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HeartoftheRaceTitle: Heart of the Race
Author: Mary Calmes
Length: 19,958 words (90 pdf pages)
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: C

Blurb:

Varro Dacien spends his life riding toward the next adventure. Brian Christie, his best friend and touchstone, the one person who’s always truly seen him, plays sidekick on these madcap adventures and subsequent trips to the hospital until he can’t take it anymore. While Brian can see Varro, Varro has never caught on that he’s breaking his best friend’s heart.

Without Varro, Brian builds himself a life that’s all about just getting by, doing his best to ignore the hole in his heart and his life. Without Brian to balance him, Varro pushes harder and takes more risks to reach that ultimate high. His job racing high-octane bikes on suicide-level courses makes it easy to get that rush… until it’s no longer enough and Varro realizes it’s not the race, but who’s waiting at the finish line that truly matters. Now he just has to convince Brian to be there.

Review:

A lot of co-dependence guilt-tripping caused my frustration with the story to detract from the overall feel. Brian was basically adopted by daredevil Varro’s family when he was in 4th grade. Varro and Brian were joined at the hip, Brian always there will Varro as he risked life and limb. When Brian reached his teen years, he realized he was not only gay but in love with Varro who was very straight. He found it very difficult to be around him, so went off to university and Varro started racing motorcycles.

After a particularly bad crash where Varro nearly died, Varro’s mother more or less guilt-trips Brian into quitting his job and going to follow Varro around Europe as he races to keep him safe. After watching Varro sleep with 3-4 women a night (stamina much?), Brian finally realizes that Varro is not going to change and he leaves to start his own life. A year later he’s doing well when Varro’s handler shows up begging Brian to come back, and Varro is right on his heals.

I found it frustrating that everyone figured it was Brian’s job to follow Varro around and keep him safe. It’s not the job of another human being to be a grown-ups babysitter. Everyone seemed to imply that what Varro was doing had more value than anything Brian could certainly be doing, so just make sure Varro doesn’t kill himself. Um. No. Maybe you should get Varro into therapy to find out why since childhood he’s been on the path to getting himself killed.

Also, the fact that no one ever talked about the real reason anything was happening was frustrating. Rather than explain why he was leaving, that he needed stability and his own life to be happy, he just walked off and said no particular reason why. I’m not all for talking it out forever, but some basic info sharing would be good. I think fans of the author probably will enjoy this. It has many of the hallmarks of her work, but I just couldn’t connect as I kept thinking that Brian’s 10 year obsession with Varro and Varro’s inability to look out for himself and needing Brain around, was leading to a very dysfunctional relationship.

Skin Deep by T.T. Kove

Bearded Caucasian tattooist creates a tattoo on a woman's shouldTitle: Skin Deep
Author: T.T. Kove
Length: 15,000 words
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: m/m contemporary romance
Rating: C+

Blurb:
Kian is dragged along as moral support when his friend Chloe goes to get a tattoo done. What he thinks will be a boring few hours standing around a shop proves exciting instead, when an attraction to the tattoo artist proves to be both mutual and scorching.

And if they can survive the challenges thrown across their path, it may also prove to be something beautiful and permanent.

Review:
This story is part of the same set which includes Reunited, a story I reviewed here. This takes place before that story and has Josh and Damien as minor characters – they are Silver’s roommates – and it’s not necessary to have read any of the other stories in the series.

Kian gets dragged along by his friend Chloe when she goes for a tattoo where he meets hunky tattooist, Silver. It’s lust at first sight and after a bout of sex, they manage to make that awkward move from lusty encounter to dating. The story then follows the pair over the next six months as they fall in love and their relationship is tested.

This was an interesting format in that it took several snapshots of the relationship, showing significant points where they encounter difficulties in their first six months but make it through to allow their relationship to strengthen. Unfortunately, the format also meant that it wasn’t easy to get to grips with the main characters because once they have worked through their problems we skip forward. This misses out on really getting an indepth knowledge of either man and so when it came to some painful revelations towards the end of the story, I felt detached from them. Another slight niggle was the inconsistencies in the London setting. One minute the characters sound like they are from EastEnders saying ‘blimey!’, and the next they are going to the ‘store’ instead of the shop or supermarket. That’s only a minor niggle though.

Despite the niggles, I still enjoyed the story. This author writes emotion well and I was caught up, especially with Kian as the pair work through any problems. I liked the way that everything was handled sensibly and that the couple talk through their issues. I wanted them to succeed. There was a good balance between hot and heavy, sweet and sexy, and a dose of angst. I’d definitely read more of this pair.

