was so sweet I was definitely looking forward to them getting to know each other better, unfortunately the letters were not powerful enough for me to see how their feelings grew in intensity so much that they would consider eventual marriage at the end of the road.

There was something else that did not work for me even more that the letters. I usually really enjoy how Megan Derr portrayed ruthless court intrigue and political machinations in several of her novels. In this book I enjoyed reading about all the trouble Kamir had to endure because I enjoyed watching his quiet strength endure so much. I also worried for him, but I knew he would prevail at the end.

Unfortunately Jader’s troubles in Benta left me very much indifferent. I am not even sure why – as I said I love political intrigues. I wonder if I had some characters in Benta I could relate to I would feel more engaged?

In any event, this was a weird book. I liked Kamir and I liked Jader and I liked them together, the writer however did not give them nearly enough time together to satisfy me.

Grade: C

 

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Very funny

The Kingpin of Camelot (A Kinda Fairytale Book 3) - Cassandra Gannon

The Queen: Guinevere must save Camelot. Ever since Arthur died, the evil Scarecrow has been trying to marry her and gain the crown. If she and her daughter are going to survive his mad schemes, Gwen needs to find Merlyn’s wand. Fast. Unfortunately, the only man strong enough to help her on her quest is Kingpin Midas, a flashy, uneducated mobster dealing with a curse. Gwen is a logical, rational woman, though, and she can draft one hell of a contract. She’s pretty sure she can come up with an offer not even the kingdom’s greatest villain can refuse. The Kingpin: Anything Midas touches turns to gold. Literally. The curse has helped him to rule Camelot’s underworld with an iron fist. He has more money and more power than anyone else in the kingdom. He’s convinced there’s nothing he can’t buy. One look at Gwen and Midas knows that he’s about to make his most brilliant purchase, yet. He’s about to own the one woman in the world he would give anything to possess. All he has to do to claim her is somehow win a war against the smartest man in Camelot, hide his growing feelings from Gwen, deal with his overprotective bodyguard’s paranoia about the queen’s hidden motivations, and adjust to a five year old demanding bedtime stories from a gangster. Simple, right? The Contract: Gwen’s deal is simple: If Midas marries her, she’ll make him King of Camelot. It’s a fair bargain. Midas will keep her enemies away and she’ll give him the respectability that money can’t buy. She never expects Midas to agree so quickly. Or for their practical business arrangement to feel so… complicated. Midas isn’t the tawdry, feral animal that Arthur railed against. He’s a kind and gentle man, who clearly needs Gwen’s help just as much as she needs his. In fact, the longer she’s around Midas the more Gwen realizes that their “fake marriage” might be more real than she ever imagined.

Review:

Dear Cassandra Gannon,

Ilona Andrews recommended this book on her blog and while not every recommendation of hers worked for me, the quotes she chose sounded hilarious and the whole story sounded worth trying especially on Kindle Unlimited. I certainly do not regret reading it and even though the story occupies over ten thousand locations on my kindle I tore through the pages for the most part of it.

Readers just so you understand, I enjoy re-imaginings/retellings of the myths and fairy tales, but there are some myths I am very attached to and tend to dislike when the author twists the original stories and characters too much to suit the needs of their stories. Arthurian mythos is one of them. I feel bad for betrayed Arthur (obviously when I say original I mean Arthur from the story as we know it) and cannot stand Guinevere.   So it should tell you a lot when I say that I absolutely didn’t care that Arthur in this book was a bastard, I was too entertained to think much about the origins of this story.

Since Ilona Andrews mentioned it in her blog entry, I knew that it was the third book in the series and I also knew that it could easily be read as a stand- alone. I was not confused at all, occasionally the other kingdoms are mentioned and at some point the heroine from the other book ( I guessed that she had her own book and I was right) renders some help to our couple, but that’s about it.

The world building is basically a mish mash of modern technology and magic and magical characters. Computers, TV, castles, wizards and knights all coexist rather peacefully (well, not so peacefully at the moment but it all made sense to me). Galahad for example was Queen’s bodyguard and also had his own TV reality show. Midas of this book still has everything that he touches turn to gold because Lady of the lake cursed him, but he is also a businessman who rules his criminal Empire with the iron fist.

The book started with the bang. Gwen saved her daughter and herself from evil Scarecrow’s clutches and run straight to Midas hoping to convince him to enter into contract with her. As the blurb tells you Gwen thinks she is really good at negotiations (and she is, kind of). Gwen wants Midas’ help and protection while she is going to take the throne back for herself and for her daughter and she would make Midas’ the King of Camelot.

I started laughing almost from the moment Gwen and Midas met and I laughed or giggled a lot while I read this book. You see Gwen thinks that Midas needs to be convinced to help her and Midas thinks that Gwen walking in his home is a gift to him he would have never expected to have. Midas had a crash on Gwen for years; he is also convinced that Gwen is his one True Love. Of course there is no way he is going to tell Gwen that and he lets her think that she needs to work really hard at convincing him.

But before they get to discussing contract, Gwen is trying to fight off Scarecrow’s soldiers who followed her to Midas.

“I’ll try not to.” She missed his sarcasm. He could see her brain working, running scenarios. The woman clearly had a “Damn the torpedoes!” streak, because she wasn’t going to back down from the heavily-armed force headed towards her. “It’ll be alright.” She took a deep breath and looked up at him, again. “I’ll make sure they don’t hurt you.” That was either adorable or insane. Midas wasn’t sure which. Before he could make up his mind, she was handing him her sleeping daughter. “Here. Watch Avalon for a second.” She ordered. “Do not let her go.” “What? Wait…” But she didn’t wait and Midas was too shocked to do anything but grasp the girl when Gwen passed her to him. He’d never held a child before. She was too light. Too delicate. Shit! He tried to keep his fingers away from her tiny body, afraid his curse would kill her. The leather gloves he wore should protect her, but what if they somehow didn’t?"

And she never lets go of this motion that she has to protect Midas because deep inside he is kind and gentle soul and while she needs his help to win back the throne and protect her and her daughter, she doesn’t want to take advantage of him, especially since Gwen knows that she can be very blunt and very determined when she tries to achieve her goal.

