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Archive for March, 2013

Mini-break

BlogBreak[5]

We’re gong to be taking a break this week at BER. We’ve all been getting a bit swamped with that silly old real-life, so we are going to take a little breather this week and come back rejuvenated.

Wishing everyone a lovely Easter this coming weekend and hope that the bunny leaves you some chocolate. See you April 1.

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Box of ChocolatesTitle: Sweets for the Sweet
Author: Kit Dickson & Kat Davidson
Length: 5,600 words
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m contemporary romance
Grade: C-

Blurb:
As teenagers, Joshua and Ian thought they were inseparable — until Josh’s family sent him off to military school. After years apart, the pair are reunited at last, but things quickly spiral out of control as both men struggle with their feelings towards one another and Joshua’s PTSD.

Review:
Josh and Ian are best friends and inseparable, until the lies of a teacher force them apart. Twelve years later, Joshua returns home after spending the intervening years in military school and the army where he finds that his old friend has followed his dreams and now owns a chocolate shop in town.

The blurb of this book sounded very promising and I’m always interested in stories which pick up on themes such as PTSD. However, I found that the short length of the story, coupled with a written style which involved far too much telling and not enough showing, meant that I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I might.

The part that did work for me was in Josh’s weariness in returning home. He joined the military because of parental expectations and did his duty. Now he seems tired and a little bewildered to be free of the army. This seemed a very realistic portrayal of a man who has suffered through war and I felt a great deal of sympathy for him. I also liked Ian’s nervousness at meeting Josh again after all the years apart.

What worked less well was the rather ridiculous over-reaction of the boy’s parents at the beginning of the story, plus the sheer amount of telling of the background to the characters. The actual meat of the story involves a short conversation between the men in a supermarket, followed by another short conversation in the street. The rest is feelings or background told to the reader. Whilst I understood that we needed to know what the men had done in the years they were apart, the execution was a little dull and I became impatient to get to the action. I was also not convinced by the end of the story when the men barely speak before making a move. I would have been happier if there had been at least a shared acknowledgment that they are gay and attracted to each other before anything physical happened.

Overall, this is a sweet story but the writing didn’t work very well for me.

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clothingoptionalTitle: Clothing Optional
Author: Allen Mack
Length: 5,200 words
Publisher: JMS Books
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: C+

Blurb:

Jim convinces his partner Brad to spend a day at a newly “liberated” beach — meaning nudity is permitted within designated bounds. Brad overcomes his shyness and agrees to go, on the lookout for “watchers” the whole time.

The couple meets others like themselves, some interesting folks, some interested in only one thing. Their little excursion turns out to be far from the quiet, restful vacation Jim originally planned. By the end of the day, the sun isn’t the only thing heating up the beach!

Review:

This was a cute little short about an established couple, buy my curiousity about them meant I felt a bit cheated out of their full story. Anyway, Brad and Jim are going to check out the new clothing optional beach. They even head down to the area where the gay crowd hang out so that Brad will feel more comfortable. It was kind of fun to watch Brad’s reticence and you find out he was a priest before they got together so you can definitely understand his reluctance to bare all on the beach.

However Jim’s (mostly) innocent enthusiasm for frolicking in the water starkers soon wins Brad over, along with some interactions with some other naturists. Soon however an older couple come trotting down the beach and proceed to sit on the shore and shout homophobic obscenities at the couple in the water. Jim wants to just ignore them, but Brad, usually a roll with it guy, finally snaps and confronts them about their behaviour which they try to deny. They eventually scurry off realizing they aren’t going to be allowed to play their nasty games.

I liked how Brad stood up to them, even if there is a bit of a morality lesson about bigots who generally when confronted won’t fight back. So maybe a bit of preaching to the converted, since most of us reading would be firmly on Jim and Brad’s side in this encounter, but I still enjoyed the interaction between the two men. You know they have been together for some time, but I was really curious if they met when Brad was still a priest or after he left the priesthood. I think Brad’s story had a lot of potential as he talks about the hypocritical behaviour of many of his parishioners was what caused him to leave the priesthood.

