Apples and Regret and Wasted Time by Cornelia Grey

Apples and Regret and Wasted Time by Cornelia Grey
Stars: 4/5

A touching bittersweet story that both satisfies and leaves the reader wanting more.

Names. None of the characters are named, which was just really amazing for some reason. I didn't realize until my second read through, but it definitely lent an air of not necessarily mystery--which it did--but created a world in which for the narrator only two people existed: Me and Him.

Emotions/atmosphere. In the short space Grey worked in powerful emotions by being almost muted with them in the story. While I didn't get choked up, I definitely wanted to smack the idiot upside the head. The narrator's voice is contemplative and straight forward, giving the entire story a bleak ambience that is only forgotten in brief moments when the two men are being lovers, not themselves.

One liners. Some great one liners are in this, one of which is weakened by being the title of the story, but several are beautifully constructed and tug on the heart strings.

Like most enjoyable short stories, the hardest part of this is that we only get 16 pages of these two characters and the world they exist in. I wanted more. This, of course, isn't a failing in the story, but even going in knowing this was a bittersweet tale, I wanted them to have their happy ending...and I still do. I'd love to see more.

Cover. Don't get me wrong, I really like most of the cover, but the clothes that the man is wearing in the picture seems too trendy to match the main character of the story and the darkness of the story overall. The fruit, the window, the man's appearances are all otherwise excellent, but the clothes are misrepresenting, I felt.

Opening. The story starts a little slow, but it's not long before the interesting things start happening.

Note: Received a copy of this story for review.


Review: A Russian Bear by CB Conwy

A Russian Bear by CB Conwy
Stars: 3.5/5

While I overall enjoyed the novel, I felt it had the potential to be so much better. The writing is okay, and while I don't mind the long exploration of Mischa and Tom's relationship, the end is rushed; I wanted more and I wanted it explored. It almost felt as if the relationship was written, then someone commented that there wasn't much plot, so an action and resolution were tacked on. I enjoyed the relationship, I enjoyed the action and resolution; I wanted them more balanced. However, that said, this is still a good book, especially if you want an exploration of BDSM (pain-centered) and a very interesting Dom/Sub relationship.

Characters. Tom and Mischa were both interesting, deep characters. I enjoyed exploring their relationship as they found what they needed in each other and if they wanted a relationship and how that relationship would work. The very few side characters were also good, although I think having more people would helped develop some of the weaker points.

Plot. I can't say much because it's spoiler, but the attack on Tom created an interesting situation between the characters, as well as introducing an additional character. Conwy handled the events well and gave a refreshing angle to an often-used trope.

Scenes. The BDSM scenes covered a wide range of kinks, most pain-centric, and progressed from basic to beyond. Although I found the use of "the Dom" and "the boy" to be awkward considering the narrations were in third person limited, it wasn't enough to be completely distracting. There was a good balance on who narrated each scene, so it wasn't (pun intended) top heavy.

Unbalanced plot. The two parts of the story (relationship development and after the attack) are both good, but the latter seemed tagged on and wasn't developed to its fullest potential. The slow progression of their relationship matched their personalities, especially Mischa, but knowing that an attack was coming (since it's in the teaser blurb), made the book drag a little. Heading into the final 10%, I wasn't sure how the author was going to be able to fit everything in--and honestly, Conwy didn't. The story was cramped and involved large time jumps only highlighting the big changes.

Writing. While not terrible, the writing was a little stilted, lacking sentence length/structure variation and depending too heavily on using names or other signifiers when pronouns would have functioned similarly without confusion. The general public may not have any issue with this, but people who are particular about writing style should be forewarned, although I don't think it should necessarily keep you from reading it.


Review: What Becomes You by Aaron Raz Link and Hilda Raz

What Becomes You by Aaron Raz Link and Hilda Raz
Stars: 3/5

While this book has an interesting concept, the writing and length kept me from really enjoying it. Some parts felt overly repetitious and went on too long, while other parts felt like they were barely explained. The language and grammar seems more poetic than prose, which sometimes makes it difficult to understand what is being said--or what is trying to be said. However, this is balanced out by some sections that are beautifully written (when the style clicks with what's being said) and express important and powerful messages. I wish I could read an abridged version.

