Forget Me Not – Review of the River Leith by Leta Blake

cover49270-mediumThe River Leith by Leta Blake

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

Out of my last four Netgalley books, The River Leith is the second one to feature memory loss. What I like about this book is that it doesn’t have anybody getting their memory back in a dramatic, last minute flash. It deals with the drama and tragedy of what might happen if someone were to suddenly wake up a stranger to themselves and anybody who knew them. On the other hand, there’s no mystery B plot, which I usually enjoy, so it’s not perfect.

When amateur boxer Leith Wenz wakes up in the hospital, his last memory is preparing to get out of prison. In reality, three years have passed and things in his life have changed. His brother tells him that he’s doing great, that he has amazing friends, and up until the illegal punch that left him in a coma for two months, he was well on his way to his dream of being a professional boxer. His friends seem alright. The guy everyone says is his best friend is nice, and charming, and totally compelling, but he’s about the last person in the world he’d think to be friends with. On top of that, there seem to be huge gaps in the narrative of his life, and nobody’s interested in filling them in. Least of all mystery BFF.

While Leith recovers in the brain trauma ward, his supposed best friend, Zach is actually his very messed up, very grieving boyfriend. Zach takes to the web and vlogs about the roller coaster of emotion that his life has become since Leith’s accident, while trying to put on a brave face for their friends and family. But of course it all falls apart. Leith knows he’s keeping something from him, but with no memory of their years together, no memory of his coming out, nor any apparent awareness of his own homosexuality, this man is definitely not his boyfriend anymore.

Eventually Leith will have to leave the hospital and go back to his real life where he’s been interviewed as one of boxing’s few openly gay superstars, where unspoken truths about his family life, and even what put him in prison are common knowledge for anybody who reads the paper, and where he may never be able to box again. But in the meantime, his confusing feelings for Zach, the caginess of his friends, and the side effects of the head injury all conspire against his very sanity.

This book is mad with tension. I liked main character Leith right away. Everybody else, I found to be shallow and more than a little bit stupid. Zach doesn’t want to tell Leith the true nature of their relationship out of some kind of indeterminate fear. Leith seems to figure his shit out pretty quickly, but when everybody insists that he and Zach are just super good buds, he doesn’t want to ruin that with what he assumes is just his one-sided crush. In the meantime, Zach is acting like the one with the brain damage, and Leith’s brother and friends seem too distracted to be anything but background noise.

Eventually everything works out thanks to more than a little bit of codependency mixed with nosy controlling (but also absentee) friends and family members. I do like that there’s no point where Leith staggers, shouts something about remembering everything, and then he and Zach wander off into the sunset holding hands. There’s some very real difficulty that they’re faced with, even after they realize that love remains even when memory does not. And they work though it, albeit in ways I would probably find pretty self-destructive.

3 out of 5 stars

I Am Reviewing Double Up by Vanessa North

cover49578-mediumDouble Up by Vanessa North

Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy. Double Up is available for purchase on Aug. 25, 2014

Like I said in the last post, I am enamored of Riptide. Their books are good, no matter which way you cut it.

This gem falls strongly in the “which way” section of the cut. For one, the entire thing is written in first person present. For an idea of what that’s like, check this sample right here.

I am writing a review of Double Up by Vanessa North, I type away at my keyboard while the movie Flight plays quietly in the other window. In a couple of minutes Ben will call me to do the dishes for our upcoming dinner. At that point, I’ll be standing at my kitchen window listening to an audiobook while I scrub the pots and pans.

[Editor’s note: this is actually really hard. Plus half a star for difficulty.]

Now imagine an entire book exactly like that. It was crazy making. Although it did make the sex scenes hotter than normal. You really feel like you’re in the action with first person present.

The story itself starts out like an abusive relationship red flag check list. The main character has low self esteem, he at seems to be isolated without much in his life to hold on to. The love interest is described as out of his league, he is controlling, moody and punishes the main character by withdrawing his affections when he feels he’s been disobeyed.

Eventually he comes around to the idea that you can’t control the ones you love, and that people’s actions and their choices are theirs to make, seemingly out of the blue and everybody lives happily ever after. Main character even comes up with some friends and community standing at the end, making him seem like way less of a sad-sack charity case.

