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Archive for May, 2012

Title: Good Company
Author: J.L. Merrow
Length: 5,200 words
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: A

Blurb:

Hitchhiking is a dangerous proposition. Aidan is just hoping for a ride and no trouble when a bloke named John stops to give him a lift. John seems a decent sort, though. When night falls, Aidan would do John a ‘favor’ to say thanks, just like he would any guy who seemed interested, but finds himself in a bit of a bind: he might be getting fond of the man. Can a stranger who’s good company become more than that in one short day?

Review:

This was an absolute surprising delight. I was scrolling through my TBR file and saw this title. I have no idea where I got it, because it was in e-pub format, and I had no idea what it was about or by what author. So on a whim I opened it. Oh, a Sip by J.L. Merrow. I like her work, I’ll give it a go. Wow. Best decision I made all day. 🙂

This book will absolutely transport you to the UK. There is no question where these guys live, it’s not “American” English with a touch of an accent, it’s British English and just delightful. The story is told from Aidan, our hitch hiker’s POV. He’s young and cheeky and at a bit of loose ends. He’s on his way to Glasgow, but we’re not sure exactly why, however when he’s picked up by John in a fancy car, he and Aidan hit it off.

Part of what was appealing and worked for me, beyond the very clear sense of place and people, was the way little bits of information are revealed. Aidan mentions his first lover was a much older man and that he likes older men, but you also sense there is some sadness surrounding that relationship, but little bits come out as Aidan reveals things to John as they go along. It’s sweet and a bit sad, with a very optimistic uplifting future for Aidan. HEA? Maybe, but definitely HFN.

This book may not appeal to all readers, especially those who dislike the use of “accents” or very local terminology in their stories, but I absolutely loved every minute of it. I also love the banter between the two men who immediately started off with good-natured barbs about each others ages and circumstance. So I really think you can’t lose with this little gem, and I’m sorry I waited so long to discover it sitting there in my TBR file.

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Title: Au Bon Pain
Author: Lee Patton
Length: 7,617 words
Publisher: JMS Books
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: A-

Blurb:
Web research leads Denver magazine editor Gabe Mangan to rediscover his first boyfriend Adam, lost decades back. Now a scientist enjoying Nobel Prize rumors, Adam wants to reconnect. Their story unfolds in new emails and old memories as Gabe tries to untangle the mystery of their cruel and sudden break-up.

Finally, at the airport rendezvous spot, Au Bon Pain, Gabe discovers “the true history of his heart” was based on delusions and deceptions.

Review:
This was a bit of a surprise because I wasn’t expecting to like this story as much as I did. I’m not even sure why, just that stories where people reconnect aren’t always my favourite theme. This story tells of Gabe who works as an editor for a nature magazine. Whilst researching a technical term in a submission he comes across the name of an ex lover who left him with a broken heart. The story then tells the story of the events of the past, from Gabe’s perspective, intertwining the past and present as the men agree to meet up.

What really worked for me was the way that the past and present were interwoven. We learn that Gabe’s self image, or lack of it, has been largely defined by that one moment, all those years ago, when he was cruelly dumped by Adam. It left me feeling sad for Gabe. However, as the story progresses and Gabe discovers some things about that time of which he had no clue, I admired the way that it’s not only Gabe’s perception of that time which is turned on its head, but also how it alters the perception of himself. It was all rather subtle and clever.

I also liked that the story focused on what might be considered masculine themes, and that Gabe and Adam’s problems are closely connected to those generally male traits of excessive pride, inability to open up about feelings, jealousy of the ambitions or success of others. Yet none of this is belittled in any way. Even Gabe’s realisation that he’s been wrong about Adam all these years takes nothing away from his past experiences and as a study of a couple of men, I thought the story was particularly successful.

Finally, I enjoyed the lyrical quality to the writing which took the ordinary every day world and focused it to make even the mundane seem special. It added interest to the story making it more than just an encounter between two ex-lovers.

If you’re looking for a quick story with a romantic story at its heart – but be warned it’s not got a romantic HEA or HFN, although the story does not have a sad ending – then I suggest you read this one. I enjoyed it a great deal.