I think the thing that saved this book from being a terrible read was that the sections that I enjoyed, I really loved. I loved the ideas Aaron shares and his story. I wanted to know more, see more, learn more. He had sections that seemed almost enlightened in both their concepts and their writing. I loved those sections. Sadly, they were not all that often.

Topic. Obviously people don't pick this book up (most likely) unless they have an interest in transsexuals or concepts of gender and sexuality. It's why I picked it up and those elements were completely satisfied by the end. They book also does an excellent job of looking at perception: how we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us and how that perception can change.

Lack of linear story telling. While I can respect that this isn't an autobiography in the traditional sense, I found the amount of skipping around difficult to follow. Aaron's story is especially bad at this as his early adult life (mainly his 20s) are shown in such brief and random glimpses that it's hard to tell what's happening in his life. While obviously the events aren't meant to be the central focus of the book, it made it hard for me to understand his emotions and his mental standing when he turned 30.

Hilda's section. While Hilda's section had some interesting parts, for the majority I wasn't interested. Perhaps it's because my own perspective aligns more with Aaron's, but I think it's more a matter of not feeling particularly compassionate toward her story and her telling of it. While she stresses that Aaron wanted her to write about herself, I still felt like her story was more selfish in its attempt to share the same story Aaron told from the opposite side.

Writing. The writing wasn't necessarily bad, but it had a certain poetic style that was sometimes difficult to understand. It felt like a prose poem rather than straight prose, which didn't lend itself to expressing the story these two individuals were trying to tell.


More movie reviews

Angles in America - Tony Kushner's groundbreaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play about love, loss and loneliness -- the basis for this six-hour HBO miniseries -- took more than 10 years to make it to the small screen. Starring Al Pacino (as real-life legal counsel Roy Cohn) and Meryl Streep, the drama examines the first few years of the AIDS epidemic in the mid-1980s, set against the moral absolutism and unresponsive backdrop of the Reagan Administration.

Part 1 - (rent/buy) This is just the first three hours of the six-hour miniseries. It's difficult for me to sit through because the characters are so human--making mistakes, being scared and making poor decisions, giving in to themselves. However, because they are so human, it makes their struggles so much more powerful to watch. The first two hours were more of a struggle as the characters begin to take their place on stage and prepare for the conflicts to come to head. The third hour got more interesting as we see possible paths that may be taken and a hint of where the story is going. While I can't give a full report until I've seen the second half, I have to admit that so far it isn't going in the direction I thought it would.

Part 2 - (rent/buy) This movie really taught me to not judge a book by its cover. I'm not even sure what I thought it was about--except the AIDS epidemic--but it definitely wasn't what I thought it'd be. It wasn't a movie that wow'd me, but it definitely got me thinking about things like loss and life and family and being honest with yourself. I loved how deep all the characters were: The good guys had faults and the 'bad' guys had good points (or at least human points). The acting was superb, and it was funny to try spotting the characters who played multiple roles. It was also an interesting technique, since obviously they wouldn't have needed to do that, but I wonder if it harkens back to the movie's origins as a play, where one person might play multiple parts. This was very good, and while it wasn't something I'd want to own, I could definitely see it finding its way on some shelves permanently.

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green - Ethan Green (Daniel Letterle) has no problem finding guys who want to sleep with him or even date him, but finding someone to settle down with is another story. Given three choices, will he find a Mr. Right, or is he destined to an unfabulous existence? He'll choose from a sexy teenager, a hunky jock or his ex-boyfriend who's about to get married George Bamber directs this comedy based on a popular gay-themed comic strip.

(rent/buy) This was a goofy romantic comedy that just happens to have gay lead couples. It was a bit over the top and I'm not sure if that was because of the acting or it was a planned part of the movie. I wasn't too interested in the beginning as Ethan makes his poor decisions, but once he slept with one of the guys, I felt the drama really started as Ethan began to realize what he wanted and then just had to figure out a way to get it (and if he deserved to get it). This was a pretty good movie if you just want something light and gay and don't mind stereotypes (which it seems to mock).