Ultimately it’s cute and positive and the plot moves crazy fast. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon. You know, after you get over the first person present. That is some distracting, tiring shit.

Ah, love.

3 stars out of 5

Dirty, Sexy Slavery – Review of Bliss

cover48959-mediumBliss by
Lisa Henry and Heidi Belleau

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy. Bliss will be available for purchase Aug. 18, 2014.

Trigger warning: Mind rape and rape rape.

Can I just say that I love Riptide Publishing? Good and bad, their books are always fun. You’re never in for a dull ride with Riptide.

That being said, Bliss is an ambitious novel. It would be an ambitious novel outside the erotica field. This is actually why I love this genre. If you add fucking to any subject, it automatically becomes more human. What would seem like an insurmountable feat for a vanilla writer ends up being way more accessible in the erotica field.

Bliss deals with some heavy shit. Set in a combination paradise/dystopia, main character Rory James is a new immigrant to the city state of Beulah when he becomes the victim of what would be an everyday crime back home. But things are different in paradise. Very different, it turns out.

After Tate Patterson accidentally assaults Rory in an attempt to evade police, he is offered what looks like an incredible deal. Serve the man he hurt for seven years, live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. Maybe learn a trade. It seems too good to be true because it is.

Turns out Beulah has a secret. And now that he’s been implanted with a top of the line behavior-modification chip, Tate isn’t telling anybody. Least of all the only person who might give a damn.

This is a dirty, sweet, even uplifting story of obedience, loyalty, and ultimately of love found in a hopeless place.

Anybody with a sub/dom kink is going to love this shit. Especially if you enjoy non-consent that turns into emphatic consent. Consent in this case, being used lightly. Mind control chip, and all.

Political thriller fans, especially if they like whistle blowers, will also be pleased. Bliss doesn’t rest on cheesecake. The writers put the characters in danger, in distress, and the consequences are serious.

What can I say except that I loved this book. This is erotica that goes out on a limb. It’s totally different from the usual run of snarky, non-communicative bro-ish assholes chest bumping at each other. Compared to what I read most of the time, this book was a breath of fresh air.

Erotica writers, out of all the genres have the most ability to take risks, and yet it is the genre where risks seem to be taken the least sometimes.

Sex is so universal. It can happen in literally any setting, between anybody for any reason. More authors should reach out, try new things. Be fucking adventurous!

Unlike hard line sci-fi and political books, Bliss does get sappy at places. But I wouldn’t hold that against it. Considering some of the shit that goes down, it’s the only way it avoids being a boner killer. Which it absolutely is not.

5 stars out of 5 for being the most interesting thing I’ve seen in months.

Out in the Cold – Review of SnowCoft Lost

cover49246-mediumSnowcroft Lost (Snowcroft Men – Volume 1) by Christi Snow

Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy.

Christi Snow is no stranger to world building. From the context clues, regular readers will be familiar with at least some of the characters. I haven’t read any of her other books, but it seemed pretty clear they are somehow tied to at least one of her established series.

Small town construction company owner Jamie Vaughn is tired of being the only gay in the village. He’s ready to open a branch in the big city and turn his back on his 14 year obsession with straight BFF Trevor, but plans get put on hold when Trevor ends up in the hospital, in a coma; prognosis unclear.

When Forestry officer Trevor Mayne wakes up with no memory of his life, his hard-on for Jamie is the least of his worries. A sex trafficking ring may be operating out of their very own wholesome, small town backyards. He was on the verge of a breakthrough when a mysterious fall on the mountain he knew like the back of his hand sent him back to square one. In every way.

Now it’s up to Trevor, FBI consultant Andrew, Jamie, and their friends from the city to figure it out… before the traffickers shut them up once and for all.

As far as memory loss/straight best friend wish fulfillment stories go, this one isn’t bad. And I’d know. for some reason, I’ve been reading a rash of memory loss books lately.

I liked the main characters, although I did find myself wondering about their friendship, which seems to be based on unrequited love and snark. I feel pretty bad for Jamie, who, for all intents and purposes spends his youth pining after a bro who fucks married women and has absolutely no depth. It’s only by sheer luck and literally gravity that anything changes there.

The mystery is also pretty cut and dry, the bad guy is named within the first three chapters, but there are still surprises, and suspense.

