31.12.11

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris
Stars: 2.5/5

Length: 176 pages (with smaller pages and larger print than normal)
Blurb
If animals were more like us, if mice kept pets and toads could cuss, if dogs had wives and chipmunks dated, sheep sat still and meditated, then in the forest, field, and dairy you might find this bestiary, read by storks, by rats and kitties, skimmed by cows with milk-stained titties. "I found the book to be most droll," might quip the bear, the owl, the mole, Others, though, would be more coarse. "Bull," could say the pig and horse. As to the scribe, they'd quote the hen: "Trust me, he's no La Fontaine."

Overall
"An adult Aesop's fables" is the best description I've heard of these stories, which range from comical to horrifying and bizarre. Scratch that, almost all the stories are bizarre. Take all the qualities of people (good and bad) and put them into animals and you have this collection of stories which exposes the worst of humans. Many of the stories will make the reader uncomfortable with its raw honesty and dark humor, but they are well written and thought provoking, even if you really didn't want to think about it.

Strengths
The illustrations that accompany this book are something slightly more than sketches, done mostly in black and white with red/orange highlights. The style works really well for the type of story, imitating a children's book simplicity while sometimes showing adult content (nothing obscene).

The writing is good, harkening back to Aesop's direct style but also sometimes being more narrative. The content is creative and interesting, although again, not to everyone's tastes. Because it points out the flaws of people, the stories can be rather grating (as they're meant to, I assume) with flashes of humor. If I had stopped halfway through this book, I would have been unsatisfied with it, but by the end we are giving a bit more humor and less idiots, and I found the final story was my favorite (and not just because it's illustrated with a hippo's anus).

Weaknesses
Because of the content and humor, this book isn't for everyone. Fans of David Sedaris will find something very different from his usual stories, but will probably enjoy it nonetheless. I know I did. However, even enjoying the stories didn't mean I loved them, and thankfully it was short and quick read. Enjoyable, if it's your thing, but definitely not for everyone.

29.12.11

The Forester by Blaine D. Arden

The Forester by Blaine D. Arden
Stars: 3/5

Length: 18,600 words
Blurb
Kelnaht, a cloud elf, is a truth seeker caught between love and faith. Worse, a murder committed ten days before Solstice reveals an illicit affair between two tree elves he desires more than he can admit: Kelnaht's former lover Ianys, who once betrayed him, and the shunned forester named Taruif, who is not allowed to talk to anyone but The Guide, their spiritual pathfinder. When Taruif turns out to be the only witness for the crime, Kelnaht has to keep Ianys from sacrificing himself and losing his daughter, while at the same time realising he'd gladly sacrifice himself to end Taruif's loneliness.

Overall
With enjoyable characters, a twisty romance plot, and murder case to move it all along, "The Forester" is an enjoyable, although regrettably short, read. Arden does a commendable job of building the world in a short amount of time and has a strong writing style. However, the story could have been strengthened by further development of the characters and their relationships and my enjoyment was restricted by my struggle to believe the emotional interactions.

I enjoyed the nugget we received, but would have loved to see more development. I feel my review below is harsher than I mean it to sound, as I did enjoy the story and the writing, but the two driving forces have weaker elements that detract from it's score.

Strengths
Arden is a strong story teller capable of painting a very nice picture of the world, the characters, and the scenes. The Kelnaht's conflicts involving his heart, go a long way to developing his character, as do his interactions with the Guide, who I find to be the most intriguing character of the story. The writing is such that I would definitely check out other works by this author.

While the world creation isn't too deep, the reader is provided all the necessary facts while not being given too much information. The perfect balance of provided and implied lets the reader supply with imagination anything that isn't told. In addition, a highly appropriate cover adds multiple details to the mind's eye.

Weaknesses
The murder plot felt somewhat secondary to the relationship plot, although it motivated several events. The mystery lacked suspense and as a result I didn't really care who'd-dun-it. It worked as a tool to bring The Forester into dealings with the Truth Seeker, but aside from that, it fell a little flat as there didn't seem to be an energy driving the investigation. I also wish that we had been given more about why the Forester was exiled before the end, although I am glad we were told eventually.

While I liked the romance and the struggle there, the story didn't give much space for understanding why the characters were drawn to each other and were willing to make the sacrifices they did for one another. I felt like it could have been expanded into a novella easily to build all the background that was needed to really understand any of the emotional draws between any of the characters but the ones who had once been together. That said, if you're able to suspend needing to know a reason, the story plays out very well.

Received this book for review.

28.12.11

Bent by Sean Michael

Bent by Sean Michael
Stars: 3/5

Length: 492 pages
Blurb
Marcus knows Jim is his minutes after meeting the snarly, jumpy ex-professor at the local bookstore. He thinks Jim is a natural submissive, someone who needs order and discipline in his life to help with Jim's anxiety and bad health habits. So Marcus decides to pursue Jim relentlessly, because even if Jim's mouth is saying no, his body is saying yes.

There's a lot more to Jim than meets the eye, and Marcus will have to be careful. Jim knows what it means to lose everything, knows what it's like to be without friends or family. Jim feels broken, and knowing that he likes the kinds of weird things Marcus wants to do to him only makes him scared that he's losing his mind.

Their chemistry is so real, so genuine, that Jim lets Marcus wear him down, lets Marcus take control. Eventually, his trust grows, allowing them to enter into the BDSM lifestyle together, learning about each other every day, with every scene. Jim is still uncertain sometimes, though, and he thinks Marcus might just want him because he's cracked. Can this top and bottom pair find a way to understand their wants and needs, and make a life that works for them alone?


Overall
This book is classic Sean Michael material, meaning it's heavy on sex and light on plot. It's also extremely long, which is probably why many people get half way and give up. Not much happens during the course of the book action-wise, but there are character changes over the course of the novel. The focus of the novel is Jim's issues and Marcus' attempts to help Jim overcome his issues, accept who he is, and deal with the complications he faces in life.

Fans of Sean Michael's works will probably enjoy this, but most readers will probably find its too long, too slow, and too much sex. Many people also voiced complaints about Jim being forced into the situation, and there is a fuzzy section in the beginning when the consent is questionable, but nothing is non-con or dub-con really. Although this novel tries hard to really explore Jim's mind and the ways of the lifestyle, it went on for a little too long to really keep my interest. Although I know the focus of Michael's books is the sex, I felt fewer sex scenes would have been more poignant.

Strengths
Michael's Doms tend to always be right and know what's best for the sub. Marcus is no exception, although in one instance he says something that angers Jim enough to make him safeword and be truly angry (not just throwing a hissy fit). I liked this moment because it really humanizes Marcus and doesn't make him out to be a strong, perfect being who can do no wrong.

The exploration of Jim's issues and his slow progression over those issues is interesting. I also have to give some props to the author for taking the time to make the advancements timed realistically and there were no magical moments when everything was better. In fact, progression takes place over a long period of time and advancements are not always forward as events trigger old thoughts and behaviors. This felt more realistic than the stories where a problematic sub is instantly fixed by the know-it-all dom, even if it did lead to a rather lengthy story.

Weaknesses
While the length of this story isn't automatically a weakness, the length in addition to the slow (and somewhat lacking) plot, leave the reader trudging through the events. While not miserable, it probably leads many readers to give up since there is very little incentive to continue. This story would best be read when in a very mellow mood or read in small pieces to space out the slight monotony.

While I understand sex is a focal point of Michael's books, I felt with the length of this one, more copy (aka, sex scenes) could be cut without interrupting Jim's emotional progression, thus making a quicker, smoother read. The story dragged out for a very long time with very little climactic tension, etc, and while some readers may enjoy the story purely for the sex scenes, those who need a bit more will find this novel lacking.

27.12.11

Cop Out by KC Burn

Cop Out by KC Burn
Stars: 4.5/5

Length: 194 pages
Blurb
Detective Kurt O’Donnell is used to digging up other people’s secrets, but when he discovers his slain partner was married to another man, it shakes him. Determined to do the right thing, Kurt offers the mourning Davy his assistance. Helping Davy through his grief helps Kurt deal with the guilt that his partner didn’t trust him enough to tell him the truth, and somewhere along the way Davy stops being an obligation and becomes a friend, the closest friend Kurt has ever had.

His growing attraction to Davy complicates matters, leaving Kurt struggling to reevaluate his sexuality. Then a sensual encounter neither man is ready for confuses them further. To be with Davy, Kurt must face the prospect of coming out, but his job and his relationship with his Catholic family are on the line. Can he risk destroying his life for the uncertain possibility of a relationship with a newly widowed man?


