29.12.10

One Real Thing by Anah Crow and Dianne Fox

One Real Thing by Anah Crow and Dianne Fox
Stars: 4.5/5

Overall
If you want the same old two-friends-secretly-in-love-with-each-other story, then move on. While the running plot of the story is that Holly and Nick love each other but think the other isn't interested (with a dash of "we're just friends" added in), that's not all there is to the story. Instead we are taken down a path of the men accepting what they need and realizing the other has to give it. It's about wanting something outside the norm and finding that it's okay, all done tastefully and with the grace of love.

Strengths
What I found interesting about this story was the casual acceptance of sexuality. Although it's a present-day piece, no one has any negative reaction to them being bisexual or gay. This was a nice change of pace from stories where this is a complication, often a major theme of the novel. However, in this story where there are so many other troubles they need to overcome, it would have cluttered the focus and I think it was well handled. Nick isn't tentative in his feelings for Holly because being gay is wrong, but because the feelings are only one sided. It's treating their relationship like any het relationship would be treated, and it was well done.

If you want a story with plenty of emotional struggling, this is a bath in the Lake of Angst. The authors never cross the line and make it too much, but we have Holly's struggles and Nick's need to care for him, and when everything's beginning to work out, Nick is the one who needs a helping hand. While this could come off as implausible, I found it worked well with the characters and the sequence of events, which explained everything.

In addition to characters the reader can relate to and an emotionally deep story, the writing is what brings everything together. If it weren't for the excellent story telling, this piece could have been angsty instead of struggling, whiny instead of needy, and ruined by the minimal use of outside characters. Instead, it centers on the lives of these two men and the others in their lives, who take a small role in their lives compared with one another.

Weaknesses
My only complaint with this story is the end dragged out a little long. While I enjoyed everything being wrapped up nicely and all the ends tied off, I didn't feel it was strictly necessary. I applaud the authors for not just ending when they finally got each other, but the novel wasn't quite as enjoyable once they were together (although still enjoyable), perhaps because so much of the novel travels on empathy for their struggle.

27.12.10

Intesting Links

I decided to compile some of the sites I visit that are related to most of the books I review. You can find them on the sidebar, but here they are as well:

General:

Reviews by Jessewave
A great source for m/m romance reviews and author interviews.

Stumbling Over Chaos
A fun blog mixing m/m romance giveaways, witty cats, and an amusing play in stock photography.

Speak Its Name
Reviews of gay historical fiction and right before Christmas they have a special Advent calendar with guest bloggers.

Brief Encounters
Reviews m/m romance, but only short stories.

Novel Addiction
Book reviews, romance, not strictly M/M though from what I've seen.

Author blogs:

Aleksandr Voinov
Author of The Lion of Kent, Deliverance, Test of Faith, Spoils of War, Burn, Clean Slate, Blood Run Cold, Risky Maneuvers, First Blood, Transit, and Special Forces

LB Gregg
Author of Mistletoe at Midnight, Trust Me if You Dare, Catch Me if You Can, Dudleytown, Gobsmacked, Happy Ending, Cover Me, In and Out

Angel Martinez
Author of A Different Breed, Aftermath, Finn, Diego, and Finn's Christmas.

Eden Winters
Author of The Angel on Thirteenth Street, Duet, The Telling, Night Watch, The Match Before Christmas, Same Time Next Year, The Wish,

Fiction With Friction
This is a place where various authors post, sometimes updates about their works, sometimes short pieces/blurbs, sometimes random blogish entries.

Velvet Glove, Vol 2 by Sean Michael

Velvet Glove, Vol 2 by Sean Michael
Stars: 4/5

Overall
While probably my least favorite of the volumes, it isn't saying much (or else it says alot) since I still gave it 4 stars. This volume didn't feel as fresh or creative as the first and fourth, although it has its moments (like when Jewel is tempted by his old life and when Daniel shatters the glasses). The stories are still good, although I recommend pacing yourself during the reading.

The Misadventures of Daniel and Zane
While Daniel is not as spoiled as Love from Vol. 1, he does have an attitude, creating a nice struggle between him and Zane. His attitude is mostly due to his fear of not being seen, and as Zane begins to show Daniel how much he is seen, the bond between the two men grows. This is a hot start to the book, but doesn't forget to be tender and sweet too, as we are so often given.

A Bird in the Hand
A unique story among the Velvet Glove bunch, A Bird in Hand follows Kestrel and Jim as they court. Unlike the other BDSM stories in the series, this is solely a romance between Kestrel, who helps Mal run The Velvet Glove, and Jim, a bartender. No whips, no paddles, no kink. It's a sweet break from the heavy emotions that normally get tied into Michael's stories.

Touch and Trust
Sampson, who has saved up all his money for a year membership, meets Alain, long-time member and a sub who is looking for someone permanent, having lost his previous lover some time ago. Alain is still struggling to come to terms with being alone and Sampson is there to help him find a happy middle ground.

The one negative is that Sampson has a speech impediment, where he "um" and "ah" a lot. While I give props to Michael for having a character with this, it can be disruptive for the reader, although it depends on reading style.

Two Men for Two Twins
Rivan and Kytan are twins who live together in an equal sexual relationship, but they both yearn to have their own subs. Rivan finds Jewel working the streets and brings him in, having to bread him of a drug habit and overcome his feelings of self-disgust and low self-esteem. Kytan is given Hinton, who witnessed his parents' horrific deaths and has fallen into a self mutilating habit that has escalated to dangerous proportions.

This is my favorite of the bunch, being longer and more thorough in the character developments. While BDSM shouldn't be in place of therapy, in Hinton's case it's hand-waved as being a last resort as medication (and assumedly therapy) haven't worked. It's thin ice, but this is a fantasy novel, so I give some leniency. I would have liked Hinton to have struggled a little more; he felt "cured" a little too easily in some ways.

26.12.10

The Santa Mug by Patric Michael

The Santa Mug by Patric Michael
Stars: 4.5/5

Overall
When Max invites Darren to come with him to visit his family at Thanksgiving, Darren agrees, mostly because Max has been such a good friend to him in the past. Although they aren't going as a couple, Max's family assumes differently...

This is an incredibly touching Christmas story involving two ordinary men who care for one another, one of whom has some history he needs to finish up before he can completely be in the relationship. All of this comes to a point just before Christmas without being overly dramatic or unrealistic.

Strengths
My holiday reading before this was very hit or miss, so I was hesitant (and a little grouchy) going in, but was pleasantly surprised. It was sweet and tender while keeping realistic as two friends who become something more. Although no sex is explicitly described, it doesn't matter--the connection between the two men is undeniable, even if we aren't given passionate scenes and dozens of dialogue lines devoted to it.

Weaknesses
Nothing stuck out to me as being out of place or weakening the novel. While I struggled with some of the events, I think they were the best option for the characters and I was ultimately happy with the results.

23.12.10

Love Means ... Courage by Andrew Grey

Love Means ... Courage by Andrew Grey
Stars: 4/5

Overall
The second in the Love Means series, this novel takes place a good 20 years before any of the other events. Having been introduced to Geoff in Love Means No Shame, we are transported back in time to when his father and Len met. I read this last, since obviously order didn't matter too much, but I think it'd be interesting to see how everything played out if read first (instead of second as intended). As a romance novel, we can be pretty certain that we'll get a happy ending, but when we know how things will be 20 years later, it takes out all the potential for a twist.

Strengths
Even knowing how the story would have to eventually end, I was never bored while reading. What we're reading the Farm series for is the journey, not the destination. Watching the progression of the farm and their relationship is enjoyable, as are the characters. Ruby, Cliff's wife and Len's best friend from high school, plays a great role, little though it is. Normally women are either helpers or haters (both of which show up elsewhere in the story), but Ruby is just Ruby. Yes, she supports Len, but I found her role to be rather unique as the woman married to one half of what will end up a gay couple.

The writing felt stronger in this one than in did in some of the later of the series and the set up for the pairing felt well constructed and reasonable.