Saving Face - Dutiful daughter Wil (Michelle Krusiec) sidesteps her mother's (Joan Chen) attempts to marry her off in Alice Wu's romantic comedy. At 28, Wil's the old maid of her traditional Chinese family, so there's no way she can tell them about her budding lesbian romance with Vivian (Lynn Chen). But her widowed mom has her own problems, as she learns she's pregnant at 48. Kicked out by her disapproving father, she seeks refuge at Wil's place.

(buy) I had this in my queue, but it wasn't necessarily a top contender of interest. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. It has excellent acting, a good plot, and strong cultural and social implications, plus there are love stories all over. This isn't a straight forward love story, as most of the focus is on the mother-daughter relationship, but the romance definitely plays a significant role. I definitely recommend people who like these genres rent this, or if they see a good deal, buy it. Definitely a sweet, romantic comedy.

Long-Term Relationship - Tired of the unsatisfying singles scene, Glenn (Matthew Montgomery) answers a personal ad and meets Adam (Windham Beacham), a handsome Southern man seeking a long-term relationship. The two hit it off immediately, but their initial attraction is soon put to the test. Glenn's gay friends say he'd be happier playing the field again, but his straight pals encourage him to work at the budding relationship in director Rob Williams's romantic comedy.

(rent) The story of a playboy who decides to settle down, the concept had potential (democrat vs. republican, playboy vs. conservative), but mediocre acting left me wanting more. The end resolution was pretty good, and a tricky, creative way to go, which I applaud, but I wasn't emotionally invested in the characters, so I felt like, well, that I was just watching a movie. Not bad enough that I shut it off half way, but not good enough that I'd want to sit through it again.

Back Soon - In the wake of his wife's death, Logan (Windham Beacham) becomes fast friends with Gil (Matthew Montgomery). But after a drunken night together ends with the two straight men sharing a steamy bed, the two must reexamine their sexual identities as they forge a new relationship. Writer-director Rob Williams's touching and surprising drama won the Alternative Spirit Award at the 2007 Rhode Island International Film Festival.

(meh) This suffered from some of the same acting as Long-Term Relationship, which may make me partial on the review. This had a potentially interesting plot with some supernatural elements (spirits inhabiting bodies that weren't theirs), but relies too heavily on tense emotional scenes that the actors can't pull off. Not bad enough that I shut it off half way, but not good enough that I'd want to sit through it again.

Scorpion by Aleksandr Voinov

Scorpion by Aleksandr Voinov
Stars: 5/5

With great characters, plot and a creative world, there is little to dislike about this book. While warriors, politics and hot sex might not be every one's cup of tea, this is definitely worth taking a risk on. The battles are short, the politics are intriguing (and not too heavy or convoluted), and the wide cast of characters is incredibly interesting. While not a light read, its dark elements are balanced by flashes of humor and a good love story.

Characters. For me, characters make or break a story, and here they absolutely made a good story great. Kendras is a good characters, if not a bit stiff in his ideas, but Steel, Widow, the Flames (and the men of the Flames), along with the officers, and the Lady protector really wowed me. They are varied, not black and white. Nothing is simple--not their situations and not their relationships. I think Steel is the most heart-breaking because Kendras judges him so harshly and if an officer had gotten to him earlier, he may not have become the "soulless" man he is when Kendras meets him. Widow is terrifying and amazing and I love what he does in the story (although he can stay far away from me!). Also, the men of the Flames were a nice touch and I hope to see more of them in future stories.

World Building. Voinov takes us through a very creative world that's very dark for our narrator, but we still see glimpses of light that is a normal life. While constructing political parties and armies, he made the Flames and the Scorpions and the train of thought that goes with joining both those groups. It's a world I'd look forward to seeing more of and will let my mind play in secretly. His descriptions are dark and gritty with splashes of (important) color.

Plot. While the sex scenes start early and hot, the beginning of the plot is a slow build that ultimately climaxes in a truly satisfying way. Some of the events aren't easy to handle for both Kendras and for the reader, but surviving them makes the end all the more rewarding. Artistically, the plot was well constructed and interesting, keeping the reader's interest in what will happen next. Ultimately satisfying, in more ways than one.

