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Archive for January, 2012

Title: A Rare Thing
Author: Alex Douglas
Length: 10,000 words
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m contemporary romance
Rating: A-

Blurb:
Benedict Smith is an artist-turned-mature-student, and is feeling the pinch of funding his new studies. Forced to sell some of his grandmother’s jewelry to get some extra cash, it’s not just the antiques that have caught his eye but also Sam, the handsome owner of Carson’s Antiques. However, Sam has jewelry of his own – a wedding ring. Resigned to another doomed crush on a married man, Benedict brings an old necklace in to be valued with surprising results. Is all jewelry really what it appears to be?

Review:
This lovely story follows British mature student Benedict who has to pass an antique shop every day on his way to the university library. He’s admired the shopkeeper from afar, although has never had the courage to speak to him because Benedict has seen the ring on the other man’s hand. However, when looming university fees mean that Benedict has to sell off some of the jewelry left to him by his Grandmother, he gets his chance to at least talk to the man he’s been crushing on.

This was one of those stories where the combination of sympathetic characterisation, coupled with a simple but effective romantic situation creates a story which is just delightful. Benedict and Sam are both older men (in their late 30s/early 40s) who for various reasons just haven’t found the ‘one’ yet. Their first meeting is alive with sexual tension which the author sustains without it slipping into exaggeration and it was parts such as:

Breathless, Benedict stood still as Sam reached the necklace over his head and fastened it. It was cold against his skin for a second. Sam’s fingertips brushed against the back of his neck, and he felt goosebumps breaking out on his skin.

which made me read on eagerly to see how the pair would overcome any problems to be with each other.

It’s not only the scenes where the pair are together which zings on the page. Benedict’s thoughts are emotions are described succinctly, with a whole range of ideas and emotions packed into the sentences. We learn lots about Benedict, his life and even his friendships within the story and still have room for a very satisfying romance. The scenes that Benedict share with Sam are sexy and very down to earth, just like they should be for two men with the experience (both good and bad) that these characters have. The sex scenes are rewarding because there’s a strong impression that they actually really like each other, alongside the novelty of exploring a new body.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this story from an author I’d not heard of before. I quickly connected with the written style, and these characters stayed with me long after I’d finished the story. If this is the first published story by Alex Douglas then I’m very impressed and look forward to reading more from this author.

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Title: Crankset
Author: Kate Roman
Length:  42 pdf pages, 11,000 words.
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m contemporary romance
Rating: B+

Blurb:
San Francisco bike courier Matt Robinson wishes he and his boyfriend Jason had more privacy, sure, but their quiet, curtained-off living room in the Mission District is all the two of them can afford. Besides, it’s safe and homey, two things Jason missed during his tour in Afghanistan. But when the two boys run afoul of their roommates and a rent increase, will Matt let Jason talk him into a risky move to the Sunset District? Or will Matt’s big mouth land them both out on the street?

Review:

Although this story is a sequel to the delightful Chainbreaker (which I reviewed here), I don’t think you’d need to have read that one to understand what’s going on in Crankset. This story is longer but has the same ingredients of a sweet and sexy relationship between the two main characters, and a colourful cast of background characters. I liked it almost as much as the first story, although it didn’t have quite the same impact.

Crankset opens with a scene that beautifully sets up the main conflict. Broke as usual, Matt has found a free sofa on the street and is determined to get it back to their shared apartment despite Jason’s misgivings about the orange plaid and possibilities of resident bugs. However, when they get there it turns out that Ricky has already bought a new sofa with her recently increased salary, and is also talking about putting up the rent. While she justifies by saying rents are rising all over the trendy Mission district, Matt sees it as a personal affront. Like him, I couldn’t help reading into it that Ricky was now sick of having two young men sleeping behind a curtain in the living room, and was trying to elbow them out of the way just like she does with the sofa.

Matt and Jason are as sweet together as ever in this story, and while Matt’s more aggressive approach to life results in a small amount of conflict between them, their relationship is never under threat. Indeed, the very reason Matt opposes Jason’s idea to move to another area is because of how protective he feels towards his Gulf War veteran boyfriend. He’s worried that unfamiliar surroundings could trigger another attack of post traumatic stress, although Jason is clearly much more stable now.

As in Chainbreaker, the vibrant surroundings of the Mission are beautifully observed, with plenty of arresting details woven into the narrative. I particularly  loved the way Matt observes the neighbours across the street from the safety of their rooftop:

He watched a purple-haired guy with thick, black-rimmed glasses lean out of a fourth-floor window to water a flower box. Almost immediately, the water dripped out the bottom, glittering in the sun. Someone yelled from the street.