Overall
Despite really enjoying this novel, its story, the writing, and the characters, I can't quite give it a full five stars because of some weak points, which I'll discuss later. This was a powerful, moving story that had me curled up on the couch, eagerly reading to see what happened next. The natural flow kept me from putting it down and the emotional draw kept me reading.

Although there are some weaker elements in this story, overall it excels in provoking the desired emotions and exploring Kurt's situation. The writing's strength made even the weaknesses forgivable as they just tended to be expected and foreseeable, not necessarily bad choices. The novel isn't action heavy, with only two real action-based events. For the most part this is a study of relationships and psychology, both for Kurt and Davy. For people who like that, this will be highly enjoyable. Even with the focus being the relationship, this didn't read slowly. Definitely recommend, as long as you're not looking for high action.

Strengths
The gradual development of the relationship between the two characters was extremely well built as they transition from being complete strangers to best friends and then something more. The subtle bits, like Kurt's casual acceptance that he likes touching Davy to comfort him because he was raised in a touchy household, work wonderfully to take their friendship and blur the lines without Kurt realizing what's happening--or at least it gives him an excuse for why it is.

Kurt's complete acceptance of Ben's (and Davy's) sexuality was refreshing. He didn't suffer from closet-gay or unknowing-gay syndrome and immediately hate gays because he hated himself. In fact, his realization, while in some parts suffered from the classic realization model, was not so much a struggle to accept being gay, but accepting the shift of self-perception from "I'm straight" to "I'm gay."

The use of Ben, who has one line and no actual screen time, was well used as a tool to bring Davy and Kurt together, but also as a comparison to both Kurt and for Simon. Although the contrast to Simon, the new partner, is apparent, the role Ben and Kurt both play in Davy's life is vital as their decisions affect him. For a character who barely appears, Ben played a huge role in the story.

There were plenty of tiny touches that I liked that went into this book, such as Kurt's family, Simon and Jen, Justin, and how the fall out and inevitable face-to-face encounter went. This story had the potentially to be mediocre, but was handled in such a way that even the cliche moments feel right in what is a heart-wrenching, feel-good love story.

Weaknesses
The weaknesses of the story are mostly superficial, such as one event at the end being rather predictable (although I still liked it). Kurt's reaction to their "sensual encounter" and the results of it seemed a little extreme if I thought about it too much, but overall I was so enthralled with what was happening that I didn't mind, but I am a sucker for suffering characters. Also, Kurt's reaction to coming to the realization that he's gay was a touch cliche, but such reactions are cliche because the hold a certain truth in them. It wasn't so overdone that it was boring and it wasn't dragged on too long, which was good.

Requested this book for review.

26.12.11

Gold Standard by Kyell Gold

Gold Standard by Kyell Gold
Stars: 5/5

Length: 323 pages (estimated)
Blurb
Here are nine stories spanning Kyell Gold's career to date, including four Ursa Major Award-winning short stories and one story nominated for a WSFA Small Press Science Fiction award. Three of the stories originally appeared as stand-alone stories online and were later incorporated into the award-winning novels "Waterways" and "Out of Position."

This collection serves as an excellent introduction to the many worlds he has explored in the last decade, and includes his popular online stories "Aquifers" and "In Between." Also present is Kyell's first published story, "The Prisoner's Release," whose characters subsequently filled three novels and two short story anthologies.


Overall
Furries aren't really my thing (I feel like I've said that before), but I've heard good reviews about this author from other people who didn't really think they'd like a novel centered around furries. (Furries the anthropomorphic animals, not the humans who dress up like animals and have sex, just to clarify.) I was looking at Amazon's free reads and found this and decided to give it a shot.

The writing throughout these stories is excellent, which I think is necessary for success, especially for reaching readers who are less comfortable reading about this type of character. Gold not only has a mastery of language, but also does an excellent job of describing and developing characters and plot. Gold is comfortable and familiar with the created world and confidently strides through it, building things along the way to create visually stimulating masterpieces. Definitely worth looking in to, this collection introduces the reader to various series without forcing the purchase of said series in order to understand what is going on. If you're willing to dip your toes into the world of anthropomorphic animals, this is a great place to begin.

Aquifers
A good start to the anthology, we are eased into Gold's world and the sexuality that exists there. For most this will be a good indicator if you really can't stand the thought of two furries being in love and having sex. I fell in love with the characters, who are awkward sometimes, impossibly sweet, and pretty much standard high schoolers trying to find themselves and love. I love the themes of racism, class differences, and acceptance that are the secondary focus of the story outside the main character's exploration and self-acceptance. A good strong piece that is a perfect introduction. Although this story is continued into a novel, this one stands alone, satisfying the reader while creating interest in the rest of the tale.

In Between
This story has more sex and older characters as we're bumped up to college. Here a fox, playing as a female, seduces a tiger and gets him to thinking beyond his heterosexual desires. Perhaps a little too well, as he comes back, unable to get the fox out of his head. The sex scenes are well done, although the author doesn't let the reader forget that these are animals as things such as claws and tails are taken into consideration. A classic tale of a jock realizing he's not as straight as he thought and struggling to come to terms with it. I found the characters enjoyable and the fox is smart, witty, and a perfect foil to the tiger.

Secrets
A continuation of "In Between," this story works heavily with flashbacks, doing lots of time skips, which could be confusing, but it was well handled. Most of the events don't rely too heavily on when they take place, so the shifts aren't too discombobulating. Because I read this and the previous story back to back, they flowed easily into one another and I don't remember exactly what happened in each, but the main focus of this story is that the tiger has a secret and as the story progresses, different secrets are revealed until the big one at the end is displayed. I think the time jumps were handled well in this story, and it made me even more curious about where the rest of the tale goes.

Don't Blink
This story was weaker than the previous ones. Revolving around a young superhero trying to prove himself both to the police and the league of superheroes, Blink Coyote wants a nemesis and gets what he wants when his girlfriend gets captured. There were several things I enjoyed in this, including many of the side characters and Blink's general desire to be noticed. Other elements and turn of events fell flat and while they didn't necessarily feel forced, they didn't feel like a natural progression. More like they came from far left field. Still it was an overall enjoyable story for what it was.

Jacks to Open
Initially this story's focus is on gambling, which doesn't really interest me, but as everything unfolds, it becomes apparent that there is more there than some playing cards. I really enjoyed this story and the path that it took, although I admittedly wanted more (and the author made no mention of this story continuing). The characters are shady without being bad, and they can hold their own with one another, which I'm noticing is a theme with this author's relationships. There is an underlying magical-ish world that the reader just gets to dip toes in, something I'd like to see more of, especially with these two characters--although I can see the advantage of the mystery being half the fun.

Race to the Moon
A cute little story that is styled much like a fable, following a coyote and raven, which has a touch of romance in it. This was enjoyable, and I couldn't guess where it was going completely (aside from obvious things that fables tend to have). A nicely done effort.

Drifting
This was a difficult story for me to read, since it involves a relationship where at least one member of the couple is unhappy with certain aspects. I think everything was well handled, whether I liked the content or not, and I definitely felt for all the different characters. My main niggle with this story was that we never find out what is going on with the other person in the pair, even after he admits that it is "my problem." I would have liked more development there, even if it wasn't the focus of the story.

How to Get Through the Day
This story was written as a bonus story as an addition to another work by the author. While this story stands alone fairly well, it's obvious that it's building off of something that already exists and there are a lot of questions that I want answers to, which if this is used to tease the reader into purchasing Gold's works, it's a good thing! I liked the insecurity of both characters, especially the main one, and the construct of the story as a list that the main character goes through as his to-do list of every day. There are plenty of teases in the story, but it's also self-satisfying and good in its own right.

The Prisoner's Release
A very different story from the others, this one is dark (most of it takes place in a prison cell) and inhabits a more historical and royal-infested world. I felt that the story overall was good, although some parts at the end confused me since it seemed to conflict with what the main character had said at the beginning (though he could have been lying then, as is likely, but I was still confused about who was being loyal to whom, etc). I liked the two main characters and their dynamic, bouncing between wary trust and tentative emotions. Although not my favorite, it was still enjoyable.

24.12.11

And the winner is....

Only slightly late, for which I apologize. But it's the holidays!

Congrats to....

Sabrina!

I'll be contacting you shortly for you to select which Rachel Haimowitz book you'd like.

