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Archive for January, 2011

Title: Into the Flames
Author: Morgan Lee
Length: 4,172 words (17 pdf pages)
Publisher:
Demanding Romance
Genre:
m/m contemporary
Rating: C

Blurb:

Gabe Moretti is reckless and daring. But Captain John De Luca isn’t interested in hot as hell firefighters who charge into flames…regardless that it was to save his sorry ass. Only Gabe isn’t as rash as John believes. His motivation for risking his life is personal…sexual. He’s fallen for the captain and sets out to convince John that some chances are worth taking.

Review:

The story starts with the firemen returning to the station after a fire and Gabe is on a high, but John is furious. Gabe broke protocol, and it doesn’t matter it was to save John’s life, he’s not willing to risk losing someone who won’t follow the rules. You discover that John’s lover, another firefighter, was a dare-devil who died on the job and despite being attracted to Gabe, there is no way in hell he’s going to get involved and risk that again.

I could understand John’s position, and I think following the rules is very important in dangerous jobs, but I never got the feeling that beyond this one time, Gabe was really a hot-dogger. Enthusiastic and young yes, but there didn’t seem to be evidence that he pushed it too far so I wasn’t sure why John was riding him so hard. However, Gabe’s done waiting for John to make a move and things get super steamy late at night in the shower.

There wasn’t anything that I particularly disliked about this book, the sex is hot and gritty in the shower and both guys seemed likable enough, I just didn’t feel a real connection to them or between them, and I didn’t care enough about them to WANT them to get together against all odds. The ending is a potential HEA, as it’s really the first time they acknowledge their attraction let alone any deeper feelings, but I didn’t feel the connection between them except based on the lust and it just fell a little flat for me.

However, firefighters are always sexy, and if you’re in the mood for some steamy shower-room sex with a hint of the risk of discovery, it’s a quick little read that some readers will find enjoyable.

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Title: Pulling Apart
Author: Shawn Lane
Length: 8,000 words
Publisher: Amber Allure
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: C+

Blurb:
Sequel to the Amber Allure best-seller Pulling Away…

Noah Riggins thought his troubles were over and he’d live happily ever after with Charlie Banks, but lately their domestic bliss has been anything but blissful. Charlie’s shutting down and shutting out Noah, refusing to even consider getting help.

When Charlie suggests a separation, Noah wonders if this will be the end and he’ll be left with a broken heart, or whether he can reconnect with the man he loves before it’s too late…

Review:
This story follows on from Pulling Away which I reviewed here. It’s taken a few months after the last story. Noah and Charlie have enjoyed strengthening their relationship and falling more in love when Charlie starts to sink once again into depression. Noah can’t seem to reach him at all as he completely withdraws into himself. The final straw is when Charlie asks Noah for a period of separation.

I really liked Pulling Away and I was keen to read more about the two engaging men from the first book. Although this story had the same great written style, I found myself a little concerned about the actions of Noah in the face of Charlie’s depression. When Charlie asks Noah to leave, he does and then has no contact with Charlie for two weeks. To me this rang a false note into what was a loving relationship, especially as Charlie was barely functioning or eating when Noah leaves him. When I tried to put myself in Noah’s shoes, I found I couldn’t possibly have left a ill, depressed man on his own without checking to see if he was OK. He could have killed himself and Noah would never have known, and certainly Charlie was low enough for that to be a consideration. This part of the story really bugged me and left me thinking that Noah was acting just as selfishly as Charlie by accepting the separation and not fighting for the relationship. Things obviously don’t go so badly, but Noah’s actions still coloured my perception of him and meant that I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I had the previous story or like Noah as much as a character.

Having said that, it was still gratifying to see Charlie begin to pull himself around and it was ironic that the arrival of an uninvited guest was enough to get Charlie to consider the implications of his actions. I wasn’t happy with the pervasive idea that Charlie was acting selfishly, mainly because that’s a symptom of depression and Charlie only acted in that waybecause he was ill, but I thought the reconciliation between the men was still satisfying.

My last niggle was about the end of the story. Yes, it’s happy but I was still concerned that Charlie’s illness was only held at bay, not cured entirely. If his depression should start again, I can’t see how Noah has learned anything about the illness to prevent the same problems. It looks like there might be another story in the pipeline, perhaps dealing with the men and Charlie’s uninvited guest, so I shall reserve judgement on their relationship until then.

Overall, this was still an interesting read, and judging by my reactions to the way the characters behave, I was certainly invested in their relationship. Those who enjoyed the first story will want to read this too, and I do recommend that you read Pulling Away first.