Milord by Dusk Peterson

MilordTitle: Milord
Author: Dusk Peterson
Length: 10,000 words
Publisher: Love in Dark Settings Press
Genre: m/m historical fantasy D/s romance
Rating: B

Blurb:
He was the model prisoner, respectful to his guards and loyal to his fellow prisoners. What no one knew was that he held the key to destruction.

Having pledged himself to assist in a popular movement by prisoners and guards to reform Mercy Life Prison, Llewellyn fears the future, when it is likely that the reform movement will face stiffer opposition from Mercy’s Keeper. But Llewellyn’s fear of the future is overwhelmed by the present knowledge that he is not what he appears to be. Until now, he has managed to hide his secret and to sway his guards to follow his chosen path.

Now he has been placed under the power of a guard who cannot be swayed and who is intent on bringing Llewellyn under his control. Can Llewellyn escape from his new guard’s control? Will he really want to, once he has seen the door open to a world filled with true respect, loyalty, and love?

This novelette can be read on its own or as the third story in the “Mercy’s Prisoner” volume of Life Prison. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is based on late Victorian prison life.

Review:
As it says in the blurb this story is part of a series of books set in a AU similar to that of a Victorian prison. It can be read as part of the whole story arc, or as a standalone and I found no trouble slipping into the world that the author has created.

As the story begins Llewellyn is in conversation with another prisoner. Both have been working towards a set of rules which prevents prisoners from being beaten for minor infractions. However, Llewellyn secretly craves the beatings and manipulates the guards to get what he wants, until he’s paired up with Milord, a guard with honour and a tight control on his emotions.

This story deals with the tricky subject of violent BDSM and I know it’s not a topic which appeals to everyone, even those who like their BDSM to be a bit dark. However, whilst this story gives us a glimpse of the minds of two men – one who is fighting a sadistic nature and one who desires to be beaten – the violence itself is only suggested to the reader, with most of the beatings themselves being behind closed doors. I thought this was an effective way of allowing the reader to see the feelings of the characters without having to read graphic accounts of beatings.

The AU world itself was very interesting. It’s a mix of historical and fantasy, with enough detail given in this short format to be able to understand what’s happening in this story but with other details that are only alluded to and which made me want to seek out other stories. The story ends with some things resolved and some threads which are left to be picked up in future stories, presumably.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. The author has rather a literary style of writing that appealed to me. If I have any niggles it’s that there was a long section where we are told the back story of one of the characters. Whilst this allowed us to get a lot of information in a short period of time, it did detract a little from the overall story. I would have liked to have seen more focus on the pair together, but maybe that’s just the romantic in me. If you like dark romance stories then this would be a good one to pick up.

steamyciderandapples200x300Title: Steamy Cider and Apples (Jobs that Don’t Suck #8 )
Author: Jackie Nacht
Length: 13,067 words (62 pdf pages)
Publisher: eXtasy Publishing
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: C+

Blurb:

Tyler has a problem. He doesn’t have the funds to cover his fraternal dues this year and needs to find a job. After going to his fraternity treasurer, Mitch, Tyler finds himself working with Mitch’s hot twin brother, Sawyer.

Sawyer has had a crush on Tyler since he first saw the man at his twin’s crazy fraternity. When opportunity arises for the two to work together at the cider mill, Sawyer won’t waste any time to ask Tyler out and hope the two will become more.

Will there be steamy feelings, and will they fall for each other?

Review:

“Short, sexy and sweet” is how the author describes her writing and that pretty much sums it up. When Tyler goes to Mitch for advice on how to pay his dues, Tyler suggests he work with his twin brother at the apple cider place who is looking for extra help in the autumn season. But it seems Sawyer has been working behind the  scenes to get his brother to hook him up with Tyler who is in the same fraternity as Mitch.

It doesn’t take Sawyer long to make his move, however between school and sports and work they don’t have much time to spend together. Just before Halloween, Tyler falls ill and Sawyer takes care of him. It’s all very sweet as the tag line suggests. These aren’t “boys gone wild” in college having raunchy sex anywhere and everywhere. They take their time, and it’s got a more “romantic” feel than perhaps reality for a lot of young adults, but it’s sweet to read.

This is book 8 and many of the characters from other books do make a showing, but it’s quite possible to read as a stand-alone. I’ve read about half of them, and to be honest, there are so many guys involved, I couldn’t always remember exactly who was who, but the main focus is on the two main characters so it’s fine.