These details bring San Francisco vividly to life, yet are deftly fitted between the dialogue so you never find the description intrusive. Another aspect that’s just as strong are the fun sex scenes, that Roman skilfully integrates within the plot.

The reason I wasn’t quite so taken with this story, though, were the other characters. They are all female (apart from one token prospective housemate), and with the exception of Ricky I couldn’t find a huge amount to distinguish them. Perhaps there were just too many of them for me to cope with in such a short story. Mama Yung, who I loved in the first story, was woefully underused, although she does get one of the best lines.

It’s difficult when reviewing a sequel as you can’t help but compare to the previous book, yet I think on its own merits this one is a great read. It has a touching and sexy romance between two likable leads and the setting is vividly realised. I was going to give it a B as I’d given Chainbreaker a B+, but I think it’s actually worth more than that and I probably should have given Chainbreaker an A-!

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Title: Come & Play: Video Games
Author: Juniper Gray
Length: 3,600 words (15 pdf pages)
Publisher:
Torquere Press
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: B-

Blurb:

Matt Harding is a university student with an open love of video games and a secret curiosity for cock. Things get complicated after he explores this curiosity with his housemate, Rafe, one evening when they’re home alone. Matt must decide whether to fight the attraction he feels for Rafe, or embrace it and find out just where it all might lead.

Review:

This is rather a mash up of GFY (or bi-curious) and friends-to-lovers. Matt and Rafe live with two other guys while attending university. Matt and Rafe are pretty good friends who play a lot of video games together and just hang out. One night, Matt suddenly asks Rafe about being gay, and confesses that he sometimes wonders what he is because watching porn he’s sometimes more interested in the guy’s dick than the woman. He even confesses he might like to try touching another guy, and Rafe agrees to let him experiment on him as he is openly bi. Things are going well and getting heated up when the others come home leading to general awkwardness between the two as Matt tries to forget it. Easier said than done.

I think people who are gamers will enjoy this story because it has a lot of gaming built into. When the story starts it is a description of the two men as gaming characters, rather than as two guys sitting on the couch, but Matt’s real-life thoughts bleed into his focus on the game. It was interesting and I have to say since we only got a gaming system at Christmas, it actually made a lot more sense to me than it would have six months ago. You certainly don’t need to be into gaming to enjoy it though.

Matt seems to be the one leading here, but you only get inside his head so you aren’t sure what Rafe is thinking. You get the impression he likes Matt as more than just a friend, but it’s Matt who seems to be more and more obsessed with Rafe and gay sex. Even when they finally get to some action, it is Matt who pushes for more at the end when Rafe is content to let it be an experiment.

Rafe had opened a door, and Matt wasn’t content with a mere peek inside.

So it was a cute little story about two guys, neither with much experience with guys, even Rafe wasn’t all that experienced, who dance around a bit before one makes a move, however there wasn’t anything more to the story than the relationship, which is not necessarily a bad thing. And as I said, gamers will likely enjoy the lingo and gaming environment depicted.

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Title: Day and Night: Turquoise
Author: Chris Owen
Length: 10,800 words
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m contemporary romance
Rating: B

Blurb:
Steve Hughes and Luke Jones know they like each other, but they’re not too sure if their cosplay characters will get along at all. At EscapeCon Steve becomes Captain Emerson Langdon-Hughes, a military inspired Steampunk captain. Luke Jones becomes Lucas Pickett, an authority-hating shopkeeper who will only deal with customers of rank because he wants their money. For most customers that means a few teasing comments, but for Steve’s Captain there might be something special in store.

When Steve finds a particularly wonderful treasure among Luke’s items he’s eager to pay top dollar. Luke, however, won’t even discuss the matter, taking the turquoise cufflinks out of sight and all but kicking Steve out of the storefront. What’s so special about them? And if Captain Langdon-Hughes can’t get along with Lucas Pickett, what does that mean for Steve and Luke?

Review:
After enjoying the previous book in this series: Night and Day: Jasmine, reviewed here, I was looking forward to reading more about these characters, especially the convention and the showdown between Luke and Steve’s cos-play characters. The story begins well with a good intro to the slightly bizarre world of science fiction conventions. The setting and costumes are given some room in the descriptions and the whole thing gave me fond memories of my trip to Yaiocon. The tone of the descriptions were not condescending but rather a mix of deadly serious and amusing. My favourite part was right at the beginning when Steve and Ashyln meet an Ewok in the elevator! Another plus point was Steve’s co-worker and friend, Ashlyn, who had accompanied him to the convention. Her valentine ball gown made me smile, as did the wholeheated way she throws herself into the convention.