Thank you for everyone who stopped by and left a note!

21.12.11

Men Under the Mistletoe, an anthology

Men Under the Mistletoe, an anthology
Stars: 4/5

Length: 116,000 words
Blurb
Baby it's Cold Outside
A man receives the gift of pleasure at the hands of two expert lovers. Boyhood sweethearts get a second chance at romance. Two very proper gentlemen indulge their forbidden desires. And a Christmas tree farmer has an epiphany. It may be cold outside but these four holiday novellas will warm you up.


Overall
An excellent collection of four Christmas novellas, these stories capture the spirit of the holidays and warm you to your toes better than a cup of spiked cocoa. A nice mix of hot sex, warm loving, and cold shoulders, you may think you know how some of these end, but others will surprise you. Check these out for Christmas, or for any time you want to curl up with some holiday cheer.

My True Love Gave to Me by Ava March
Stars: 4/5
This is my first read of anything by March, so I don't know if somewhat-flowery language is the norm, but it definitely worked in this piece. I rarely read historicals, but I'm always impressed when I do and I can FEEL how much research and knowledge went into them. March obviously knows a thing or two about the time period and uses what I assume is all the appropriate language, although sometimes it may be a bit too much for those not familiar with the terms. The story starts off sweet, but the blurb tells us that it's not going to continue, which makes their secret kisses and Alexander's hopefulness all the more difficult to bear when the fallout happens.

Because the novella's blurb (not listed above) gives away the break up, I found the beginning a bit slow, since I knew what was going to happen. However, it was worth reading through, because it developed both characters as they were as youths--hopeful and adventurous yet kind, and sweet and self-sacrificing, always wanting to do the right thing. Seeing the change between the years and how the time altered them, made the changes more significant and the struggle for Thomas to prove himself to Alexander all the more daunting. While moments of the ending were a touch saccharine for my liking, it was a proper reward for all their emotional struggles.

Winter Knights by Harper Fox
Stars: 5/5
Twining together reality and the supernatural, Arthurian legend and love, this novella brings to life the spirit of the past, the present, and the future. Initially, Gavin comes across as the hero while Piers is the faulted Catholic blinded by his hateful religion. But what I loved about the story is that Gavin isn't as right as the reader is led to believe in the beginning. He has faults, some which have majorly disrupted his relationship with Piers, not that the other man doesn't have some faults as well. There is so much going on in this story, from the various Arthurian references, the presence of the rescue workers, Gavin and Piers' relationship, and all the other factors that push the events along.

I don't want to say too much, for fear of giving away the wonderful little twists that this story provides, but I will say this was a wonderful tale and it's levels and depth were brilliantly handled.

Lone Star by Josh Lanyon
Stars: 3.5/5
While I enjoyed the characters and the resolution of this novella, overall the story didn't really grab me. In addition, the reindeer ploy was creative but I felt like its presence needed more explanation or attention. It feels like a tool to get the two men together--and it's fine if that's what it is there for, but as the reader, I shouldn't be so keenly aware of its place as a tool. While it's a minor issue, it reappears often enough to make the narrator wonder if he's crazy--and the lack of resolution leaves the reader wondering the same thing.

What I liked about the story is mainly the resolution, which felt right for the situation and the characters, who seem to be as opposite as possible. If it weren't for how this story ended, I probably would have scored this lower, because while the characters entertained me, they didn't feel exciting and new, although they played out their roles with some fresh touches. In addition, the warmth of Wet's family both among each other and to Mitch was a perfect, heart-warming touch to this holiday story.

The Christmas Proposition by KA Mitchell
Stars: 4.5/5
This story resonated a classic holiday feel although it isn't resolved by the leading man Mel learning the meaning of Christmas. Instead he learns the meaning of trust and love and taking chances and relying on others. It sounds rather trite and silly when I say it, but Mitchell does an excellent job bringing everything around.

In some ways the resolution is too easy, but in reality, the struggles Mel sees are not actually there (or no longer require his exacting attention). While this story definitely has a rich man throwing money around, I didn't feel like it suffered from the "rich man solves all problems for poor man" syndrome. A happy story with minimal angst scattered throughout as Mel tries not to be angsty and instead focuses on what he has now, since he has no hope of it in the future.

Finally, I think one of my favorite elements of this story is Bryce asking what childhood trauma caused Mel to be so mistrusting, and Mel says there is none. I just love that someone pointed out (bluntly) that just because we're screwed up now, doesn't mean there was one thing that screwed us up.

Requested this book for review.

18.12.11

The Saturnalia Effect by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane

The Saturnalia Effect by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
Stars: 4/5

Length: 23,000 words
Blurb
Troy Khoury is serving a life sentence in Westgate prison for a robbery gone wrong. He just wants to keep his head down and do his time, but he runs afoul of an old-timer named Franchetti. Franchetti offers Troy a simple choice: kill fellow inmate Daniel Amato by Christmas in exchange for protection, or be tortured and raped to death by Franchetti's heavy, Pliers. Troy's no killer, though, and Daniel is as gentle and calm as can be. But a prison is a small place, and time is running out. Troy must decide how much he's willing to sacrifice before the choice is taken from him.

Overall
The dark halls of prison are no place to celebrate Christmas, especially when you're a pretty boy without much desire to hurt anyone. This is the case for Troy, who is stuck between a rock and a hard place. While "The Saturnalia Effect" is a dark, fairly heavy story, there is still a struggle to keep hope and love in one's life, a theme that weaves throughout and keeps the novella from becoming too bleak, especially for it's holiday theme. In multiple instances, I was emotionally moved and nearly rejoiced at the end. Although the story won't fit everyone's tastes, it's definitely worth checking out.

Strengths
I was on the edge of my seat as the events unfolded, as Troy debates killing Amato, tries to get out of it, and faces the many consequences of his actions. A dark story, it illustrates the worst sort of prison where the strong rule supreme and the weak are either taken under wing or abused. While I cannot vouch for the veracity of the environment, in the world the authors built, it felt real and worked to supply the events that make this story so gripping. The rawness and darkness are what make the tale so enthralling and beautiful in its bleakness.

While I was never in love with any of the characters, I certainly felt empathy for Troy. In addition, there are a wide variety of character types that Troy has to face, and because this takes place in a prison, all the main characters are inmates, and thus not generally "good guys." But in line with the movie Shawshank Redemption, not all bad guys are that bad and not all good guys (aka, the guards) are that good. I felt, considering the space restriction, that a good amount of depth was given to the significant characters in addition to the two leads.

Two other strengths of note: While I had some issue with the ending (see below), I also really liked it because of its resolution, but also because of how it played out from the beginning of the story. In addition, the use of submission and dominance between the two leads was well applied, although some of the roughness may be of concern to sensitive readers. It doesn't cross into a formal BDSM experience, although the authors were definitely flirting with the concepts.

Weaknesses
While I enjoyed the ending, it was a very surprising turn of events, even with hints littered through the story. The ending didn't ruin the novella, but it did catch me off guard.

Additionally, certain elements of the prison and prison life felt a touch cliche and stereotyped, but because it was built so well, I didn't mind the potential fallacy.

Received this book for review.

14.12.11

Interview: Rachel Haimowitz

More great news: Rachel Haimowitz is stopping by today for an interview!

Rachel is author of many books, including Anchored, Where He Belongs, Master Class, and SUBlime (click the links to see my reviews of said books). Without further ado (though much ado should be made!), here's Rachel:


Thank you for taking the time to stop by my humble blog and answer some of my questions. I know you’ve been touring the blog-o-sphere like mad, so I hope my questions are at least a little bit interesting for you!

Thanks so much for having me! You did indeed ask some totally new questions, so this was fun :)


Can you tell us about Riptide publishing in 14 words?

Haha, that’s . . . oddly specific. But, let’s see . . . A boutique purveyor of some of the finest gay and trans* fiction being written.


What was the high point of this year for you?

This is a surprisingly tough question. On the Riptide side of the equation, the high point was definitely opening day. On the personal side of the equation, it was my dad finally marrying the wonderful woman he’s been seeing. On the author-hat side of the equation, I’d say it was a tie between and going to California for two weeks to start a book with Cat Grant and ending up writing 55,000 words in that time span, and finally releasing Crescendo, which represented the culmination of three years’ worth of work and a story arc almost a quarter of a million words long.


What are you looking forward to in the coming year?