"For a professional gangster, he was astonishingly, terrifyingly, hopelessly trusting. Gwen had sat across from him in appalled silence, as he signed whatever she put in front of him. Midas hadn’t seemed interested in negotiating anything. He impatiently accepted whatever deal she proposed, initialing all the spots she indicated on the Contract. “You should be more careful about what you sign.” She’d informed him for the tenth time, hoping he listened to her damn good advice. “I could be trying to rip you off, you know.” “I doubt you’d be repeatedly warning me of the possibility, if that was your plan.”

"“I’m certainly not telling you to change. I would hate for you to become cynical and hardened, like me. It’s wonderful that you’ve retained your innocence.” Midas’ eyes had flicked up to her, like that heartfelt assurance confused him. Then he’d honest-to-God looked over his shoulder to see if she was talking to someone else."

Of course Midas had been crushing on Gwen for years and the joke is that he thinks that he has an upper hand in their “business negotiations’ because he is getting the woman he wanted for years right there with him even if initially Gwen is going out of her way to be extra accommodating to him and make sure that he can get out of their deal any time he wants to. Midas doesn’t want to get out of their marriage; he wants it to last forever.

It was fun to watch how the characters’ perceptions of each other grew and changed and at the same time remained the same in many ways amongst all the action. Basically both of them were right and wrong about each other in some ways and the reader can see it right away, but of course the fun is to watch the characters figure it out?

Midas of course is not the only one who is keeping his feelings for Gwen secret for quite a long time in the book, Gwen also kept some of her cards close to her chest mostly because the secrets were about her adorable daughter.

Midas interacting with Avilon and attempting to stick to the contract (because yes, Gwen tried to write down how he should interact with her) were very amusing, but in some way Avi’s secrets (or I should say how long it was kept a secret) did not work for me. Without spoilering anything, it made perfect sense to me that both Gwen and Midas kept their cards close to the chest. Gwen is a mother protecting her daughter and Midas is scared to death, I definitely believed in how they were behaving. Avilon however was described as a child who was telling her secrets to *everyone* all the darn time, even in the past. We are shown how very fast Avi takes to Midas and his bodyguard Trystan and how much both Midas and Trystan love her. Avi talking about certain thing which had been upsetting Midas and stopping just before explaining it made no sense to me at some point, none. It felt artificial to increase the angst (when I say angst, I don’t mean prolonged angst since the story was moving at a fast pace, but it was clear that Midas was upset every time). I guess I should be grateful she finally said it at seventy percent of the story rather than 99 percent.

Having said it, even when I was irritated I still loved all the characters and was delighted when they got their happy ending.

Grade : B

Good book

Pins and Needles - A.J.  Thomas

The truth is rarely seen on the surface, and getting to it might mean digging deep…. After a devastating accident and a long stay in the hospital, the last thing petroleum engineer Sean Wilkinson wants to deal with is the settlement the oil company tries to force on him. He’ll never be able to work in his field again, his education is all but useless, and his surgeons are pessimistic about whether he’ll ever walk again. He needs someone in his corner, but most lawyers take one look at his tattoo-covered foster father and turn their backs. It’s just Sean’s luck that the one attorney willing to give him a chance is also the hottest guy he’s ever seen. As a trial lawyer, Nate Delany has a lot to prove—to his father, the world, and himself. Sean intrigues Nate, and he struggles to reconcile the gifted tattoo artist he can’t stop fantasizing about with the quiet, brilliant engineer. His investigation reveals facts left out of the accident report—including an illicit affair, greedy coworkers, and a vicious corporation that will do anything to protect its bottom line. When Sean’s life is threatened, winning Sean’s case, and his heart, becomes a lot more dangerous.

Review:

Dear AJ Thomas,

I never read your work, but I vaguely remembered book friends liking some stories that you wrote in the past. Maybe this was a reason why I decided to give your book a try even though blurb stated that one of the characters was a trial lawyer. I swore off the m/m books about lawyers’ long time ago. I don’t like badly researched books on any topic, but it is true that when one ultimately familiar with the topic, it is that much harder to swallow a lazy writing.

Sean and Nate meet when Sean’s father comes to Nate’s father law firm where Nate works as well, trying to find a lawyer to represent Sean in the case where he is suing the company he worked for after horrific accident he suffered. Actually Nate and Sean meet a little bit later in the hospital because Sean’s injuries were still keeping him there. Even though the partner in the law firm turned Sean’s father away, Nate decides to take the case especially since he just decided to leave the firm and strike on his own.

I was pleasantly surprised that the legal side of things was very well researched and came as close to being realistic as I ever saw in m/m book. Okay sure, I can nitpick, but when I read Nate telling Sean that the lawsuit may last from one to three years instead of “boom”, there is one court room date where everything is resolved I was so happy. I suspect that the life of the case like the one described in the book may last even longer based on many factors and depending on how many times it will be adjourned, but I don’t want to nitpick. And we learn that documents exchange would have to be done (what is called discovery) and this takes a lot of time as well. We even briefly hear about depositions. In other words I was mostly a very happy reader in that regard. I think legal profession was not shortchanged in this book, as much as it is possible to do in the romance book anyway.

One thing that raised my eyebrows was that I didn’t think that Nate could have had time to do all the leg work on such case without at least hiring an investigator – depositions AND court appearances AND going to interview witnesses in the informal setting, but this was small thing in comparison to how well everything else was done.

I do not think I will reveal a spoiler if I tell you that Nate and Sean end up being together and sleeping together – and Nate still was his lawyer at the time. Would I have preferred that they would have waited till the case was over? Yes of course, but those readers who read my reviews know how much I dislike “unprofessional professionals” and I actually thought that ethical issues (and of course there are huge ethical issues with that) of lawyer sleeping with his client were addressed and also addressed much better than the issues of unprofessionalism of all kind were addressed in many other m/m books I have read before.

I think that here I will actually be revealing spoilers if I describe in details how the ethics played into decisions Nate made, so I will leave it up to you to find out, but I will say at least that he tried hard to bring another neutral lawyer to work on Sean’s case to prevent the appearance of bias. If you decide to read the book, I will be curious to hear whether you liked how ethical issues were resolved.

