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Archive for April, 2013

The_Vampires_PartnerTitle: The Vampire’s Partner
Author: Benjamin Cole
Length: 9,000 words
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: m/m paranormal romance
Grade: C+

Blurb:
Suddenly turned into a vampire, Tom struggles to understand the changes to his life and must control his new desire of bloodlust to avoid harming his partner, Jeremy.

Tom and Jeremy are young and in love. Their future is bright. Until Tom is changed into a vampire. Then all he has come to value in life along with his relationship with his partner is thrown into doubt. As he begins to lose the ties to his former human self, he explores new urges, trying to come to terms with life as a vampire. For Jeremy’s sake, Tom struggles to retain his human capacity for love in the face of a desire to hurt the person he loves most.

Review:
When his partner, Jeremy, goes away on a business trip, Tom visits a bar on his own, meeting a strange man. Three days later he wakes up in a motel room to find that he is now a vampire. At first Tom tries to hide this from Jeremy until he is forced to face up to what he is.

This paranormal begins well with a fairly clueless Tom accidentally becoming a vampire. The tone of the story is fairly light and I rather enjoyed seeing Tom bumble his way through working out what had happened to him and trying to work out how he was going to function now that he was a vampire. Tom spends most of the book this way, trying to see how the vampire thing works and making mistakes in this trial and error approach.

Another part which worked well was the romance between Tom and Jeremy. They are an established couple and the love between them shines off the page. The sex scene is well done, showing affection and teasing between them, and I liked that Tom spends quite a bit of time worrying about how Jeremy will react to his new situation and feeling morose that it might spell the end of their relationship.

The part which worked less well was in the way the story ended. There’s a crisis point where we are bombarded with information and then the story just ends. It was rather abrupt and I would have liked to see the two men work through the problems that they face rather than the story end with platitudes that everything will be fine, especially as it’s obvious that it won’t all be plain sailing. Perhaps there is a sequel planned.

Overall, then this story passed the time nicely but there wasn’t much to it. Tom is a decent character and I liked his strong feelings for Jeremy. However, the story wasn’t perfect and these flaws made it a C grade story rather than anything higher.

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Welcome Brother_final_thumbnailTitle: Welcome, Brother
Author: Erica Pike
Length: 15,600 words
Publisher: No Boundaries Press
Genre: m/m contemporary romance
Grade: B

Blurb:
When arts student Kyler Morris applies for membership to The Nova Britannia Brotherhood, he’s immediately floored by their intimidating leader, Hunter Kingsley. Fellow arts student Hunter, however, isn’t the bad-ass he’s made out to be and takes Kyler under his wing.

While Kyler struggles to keep his crush under control and his sexuality hidden from the Brothers, Hunter battles daemons of his own in the form of two Brothers who aren’t playing by the rules.

Review:
I have a fondness for college set stories and this author is particularly good at steaming sexual tension so I gladly picked up this book and wasn’t disappointed. The story features Kyler who’s away from home for the first time at college and wants to join one of the most sought after Fraternities – or Brotherhood as they call themselves – mainly because of their policies on charity support and tolerance. The interview is nerve wracking and Kyler is very surprised when he gets in. However, he’s also carrying a huge crush for the leader, Hunter, but knows that he has to keep it secret.

The story began well and I really liked Kyler. He’s quite sweet and innocent but has a passion for art history. He’s the sort of character which brings out all the protective instincts and I quickly warmed to him and found his mix of nervousness and caution quite endearing. The tension between Kyler and Hunter sizzles off the page and there are a number of scenes which build on this tension. I enjoyed seeing how their relationship developed and also that we are never quite sure whether Hunter is attracted to Kyler, or whether it’s Kyler reading more into their interactions.

Where the story worked less well for me is the reveal about Hunter’s brother. It seemed too overly dramatic, and so didn’t quite fit with the story, especially as it comes a little out of the blue on the back of a crisis scene. That crisis scene would have been enough to move the story forward without the added reveal from Hunter and it jarred a little with the tone the story had established.

