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Archive for July, 2013

Brennessel_Running_Up_That_HillTitle: Running up that Hill
Author: Barry Brennessel
Length: 13,000 words
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: m/m historical (1986) romance
Rating: B

Blurb:
For Jeremy Saura, a song by Kate Bush holds all the answers. Pushes him onward. Sends him running up that road. Up that hill. Up that building.

Jeremy gets chills as he listens to the lyrics. The song, a beautiful powerhouse of determination over despair, only gains in impact as he replays it. Seven times. “I adore you Kate Bush,” he whispers to her photograph. For Jeremy, “Running Up That Hill” gives him the momentum he needs to navigate the trials and tribulations of a new job, a complex friendship, and a budding workplace romance.

Review:
I have a fondness for this author’s books as they often manage to blend the serious with gentle humour. This book was no exception. The story is set in 1986. Our narrator, Jeremy, has started a new job at a publishing company, dealing with editorial mistakes. It’s mostly tedious paperwork but his day is brightened by a trip to the upper floor where he helps out hunky editor, Adam.

There were two themes within this story. firstly, there’s the romance between Jeremy and Adam. It’s not an easy start for them but I thought that the author had managed to capture that moment of ‘is he/isn’t he?’ and the awkwardness of a new beginning. The uncertainty continues through the next few days and the story ends on a HFN which left me smiling.

The second theme is linked with the 1980’s setting and covers different aspects of life in 1986. This was a pleasing nostalgic trip for me (the story begins the day after what was my 14th birthday) and it showed a moment in time when the technological world was starting to take off. Jeremy buys 45s instead of LPs but CDs are starting to become popular and some of the bands mentioned in the story made me smile at the memory – although my taste in music at that age leaned more towards Wham and Madonna than Kate Bush :). Most of Jeremy’s job involves bits of paper but there’s much fun to be had in the reactions to the new Word Processors that have been introduced to the office. There’s serious stuff too with AIDS being a part of life for gay men but even this was handled in a fairly lighthearted way.

Overall, this was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me but was intertwined with a nicely written romance and I’d definitely recommend the story to those who remember the 1980s.

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ThePrincesKnightTitle: The Prince’s Knight
Author: Agnes Black
Length: 19 pages
Publisher: Rinascita Press
Genre: m/m historical romance
Rating: C+

Blurb:
The Heir to the throne has a sweet arrangement with a King’s knight, taking pleasure in secret rendezvous… Until emotions change everything.

Review
This historical short is set in a quasi-Medieval setting with a fictional prince and his knight lover. Bryce has been Gregory’s lover for a few months now, but there always seems to be a distance between them. When the king arrives from a visit away, bringing with him a prospective bride for Gregory, Bryce knows that his attachment to Gregory has been in vain.

This is a story of mixed messages and misunderstandings which, if I have to be honest, isn’t my favourite type of plot. The story begins well with Bryce enjoying the desires of Gregory but confused as to where he lies in the prince’s affections. He’s new to the palace and thinks of himself as the latest in a long line of Gregory’s lovers. We then switch to Gregory’s point of view as he worries about his growing feelings for Bryce and whether Bryce sees him as someone to whom he is doing his duty, rather than Bryce returning any feelings.The arrival of the bride to be causes further misunderstanding before all is sorted by them actually talking to each other – hooray for communicating your feelings :).

I finished the story feeling that I’d had a pleasant interlude, even if the misunderstanding wasn’t really my thing. I liked the characters and was pleased when they had worked things out. However, the length of the story means there’s little in terms of character development and it’s really just a moment in time, a short crisis and then all is resolved fairly easy which didn’t make it a story to stick long in the mind. The writing is good though and I’ll be sure to check out further stories by this author.

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17206813Title: Off with Their Heads (Gentlemen’s Tales of Love, Lust and the Undead)
Author: K.A. Merikan
Length: 17,500 words (60 pdf pages)
Publisher: Acerbi & Villani
Genre: m/m fantasy horror
Rating: B

Blurb:

— Why would anyone need to steal ten zombie heads? —

It’s 1907, twenty years after the outbreak of a zombie Plague. For a young student of medicine like Clint, the undead bodies provide an opportunity to study human physiology in the working. He is a good young man: tidy, well-mannered and hard working. Focused on his goal to become an excellent surgeon, Clint has a bright future ahead of him. If it weren’t for a shameful secret he’s forced to keep, his life would have been perfect.

