This is What it Feels Like When Eagles Cry: Review of Forbidden Destiny by Lia Michaels

cover43416-medium Forbidden Destiny by Lia Michaels

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

Can we just admire this amazing cover art for a second? So majestic.

Anyway, Forbidden Destiny is the first foray into M/M by straight/lesbian fiction author Tammy Dennings Maggy. It is an extremely short book, 33 pages, according to Goodreads, and it goes by quickly. I read it in a single evening.

The plot tries really hard for all the small stature of its book, which is supposed to be the intro to a series, so I don’t understand why it was so hurried. We meet our main characters, Abraham Tuttle and Ethan Quaderer through dream sequences and some small exposition where we learn that they are:

  1. Native American, specifically Chippewa
  2. Army Rangers
  3. Who were boyfriends
  4. 15 years ago
  5. Oh,
  6. And at least one of them is a shape-shifting were-eagle whose destiny is to save his people
  7. Bonus: shared dreams regarding their destiny as the savior(s) of their people.

The galley summery says that Abraham is a two-spirit, but as far as I can tell he’s just a regular gay guy, as is Ethan, who’s grandfather refers to both men by this term. As far as I know, two-spirit people in Native cultures are usually men and women who feel that their gender is a duality, or that they should occupy the gender roles of the sex they were not assigned at birth. That has nothing to do with hetero or homosexuality. A lot of the history of the two-spirits, along with other specific Native traditions have been lost to the ages and the occupation of indigenous lands. So who can say for sure? Although, I think if Michaels had read the Wikipedia page, she may have chosen a different term.

Language aside, there are a lot of things I had trouble with in this book. The writing can be difficult to read. The cadence feels awkward, there’s missing punctuation, and some rapid tense shifting. Other reviewers have been way more upset about the tense shifting. It was obvious to me that the author was trying to separate the eternal now of the shared dream space with the rhetorical now of the story. I wonder if that was the best way to do that, or just the easiest. The fact that the dream sequences are entirely in italics makes either the tense or the style completely redundant. But maybe not, if other readers couldn’t figure it out. There’s definitely a dearth of descriptive language.

The origin of their relationship is revealed via flashback. Apparently it was love at first sight, but the fact that Ethan was already a fully realized were-eagle, and that Abraham was unable to believe in his own were-eagle abilities, despite Ethan’s belief in them drove a wedge between the young Rangers in training, and after one really dumb-sounding fight, neither man spoke to the other for fifteen years.

As far as I could tell, they were both in Afghanistan for the entire time, they just never ran into each other. Or picked up a phone. Or wrote a letter. To meet and know the love of your life, destined soul-mate, partner, and fellow savior of your people, and then not talk for fifteen years seems a little more than overkill. Then, to add insult to injury, the entire fight is resolved in about three and a half lines. This grand reunion is followed by some fucking I don’t even remember. Then Abraham shape-shifts into an eagle and they get ready to save their people in book two.

If you’re wondering what the fuck I just wrote, that’s the exact feeling this book produced for me. So I just saved you $1.99 and 33 pages of trouble. You’re welcome.

Then there’s this: I notice that Lia has four five-star reviews on Amazon, and three five-star reviews with text on Goodreads. The three reviews on Goodreads are the same as three of the four on Amazon. It looks to me like her ratings are being inflated by devoted fans of the books she’s written as Tammy, which is cool, everybody loves fans, but this is not a five star book. This isn’t really even a passable first effort. It feels like it was written over a weekend and never proofed. If there had been good first readers, the kind that aren’t afraid to say the things I’m saying now, this could have been a way better book.

I’m not bugged by the were-eagle element. I’m not even really bugged by the 15 year hole in the relationship. I am bugged by the sloppy exposition. I get that you need your characters to be in their 40’s, or whatever. Cool. Just make it seem real, or the entire book series is about a couple of the dumbest morons on the planet. The author should have spent the first 33 pages of book one talking about the boys before they even met. There’s a lot of good stuff there, apparently they were dreaming about each other their whole lives. And yeah, that totally is an M/M cliche of the highest order, but this is romance, not fucking Tolstoy (who has his on genre-related cliches, let’s be honest).

For sloppiness, lack of research, and poor ability to pick first readers or editors, I give this novel:

1 star out of 5

Adorable Small Town Boys in Love: Review of “No Such Thing” by A.M. Arthur

cover41136-mediumNo Such Thing by A.M. Arthur

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

What can I say about No Such Thing? Except that it’s sweet as shit.

Earnest, intelligent college student Jaime Winters may have recovered from his heart transplant, but being a gay guy in a small town hasn’t exactly done his sex life any favors. That is until reformed bad boy Alessandro Silva walks into his sister’s bakery looking for a job and finds so much more than that. Back home to help his foster mother take care of his youngest foster siblings, Alé is unprepared for the combination of new love and old debt that’s about to hit the fan.