Having said that, this was still a very good story. It’s quite self-contained within the Brotherhood house, but the limited setting worked in this case and I particularly liked the friendship that Kyler develops with another member of the Brotherhood. Those of you who like college set stories will probably find this one to your taste and I would recommend it.

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masksofftoo-othersideofmidnight185Title: Masks Off Too: The Other Side of Midnight
Author: G.O. Noce
Length: 11,100 words
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m paranormal romance
Grade: B-

Blurb:
Ashton Lanley, Viscount Thorncliff, had his entire life planned out: inherit his title, honor an arranged marriage, and produce an heir. Then, a chance encounter with a stranger at a scandalous masquerade introduces him to desires he never knew he harbored. But when he is at his most vulnerable, the mysterious man betrays him, leaving him with nothing but a burning need for revenge.

For two centuries, Gavin Wynters, vampire and thief extraordinaire, has not been able to erase the memory of the man he had once used and discarded. But fate has conspired to place him in Ash’s path again, and this time, he encounters more than the clueless human he left behind.

This story is also available in the Masks Off Too! anthology.

Review:
I’ve read nearly all the stories in this series of shorts which combine vampires and masked balls. Some have worked better than others and my main complaint has been the length of the stories have often prohibited the development of characterisation. This story is the longest of the collection and that has given it an advantage over the other stories. This one takes two distinct time lines: The present day when Ash and Gavin meet up after 200 years; and 200 years in the past when the men first meet each other. Both timelines contain information about the changes that Ash especially undergoes as he is seduced and then abandoned by Gavin, and although the present day section involves some telling, it was interesting to see how Ash is different in the present whilst retaining some of his qualities seen in the sections set in the past. Ash seems to be the most developed out of the pair because Gavin is stuck in a rut. However, I enjoyed the push/pull of them meeting up again and hashing out old hurts before reconciling.

What worked less well was that both men are holding onto hurts that span centuries and that felt a little forced to me. 200 years is a long time to hold a grudge but I ended up going with it because of the constraints of the story. The history between Gavin and another vamp, Victor, was only touched on a little and didn’t really come to any satisfactory conclusion, although given the circumstances I could understand that.

Overall though, this was a decently written story which was strong on the romance and contained a particularly well written seduction scene. I also liked the way that the masked ball fitted with the vampire theme. I enjoyed the story and would recommend it as one of the better stories from this collection.

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TinkeredPinkertonTitle: The Tinkered Pinkerton
Author: Helen Louise Caroll
Length: 17k words
Publisher: Amber Allure
Genre: m/m Steampunk Romance
Rating: C-

Blurb: Pinkerton agent Brom Donker’s arm and legs were taken from him during the American Civil War. Now, ten years later, although he’s adjusted to the metal limbs that replaced his real ones, there are times when he still feels like less than a man. Especially when he’s near Simon Wain, his physician/mechanic.

Simon has cared about Brom for years. As his patient. Lately, though, he’s been seeing the handsome agent as more than that. But how can a lowly physician/mechanic fit in with a man from a powerful and influential family?

As Brom deals with missing gun shipments, rogue Sasquatches, and disaffected Southerners, he and Simon confront their feelings about themselves and for each other.

Review: I haven’t read anything by this author in quite a while, probably several years. So most of my experience with her writing is from some of her earlier works, though they’re similar in style and length (if not subject matter) as this steampunk story. Stories like: Moonlight Sonata for Two, Superheroes in the Suburbs and Hungry?. Likewise, it has been quite a while since I’ve read anything steampunk. I can’t say that I’m overly familiar with the sub-genre, but I do enjoy a steampunk story from time to time, and that’s why I chose to review this story when it was released. And, in the main, I enjoyed it.