When you are in the mood for a little cotton candy read without many obstacles and no angst, it’s a good choice for you. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure the characters will stick with me all that long.

Whiplash by Jack Greene

whiplashTitle: Whiplash
Author: Jack Greene
Length: 8,000 words (23 pdf pages)
Publisher:
Phaze Books
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: B-

Blurb:

When lawyer Jeff Richmond is rear-ended by a soccer mom in a minivan, he can’t believe it when the diagnosis is whiplash.

The prescription is physical therapy, but when he meets the therapist, adorably geeky Martin, he suddenly has other things on his mind.

Review:

This has the typical feel of a Jack Greene book, light and fun with a hint of the fantasy. Jeff is one of those driven lawyers who never has time for anything. Being rear-ended forces him to acknowledge that whiplash is a real thing. He’s forced to take time out of his busy schedule to undergo physiotherapy. Although once he meets his physiotherapist Martin, he’s not complaining quite so much.

After a few weeks of therapy, Jeff makes a move, but Martin explains that he’s very shy and a virgin which usually scares guys off, but Jeff is happy to tackle that little problem. 🙂

The rest of the book is their date at Martin’s house and the sexual interlude. There’s next to zero angst, but I do enjoy the author’s writing style and sometimes you just want something where everything works out pretty easily and leaves you with a smile on your face. I also like that Martin made Jeff lighten up a little bit, and having mild whiplash, I can only imagine how much it hurts when it’s serious. It was a fun read.

SurpriseTitle: Surprise! Surprise!
Author: Star Noble
Length: 10,800 words (40 pdf pages)
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m/m contemporary
Rating: C

Blurb:

Jason and Anthony are in a rut, and Jason can admit their love life has been less than stellar lately. But Anthony’s birthday is coming up, so Jason plans the perfect party to spice up the night and their relationship — complete with a super hot dancer.

But by the end of the night, Anthony receives more than a few surprises. He and Jason meet Ruben, a sexy sports student, and the three of them instantly hit it off. Will Ruben come between the two lovers, or will he give their relationship the boost it so desperately needs?

Review:

I liked the concept behind this story, a couple who are finding real life getting in the way of their relationship, but I wasn’t sure that t whole insertion of a third really worked. It felt out of place. Anthony finally forces Jason to realize that his two jobs are wearing him out and despite saying he’s doing it so they can have a better life, and a bigger house, they never seem to spend much time together, having fun or having sex. Jason decides to turn over a new leaf and decides to top it off with the best birthday ever.

After a lovely day out at the zoo, he manages to surprise Anthony with a surprise birthday party at their house with their friends. After a fun evening of food and dancing, the final surprise arrives… a giant cake. Of course a dancer pops out of the cake and … OMG, it’s a girl. After everyone sits there stunned, she finally stops and it seems her boss got the orders wrong and she was sent to the wrong party. Eventually everyone leaves and they offer to drive her home. There they meet her brother who asks them to come in and have coffee. After she goes to bed, it doesn’t take long for the guys to give things a whirl with Ruben, although Jason is still feeling insecure and wondering if Anthony will be looking for a replacement.

The part that didn’t work so well, is it just seemed out of character. I didn’t get the impression this was something these guys did regularly. They didn’t discuss it, it just happened. With a stranger in an apartment with his sister right there, including a rocking chair in the living room, Then it wasn’t really clear that there was a future, although the last line says “Rúben was a nice guy, and nobody knew what the future might have in store for them.” Not that they knew him, they spent a couple of hours and then some sex with him.

I thought the early part of the story was done well, the insecurity of both men, drifting apart, but I found the threesome just seemed kind of off to me. But others may not find it that way, and it could just be my inability to connect well with the characters actions.

lightsout185Title: The Caldwell Ghost
Author: KJ Charles
Length: 4,500 words (17 pdf pages)
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m paranormal historical
Rating: B

Blurb:

When Robert Caldwell inherits a haunted house, he calls on ghost-hunter Simon Feximal to rid him of the supernatural menace. But the ghost is stronger than either man realizes — strong, angry, and desperate for release. Trapped in a haunted house with a dangerously attractive ghost-hunter and a sexually frustrated spirit, can Robert survive the night intact…and will he want to?