So many things! Life is really, really good right now :) Hmm, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where Riptide will go in the upcoming year. We’ve got some absolutely amazing authors signed on for our Second Wave, and lots of our wonderful First-Wavers coming back with exciting new material. I’m also looking forward to releasing this Big Kink Book I’m writing with Cat Grant; it’s the only release I have planned so far for next year (though I’m sure there will be others; I just don’t know what they’ll be yet), and right now the story is eating my brain, so it’s actually kind of tough to think of anything else.


Are we going to see more of Devon and Nicky (from SUBlime and Master Class) in the future?

Definitely. I actually have their whole development in my head—the whole “training of Nicky,” so to speak, and I suspect I’ll be writing them in short or novella form over the next couple years: titles that share a common thread but aren’t a contiguous story, and that may not be released in the order in which they would actually have happened in Nicky’s and Devon’s life. For instance, right now I’m about 30 pages into a story that would slot fairly late into Nicky’s training, where he’s being deliberately provocative and it bites him in the ass when, instead of punishing him himself, Devon outsources it to a pro. It’s seriously hardcore and throws Nicky completely off his game, out of his element—genuinely frightens him in the best possible way. I suspect I’ll try to wrap that up when I’ve finished the Big Kink Book.


What can you tell us about the Big Kink Book?

Well, it’s definitely going to be big. Cat and I banged out the first 55,000 words in just over a week in a fit of what I can only call character possession; I have never written so much so quickly that still worked so well for me when I read it again later—and all kudos to my co-writer for that! I think we’re just starting to squeak toward the midway point of Act 2, so this book may actually end up being two books, or at least one very, very long book—like, four or five hundred pages long.

Basically, the BKB is about a filthy rich, super-brilliant guy named Jonathan (though he’s of humbler origins than you might suspect) who gets bored with things and people very easily, and who’s been burned by love enough to have come to the conclusion that all anyone will ever want him for again is his money. He’s super-kinky, a hardcore sexual sadist, and a social do-gooder of fairly epic proportions. Wary of being hurt again, he’s taken to “slumming it,” so to speak—having sexual encounters with guys in dive bars who are unlikely to know who he is. Occasionally he takes on a submissive in a total power exchange contract for some pre-defined period of time, with no expectation other than mutual pleasure.

At the start of the story, we see Jonathan trying to pick up Brandon, a loner construction worker with a difficult past and an independent (and distrustful) streak so fierce that he doesn’t really even understand what intimacy means. He can get sex whenever he wants it, but he never lets it move beyond that. He’s too busy protecting himself and trying to make a better future—trying to find time and money to finish his bachelor’s degree, trying to find a way to buy the business his boss is selling at the end of the year so he can maybe stop using dial-up internet and eating dinner cold from a can over the sink.

Brandon and Jonathan hook up that first night, and Jonathan’s so taken by all of Brandon’s untapped potential (of both intellect and submission; he sees a craving to submit that Brandon wouldn’t recognize or admit to in a million years) that he starts really actively pursuing him. He reveals himself to Brandon, makes him an offer he hopes Brandon can’t refuse: six months of your life with me, letting me uncover the submissive within you, and I’ll give you the money you need to buy the business. Eventually Brandon says yes, but there’s just one problem . . . his submissive side is buried so deeply, it might not actually exist.


Care to tell us about your coming attractions and latest releases?

I’d love to :) This is actually a pretty busy winter for me; I have three new releases in November and December: Master Class at Riptide, Crescendo: Book II of Song of the Fallen at Storm Moon Press, and Break and Enter (co-written with Aleksandr Voinov) at Samhain Publishing on Dec 20. Here are some blurbs and cover art:
Master Class

Performing before a crowd of thousands? No problem. Baring his heart before a crowd of one? Better tie him down first.

Broadway darling Nicky Avery is a shooting star by night, but by day he bounces from one heartless one-night stand to the next. A quick flogging, a rough lay, a new whip-hand to manipulate—yet still he yearns for something he cannot even name.

He finds his first true hint of satisfaction in Devon Turner, a self-possessed film star and expert Dom. Devon knows what he wants the moment he sees it, and what he wants is Nicky Avery. Nicky’s never learned to trust and has a nasty habit of topping from the bottom, but he learns fast that in the bedroom, Devon won’t tolerate his actor’s masks.

Nicky's a broken boy, but Devon knows exactly how to put his new sub back together. With patience, care, and all the punishments his little pain slut can handle, Devon breaks Nicky down one scene at a time, revealing a mind that yearns to trust and a heart that hungers for the ecstasy of true submission at last.
Genre: BDSM, contemporary, gay erotic romance
Length: 16,700 words (57 pages)
ISBN: 978-1-937551-00-1
Price: $3.99

Available at: Riptide Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance eBooks, 1PlaceForRomance, 1EroticaEbooks, Rainbow Ebooks, Goodreads (epub only), Xinxii

Crescendo

History made them enemies. Chance made them master and slave. Love overcame it all. But love isn’t always enough . . .

Bridging the hatred of centuries did not come easy for Freyrík Farr and Ayden Vaska. As prince of a war-torn human province, Freyrík could ill afford to fall for an enemy. And Ayden, and elven warrior with three-hundred years of bitterness in his heart, wanted no part of love—not elven, and especially not human. Yet they came together despite themselves and despite the will of their peoples, joining heart and mind to fight a race of Dark Beasts threatening the extinction of mankind.

But the Dark Beast threat pales beside the dangers of the human High Court, home of the Aegis Exalted and the harshest test yet of Ayden’s and Freyrík’s fledgling love.

While Ayden is stripped of his magic, Freyrík is forced to choose between his love for elf, Aegis, and brother, all the while seeking the one uncertain path that might save his doomed race. Time is fast running out for mankind, and only by making peace amongst themselves and with their ancient elven enemies can they end the Dark war—and undo the tragedy that’s plagued humans, elves, and Dark Beasts alike for the last three-hundred years.
Genre: Fantasy (high fantasy / epic fantasy), gay erotic romance
Length: 107,000 words (approx. 350 pages)
Price: $9.99
ISBN: 978-1-937058-14-2

Available at: Storm Moon Press, Amazon.com, All Romance Ebooks, Barnes and Noble, 1PlaceForRomance, Smashwords
Break and Enter

Ex-Green Beret Victor “Cyke” Kellermann is on the run for a crime he didn’t—well, okay, did commit, but he didn’t realize it at the time. He’s a good guy, a “white hat” hacker for hire. He’s also more teched out than the Bionic Man, though his ailing ’ware creates as many problems as it solves.

His latest series of break-ins are proving…difficult. Sentinel Tech’s security is cutting-edge, and the cops are hounding his ass. He sees only one reason why his employer hasn’t called off the dogs: someone inside is stealing data for real and setting him up to take the fall.

Paramedic-cum-tech-phreak Bear keeps scooping an increasingly battered Cyke off the sidewalk, and each time, his fascination for the fugitive and his mysterious ’ware grows. So does the attraction that makes him reluctant to turn Cyke in. Every time they touch, barriers fall. Before long, they're both laid bare.

Cyke can handle losing blood, even losing consciousness. What he can’t afford is to lose his heart. Distractions like that get people killed—and if he succeeds in unlocking Sentinel Tech’s ugly secrets, he won’t be the only one in the line of fire.
Genre: Cyberpunk, gay erotic romance, action/adventure
Length: 27,000 words (approx 90 pages)
Price: $3.50
ISBN: 978-1-60928-558-6
Publisher Link: http://store.samhainpublishing.com/break-enter-p-6570.html



Glad to have you visit, Rachel!


Now for the prizes!

First: Check out Riptide's blog tour schedule every day until December 31. Visit the sites where the authors are guest blogging or being interviewed, and leave a comment. It’s as easy as that. Each comment earns you one entry in the grand prize drawing for an iPad. Other prizes are a Nook and a Kindle.

In addition, comment below and get a chance to win a back list book from Rachel, excluding Crescendo and Riptide releases. Be sure to leave contact information (either in the comment or through Disqus). The winner will be announced December 20.

Thanks for stopping by!

13.12.11

Winner announced

Thanks to everyone who stopped by and left comments on Aleks' interview!

The winner is:

-María- ...

Congrats! I'll be e-mailing you shortly.

Hope everyone stops by tomorrow to see my interview with
Rachel Haimowitz, torturer writer extraordinaire!