Brom Donker is from a rather wealthy family of political renown, and in this alternate universe with a steampunk civil war, Brom loses both his legs and his arm to the South when he’s captured and used as a model for their scientists cruel experiments. He’s not a whole man, even though, after his release and into his career as a Pinkerton agent, he’s been outfitted with the best machine limbs that have been invented. Still, his wounds and glaring differences make him an outcast in society.

Brom laments his less than whole nature most when visiting his doctor, Simon Wain. He’s grown quite an attachment to the small, beautiful and brilliant physician and wishes that Simon could see past his mechanical limbs, see him for more than an opportunity to create even better machines fit for human/automaton hybrid use. But he does not know that Simon harbors secret feelings for him as well, which is part of the reason he’s driven to create such advanced limbs — like a cannon and flamethrower arm — to keep Brom safe.

But resistance is growing from the Sasquatches (exactly like you’re picturing) who are gathering allies from the south and showing signs of rather advanced automatons. Brom is going to need Simon to help solve the mystery, even though he hates taking the man into danger.

The real reason that I couldn’t give this story higher than a C is because both parts of the story — the romance and the outside conflict with Brom’s investigation — feel unfinished. It’s difficult to become interested in two characters who we only get very little time to know because of outside conflict that itself isn’t really delved into. Both parts sacrifice the other and in the end I felt like I didn’t get to really know the connection between the characters and also that I didn’t really understand the issue with the Sasquatches. It seemed like it was there only to cause conflict and provide and impetus to bring the characters together, but also tried to make it a part of the story. I would have preferred that the story commit to one way or the other — either concentrate solely on the romance or give us more time and information about the world and the war. In fact, I found it strange that the Sasquatches were even part of the story. They bring to mind a pretty firm preconceived notion of what they are but I never quite understood who they were or what they meant to the story, other than they looked like the Sasquatches that we know of in myth as Bigfoot, etc. and that they have a culture and race of their own and band together in small groups.

In the end, the story was just too superficial for me. I didn’t really get the outside conflict and while I started to like the romance between Brom and Simon, I still didn’t really get to know them well. The only thing that was really interesting to me was to see the steampunk gadgets and things that Simon created. But then, for those who have read more steampunk than I have, it might not be all that exciting.

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wereTitle: Crowns and Criminals
Author: Kayla Bain-Vrba
Length: 8,000 words
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m fantasy romance
Grade: C

Blurb:
When Noble, a common thief, rescues a cursed prince to clear his own name, the last thing on his mind is falling in love. True love, however, is at the top of Prince Danson’s to-do list; hence why he had himself cursed and locked away in a tower in the first place. The trying journey home brings them closer together, but are the secrets from their past powerful enough to rip them apart forever?

Review:
I usually like fairy tale type stories and this one had a lot going for it with Noble as the thief and underdog rescuing the vain handsome prince, trapped in a tower of his own making. The story began well with the amusing twist at the start being that Danson placed himself in the tower for foolish romantic notions. This played well with the convention of being rescued from some horrid evil as seen in tales such as Sleeping Beauty and I enjoyed the initial encounter between a somewhat petulant Danson who is robbed of his prince charming by the sensible and practical approach from Noble. I also liked the way that Danson gradually began to see the value in Noble and how that developed into respect and admiration.

My main criticism of the story is that it was too busy for the word length. The reader gets a lot of information thrown at them about Danson and Noble, plus we have a token bad guy and yet there’s not enough space to explore any of the more interesting aspects of the story, such as Noble’s past. Instead information is told to us and we pass on to the next thing. In some ways this fit the theme of a fairy story but as a romance reader it was a little frustrating.  The scene leading to the forced separation was a little overdone and Danson’s actions during that time were baffling, given what we find out about him earlier in the story.

Having said that, this wasn’t a bad story. The dynamic between the couple is done well and the action scenes were tense. If you like fairy stories then you may enjoy this one which had a light and breezy tone, even if the characterisation was a little thin.