Weaknesses
The sex descriptions. They didn't completely throw me out of the story, but they didn't submerge me in the scene either. It's possible that this is personal preference, because I'm not sure any of Grey's scenes have ever called to me. Part of this may be Grey's attempt to stay more "realistic" and keep the scenes sweet and sexy rather than hot and passionate. They work well within the story, but aren't a draw if you're going in for some PWP (though if you were going for PWP, you wouldn't be picking this up anyway!).

22.12.10

Velvet Glove, Vol 4 by Sean Michael

Velvet Glove, Vol 4 by Sean Michael
Stars: 4.5/5

Overall
The gloves come off and the mitts go on for volume four as Michael introduces Puppy play and more hardcore scenes. When a Pup is abandoned by his master, dog trainer Dane is brought in without really knowing what he's getting into. But who could say no to those broken-hearted eyes? The idea that a dog trainer would be brought in is a bit far-fetched to me, but that angle isn't played up much as Michael gives a little bit of a look inside this particular kink.

In "Anything for a Byline," a journalist tries to infiltrate the club--only to find kink and love. Here we're shown more serious play as Nat's list of potential kinks is more expansive than previous stories in the series, and Richmond is willing to dish it out. These two really seem made for each other as Nat's need seems best satisfied by Richmond's command.

Note: The below mostly focuses on "Anything for a Byline."
Strengths
Nat. He's a great character who is approaching the Velvet Glove as a complete outsider who doesn't have any kinks (he thinks). Unlike previous stories of outsiders (Noticing a theme?), Nat isn't just a sub, he's a sub who likes it rough. He dives into the scene without knowing much of anything, but Richmond is there to catch him. Nat is freaked out by his own kinks and "sluttiness" but still cannot deny his Sir.

Intensity. There were some great intense scenes. And even a plot line later on!

Weaknesses
So much sex. Who knew there could be too much? In these stories, I accept there's going to be a lot of sex, but this seemed a bit extreme. Some of it made the story drag a little, but reading it in smaller chunks (rather than one sitting) would dispel this problem.

21.12.10

Love Means ... No Boundaries by Andrew Grey

Love Means ... No Boundaries by Andrew Grey
Stars: 3/5

Overall
I have some difficulty rating these books, because on the one hand the stories do exactly what they accomplish, but they do nothing to WOW me. I don't think "wowing" is really what they are set out to do though, so I'm not sure I can hold it against them too much. Instead, this story is a warm blanket wrapped around you while you're sitting on the back porch on an Autumn day. It cuts off the chill, but it won't make you hot, hot, hot.

This, like the others in the series, is a sweet tale of understanding and love, of overcoming obstacles and finding where you belong.

Strengths
Robbie and Joey as characters are great--considerate, kind, and sweet, plus they care for each other. They work well as individuals and as a pair. Joey has some self-esteem issues because of an accident and Robbie is blind, which leaves him dependent on everyone around him.

Moral of the Story. While some books can't get away with having a moral or theme, I think this series (and this one in particular) can get away with it, after all, it's practically in the title! It's well handled and doesn't come off too strong and just adds to the novel's sweetness.

Weaknesses
Predictability. This isn't so much a mark of this book in particular, but of the series. I've figured it out. Boy meets boy. They fall in love. They are forced to split (or feel forced to split). They come back together and live happily ever after. This doesn't make the books unenjoyable, you just know what's coming. (Except, maybe Love Means ... Courage.)

20.12.10

Love Means ... No Shame by Andrew Grey

Love Means ... No Shame by Andrew Grey
Stars: 4/5

Overall
I think this is my favorite of the series, and conveniently the first (although I read it second). Order isn't vital to the stories, unless you want to be surprised by happy endings. So Geoff comes home after the death of his father and decides to stay and take over the family farm. Shortly after his arrival, Eli appears, 100% Amish and straight from the community. He's taking a year break to "diminish his rebel spirit."

Geoff and Eli have a very nice dynamic and are both sweet as sugar. They struggle, they talk, they deal, they love. I think my favorite thing about this story is that it's not fed on misunderstandings but on obligations. Eli and Geoff do what's right, even when it breaks their hearts.

Strengths
Is what it is. This novel tells you what it is and delivers. No secrets, no sudden twists, just a basic love story on a farm. It does it well. The pacing fits well with the story and the environment; it keeps moving but doesn't seem rushed (keeps a "country" pace, so to speak).

Ending. I think the rising action/climax/falling action were all well handled. I connected to the characters and their suffering, as well as their triumph. Everything felt pretty well handled, and for never appearing on screen, I loved Eli's mother.

Weaknesses
Mellow. Not really a weakness, but if you're looking for an extremely emotional story, or action packed, this isn't it. The plot is basic and straight forward with more loving than angst.

14.12.10

Transit by Raev Gray and Aleksandr Voinov

Transit by Raev Gray and Aleksandr Voinov
Stars: 4.5/5

Overall
An enjoyable piece of holiday story telling, although the holidays are not the focus of the story.

Strengths
Realism. Aside from the weakness I mention below, I felt the story was very realistic, touching upon things like the crap economy. The climax and resolution also fitted into this, as this simple story didn't need to have aliens attack, just humans doing human things and causing conflict (another point which I enjoyed, but I won't ruin you on the details).

Writing. Another example of good writing. The characters are varied and well portrayed. The plot is simple and strong.

Weaknesses
Bed to Love. While I understand the characters have history together, that history is limited and their transition of sleeping together to "I think I love you" seemed a bit quick, especially for the character types. While I understand the characters themselves were surprised by the immediacy of the emotion, it still made me go, "Really?"

12.12.10

Got Mistletoe? by Andi Anderson

Got Mistletoe? by Andi Anderson
Stars: 1.5/5

Overall
I hate saying it but, "Don't waste your money." That was my first reaction.

However, books I don't like I give the benefit of the doubt and re-read. So I sat down and started reading it again--it's not too long, so not big deal. Immediately I thought I had misjudged this book on first read: the beginning isn't bad. Okay, it wasn't amazing writing or anything, but it was cute and fun and acceptable. My rank when up to a 2 or 3.

And then I hit chapter 5.

In chapter 5, the switching PoVs go from changing after several pages to changing every paragraph, just about. Annoying (and odd) but bearable. But the writing takes a sharp turn for the worse as the character's emotions are stated outright, the dynamic of the characters is forced (the characters would go well together, but they felt forced because they both had an OMG feeling toward the other), and cliched writing becomes unbearable.

If you want a story about two men who fall in love immediately, face no challenges and are written poorly, then you might enjoy this.

10.12.10

Velvet Glove, Vol 1 by Sean Michael

Velvet Glove, Vol 1 by Sean Michael
Stars: 5/5

Overall
Welcome to BDSM 101. Care for a drink? Something to eat? Something to whip?

In all seriousness, this volume does read like BDSM 101, introducing the club, the world and the concepts though the stories of two men who are new to the whole thing and have no idea what they're getting into. Compared to some later stories in the volumes (and some additional stories), these will seem tame, but it doesn't make their coming together any less sweet. I think this would be a great start for someone curious about BDSM romance but who doesn't think they'd be able to handle hardcore activities.

Strengths
Romantic happy endings. Michael always gives us our happy ending and does so here. He creates a world which seems to work off the concept of everyone has their true love (um, loves), and while his stories could be repetitive if read in succession (as in, reading volumes 1, 2, and 4 in one weekend), they give what the reader wants.

Writing. While the writing didn't feel as strong as in Velvet Need, I was never disappointed. In fact, I started rereading the book the next day to try to stave off starting the next volume. It didn't work, but I tried.

Weaknesses
Name abuse. This is really the only thing I can think of calling it. I understand when writing actions sometimes names are necessary to differentiate since the pronouns are the same, but that I can deal with. He tends to write dialogue with a lot of name dropping ("Simon, I trust you." "Thank you, Jack." "You're welcome, Simon." Though maybe nothing quite so bad). I think a fair number could be cut, especially those outside of scenes (they seem fitting in a scene). It is never disruptive enough to rip me from my reading rhythm, but it was noticeable.

8.12.10

Review: A Taste of Love by Andrew Grey

A Taste of Love by Andrew Grey
Stars: 3/5

Overall
With my previous exposure to Andrew Grey (Love Means ... Freedom), I was looking forward to A Taste of Love, especially since it involved a chef, and I have a thing for chef stories. (Food is the way to the heart, after all.) My first read through left me wanting. The story itself is good and surprising, but the writing felt awkward and stiff at times and my initial reaction was to give the story 2 stars.