11.12.11

Weight of a Gun, an anthology

Weight of a Gun, an anthology
Stars: 4.5/5

Length: 60,000 words
Blurb
Everyone knows that guns are dangerous; they have long been a subject surrounded by controversy. Combine them with sex and you have a subject that is virtually taboo, but smoking hot. This anthology explores the intersection of these two worlds, and the sensual possibilities they inspire.

In Bounty Hunter, William Hunt is hot on the trail of lover-turned-outlaw James Campbell. But when William finally catches up with James, bringing him to justice is the last thing on his mind. Changing the Guard introduces Tomi Vuorela, working security in a frozen off-world outpost. When Andile Harper intrudes on his seclusion, Tomi must determine if the interloper is a harmless workman or a dangerous terrorist.

Avery Belfour is The Machinist, kidnapped by a rival colony in need of his services. But the dark and deadly Harrow may have other plans for Avery first. In My Rifle Is Human, the more a Gunslinger like Fil sexually satisfies his shapeshifting partners, the Ordinances, the more likely they'll survive as weapons on the battlefield. When late-bloomer Morris becomes Fil's latest partner, however, it will take all Fil's patience and skill to seduce and inspire Morris in time for the next wave of attacks.

Tyler Maxwell from In the Pines, a former New York cop now working a desk job in Alaska, buys a gun as a present and begins to dream about the mysterious and beautiful Flynn. But Flynn is more than a dream, and Tyler must find the truth before he loses his mind. Finally, in Compromised Judgment, Rózsa Ignác is working to uncover a gunrunning operation supplying arms to his enemies. He's certain that Cistalan Konrád is involved, but his attraction to the other man puts himself and the entire investigation in danger.


Overall
I really love the cover of this anthology, which is dark and sexy without being obscene or cheesy. As for the stories, I've judged each of them below individually, but rated them as a whole anthology. Anthologies like this are tough, since they combine the talents of multiple authors and provide mixed content. This collection's works had good writing, plot, and story telling and interesting characters. It is a strong selection and definitely worth a read, especially if you like your sex a touch darker and with a gun. Even if guns aren't your thing, the stories hold their own.

Bounty Hunter by Cornelia Grey
Pretty much exactly what you expect when you hear the words "gun kink." With a Western theme, the thrill of the chase and a Colt, this story hits all the major points. Grey's artful descriptions paint a gritty world interspersed with touches of love and beauty. The tale unfolds in real time with heavy (but balanced) use of flashbacks to explain everything that happened. A strong, well-rounded story that digs deep emotionally and sexually as the truth unfolds for both the reader and the characters. I found the ending fitting intellectually but unsatisfying emotionally.

Changing the Guard by Peter Hansen
From the wild west we jump forward to a sci-fi future where planets have become super computers. In a short space, Hansen builds the world, dispersing information about it throughout the pages. Tomi is all alone on his post and when a stranger arrives saying he's supposed to work on the computer, Tomi doesn't buy it. Of course, a man all alone in the cold doesn't have much chance for companionship, and Andile is willing. What I enjoyed about this story is the plot builds to a point where the reader can't see the way out, and although some elements of the end left me questioning "Why did they..?" nothing threw me out of the story and ruined the ride. Interesting characters and a plot that leaves you with a good feeling.

The Machinist by Gryvon
This story has some interesting characters and we're thrown right into the middle of the action. However, my biggest complaint is that we're given so little in regards to the world, the history, and the characters. This feels like it belongs to a larger story that explains why the main character is in prison, what the creatures are that attack, and who the commander is. For those who like rough and kinky sex, this story satisfies with gun penetration, hair pulling, some spanking, and of course a cocked gun. Least this author pointed out that a slip of the finger could kill the lead man. The writing wasn't my favorite, but it was a strong piece nonetheless, and made me squirm in my seat.

My Rifle Is Human by Sumi
Considering the basis of the story is human weapons that get their powers from having sex, this was a surprisingly tender story with minimal kink and sex. After the heavy-duty stories that came before, it was a welcome change, although some readers may be disappointed by the lack of kink. While this story doesn't delve particularly deeply into the characters, the world, or much plot, there is just enough of each for a pleasant, warm read, which is what the story aims for. The weakest part of the story is the ending, which feels slightly tagged on and slightly rushed, but isn't disruptive enough to ruin the read, and I liked the resolution, which seemed fitting, if not a touch too perfect. Finally, the weakest part is the title, which considering the quality of the story, seems lame.

In the Pines by Lydia Nyx
Wow. This story was dark and sexy and the plot was interesting (and suspenseful) enough that I found myself skimming through the sex to find out what was going to happen. Although not all elements were a surprise, I felt the overall plot was well handled and the big reveal was hinted at enough to substantiate the ending. I was disturbed by the ending, but it was suited to the type of story being told. While most of the characters are pretty flat, this brings all the focus to the main character and everything that has happened and will happen to him. I both hated and really liked this story.

Compromised Judgment by Penny K Moss
I found the writing in this story to be a little stiff, but I'm not certain that it's the author's style or if it is to imitate the stiffness of the character and the characters' language. There is mystery, intrigue, spying, and dangerous attractions all tangling together to form what ended up being an enjoyable story. Although there is some frustration with only seeing a glimpse of what promises to be a larger world, for the most part the knowledge the reader needs is provided within the story. The characters didn't really speak to me, although the sexual tension and eventual release was good.

Received this book for review.
Be sure to check out my other reviews on my blog.

7.12.11

Interview: Aleksandr Voinov

Today is a very special day, because author Aleksandr Voinov is stopping by to answer a few questions!

Aleks is author of many books, including Counterpunch and Scorpion, as well as co-author of Dark Edge of Honor and The Lion of Kent (click the links to see my reviews of said books). But enough of my blathering, you're here for Aleks....


Thank you for taking the time to stop by my humble blog and answer some of my questions. I know you’ve been touring the blog-o-sphere like mad, so I hope my questions are at least a little bit interesting for you!


Hey, don’t worry about that – I’m right now surrounded by piles of paperwork, so doing an interview is a welcome distraction. Thanks for having me!


What’s your favorite book and/or which book do you wish you’d written?


In our genre, there are a couple books that just made my jaw drop. Okay, I really can’t limit it to just one, so I’m giving you three.

One of them is Erastes’s Junction X, which is a story about a doomed love in the sixties. I had the honor to read it years before it came out, and it’s stuck with me forever. I know some people don’t like unhappy endings, but if you want a really intense book that will never ever leave you, go with that.

Another one is Angels of the Deep by Kirby Crow, which just blew me away. It won an EPPIE award, and deservedly so. Fallen angels, nephilim, a deliciously dark mood that has a dash of Tanish Lee and a dash of Poppy Z. Brite – both pioneers in dark fantasy/horror. I ate that book up liker nobody’s business. Kirby is an amazing, imaginative writer, and this is their darkest book, but I love them dark.

Third favourite is Manna Francis’s The Administration. It’s clever, with deep psychological insight, and the sex is incredibly hot. The main characters are both evenly-matched bastards, but their courting, their games, their interactions, have kept me riveted to the chair. Manna is amazing.

I’d struggle to say “wish I’d written that”, because books are such deeply personal things. While all these three works/authors resonate deeply with me, there’s a lot in there that’s all about them as people. If I’d written those, the books would be different, because I’m a different person. And that would be a shame, because I love them just as they are.


Is there a trait one of your characters has that you wish you had?


Dozens, actually. Compared to my characters, I’m a pretty average kind of person. But most of my characters believe extremely strongly in a value or ideal, like Kendras’s faith in the Scorpions, his mercenary band, and Silvio’s loyalty to his boss, or William’s code of chivalry. I wish I sometimes had that same single-minded faith in something bigger than myself.


In 14 words, can you tell us what makes Riptide Publishing great?


Great team, great authors, great editing, great covers, big ambitions, and no compromises. There, did it in 13. :)


What was the high point of this year for you?


Personal life – getting LASIK in March and achieving perfect eyesight. That was spectacular. I can see things before everybody else does.

Creative life – publishing some good books, getting ideas for more, but really, founding Riptide and seeing it all take off.


What are you looking forward to in the coming year?


In 2012, I want to visit a close friend in Canada, travel to South-East Asia, and write some of the books I have in mind. I also want to have a revamp of my garden (I’m into bonsais, so I want an area in the garden where I can properly keep outdoor bonsais). And growing Riptide, of course.


Care to tell us about your coming attractions?