There was some slight lag time while the characters were waiting for something to happen that lost me a little. In retrospect it felt necessary and I'm glad it was there, but, for me at least, I struggled a little. Political intrigue/war novels aren't my normal diet though, so people familiar with them may not have any problems. I would still recommend this to people not interested in political intrigue/war novels. The battle scenes are kept short and succinct and while the politics is important, it's not boring and drawn out.


Forever by Shayla Kersten

Forever by Shayla Kersten
Stars: 3/5

An enjoyable story that continues the romance between Cavan and Biton as Cavan progresses from quivering slave to gentle submissive and Biton struggles to do what's best for his new lover. While a perfectly good story, it did nothing to amaze me into a higher score.

Overall Story. Although I question why the Big Bad waited to strike until now, overall the plot was good. It could come across as slightly cheesy, but it wasn't enough to make me put the book down, mostly because the characters were enjoyable and I really do love Cavan. It was a good and necessary series of events that allowed Cavan to face his demons.

Character development. I really appreciated the amount of growth we see Cavan go through, especially compared to the first book where he's already beginning to make advances. This story gives us more content from Cavan's perspective and is several months later. He's re-learning to read and write and to be an individual person while still struggling with wanting to please Biton, both because of his former "training" and as a lover. The plot of this story really gives Cavan opportunity to show his strengths and how much progress he's made under Biton's loving care. I definitely felt more connected to Cavan in this story.

The end plot was a little flimsy/Hollywood, but not bad enough to disturb me. It did make me roll my eyes, but I saw the need for it, so didn't complain.

Dr. Marten. Some people question how a psychiatrist could behave as she does, but it seemed believable to me. If you don't mind her being a bad example of her profession, then there shouldn't be a problem.

Minor peeve. In the first book Biton lives in a house and in this one he lives in an apartment with no discussion of moving. Did I miss something? Misread something? Not a big deal, but seems like a rather large inconsistency, even though it's not really plot-relevant. ETA: I was wrong, he did live in an apartment in the first book. I misunderstood.


Review: Torqued Tales, edited by SA Clements

Torqued Tales, edited by SA Clements
Stars: 3.5/5

I think one of the best parts of this was playing "spot the fairy tale." It's hard to rank anthologies, but this one was pretty strong overall and there were few, if any, stories that were painful. If you like fairy tales, this is definitely something you should pick up, as it covers the gamut. While none of the stories were exceptionally weak, none were mind-blowing either. Fun, this is great for reading before bed...just like when you were a kid :)

The Emperor’s New Clothes by CB Potts
This re-telling stays true to the original (or at least the original I grew up with). Okay, there was no sex in the one I read as a child, but hey. In fact, this mostly just feels like the adult version of the same story, with all the naughty bits added back in. That being said, the story could feel boring (since we know what's going to happen), but Potts gives us a wonderfully fun narrator who gives life to the rehashing and makes the same story hum instead of hum-drum. Also, highly amused at the "twins who didn't share any parents."

Tiger, Tiger by Laney Cairo
This was a delightfully little story that was by no means a surprise, but still fun. It's not really a play on any fairy tale (as far as I can tell), but it does work of the almost mythical existence of the thylacine and the title plays off William Blake's "Tyger, Tyger". It was well written and cute, with a hot scene or two and was overall enjoyable.

The Bat Prince by Elisa Viperas
This was an interesting take on "The Princess and the Frog" and it's interesting the changes that were made. The golden ball is a weather device (vanity vs. something productive) which goes up instead of down (I'm sure there's symbolism there), and the frog becomes a bat (no kissing required). What I'm enjoying about the stories is that while they pretty much stick to the original formula, they change little things and make an enjoyable story. Maybe I'll read these to my niece and nephews...um, revised, of course.

The Master Cat by Kiernan Kelly
I bet you didn't know cats could turn into hunky men, did you? This was another delightful retelling of a favorite tale. My knowledge about Puss in Boots is a bit rusty, but the story seems to keep rather true to the original--not that it matters. The story stands strong on it's own. Good, not fantastic, but definitely worth a read, with an ending line that is the perfect amount of cheese to be funny! I was surprised to find there is a bit of spanking/whipping in it, as Puss really is the Master in the relationship.