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Title: Behind the Mask
Author: Megan Derr
Length: 20,00 words
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: m/m fantasy paranormal romance
Rating: B+

Blurb:
Kasumi is an elite warrior, trained in skills that very little of the world even knows exists. The price for his skills is high, and they are not sold lightly. Given into the service of a famous scholar, Kasumi travels the world at his side, a secretive, deadly shadow, his only defining trait a mask that no one can remember in detail the very moment they have looked away…

When Kasumi and his Master board a ship, Kasumi is certain he will be facing nothing more than a very long, very boring trip. But the companion his Master is travelling with proves to be the most idiotic, most infuriating man that Kasumi has ever met, and the trip proves to be frustrating rather than boring.

Then everything goes wrong…

Review:

*This review contains some spoilers*

I read and reviewed the more recent book in this series, Always Masked, last week and enjoyed it a great deal so I hurried along to read this book too. I found that I liked it even more than Always Masked.

The story tells of grumpy Kasumi who, as one of The Masked, is responsible for the safety of his master, Minoru. When things take a humiliating turn, Kasumi finds himself captured by pirate Luther who intends to take him to a man who has paid highly for the secrets of his mask.

My enjoyment in this story was based on the character of Kasumi, who has a delightfully prickly personality. His snarky commentary made me laugh on a few occasions and I found his surliness rather endearing. I also liked that his arrogance at the beginning of the story is tempered by his inital embarrassment at being captured and then a grudging respect for Luther. The scenes where they are together, filled with sarcastic comments, violence, and a heavy, heavy sexual tension were delightful to read. I also enjoyed seeing how vulnerable Kasumi is without his mask and I thought some of the parts where he is without the mask quite poignant, adding to my sympathies with Kasumi. The romance part develops slowly, mainly because Kasumi refuses to acknowledge his attraction to Luther. It was to the author’s credit that she managed to turn bad guy Luther into someone worthy of Kasumi’s love and affection!

As well as Kasumi’s character I enjoyed the action adventure story which takes place over several weeks. This means that some of the story is a little condensed in places, but that was probably needed to give the story forward thrust. The shifts in setting whilst still retaining the nautical theme added variety to the story and provided a nice contrast with the slightly claustrophobic feel of the scenes on the ship.

Finally, I enjoyed finding out more about the world of ‘The Masked’. I think there was more in terms of background and explanation in the other story, but this story filled in some gaps nicely. I’m enjoying this series a great deal and I hope that there will be more to come. In the meantime I’d recommend this story and it’s follow up Always Masked, to those who like fantasy stories with a slight Japanese feel.

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Title: Concur (Courting Series)
Author: J. Rocci
Length: 28 pdf pages
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m contemporary interracial
Rating: C

Blurb:

Officer Joshua Dabbs has been married to his husband, lawyer Garrison Williams, for six years. So he still remembers what Garrison’s like with a wedding to plan, and he knows that when their two good friends, Rick and Emmanuel, decide to tie the knot, he won’t be seeing much of his husband until it’s over. But Emmanuel needs advice, and Josh finds himself asking questions about his and Garrison’s relationship that he hadn’t thought of before — mainly, do they want kids? As usual, Garrison knows what Josh is thinking before he does.

Review:

This story falls in the roughly the middle of the series, and I confess I have not read them all, but we reviewed Concordant the book before this one, and Competition,the book after. To refresh, Josh and Garrison met in the marines, and have since left the military, gotten married and are living in Vermont where Josh is a police officer and Garrison a lawyer. They have made some good friends, including Emmanuel and David, who have now gotten engaged and Garrison has gone into wedding planner mode with David.

The wedding triggers some new issues for both couples. Emmanuel is dealing with staunchly Catholic parents who are refusing to attend, and they are also thinking about adopting, something that never occurred to Josh, he’s got two dogs, including one that regularly shreds his uniform shirts, he’s not interested in kids. Is he?

There’s not much plot to this story, just kind of a gentle moving forward of their relationship as they consider if they want to change their life. Garrison is a very busy attorney, Josh has weird hours at work, can they fit kids in there somewhere? It’s nice to see Josh and Garrison nine years into their relationship, still happy and in love, and watching Garrison, the man who puts on dress pants and a shirt to go grocery shopping, wedding plan with dreadlocked hippie tattooist David was cute. I think fans of this couple would most enjoy it, but the author has a pleasant style with nice guys you can relate to.