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clownd_cover600-200x300Title: Clown’d
Author: K.A. Merikan
Length: 26 pdf pages, 10,000 words.
Publisher: Acerbi&Villani ltd
Genre: m/m/m/m/m/m contemporary BDSM erotica
Rating: B+

Blurb:

— It’s clowns. It’s a gangbang. It’s helium balloons. —

Some nights just don’t go as planned. It’s Halloween and Kyle’s rushing home to see his boyfriend after a late evening shift at work. As usual, he takes a shortcut through the local park, but a poster informing about a killer clown in the area makes him apprehensive about being alone in the dark. It’s only when he discovers there is a man in a clown costume following him that he panics. Soon, it turns out his cackling shadow isn’t the only circus freak hiding in the dark, but what does a bunch of crazy clowns do when they catch you?

Review:

Warning: this book features a kidnap gangbang rape fantasy, complete with scary strangers in clown masks, humiliation, toys and bondage.

Hands down, this is one of the dirtiest stories I’ve ever read. I have a feeling it’s only likely to be picked up by those who have a taste for more extreme erotica, but just in case, please heed the warning! This isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Kyle has been with his boyfriend, Dan, for three years, and they appear to be in a solid, loving relationship. On Halloween, Kyle takes his usual shortcut home from work through the park, his head full of their evening ahead. However, he spies a poster warning of killer clowns, and then realises one is following him. Soon the park appears to be full of clowns out to get him, and he can’t outrun them all. Before he knows what’s going on, he’s surrounded and bundled into the back of a van, with five, highly aroused clowns who all seem intent on having their way with him.

Part of what makes this such a successful kidnap/rape fantasy story, is that we’re not left in doubt that Kyle is being pushed beyond his limits. Before they even get into the van he’s subtly clued in by Dan–one of his captors–and given the chance to back out if he isn’t sure. Despite his initial terror, though, as soon as Kyle realises this has been set up by his boyfriend he feels completely safe. There’s an incredibly high level of trust between the two men, and it’s clear they play regularly, although never before with this many others.

Kyle doesn’t just accept that a gangbang is about to happen; this is a long-held fantasy so he’s over the moon about it. He acts the part, though, putting up token resistance and getting slapped about and treated roughly in return. The aspect of this story that really made it stand out was how well the authors explained what Kyle was getting out of it, really making me understand his psychology:

He felt like a king. Even if he was being called names and manhandled, he still was like the most important person in the van and reveled in every second of it.

Be warned, if humiliation in BDSM stories squicks you, this is one to stay away from. Kyle is called all manner of degrading names and humiliated in other ways that are pretty amusing (I don’t want to give a spoiler here, as I’m sure it wouldn’t be a specific trigger for anyone.)

The story flows smoothly and is pretty well edited for a piece of self-published erotica. I noticed a few typos, but no more than I’ve seen in stories from other epublishers. The only thing I found disturbing on the first read through (apart from the whole clown thing, which is creepy!) was the situation Kyle is left in at the end. However, this didn’t bother me on my second read through, as I could see it was all part of the plan and he was given ample opportunity to safe word if he needed to. In fact, despite having just been used and abused by a bunch of strangers, Kyle is deliriously happy, and I felt like I could understand why.

This story won’t be for everyone, but it’s a real treat for those pervs with a stomach for this kind of twisted kink. I’m impressed at the sheer audacity of the storyline, and that K.A. Merikan has somehow made scary clowns sexy. I’ll definitely be reading more by this talented writing team!