I liked Sean and Nate so much. Sean, a brilliant young man who is both a gifted tattoo artist and brilliant engineer whose career on the oil brig came to a screeching halt when it barely began because of the accident and because of the serious injuries he suffered . I am indifferent to the books about tattoo artists, but there was also so much detail about this art that even though I know nothing about it, I suspect that the author researched it a lot. And indifferent or not, Sean’s passion for it certainly came through.

Nate is a talented lawyer who wants to prove that he is capable to his father, but instead decides that he would be better off on his own. By the way I was also pleasantly surprised that Nate’ conflict with his parents went a bit off the beaten path as well.

These guys were just so good together and we actually got to see why they fell in love, because the writer showed it to us. Oh they are attracted to each other when they meet for the first time, but this is developing into something much bigger through the most of the story and I really liked that.

The story also has elements of suspense and mystery because while Sean’ lawsuit is moving along, somebody starts trying to kill him and they have to figure out who was it. I have to say that amongst limited number of suspects the writer still managed to surprise me a little bit. I mean main villains were obvious, but the addition of another one and the motive for one of them surprised me.

Grade:B/B+

 

Very good

Illegal Contact - Santino Hassell

The rules of the game don’t apply off the field in this first Barons novel.  New York Barons tight end Gavin Brawley is suspended from the team and on house arrest after a video of him brawling goes viral. Gavin already has a reputation as a jerk with a temper on and off the field—which doesn’t help him once he finds himself on the wrong side of the law. And while he’s been successful professionally, he’s never been lucky when it comes to love.  Noah Monroe is a recent college grad looking for a job—any job—to pay off his mounting student debt. Working as Gavin’s personal assistant/babysitter seems like easy money. But Noah isn’t prepared for the electrifying tension between him and the football player. He’s not sure if he’d rather argue with Gavin or tackle him to the floor. But both men know the score, and neither is sure what will happen once Gavin's timeout is over…

Review:

Dear Santino Hassell,

I enjoyed your works in the past and was curious enough to see how you will write “sports romance”. The blurb also promised some variety of “from enemies to lovers” trope and I figured that your writing is usually so strong and you will do my favorite trope justice. And I ended up being very satisfied with the Romance in this book.

The blurb gives you all the necessary information to understand the set up. Gavin is suspended from the team and is under the house arrest for six months and his manager convinces him that Gavin needs personal secretary. Gavin may be convinced but he is not happy about it and decides to sit in on the interviews.

The story is narrated in turn by Noah and Gavin and this is how Noah sees Gavin for the first time.

"That abruptly changed when my gaze fell on the long, brawny figure sprawled on the couch. I wasn’t exactly petite, but the man slouching across the room had to be a few inches taller than my own six feet. Broad shoulders stretched out the material of a gray T-shirt before leading to a muscular chest and trim waist. The man’s dark-wash jeans barely seemed to contain powerful legs and thighs. And his face was startlingly attractive. Golden hair and golden eyes—a combination so lethal that I stared, dumbfounded, even though the sun rays of that gaze weren’t directed at me. The guy didn’t even register my existence. He was staring at his phone and lazing like a big blond cat. He was also vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t immediately remember why."

Gavin’s manager was not being a particularly nice interviewer and Noah has no idea who is his potential employer. See he was not interested in football and because of that of course he did not know famous players.

"I saw all my bad decisions from the past couple of years, and all the times I’d been cowed by men more powerful or educated than me. The give-no-fucks chip activated, and I swiveled my head to pin the athlete. “Who are you?” Blond eyebrows rose, but his expression didn’t change. “Are you kidding?” His voice was deep and slightly husky. It belonged in a bedroom, not a job interview. “No, I’m not kidding.” I turned back to Joe. “I assume he’s someone important?” At this point, Joe looked impatient enough to boot me from the office. “Mr. Monroe, do you live under a rock?” From the corner of my eye, I saw the blond hunch forward with his forearms propped on his knees. He was watching me as though I was a rare breed of human he couldn’t identify. Maybe he didn’t mean to make me feel small, but between him and Joe, I did. I was vulnerable under the scrutiny. Like an insect. Something small and puny that was inspected beneath a microscope by larger-than-life individuals who would deem me unworthy. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt that way, but this was the first time I didn’t have to put up with it. There were other jobs.”

You can guess that eventually Gavin decided to hire Noah because he liked that Noah didn’t cow in his presence and because otherwise we would not have had this specific story.

I *really* liked that both Noah and Gavin had reasons to behave the way they did. Of course Gavin would be irritated with Noah for being so ignorant about football when football is the thing he loved the most. Football saved him from the miserable childhood, gave him friends, some close as brothers would be and of course gave him wealth. And it made sense to me that Noah who needed money so badly for several reasons would at first be irritated with the famous athlete who had so much of it and seemed to have trouble managing his money in addition to his temper.

As an aside I also really liked that Gavin was shown as a flawed but nevertheless likeable human being. Yes, he truly let his temper got the best of him enough to get in trouble with the law. But once again there were reasons for his behavior and I understood it very well.

And slowly but surely they begin to understand each other better and maybe make allowances and of course develop attraction for each other. I think overall it took a few months for them to fully understand what they meant to one another.

I even liked the “mandatory break – up” or “mandatory separation” – you can call it whatever you like, but you know that moment which happens in 99 percent of romance books where heroes have to spend some time apart and then come back together stronger than ever. I mean, “liked” is probably the wrong word. I wanted to say that it once again made sense to me – worries about what would happen if Gavin’s secret (his sexuality) would come out made complete sense.

The resolution was an obvious one, but I really didn’t think it could go any other way in order for the guys to have a future together.

The only thing that was missing for me was more football. I said it before, I try very hard to not go in the book with formed expectations, but sometimes blurb of the story or even cover makes it impossible to avoid forming some. When the book is being billed as sports book, I want to see games, practices, etc. We do see one and there is a lot about the football, but I still wanted to *see* more.