However, I know that mood can affect how I read something, so I gave it some time and re-read it. I did enjoy it more the second time, perhaps because I knew what to expect. The writing isn't terrible, but it does have some weak points, and if this makes or breaks a story, you may want to avoid this one. It wasn't bad enough that I wanted to rewrite the story (overall plot and character development was okay), but I did want to edit it. Just be forewarned if you're a picky reader!

Strengths
Resolution. I think the way he ended the story, while perhaps a little on the fairy tale side, was good. He found a happy ending without having to be ridiculous about it.

Children. The children felt realistically portrayed. They were cute and heart warming, a nice addition (though it could be argued they are really the center of the story!).

Emotion. The emotion, especially in the first climactic point, was very powerful and moving. Even though I knew there had to be a happy result to what was happening, I still got a little choked because of the desperation and defeat that Billy felt.

Weaknesses
Writing. As I mentioned above, I think Grey's writing suffered in this novel. While I recall moments of him telling instead of describing in his previous novel that I've read, he seemed to fall harder onto this crutch.

Sadly, I think the writing did the most damage to the novel. It made the interaction between Darryl and Billy stiffer than it should have been once they hooked up, told the reader what to feel and think instead of welcoming the reader into the emotion, and didn't really engage me into the story as much as I think would have been appropriate.

1.12.10

Angel Thief by Jenny Schwartz

Angel Thief by Jenny Schwartz
Stars: 2.5/5

Overall
Sara and Filip are two pawns in a game, struggling to do what is right, and best, while playing within the guidelines. If they can manage to work together, they might just be able to win.

I'll admit it's been a while since I read a het romance, but the concept of an angel falling for a djinn was tempting. That part of the story held up strongly and was satisfying. I recognize that my perspective may skew this review.

Strengths
Plot. I felt the strength of the story was in what was happening. For a shorter piece it has a good amount of action and just enough complexity to move the story along without requiring exceptional details.

Side characters. There was good variety here and none of them were simply cardboard cut outs meant to fill a spot. They all had at least a little depth and played their parts.

Weaknesses
Turning Point. I felt the turning point from "I'm resisting you" to "Take me now" was abrupt. The author provides reasons, and possibly even acceptable ones, but I didn't buy it. Her reasons for resisting were good and too easily thrown out the window.

Sexual encounters. I didn't find the sexual encounters particularly enjoyable. The first felt a little ridiculous and the second seemed so abrupt that it disrupted the rest of the story for me.

23.11.10

His for the Holidays, anthology

His for the Holidays, an anthology
Stars: 5/5

Overall
Most anthologies are, at best, hit or miss. As a compilation of multiple authors there is the complexity of different styles that not all readers may enjoy, a theme (normally) that may require authors to write outside their comfort zone, and shorter works which limits what can be done. Many of the authors are novelists and have difficulties cutting down from their normally large word counts.

However, Carina Press has done a superb job of bringing together these four authors. I read each story waiting to be let down and never was. It was exemplary. As they are all holiday tales, it is fitting that they have happy endings, no matter how dark the previous pages may have been. If you're having trouble getting into the holiday spirit, be sure to pick this book up!

Mistletoe at Midnight by LB Gregg
The anthology starts off with a trip down memory lane as Owen happens upon his high school sweet heart, Caleb, who vanished one day with his family. As Owen and Caleb awkwardly interact, each moment is complicated by the presence of Owen's ex-boyfriend. As Owen and Caleb struggle to understand each other and what happened in the past, Owen's father is looking ill and it could be his cancer returning. Can the family make this a holiday to remember?

The reader is led through the holidays with Owen's open nerves, making each interaction a rush of emotion and disappointment, struggle and need. Gregg does an excellent job of making Owen hurt and sore (emotionally) without being whiny and angsty. My eyes burned with the threat of tears at one point, even knowing that this holiday tale probably wouldn't leave me feeling down. I look forward to reading more by this author.

Nine Lights Over Edinburgh by Harper Fox
This is the darkest of the set, although it doesn't fail to deliver its happy ending. Nine Lights Over Edinburgh has us following a character that lacks good qualities, although not completely. He's an alcoholic cop who makes his own rules and throughout the story makes bad choice after bad choice, while adamantly thinking he doesn't need anyone's help, risking his life and that of his family's.

Even after he meets his match (so to speak) he continues to do what he wants, which results in the rising action. Eventually he leans on Toby, and then the rest of the officers, to fix everything that is wrong. A gritty story of life walking the beat while struggling with personal issues and the need to prove he can stand on his own, this story takes us from the dark days of solitude to brighter days of hope.

Special recognition for the title, which isn't extremely obvious but is a small delight when you make the connection, or at least for me it was.

I Heard Him Exclaim by Z.A. Maxfield
This is probably the most consistently happy of the four stories as our leads immediately recognize their interest in one another and work toward that end, even with the struggles that take place between them. While I would label this story as the weakest of the bunch, it still stands strong and is a good read. Some of the sexual antics were a little surprising and dropped me out of the moment a little, but they weren't revolting or disrupting enough for me to not continue. A touching tale of being strong and being willing to lean on others, this story will have you wondering if you're really ever too old to believe in Santa.

Icecapade by Josh Lanyon
For Noel Snow, cat burglar extraordinaire, falling for FBI agent Robert Cuffe is probably a bad idea. But ten years--and nine drunken phone calls--later, Robert Cuffe is standing on his front stoop accusing him of a recent set of crimes. But Noel is living the clean life and has nothing to hide as Cuffe follows him around while he helps his neighbors, sets up his Christmas tree, and tries to understand why Cuffe is there. But if they can let down their guards, Noel may just find that Cuffe is there to catch him when he falls and Cuffe may learn Noel only has one thing left he wants to steal. (His heart, obviously!)

A charming dynamic of tough FBI agent who refuses to let Noel see any of his emotions and a reformed thief who just wants his happy life to be perfect with the man he obsessed over for the last decade. The pair is furthered along by incidental neighbor visits as Noel slowly reveals more about himself--more than he'd like, but certainly exactly what Cuffe needs. Be prepared for 95% of this story to be a struggle of the heart, and the last 5% to be a joyous celebration. Merry Christmas indeed.

13.11.10

Should We Drown in Feathered Sleep by Michael Merriam

Should We Drown in Feathered Sleep by Michael Merriam
Stars: 3.5/5

Overall
A clever commentary on the state of our world mixed with an enjoyable story. Should We Drown in Feathered Sleep touches upon environmental, political and religious topics without delving too deeply or offending too completely. It works to make the reader think while we are carried on the wings of the story...and the loons.

Strengths
Original story. Although the post-apocalyptic (or post-horrible things) world is nothing new, the author has taken a fresh approach. The environment is dead or suffering, but the atmosphere of the story isn't desperate or depressing as the people have begun to survive in this new world. In addition, the story takes an interesting angle when it looks at religion, faith, and miracles.

Main Character. Our heroine is a good mix of weak and strong. She's has moments of 5-year-old child, throwing tantrums when she feels her independence is being threatened, but it adds to the depth of her character, even if it possibly could grate on a reader's nerves. Although her greatest struggle--keeping independence while being limited to a wheelchair--is not anything new, the parallels the author draws between her and the loons pushes this beyond a story of a handicapped individual and into a story of overcoming fears of our weaknesses.

The ending. While I won't divulge the end, I found it appeasing to the buildup through out the story. We are given a happy ending that many post-apocalyptic stories do not give us, while it isn't completely unrealistic.

Cover. It has a lovely, eye-catching cover that is very fitting for the story.

Weaknesses
Ending. While the ending was fitting for the story, it felt slightly rushed and a little too tidy, but nothing awful.

Although there wasn't much that I would mark as a weakness in the story, the reason it scored so low in my star rating was because it never really grabbed me or spoke to me. The romantic interest was lukewarm, which may be appropriate because the focus of the story isn't romance, but I felt like most of the story had the same lukewarm approach. It doesn't mean the story wasn't enjoyable--it was--but neither the story nor the romance nor the characters really grabbed me and held on so I wanted to finish the book this instant. Would I read it again? Sure. Would I recommend this to others? Probably.