This can be read as a stand-alone, there is enough background given that you aren’t lost as to who the two men are, but seeing their relationship move to another level will probably be appreciated more by those who’ve read some of the other stories in the series.

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Title: My Big Fat SX-File Wedding – A Sylver & Steele Story
Author: Mimi Riser
Length:  14,000 words (  pdf pages)
Publisher: Amber Allure
Genre: m/m paranormal science fiction
Rating: C+

Blurb:

The prequel to Amber Allure best-selling Sylver & Steele series…

A cross-dressing werewolf and a billionaire cat-shifter. How the heck did such a mismatched pair ever get together in the first place? If you’ve been pondering that question, here’s the answer at last, in naughty and naked detail—the complete, behind-the-scenes story of how werewolf Sylver Starr met and married cat-shifter Hunter Steele! Before the wedding, however, they’ll have to save the world from impending doom. As usual.

Review:

For fans of this series who always wondered how Sylver and Hunter got together, this will be a fun must-read, and it may pique the interest of others to follow-up with the story of the two.You find out more about Sylver and his people,wolf shifters. The story is told from Sylver’s point of view, so you don’t find out much about Hunter beyond what he tells you of his background, however for those who’ve read the other stories, you’ll know that the relationship between Sylver and Hunter is never an easy one.

It starts with a bang as Sylver is convinced Hunter is his life mate, however Hunter claims to be straight and only interested in Sylver for the skills he can bring to Hunter’s new secret organization the Earth Guardians. When Hunter is captured by what he presumes is aliens, Sylver manages to rescue him and convince Hunter he’s in the closet.

The key to these stories is the snarky banter between the two men. Much of it happens in Sylver’s head in this story when he meets Hunter, as Hunter can speak to him telepathically and read his thoughts. It’s amusing for a short story like this, but I think the constant being “on” comedically could start to get tiresome in a novel length story, however I found a few lines particularly amusing, such as when he first realizes his life-mate is a cat:

For a minute, I didn’t know whether to kiss him or chase him up a tree.

or when it’s his first time naked in bed with Hunter:

In fact, in wolf form, I was flexible enough to give myself a blow job of sorts. Ever wonder why your dog licks himself so much?

Because he can.

So for those looking for a light-hearted sci-fi story, that combines snarky banter with a lot of elements such as shifters, golems, drag queens and closeted billionaire philanthropists, you can’t go wrong. However being a prequel that simply introduces the couple, the mystery plot is rather thin, with the emphasis on the formation of the two men’s relationship

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Title: Switch
Author: Clare London
Length: 34 pdf pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: m/m contemporary erotic romance
Rating: B+

Blurb:

Miles Winter and Zeke Roswell have excited and enthralled each other since the day they met. Zeke’s uninhibited lovemaking has allowed Miles to grow in confidence and their relationship to deepen. Back from a business trip, Miles knows he should take care of his backlog of work, but the delight of being reunited with Zeke makes him realize he has other, more important needs—including the one sexual step he hasn’t yet taken. Business can wait in favor of a commitment far more primal and more permanent.

Review:

This short story is the third and final short story sequel to London’s 2009 novel True Colors. I’ve already reviewed Ambush (reviewed here) and Payback (here), and would recommend reading them before tackling Switch. You don’t really need to have read the original novel to enjoy the shorts, however, as everything you need to know about Zeke and Miles is recapped in the first third of Ambush.

Switch is an intense story with a tightly focused sense of time and place, just like the previous two shorts. This time, however, we don’t join the boys in Miles’ office but in a limo, supposedly taking Zeke back to his gallery after he’s had a quick catch up meal with Miles. The action takes place a few weeks after the events in Payback, and Miles has just returned from a business trip to Europe so he could make it to the opening night of Zeke’s latest show. Both men should be working, but while they catch up in the back of the limo, it soon becomes clear that there are things they’d much rather be doing. Miles has a proposition for Zeke: he’s finally ready to bottom for him.

The two men head back to Miles’ apartment so that Zeke can oblige Miles in more comfortable surroundings. However, they don’t get too hot and heavy too fast. Instead, Zeke wants to hear about Miles’ reactions to his gallery show. While we don’t get to see the two men in the gallery, you get an excellent sense of the exhibition and its impact through Miles’ recollections, and I thought this was a really clever way of handling it. A protracted gallery scene at the beginning would have diluted the intensity of the story, but to have Miles give us the highlights while lying naked with Zeke was a masterful idea. Zeke has a tender brand of erotic torture he employs while getting Miles to talk.