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Title: Sins of the Heart
Author: Allison Cassatta
Length: 28 pages, 6.6k words
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: M/M, contemporary
Rating: B

Blurb: When the spark in his relationship fizzles, Dominic thinks he’s doing the right thing by breaking it off with his lover, Brody, but he never expected his good boy to go so horribly bad. Consumed with guilt, Dom confronts Brody about his self-destructive behavior, only to find himself second-guessing his decision to leave him, and now Dom will have to sort out his feelings for Brody before fate ties his hands.
A Bittersweet Dreams title: It’s an unfortunate truth: love doesn’t always conquer all. Regardless of its strength, sometimes fate intervenes, tragedy strikes, or forces conspire against it. These stories of romance do not offer a traditional happy ending, but the strong and enduring love will still touch your heart and maybe move you to tears.

Review: I knew to expect a romance, but not necessarily a happy ever after. I found it a powerfully written story, with an initially unsympathetic narrator, and a good grasp of extreme emotion.

The reader enters at a pivotal stage of their relationship, when things are finally too much for Dom to bear. This had the striking effect of plunging the reader into the middle of the conflict, as it were. However, the disadvantage was that I couldn’t really empathise with how it had got that far, though I never doubted the truth of it.

The author skilfully convinced me of painful but plausible behaviour in such a troubled relationship, although Dom’s conflict was often frustrating. He’d say he cared for Brody, that they’d been good together, that he didn’t want to hurt him. But then he’d say that the relationship had been stifling him for a long time, that Brody didn’t turn him on, that he didn’t care for him anymore. I found some of these passages confusing and more tell than show, but as it was all from Dom’s self-absorbed POV, the story undoubtedly had more impact this way.

Dom dominated the story for me: his initial cowardice in trying to make Brody be the one to break them up, coupled with his cruel opinion that Brody had nothing appealing left except for his looks. Harsh, but well described, and must have resonance for anyone who’s suffered the total breakdown of an intimate love affair.

There were a couple of leaps in time or scene that weren’t clear enough for me, and a moment when the men got together in the restroom that I cried (mentally) “what about safe sex?” Overall, the prose was rich and lyrical, only occasionally drifting into melodramatic. Our pulses raced, pounding out the same tempo in our salacious symphony. The language matched the emotional claustrophobia of the story: so much of it from within Dom’s head, coloured by his very strong guilt and anguish.

Brody was solidly cast as victim from the start and it was difficult to imagine his more attractive side. Many of us may have known or suffered a relationship where the lovers are unable to resolve a problem, but instead start to tug against each other and make everything a hundred times worse. As Dom pulled away, so Brody clung.  I found renewed sympathy for Dom as the story progressed, notably his acceptance of his bad and unfair behaviour. The final scenes were heart-wrenching, with a strong sense of inevitability.

It wasn’t an easy read for its content, but refreshingly brave in depicting a story of misunderstanding and failure. I appreciated that the author exposed everything between the men, even at its worst. The sex scenes weren’t the main event, and the redemptive ending well realised after such appalling misjudgement on both sides. I enjoyed the author’s style and the story’s emotional depth, though overall I found it difficult to sympathise with the characters.  I rate it a B.

by pettyprose…my opinion alone.

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Title: Pulling Away
Author: Shawn Lane
Length: 9,000 words
Publisher: Amber Allure
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: B

Blurb:
Noah and Charlie grew up in the same neighborhood. They’d always been friends, though never close. When Charlie is left alone after the death of his family, however, Noah is the only friend that sticks around after Charlie practically becomes a hermit.

Determined to get through to Charlie, Noah invents a fake identity on the computer to talk with him. And while Charlie still keeps Noah at arm’s length, he opens up to his new computer buddy.

Finally, Noah’s dream comes true when his friendship with Charlie changes to include sex, but each time they are together, Charlie pulls away afterward. Every time Noah tries to get through to him, Charlie grows even more distant. Then Charlie tells Noah’s disguised internet persona that he doesn’t have a boyfriend, merely a neighbor with whom he has sex.

Crushed, and in order to protect himself from further heartache, Noah begins to live a life separate from Charlie. But Charlie realizes soon enough that he misses Noah in his life, that he must get past his grief and go after the man he has come to love.

But is it already too late?