Arthur is serving bucolic haze of youth so hard in this book, and I fucking love it. Even though Alé is supposed to be at least slightly more hardened than Jaime, both boys are just adorable. Silva’s criminal past is more that of a stoner wash-out than anything really serious, and the haunting secret of his youth is one hundred percent a wrong place, wrong time situation. Winter’s almost childish naivety is sharpened by a razor wit and an obviously well turned hand at research. Together, these gamboling lambs will warm the hackles of your cynical, porn-stunted limbic system.

Despite, or more probably because of this overwhelming tenderness, the sex scenes are positively bursting with tension. Heat rolls off the characters, especially when they go into the big city (Wilmington) for some fun gay bar action and end up getting steamy in a foreplay foresome. There’s no actual group sex, but you won’t miss it. Especially if you’re as ADD as I can be when it comes to multiple partners in text-only format (in an IRL format too, but we’re not talking about high school right now).

I do wish A.M. had done better character motivation. It can be scattered. Jaime seems to be extremely well read in terms of sex and sexuality one moment, and then it’s like he grew up without cable the next. His shy impulsiveness in regard to communication can be explained away with his relative lack of social interaction. However, Alessandro’s not so much. Here’s a guy who “doesn’t do boyfriends” but who also gives up his job and his apartment in the city to come home and take care of a woman and her children for no other reason than that they need him; who thinks everybody leaves, but has the unwounded generosity of spirit that could only belong to a man who believes in love and kindness. Maybe I’m judging the character more harshly because I’ve been the no boyfriends, everybody leaves type (for as long as that lasted) and it didn’t keep a lot of room for compassionate patience with my fellow man. But I’ve only got myself as an example. Maybe there is such a thing as a pessimist so mellow and so yet so cynical that they’re totally cool with giving of themselves, despite the fact that, at the end of the day they know they’ll get left high and dry with nothing to show for it.

I also wish there was one major dramatic plot device instead of two. Jaime and Alessandro’s love me or leave me cha cha was in direct competition with the far more interesting, far more dramatic past-comes-back-to-bite-you trauma with Alé and the town jock/bully/rich and privileged douche bag. If I were the editor, I would have advised the author to tone down the emotional turmoil over the future of their relationship and dial up the mystery. Although I would also would have advised against making Jaime too much of a damsel in distress. It’s an easy place to put him in, but easy isn’t always the best course of action.

I don’t want to make it sound like the boys are fighting about their relationship or having the kind of irrational commitment fits so many less skilled romance writers will fall back on in lieu of naturally occurring plot, far from it. All their relationship turmoil is completely internal, and they manage to communicate with one another in a healthy way, while maintaining the appropriate amount of tension. This well-walked line is probably one of my favorite elements in No Such Thing. The characters have drama, they are not themselves drama. This is so hard for so many writers to accomplish, and it shines in this book.

For the oddly lucky looking price of $3.03, you can have one of the most adorable pieces of good clean porno I’ve yet found. So pick it up. There’s supposed to be a sequel, but having read the ending, I do wonder what the duo could possibly tackle next. Personally, I hope for more on the extended family members we met in book one, I kind of fell in love with everybody, and I want to see them grow and change as well.

4.5 stars out of 5

Thirteen Year Old Girls in Dude Suits: Review of Liz Borino’s Angel Series

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

cover43076-medium cover43086-medium

Angel’s Hero and Angel’s Truth by Liz Borino

From the cover art alone you can tell that this is going to be a quality piece of work right here. We’ve got completely hairless, airbrushed models, dramatic photo-shop angel wings, and the American flag. What’s not to love?

For $2.99 a book, you get a slice of pure camp amazeballs, straight from the four-story fudge fountains of fan fiction mountain. I get the distinct feeling that somebody spent an evening ctrl+F-ing “Guy from One Direction” and ctrl+V-ing “Guy from this Book” before sending it off to the fine people at Lazy Day. To their credit, I didn’t find a single typo. Brava.

You may recall that I just wrote a treatise illustrating my undying love for the m/m genre and the fine, if socially isolated women who produce it, but I enjoyed this book for all the wrong reasons. You guys know I’m over the moon when a piece of entertainment is the exact right kind of bad. It’s actually hard to do, which you can tell by the four separate posts I wrote last year for books I started, but abandoned in 2013 (1, 2, 3, 4). It’s easy to make something boring, or pretentious. It’s hard to make something so gloriously over the top that I read and re-read passages for their sheer ridiculousness. I spent one entire 40 minute car ride telling my straight, novel-hating boyfriend all about CIA analyst Aaron Collins AKA Angel and his harrowing story of true love in the time of terrorism, because this is the kind of distilled melodrama that I spend years trying to find.