Switch is a less overtly erotic book than the previous two shorts. Yes, there is sex and yes, it’s hot, but the focus here is on trust and feelings–the bond that has formed between the two men. They are finally at a place where they can declare exactly how they feel for each other, and their lovemaking consummates that new awareness and honesty. As always, Clare London excels at mapping out the human heart, and at creating appealing characters who interact in a totally believable way.

The power play between the two men finally reaches a balance in this book. Zeke may be the one taking control, but he does it with total surrender to Miles’ needs. I felt a wonderful sense of closure on this series, and that I could now leave these two characters safe and secure together. That’s not to say I wouldn’t be interested in reading any more follow ups in the future, but there’s a definite resolution here.

Anyone who’s been following the series will want to read this story already, but I hope I’ve convinced someone reading that they’re worth a chance. The series has gone from strength to strength as Clare London’s writing has grown ever more assured. Definitely recommended.

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Title: 911
Author: Scarlet Blackwell
Length: 19,591 words
Publisher: Silver Publishing
Genre: m/m contemporary romance
Rating: B

Blurb:
Ten years after the horror of 9/11 and the loss of his firefighter partner Justin, former NYPD cop Damon Summerfield is back in New York for Christmas with his family. Still deep in mourning with no end in sight, he visits Justin’s favourite bar near Ground Zero and there meets Simon, a member of the FDNY and fellow survivor of 9/11. Damon can’t bear to give their attraction a chance, not when he thinks Simon’s job will tear them apart someday…

Can Simon help Damon with his grief and can they build a future together?

Review:
Overcoming grief is a theme which appeals to me as a reader, but it has to be done well. There needs to be a setting aside of the past and a move into the future. Whilst I thought this book had done a good job of showing how a character can become paralysed by grief, the moving on part happened too quickly for my liking, occurring almost overnight. Mind you, it was high time that Damon did move on given that his lover died 10 years prior to the story. Maybe that was why I forgave such a quick turnaround in this case.

The story has an intense theme joining together two men who lost a loved one in the attacks of 9/11. Added to that was the fact that both men were there, along with their lover and brother, and only survived by a quirk of chance or fate – the same fate which took away the other loved one. So we have grief and a heavy dose of survivor’s guilt, especially with Damon who has chosen never to deal properly with losing Justin, and with the trauma of that terrible day. Instead he ran away to Canada to hide out and allow his grief to consume him. As the story begins, Damon has returned to NYC to visit his parents over Christmas and New Year. He visits the site of the twin towers and goes to a bar which Justin favoured. It’s here he meets Simon, who, like Justin, is a firefighter. Damon feels the first stirrings of attraction but this leads to more guilt and he tries to push Simon away. However, after accidentally meeting with him again Damon agrees to a date.

This is not an easy book to read for two reasons. Firstly, Damon is not an easy guy to like. He’s surly bordering on unpleasant and he behaves in quite a shocking manner towards Simon. This behaviour is all part of the grieving process, as his guilt and self-disgust manifest themselves in rather an abusive fashion. I had to try and look past Damon’s behaviour and see the man hurting inside. I just about managed it, but it was a close call.

Secondly, the book has some graphic descriptions of 9/11, as remembered by both Damon and Simon. I found them upsetting to read about, and I was a continent away during 9/11 and had no direct contact with the tragedy, so I’m not sure how some readers who are somehow connected with 9/11 may feel. Occasionally I did wonder whether some of the more horrific details were strictly necessary, but I could understand why some of the descriptions had been included. It was, again, part of that process of trying to grieve for Damon, and Simon too, that they shared their experiences with the reader.

This review may seem overly negative, given that I’ve given it a grade of B. But really the grade is on the strength of the writing and the fact that as a study in grief and the step towards forgiveness it worked for me. The ending is only the beginning as Damon has a long road to travel yet, but I felt happy that with Simon’s support there was a chance of recovery and that made me optimistic. This meant that overall I can recommend this story, with a note of caution for readers will be upset at the descriptions of 9/11 and find violent behaviour distressing.

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