Lie to Me by BA Tortuga
Cute, but by no lengths my favorite. I think the most distracting to me was the use of the name "Loki" which seems to hint at playful mischief or just outright trouble, but perhaps I'm missing a more subtle use or the guy's name is just Loki. While this story didn't grab me, I did enjoy reading it although (and this was touched upon in the story) I couldn't help think of splinters the whole time!

For Kingdom's Sake by Jane Davitt
I was surprised by this story! At the start I was expecting certain people to be certain things, but was pleasantly surprised when the author took me in a different direction. There was only one moment where I felt the character acted out of type, and that was because Davitt set him up to be cold and ambivalent, then shows him being caring--which seems odd until we are shown that the cold front is only a facade, mostly, or else he can finally express he true emotions with this one person. Enjoyable and I was looking forward to finding out where we were being taken.

Snow White and Rose Red by Jay Lygon
This story doesn't really stay true to any sort of fairy tale, although it does make plenty of references. It's a short, hot story involving a stranded skier and sex, lots of sex. It's a well-done threesome that touches upon submission ("bossy" more than BDSM) and double stuffing. It's fun and hot with a splash of cute and a happy little ending that keeps with the sexed up theme and doesn't get too squishy.

Hans und Georg by Mychael Black
Like warm, melted chocolate, this story fills your mouth with sugary sweetness. Not only is there play off the original story, but there are plenty of sensual chocolate references that are delicious. The romantic dynamic between the pair is wonderful, and I appreciated the use of German (even though I didn't understand it) when they would whisper sweet nothings (or scream in pleasure...) to each other. Definitely worth taking a dip, though you may want some Hershey's syrup on hand...

Trip Trap by Syd McGinley
Here we meet the three Buff boys who come across a bear ... so to speak! In a unique retelling of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, the youngest of the three brothers is known as Baby to his siblings, and they treat him just like that. He's a good, handsome man, despite what his brothers' say, and he's just beginning to enjoy his adventures in the woods when the three siblings come upon a bridge and a no trespassing sign. You'll have to read to find out what happens, but lovers of light BDSM will find a good time in this surprisingly sweet tale.

Godwyn of Coventry by Renee Manley
As I wasn't familiar with Lady Godiva's story (which I didn't realize was the play on words until I googled it later), much of the story was new for me. I was mildly curious to watch where the story headed, but once I got there, I didn't feel particularly interested. Godwyn and the potter (and his family) are the only two good people in the story (out of four main men) and while everything turns out OK in the end, I felt the earl deserved a bit more punishment for his mean ways.

The Three Little Twinks by Vic Winter
A playful take on the Three Little Pigs, this is only meant to be a sexy and eventually sweet story; nothing too heavy. It has some cute play on words and is a quick read. It was good for what it was and it was fun.

Jack and the Big Ole Pinto Bean by Julia Talbot
Replace Jack's mother with Jack's boyfriend and the story is almost identical to the standard story, which could be because Jack's story doesn't have romance in it. Because this felt so close to the original, I didn't feel like there was much new or fresh brought to the reader. Kind of disappointing, although the reading was perfectly acceptable.

Outfoxed by Angelia Sparrow
This was an interesting story that took a different angle from normal fairy tales, which usually take the perspective of the hero (aka, the prince). This one tells the story from the fox who guides the hero along the way. It was a sweet story as he two fell in love in dreams and became friends in life. It either alluded to or retold a story I wasn't extremely familiar with, although several of the elements I was aware was making specific references.

Little Cowboy Riding Rig by Sean Michael
Very much a PWP with references to Little Red Riding Hood. While not artistic, it was a fun little piece with an amusing narrative voice. The characters are from a larger work, though they are obviously working outside the normal environment here, and I doubt it's canon for their story (I'm not familiar with the original). A fun little piece.

