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Archive for June, 2013

New Sip coverTitle: Summer Storm
Author: Molly Church
Length: 5,600 words
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m paranormal
Rating: C-

Blurb:
One wet, wild summer day, Cathal, a young Irishman, is out walking along the beach near his home, only to see an injured selkie stumble ashore. A storyteller himself, Cathal feels a strange sort of responsibility for the fairytale creature, and brings him home. Over the course of the summer, their relationship grows into love, only for the selkie’s mysterious past to come back to haunt them.

Review:
Cathal is walking the beach near his seaside cottage, trying to battle the demons of writer’s block, when he sees a seal on the beach. Before his eyes the seal transforms into a man. As Cathal approaches he see that the selkie is injured and carries him and his seal skin back to his house. The selkie stays with Cathal to recover but the danger the selkie has been running from soon catches up with him.

I really liked the idea for this story and it had some lovely touches. The writing was good and the character of Cathal showed us a pragmatic man who didn’t seem at all unnerved to find an injured selkie on the beach. The selkie, called Slinky of all things, was an interesting character and I liked the awkwardness of the first few days.

It was a shame then that the initial promise of the story didn’t materialise. The rest of the story wasn’t bad, there was just too much crammed into a short word length. The relationship is skipped over so when we come to what could have been an emotional separation, I was left unmoved even as Cathal is weeping for his lover. A couple of characters are introduced but are mere shadows in the story. We are told twice that one character visits the toilet and yet know practically nothing else about him except his relationship to Slinky. Cathal is so passive and just calmly accepts what happens, instead of demanding that some questions were answered.

Finally, even though our heroes are reunited, I couldn’t see the relationship lasting. They are too different and not enough time is given to show them as a couple for me to believe that Slinky will successfully integrate with the human world. If the story had been expanded to show more of the couple during the summer months, or to see Slinky out and about in society rather than in the cottage with Cathal, then I may have been able to connect better with the characters and their relationship. Instead I felt this was a bit of a missed opportunity for a great story.

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PeepshowTitle: Peepshow
Author: Clare London
Length: 16,000 words
Publisher: Amber Allure
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: B

Blurb:
Ever wanted to spy secretly on other people’s lives? Ken doesn’t have a choice: his student summer job is manning the CCTV screens for the new shopping centre. But instead of spotting criminals or vandals, he becomes fascinated by a cute waiter from the local bistro who sneaks out to the backyard for his break—and plays sexy to the camera.

Is he an old friend, or just an anonymous exhibitionist? Should Ken be excited by this naughty peepshow, or will people think he’s behaving like a voyeuristic pervert? Poor Ken’s confused and thrilled in turn. It’s like living in one of the movies he’s studying at university. He knows the man can’t see him, yet Ken feels a connection of some kind. It all encourages Ken to continue with his guilt-ridden Waiter Watch.

Ken bears the suspense as long as he can, until a chance meeting and an abortive blind date provide an explanation to the secret assignations. But will this guide Ken to the real-life chance of romance?

Review:
Ken has a really dull job watching the CCTV cameras at a local shopping centre. Nothing ever happens and the hours of his shift crawl by. Ken notices a new waiter at one of the restaurants attached to the shopping centre who comes out to the break area and deliberately winks at the camera. Ken starts watching out for the guy and is aroused and shocked when the guy masturbates in front of him. Now Ken feels guilty, like the worst kind of voyeur, until he discovers it may have been a deliberate act to get his attention.

This story surprised me. I thought it was going to go one way, with the sexy waiter and Ken meeting up and finding romance, and in a way it does, but the focus is more on Ken’s guilty feelings about watching the waiter which made it more of an interesting story than it may have been. The opening shows Ken’s growing interest in the waiter, culminating in that masturbation scene. This wasn’t as sexy as I thought it would be because Ken has mixed feelings about the whole thing. It’s described well with the graininess of the CCTV picture adding to the slightly sordid encounter. This reflects in how uncomfortable Ken feels. He’s turned on, feels compelled to keep watching, but also feels guilt at spying on a man in a private moment.