Xavier, a peculiar foreigner he finds in the morgue late at night, claims to be an assistant to one of Clint’s professors, but doesn’t know the first thing about the proper way to behead zombies. Xavier’s story has many loose ends, but something about him unlocks all the emotions Clint always kept bottled up inside. When he learns the truth about Xavier, Clint finds himself involved in a conspiracy that could destroy everything he’s worked so hard for. Frightened by the possible consequences, yet strangely fascinated by the eccentric, tattooed stranger, Clint follows him to places he would never dare explore on his own.

Review:

This story was less about zombies than I expected and more about Clint’s opportunity to find a relationship and explore his sexuality. This is setting in an interesting world where zombies roam attacking people, but the cities, in this case London have built walls to keep them out. A budding medical student, Clint works in the morgue, part of his job requires the cutting off of zombie heads. One night he comes across a man he presumes is the professor’s new assistant, and before long he’s helping the man cut the heads off 10 zombies (who keep moving and biting even when severed). But as they are leaving, he suddenly is aware that Xavier is not an assistant, but is stealing the heads. Despite the fact that he is shocked and repulsed by Xavier’s plan to make a statue out of the heads to make a political statement, he helps him escape with the heads.

At Xavier’s house, they have some time together and Xavier pushes past Clint’s inhibitions and they have their first encounter. The police arriving cause some chaos, forcing Clint and Xavier to escape and head back to Clint’s rooms with the heads. I liked that Xavier tries to come across as this hardcore tattooed political vigilante, but with Clint he was pretty much a marshmallow. He was teasing but gentle, easing Clint into the world of gay sex with humour, but without being nasty. Clint’s absolute joy at finding someone he can be with and who he finds attractive, although perhaps not in the way many of us would say is physically ideal, was a pleasure to experience with him. You only get Clint’s POV, but he gives enough insight into Xavier’s personality to not leave the story feeling too one-sided.

The only thing that bothered me was the ending. I presume it’s left for a sequel, but I wanted to more about the political climate and the politicians’ plans to create an army to take back the countryside outside the city from the zombies, and where on earth was Xavier building his 10-headed statue? I got as caught up in the “plot” as the relationship, and wanted to know where it was going.

So there are no zombies chasing them down. It’s not Shawn of the Dead with m/m. But it is set in an interesting, yet grimy creepy world with Xavier who is a very non-traditional romance hero without muscles on muscles and with some radical political views for the day. The tone is light enough to keep it from being too dark, and I think it’s a fun read if you are looking for something very different from the norm.

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coldhandsTitle: Cold Hands
Author: Erica Pike
Length: 13,900 words
Publisher: Ice Cave Publishing
Genre: m/m romance
Rating: B+

Blurb:
“Hot-Hands” and Casper have been dating for a month, but their relationship is about as smooth as shattered glass. It doesn’t help that Hot-Hands is racked with guilt over his high school bullying of Casper, or that Casper darts away whenever his boyfriend gets a little too frisky.

Desperate to hang onto Casper, Hot-Hands tries to earn back the trust he destroyed years ago, so they can face their disastrous past and have a chance at a happy future.

Cold Hands focuses on high school bullying for being gay. This is the sequel to Hot Hands and contains big spoilers if read first. Hot Hands can be downloaded for free.

Review:
I really enjoyed the previous story to this one Hot Hands which Cole reviewed here. That story managed to combine a sexy read with some serious themes of high school bullying and loss of self confidence. That theme is still present in this story but it’s taken from the point of view of Jamie, the man who used to bully Casper when they were at high school.

My one disappointment with the first book is that it ended before many of the major issues surrounding the bullying had been addressed. This story sets out to right that and by taking it from Jamie’s point of view we see the utter remorse that Jamie feels over his past actions and his desire to make things right with Casper. In some ways this was more effective than seeing everything from Casper’s point of view, and I thought the author had done well to show how much the past still effects Casper and the conflicting emotions he feels about Jamie, despite never hearing his thoughts on the page.

We begin the story a little time after the end of the first book. Casper and Jamie are effectively boyfriends but Casper finds it difficult to trust Jamie. He throws out lots of mixed responses to Jamie – one minute they are making out and the next Casper freezes and has to escape – and Jamie finds this both upsetting and frustrating. He’s at a loss as to how to make things better but he loves Casper and can’t let him go. I felt a great deal of sympathy for both men because I understood the difficulties that both were facing and I wanted things to work out for them.