Review:
This short starts as our hero, Noah, is standing on the door step of his friend Charlie. They’ve known each other for years but have only recently got close after the sudden death of Charlie’s parents. A few nights previously, Charlie and Noah had sex for the first time and now Noah is hoping that this will become something more for them. Charlie’s cold behaviour confuses Noah though and makes him wonder whether he’s fallen too quickly for a guy who’s going to break his heart.

The alternating third person narrative worked well within the story, especially I think with Charlie. At the beginning, Charlie comes across as a bit of an unfeeling dickhead. We know that Noah really likes Charlie and has done for some time, but Charlie’s subsequent behaviour towards Noah left him with little sympathy in my eyes. However, as the story progressed, I thought the author did a very good job of letting the reader see the reasons why Charlie acts as he does. By the end of the story I felt that Charlie had shifted enough in his attitude to deserve Noah and so I was happy with the way the story concluded.

Noah was a sweet guy and although he wasn’t perhaps as well rounded as Charlie, it wasn’t difficult to like him or feel sorry for him when Charlie messes him about. He’s a little overshadowed by his flamboyant friend Kevin, who added a nice touch of humour to what was quite an emotional story. I did like that Noah developed a bit of backbone part way through the story because I feared that he was going to play the doormat. Fortunately that wasn’t the case.

I was a little worried about the sub-plot based around the internet persona of Noah because I generally dislike it when one character is lying to another in this way. In the end this wasn’t such a big issue.  I thought it was going to lead to a falling out and the dreaded forced separation but it didn’t happen that way and that aspect of the story was only important as a way to make Noah face up to some realities.

Overall, this was a nicely written and entertaining story. The themes could have become quite maudlin but were saved from that by a light, deft touch to the writing and two engaging heroes. There’s a sequel out to this story which I’m looking forward to reading very soon.

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Title: Garnet: A Season in Hell
Author: Syd McGinley
Length: 17, 700 words (58 pdf pages)
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m contemporary BDSM
Rating: B

Blurb:
Seattle businessman Bill has been too busy being successful to find time to explore his sexuality. Now that he has time, buying a boy for six-months to find out if he’s really a sir just makes good sense to him.

Cory scratches out a living and wanders from town to town, deferring every dream until best friend Debbo arranges a six-month ownership contract that will let them all come true! What seems to be a perfect match on paper turns out to be anything but. Bill is freaked by Cory, and, to Cory’s horror, being owned is boring – a recipe for trouble for a restless soul. Can they make it through their very own Season in Hell?

**This review contains spoilers**

Review:
I’ve become rather addicted to Syd McGinley’s Dr Fell books in the last year and so when I saw this short I was interested in reading something by the author outside the Dr Fell world. The story is structured in two parts, both taken from the first person point of view of Cory. The first part concerns the six month ‘ownership’ of Cory by Bill and the second part looks at the period of time after the contract is over and the pair of men are trying to work through some of the issues in their relationship.

The blurb is slightly misleading, I think, because it doesn’t mention that Cory is pretrans male to female. He has agreed to be ‘owned’ for six months on the understanding that Bill will then pay for the sex change operation. Bill is gay, through and through. He’s not the slightest bit interested in women and so forces Cory to be a man for the six months they are together. The problem comes when the men fall in love. Bill knows that should Cory have the operation, Bill will no longer find him sexually desirable. In the end Cory has a choice: Either he chooses to accept himself as a cross-dressing man and keep Bill; or become a woman and lose the man he loves.

It’s a difficult choice and one that made me a little uncomfortable as a reader. I liked Cory. He’s lively and sarcastic and a bit of a woolly-headed drifter, but I sympathised both with his utter boredom of being a slave and his confusion over his feelings for Bill later in the book. It did feel a little like Bill was in control all the time, even later when the contract ended and Cory was the one who was constantly making sacrifices. Having said that, the fact that Cory is so flighty meant that his relationship with the steadier Bill worked well and I was happy with the way that the story concluded.

Despite only getting Cory’s point of view, I felt we that we find out enough about Bill to make him a well rounded character. The fact that I could see both sides of the problem, and sympathised with both men, shows that the author was successful in not allowing only Cory’s feelings to dominate the story.

There’s much more I could say about the story, such as the way the master/slave dynamic was difficult for both men; the wonderfully romantic scenes of the pair once the contract is over; and the way I liked that Bill was a great mix of stern and yet also considerate and tender to Cory. Those looking for an unusual D/s story with a romantic twist will probably like this story. I did and would recommend it.