This isn’t schadenfreude because Liz Borino shouldn’t feel sad about this. And if she did, it would ruin it for me. Liz, if you’re out there, I want you to take all the pride an author deserves to take in her work. But you should probably stop reading right now because I loved these books like a fat sociopath loves taking cake from other kids and then pretending that they bullied him for being a fat kid. In other words, just look away, it’s about to get weird.

So, the premise is that Aaron Collins and his husband army captain Jordan Collins are married, work together, and go on missions together. Until the one mission they’re separated, and Jordan totally dies. Except that he doesn’t! Hilarity ensues.

In a nod to the same three dudes who seem to star in every m/m fantasy, Jordan is racially ambiguous and Aaron is tall, but this is kind of over the top. A half Korean half African American orphan, swole as fuck at a shortey short six feet (or so) Jordan is dwarfed by his seven feet and change peaches and cream partner.

They also have the kiss of death: couple tattoos on their forearms that, if I’m reading right, look like this:

angelbooktattoo

And that’s just the physical description.

On the mental level, every character in this book is an incompetent moron. Plot elements seem to happen because no one is smart enough to keep them from happening. Jordan disobeys a direct order and gets sent home from Afghanistan with no change in his assignment, his working conditions, or his rank. Randomly, the new director of the CIA is a flamboyantly gay major general who wears Dora the Explorer t-shirts, dresses in drag to go to Rocky Horror, and absolutely insists on doing every single don’t in even the shittiest sexual harassment handbook ever written. The CIA is run like a sorority on a soap opera (“Ugh, Aaron, your man is totally pissing everyone off, so we’re letting the new guy go with him to Afgahistan even though he’s an expert on North Korea because you’re apparently the only two people who analyze shit at this whole entire agency”). And Aaron himself mopes around like a spurned middle school girl because “no one takes him seriously!” At least he gets fired.

After Jordan’s “death” Aaron apparently has no friends beside Jordan and Jordan’s adopted dad, and he can’t talk to anybody about the fact that his old boss is totally creeping on his steeze. So he spends the entirety of that part of the story scared like a bunny that the evil drag major will rape him (or something?) I guess he forgot he was A MILLION FEET TALL. Meanwhile Jordan is being cared for in a secret prison in Afghanistan by a nurse, who is also the forward thinking liberal wife of a powerful Taliban leader, but who, only weeks or months before, was getting strapped with C4 along with other poor street urchins in what would have been a suicide bombing except for that direct order Jordan disobeyed at the beginning of book one. So in as little as three weeks, this woman moved from being road chowder to a trained trauma nurse and the honored first lady of Prison Camp A, or whatever. Time moves strangely here. Even more strange, she somehow knew that it was Jordan’s refusal to engage that saved her life. Which is why she makes sure he lives even as she lets all the other POWs die for lack of supplies.

The Taliban and the Afghan government are referred to interchangeably throughout the book. I know, with so many other things going on, the fact that this bothered me speaks volumes to my liberal arts education, and the lack of perspective that sort of ordeal can instill in a person.

But I digress.

This book is filled with seriously wacky shit. At a certain point the CIA, the army, and the United States government all get together and decide that a formerly dead, now retired, but still severely injured and traumatized POW captain, his formerly of the CIA, now a freelance systems admin husband, and an enemy nurse they met over Skype (oh wait, they never meet her, they only have Jordan’s word that she’s cool) are the best bet for taking down an Afghan chief and a corrupt major general who’s not only conspired to murder dozens of American soldiers, but who’s been selling American military secrets to the fucking Taliban (AKA the Afghanistan government).

Aaron has a brother and a dad who do nothing but prove that he is definitely the smartest person in his family (even though no one ever LISTENS to him. GOD, DAD!) The North Korea expert who was the only operative everybody knows didn’t die with Jordan in the “fire” that killed everything except his uniform, which was perfectly preserved, just disappears and nobody thinks that’s weird until the end of the book when his entire story is just tucked nicely into place (double agent, of course). For some reason Jordan is a hacking expert in addition to being an Army commando. CIA analyst/freelance systems admin Aaron seems to have absolutely no clue about computer stuff. And, apparently evil treasonous major generals just keep their passwords taped to the underside of their keyboard tray like your grandma.

And then everything wraps up so perfectly that they have to end the series with a celebratory skydive.

If you ever wonder if the digital landscape is ruining the American imagination, you need to read these books.

It’s not so random that I couldn’t follow the narrative, but it’s just random enough to keep my analytical mind racing with every passing page. These books were amazing. They were everything I could have hoped for. Book one, Angel’s Hero, is already out and available on the Kindle store. Sadly, you regular humans will have to wait until next week, March 12, to get book two, Angel’s Truth in your hot little hands. Aren’t you sad?

Real review: 1 out of 5 stars

Personal enjoyment in star form: 5 out of 5