Luke and Steve’s relationship is getting stronger and it was nice to see them at that stage where even a few days away from each other is too long. I was really anticipating their showdown in the dealers’ room where Luke’s shopkeeper Lucas would spar verbally with Steve’s character of a Steampunk captain. Rather disappointingly this didn’t happen, despite a certain amount of build-up in the previous story and in this one. I felt a bit cheated by the way the lukewarm way the issue of the turquoise cuff-links was dealt with in the shop.

Despite my slight disappointment with the Lucas/Langdon-Hughes showdown, this was still a nicely written and very romantic story. Luke and Steve work well as a couple and I liked seeing them a bit further on in their relationship. If you’re a fan of conventions and are interested in seeing exactly how Steve constructs his Langdon-Hughes costume, then this would be a great story to read.

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Title: The Mind’s Eye
Author: BA Tortuga
Length: 11k words, 49 pages
Publisher: Torquere
Genre: m/m contemporary romance
Rating: C-

Blurb: Jake likes Vegas, but it gets a little hot when he wins too much at one casino. So Jake has a choice; he can go to the middle of nowhere and try to kill this guy some mob boss wants dead, or he can die himself. 

Keye is on vacation and minding his own business when Jake shows up. As a hitman, he thinks it’s pretty damned funny that Jake is the man sent to kill him, at least until he starts to figure out what talents Jake has going for him. Can these two band together and stay alive?

Review: Several years ago, Jake won a 150 thousand dollars at a slot machine in Vegas, and shot in the head on the street outside the casino after receiving his winnings. As a result, he can hear others’ thoughts in his head — and not just people — animals too. Now he’s caught up in a world that he never belonged. A mob boss has all his money (now up to .75 million) and is blackmailing him to use his powers to find Keye, a hit man that is notoriously difficult to find. What is difficult for everyone else proves to be remarkably easy for Jake, when he waltzes into a diner in the middle of nowhere and plops down at Keye’s booth and starts jabbering about.. well just about everything. Jake needs to make a deal with Keye, because he can’t possibly kill him. He can’t even eat meat after he’s heard the thoughts of animals. Together, they prove to be a great team. And not just professionally, as they find out within the first few hours of their new acquaintance.

Though heavy in subject matter, this story is pretty light and fun. The story is mostly sex and they have a pretty good natural connection. Keye is professional and stoic, the quintessential and stereotypical hit man, but Jake is flighty and constantly joking, his mind running in several different directions at once. Jake’s voice is what makes the story fun to read. What might have been a serious tone in a story about the mob and ruthless killing was instead given a light-hearted and even naive outlook.

I had several problems with the story that all seemed to come from a general lack of structure in the story. There isn’t much defined plot. Jake and Keye spend most of the story in bed or sleeping. The ending rushed up pretty quickly and didn’t really add much to the plot. That’s a surprising thing, but it was mostly because I had no clue what the events leading to the ending really had to do with the characters and their backgrounds. There wasn’t much detail, plot-wise.

The biggest problem I had with the story was the mind reading. At first, it made sense and really brought out the characters. The device was used well for humor, which made Jake shine and brought the fun side out of previously surly Keye. As the story progressed, however, the rules of how it worked seemed to fall by the wayside. Somehow Keye ended up being able to read Jake’s mind… I think? I couldn’t really tell, but there were several bits of dialogue that didn’t make much sense because people weren’t speaking out loud, yet they were replying to one another. So… can they converse together now? Is this a product of having sex? There really weren’t enough answers. I honestly would have preferred a big blog of exposition in the middle of the story just to explain things rather than misunderstand, or feel lost as I did while reading.

Looking at the story for what it is, minus my disappointment in the plot related to the mob, I liked the story. I liked the connection between the two characters, which came out well during their sex scenes together. The first part of the story was charming, with lots of humor as they got to know one another a little bit. Jake’s constant references to how animals think and then comparing people’s minds with animals was funny.

In the end, this story was only so so for me. If there had been more detail into the mind reading, as well as more incorporation into the story of the external plot then it would have made more a much more well rounded story. C-

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In honour of their first birthday, authors Marie Sexton and Heidi Cullinen, owners of the blog Coffee and Porn in the Morning – for those unfamiliar with the site, just be cautious as there is much NSFW goodness there – convinced (arm twisted? :-)) some terrific authors to provide short stories to celebrate the birthday. The list is below, just click on the story and you can download them and read them at your leisure.