As I said earlier, the theme of past bullying is a main feature of the story and here we get some difficult scenes as Casper tells Jamie of some of the things that happened to him when Jamie wasn’t around, or Jamie remembers the way he acted towards Casper in high school. There was a good balance between the reader understanding some of the horrid things that Jamie did and the feelings he has for his behaviour now and that allowed me to see him as a sympathethic character, even if I couldn’t condone his past actions.

The key issue of the story is trust and I liked seeing how Casper’s trust grew as he began to forgive Jamie. The ending was lovely and very romantic. I can’t say that all the issues between these guys have been sorted, but I finished the book hopeful for their future which for me was the best possible outcome.

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Ill_Be_Watching_YouTitle: I’ll be Watching You
Author: Banjamin Cole
Length: 20,000 words
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: m/m romance
Rating: B-

Blurb:
The spirit of a man murdered by a serial killer watches helplessly as his killer stalks two young lovers just beginning a tentative romance.

Henry has made a conscious choice to focus his attention on his career and put off romance until the time is right. Then Andy breezes into his life and breaks down his defenses. When a serial killer that has been stalking the city sets his sights on the young couple, the lonely ghost of an earlier victim searches desperately for a way to warn the two.

Review:
This story begins in a spine chilling way with a scene where we are in the head of a serial killer as he strangles his latest victim. That victim is Angel whose spirit is trapped on the mortal plane and who is determined to get revenge on the man who murdered him. Next door to the murderer lives Henry, whose lonely existence is suddenly brightened when he meets Andy. Both men are happy together and completely oblivious to the fact that the murderer has set his sights on Andy as his next victim.

I really liked the way that this story built in intensity. The main four characters of the killer, Angel, Henry and Andy all have a narrative voice in the story and this helped the slow creeping intensity as the killer sets his sights on Andy and begins to stalk him. This is then offset by the charming romance between Andy and Henry, and the frustration of Angel as he seeks a way to exact his revenge despite his limitations as a ghost. There are other viewpoints too which are used to dramatic effect. At first I was a little confused as to why I’d dipped into a different character’s head, but it all became clear as the story progressed.

Another positive was the character of Andy who was a delight and I really enjoyed the burgeoning relationship between the happy-go-lucky Andy and the cautious and slightly grumpy Henry. Their romance worked and I was happy for them.

If I have any niggles it’s that, despite being in the killer’s head, we never really understand the background as to why he kills. We are told that he sees these men, falls in love from afar but the fact that they will never love him means he must kill them. However, there must have been a catalyst for this, a failed relationship or past bullying which then led to such a thought pattern. In the end he just becomes a monster, and I would have preferred a little more subtlety.

However, that was just a small niggle in what was a chilling story of murder with a sweet romance and a clever resolution – I particularly liked the way that Angel was used at the end of the story – and I would recommend it if you are looking for a story with some thrills.

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dirtycopTitle: Dirty Cop (Dirty Stories)
Author: Kyle Adams
Length: 4,599 words
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: m/m Contemporary Erotica
Rating: B+

Blurb: Some guys will do anything to avoid getting a speeding ticket. But what is a guy to do when the cop he thought he left in the dust, shows up at his front door looking like a pissed off badger? This story is a free read and was originally released on Hearts on Fire Reviews.

Review: I just love Kyle Adam’s stories and this is one of his best! Conrad is in big trouble when he’s pulled over by a sexy cop. As soon as the man asks for his papers, he yells, “Scissors, I win!” and drives away. Now he’s at home and begging his dog, Princess Leia to distract Daddy Brayden when he gets home so he can confess.

But before that can happen, the big sexy cop knocks on his door. And he isn’t happy!

Last year I started reviewing Kyle’s Dirty stories, starting with Dirty Fighters and Dirty Zero, both of which I really liked. So I’m glad that I’m reviewing this story now so I can go back and review all the others. The best part about this story is Conrad, who is hilarious and totally into what is happening with the cop. It’s hot and dirty (not raunch dirty though) and a little peek into his life. In the past Kyle Adams has written sequels for some of his shorts and I’d really love for him to continue this one! Definitely recommended 🙂

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Wouldnt_It_Be_GoodTitle: Wouldn’t it be Good
Author: Logan Zachary
Length: 6,000 words
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: m/m romance
Rating: C

Blurb:
Wouldn’t it be good to have music bridge the gap between two men?