The Nature of the Beast by Kara Larson
An Australian retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I enjoyed this story, although for remakes of this tale, I think Lane's Truth in the Dark does a longer and better job, but it's hard to beat that. This is a fine piece of writing, although it was heavy in Australian terms/slang/language, which works for the characters, but made my job as reader slightly more difficult (although I'm not sure how this could have been fixed). I liked how things translated from roses to gardening and the parameters of the curse. Nice, well-done story.

Happy Whenever After by Dallas Coleman
This was a surprisingly delightful (if not crass) tale. The narrative voice is certainly unique! Told in a first person almost stream of conscious as our narrator shares his life. For how rough and tumble the narrator is, it's a sweet story that had me smiling.

Locks of Love by Jordan Castillo Price
Sorry Repunzel, you've been replaced. If I wasn't already interested in reading JCP's longer series, this definitely would have peaked my interest. We are given a perfectly normal world where everyone has a power...it's just a matter of how good those powers are. The story was good, the characters were a blast and the narrator was a firm mix of "average joe" with a bit of tough guy and secretly a sweet heart (with a propensity toward psychology). Also, I approve of the double meaning title. Very good!

Roy Le Roy and the Bears of Hangman's Bluff by Cat Zheng
Oh Roy. This is quite the take on Goldilocks (and amusingly, the man in her part has red hair, not blond). While there is a certain amount of dubcon, it's not dirty or gross and overall feels rather consensual. If you like bears, you might just like this story.

A Fucked-Up Fairytale by Willa Okati
This is a funny story that is just fun overall with some interesting concepts. It has the whole "opposites attract" going for it, with a manly narrator and his sexy, fabulous boyfriend. I love how the narrator never panics, but takes his time and considers things (and googles them :)) before acting. Also, I never may think of the word "spindle" the same way, as the "spindle" in this story is quite different!


If I Must by Amy Lane

If I Must by Amy Lane
Stars: 4/5

First we are greeted with an adorable kitten with holiday decorations on the cover. Then we meet Ian and Joel, polar opposites who are both endearing, sweet, and love. Mix this all together with Lane's strong writing and we have a great holiday story, especially if you're looking for something that is almost sappily sweet.

Use of flashbacks. The linear story line interrupted with flashbacks worked well here as we see the development of Ian and Joel's relationship as given to us by Joel via his sister. It allowed Lane to cover 5 months of time in a limited amount of space by just highlighting the important parts.

Characters. While it may be hard to understand what Joel sees in Ian, they are both great characters. Joel is sweet as pecan pie, organized and helpful; Ian is disorganized, honest, genius, and giving. I wanted nothing more than for them to find their happy ever after and they truly deserve each other (in the good way). Also, Joel is sort of the perfect man (at least in this circumstance).

Ian. I know I already said I loved the characters, and I do love Joel as well, but Ian just really touched me. Maybe it's because I'm socially inept too, but I could understand him and relate (to an extent. I'm incredibly organized!). His inability to pick up flirting cues, not realizing certain clothing is inappropriate for certain times. He and Joel also have an interesting dynamic since Ian has a sort of power (he is the money maker) while Joel obviously has a power as well (he keeps Ian fed and happy).

Talking Mexican. I was a little disconcerted by the use of "talking Mexican" and the actual words used. While I can logically understand that Lane was differentiating between Spanish, English and a second type of English that's spoken at home, I felt it portrayed the language as being a little "uneducated" and kind of stereotyped. It also took me a while to get a hang of what was happening. This language use didn't upset me, especially once it was explained in text, but some people may take more (or less) exception to it.

While not quite Insta-Love, the relationship does move rather quickly over a short period of time of both them being together and them knowing each other. It was handled well, but people who have major issues with thinks that taste of insta-love may hesitate to read this.


All Stirred Up by Z.A. Maxfield

All Stirred Up by Z.A. Maxfield
Stars: 4/5

This was a spontaneous purchase, as Maxfield announced the book was out and I happened to be re-reading the first of the set. I bought it that morning and finished it by evening. It wasn't an amazing book--I didn't break down crying or feel bubbling with joy, and I didn't come out of it feeling like a better person, or with the desire to be a better person. But it was a good book. It did exactly what a book is supposed to do by playing upon my emotions while taking me along the story. A perfect beach read, which is what I needed at the moment! (Mind you, sans the beach.) I think I actually enjoyed this more than the first one.