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monsterTitle: Monster Town
Author: Dakota Chase
Length: 18,500 words (67 pdf pages)
Publisher: Prizm Books
Genre: m/m paranormal YA
Rating: B-

Blurb:

James Dire has a problem. He doesn’t breathe fire, suck blood, or sprout fur and a tail during full moons. He doesn’t eat babies, or trample cities, or carry screaming women off to his underwater lair. In short, he’s about as dangerous and exotic as a boxful of sand.
While this may not be an issue elsewhere, it is in Eden, James’ hometown. Here, everyone, from his parents and siblings, to his classmates, to the mayor, are fire-breathing, bloodsucking, fur-sprouting monsters, and James doesn’t fit in anywhere.
James always feels excluded and knows he’s always suspect because of his difference. He’s very shy, has few friends, and his only sense of purpose comes from his job as reporter for the school paper.
When a girl is kidnapped, James’s secret crush, gorgeous werewolf, Theo, pulls him into a hunt for clues to find her before it’s too late. What they discover is a plot that’s much more involved than a simple kidnapping, and may get them both killed.
In Monster Town, there’s nothing more dangerous than being ordinary.
Review:
I enjoyed this story where the author was allowed to let their imagination run wild, but in some ways maybe that was to the detriment of the core story of James and his crush. As noted in the blurb, James is a genetic mutation in his town, in his own family. Everyone is a monster of some type, and not just humanoid monsters but the kind of Saturday morning cartoons and Disney movies. James is rather used to being looked at suspiciously because he is normal, however when a local warlock’s daughter is kidnapped by a “normal”, James is the prime suspect, although he’s quickly able to come up with an alibi and the werewolf sheriff’s son, and James’ secret crush, decided they should try and find the girl since the adults don’t seem to be paying attention.
As I said, there was tons of imagination here, the descriptions of the town and how they keep it secret and the myriad of resident was done in great detail, and while it was fun to read, I rather wanted to get on to the story of the boys and the investigation. The “why” of the kidnapping was less importance than the two boys working together and perhaps some underlying flirtation. You only get James’ POV, but he wonders if there is more possible.
The story is an interesting take on the reversal of being different and thus an outsider, of course in this case the difference is something readers would consider normal. Finding acceptance after being one of the people to rescue the young girl and finding a friend were all nicely done, but I felt were overshadowed by the world building. However the story seems to set itself up for more with the boys decided to start their own investigation business and just the whiff of a budding romance. I did enjoy it and I can see this would be great for young teens who may related to feeling out of place and crushing on someone. It is in the Prizm young adult line, so I think it’s perfectly suited there and will be a good read for those who like over-the-top fun. Those looking for a more mature adult themed book may find it a bit too light. Just depends what you are in the mood for.

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themaskmaker400Title: The Mask Maker
Author: Spencer Rook
Length: 11,000 words (36 pdf pages)
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: m/m fantasy YA
Rating: C+

Blurb:

Rumors abound about the mysterious young mask maker, everyone curious as to why he spends all his time hidden away in his house, barely talking past what’s required to complete a job. Determined to learn more about him, Luk agrees to go speak to him about the masks commissioned for a coming festival. What he encounters is a man much more, and much less, than all the rumours warned him about.

Review:

I’m noting this as YA, in part because both characters are 16 years old and there is no explicit sex in the story. Luk and his classmates are preparing for their graduation and during construction of the stage, a lot of time is spent gossiping about the locals, including the young mask maker. Luk feels a bit badly about the things they are saying about him, remembering one interaction he had when they were around 9. He agrees to go and check on the progress of the masks for graduation, but it doesn’t go well when he asks to see the mask maker (who remains hidden during their conversation) and Alexander kicks him out.

However Alexander apologises and they take the opportunity to get to know one another. It seems most of the gossip about Alexander is false and he had a difficult childhood and has been running the family mask business alone for two years since his father died when Alexander was only 14. There’s not much angst, there’s a small falling out when Alexander refuses to attend Luk’s graduation, having cloistered himself for so long he’s nervous to go out.