Grade: B+

  1. I really liked most secondary characters and very much looking forward to Simeon’s story.

Mystery good romance bad

Bone to Pick - TA Moore

Cloister Witte is a man with a dark past and a cute dog. He’s happy to talk about the dog all day, but after growing up in the shadow of a missing brother, a deadbeat dad, and a criminal stepfather, he’d rather leave the past back in Montana. These days he’s a K-9 officer in the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and pays a tithe to his ghosts by doing what no one was able to do for his brother—find the missing and bring them home. He’s good at solving difficult mysteries. The dog is even better. This time the missing person is a ten-year-old boy who walked into the woods in the middle of the night and didn’t come back. With the antagonistic help of distractingly handsome FBI agent Javi Merlo, it quickly becomes clear that Drew Hartley didn’t run away. He was taken, and the evidence implies he’s not the kidnapper’s first victim. As the search intensifies, old grudges and tragedies are pulled into the light of day. But with each clue they uncover, it looks less and less likely that Drew will be found alive.

 

Review:

Dear TA Moore, I really enjoyed your book “Liar, Liar” and reviewed it here at DA, so when I saw you had a new one out, I happily one clicked.

This review will be easy to summarize in one sentence. It was a good mystery, but for me did not work as romance at all.

The blurb gives you a good set up. Our men have to work together while investigating the kidnapping of the child. And I thought mystery storyline was once again done really well. I thought it was complex enough, but at the same time possible to figure out based on the clues when one looks back. I liked how investigation was done and enjoyed reading about Cloister (don’t ask! Actually do ask because if my parent ever did that to me, I would be very pissed off J) interacting with his dog Bonnerville.

Let me once again give my usual speech about romance in the gay mysteries and thrillers. I *don’t need* it to be present at all, I would happily read about investigation alone, but it is always a nice bonus to hear that the investigator/detective/policeman has a loved one at home.  So what I am trying to say is that I am totally fine with romance storyline being as brief as it could be in the mystery book (or not be there at all). But I am thinking that if one puts the two guys who clearly physically attracted to one another front and center, if one puts *their physical attraction* front and center, shouldn’t there be some signs of deeper attraction as well? Some chemistry maybe?

Moreover, this is a book published with romance publisher. It is not even part of their DSP publications line, where romance often takes a secondary role and other storylines move front and center and I enjoyed so many of those books.

So what do we have here? We have here one of my favorite tropes (and I am usually deeply ambivalent to tropes, but still enjoy this one) – from enemies to lovers. I would also argue that the execution of this trope was not well done at all. Now when I am finished with the book I can see the similarities as to how “romance” was done in “Liar! Liar” to this book, but while “Liar!Liar!” worked for me, this one didn’t at all. I get that the author was going for the understated chemistry here as well, but to me it was so understated that I could not feel anything at all from either of them. More importantly, I was totally fine with Javi being an asshole in general. I especially did not think that he was being an asshole while doing his job – no he did not coddle anybody and investigated every angle and while I absolutely could understand Lara while they were trying to look for her boy, when all was said and done IMO she should have been just as grateful to Javi as he was to Cloister.

Heck, I could have even handle Javi being an asshole to Cloister. As I stated before I love well done antagonistic chemistry. What I could not handle was Javi being an asshole to Cloister *for no reason at all*. Just what did the poor guy ever done to him I had no idea even when I finished. My only answer was that he was hiding a desire behind being an ass and I am sorry I thought he was being stupid.

At least I thought ending was fitting. I don’t even know if I would call it HFN, but I guess you can call it that way since they are going to continue their sexual relationship.

Grade: B for mystery D for romance

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Very violent but brilliant

Days Without End - Sebastian Barry

COSTA BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD WINNER LONGLISTED FOR THE 2017 MAN BOOKER PRIZE "A true leftfield wonder: Days Without End is a violent, superbly lyrical western offering a sweeping vision of America in the making."—Kazuo Ishiguro, Booker Prize winning author of The Remains of the Day and The Buried Giant “A haunting archeology of youth . . . Barry introduces a narrator who speaks with an intoxicating blend of wit and wide-eyed awe, his unsettlingly lovely prose unspooling with an immigrant’s peculiar lilt and a proud boy’s humor.”—The New York Times Book Review From the two-time Man Booker Prize finalist Sebastian Barry, “a master storyteller” (Wall Street Journal), comes a powerful new novel of duty and family set against the American Indian and Civil Wars Thomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars—against the Sioux and the Yurok—and, ultimately, the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in. Moving from the plains of Wyoming to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry’s latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. An intensely poignant story of two men and the makeshift family they create with a young Sioux girl, Winona, Days Without End is a fresh and haunting portrait of the most fateful years in American history and is a novel never to be forgotten.

WARNING: GRAPHIC VIOLENCE, A LOT OF IT. PLEASE HEED THE WARNING.

Review:

Dear Sebastian Barry,

Unfortunately I have not read anything else that you wrote before starting this book, but I fully intend to correct this soon. Sunita posted an essay on her blog about starting to read the books that were long listed for Man Booker Prize this year. She previously introduced me to so many amazing books so of course I briefly looked through the reviews on some of the ones she mentioned and your book caught my eye.

It mostly caught my eye before any other books on the list because one of the reviews I saw hinted that our narrator and John Cole were more than brothers in arms, that they also were lovers. I said it before – while I do not choose my reading material *solely* based on whether it has gay/bi/lesbian couple in it, it is often an extra bonus that may help me decide to pick up the book.  And honestly I was just thrilled that the book shortlisted for important literary prize also may have gay love story front and center.

So I decided that I do want to spend thirteen dollars on this book. Honestly, I do not regret one penny however what I do regret is how many readers will not read solely because they won’t be able to afford it. I know it is like shouting in the void at this point, but Hello Big Publishers, thirteen dollars for the e-book is a ridiculous price.

I warned about the violence in the beginning of my review, but it bears repeating, the book is VERY violent. I never felt that the narrative exploited the violence; that it was gratuitous, but of course opinions may differ on this one. The book deals with the genocide of Native Americans and with the Civil War and our heroes are right in the middle of the horrors because they serve in the Army at that time.  They are also complicit in some horrors and suffer from a lot of those themselves.  I did not think they were monsters, but once again opinions may differ on that, I fully realize that.

The first part of the story is especially hard to read, because it mostly deals with the war time, the second one shows some peaceful times, but it also has some very violent moments.

I thought narration was gripping. I tried to put the book down couple of times, simply because of all the killing; however I could not stand away from the book and had to go back to it and finish. However, I highly recommend getting a sample to see if the writing style works for you. Thomas is not a very educated man and his sentences are not always grammatically correct. It worked for me perfectly, but it may just as easily turn you off I think.