So I think the author could have fodder for a much longer book about Brad and Jim, but they definitely love each other, that came through clear. So if you are in the mood for something short and sweet, with a few naughty parts waving around in the sand, a good choice to pick up.

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masksofftoo-eternity185Title: Masks off Too: Eternity
Author: Sean Michael
Length: 5,200 words
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m paranormal BDSM romance
Grade: C+

Blurb:
After four hundred years as an immortal, Lukas has become bored and is dying of ennui. He wills everything he owns to his creator Gustav, with whom he’s had a three hundred years long falling out, and goes up onto the roof to meet the dawn.

Will he survive the sun? And if he does, can Gustav keep him from becoming bored again?

Review:
This story is part of a series of short stories about vampires and masked balls. The vampire in this case is Lukas who after 400 years is bored of life and decides to end it by sacrificing himself to the sun. Before he does that he bequeaths all his goods and property to his Master, Gustav, the man who made him into a vampire.

The first part of the story is engaging and I felt some sympathy for Lukas as he tries to end it all. Thwarted by the lack of sun he is then accosted by Gustav. The pair fell out centuries ago, but Gustav is not willing to let Lukas kill himself and so takes him in hand, starting with a good spanking for his bad behaviour. After that it’s typical Sean Michael fayre with a BDSM scene involving lots of spanking and a smug Dom who knows exactly what Lukas needs to overcome his boredom. The sex scene is well written, however, and I liked the way that the blood pay is used. The dynamic between the characters wasn’t anything I haven’t read before but it was still amusing to see Lukas’ attempts to fight Gustav’s attentions.

The masked ball theme is a little tacked into the story and not really relevant to the main plot, used only as a way for the characters to have a bit of cat at and mouse game.

Overall, if you like this author then this will be something familiar to add to your collection. If you like sexy vampires who engage in some D/s sex then, again this would be a pretty good story to read. For me, it was amusing enough to pass the time but nothing that will stick in my mind for long.

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choclTitle: Fruity on the Inside
Author: G.R. Richards
Length: 6,400
Publisher:
Torquere Press
Genre: m/m contemporary BDSM romance
Grade: C

Blurb:
As the Valentine’s window display competition approaches, Trent hires Jonathan to pretty up his optical shop. Jonathan is a student from the local Arts and Design College, and he’s not shy about showing the world he’s gay. Trent hates to admit it, but guys like that make him uncomfortable. Clearly, Jonathan doesn’t care what other people think. He’s also damn good at calling a stranger’s bluff. Jonathan can tell that Trent is just like his candy-covered berries: dark chocolate on the outside, fruity on the inside. But will he discover Trent’s kinks in time for Valentine’s Day?

Review:
This valentine set romance begins with older black man Trent who owns a shop selling glasses (he may be an optician but this was never explicitly said). In order to win the annual valentine shop window display award, Trent hires Jonathan, a window dresser, to work wonders and finds the sassy Jonathan a distraction throughout his working day.

This story began well. The tone is quite lighthearted and I enjoyed the teasing way that the men dance around each other through the day. Trent seems like a bit of a lonely person and there are hints that he hasn’t had a lover for a while. There’s a fair bit of sexual tension in this first part which is tempered by an awkwardness because Trent finds the flamboyant Jonathan a little disconcerting.

Things come to a head once Jonathan completes his window display and there is an intense sex scene with a BDSM theme. To be honest, this part left me scratching my head a little as it seemed completely out of the blue. There had been no foreshadowing that either man was interested in D/s play and so I was surprised that all of a sudden they are agreeing a safe word and letting go with leather belts.

The sudden BDSM scene meant that I withdrew from the story at that point and so the end didn’t really work for me. The story ends with a reveal of the window display, which could have been quite a funny & romantic moment if I wasn’t feeling revolted that they would think it was appropriate to have spunk stains on something shown to the public. Maybe they were modelling the display on a Tracey Emin piece.