PTSD. Maxfield's portrayal of Brendan's panic attacks and anxiety felt realistic. While on one hand it's a clever plot device, I liked how it showed a different type of PTSD, since most show the most debilitating where it's in constant effect and that's not always the case. Brendan is confident and cocksure, if not exhausted, but when he has an attack, all his weaknesses show.

Breach of ethics. When Dirk (get your giggles out now) and Brendan hook up for the first time, all I could think was "No! You can't do that!" But thankfully Maxfield addressed it and recognized that I psychiatrists couldn't behave that way without breaking the profession's code of ethics. She smartly played the situation to the advantage of plot progression. In addition, once Brendan arrives at the recuperation center, he's tentative about trusting the people there, but through several short glimpses, we can see how he would change his mind without having to be shown the entire time.

Characters. Dirk and Brendan are enjoyable characters who, while not perfect, don't have too many, or too big of, flaws to make them unappealing. The relationship and my love of them started off rocky, but as the novel progressed, so did they and I like how they handled everything upon Brendan's return to New York. In addition, we get to see more of Evan and Toby!

This is a beach read and must be read as such. If you want something deep, dark, or thought provoking, go elsewhere. (No points taken off for that, although I rarely mark a beach read as a 5-star read.)


Hart and Soul by Nica Berry

Hart and Soul by Nica Berry
Stars: 3/5

Although there was plenty to enjoy in this story, there are some large parts of it that are difficult to get through, and I could see this stopping some readers from finishing it. I struggled with it and ended up skimming the parts that made me uncomfortable and would have preferred them not be in the story at all. I internally debated if they had a purpose, aside from plot and the author's attempt to show not tell about events, but couldn't find a reason for them to be in there that satisfactorily justified their presence.

Characters. I really enjoyed Jennar, Niann, and Aspen, even though I wanted to smack Jennar upside the head and coddle Niann. I enjoyed the varying characteristics they each had, including their strengths and weaknesses, although it is the base of my frustration with Jennar. The feelings the two main characters feel for each other is a little hard to understand since so much of their time is spent apart, but through dreams and their constant focus on one another, I can wrap my head around their feelings. The antagonist of the story is good at being just that, and while some may have issues with the resolution, I found it appropriate with the lesson than Aspen was teaching.

Plot. While I may not have enjoyed how the author handled much of the plot, I did enjoy the overall plot and some of the places Berry went. The use of spirit animals as indicators of roles in the tribe was great, and the dual gender of the Deer was well handled in the end. The struggle, the action, the conflict and resolution were all well paced and interesting, and while some may see parts of the final resolution as a cop out, I found it acceptable and inline with the antagonist's character, plus it gave me a happy ending. The created world--ours in the past, perhaps--was enjoyable to spend some time in, even with some of the hardships that the characters experienced.

Struggle Against Society. Jennar's fight against his clan and the pre-existing ideas they've been led to believe was painful but right. It was powerful to see another example of how people will do horrible things to another individual because it is "right" and the group at large doesn't see how it hurts the other person, especially when that person has been led to believe he deserves it and it's his role. While sad, the resolution in this vein of the story had appropriate closure.

Sex. The actual description of the sex is not what bothered me in this case. Instead, it's the type and amount. A large chunk of the sex described is heterosexual, which, while not what I look for in a M/M romance, is forgivable/understandable. What I found more difficult to swallow was the sex scenes that were equivalent to rape. While on some levels it wasn't (since the Deer "accepts" the role), on many levels it was and I felt wretched as I quickly skimmed over the parts. Although only the first is described in depth, I don't think the reader needed to constantly hear about it and this was a case where saying that it happened would have been enough. I found this to be the most frustrating element of this book and what earned it's low score.

True Love. Much of the relationship between Jennar and Niann doesn't seem to be built off much and in the beginning it's difficult to understand why they feel the way they do toward one another. Once the dreams start, I began to feel more of their connection, but in the beginning it was distant and difficult to grasp.