8.11.10

Island of Icarus by Christine Danse

Island of Icarus by Christine Danse
Stars: 3.5/5

Overall
Our story opens in clutter as Jonathan sorts through the things in his office that he hasn't gotten around to putting away, even a year after being in his position at the university. With it, Danse shows the reader the life Jonathan is living, disorganized mentally as he struggles to overcome the shadows of his past while dealing with his new limitations, mainly that of a mangled arm that has a clockwork replacement. Although this is a first person perspective, we are not overwhelmed with angst or emotion, as our narrator is stoically Victorian British and a scientist, which is a refreshing difference from the emotional rides that some stories focus on.

Instead, Island of Icarus is a study of man, of determination, and of creating one's own fate. Although initiated through someone else's will, Jonathan's growth through the novel gives him a spine to make his own decisions and the confidence to follow through.

Strengths
Steampunk. Danse did a very nice job of creating a lightly steampunk atmosphere without short-changing the reader. She included steampunk elements (clockwork, mechanics, Victorian era), without making it a true steampunk piece of writing (aka, heavy with mechanics/steam engineering). True enthusiasts of this genre may feel it doesn't fit the style, but it's present enough to pass.

Characters. We have our classic Victorian educated man, Jonathan, who has suffered injury and heart break and has been marooned on an island with Marcus, a dashing American who is ambitious, crafty and a genius. Even though he is a genius, he's not socially inept, and yet he has isolated himself on this island. Of course the reader knows it's about more than wanting time to work on his project.

Writing. It was enjoyable, and led me to discover that "wow" is not a modern term (I initially thought it was an anachronism within the novel), but dates back to the 1500s. The novel seemed fairly well researched, both of the time period and the mechanics of clockwork gears and flight.

Weaknesses
Beach Sex. There are at least two places you don't want to be naked and rolling around. The beach and in hay. Thankfully the sex didn't involve penetration, but sex on the beach is just a bad idea generally. But I guess when it's all very instantaneous, you don't want your lover to run off because he's changed his mind.

Title. Icarus is the son of a craftsman who, along with his father, used wax and feather wings to escape the island they were imprisoned on. Ignoring his father's warning, Icarus flies too close to the sun, melting the wax and falling to his death. Perhaps it should have been titled Island of Daedalus, since Marcus is the craftsman. There is also some issues that Marcus doesn't really want to leave the island as Daedalus and Icarus did, although he does show some reckless behaviors like that of a young boy (Icarus) which requires Jon to rescue him. I like the basic concept of the novel being called Island of Icarus since there are wings involved, but I'm not sure it's appropriate.

While I enjoyed the story overall, I was never enthralled with the characters or the plot, never motivated to keep reading to see what happened next. If you're looking for something mellow to read, this would be a good choice. If you're in the mood for something a bit more adventurous or emotional, I wouldn't start here.

29.10.10

Anthology: Flipped Fables

Flipped Fables edited by SA Clements
Stars: 3/5

Overall:
Anthologies are always tricky because you can get such a mix of authors writing such a mix of stories, but I think in this case, it paid off. Not every story is a shining star, but none of them are folding in on themselves either, plus they cover a range of tastes so there should be one story sure to satisfy everyone.

The Man Who Cried Werewolf by Kiernan Kelly
A cute, if not completely predictable tale. Since this story is probably one of the most familiar among an American audience, I'm glad it started the series as it held the fewest surprises. It's a straight forward piece that plays out like you'd expect. Who's up for a romp in the hay?

A Sheepherder in Fabulous Clothing by Rob Rosen
If you like fabulous, you'll like this one. It's not completely to my taste, but it does give a good consideration of what makes a man, men who love men who dress as women, and forming your own identity. I feel like I should be more familiar with the tale this is based on, but nothing comes to mind. Still, it stands alone without requiring prior knowledge, except for maybe about drag queens.

Shifter 2.0 by Winnie Jerome
Rather than be a retelling of the Mouse and the Lion, this story just goes with the vague gist of a lion and a mouse in the same story. Daniel doesn't fit the old-school style of shifter that his families believes he should be, but he doesn't fit alot of stereotypes about shifters. He's a vegetarian lion who rips mattresses, clogs the drain with his hair, and requires odorless soaps. Good thing he's met Alex, owner of one mouse and chef at a vegetarian restaurant. He doesn't seem to mind Daniel's quirks, as long as Daniel won't mind his...

Bad Hair Day by Clare London
Rapunzel gets a gender swap and an attitude in this take of "Let Down Your Long Hair." The Prince is persistent through to the end, even if he starts of as a tender whippersnapper and ends up a hero (or, well, you tell me). The end is rather cheesy, but these are fairy tales, so I suppose it's forgiven...this time! ^Insert witch cackle here.

Wild Fox Chase by Misa Izanaki
This particular story is based on a Chinese tale and I like the concept and most the writing. The sex was kinda awkward though, and the dialogue during the sex worse. But other than that a perfectly enjoyable story, and our kitsune (but of course), is playful and keen and has an inner dialogue that fits the fox.

Sweet Persuasion by Angelia Sparrow
In which Zeph and Apollo, two gods of old (Greek, I think, but I'm always confusing them), challenge each other to see who can get a shepherd to remove his clothes first using their gifts. It doesn't really matter who the winner is, as they decided to pursue the boy that evening, which the both have off. For having a threesome, it's an incredibly sweet tale with some hot hillside sex.

The Nature of Love by Anah Crow
This is one of my favorite stories among this group. I wasn't familiar with the tale it was based on (The Cat and Venus), but I'm not sure familiarity would help/hinder the story since it was changed rather thoroughly in very excellent ways. I never knew what to expect next and the author never disappointed. This actually has me interested in what more she wrote.

Court and Country by GS Wiley
A new take on Country Mouse and City Mouse, we have two boys who grew up together, one who stayed in the country, preferring farming and hard work, while one moved into the city and joined the court. Before they part ways, they share a kiss, but nothing else, and then many years go by. They meet up together when the Courtier comes to visit the country and their tale unravels from there. How can two lovers with so very different tastes survive? It's a cute story. You won't be surprised by the ending, but I don't think we're meant to be.

The Cock and the Jewel by Sean Michael
Michael is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. He brings such great characters to life and explores facets of life that I don't face while still making the characters accessible. Here we meet a tattoo artist who is too inked and pierced for his last boyfriend, who he is still trying to get over. So the question is, will the cock give up on the jewel, or will he find his true worth?

28.10.10

Braided by Sean Michael

Braided by Sean Michael
Stars: 3.5/5

Overall
If you want hot sex, and lots of it, then pick up this story! If you want deep plot, go else where. If you want character studies, you'll find it here. If you want deep, overwhelming emotions, this probably isn't the place. So am I saying this is worth it? Yes. As long as you go in knowing what you're going to get, you will be happy with what you get in the end. The writing was enjoyable enough that half way through (when I realized there wasn't really going to be much plot), I shrugged my shoulders and kept reading...and I love plot-driven stories.

Warning: Contains BDSM involving fisting, twincest, sounds/wands, threesome and more

Strengths
Twins. I know my weaknesses, and it's twins. While I would never go for it in real life, fantasy worlds are a fun place to play. Michael does an excellent job of playing up this particular interest and does great things with making the twins similar in just enough ways that it's interesting and yet making them so very different. Also in this category is tattoos and piercings. Michael plays with many ideas in this story, many of which touch upon my buttons.

Writing. Michael has a very strong and consistent writing style that rarely falters. Even when there are several chapters without any real plot, I didn't mind because it's just enjoyable to read his stuff. And I'm a huge fan of plot, so that's saying something.

Ending. It has a very nice ending, which I won't divulge.

Weaknesses
PWP. The story does have plot, but the rate of plot to pages is really low. Michael seems to focus more on character development and advancement, exploring the human psyche and pulling it apart as he unthreads his characters. However, he doesn't seem to do this through plot (at least in the Velvet Glove series), but through character interactions. I think this works, overall. His writing is strong, he writes good scenes, and he has interesting characters. However, despite thoroughly enjoying this novel, I kept waiting for something to happen. There are a few small events, but not much else aside from sex. I suppose in some ways this is a strength too.