Jason is the football god on campus, and Scott is not. After an incident in gym class, Scott leaves school embarrassed and bruised. Jason tries to help, but all he can do is leave a tape of mixed songs for Scott hoping to help him feel better. Music can calm the savage beast, but can it bridge the gap between Mr. Perfect and Mr. Wrong? One song speaks volumes to Scott, and his defenses begin to crumble as the men become closer and closer. Wouldn’t it be good to have a friend?

Review:
This was one of those stories which I thought was OK whilst reading it, but proved to be ultimately forgettable. I read it a couple of days ago and when I came to write the review, I struggled to remember parts and had to go back and re-read.

Scott was bullied in high school and hopes that life in College will be better. Unfortunately, the bullies have followed him to College and he’s still getting harrassed. Jason is a jock who was always an onlooker to Scott’s bullies but once he sees that Scott’s problems are not over, he steps in to help.

One of the reasons why this story didn’t stay with me is that the characters are so generic and bland. Scott is a victim who exists in a bubble. He doesn’t seem to have any friends and his only family is an ill mother who remains unseen. We’re fed bits of information about Scott – such as his role as a carer for his mum – but don’t see any of that on page, so it end up being ‘stuff we know about him’ instead of part of his character. Jason is even more of an enigma and we know next to nothing about him other than he’s a football player who suddenly develops a conscience about Scott’s bullying.

The last part of the story focuses on a sex scene which was well written but lacking in real emotion as everything moved so quickly. One minute Scott was being bullied by one of the jocks, a brief scene where Jason hands over a tape with songs on it and then Jason, who had been complicit in the bullying, turns up at Scott’s house and they have sex. The ending is tied up too conveniently and there wasn’t enough in the story to leave me confident that a) Jason isn’t just using Scott for sex and b) they have enough in common for even a HFN.

So overall, this wasn’t a bad story, or even badly written, I just found it difficult to connect to the characters and that made it one that didn’t stick in my mind for long.

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stealingTitle: Stealing Home
Author: Derek Adams
Length: 5,829 words (25 pdf pages)Publisher: eXtasy Books
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating:  C

Blurb:

Pat Chandler doesn’t know first base from a pop fly. That never mattered until now, when his boss takes him off a plum assignment covering a major fashion show and banishes him to the wilds of Arizona. Instead of interviewing important designers, he’s charged with getting the goods on a rookie pitcher from the middle of nowhere. Things go from bad to worse for Pat, but then he meets the rookie and everything begins to change as Pat learns to steal home.

Review:

This started out heading towards erotica, then took a quick turn at the end into what felt like a forced HEA. Pat’s boss sends him to cover spring training of the local baseball team, even though he normally covers fashion and design. When he arrives, he finds his boss hadn’t booked him a hotel room and there are no rooms available in town. He ends up sleeping in his car and his Armani suits don’t go over well with the coach, although he finds the new hot shot pitcher they’ve found intriguing.

After a couple of days he goes for lunch with the pitcher and when he finds out Pat is sleeping in his car, invites him back to share his apartment. Before long they are getting hot and heavy in the bathroom. Then it went into a quick left turn from raunchy sex involving cock-docking to declarations of love and Pat giving up his newspaper job to move with Marcus to his farm in Georgia. What? You’ve only spoken with him for a few hours and have simply ogled him playing ball, how can you say you love each other? And doesn’t he have to honour his contract with the team?

The style here is more gritty in the sense that there are no sweet words. The prose if raw and telling it like it is, describing the sex with straightforward terms that you often find more in erotica than sweet romance. I liked Pat and Marcus is more of a good old boy than a ball player, but I was rather put off by the declarations of love when they’ve spent next to know time together. It felt jarring and as if a decision was made at the last minute to quickly make it HEA rather than HFN. Having them agree to try and get to know each other while Marcus played for the team would have made me happier. But then, that’s me. Some people love their HEA no matter how it happens, and others may find it rather romantic and fantastical as romance stories can tend to be.

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asecretloveTitle: A Secret Love
Author: Douglas Black
Length: 12,000 words
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: m/m romance
Rating: B

Blurb:
James is nervous when he pulls into the parking lot of the secluded and conservative Caledonian Hotel. He slips off his wedding ring, gives a false name at reception, and checks into his room.

When Mark finally arrives, James expects their time together to conform to the usual pattern, but Mark surprises him. Mark wants candlelit dinners and walks on the beach. James, well, James just wants to make up for lost time. More importantly, he doesn’t want to get caught. They have six months left before they can start a new life together and James is desperate to be discrete.