And maybe that is part of where I had a little confusion. Alexander claims that he has to stay hidden, but really he’s not hideous, I suppose you’d say modern goth, but I couldn’t understand why he, or anyone would consider him so unattractive as to remain hidden. It just didn’t seem to make much sense to me. There were also a couple of times when some modern word usage kind of seemed incongruous to me with the fantasy/magical setting, but it might not bother some others and they aren’t excessive.

If you’re in the mood for some light fantasy this is a cute little story of young boys finding each other in their small village.

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masksofftoo-scented185Title: Masks Off Too: Scented
Author: Sam Schooler
Length: 5,300 words
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m paranormal romance
Grade: C

Blurb:
Ben Halloway: human, detective, so done with this serial killer vampire shit. Felix Whit: vampire, criminal psychologist, way too attractive. Ben’s life is just fantastic.

This story is also available in the Masks Off Too! anthology.

Review:
This short paranormal romance which mixes vampires and a masked ball began well with a tightly written dramatic scene. Ben is a police officer who is investigating a series of brutal murders. He’s checking out a clue when he’s viciously attacked at the start of the story. Ben is bleeding out and in danger of dying but is rescued by a former lover and vampire, Felix. The opening is visceral and tense as we are plunged straight into the drama. This scene grabbed my attention straight away and I read on quickly, wanting to find out more about Ben and Felix.

It was unfortunate then that after that point my interest in the story began to wane. Ben and Felix are paired up in the murder investigation and there’s a decent sexual tension between them. There’s a scene where Felix ‘marks’ Ben as his own as a way to protect him which could have been sensual but I was just a bit confused as to what was happening. The story was too short to cover such a complex thing as a murder investigation, so the end seemed a little too sudden and convenient. I finished the story thinking ‘oh, was that it?’ and rather disappointed that the promising opening didn’t follow through.

So, overall this had a great opening but tailed off at the end. This may not be the best story I’ve ever read, but that opening showed an author with a lot of promise and I will certainly read more of her stories in future.

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choclTitle: Blood Bonds
Author: Kayla Bain-Vrba
Length: 8,200 words (33 pdf pages)
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m futuristic horror
Rating: C

Blurb:

Two years after a virus began turning the population into zombies, the survivors are hearing rumors of a safe city — Sean Doberman and his newly reunited lover, Aaron Cambelle, among them. However, their years apart have changed them. Is the bond between them strong enough to overcome any obstacle — including blood?

Review:

This was an interesting concept that I felt kind of got muddled at the end and a bit lost. As the blurb notes, after a virus starts destroying civilization, people are wandering trying to find a mythical city of safety. Sean is a loner surviving by killing zombies when he’s assisted in a group attack by another man. He’s stunned and thrilled to find it is his lover whom he was sure died sometime in the last two years like most people. However Aaron has formed a small band of others like him and they are moving northward and Sean joins them. The others are a bit sceptical at first and Sean tries to figure out who Aaron is now.

It seems they were “normal” college kids preparing to marry when the virus hit. But now Aaron appears to be a player and a con-man, willing to do anything to anyone to gain an advantage. Sean isn’t sure he likes this new version of Aaron and it doesn’t help that Aaron’s comrades keep feeding him information which makes him doubt their reunion.

I liked the set-up of the new civilization (or sorts). The reunion between the two men was smoking hot and I wasn’t sure which way it was going to go when Sean was starting to get to know Aaron again. There was a lot of tension between what he remembered and who the man was now. But it seems as the story drew to a close, there was a bit of a rush and I felt it was muddled as to why some things happened.

I also wasn’t sure if this was set in a futuristic earth as we know it, or something a bit alternate universe. The two men had been about to marry, but then they make a blood bond under a full moon which is stronger than even a marriage. I don’t know very many people who would even think of such a thing today, and this all happened only two years after the virus hit, so I was just a bit confused as to where that came from.

Still, if you like zombie stories, it’s an interesting take on the theme and as I said, the sex between the two men was pretty steamy. I just think it either needed a little more time to flesh out, as it’s left kind of hanging as to what happens next.

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