When the two men finally meet, these feelings overshadow their ‘date’. You get the impression that Ken is a decent guy. He’s realistic in that he’s not expecting hearts and romance, but the sordid nature of that first encounter means that he questions the waiter’s integrity. Is he the sort of man who would masturbate in public for just anyone? The waiter claims it was a desperate attempt to get Ken’s attention but Ken still feels awkward. This was reflected in their interactions – one minute Ken was fine and happy that they were potentially starting a new relationship, the next he was filled with doubt. The waiter (I’m being deliberately vague here about who the waiter is) knows he’s made a misstep and I really liked the way he tries to smooth things over. It’s obvious that he likes Ken a great deal as that comes through in his desperate attempts to apologise and make amends. They have to work for their HFN ending and this seemed more realistic than just dismissing their problems and jumping into bed together.

Another plus point to the story was Ken and his friends. There’s enough of a background to get a feel for their close friendship and I enjoyed the camaraderie between them, the joking and teasing that happen when groups of men get together. This added a much needed lightness to the story.

So overall, this story was very different to how I thought it would be. This is not a bad thing because ultimately the story was more interesting as a result. the focus on the awkwardness of the situation, rather than glossing it over with lust and desire made this story stand out from other stories and I would recommend it.

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IceHeartSMTitle: Ice Heart
Author: Kay Ellis
Length: 10,125 words (40 pdf pages)
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: B-

Blurb:

Jack Holloway loves two things: Aaron Stone and hockey. Unfortunately, he refuses to acknowledge the first and lets his temper rule the second. He’s turned his life into a list of “can’ts.” He can’t talk with his parents, can’t hold down a job, can’t stay out of trouble, and can’t let go of his reputation as a tough guy on the ice—even if it might cost him his career. Most of all, he can’t admit he has fallen in love with another man. If Jack doesn’t knock that chip off his shoulder, he’s going to lose it all. If he can accept himself and Aaron and stop hiding, he might be able to finally win something bigger than a timeout in the penalty box.

Review:

This friends-to-lovers hockey story starts out with a bang, literally. Jack is about to score a goal when he’s taken out by his own teammate. He punches Aaron, getting himself suspended and you are left wondering what their story is. It soon becomes clear, Aaron and Jack are best friends, and the night before, they had sex. Jack considers himself straight, and everyone knows that Aaron is gay. When Jack snuck out the next morning, Aaron was annoyed enough to ruin his scoring chance.

This is not professional hockey, but more small-town league. However the guys are mini-celebs and the puck-bunnies are lined up to have a good time, and Jack has never been stingy with sharing the love. However his sudden switch to the dark-side has him freaking out. Jack’s got issues. He’s the team enforcer with a temper, and keeps getting himself in trouble for fighting, eventually getting kicked off the team. He can’t seem to hold a job, still lives with his parents, and feels his life is just kind of going nowhere. He worries how his teammates and his parents will view him being gay,and of course, his fear hurts Aaron more than once.

Of course the fact that Jack, and Aaron, were both playing games rather than talking about it was frustrating, but that’s what people do sometimes. At least it didn’t go on for weeks and weeks, it was only a matter of a couple of days, if that. So I didn’t mind so much, and I liked how their teammates and coach were supportive of them, and figured it was “about time” since they were always together anyway. The only thing I would have liked was to see a bit more of Jack’s family’s reaction. His father seemed stunned but didn’t freak out exactly, so I would have enjoyed maybe a bit more exploration of his relationship with his parents, and whether finally admitting his love for Aaron would help put his life on a more positive path.

I did enjoy it though, and despite the stubborn behaviour, it fit Jack’s character that he would react either by lashing out or avoiding the situation. I think Aaron was a saint for putting up with him. 🙂

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TrustTitle: Trust
Author: Cassandra Gold
Length: 12,000 words
Publisher: Amber Allure
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: B-

Blurb:
Detective Zach Davis has always prized his iron control. Life has taught him that emotions and trust are things to be avoided at all costs. Then his lover leaves him, citing the distance between them, and Zach realizes something has to change.

Could a night at a BDSM club be the perfect way for him to show Lane he really can let go and build an equal relationship?

Review:
This story begins with the end of a relationship. Zach is a cop who has just finished a tough case. He turns up at his lover’s house but weeks of being emotionally uncommunicative followed by two weeks of no contact was the last straw for Lane and he tells Zach that the relationship isn’t working. A few weeks later and Zach is still hurting. He knows he’s been an idiot and so decides to concoct an elaborate scheme to show Lane how much he cares.