The sex scenes are hot and endearing at the same time. This is where the relationship between the two started to make sense to me as a reader. It’s easier to forgive those 14 miserable years once the writer establishes how perfect they are together physically.

My one issue is that things that ought not to be glossed over tend to show up as an afterthought, and things that I don’t think were that important get lots of attention. More-so on the side of being glossed over. Really significant events happen outside the main character’s awareness and are basically listed after the fact. It threw me off one time in particular that I won’t summarize because because of spoilers, but I definitely felt like the writer had an obligation to the characters and the story that wasn’t fulfilled. However, there is more than hinting in the author’s note that this may come up in future books, so maybe it was intentional.

The $2.99 price point gives the rating a full extra star. There are certainly worse books to buy. Where else can you keep yourself occupied (and occupied) for an entire day for three lousy bucks?

4 out of 5 stars

Growing Pains: Secrets of Neverwood Review

cover47550-mediumSecrets of Neverwood: One Door Closes\The Growing Season\The Lost Year by G.B. Lindsey, Diana Copland, and Libby Drew

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy. Available for purchase June 30, 2014

Three ghost stories told by three authors, each focusing on one of three foster brothers who’ve just inherited a crumbling mansion with instructions to turn it back into a home for troubled gay kids, like it was when they lived there.

The brothers struggle to find footing with themselves and each other in a race against the clock, as the property is threatened by a big developer who will stop at nothing to wrench their mother’s last dream from their inexperienced, underfunded hands. On top of that, each brother has his own secrets and traumas to deal with, but not alone. The well-meaning, sometimes too nosy, sometimes downright unhelpful ghost of their foster mother, Audrey still haunts the halls; intent on seeing her boys happy, and her house thriving once again.

First and foremost, this book is fucking cute. Second, I was totally surprised at how threatening the big bad developer got to be. I was genuinely concerned, the tension was extremely well managed, especially in The Growing Season where the plot revolves around youngest brother Danny and his budding romance with the landscaper son of a conservative City Councilman who may just side with the developer out of homophobic revenge. Danny’s story was also the one I wished had been a full length novel. There was so much in there that I wanted to know more about. After looking up the writer, I wasn’t surprised to learn that I’d read and enjoyed her only novel to date, A Reason to Believe. I’m not much for ghost whisperers, but this lady knows how to turn the screw. If you like a high heart rate, Diana Copland can help get you there. My one complaint about The Growing Season, aside from wishing there was more of it, was that the sex could have been way hotter if she’d committed to the power dynamic between the two romantic leads. As it stands, they gloss over it and pay lip service to it, and it could be so much more.

One Door Closes was my second favorite of the trilogy. Clinical depressive, and all Grade A nerdlinger Calvin accidentally hires his high school boyfriend to supervise the massive and time consuming remodel on the house; hilarity ensues. A giant and terrible horrible thing lead to their break-up ten years before and now that they’re face to face again, Calvin can only try not to puke out of sheer lust and regret whenever building plans have to be gone over. There’s more than that, obviously, and it is ultimately a very sweet story, but it does have my pet peeve of major plot points being driven in all or in part by a lack of communication.

As for the rest, it’s not that I didn’t like The Lost Year, I still enjoyed the crap out of it, but it’s neither as tense as Growing Season, nor as adorable as One Door Closes. I gave Libby Drew’s Paradox Lost 4 stars out of 5, so I know she does good work. I think that the added difficulty of wrapping up several plot elements that started in books one and two, along with a complicated story on top of that made this section harder to follow.

Oldest brother Devon starts out on a mission to reunite a man with his son, detours over to an affair-turned-romance, slips into child wrangling, and ends up with some pretty epic ghost-assisted home defense. Like his younger brothers, Devon is a lost soul. He spends his time fighting for others, but who fights for him? We’re not really sure because along comes this helpless hottie with a missing child in bad sore need of a knight in shining armor. Then his kid needs trauma counseling, and then the house needs saving, and then the very last thing that happens in the story, and consequently in the book is somebody else is in need of a rescue.

Unlike the first two books, the brothers are suspicious of, and even actively hostile towards his DILF in distress for most of the story, and it’s not even a sure thing that they’re really going to be together until the last couple of pages. I wanted Devon to have the same awesome partner that the other brothers get, but he ended up with a fixer upper big time. Fixer upper and son, actually. It kind of made me sad.