Overall, this turned out to be just an Ok story for me. I liked the older man/younger man dynamic and the early interactions between the couple but didn’t like the way the story ended.

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1053358Title: Demonic Interlude
Authors: Talon Rihai & Salome Wilde
Length: 4,000 words (16 pdf pages)
Publisher: Storm Moon Press (free at ARe)
Genre: m/m paranormal
Rating: C

Blurb:

The demon Mael has grown increasingly weary of the mortal who has bound him. And though he knows he will soon be able to complete his contract and devour the mortal’s soul, that time has not yet come. Finally, frustrated with the mortal’s limited imagination and pedestrian orders, he strikes the man unconscious and uses the small respite of freedom to summon his own demonic slave, Feng, to service his long unsated needs.

Review:

This is a very short free story which left me feeling a bit like I was dropped into a world where I should have known the characters. Mael is forced by an agreement to do/be whatever his human master wants, in exchange, Mael will get his soul. However Mael finds him repulsive and most of the things he wants are so boring to Mael who could take over the world. After a particularly distasteful evening which involves murdering a woman after sex, he knocks out his master and meets up with his submissive lover Feng in the garden.

The vast majority of the book is a sex scene between the two. Feng seems to be more wolf-like than humanoid, or perhaps one of those hybrids similar to kitsune. Mael takes note that Feng is a high-level demon in his own right who could own his own servants, but chooses instead to remain loyal to Mael. The sex is rough and demonic I suppose. Mael regrets that he’s forced to remain in his human body and unable to really let loose the way he’d like.

When his master wakes, he knows he’ll be punished for knocking the man out, but the stolen moment with Feng were worth it and Feng assures him he’ll wait for him. The ending made me snort, and it was an interesting premise, however being so short I was left a bit wondering how Mael came to hook up with the human. Yes, he needs to do it in order to consume souls to survive, but how did he come to be with that man, and what was the story between him and Feng, how did they come to be lovers.

However if you’re looking for a little demonic D/s action, it’s got a little bit of a darker edge to it and it was well written, I just wanted a bit more to flesh out the story for me.

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masksofftoo-foolmetwice185Title: Masks Off Too: Fool Me Twice
Author: Missouri Dalton
Length: 19 pdf pages, 5200 words.
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m paranormal
Rating: C+

Blurb:

The Everglades have secrets, Professor Edmund Toussaint, the swamp’s lone vampire, knows this all too well. He’s lived there all of his life and hasn’t run into another of his kind since the fateful night he fed his maker to a crocodile. But things are changing, and another vampire might just be the only thing that will bring Edmund out of the swamp.
This story is also available in the Masks Off Too! anthology.

Review:

A well-written story with an intriguing setting that just tried to do too much within the limited word count.

Fool Me Twice opens with vampire Edmund in a typically mournful mood, hanging around in an area of Florida swamp that has special meaning to him. Not only is it where he died, it’s also where he killed his maker (the odious Lucas) and where his 300 year old gravestone is located. There was a strong evocation of Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire here, from the swampy setting to the morose, French colonial vampire, and I was intrigued. Edmund has made a virtue of his affliction by becoming an expert in night-blooming swamp flowers, and manages a life of sorts as an academic who teaches at night. I wasn’t entirely sure how he dealt with the practicalities of this (along with having to assume a new identity every few years while staying in the same area), but detailing that would have been beyond the scope of this story.

The first half of the story shows us Edmund’s daily life and illustrates just what a grumpy, isolated hermit he’s become. He’s terrified of other vampires, especially as the only one he’s ever met was such a nasty piece of work. However, when he agrees to attend a masquerade ball in order to help his university department obtain funding for future projects, he discovers that the potential benefactor he’s meant to be charming is another vamp. James Argent isn’t quite so quick to sniff out Edmund’s identity, but when he eventually does, Edmund discovers that he has a lot still to learn about his true nature.