Peter's Story. I felt like Peter's story never got developed. For all Peter's issues, I was surprised that Paul received most of the attention plot wise. Maybe Michael felt it would be too obvious to go for the "broken" twin, which I can respect, but I still wish we'd gotten more of his story. Maybe there is another story out there that I didn't see.

Every Good Thing by M. Jules Aiden

Every Good Thing by M. Jules Aedin
Stars: 3/5

Overall:
I started this story expecting a bit more slave-master dynamic, but by the third chapter or so, I realized this wasn't going to be. Although Arieh is sold to Enitan as a slave, Enitan plans on making him his pias, a position between highest ranking slave and wife, leaning toward obedient wife placement. The pias is expected to keep the master of the house's bed, but when Arieh is reluctant, Enitan doesn't push him.

It's a story of a boy overcoming fear and teachings to embrace his feelings for the man who bought him. There are some allusions to the negatives of drugs, the positives/negatives of faith (seems to favor multiple gods over one), and the construction of a family outside the normal "established" family idea.

What I liked
The story was well written and constructed, aside from what I mention below.

Nothing in this book really jumped out and grabbed me. It wasn't a "can't put this down" book, nor did it give me a look inside myself. I also felt there were some plots left undone at the end (the dancer's brother never gets resolution, does he?). It was enjoyable, and I may even re-read it, but it didn't amaze me.

Characters. I sympathized with the characters and I wanted happy endings for them, but I wasn't moved by their plights. I think if we'd spent more time with the two or three main characters I would have felt more for them, but my attention was distracted by the head-hopping. But I did like Arieh, even if he's a whiney kid for a chunk of time (it's understandable), and I feel sorry for Enitan who is being extremely patient.

What didn't work
Jumping perspectives. I'm very picky when it comes to this style, and while it wasn't done poorly here, I didn't feel like it was needed half the time. From a strictly logical view it works to show us everything that's happening. But it too often is used as a crutch to avoid having to write around these complications. I'm not sure if it was used as a crutch here (I didn't see a lame leg), but it also didn't fit naturally into the writing either.

I re-read the book after some time had passed, just to make sure I wasn't judging this harshly. I found I enjoyed it alot more when I skipped over all the chapters that weren't from the three main perspectives (Junia, Enitan, Arieh). I can see the advantage of experiencing some of the alternatives (when the sister dancer is helped by the magic man, when the magic man takes on an apprentice) but most everything else is unnecessary, and even the parts I can understand could have been taken on differently, especially if Junia was kept as a point of view.

Ignored complication. Junia found a book of scripture for Arieh, which he ignores in favor of being happy. His reasoning for this is that he's been abandoned by his god already, so it doesn't matter. It felt flat, and also like the author was setting something up that she decided not to follow through with. Even Enitan points this out, but it's never really resolved and I wonder if she felt it was or if she did resolve it and I'm missing it.

25.10.10

Velvet Need by Sean Michael

Velvet Need by Sean Michael
Stars: 4.5/5

Overall:
I'm not a huge fan of BDSM, which may make you wonder why I was reading a novel all about it. There was a sale, I'll leave it at that. And yet...this novel was very good. Even if some of the subject matters weren't to my liking, the writing was done in such a sensual/sexual way that I found it enjoyable.The characters aren't flat and they both struggle with their place in the dynamic, eventually finding their balance within the relationship. While, obviously, BDSM practices are a core element of the story and sex, the author did a fantastic job of balancing them with development of characters and plot (although plot is mostly through the characters). While plot is important, it is mostly a tool to drive the character development and exploration.
Warning: Contains BDSM and the use of sounds/wands, enemas, fisting

Strengths
The doctor. I was very wary of Lutrell when we were first introduced to him for several reasons. One, he giggled a lot, which I initially was concerned meant the writing was going to be bad, but it turned out just to be a character trait that I later kind of loved. Two, he was a Top with several interests that didn't, well, interest me. But as the story continued, I learned to love his laughing and his light-hearted nature, and while his sexual interests still don't do it for me, the affection and tenderness he puts into his work amends that.

Sensuality. The tenderness and care with which the sex was described, mixed with the complete abandon of passion and enjoyment made even descriptions of things that aren't enjoyable to me sound pleasant.

Writing. The writing is very smooth and Michael does an excellent job of writing two very different characters from two different perspectives.

Weaknesses
Again, some of the sexual practices weren't "my cup of tea," so to speak, but they were well handled, not gruesome or too detailed, but instead sensual.

Plot. There is a plot, just very little. Hard-working business man thinks he's a top, a Top shows him how to let go, HWBM gets kidnapped and tortured and Top has to re-coop him. That's the basic plot, and if this wasn't in outer space (aka, not our real world), I'd question some of the legal elements. As it is, we chalk it up to "well, it's an outer space thing" and move on. The action plot is minimal, the emotional plot is the focus.

The Dickens With Love by Josh Lanyon

The Dickens With Love by Josh Lanyon
Stars: 5/5

Overall:
Very few people can successfully mix romance, humor and heartfelt suffering as Lanyon does in To Dickens With Love. My initial interest in the story came from its quirky description involving glow-in-the-dark condoms, and I was happy to see that its humor stayed consistent throughout, sometimes sticking with straight amusement and other times going with a more sarcastic, jaded laugh.

But this story is much more than just a good laugh. Our jaded and desperate narrator is put into a morally questionable situation that he feels he must fulfill, both because he needs the money and also because he yearns to be "back in the business," no matter how dark the dealings are for him, at the moment. Of course, things begin to take a turn for...well, not the worse, but they do take a turn once he meets the quietly handsome Crisparkle.

This is a perfect Christmas tale, good any time of year (I read it in the autumn), but probably sweetest during the holidays (I plan to read it again then, just to keep myself in the spirit). This is a story about love, forgiveness, redemption, hope and...well, it's a Dickens' tale.

Another Kind of Cowboy by Susan Juby

Another Kind of Cowboy by Susan Juby
Stars: 2.5/5

Overall:
I probably would have ranked this book as a 2, but the author did an excellent job with the horse elements, so it earns an extra half star. Otherwise I found the novel mediocre overall, mostly due to Cleo's involvement. If the story had focused solely on Alex and been from his perspective, it would have been better.

What I liked
Alex. Perhaps the sweetest boy you've ever met. Okay, he's embarrassed by his family, but who wouldn't be? He's hardworking, quiet, tries not to complain and struggles with his place in the world. He doesn't fit in in so many ways, but he does his best to get by.

Equestrian. Most people get their horse stuff wrong in books, but this author, with her obvious horse experience, gets stuff right. It was wonderfully refreshing for a fellow equestrian. I'm not sure I buy the musical kur, which seems a bit advanced for two teens, but I suppose they are advanced riders.

Dressage Coaches. I enjoyed the two male dressage coaches. Their mixed personalities were funny and tender at all the right moments.

What didn't work
Cleo. She was annoying, self-centered, complaining all the time and lazy. If she was there to be a comparison to Alex, it didn't work. Even if she "brought Alex out of his shell" a little, I could not see them being friends. She annoyed me to the extremes. I tended to skim her chapters. Since she was half the book, it did serious damage to the quality.

24.10.10

Jesse's Story by MaculateGiraffe

Jesse's Story by MaculateGiraffe
Stars: 5/5

Overall:
A continuation of the Slave Breakers series, we are introduced to strong-willed, quick thinking Jesse. He joins the household temporarily, but leaves a lasting impression. He's smart enough to challenge Holden and he watches everyone, trying to understand them with his extremely curious, and nosy, nature.

This story doesn't have the emotional pull that Bran's Story had, because it's approaching everything from a different angle. While the main character is Jesse, this is really just continuing the story of Bran and Holden. Jesse sees everything with a jaded and cynical eye, judging Bran's love for his master as sad and Holden's abuse of that love as horrid. But it is Jesse's meddlesome ways that gives this story its happy ending.

What I liked
More Bran and Holden! I really love these two and was happy to see more of them.