But you would ask me what about a love story? It is definitely there and very visible, and narrator tells us about it very matter of fact.  We do not see them agonizing over the relationship or anything like that, in fact for a little bit one would think they are just brothers in arms, but then early enough in the book we get some passages like this one :

"In the darkness as we lie side by side John Cole’s left hand snakes over under the sheets and takes a hold of my right hand. We listen to the cries of the night revelers outside and hear the horses tramping along the ways. We’re holding hands then like lovers who have just met or how we imagine lovers might be in the unknown realm where lovers act as lovers without concealment."

I believe twenty or twenty five years pass from the beginning of the book to the end, I cannot be absolutely sure and I thought Thomas and John Cole undergo significant character growth. We never hear from John Cole, Thomas is the only POV character, but I thought that through his eyes we learned everything writer wanted us to learn about John.

"How come we lying here and guarded and inside four walls and the camp lying within this wooded land and the dogs of winter biting and scraping at our limbs? What in tarnation for? John Cole just for eternal badness keeps an eye on Carthage Daly. He don’t speak for him and he don’t speak against him but he inclined to share his cornbread because the guard don’t give Carthage one tiny morsel. Not a crumb. John Cole sharing a moiety of nothing. Tears his cornbread down the middle and when no one seeing passes it to Carthage. I watch this day after day for three four months. Got to say it is a marvel how the mortal bones stand out. I can see his hip bones and his leg bones where they thicken at the knees. His arms just whittled branches from a dried-out tree. Long hours we lie close and John Cole lays his hand on my head and leaves it there. John Cole, my beau."

 

I tried very hard to stay away from the spoilers in the book. The blurb however mentions that at some point these two acquire an adoptive daughter Winona ( no I am not going to tell you how two men in the 19 century America acquired an adoptive daughter, but I will say that it all made sense to me).  I want to end with this comment from Thomas and assure you that while the book is not genre Romance and there is a lot of tragedy in it, the ending for the main characters is quite hopeful without needing to imagine anything and if you read carefully it is even more hopeful than I originally thought.

"My heart is full of Winona but also John Cole. How come we got to have Winona? I don’t know. We been through many slaughters, John Cole and me. But I am as peaceful and easy now as I ever been. Fear flies off and my box of thoughts feels light.”

 

Grade: A.

I doubt I would ever be able to reread this book ( maybe bits and pieces), but I thought it was nothing short of brilliance.

SPOILER ALERT!

Book is out in September

Idyll Fears: A Thomas Lynch Novel - Stephanie Gayle

It’s two weeks before Christmas 1997, and Chief Thomas Lynch faces a crisis when Cody Forrand, a six-year-old with a life-threatening medical condition, goes missing during a blizzard. The confusing case shines a national spotlight on the small, sleepy town of Idyll, Connecticut, where small-time crime is already on the rise and the police seem to be making mistakes left and right. Further complicating matters, Lynch, still new to town, finds himself the target of prank calls and hate speech that he worries is the work of a colleague, someone struggling to accept working with a gay chief of police.  With time ticking away, Lynch is beginning to doubt whether he’ll be able to bring Cody home safely . . . and whether Idyll could ever really be home.

 

I GOT THE ARC PAPERBACK FROM AMAZON VINE.

 

Review.

Dear Stephanie Gayle,

I really enjoyed the first book in this duology/trilogy/series (since I have no idea how many more books will be coming up) and when I saw the second one available on Amazon vine I grabbed it.

I adored the narrator and the main character – police Chief Thomas Lynch who moved from New York to the small town of Idyll in the first book and who also happens to be gay. At the end of the first book Thomas comes out to his police force and to the whole town after leading the first investigation as Chief of Idyll Police.

We meet Thomas again in this book when he had been working in Idyll for almost a year now. As blurb states the main case he has to deal with here was kidnapping of six year old boy Cody. The additional complication is that Cody cannot feel pain in general and in particular he cannot feel when he is freezing.  And it is very cold outside, which puts additional pressure on the police and everybody else since Cody is in danger by simply being outside.

To add more to his plate somebody vandalized his car with homophobic writings and he also received some nasty phone calls.

I adored Thomas Lynch just as much as I did in the first book. I thought the author did a very good job of portraying sympathetic, likeable guy who tried his best to do the right thing in his professional life and his personal life, but of course was not without faults.

The book is still written from the first person POV, we are in Thomas’ head all the time and I mostly really enjoyed his voice. The book is not humorous, in fact due to the nature of the case they investigate I would argue the overall mood was even bleaker than the first one, but at times I did chuckle and I was really pleased with the ending.

I was also very happy with how the investigation unfolded. I am always happy to see fictional law enforcement officers actually doing the investigation on the pages of the book and here we have this in spades, but somehow the author actually managed (IMO) to portray the narrator as intelligent person AND not make him solve the case right away. Too often when I read m/m mysteries I want to yell at the detectives – here is the villain, please arrest him.

In this story the police and FBI (yes, since it is child kidnapping case at some point they call the FBI in. No, the interactions between two are not ridiculous) zero in on the villains slowly but surely. We hear the correct guess (and partially correct guess as well) as to who was responsible for the kidnapping more than once in the last quarter of the book. However they realize that they do not have enough evidence yet and keep digging and digging and eventually their efforts paid off.

“There is no such thing as the perfect crime. No matter how carefully someone plans, no matter how detailed the bank schematics or how trained the sniper, mistakes happen and evidence exists. A loose thread from a jacket, droplets of blood, an unexpected witness, or plain old bad luck. Detectives work hard, but sometimes it’s the little unexpected gift the universe throws at you that breaks a case open. That explodes a perfect crime, leaving bits of plans and better futures scattered like shrapnel.”

In this book we also learn that Thomas started seeing somebody and I am hoping that it may blossom in something romantic. Don’t get me wrong – romantic storyline is pretty brief and I am okay if it stays that way or even if it will disappear completely, but I thought that since we are in Thomas’ head all the time, he did let it slip couple of times that he was pretty lonely and he would not have minded seeing somebody on a more regular basis.

“Time for bed. My sheets were cold. Another person would help them, but what other person would I bring back here? Someone I never planned to see again, that’s for sure. I thumped my pillow, trying to work out the lumps. Someone I never planned to see again. My specialty.”