I wasn’t sure how well the initial situation would work in this story as, on the surface, it seems rather contrived. However, this was saved a little by both heroes acknowledging that the situation was rather strange. Zach wonders if a grand gesture will work, and then later when he visits the club for the first time, whether he’s made a huge mistake. Lane is also quick to point out the flaws in Zach’s plan, especially that sex will not ultimately solve their problems. This meant that I was able to set aside my own doubts over the situation.

The opening to the story quickly drew me in. I liked the way that Zach reaches the conclusion that he’s been a total selfish idiot. I also liked his sister who offers sensible advice. Another part that worked was in the build up to the reconciliation. Would Lane come to the club or would Zach be left feeling foolish? It was a nicely written piece of anticipation.

The final scene was also done well, and I liked that both men talked to each other. Zach’s opening up to Lane was a poignant moment and the sex that followed was hot but with a strong sense of emotional attachment.

My only problems with the story stemmed from the character of Lane. We never really know much about him, except that he has travelled a lot, and in many ways he was a little perfect. That was only a minor negative point though in a story I found engrossing. If you’re looking for a story with a slight D/s bent to it, then this would be a good one to pick up.

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HardDTitle: Hard D
Author: Elinor Gray
Length: 7,051 words (30 pdf pages)
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: C+

Blurb:

en Meyers has played Ultimate Frisbee since his first week at college, and at every tournament he comes face to face with Darius O’Neill, his favorite rival. This time, though, their good-natured competition goes off the field to the after-party and beyond, when three years of tension finally breaks open on the sheets of Darius’s dorm-issue twin bed.

Review:

There are essentially two aspects to this book, the sport part and the relationship part. I quite enjoyed the relationship part, the sport part had me completely lost. Now this is me, one reader who has never played nor watched a game of Ultimate. I had not read the blurb when I started the story, and it took me a while to figure out what sport it was. I was just unfamiliar with the terminology, so I found it didn’t really make much sense some of the time, and I had trouble visualizing the action. Again, if you are an ultimate fan, this will likely be a non-issue.

However I quite enjoyed the two main characters. They’ve known each other from various tournaments over their time at neighboring universities. There is a bit of flirting and good-natured rivalry, but respect as well. It’s all in fun and no one seemed to take the games too seriously. So when they end up at Darius’s university for a big tournament hosted by Darius and his friends, it’s finally a chance for Ben and Darius to get together.

The sex was well written and rather sweet, given that the guys had been crushing on each other for a while. And there is talk of seeing each other after, although they live one hour apart and seem to think that is a big deal. I think I grew up in an unusual situation or maybe it’s a Canadian thing? But that’s not a big deal. Meet in the middle, that’s 30 min. 🙂 It’s one hour from one end of our spread-out city to the other. But hey, that’s me.

I salute the author for using a rather obscure (although apparently growing in popularity) sport, but perhaps a glossary would have been useful for people like me to understand what the different positions meant. I just wasn’t clear what their roles were supposed to be, or exactly how you scored a point. Still, if you want to give an alternative sport a whirl, the romance in the second part of the book is definitely worthwhile reading.

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harnessingTitle: Harnessing
Author: DJ Manly
Length: 18,000 words
Publisher: Amber Allure
Genre: m/m steampunk sci-fi horror
Rating: C+

Blurb:

Angus has never known freedom. He was born into a world overtaken by aliens who drank the blood of humans. Only Doctor Often offered hope for survival, and every day a fascinated Angus would sneak into the caves to watch the brilliant man tinker in a laboratory with its menagerie of gadgets, glued-together test tubes, and frayed wires.

Then one day, Angus goes home only to discover both his mother and little brother missing. Alone, he returns to Doctor Often, who trains and mentors him. As time passes, Angus and the doctor build their underground community, rescuing humans while food sources dwindle for both aliens and humans alike. Meanwhile, they also work on a steam engine that will one day, hopefully, allow them to build a flying machine to fight their overseers in the sky. But even though steam is the necessity to their possible survival, it’s also in dreadfully short supply.