Writing. The author continued to impress me with the writing style and plot development. I think there were bigger time jumps in this novel, but the flow wasn't interrupted.

What didn't work
Nothing jumped out at me as terrible. I felt less connected to Jesse than I felt previously with Bran, but some may like his brash attitude better than Bran's subservience. I also understand that this story needed to be told from his perspective in order to give us his way of thinking, his nosy nature, and an outsider's view.

20.10.10

Bran's Story by Maculate Giraffe

Bran's Story by MaculateGiraffe
Stars: 5/5

Overall:
If you're like me, you see "Independently published" and your nose wrinkles. But you also can't deny a free read, so you click and start reading. And you're amazed. I was amazed. The copy is clean, the story is superb, the writing is excellent and the emotional pull is strong. The overall story involves a Master-Slave relationship, but doesn't really do too much BDSM except for the "obey me" bit. The basic concept (slave falling for his master) isn't unique, but the way in which the author approaches it is. VERY enjoyable. (Warning: Sexual partners are not hard and fast in this story, but the characters aren't "slutty," they just have a different concept of loyalty.)

What I liked
Characters. Bran, Holden, Yves come off the page like the beautiful men they are, wrapping their naked limbs around each other and the reader until you relax into their grasp. They are brilliantly colored and varied, and even Yves--who we know the least about, has the least screen time, and would seem to be a "flat" character--is more than meets the eye. He has weaknesses and strengths and the author doesn't feel the need to tell us this because we see it through his interactions with Bran and his master.

World. Because the setting is supposed to be equivalent to ours in most cases, the author is freed from having to describe everything and is free to focus on the more important elements: the slave-master dynamic, both in a private context and a social context (this is developed in a later book). The author does an excellent job of illustrating everything for the reader and absorbing the reader into the world.

Bran. Bran comes from an abusive master and is terrified, but he's not broken. I think this is refreshing, as well as a central point of the story. Bran is so hopeful and desires so strongly to please, that you can't help but be happy when he is happy.

What didn't work
If you're looking for a high-intensity plot with action, this isn't it. The plot is by no means boring, but it's more of a subtle, internal struggle than a fight for life.

There was one small "huh?" that arose, and that was so small. The world is pretty much parallel to ours, with cars, etc, but also with slaves. But there is mention of a chamber pot being used, which seemed a little odd. Didn't they have toilets? They have cars but not toilets? But this can easily be explained away by the fact that it is almost parallel. So not a big deal. You know it's a good book when you have to pick on ONE line in the entire story.

13.10.10

Fall by Alex Draven

Fall by Alex Draven
Stars: 2/5

Overall:
I enjoyed this story, and I enjoyed this world, but the reason it scored so low was because so much was confusing. There is so much here that can be fleshed out into a longer piece. I was even hoping that maybe this was just an off shoot of another story without any luck. I enjoyed the crabby centaur, the young go-getter, the conflict between them and their histories. The end confused me a little, as to why everything happened, even if I have an understanding of what happened. The history of everyone is a little fuzzy as well, although I grasped the basic plot.

This is meant to be M/M romance, but very little actually feels like it. Our main centaur had a male lover (boyfriend/significant other/grooming mate?) and there is the possibility of something between him and the young colt, but it's all kind of vague. This needed to be longer to explore the complex systems that were created.

Diego by Angel Martinez

Diego by Angel Martinez
Stars: 5/5

Overall:
Finn and Diego return! They've settled in Montana for a nice quiet life, but life with a pooka is rarely quiet for long. But really, this time it's Diego's fault. Mostly. A simple misunderstanding opens the Veil and a whole set of new problems. As Diego becomes more confident with himself and his magic, Finn begins to have doubts if he's the best thing for someone as wonderful as Diego. We follow the couple and their new friends between worlds and into trouble. Life really isn't going to be quiet for long...

I enjoyed this novel overall, even if there isn't much I can pinpoint at being its strong points. The exploration of the worlds and magics, the integration of politics, and the continued study of love between cultures all lent to a well constructed story.

What I liked
Action, world, politics. There were so many different elements in this story! We have the fae political scene, the mundane world's political scene, some shady Alien Business, and all mixed up with their continued struggle for romance. The story kept a good strong pace all the way through--I had trouble putting it down (much to the chagrin of my boss).

Emotions. I was so happy to see Finn struggle with new emotions he normally didn't have, and the parallel incidents of Finn's jealousy and Diego's jealousy and the reactions/end results.

What didn't work
Epilogue. I think it's the only thing I can complain about, and it's not even much to complain about. It was cute, just not completely my cup of tea.
SPOILER BELOW




**SPOILER**I'm not sure why I don't like weddings. Also, I was kind of hoping that Diego would somehow be immortal so he and Finn could be together forever. The pen thing was hilariously awesome though.**SPOILER**

11.10.10

Love Means ... Freedom by Andrew Grey

Love Means ... Freedom by Andrew Grey
Stars: 3.5/5

Overall:
This is an enjoyable story, following two young men, one who needs to learn to stand up for himself and another who needs to learn to see what people are like inside. This is a tale of healing, some physical and some emotional, as Preston and Stone struggle for love, understanding, and freedom from their past.

What I liked
Pace. Once Stone and Preston start dating, they move at a reasonable pace. They confront Stone's issues without it being a huge deal (since said issues effect everyone differently). And take time before really confronting the issues, which felt realistic. They also both slowly grow feelings for one another, rather than instantly, but still don't talk about it immediately.

Length. There is no "big" climax, but rather several smaller ones (pun recognized, if not intended). This works in order to fit in their entire story and express the theme of the book (Love means freedom, in case you missed that). Each time I hit a mini-climax, I'd see how much I had left, shrug, and continue. The story never dragged, no matter how long it was, but just steadily went along. All those stories I've read where "I wish there was more" was satisfied with this one, where we kept going until we're cozy.

What didn't work
Telling, not Showing. Sometimes the author tells us, or spells out what was already implied. This was a small stone tripping me in my travels, but for the most part wasn't too distracting. I would come across a line, wince, then move on. It didn't terribly detract from the story.

Pace. It felt like the transition from "you annoying jerk" to "I want to kiss you" went quickly, but again this didn't detract from the story, since their initial getting together isn't really the focus. Also, Preston does apologize and offer to make amends, but I think having Stone realize that he just uses his cockiness as a defense in the beginning (rather than making an awkward reference about it later) would have smoothed the problems on Stone's end.

Equine therapy. Being a horseback rider and familiar with equine therapy, I felt some of these things facts were a bit off. It could be the type of therapy center they are running, and some of the facts were spot on, but other parts had me questioning the realism (certification, experience, training, lack of sidewalkers...) This probably won't bother most people.

9.10.10

Someplace in This World, an anthology

Someplace in This World edited by Lee Benoit
Stars: 2.5/5

Overall:
While none of the stories were painful to read, few were a true pleasure. See below for more details about each story.

The Black Times by Kiernan Kelly
This story starts off strong, but about the time of the date starts to get wobbly. It began to feel unbelievable, or at least enough that it threw me out of the moment. I liked Michael and Bill as characters and a couple, and I think the story is strong enough to be enjoyable--but if I were editor, I would have requested some changes.

The Prodigal by Eden Winters
A continuation of Mark's story from The Angel of 13th Street, we follow this country boy-turned prostitute from his place on the streets back to where he belongs. Those familiar with the book will find little new in the story, but it doesn't make Mark's concerns any less understandable. It's a sweet story as we find those who had originally pushed Mark away come to terms with who he is and welcome him home.

I have a question about the cop that helps Mark and how that ties into the Angel's arrest in the novel, but I'd have to check to see if it's actually an error.

The Magic of Moving Houses by G.R. Richards
This story did very little for me. It seemed odd and forced and just odd. I can get behind the crazy idea of houses vanishing and molding themselves together, but everything else just seemed awkward. I think if this was explored as a longer story, with the reader witnessing the interaction of the characters before the monumental night, then the two men would feel more believable. As it is, I'm not buying it.

Comeback by G.S. Wiley
This was the first story in the set to really move me. Felix is so unlike most people reading--he's a once-famous movie star who spun out of control with his alcohol and drug abuse and went into rehab. He fires his manager--the only person who has been there for him the whole time--and gets a new one in his struggle to reclaim life.