I feel like this story has suffered from having to be short enough to fit in an anthology word-count limit, which is a shame as there’s the potential for a really interesting novella here. Instead of a fully developed romance we just have a frustrating tease, skating over lots of Edmund’s back story but not really satisfying in the here and now. Not only is there a fade to black on the sex scene, but we don’t get to find out much about the mysterious James either. From the little we did see of him I found him to be rather arrogant and patronising with his “little bat” endearments, so the way Edmund falls for him felt like too much, too soon. However, I’ve given the story a C+ because I thought the prose was flawless, the world-building intriguing, and it had the seed of a fascinating story here. I particularly loved Edmund’s crocodile!

In short, I feel this probably works well enough as an anthology story, but as a standalone it lacks both the erotic and romantic content to really satisfy an m/m romance reader. I do want to track down more of Missouri Dalton’s writing, though, because she certainly knows how to write beautifully.

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17619893Title: But I Look Terrible in Green (Holiday Jobs that Don’t Suck #6)
Author: Jackie Nacht
Length: 9,452 words (39 pdf pages)
Publisher: eXtasy Books
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: B-

Blurb: 

Since the beginning of his senior year in college, Jimmy has lived above the very popular Irish Pub O’Dwyer’s. Sure, the music is loud and the co-eds constantly party, but the bonus is seeing graduate student Niall come in and out of work on a daily basis.

Working separate shifts hasn’t given the two much time to get to know one another. So it’s quite a shock when Niall comes pounding on his door on St. Patrick’s Day asking for help working at the pub on the busiest day of the year. Even though Jimmy just finished with his own shift, being next to Niall for the night is too tempting to resist.

Will sparks finally ignite? And will Jimmy find himself having a little luck of the Irish to finally make Niall notice him?

Review:

This is a sweet story set around St. Patrick’s Day. Jimmy has been slightly crushing on Niall, the night bartender at the pub Jimmy works at. But Jimmy works days so besides a very rare greeting, he’s never had the nerve to talk to him. However St. Patrick’s at an Irish pub is insane, and Niall comes upstairs to ask Jimmy if he can help behind the bar. Jimmy is usually a food server, but he’s happy to help out.

Things go well, and when in the heat of the moment, a “kiss me I’m Irish” necklace inspires Niall to kiss him, in front of everyone, Jimmy is really thrown for a spin. I liked that you get a look at both men, who are similar but different. Jimmy is a senior in college and has a very open family that talks about everything. Niall is finishing up grad school, and while he loves his family, the idea of them knowing every detail of his dating life, including his efforts to get to know Jimmy give him the willies.

However, the conflicting shifts, combined with school commitments and Jimmy’s soccer playing mean they barely get to see each other, so Niall is forced to reveal the truth to his uncle so he can get some switched shifts. As I said, this is a sweet light story, there isn’t much angst beyond a bit of uncertainty at the beginning and then getting their schedules more on track. But they are both appealing young men and you hope it works out for them.

Sometimes I’m content to have stories end just when it’s starting, and that’s kind of where this ends, but in this case I wouldn’t have minded a little bit more, to see them getting to know each other a bit more, and trying life as a couple. Still, if you are angsted out, this is a perfect choice for some light entertainment that leaves you with a good feeling at the end.

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modelTitle: A Model Romance
Author: Michael P. Thomas
Length: 6,862 words (22 pdf pages)
Publisher:
JMS Books
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: C

Blurb:

When Bridger Bradford chases the wrong guy to South Korea, he falls in love … with his fantasies about Kai, a model whose handsome mug is splashed across every subway station and bus shelter in the country.

Kai has a big career and big money, but what he really wants is a shot at big, blond Bridger, who can’t believe his luck when the man of his dreams seemingly walks out of the stack of souvenir magazines and right up to him in his favorite San Francisco bar.

Review:

If you can let go of some logic and propensity for coincidence, you may enjoy this story more than others. Kai is one quarter Korean and curious about his heritage. Despite his family’s misgivings, he heads over to Korea to discover his roots. To earn some money, he falls into modeling. Apparently he is white enough to appease the Asian desire for North American models, but has enough of an Asian vibe that he’s soon one of the top models in the country, and even breaks into acting after perfecting his Korean.