Congrats to Heidi and Marie on their blog birthday and hope you enjoy the stories.

Monday, January 23rd:
Megan Slayer
Carter Quinn
JP Barnaby
SA Meade
RJ Scott

Tuesday, January 24th:
Clare London
Jessica Freely
Ethan Stone
Silvia Violet
KC Burn

Wednesday, January 25th:
Lara Brukz
Amy Lane
Lou Sylvre
Pender Mackie
Talia Carmichael

Thursday, January 26th:
VJ Summers
Josephine Myles
Jaime Samms
Lou Harper
Lynn Flewelling

Friday, January 27th:
Marie Sexton
Andrea Speed
DC Juris
Heidi Cullinan
ZA Maxfield

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Title: Closer Than Touch (A Zodiac Forces Short)
Author: Tami Veldura
Length: 15k words
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: m/m sci-fi
Rating: B+

Blurb: A Zodiac Forces short story.

Deia has difficulty keeping partners; no matter how hard they try, they keep winding up dead. Bad enough in a special operations unit, but Deia is a Gemini, meant to work with a partner at a level of intimacy that leaves all his other relationships dull and distant by comparison.

Tired of his partners dying, Deia is ready to transfer to Scorpio, where working alone isn’t a problem. When his boss stipulates he’ll only sign off on the transfer if Deia meets a new candidate, Deia reluctantly agrees to try one last time.

Review: The government’s offensive agency is called the Zodiac Force, made up of different types of operatives with different skill sets and responsibilities. Scorpios are the solo fighting force, such as snipers; Taurus are demo experts; Aries are the communication between different operatives in the field; and Gemini are two-person teams of elite fighters. They do all different kinds of work (though it all seems pretty unapologetically offensive in nature) and the teams are linked by their Gemini suits — a nanotech type of symbiosis that almost literally makes one half of the team the other. They can feel each other, think to each other, fight like a hive mind, and become incredibly close.

Deia is a Gemini and is unsurpassed in skill. His last two partners have died in action while he survived, leading others on the Zodiac Forces to name him the Black Widow. He’s right to be arrogant when he is repeatedly partnered with other Gemini much below his standard, which then becomes a liability. When he puts his foot down to his commander (a transfer to Scorpio or some real sim training for his new partner) he finds that the new guy he’s to be working with is more closely aligned in ability and mind than any partner before him. Phade is all smiles, charm and arrogance to Deia’s irascible haughtiness, but they’re actually pretty similar. After their battle of wills, they embark on their first mission together, which only begins to test their shared ability and their newfound affection, friendship and loyalty.

For me, this story set the bar pretty high from the beginning. The writing was pretty excellent right away. Tami Veldura has a real knack for writing action sequences. The depth of the worldbuilding is pretty vast with possibilities. I like when I start a short story that seems to have the ideas of a whole series of novels, yet this author’s minimal and commanding style of writing is suited displaying so much information and plot well in such a short format. For a 15k story there is a huge amount of plot worked into Closer Than Touch. The story is very action packed and densely written, so I often had to take the reading slowly to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Sometimes this became a bit tedious, with lots of technical jargon, but in the end I enjoyed the story enough overlook most of it.

I can only say that the large undertaking in worldbuilding is setting us up for a series (as the title would suggest), and as such this first story suffers a little bit. Normally that happens when the first story takes the brunt of the worldbuilding, but here I thought that it was handled well. The problem is that I often felt a little lost in the detail, and would rather have gotten a nice big picture. I’m not entirely sure who they work for, nor what the other Zodiac positions entail.

Much of the story is a pretty similar take on The Matrix, which I enjoyed. There are even some bland references to Agent Smith, which I found a bit funny. The idea that is central to the story is that Gemini can feel their partners, which isn’t only an interesting premise relating to the story, but poses some pretty remarkable sexual opportunities as well 🙂 I didn’t agree with the addition of the last scene, which felt like a ribbon and bow tied a little too nicely on a story that until then had been pretty emotionally sparse. I would have preferred the natural progression of the characters, especially if this is the first in a series. The earlier sex scene, however, was a really great part of the story and worked well into the overarching plot.

This is a really wonderful story, and Tami Veldura is an author that I know to look out for now. While I had some problems with this story, mostly that I felt it didn’t quite live up to it’s potential, there were still so many great things about it. As I said, the bar was set pretty high after I read the first paragraph, and for the most part, the story met my expectations. I’m looking forward to whatever is next from Ms. Veldura! B+

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