Altogether, the book did keep me awake reading it. The overarching threat to the house was the most compelling plot. I had to find out what the crafty developer would come up with next and how the boys would foil his dastardly scheming. The Audrey ghost was good comic relief without being too deus ex machina, although there is one moment where it kind of has to happen. I also like the interactions with the brothers as the plot moves forward. They start the book as relative strangers, and end up genuine family.

There’s also a tertiary trans character that shows up in all three stories. I like her, I like the portrayal of her. It feels respectful without being didactic. She’s an actual person with actual person issues and the brothers all have their own way of relating to her, which comes out in each of their stories. Not being trans, I can’t speak to the authenticity of the character, but I like that she’s not a walking talking MESSAGE either. She’s just a character who happens to be trans.

4 out of 5 stars.

And the Song Remains the Same: Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon

cover45866-mediumStranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

This book is for anybody who ever stared wistfully out a window and just knew in their heart of hearts that their real mommy was a princess and their real daddy was a prince and that one day they would show up and take them away from all this awful middle class brooding they were doing.

I am honest to goodness actively jealous of people who can’t figure out most of the plot in the first 2-3 chapters. What must the world seem like to these curious, gentle hominids? I bet the New Year’s Eve ball drop is a magical journey for them year after year. Which direction will it go, why’s everybody counting, and where even am I? Such a simpler life.

The main character is basically a stand-in for every reader in our generation who’s nearing 30 without ever getting their happily ever after. Having gorged ourselves from birth on the corporate Disney teat, all we want is a prince and a castle before the crows feet set in. We wished real hard, and we followed our dreams, and we thought that was all it took, that a man (or lady) and would just fall to the ground at our feet, the symbol of a life well-lived. But they didn’t. 18, 21, 25 have all passed us by. 30 looms, failure threatens.

Maybe if we could just be 24 again, we’d do 25 right. We wouldn’t waste it on late nights at the office, or strange dicks in our mouths and asses. We’d find love. Or make money, or whatever it is we feel now, nearing 30, that we failed to do those short five years ago.

It’s a sweet dream, and if you have to dream it, Josh Lanyon isn’t a bad guy to do the legwork. His writing is technically good. I’ve never had any complaints on that front. The book itself is a fine piece. Just because we’ve all seen this one before doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable. You’re looking at the blog of a girl who liked the new Spiderman. Loved it, in fact.

The book goes fast. Despite the core being very predictable, there is a certain measure of intrigue surrounding the supporting cast that keeps the interest. And everybody loves a happy ending.

I’m giving Stranger on the Shore three stars because there is totally nothing that I can complain about here.

3 out of 5 stars.

Masks by E.M. Prazeman

cover46675-mediumMasks by E. M. Prazeman

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

When I first started Masks, I wondered if the author was trying to write another Nightrunner series (mentioned briefly here and here). It started out similarly in that the main character is a young spy apprenticed to the best spy in the land, who he admires a great deal, but that’s where the similarity ends. Mark, the main character comes across as more than a little spoiled, more than a lot traumatized by his horrible childhood, which features a dead mom, a missing dad, and a sexually abusive pedophile nobleman/benefactor. I was ready for 324 pages of gilded cage broken boy drama, which I was not looking forward to. Fortunately the plot takes an amazingly sudden and refreshing left turn a third of the way in.

From there things move quickly as Mark goes on quite the journey of discovery. He sets off on a harrowing trek over land and sea, makes fast friends, finds a lover, picks a side (or at lest seems to), and for all intents and purposes, becomes a man. By the end of this, the first book in a trilogy, I liked all the players. Their mission is both noble and daunting, and my interest was piqued. I like especially one of the female characters, whom I hope I will get to become an amazing heroine in her own right.

It does have a bit of that “oh, I can’t love you, what will my DAD say?” bullshit that some gay romances tend to throw in to increase the tension, as well as some part of the tone being set by a fundamental lack of communication. Fortunately for this book, the lack of communication is at least understandable and drives emotional turmoil and not the plot itself.

I have books two and three in my sights for the future. Especially since they’re each only $4.99.

3.5 stars out of 5