Unfortunately, he never could control himself around Mark. Throw in an interfering old couple and some very public displays of affection and Mark and James’s short hotel stay might just be about to destroy not only the secrecy that has always shrouded their relationship, but also their future together.

Review:
The blurb sets this story up well. James has driven north from his dull job as a teacher in Glasgow and Mark flies up from London where they meet for an illicit encounter. It’s been months since they last met and the pain of separation has been hard for both of them. Mark seems to be the driving force in their encounters and James has found it difficult to wait for Mark, to suffer through the separation. I thought that James’ feelings were vividly written and I felt all his nervousness, all his anticipation and his strong feelings of desire and love for Mark.

Another aspect which worked well was James’ confusion over Mark’s change in behaviour. He’s spent a long time being circumspect and discreet with Mark and now Mark seems to have become suddenly reckless. Part of this is because the end is in sight but James’ still struggles with Mark’s overt declarations of desire, feeling embarrassed about such outward shows of affection. Tied up with this is the elderly couple who seem to appear from nowhere to pour cold water on the couple with their disapproval. I liked the way that this worked out in the end. It not only allowed Mark to have his revenge on the couple but also tied up some questions quite neatly.

This is a very romantic story with sex being a big part in showing the love between the men. The sex is hot but there’s also a lot of fun and friendship between them, showing that they are comfortable with each other. I liked this very much and as a slice of life with an established couple it worked well for me.

I only had a couple of niggles. One was that James is so overwhelmed at times by Mark’s behaviour that I felt he was sometimes being made to behave in a way which went against his personality, and that made me feel a little uncomforatable. The second niggle is only minor in that there was a scene at the end involving a butt plug which seemed a bit unnecessary to the plot and I wasn’t sure why it had been included.

Overall this was a nicely written romance with a big awwww factor at the end. I’ve not read anything by this author before but this story was so engaging that I’ll be sure to look out for future releases.

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18131673Title: Pearls Like Rain
Author: Michael Barnette
Length: 17,400 words (60 pdf pages)
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m fantasy
Rating: B-

Blurb:

Raien and Kaelys have reached the final dueling match that decides the championship and conveys a rich purse for the winner. With their dreams for the future at stake, neither of them is going to make it easy for the other to win. But when a bright flash of light momentarily blinds Kaelys causing him to make a mistake more than money is on the line. With Raien’s life at stake and the outcome of the match undecided they have nothing to do but talk to one another. They discover things that have the potential to change everything. Unfortunately the future each of them desires hinges on one thing: Who won the championship?

Review:

This was a sweet little fantasy romance, although I found the end smacked of insta-love, which I didn’t love.

The blurb pretty much explains it. The two men are dueling, when a flash of light causes Kaelys to mis-strike and he nearly kills Raein, however healers are able to keep him alive, and he rests at Kaelys’ house to recover. They discuss whether the flash was an attempt on Raein’s life, or some other nefarious plot. Raein may be a Baron, but his family lost their fortune and horse farm, and he needs the money to buy a small piece of land. Kaelys is the son of the Emperor, but his father insists he make his own way, and needs the winnings to buy some property where he will raise half-horse/half-unicorns.

However to throw a wrench in the mix the two find themselves attracted, and they know that can’t go well as they will surely have to have a rematch for the yearly championship. How can you concentrate on winning when you are attracted to your opponent?

It’s an interesting world, where despite Raein’s poverty, he has expensive clothes and jewelry, as a large part of winning the duel appears to be how you are dressed. If you aren’t up to snuff, you don’t win. Or as often. However there are also different species. Raein is small with purple hair, Kaelys is large and has red eyes and fingernails that will form claws if not trimmed. This was where I was left wanting a bit more world building. How do the species mix? Obviously Kaelys’ father rules over everyone, but the logistics of it weren’t clear.

Then when a solution presents itself, there is a declaration of love, although at first Raein is cautious that maybe it’s just love. One bout of sex though leads to mutual declaration. I get that it’s fantasy (they ride unicorn stallions to deliver the mail), and believe that the gods put them together for a reason, but there is fate and there is insta-love. So I would have preferred they just leave it as “we are fated to be together” rather than “I love you”. But others won’t mind that so much, it just kind of disappointed me at the end.

It’s a lovely written story though, with lots of descriptions of the world, and some alternative relationships, including same-sex marriage and polyamoury depending on the species. I just would have liked a bit more background and a slower relationship conclusion.

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