Review:

This book has a bit of a Sherlock Holmes feel to it, in the time period and the language, but not directly. It’s written as a letter Robert intends to reveal to his editor upon his death. Apparently for some time Richard has been chronicling the exploits of famed ghost hunter Feximal, (reminded me of the Sherlock/Watson relationship) and he was never willing to reveal how they met, and this is that story.

In order to disprove the house he recently inherited is haunted, Robert moves in. He’s willing to ignore the screams and moans, but the walls bleeding blood is a bit too far. He gets trapped in the room with Fleximal as the exorcism of sorts is about to begin, and it seems the ghost was a bit of lecherous man who slept with all the boys and was murdered in bed during the act. The ghost has some “unfinished business” before he’s willing to leave.

There’s a rather light feel to the story despite a rather intense scene when Fleximal faces the ghost. There is also some interesting facets of Fleximal’s work that would have been interesting to see explored further. I also liked Robert a great deal. He is quite logical, with a calm head on his shoulders and it comes through in some of his comments.

I paid no mind to the screams in the night, which could easily have been foxes or cats (never mind that they sprang from the empty air of my bedroom). I scarcely objected to the muffled moans, which could have come from a neighbour’s pleasures (if the house had not stood alone, with no neighbour for a mile to either side).

But I did feel it was a bit much when the walls began to bleed.

It all came across as a bit of an inconvenience, rather than something terribly frightening. If you’re in the mood for a bit of a ghost story with a lighter edge it’s a good choice. I quite enjoyed the short time it too me to read.

MediumSweetExtraShotofGeekTitle: Medium, Sweet, Extra Shot of Geek
Author: R. Cooper
Length: 66 pdf pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: C+

Blurb:

Former soldier Octavio “Tavio” Reyes works as a barista, a favorite with the customers—especially Tommy O’Shaughnessy. An avowed geek, Tommy comes in daily to flirt, usually under the guise of Trekkie talk. Tavio hesitates; now that he’s out of the army, he’s not sure how out he should be, or whether to take his chances on a geek devoted to sci-fi and comic books. But when Tommy compares him to an unemotional Vulcan, Tavio finally considers dating an out-and-proud nerd. Then Tommy surprises him again and introduces him to his daughter, whom Tommy loves even more than Star Trek or Tavio. Now Tavio has a whole new decision to make: Is he ready to romance a family man?

Review:

I really liked this story, but I had to give it a lower grade for what I believe was so much potential lost. Former solider Tavio is the silent type. He’s not good with people, he’s uncomfortable, but he’s good at his job making coffee. It seems Tommy has been coming in for months and basically stands around, ostensibly talking to anyone and everyone, but it’s pretty obvious that he’s there to see Tavio. The register girl even puts hearts on Tommy’s cup when she takes his order for Tavio to fill.

Things seem to be looking up, and Tavio is wondering if maybe, just maybe he might go for it, when Tommy shows up with his daughter. This completely throws Tavio off kilter since Tommy has talked about everything in his life, except this. However when Tommy invites him to watch the girl play baseball on the weekend, he agrees. Some time at the kids’ game, leads to a lot more fun for the adults after. That you don’t see.

Tommy is the kind of guy who can talk your ear off about anything and everything, but mostly sci-fi stuff. Tavio thinks a lot, he’s always in  his head wondering what something means, if he should say something, how he should react, worried about other people’s reactions. I suppose it’s a typical case of opposites attract.

When I mentioned “That you don’t see” I meant it. They go from kissing at the door, to Monday morning where you realize they spent the weekend together. Now I’m not one of the readers who insist on sex in their books, but with Tavio being so quiet and reserved, I would have loved to see how he behaves in the bedroom. Would he cut loose, or was reserved his way. There were also hints that Tavio’s mother may have suspected his sexuality, and I think she would have loved to see that he was hooking up with a guy who had a child, an instant grandchild. It was also nice to see Tommy as a character who was unashamedly bi and very open about it.

There was just so much more. Tavio coming out, the relationship building. Because it’s all told from Tavio’s point of view, you only get his perspective and I think the story was left with a lot of potential that remains unexplored. So while I enjoyed the story, I was left a bit bereft at the end. Sort of a moment of “That’s it?” I know it’s common of short story readers to say “I want more” but I think in this case, it would have enhanced the story greatly to dig a bit more deeply into the relationship. But maybe others will be content with the length. Still a cute read and I have to say I love the cover.

lightsout185Title: Grave Appeal
Author: Kassandra Lea
Length: 3,600 words, 13 pages
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m contemporary paranormal romance
Rating: D

Blurb:
All Aidan Harker wanted on his Halloween was to spend time with his best friend watching horror movies and to stuff himself silly on little chocolates. Instead Aidan gets a visit from a coworker that makes his evening sweeter than any number of bite size candy bars ever possibly could.