Absolutely. I’ve started publishing “Dark Soul” with Riptide, which is a series of short stories that are all connected in a big arch that tells really one story. You could call it an episodic novel, but like a TV series, every episode can stand on its own and furthers the plot at the same time. It’s about Stefano Marino, a mafia boss, who falls in lust and then love with the enigmatic Silvio Spadaro, a very damaged boy and mafia hitman. Right now, three parts are done and two more are drafted in my head. I wanted to tell the story as a traditional novel, but I couldn’t get it to work, so this format – a dozen or so connected short stories – was the only way to make it all work.

Here's the blurb for Dark Soul Volume 1:
Stefano Marino is a made man, a happily married west coast mafia boss who travels east to await the death of a family patriarch. All the old hands have gathered—of course sharks will circle when there’s blood in the water—but it’s a new hand that draws Stefano’s eye.

Silvio “the Barracuda” Spadaro is protetto and heir to retired consigliere Gianbattista Falchi, and a made man in his own right. Among his underworld family, being gay is a capital crime, but the hypersexual—and pansexual—young killer has never much cared for rules. The only orders he follows are Battista’s, whether on the killing field or on his knees, eagerly submissive at Battista’s feet.

But Silvio has needs Battista can’t fill, and he’s cast his black-eyed gaze on Stefano. A fake break-in, an even faker attack, and Silvio is exactly where he wants to be: strung up at Stefano’s mercy, driving the older Mafioso toward urges he’s spent his whole life repressing. Stefano resists, but when the Russian mob invades his territory and forces him to seek aid, Gianbattista’s price brings Stefano face to face once more with Silvio—and his darkest desires.

This title is #1 of the Dark Soul series.
Read an excerpt and purchase Dark Soul Volume 1.

Dark Soul Volume 2 is also available at Riptide. Here's the blurb:
Dark Soul series features the stories "Dark Whisper" and "Dark Night."

In "Dark Whisper," Gianbattista may have broken Silvio's heart and sent him off to the States, but he's still just a phone call away. When Silvio returns from a sex shop with a bag full of goodies, Gianbattista can't resist topping his boy one more time, even if they are 4,000 miles apart.

In "Dark Night," the Russian problem comes back to haunt Stefano, and when a dark encounter leaves him bloody and broken, Silvio knows just the right way to ease his pain.

This title is #2 of the Dark Soul series.
Preorder Dark Soul Volume 3 and your order will qualify for an entry in our Free Books for a Year drawing.

You can find me at any of these places on the internet:

E-mail address: vashtan@gmail.com
Website
Blog
Twitter: @vashtan
Facebook
Goodreads Page
Goodreads Group


Thank you for hosting me on your blog!


Glad to have you visit, Aleks!


Now for the prizes!

First: Check out Riptide's blog tour schedule every day until December 31. Visit the sites where the authors are guest blogging or being interviewed, and leave a comment. It’s as easy as that.
Each comment earns you one entry in the grand prize drawing for an IPad. Other prizes are a Nook and a Kindle.
In addition, comment below and get a chance to win a back list book from Aleks, excluding Counterpunch and Riptide releases. Be sure to leave contact information. The winner will be announced December 13.

Thanks for stopping by!

4.12.11

Counterpunch by Aleksandr Voinov

Counterpunch by Aleksandr Voinov
Stars: 5/5

Length: 55,000 words
Blurb
Fight like a man, or die like a slave.

Brooklyn Marshall used to be a policeman in London, with a wife and a promising future ahead of him. Then he accidentally killed a rioter whose father was a Member of Parliament and had him convicted of murder. To ease the burden on the overcrowded prison system, Brooklyn was sold into slavery rather than incarcerated. Now, he's the "Mean Machine", a boxer on the slave prizefighting circuit, pummeling other slaves for the entertainment of freemen and being rented out for the sexual service of his wealthier fans.

When Nathaniel Bishop purchases Brooklyn's services for a night, it seems like any other assignation. But the pair form an unexpected bond that grows into something more. Brooklyn hesitates to call it "love"—such things do not exist between freemen and slaves—but when Nathaniel reveals that he wants to help get Brooklyn's conviction overturned, he dares to hope. Then, an accident in the ring sends Brooklyn on the run, jeopardizing everything he has worked so hard to achieve and sending him into the most important fight of all—the fight for freedom.


Overall
What I love about Voinov's novels is that they are like a steak dinner, meaty and filling, so you sit back when you're done, pat your stomach, smile, and say, "That was delicious." Of course, I'm so satisfied that I don't even know where to begin in describing what made the meal so excellent. Was it the juicy steak (plot)? The perfect use of spices and seasonings (character)? The glass of wine that complemented the flavors in every bite (the sex)? Or maybe it was the small dessert at the end, the perfect way to top off any meal.

Counterpunch was another gloriously satisfying meal. Taking place in the Belonging-verse already established through Rachel Haimowitz's Where He Belongs and Anchored, it expands the world from beyond United States borders. Despite the pre-existing world, Voinov doesn't take the reader's knowledge for granted and he seamlessly flows world and culture information into the story without dumping it all at once. The same is true for facts about boxing (which I know nothing about).

If you are looking for a meaty plot with a good mix of sex and hard emotions, then pick this up!

Strengths
Although Brooklyn is by no means a perfect character, his weaknesses make him human and any negative traits are balanced by his guilt for his involvement in a young woman's death, and his struggle to maintain his humanity by not losing his identity and "becoming a slave." While he's rough and distant in the beginning, it's easy to empathize with his crappy situation. When Nathaniel is introduced, the reader begins to see another, hidden, side of Brooklyn, broadening his likeability.

Most of the characters have multiple layers, even the minor ones, giving depth beyond the main pair. Characters are "good," but still human and make mistakes, take offense, and get revenge. The dynamic of all the characters together helps bring this dark story to life and throws rays of sunshine in along the way.

The plot, and its different strands, all weave together to form one cohesive plot. Something mentioned once in passing could later be used for an important plot point. The casual and yet dramatic way Voinov unveiled the story left me curious about how everything would unfold and eager to find out while enjoying each scene along the way.

Finally, I am not a boxer, nor do I find much thrill in the sport, although I can see how the brutality and power is attractive to some. That said, my greatest concern with reading this book was its focus on boxing and the sport's importance to the story. However, I found the scenes, both in the ring and just for Brooklyn's training, to be accessible, especially since the reader is given his perspective, personalizing the fight and the underlying emotions.

Weaknesses
For some, the fact that this isn't a traditional romance will make it less enjoyable, but I feel this has a strong enough romance thread that it satisfies all but the hardest classically romance fans. In addition, the ending may or may not satisfy some readers, but this is more a matter of personal preference than a failing of the novel.

2.12.11

The Tea Demon by Cornelia Grey

The Tea Demon by Cornelia Grey
Stars: 4/5

Length: 52 pages
Blurb
Thief Eric Devon wishes one thing: for people to leave him bloody well alone. And maybe for more whiskey. Until a mysterious stranger offers him a job so dangerous that no one has ever attempted it and survived to tell the tale: recover a priceless object from the Turtle Merchants’ impregnable palace. Intrigued by the man and the challenge, Eric accepts—but the stranger is none other than the legendary airship captain known as the Tea Demon, terror of the Sea of Clouds. Eric must come up with the best plan in history if he wants to complete his job... and survive it too.

Overall
The way this story was written reminds me of The Princess Bride (the movie), as it is a mostly serious tale told in a mostly serious manner that pokes at the cliches because it can. A thief and a pirate airship captain get into a bar brawl with classic choreography, share a kiss, and meet the humorous crew. This story is fun without being too silly, although some may find the tropes a little too much. I thought everything was well handled; a refreshing taste of something different.

Strengths
While this story didn't have laugh out loud humor in it for me, it was still amusing and had me chuckling. Eric is a fun, laid-back guy who is willing to roll with the punches. He's also witty, sharp, and likes seeing Captain Tea flustered (but really, who doesn't?). The character dynamic is light and fun, creating a well-rounded jocular story.

Grey made the steampunk background come to life with beautiful, succinct descriptions of the world and the characters. In a few pages she creates a world, building upon the reader's basic knowledge to expand it into a fantastical environment. Although we are just given the bare bones, it's enough to provide a full-color illustration and support the simple--and amusing--plot.

The characters are plenty of fun, varying from a grumpy dwarf and an underage stick of a girl who fills the role of mechanic to the suave thief and the temper-prone captain. While they may fill standard roles, Grey has fun with the characters, letting the trope show through and plays off of it.