However the ending was pretty hopeful that things may change for Thomas on the personal front and I can’t help but be happy if it ends up being true.

Grade: B+

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Nicely written but not very convincing

Back to You - Chris Scully

Journalist Alex Buchanan has come home to the remote British Columbia town he grew up in, but only because his estranged father is dying. For Alex, the homecoming holds a mix of memories, mostly bad. The only bright spot is reconnecting with Benji Morning, the childhood friend he never truly forgot. As boys, the strength of their bond had frightened Alex. But now that he’s confident in his bisexuality, he’s drawn back to quiet, soft-spoken Ben. Ben isn’t the same boy Alex left behind, though. His life has been overshadowed by the disappearance of his sister two decades earlier, and now a new break in the case threatens to undo the peace he’s worked so hard to attain. As Alex struggles to repair the relationship with his father before it’s too late, he finds himself caught up in a twenty-year-old mystery, a story he never expected, and a shocking truth that could affect his and Ben’s future together.

 

Review:

 

Dear Chris Scully,

 

I never tried your books before but after Ami whose reviewing opinions I value a great deal tweeted about you being her favorite author I was curious and asked book buddies on Amazon board to borrow your newest one, because I always enjoy mystery and suspense with romantic elements.

 

As my grade reflects, I had a mixed impression of this story. I thought it was well written and the guys together were really sweet, but romance was just a part of what the story claimed to be. And even while I really liked them in the present and in the past, I did not buy the long interval in between.  As to the mystery and suspense, I had a whole lot of different issues with that storyline.

 

As the blurb tells you, Alex comes back to the town where he spent his childhood after many years because his father is dying and his sister asked him to come. Alex together with his sister and mother left town when he was thirteen after their parents divorced. His sister came back, but he basically never reconnected with his father, thinking his father did not care.

 

Alex also parted ways with his best friend Benji a/k/a/ Ben Morning.  By the way, I had never been a fan of talking names and I got that Ben was a bright spot in Alex's life even without last name "Morning."  Although Alex knew about Ben's crush on him, Alex was still a bit confused. He seemed to know that he liked boys, but he also liked girls. I don't blame a thirteen year old kid for being confused by the way. In any event all they had before Alex left was one kiss and Benji kissed him. They didn't fight about it thank goodness, but neither did they have time to figure out what they really wanted and whether they wanted to be more than friends.

 

 

Twenty years passed and Alex is back. He came to see his father but he also wanted to see what happened to Benji. 

 

And "twenty years passed" is the main problem I had with their romance. Granted, the author does pay lip service to the idea that it is ridiculous that Alex would be pining for the boy he left at thirteen no matter how good of the friends they were. And Alex says that his life was okay, he lived a relatively happy life, etc (paraphrasing here).  However all of this is one short paragraph and the moment Alex sees adult Ben basically all the feelings come back rushing in.

 

 

Note that I would have had no problem with them actually getting to know each other all over again and *falling in love* now as adults.  But that's not what we get here in my opinion.  Alex does not just fall in love with Ben all over again. He remembers what it was for both of them at thirteen and he talks about Benji being his home at thirteen and no matter how ridiculous it is to meet his soulmate at thirteen, he did.

 

I am sorry, but the writer here did not get through my suspension of disbelief here at all. Twenty years, twenty years after good friendship and one kiss was not enough to convince me. Even if they were childhood sweethearts, I needed more to be convinced that these particular childhood sweethearts just needed to see each other after twenty years and boom all the feelings came back.

 

As I said above, I thought Alex and Ben on page were very good actually, but unfortunately they did not exist in a vacuum in the present and I just didn't buy the twenty year interval.

 

But you will ask me what about suspense storyline?  Here is the set up. Ben's sister Misty supposedly ran away twenty years ago and only very recently her abandoned car was found. Their mother always thought that her daughter had died, but now she's asking questions again. Ben thinks the past should stay buried and that answers will only bring her more grief.

 Reluctantly Alex starts to investigate on his own especially since his dying dad seems to bring up Misty's name several times in the hospital.

 

 I will not tell you what happened of course. However I will say that suspense really was not that suspenseful to me - maybe because of such small cast of characters or such very obvious hinting which was done very early in the narrative.

 

Grade: C/C-

 

 

 

Reading...

Reblogged from Hol:

SPOILER ALERT!

Liked the story but was not happy with the mystery aspect

Lock In - John Scalzi

A blazingly inventive near-future thriller from the best-selling, Hugo Award-winning John Scalzi.

Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent - and nearly five million souls in the United States alone - the disease causes "Lock In": Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.

A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what's now known as "Haden's syndrome," rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an "integrator" - someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated.

But "complicated" doesn't begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery - and the real crime - is bigger than anyone could have imagined. The world of the locked in is changing, and with the change comes opportunities that the ambitious will seize at any cost. The investigation that began as a murder case takes Shane and Vann from the halls of corporate power to the virtual spaces of the locked in, and to the very heart of an emerging, surprising new human culture. It's nothing you could have expected.

Review:

Dear John Scalzi,

I am still not very familiar with your back list but this book came highly recommended by several people so I finally decided to try it.

First and foremost – I really enjoyed it while I was reading the story. You can even say I tore through the book since it took me less than two days to finish it. It was exciting and it was fun, it had a lot of social commentary which was fully integrated in the narrative and did not make the story preachy to me.

The blurb describes the imaginary illness “Haden syndrome” quite well. In this world because millions of people ended up experiencing the “lock in”, the government at first put a lot of money in the research and technology, however one of the main reasons the government did that was because first lady of the United States was one of the first victims of the disease and “Haden” was her last name. Couple decades later (I think it is couple decades later, apologies if I misunderstood the timeline in the book) some people decided that government spent too much money on Haden related research and development of the technology. Those people unfortunately convinced the people in power to vote for the bill which would cut a lot of important things for people with Haden’s Syndrome and a lot of important things would be privatized. When the book begins the bill is about to become the law very soon and of course many people with Haden’s syndrome are not happy about that and one of the prominent Haden activists is scheduling a protest march.