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Title: Sundae Surprise
Author: DC Juris
Length: 5,642 words (16 pdf pages)
Publisher: Breathless Press
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: C

Blurb:

Dean learns the true meaning of the words “playing with your food” when his hot and hunky roommate, Rick, interrupts his plans for some solo Sunday afternoon fun. Human sundae aside, Dean discovers a kinship with Rick that he never knew existed, and a basis for what promises to be a delicious relationship. But when Rick overreacts to Dean’s nonchalance after their first time, can Dean convince Rick that what they have is real?

Review:

This story starts on a humorous note, with Dean preparing for a little intimate fun with a melon. When his straight roommate and secret crush catches him, he’s shocked to learn that Rick has been lusting after him as well and is bi. They then have some fun with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and other sundae toppings.

I had a few issues with this story (apart from kinky use of a melon). These two men have been living together for three years, and when Dean says he didn’t think Rick would be interested, Rick claims he thought Dean knew he was bi. How would one miss that since Rick appears to have sex regularly with his girlfriends in the apartment. You’d think sooner or later he would bring a guy home if he was that open about being bi. It seemed a bit unbelievable that two best friends would be unaware of that little tidbit.

Also, Rick’s personality seems to change after sex. He changes from man-about-campus jock to pouting girl as soon as sex is over. I was rather shocked by his behaviour given how you get to know him during the sex scene and what Dean tells you about him. Also, there is a moment when Rick informs Dean that while they are now dating, he’s bi and therefore may need to have sex with a girl at some point. I was a bit confused here. I am not bi, but my understanding was that being bisexual didn’t mean you NEED to have sex with both to be happy, but that you could be in a relationship with either, thus doubling your odds of finding a HEA. Perhaps I’m off-base though and I can’t speak for a whole group of people. However, Dean didn’t seem thrilled with the idea and I didn’t blame him.

The sex scene was hot and different using food, but I think I didn’t feel connected to the couple because of Rick’s character being a bit all over the place. Dean’s on-going love from afar was well done, but personally I thought he could do better than Rick.

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Title: Wild Thing
Author: Mia Watts
Length: 15,000 words (40 pdf pages)
Publisher: Total-e-Bound
Genre:
m/m paranormal
Rating: B

Blurb:

Jack has known Ryan for years, but he had no idea what a Wild Thing he was.

The residents of small Minnesota town, Libby, are used to seeing Timber wolves in their woods. But the sightings being reported to DNR officer Jack Allen are anything but typical. These reports indicate a huge species of the wolf, and they’re scared.

Having grown up in the town, Jack knows just whom to ask for help, long time friend Ryan Walsh. It doesn’t hurt that he’s had a crush on Ryan for as long as he can remember.

As a wildlife photographer, Ryan lives in the woods and pretty much keeps to himself. He’d be perfectly happy to share that existence with a certain sexy DNR guy. So when Jack asks for his help in tracking a huge wolf, Ryan jumps at the chance to get Jack alone.

But what will happen when Ryan shifts into his canine form and Jack is looking down the barrel of his tranq gun?

Review:

This story starts with that typical small town feel, everyone knows everyone and thinks they know everyone’s business. Jack’s been crushing on Ryan for years and figures he doesn’t have a chance with such a hot guy. Even though Ryan seems to be flirting with him and Jack’s partner practically tosses him at the guy, he reacts with a surliness to cover his embarassment and awkwardness with the whole situation. He’s also sure Ryan is lying about the wolf which only adds to his irriation. The author does a great job of showing us Ryan’s pull between being smitten by his crush and being annoyed that he even has a crush and that Ryan is somehow preventing him from doing his job. He truly cares about the wolf and doesn’t want him shot by over-eager humans.

When they end up on a camping trip to find the wolf (or lack thereof) and Jack manages to tranquilize it with the intention of relocating him somewhere safer with fewer humans, he’s doubly upset when he finds Ryan in the cage. He’s certain Ryan let the wolf escape and his fit of pique at Ryan’s evasive answers was rather amusing to watch. Of course he’s eventually forced to confront the truth.

I enjoyed this cute little story. Both guys have known each other for years and were dancing around their attraction. Neither one of them that confident, although Ryan seemed to have a bravado that sometimes came off as slightly teasing and mocking, but then he’d kick himself after for behaving that way. They were both a bit inept in the way of  “courtship”. And as I said Jack’s use of anger and bluster to deflect his real feelings was well done without being so extreme that you wanted to smack him.

Those who enjoy shifter stories with a touch of the author’s trademark humour will find this a quick enjoyable read. It’s not too angsty, not to sweet, it hit a nice balance for me.

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