Weaknesses
While everything felt fresh and great, some points were deducted for originality. (It may be unfair, as the author seemed to be striving toward that point exactly, but it sometimes struck as a little too cheesy for me.) Otherwise this was a fun little story.

Received this book for review.

30.11.11

Legend of a Clue About Who Broke the String

Legend of the Guardians - Kathryn Lasky's popular children's books are the inspiration for this captivating animated feature about Soren, a barn owl kidnapped from his peaceful forest home. His abductors bring him to an orphanage, where he must train to become a soldier. Despite the toil and hardships, Soren makes friends, and together the young birds attempt to escape. Zack Snyder (The Watchmen, 300) directs this epic adventure.

(rent/buy) Visually, this is an incredible movie, from the animation of the owls, the landscape, and the action sequences. In addition, the voice acting is great and the plot line has great potential. However, certain elements felt a little reused from films such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. While the plot doesn't follow either of those stories, there are similarities in the good vs evil of LotR, and some of the armor definitely harkens to it. This probably wouldn't have bothered me, but in the end there is a scene that feels like it was pulled directly from SW, but with owls instead of people. The overall story wasn't incredibly new and unique, but despite these negatives, it was still an enjoyable movie that is dark without being too dark for children. This is probably best for a younger audience, as older individuals may see the tropes coming.

Is It Just Me? - Although successful writer Blaine (Nicholas Downs) is kind and witty, he can't find true love because he's intimidated by the overt sexuality of guys such as his roommate, Cameron (Adam Huss). But all that changes when he meets the man of his dreams online -- or does it? Shy Texan Xander (David Loren) seems to be Blaine's ideal man, but when Blaine accidentally posts Cameron's picture in his profile, a battle for Xander's affections ensues.

(rent/buy) Pretty much the gay version of The Truth About Cats and Dogs, this was a cute film that some may be enticed to purchase for the same reasons someone would purchase TTACAD (which I do own, because sometimes you want a chick flick). Anyways, while the story wasn't that original, the acting was pretty good, the dialogue was just the right about of cheese (assuming you can handle cheese), and the ending was cute. While this was worth a view, it didn't really bring anything fresh to the table that The Truth About Cats and Dogs didn't already cover; however, if you're unfamiliar with that movie, you may find it more enjoyable.

The String - After returning from France to his mother's (Claudia Cardinale) home in Tunisia following his father's death, 30-year-old gay architect Malik (Antonin Stahly-Vishwanadan) has trouble readjusting to the cultural mores of his homeland and to his mother's expectation that he'll marry a local woman. But when Malik meets hot handyman Bilal (Salim Kechiouche), he embarks on a tender romance that changes everything.

(rent) This was a very strange film, a mix of reality and some type of mental health issue. While I enjoyed the film overall, not much really happens, and the ending leaves you saying, "Oh" as it sort of meanders to a finish. It felt more like a biography than anything, although I don't think it is one. The most interesting part of the film--the main character's psychological issue, felt secondary and was barely addressed, although it obviously played a large part in the film's purpose. Even so, it was played out and--assumedly--found a solution.

Breaking Dawn, part 1 - At last, Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) are getting married. When Jacob (Taylor Lautner) finds out that Bella wants to spend her honeymoon as a human, he is horrified -- for Edward's passion could accidentally kill her. Bella does indeed survive her honeymoon, but a new complication arises when she discovers that she's pregnant -- and the child is growing at an alarming rate. The pregnancy sets the wolves against Bella and Edward, but Jacob vows to protect his friend.

(???) I can't really give a rating option on this because tastes differ so drastically. Considering I laughed (raucously) through the entire first movie, this one was well done. The werewolves are interesting, all the extra characters bring their humor to the movie, and the birthing scene is pretty well done (and would keep me from wanting to have children, not that I ever wanted to in the first place). Of course, I don't really like whenever Edward and Bella are on screen, but it's bearable and their performances have improved since the first film. Yes, I saw this in theaters, but only for $5 and because we like to get together and laugh at it. I don't think I need to point out all the weaknesses, since they are well known, but this one is pretty good, if you've already gotten this far in the saga anyways.

Clue: The Movie - Director Jonathan Lynn's board game-inspired campfest finds six colorful dinner guests gathered at the mansion of their host, Mr. Boddy -- who turns up dead after his secret is exposed: He was blackmailing all of them. With the killer among them, the guests and Boddy's chatty butler (Tim Curry) must suss out the culprit before the body count rises. Lesley Ann Warren also stars in this hilarious whodunit (filmed with three different endings).

(rent/buy) Whether you rent or purchase this movie will depend on your sense of humor and how cheap you can find it. I'd seen parts of it on TV, but otherwise purchased it unseen for $5. It's from the '80s and stars Tim Curry, which will give you an idea of the humor. It's creative and fun and over the top and cheesy, but it does everything just as it's meant to without pushing the audience too far or ostracizing some viewers. Definitely cute and worth a go.

27.11.11

Visible Friend by KZ Snow

Visible Friend by KZ Snow
Stars: 4/5

Length: 160 pages
Blurb
Christopher Borgasian has spent the last seven months painstakingly breaking up with a lover he's adored for three years: heroin. Now he's trying to make it on his own--without the drugs, without the family that rejected him for being gay, and, seemingly, without a friend in the world. The night before Chris leaves a sober-living facility to pursue his uncertain future, a stranger named Denny shows up in his room. From then on, Denny returns whenever Chris needs him the most, always vanishing as mysteriously as he appears. Chris desperately needs emotional and physical intimacy, but who is Denny, really? And can Chris believe in him when it also means believing in unconditional love?

Overall
First off, I love this cover. It's artistic and powerful, and while it's not a traditional romance cover, this isn't really a traditional romance, although romance is a central factor. I think I would have purchased this book based on the cover alone.

This story was rating a strong 3.5, but the epilogue and cover bumped it up to a 4. It's a curious story that focuses on the struggle to regain a footing in life after going through rehab for addiction. In addition to facing all the normal struggles of being a gay ex-addict, Chris also has an imaginary friend who is very, very real. And attractive.

While I didn't really sink into this story and get absorbed by it, it was a good strong story that entertains an interesting notion.

Strengths
Interesting story and angle. The story doesn't involve anything spiritual, per se, but there is a certain level of other-worldliness as Denny is a not-so imaginary friend whose physicality is becoming harder and harder to ignore. However, even by the end, by which point the secrets have been revealed, there is still an element of mystery about Denny's origins. This half-explained reason behind Denny's presence is enough to satisfy the reader's curiosity without locking the author into one reality or truth of greater being. A basic, sweet story with a fresh idea.

Characters you feel empathetic for. Even if the characters didn't get under my skin, I still cared about them and was sympathetic to them. Chris, who is struggling to get his life back on track, and Denny, who is struggling to...well, pretty much the same thing. Denny may not have an addiction in his past, but he's coping with reality just as much as Chris is. Both more are selfish and selfless, struggling to do the best thing, even if they're unsure what that is. Honest, good characters.

Weaknesses
The only weaknesses is that the story didn't grab me and hold me captive. It was interesting, well paced, and well told, but it never got into my head or my heart. Parts also fit a little too nicely together, but in some ways this is fitting for the story, considering Denny's entire involvement.

23.11.11

Master Class by Rachel Haimowitz

Master Class by Rachel Haimowitz
Stars: 5/5

Length: 16,700 words
Blurb
Broadway darling Nicky Avery is a shooting star by night, but by day he bounces from one heartless one-night stand to the next. A quick flogging, a rough lay, a new whip-hand to manipulate—yet still he yearns for something he cannot even name.

He finds his first true hint of satisfaction in Devon Turner, a self-possessed film star and expert Dom. Devon knows what he wants the moment he sees it, and what he wants is Nicky Avery. Nicky’s never learned to trust and has a nasty habit of topping from the bottom, but he learns fast that in the bedroom, Devon won’t tolerate his actor’s masks.

Nicky's a broken boy, but Devon knows exactly how to put his new sub back together. With patience, care, and all the punishments his little pain slut can handle, Devon breaks Nicky down one scene at a time, revealing a mind that yearns to trust and a heart that hungers for the ecstasy of true submission.


Overall
Everything I read with Nicky and Devon makes me want more! Although Nicky plays harder than I'm often comfortable with (even in my fiction), Haimowitz' approach, especially once the reader gets through the initial rough scenes, makes the bond between Devon and Nicky overwhelm any discomfort I have with the beginning.