When a blood-drinker named Shylar surprisingly surrenders to Doctor Often and his followers, he says he can supply them with steam, claims he holds the key to defeating his own race, and will help them restore the world to the remaining humans. But can Angus and the doctor trust one of their world’s bloodthirsty captors, even if Angus has seen the compelling and alluring vampire in his dreams? Is Shylar leading them all into a deadly trap, or is the beautiful, mysterious alien their dark angel?

Review:

I enjoyed this rather dark steampunk story, but I’m afraid my logic resisted the ending. As noted in the blurb, Angus lives in a world of fear and death and destruction. Humans are treated as no more than animals and feed for the aliens. However Angus continues to go during the day to the underground tunnels where Doctor Often teaches, although one day when he finally approaches Doctor Often, wanting to be his apprentice in ridding the world of the aliens, his brother slips away and Angus considers him to have perished at alien hands along with his mother.

He spends the next period of years working with Doctor Often to create a steam engine which can defeat the alien steam machines they use for searching for humans. Humans are now getting scarce and they’ve taken to breeding them for food, although those they rescue live with the others underground in an area protected by sacred ground with the aliens can’t cross, until Shylar comes strolling in. He’s an atheist vampire, therefore the whole sacred ground thing doesn’t count. Angus is suspicious to say the least, when Shylar offers to help them develop a weapon against the aliens, and even more so when he tells Angus that his little brother didn’t die, but was eventually turned into a vampire after being Shylar’s lover for a time. That’s when Shylar found out about Angus and fell in love with him.

So getting past my issue of sleeping with members of the same family, I quite liked the dark tone of the story. The romance is really quite secondary to them trying to survive, people growing up having no idea what a train is, and scrounging for food and safety. My problem came in that after they defeat the aliens, they set about rebuilding their town and starting the train running, their big goal in life.

Here’s where my logic kicked in. They only developed a machine which attacked the aliens in their city, the aliens were dying because there weren’t enough humans to feed them, but we are a big planet. Hmm. Unless this wasn’t earth? They were called humans. Why wouldn’t the aliens just have gone to New York or somewhere with tons of humans? Why wouldn’t aliens in other places have come to defend their fellow vampires against an attack? So I think if you can just kind of let that whole thing go, and you like something that is a bit different and darker, you’ll probably enjoy this more than I did in the end.

It wasn’t the writing or the characters, I liked Shylar a great deal, but I just got myself caught up in the details which threw me off at the end. Others will probably not notice at all. So judge for yourself on this one.

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SL_MT_TrueTitle: True
Author: Sabrina Luna
Length: 9,000 words
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: B+

Blurb:
Dan Rockwell finds a mix tape in an old trunk which brings back memories of a special night in 1984.

When Dan Rockwell discovers a mix tape in an old trunk in his parents’ attic, it brings back fond memories. Coaxed by his partner, Dan recalls Russ Hill, the guy who gave him the mix tape, and their very sexy Spring night together back in 1984.

Review:
This was a really simple idea for a story and one that worked for me. Dan is rummaging about in his mother’s loft when he comes across an old trunk from his teenage years. His long time partner, Ian, is curious when Dan finds an old mix tape and asks Dan to tell him the story behind the tape.

The framing of the story works really well, and although we don’t really see much of 46 year old Dan and his partner of 10 years, their love and commitment to each other comes across strongly. The bulk of the story is Dan telling Ian of how he got the mix tape from the guy who was his first real sexual experience. This is a lengthy flashback which sometimes doesn’t work for me, but in the case of this story did work. I think it’s because the flashback is the whole point of the story. I really enjoyed this section, set in 1984, especially some of the references to the clothes and hair, as well as the songs of the time – from Van Halen to Spandau Ballet.

I also enjoyed seeing Dan’s first sexual experience, from the surprise that a guy he had been crushing on also liked him, to the jumble of emotions that comes with making out and that first time of skin on skin. The descriptions were perfectly pitched. It wasn’t just about sex because the author also manages to capture that awkward time of life where you are moving from teenager in adult life – the negotiating with parents and gaining more independence. It’s a time of moving from innocence into getting more experience of the world and it made me nostalgic to read about it in this story.

Overall, this was a story which I enjoyed a great deal. There’s not much to it and it’s a quick read but I felt that the emotions were perfectly captured and the descriptions of being 18 were spot on, and I’d highly recommend it.

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