Review:
Aidan usually spends his Halloween night with his best friend watching horror movies. This year his friend has been called away on a family emergency and so Aidan is all alone, until a late night knock at the door.

The first 5 pages of this story set the scene of lonely Aidan feeling sad because his Halloween tradition with his friend isn’t happening this year. I felt rather sorry for Aidan and curious about the knock at the door. The man standing there is a doctor from the hospital where Aidan works (I think as a nurse, but that wasn’t made very clear), so far so good in the attraction Aidan feels. Then suddenly things take an abrupt left turn and I was left struggling to catch up. A whole heap of ideas are thrown into the story. Dante is a gargoyle, Aidan can see ghosts. They fly off through the air. There’s mention of someone called Brim who I think is an ex-boyfriend of Aidan’s, but again that’s not really explained. I was left baffled as to what was happening and why. I even thought that the story may be a sequel because so much of the characterisation seemed to assume some sort of prior knowledge that I didn’t have. However, a quick look showed me that there were no other stories by this author at TQ. Lines such as “It wasn’t the first time that Dante had used his magic to transport them, though usually it was to take them out of harm’s way” were also baffling. I thought they were a doctor and nurse, when had Dante needed to rescue them?

I finished the story utterly confused as to what had happened and why. The romance left me flat because I wasn’t sure where Brim-the-sort-of-ex came into the equation, plus there seems to be no point to the story when Aidan doesn’t even get his man at the end. Overall, the best thing about the story was the opening promise and the fact it was very short at less than 4,000 words so I’m afraid I can’t recommend this jumble of a story even to those who like a good Halloween tale.

The_Ultimate_FindxTitle: The Ultimate Find
Author: Anna Lee
Length: 13,000 words
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: m/m contemporary romance
Rating: C

Blurb:

Kevin Stokes, an antique picker is searching for the ultimate find. He thinks he might have found it in delivery driver, Aaron Nichols, who to him is anything but average.

Kevin Stokes is an antique picker and sci-fi geek. He has a crush on delivery driver, Aaron Nichols, but thinks the feeling won’t be returned. Still, he can’t resist asking Aaron to join him on a trip. He’s searching for the ultimate find. He thinks he might have found it in Aaron Nichols, who to him is anything but average. Aaron believes he’s just an average guy with nothing to offer but a complicated life that sends most guys running, that is until Kevin comes along. When Kevin invites him to go picking, will Aaron’s nephew tagging along and a near accident spoil the day? Or will the two finally hit it off?

Review:
I liked the idea for this newish series of stories by MLRP which feature characters who are just average people because there’s only so many stories you can read about super-spies, hero cops and rich businessmen. The down side to this is the possibility that the characters just won’t be interesting enough to capture my attention which unfortunately was the case with this story for me.

Kevin works as an antique picker and has a huge crush on Aaron the UPS man. However, he thinks Aaron is straight with a kid. When it turns out that Joey is Aaron’s nephew, the flirting finally leads to a genuine date but Aaron’s selfish brother may get in their way when he leaves Joey with Aaron.

Whilst these characters are decent, hardworking guys I have to admit I found them to be too perfect, and therefore rather dull. Aaron sacrifices his own life to take care of his nephew at the drop of a hat. Apparently Joey is a ‘great kid’ but I found him irritating and spoiled. This made Aaron seem weak and too much of a nice guy. Perhaps it’s just that I’m a fan of a flawed character and Aaron is anything but that, so I didn’t really warm to him. The same goes for Kevin. He’s also unselfish and unfailing nice and kind. Whilst I was happy for the pair of them, their uncomplicated, straight path to instant happiness meant that I finished the story thinking ‘well that passed the time, but what was the point in the story?’. Even the possibility of familial discord between Aaron and his brother turns out to be a misunderstanding and all is hunky dory by the end.

I feel like I’ve been quite negative here but to be honest this is not a bad story. It just didn’t strike me as anything special and so I could see myself forgetting the story and the characters quickly. The writing was good, and I liked the shared nerdiness of Kevin and Aaron – the weeping angel part made me smile. If you are looking for a sweet story which is completely lacking in complications or angst then you may find that this story is more to your taste than it was mine.