So not many things that people have to deal with. And yet. And yet we are drawn to Felix because he's made some poor decisions, he's pushed away friends and family, he's made mistakes--things we all can connect with--and now he's trying to fix his life and make some sense out of it all, while daily fighting with the desire to take a drink. His desperation, mixed with his motivation to not give in, is what makes him so believable.

Return to the Mountain by P.D. Singer
I'm actually surprised I enjoyed this story as much as I did. Gary is self-centered, selfish, and a cheat. But he's on the path of reform, which redeems him long enough for us to get through the story, and we are rewarded with his reunion with Seth--but that doesn't mean everything is roses afterward.

Oilsmouth by J Rocci
This is a romance story in only the most basic sense that Edge loves Kit and is willing to do pretty much anything to keep him. The world is steampunk and very thoroughly described without being too much. I wasn't disappointed with the ending, even if it was abrupt...I'd kind of like to read more about this world and this couple!

Light the Fire by J.L. Merrow
This feels like a return to a classic-type of story, and I appreciated it. Kurt is still mourning the loss of his previous lover, who has been dead for 2 years, and Matt is not the type to give up. It's a fun, spit-fire dynamic that dips its toes into deeper waters without delving too far (due to limited space).

Pack Horse by Lee Benoit
I enjoyed this story...I think. I understood the overall jist of the story, but some of the subtleties were lost on me. Especially the flirt. At least, I think it was flirting. I may need to reread this to get it, but maybe I'm just being dense.

Home is the Hunter by Syd McGinley
Aside from the abuse of exclamation marks, which is a pet peeve (and is just ridiculous. If you can't get your excitement across with one, or better yet with the use of words, then why are you writing?). But aside from that, I feel like I'm see a sliver of a story that deserves more. Or needs more, whether it deserves it or not. There seems to be alot missing. I like the situation Topher is in (though I'm curious why he no longer goes by Chris), and I see potential in his relationship with Kynan. I think if this were fleshed out more there'd be potential, but overall it was flat.

8.10.10

Night Watch by Eden Winters

Night Watch by Eden Winters
Stars: 3/5

Overall:
This story probably isn't strong enough to stand alone, although the plot itself is self contained. It's a nice story, but nothing amazing. It is very touching to watch Jay "deal" with Michael's problems and seeing the relationship from his perspective (since Michael would surely say Jay got the raw end of the deal).

What I liked
I felt the story really picked up once Jay actually arrived home. I realize the need for the detour, but that section dragged a little for me (on the other hand, the story would probably feel like it was missing something if it wasn't there). More than the sex (not that I minded that, it was enjoyable!), I liked watching Jay help Michael come out of himself and his memories through the sensory questions, especially when Michael describes Jay's touches on him.

What didn't work
There was one possible plot hole: The story takes place on July 4th, and the fireworks of New Years are referenced, but The Telling takes place in spring, which mean a July 4th would have already passed once.

7.10.10

The French Have a Word for It by Josh Lanyon

The French Have a Word for It by Josh Lanyon
Stars: 4/5

Overall:
A brief, sweet tale of long ago crushes returning. Colin is hiding from his grandfather when he meets his old crush Thomas. But all isn't what it seems. It was moving and rewarding (although not hot) in a very short space.

What I liked
Emotions. While a short piece, we easily get attached to our narrator and experience his emotions.

Story. We are given plenty of back story without bogging down current events, and everything is fleshed out smoothly. We understand the characters without being told everything and our main voice has weakness while not being weak.

What didn't work
There wasn't anything that didn't work, my only disappointments were the lack of a sex scene (which isn't vital, but was kind of teasing) and I wish it were longer, which isn't a failing, since the story is self-contained. But I did want more...I think that says good things about this short story.

5.10.10

Jude in Chains by K.Z. Snow

Jude in Chains by K.Z. Snow
Stars: 3.5/5

Overall:
Third time's the charm, right? So when Misha meet Jude again, in a gay conversion camp of all places, he knows he has to save him. But it might just be Misha who ends up being saved. This is a story you have to take with a small grain of salt, believing in that *spark* between two people that draws them together. Otherwise it's good, but not amazing; a touching story that satisfies.

What I liked
Misha isn't perfect, but he certainly is passionate about caring about Jude and wanting to save him from the "straight ideal." He's an enjoyable narrator, mixing humor and feeling as we go along. Nothing felt unrealistic or improbable and the flashbacks worked well to establish their history.

What didn't work
The only minor downside is that we don't really see what Jude would get out of the decisions he makes. This is where you have to suspend your disbelief and go with it a little, believe in soul mates or what have you. This didn't bother me and I never really considered it until I sat down to write the review.

3.10.10

The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt

The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt
Stars: 3.75/5

Overall:
A study in life. A painting in words. A moving, subtly dramatic piece that dissects human nature and human life, splaying it on the table for us to see--and shudder at. I think anyone beyond high school will find a character to relate to, whether you are gay, straight, single, married, working a job you enjoy, working a job you hate, working a job you're good at, in love, in lust, just friends, hoping, dreaming, desperate, depressed, in the closet, out of the closet or just plain searching.

Very little dramatic action leaves this a rather slow read, but if you go in expecting a steadily plodding story, you won't be disappointed. The lack of high-action isn't a necessarily a bad thing, although it didn't rush me through the book either. Instead it's a loaf of bread, needing time to rise and be kneaded, then rise again. Patience pays off with something delicious, even if it isn't a burst of amazing flavors. It is substance.

The ending is satisfactory--you can't really expect much else from a story so gritty in its realism. Life may not be amazingly happy, but it's working on getting better, and I guess that's all you can hope for sometimes.

30.9.10

Looking for It by Michael Thomas Ford

Looking for It by Michael Thomas Ford
Stars: 4/5

Overall:
As we follow the stories of six men whose lives weave together in a small New York town, we are shown the good, the difficulties, and the heartbreak of relationships. We are given a gamut of men, with those who are looking for love, those who have given up hope of finding someone, those who are in denial about their sexuality, those in a committed relationship and those who have lost their partner and struggling to return to "the scene" as an old man.

The accounts are sometimes amusing, sometimes heart wrenching, and sometimes tender. As their tales unfold, the stories of these men is the story of us all--searching for love, struggling to deeply understand another person, and trying to find our own place, whether its in our own self-worth or how society views us.

The two stories that moved me the most was those of Stephen, who is single, mostly comfortable with his sexuality, but feels incapable of forming a relationship with another man; and Thomas and Mike, who form a bond that just warmed me. No matter the angle Ford took to view these men and their relationships, he did a thorough job of exploring the complex dynamics involved. They are all touching and delightful.

A word of warning, there is some violence (gay-bashing) described in some detail and through the perspective of the perpetrator. Also, if you are uncomfortable with the word "fag/faggot," be warned that it is used by this same man often.

29.9.10

Liquid Glass by Zathyn Priest

Liquid Glass by Zathyn Priest
Stars: 2.5/5

Overall:
True love. Soul mates. Whatever you want to call it, Priest has it stretch across time and existence. I didn't really know what I was getting into when I started reading this story; in fact, I had some very wrong assumptions (which, after reading the description of the book, I'm not sure where they came from). We are given a ghost story in the barest sense that it involves ghosts and the past, but more importantly it involves true love which struggles through the ages to finally be happy together. While I didn't suffer while reading it, I wasn't captivated either. I'll probably give the author another chance, since I enjoyed one of his short stories.

What I liked
Story. The overall arch of the story was pretty interesting once they got into it and the action started happening. The flashbacks did an excellent job of explaining what was happening without further exposition (see What didn't work). Although it wasn't an intense story, it was "creepy" enough for it's ghost-story-like charms.

Characters. Most of the characters were enjoyable and complimented one another well.

True love. I'm a giant sucker for the idea of true love and soul mates, so this novel pushed that button hard. I really enjoyed the soul mates once they came together because they didn't completely lose their own identity. (Completely, see What didn't work.)