Bridger is a bit your typical clueless jock, who came out in university and spends his time being proud of the fact he can get any guy and never has to buy his own drinks. However, he signs up with a religious choir from university to go on a Korean tour with them, in the sole hopes that he can seduce the leader into bed with him. When that goes awry, he discovers Kai, well, pictures of him all over Korea. Before long he’s buying up magazines with his ads and when he gets back to San Francisco, he even frames some of them and has a “shrine” wall in his apartment, obsessing over the guy.

One night at a gay bar he sees what could be the model’s double and figures hooking up with his double is the next best thing to the real guy, but before long, he discovers Kai is the real deal, and they even went to high school together where Kai was crushing on him, and Bridger didn’t know he was alive. Before the night is over, Bridger is agreeing to accompany Kai to the Academy Awards where the Korean film he’s in is up for best foreign film.

Bridger claims to bring guys home all the time, but personally, if I went home with someone and their apartment was plastered with pictures of a model, I’d be freaked out. He is also arrogant about his ability to attract men, and yet he has a good old boy thing going that makes him less annoying than it could have been. Kai came across as a nice guy. Even after he become famous in Korea, he still lives with his model friends and doesn’t seem to have any great desire for the wealth and fame that fell into his lap.

I found the ending a bit rushed and suddenly, after one weekend, Kai gives up his career to move back to the US with Bridger. I think either a longer story letting them get to know each other or a HFN ending would have worked better for me. I did enjoy the story of Kai adjusting to Korea and exploring a heritage his Grandmother had been determined to put behind her. However, as I said, some people will find Bridger’s fascination with an unknown model and the odds of meeting him in a bar rather off-putting, others won’t mind it as a pure form of entertainment.

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ComingHome-SouthernCrossTitle: Coming Home
Author: Robyn Walker
Length: 69 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: m/m science fiction romance
Rating: C

Blurb:
In 2045, Russian-born Nick comes “home” to Australia for the funeral of an old friend. After a ten-year absence, he finds a country scarred by drought and a people scarred by technology. He grieves for Ben, whose death has left his friends bewildered. He grieves for Australia, the country that forced him to leave. But his greatest grief is for Daniel. Although Daniel is alive, it seems their friendship is dead. And Nick has no idea why.

Review:
Coming Home is part of a series of stories set in Australia. In the case of this speculative fiction, the setting is Adelaide in 2045. Nick returns to Adelaide after 10 years away for the funeral of a friend. There he finds many changes due to the food shortages which have ravaged the world. He also finds changes in his old friends Tam and Daniel.

I like speculative futuristic stories and so I had high hopes for this one. It’s certainly imaginative with a carefully thought out world where people no longer eat solid food, where borders between countries are strict and unforgiving, and where the heat has changed the city landscape forever. It was a shame then that much of this information was conveyed in a dull way. The first part of the story has a long info-dump scene where Nick is talking to a taxi driver. Then at other points the characters fill Nick in with the changes that have taken place. These parts were boring so even if the ideas were good the execution made me lose interest.

The parts where the book shines is in the romantic interactions. These are thoughtful and engaging and I enjoyed seeing Nick and Daniel work through their difficulties. Nick spends much of the book mourning his past but we never find out what he’s been doing in the 10 years he’s been away, except some brief glimpses of when he first arrived in Russia. The characters are very much in the ‘now’ with any background information limited to Nick’s reminiscing about his friends 10 years previously. I liked the characters and wanted to know more about them and it was a little frustrating that they remain shadowy, especially Daniel.

The story ends abruptly and, certainly for me, unsatisfying. I could see why the story ended as it did but it was pessimistic and left me feeling unhappy for the couple. There’s no label on the story which makes it a ‘Bittersweet Dream’ title so I was surprised that the ending wasn’t the usual upbeat ending I expect with a romance.

Overall, the strength of the writing in the romance would make this a story I could recommend, but there are weaknesses in the execution of the setting which makes this a C read for me. On a side note, I really love this cover and feels it captures the setting perfectly.

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