I just tried to give you a little more of the background than what the blurb described. The blurb describes the main storyline of the book very well though. Rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is our narrator and we are in their head all the time. I say “their” because Chris’ gender is not mentioned and I remember reading somewhere that it was done deliberately. When Chris starts the job our newbie agent gets thrown right in the mix of things and those things start moving very quickly.

This case is testing Chris on many levels not just because they want to do their job, but because Chris also has “Haden’s syndrome” and is ultimately familiar with many hurdles and challenges caused by it. Chris is also one of the most famous people living with the disease because of the family being very well politically connected and the father being in politics for many years. So Chris also has had a lot of advantages growing up.

I really liked Chris. They were smart and funny and self-aware enough to realize the advantages they had growing up. Chris also seemed to be very invested in delivering justice and actually went into FBI in order to help people. I liked several other characters in the story and as I said above I really enjoyed the plot. I thought the imaginary technology was inventive but made perfect sense considering the illness the story was dealing with. I thought plot moved really fast, but also let me catch a breath when needed.

So basically I thought that as SF thriller the story delivered. There was one aspect of the plot I didn’t like however and that was the mystery part.

Trust me when I say it – I went into the book not reading any reviews. As I said before I have read earlier that the narrator’s gender was not mentioned so I did pay attention to that, but otherwise I knew nothing and formed no expectations.

Having said that, when I read about dead body in the story and then *another one*, I did form an expectation and that expectation was that I wanted an interesting resolution as to the suspects reveal. I was very disappointed in that.  As you can see from the blurb I hope for a little bit in the beginning of the story the integrator was being a suspect in the murders, but it was for a little bit. Then we get a suspect/s also early enough and *no other suspects appear ever*.

And the suspect/s whom we meet early enough in the books end up being the bad guy/s. I was hoping to be surprised, to be shown some red herrings. I had no such luck unfortunately. To be fair, the story seemed to be mostly concerned with how and why and I could not guess “how” till almost all of it was revealed, but even *why* was easy enough to guess if the guess won’t go into specifics in my opinion.

So, partially it is my fault of course, because the blurb says thriller, however I do not think it is so unreasonable to expect an interesting solution to the dead bodies in the narrative.

Grade: B-/B

Why do I still worry then!?

Reblogged from Hol:

I enjoyed a lot

A Taste of Honey - Kai Ashante Wilson

A Taste of Honey is the Hugo, Nebula, Theodore Sturgeon, and Locus finalist novella that N. K. Jemisin calls "a love story as painful as it is beautiful and complex". One of BookRiot's "Best Books We Read in November."

Long after the Towers left the world but before the dragons came to Daluça, the emperor brought his delegation of gods and diplomats to Olorum. As the royalty negotiates over trade routes and public services, the divinity seeks arcane assistance among the local gods.

Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts, has more mortal and pressing concerns. His heart has been captured for the first time by a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. In defiance of Saintly Canon, gossiping servants, and the furious disapproval of his father and brother, Aqib finds himself swept up in a whirlwind gay romance. But neither Aqib nor Lucrio know whether their love can survive all the hardships the world has to throw at them.

A Taste of Honey is a new novella in the world of Kai Ashante Wilson's The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Review:

Dear Kai Ashante Wilson,

I have read your story as a part of the Hugo voting package and I really enjoyed it. Readers please note that I have not read “The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps” but the story did not left me feeling confused at all. Oh there were features in the world building I would have loved to know more about but I thought that for this story just enough was revealed and several whys that I had did not stop me from easily following the plot.

Readers please also note that after I finished the story I have read several reviews and some of the readers seemed confused by the non -linear narrative in this novella. Honestly I didn’t understand that complaint at all. Yes, the narrative jumps around *a lot* chronologically. There are no flash backs per se, but it is certainly not linear at all. However, the writer clearly marks every jump – for example, fifth day or tenth night or 52 years old.  My advice will be just to pay attention to these marks and you will not be confused.

I always enjoy the book which has gay love story front and center as this one most certainly did. Is this a romance though? I don’t know. See I cannot answer the question whether the ending was happy or not. For me it most certainly was, but I acknowledge that it is most certainly open to interpretations.

The language is so beautiful and I thought that language itself played an important part in the story. I cannot reveal more details because I feel  most of the revelations about this novella would be VERY spoilerish.  I do understand that it makes the review vague and less satisfying unfortunately. I wish I could quote from the ebook, but I cannot because as I said I have not bought the story, I read it as part of the Hugo reading, but please do check the sample and see if the writing is for you.

I loved the settings – the story mostly takes place in the fictional country of Ollorum as blurb describes it for you where Aqib and Lucrio meet. I thought Ollorum came to live based on some African influences and no, I cannot place it within specific real country context unfortunately. Dallucam seemed Rome inspired. 

I said previously that I am not sure if the story belongs to the genre Romance despite having gay love story front and center however there is also not much of the development of the relationship going on – they fit well together, but they fell in love pretty fast, so there is that. I didn’t think it made the story any less beautiful by the way.

There is a VERY significant plot twist in the last few pages of the book – the plot twist which surprised me in this story even if I saw such plot development ( in a very general way, I am almost looking at the whole trope behind this twist) before, but I was pleased that it happens here. I appreciated it.

The only reason why I am not giving this novella a perfect mark is because there was another plot development which was mentioned in the middle of the book but was not fully explained and I could not believe that the writer did not explain it. It could have been intentionally of course, but it almost felt as if the author forgot about it and I was annoyed.

Grade: B+

SPOILER ALERT!

Really liked

The Ruin of a Rake - Cat Sebastian

Rogue. Libertine. Rake. Lord Courtenay has been called many things and has never much cared. But after the publication of a salacious novel supposedly based on his exploits, he finds himself shunned from society. Unable to see his nephew, he is willing to do anything to improve his reputation, even if that means spending time with the most proper man in London.

Julian Medlock has spent years becoming the epitome of correct behavior. As far as he cares, if Courtenay finds himself in hot water, it’s his own fault for behaving so badly—and being so blasted irresistible. But when Julian’s sister asks him to rehabilitate Courtenay’s image, Julian is forced to spend time with the man he loathes—and lusts after—most.

As Courtenay begins to yearn for a love he fears he doesn’t deserve, Julian starts to understand how desire can drive a man to abandon all sense of propriety. But he has secrets he’s determined to keep, because if the truth came out, it would ruin everyone he loves. Together, they must decide what they’re willing to risk for love.