The first two scenes involve some heavy play, although readers who are familiar with SUBlime will know what they are getting into. For those who haven't read the previous book, I recommend reading Master Class first as it does a better job of showing the beginnings of their relationship, even though it still leaves me wanting more, more, more! Which is good, because then you can enter SUBlime with an appreciation of their standing.

Strengths
With material as sensitive and potentially difficult to handle, the writing becomes a crucial piece of the storytelling (not that it isn't important otherwise) and Haimowitz did an excellent job of exploring Nicky, who needs to feel a strong hand who won't be manipulated, and Devon, who enjoys controlling Nicky, but also who wants to help him. The scenes were handled extraordinarily well, balancing the sexual, the psychological, and the emotional so that by the end the reader is feeling what the characters have gone through. Sensual and breathtaking in some of its rawness.

There is so much potential for stories like this, that toe the line between purely erotic BDSM and story, to suffer for lack of character development. While I do want more of them and want more exploration into their relationship, I felt the amount the reader delves into Nicky and Devon's head, especially Devon's, helps get a grasp on what is happening with the story and the full depth and meaning of what is taking place. It's not just torture or sexual gratification, in fact, it's very little of either as Devon peels back Nicky's layers and reveals the true man inside.

Weaknesses
First a weakness that isn't a weakness: I want more. The ending is satisfying and gives closure, but I still want more, like a spoiled child! The nice thing is I can go back and re-read SUBlime for more Nicky and Devon adventures.

The only real weakness of this novel is that is is NOT for everyone. There is some what is described as "rape fantasy" (although it's not nearly as cruel or rape-ish as other books that have had similar warnings). I wouldn't consider it a rape fantasy, but I think the warning is good, as the first scenes involve force and humiliation and could trigger. Humiliation is a squick for me, but it's not bad enough to really push the off button for me (just to give an idea of it's level of disturbance).

19.11.11

Breaking Faith by M. King

Breaking Faith by M. King
Stars: 5/5

Length: 250 pages
Blurb
Brett Derwent thinks he has life all planned out. With the freedom of college life just months away, Brett’s eagerly awaiting some fun and independence… until he meets Tommy Hawks. Over the course of one northern Montana summer, an intense romance blooms between the young men, but Tommy has a painful secret—one that even first love can’t mitigate. Continually brutalized by his violent father, Tommy is pushed to the edge, torn between the desire to protect his mother and four siblings, and his fear of losing the love he never expected to find.

When the unthinkable happens and Tommy’s father is found dead, Brett is afraid to learn the truth. Appalled to think that his lover may be responsible, Brett must face impossible questions: how much of his life—of his youth—is he willing to sacrifice for Tommy, and will having faith in him be enough?


Overall
A powerful, moving story that follows two young men as they face cruel realities and the struggles of love and trust. While this tale starts off innocently as two first meet and begin to explore one another, it expands into something more, as a simple young romance is tested by external and internal forces. I enjoyed both parts of the ride, from the young love blooming to the rocky ride that follows.

A well-written and constructed piece filled with enjoyable, human (and flawed) characters and compelling emotional turmoil, this is a story that doesn't let you know until the very end if its going to have a happy ending.

Strengths
These flawed characters face difficult circumstances and while some are due to their own choices--or perhaps all are due to their own choices--they hardly complain about the situation, just work to get out of it. The lengths they go to to protect one another is touching, even if it means wanting to smack them on the head.

The struggles these characters endure and survive are more than I can imagine, and hopefully will never have to experience. But the despair and desperate hope they feel is something that most people can relate to. Because so much of this novel is a struggle against the inevitable, Brett's determination is beautiful and inspiring, a thread of silk for Tommy to hold onto when he's had to fend for himself for most his life. What are you willing to risk for love? It's a question Brett faces and answers, with surprising results. Although his attempts are not always victorious, his strength and spirit made me smile, even while I felt the same aches he did as it happened.

The emotional pull of this novel is perhaps what made me enjoy it the most as the combination of characters, situation and writing sucked me into the story and held me there, anxiously reading what happens next.

Weaknesses
I didn't really feel this book had any weaknesses, although there are two points that I would caution to readers who are one, looking for a bright, cheery book or two, hate anything that could possibly resemble dramatic life choices based on a lover you haven't known nearly long enough.

This story is not a completely happy one. There is a lot of trouble and hard emotions (I wouldn't say angst, though). For much of the later half of the book the reader is fighting (along with the characters) for their relationship but it's not clear if they will survive. It makes for a great read, but not if you're looking for a pick-me-up! I felt the resolution was pretty clear, but with everything that happened in the novel, there is always some flexibility with how it's interpreted.

Also, while the story doesn't have Insta-Love, it does have teen love that goes to some pretty far extremes (which I felt were reasonable, considering they are teens and it is pointed out within the story context). Just a warning, if this is a problem for the reader.

Requested this book for review.

13.11.11

Clear Water by Amy Lane

Clear Water by Amy Lane
Stars: 4/5

Length: 230 pages
Blurb
Meet Patrick Cleary: party boy, loser, and spaz. Patrick's been trying desperately to transform himself, and the results have been so spectacular, they've almost killed him. Meet Wes "Whiskey" Keenan: he's a field biologist wondering if it's time to settle down. When the worst day of Patrick's life ends with Whiskey saving it, Patrick and Whiskey find themselves sharing company and an impossibly small berth on the world's tackiest houseboat.

Patrick needs to get his life together-and Whiskey wants to help-but Patrick is not entirely convinced it's doable. He's pretty sure he's a freak of nature. But Whiskey, who works with real freaks of nature, thinks all Patrick needs is a little help to see the absolute beauty inside his spastic self, and Whiskey is all about volunteering. Between anomalous frogs, a homicidal ex-boyfriend, and Patrick's own hangups, Whiskey's going to need all of his patience and Patrick's going to need to find the best of himself before these two men ever see clear water.


Overall
It took me two reads to really appreciate this book. My first read I was in love with the beginning and mediocre on the ending, which felt seperate from the rest of the novel, initially. However, on my second read through, while the end is still very different from the beginning, they felt more like they belonged together and the story naturally flowed from one into the other.

But to me this story isn't really about the plot, it's about the characters. They take the stage and steal the spotlight just by being themselves and going through their everyday--and not so everyday--actions. The good guys may not be perfect, but they are still obviously the good guys and work hard to do what is right.

Definitely worth a read, especially if you want something happy and hopeful.

Strengths
The characters really captured me. Patrick, who has ADHD and is struggling to get his life together, is flexi-bendy and uses yoga when he can't take his meds. He's been told he's an idiot and a failure for pretty much his entire life and has a chronic case of the "I'm sorry"s, which is heart-breaking sometimes. Other times it just makes you want to wrap him in your arms and take him home with you. But it's okay, that's what Whiskey is there for.

Whiskey is a down-to-earth scientist who has spent the last ten years trying to find home without knowing what he was looking for. He's patient and more patient and good at thinking on his feet but not rushing his thoughts either. The perfect balance to Patrick, whose brain to mouth connection is short, even on the meds.

They are both rounded out by Fly Bait, who is caustic, rough and has a dry sense of humor. In some ways she's a "classic dyke" (in a completely unoffensive way), but she's definitely Whiskey's best friend. She's fun, but not silly, and is a good literary tool for helping get the boys to take their respective sticks out of their asses.

There are a few other side characters that add to the mix, but I'll refrain, lest I give something away.

Lane captured Patrick's ADHD perfectly and had some great examples for Patrick to use to describe it, which felt almost educational for those not familiar with the disorder. I also like the approach she took with comparing Patrick's ADHD to the anomolies in the frogs without going too much into the correlation of pesticides and ADHD in humans. Educational without preaching and everything was balanced out by Whiskey, who sees nothing wrong with taking meds if you need them (since some of the greatest minds need them).

The dynamic between the two main characters as Patrick acts like a spaz and Whiskey patiently helps him handle it is what made this book for me, and if you enjoy good character dynamic/interaction, I think you'll enjoy it just as much.

Weaknesses
The end, encompassing both the major climactic action and the falling action, didn't sit right with me initially. The first felt extraordinary, considering the rest of the story, and the latter felt like it worked too hard to wrap everything up perfectly. But I experienced everything differently in my second read. While the climax still felt a little extraordinary after all the frog counting, it definitely played an important role in show Patrick who he was and how he was better than he thought. The falling action, while perhaps seeming a little too perfect, does work for this book and is fitting for the genre. Also, it's not so over the top HEA that it causes cavities and tummy aches.

Requested this book for review.