What didn't work
Over explaining. This problem mostly comes to head when Trudy is narrating. While she is the most knowledgeable about psychic abilities, she also tells the reader too much. While she has an important role plot wise, I'd rather if the author didn't use her as an unnecessary crutch to tell the reader things...things that we didn't really need to know in the first place. This is seen most clearly toward the end of the novel in the falling action when she pretty much tells all. In monologue. I felt like the author was trying to justify his own story when he didn't need to--I followed along with him until then.

Character loop hole. Cameron is frugal, a penny pincher, what have you. But as soon as his true love arrives, he's willing to blow massive amounts of money on him. I can't buy it. Yes, love makes you do crazy things, but love also rarely changes deep-seated behavior traits like that. It felt horribly out of character for him.

Construction. The story didn't grab me right off the bat, which I find to be a failing of any story/novel. Why should I continue if I'm barely interested? I realize some stories take time to build into a complex weave (and this one did have a fair amount of weave to work with), I still needed to be pulled in quicker than I was. Mostly the first few chapters left me annoyed, although it didn't help Malcom and Trudy initially led the story, and they were my least two favorite characters.

25.9.10

The Telling by Eden Winters

The Telling by Eden Winters
Stars: 4/5

Overall:
A well-paced, unfolding story of a war veteran trying to overcome his demons and discover who he is, and the young man who helps guide him on his journey. Everything felt realistic and tasteful while dealing with difficult topics. The bedroom scenes were well written and appropriate for Michael's state of mind, a matter Winters always kept in mind.

What I liked
Emotions. If Jay hadn't had a long-standing crush on Michael's picture, then the relationship between the two men would never have worked. Because he did, his feelings and actions were more believable, cementing a support system for Michael.

Struggles. I enjoyed their small miscommunications/misunderstandings in the beginning that caused a little strife but didn't linger. As the story developed, so did the problems, most of them resulting from Michael's innerself, but also realistic things like coming out and Jay's looming graduation.

Moments. Michael isn't completely broken, but he's not completely stable either. Winters did an excellent job of keeping the balance by using little moments (like when he wakes in the morning) to show the random terror he feels in life. He also experiences larger fears (being outside in the open), which are continued as bigger issues that become hurdles for him to overcome.

What didn't work
Pathos. While I liked the characters, there was no real depth of plot to make me extremely attached to them. When something happened to one, I felt a twinge of sadness, but not much else. I don't think this is necessarily a terrible thing, but it is the weakest point of the novel.

20.9.10

Fair Game by Josh Lanyon

Fair Game by Josh Lanyon
Stars: 5/5

Overall:
I don't do suspense novels, or murder mysteries, or the likes. I read this because it had men kissing men, and I wanted to try out some of the author's stuff. And...I think I'm in love! That may be an exaggeration, but I did, thoroughly, enjoy this novel. If you want action, suspense, romance and/or hot sex scenes (not all at once), then definitely give this book a try. I just finished reading it, and I want to start all over again.

What worked
If I say "everything" you won't believe me, but nothing really let me down. Still, there were strengths.

Plot. Although romance is a strong theme in this book, it wasn't the overwhelming focus, and I think that's what really drew me in. If you're looking for a book full of mushy love scenes, this isn't it. If you're looking for a story where the man gets his man while saving the world (so to speak), then pick this up. The plot developed slowly and carefully without lagging or rushing while giving just as many misleads to the reader while still making it just as possible for the reader to figure it out (sorta). Everything feels realistic and tastefully gritty.

Characters. All the characters were deep and multifaceted. Elliot was easy to relate to without being too soft; he wasn't perfect (none of the characters were, refreshingly), but he was strong (and a little stubborn). Tucker (the love interest) was tough and rescued Elliot but began to show a soft side to balance out his FBI exterior. Plus all the supporting cast played their parts well, mixing up the plot until you're not sure who the killer is.

What I didn't like
Only two problems..
...actually, as I typed out the two problems, they sort of resolved themselves for me. One was limitations of our narrator, that we never understood where Tucker was coming from, which clouded some ability to believe for me, but is excusable. The other, involving the killer and a victim, made me question why, but I was able to reconcile that as well, after consideration.

12.9.10

Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford

Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford
Stars: 3/5

Overall:
A good story with a easy to get along with narrator. Although there are few surprises on the content, the way it's revealed is worth reading. One reviewer compared the novel to Girl, Interrupted, which feels like a pretty good assessment (It's been a while since I've watched that movie).

What I liked
Characters: While our leading man is struggling to deny he belongs in the mental ward, he doesn't shut down completely. We learn more about him through his interactions with others than what he actually tells us, which feels appropriate for the character and his situation. I enjoy his judgment of others and how he connects with each of them (for better or worse). All the characters were fun and individual, playing into stereotypes just as often as they fought them. Also, I loved his sister.

What didn't work
Originality. The story, as I mentioned, was very similar to Girl, Interrupted, so it wasn't the most refreshingly new angle. It had it's own story and resolution and was unique in some ways, but overall, the story felt "done." It wasn't surprising or peaked my interest in anything else, although I am interested in reading more of Ford's books.

9.9.10

Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley

Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley
Stars: 2.5/5

Overall:
While this is a beautifully written story with several positive points, the ending really sours the entire story for me.

What I liked
Writing. The style is unique and moving, feeling abstract and distant in many cases, which works to illustrate how the main character has become closed off (although the writing style doesn't change as he opens up.

Abuse. The main character's relationship with his father is handled well. The fear is palpable without showing any actual abuse being committed, just threats (which is enough).

What didn't work
The ending. I'm not sure if I'm missing something, I didn't read carefully enough, or it's just the style of the book, but the ending was extremely confusing. I'm not exactly sure what happened, and I'm not certain if I'm supposed to know if certain things happened. I found it frustrating to feel uncertain and confused about the ending.

Boyfriend. We have an obviously limited view of what other people think and feel, but the main characters "boyfriend" had several moments where I really disliked him. He had a girlfriend, he's hot and cold, he's almost cruel in some instances. While I can understand this logically, I never felt his behaviors were satisfactorily explained or defended. It wasn't until the end that he both ruined and redeemed himself.

Lord, Save Us From Your Followers by Dan Merchant

Lord, Save Us From Your Followers by Dan Merchant
Stars: 4/5

If you're involved in discussions about politics, religion, ... actually, if you have heated opinions about anything, you should probably give this book a gander. Yes, its focus in God, religion, and christianity, but I think almost anyone can take something from this book.

His goal is to be a mostly silent observer, listening to what people on opposite sides of the line have to say about one another and the idea of the "Culture Wars." Merchant doesn't think he has all the answers, but he's pretty sure God does, and whether you believe or not, the author raises some excellent points about listening and perspective. Oh, and a reminder that we are all human, by the way.

This is a very successful book (in the author's goal, at least) and I'd recommend this to just about anyone who is willing to listen :)

7.9.10

Collision Course by KA Mitchell

Collision Course by K. A. Mitchell
Stars: 4/5

Overall:
A surprisingly fantastic tale. This was a free book on Amazon's Kindle page, so I expected mediocre at best. Instead, I was shockingly surprised. This was one of the longest M/M romance novels I've read (they tend to be shorter) but fed to all the appropriate avenues. It never felt as if it ran too long (although it was never a page turner either).

What I liked
Manly men. Men being men. Thick-headed, denying-emotions men. Joey is more sensitive (he's a social worker), but he is still just as hesitant about sharing his emotions. Aaron, finally free of being responsible for others, is wary of getting into an emotional relationship. Both their behaviors felt natural and testosterone-filled.

Character/relationship development. While "Hello to Bed" was under twenty-four hours, the actual development of their relationship took MANY pages. They had a wonderful ride of ups and downs, each side taking equal responsibility for causing discourse. Because of Aaron's unwillingness to share his emotions, the story is drawn out as Joey tries to get inside his shell and they both begin to realize what they mean to each other.

What didn't work
The reason this didn't get a higher score is because it's not what I'd call great literature. There were no plot, character, or writing issues, but it also wasn't one of those novels where you feel smarter/better/more human for having read.

The plot was also minimal, but this wasn't problematic, as the mundane story seemed befitting since the story was more about character development, which drove it's own sort of plot.

Also, I didn't find this problematic, but some may find Aaron to be an irredeemably character and impossible to read past.