Review:

Dear Cat Sebastian,

I was intrigued by Simon’s uncle Lord Courtenay when he showed up at the end of last book, but I absolutely adored him by the time I finished this story.

I thought that Courtenay seemed eager to have close relationship with his little nephew Simon again at the end of the second book. I also thought that Lawrence would be okay with that, considering that Lawrence really was a kind man underneath of that rough exterior.

Alas, as blurb tells us somebody wrote a novel which was going around in London high society and the villain was easily recognizable to everybody and supposedly based on Courtenay’s ( he really did prefer his last name and if I had the name Jeremiah, I may have preferred the last name too ) erotic exploits. I kind of could not blame Lawrence for not wanting Simon anywhere near his uncle if the book contained grain of truth.

Courtenay however has at least one good friend in London – Elleanor whom the readers of the series may remember as Lawrence’s friend as well. Elleanor knows that Lawrence is not a monster and as long as his worries about Courtenay’s behavior will disappear he won’t keep Simon away from Courtenay. So she is asking her brother Jullian to “rehabilitate” Courtenay so to speak – basically to reenter him in the polite society. Julian is not too eager to do that for several reasons, but agrees for his sister’s sake.

Initially both men do not particularly care for each other. Julian, young as he is, is a skillful businessman and even more skillful at manipulating people. He mostly applies his talents for good causes (as he sees them) but he is also used to keep himself and his desires under the tight leash or so he thinks.

“How old were you when your grandfather died and you took over? I’ve done the sums in my head but I can’t make you out to have been anything more than a child.” “Sixteen.” “You were a child, then.” Courtenay said, staring at him curiously. Julian felt his breath hitch. “I was never a child!” He hadn’t meant it to sound so vehement, so angry. But he hadn’t had any kind of childhood, not when it was divided between the sickroom and the counting house. Courtenay didn’t look surprised, though. He nodded, as if to indicate that he had guessed as much, or that he commiserated without the need for further elaboration."

Courtenay really is a nice guy who after the death of his sister, Simon’s mother holds himself personally responsible for her death and at some point he just decided that since society thinks of him the certain way he must act the certain way (as a rake that is).

I thought the author did a great job with showing how these two people slowly fall for each other. Oh there is a sexual attraction between them which happens pretty fast. However what I liked the best was watching how their perception of each other changed and how both of them kept noticing the best qualities of each other instead of the worst and how all of this lead to them becoming each other’s favorite person.

"Medlock never looked better than when he was telling people what to do. He wasn’t precisely handsome, nor even striking or any of the other adjectives people used to describe men with unconventional looks. No, Medlock was the opposite of striking. He was aggressively neutral. But the way he moved, the way he spoke, the things he said—Courtenay’s heart thumped in his chest whenever he caught a look at the man. He was aware of a growing conviction that Medlock looked precisely the way he wanted a man to look like, whatever that even meant."

To me this story comes as close as being a perfect romance as they go. This is no small feat considering that more often than not I am tempted by the book full of action and intrigue, where guys are saving the world or investigate mystery, in other worlds where the relationship at least shares the spotlight with action/adventure storyline if not cedes the spotlight to it. In this story “saving the world” may briefly show up as Courtenay realizing that as the member of rich and privileged class he may have to do more to help the poor in Great Britain, but otherwise the development of the relationship is what the book is about and I really enjoyed it.

I thought the story was relatively low angst and that is something I was perfectly okay with, but beware if you like angstier books. I thought it made perfect sense that even when they argued; they could not stay away from each other when trouble came, but I am curious to see what other readers will think.

I thought sex scenes were great – funny, erotic, sometimes a little awkward. More importantly sex felt like organic part of their love story, not something author inserted in the book just for the sake of it.

"“How did you manage to debauch yourself so completely if you can’t even tell me what you want?” “I have to say, Med—Julian, that most people, when confronted with my naked, tied up, obviously aroused body would have a pretty good idea of what to do with it.” Julian narrowed his eyes. “I think you usually give people what they want. And, because you’re basically a hedonist with a broad range of tastes, you enjoy yourself perfectly well despite never articulating what you actually crave. Is that how things usually work for you? You just sort of drift into these situations and then drift through them?” Courtenay was silent for a moment, as if he had never considered the matter in that light. “Well, yes?” “There will be no drifting tonight. Now, tell me about what you require for your pleasure.” “I require . . . Oh, kiss me, you maniacal bastard.” Julian crawled up his body and by the time his lips were near Courtenay’s he was smiling too broadly to manage anything like a proper kiss. Instead he pressed his silly, uncooperative mouth to Courtenay’s and then buried his face in Courtenay’s neck. “I’m glad you’re amused,” Courtenay said, but he had been smiling too. “But I still want that kiss.” Julian lifted his head and kissed Courtenay fully, rewarding him for having said what he wanted. He bit Courtenay’s lip, then licked it, then thoroughly tasted Courtenay’s mouth, as if kissing was the point. That was what Courtenay had asked for, and so it was the point."

Oh and there were kittens too. How could you not like kittens?

 

““Thank you.” Julian tried not to read too much into the gesture. Sugar syrup in one’s medicine did not constitute a declaration of love, or even a truce. He lifted a feeble hand to pet the sleeping kitten. It was still at the fragile stage of early kittenhood, all bones and fluff. “Do you want me to take the cat away?” “No.” “Good, because the two of you look adorable, and besides, there are two other kittens hiding in the bookcase, waiting for their chance to stake their claim.” Julian squirmed. He knew he didn’t look anything close to adorable.

He was sweaty and disheveled and wearing nothing but one of Standish’s borrowed nightshirts. He could smell himself, which was never a good sign. Courtenay, meanwhile, was reprehensibly handsome in his evening clothes, even after a night of sitting in a sickroom. Julian thought he’d never get used to the stark fact of Courtenay’s beauty. Or, rather, he never would have, in a world where he was given the chance to find out. “The kitten was probably cold,” he said, stroking one of the cat’s impossibly tiny ears. “And I’m the warmest thing in the room. It would be mean-spirited for me to send him away.” Courtenay touched Julian’s brow. “Not as hot as you were when I brought you here. Perhaps you’re recovering?”"

Grade : B+