Masochist Mine – Review of Sweetwater by Lisa Henry

cover50235-mediumSweetwater by Lisa Henry

Thanks to NetGalley and Riptide for the review copy. Sweetwater comes out on Sept. 29, 2014.

From the author of the 5-star rated Bliss comes a tale of love and loss in the American West. Set in Wyoming Territory in 1870, this book stars main character Elijah Carter, a partially deaf young man who’s only just coming into his twin passion for penis and pain when he meets cattle rustler Grady Mullins, and his entire world starts slipping away.

The tragedy, murky loyalties, and general goings on of Sweetwater mix with the ignorance and the everyday heroism of it’s citizens in a rich tapestry that winds its way throughout the book. Antagonist Harlan Crane, a saloon owning sadist with a tight grip on the local economy and a penchant for young men who like to be tied down isn’t really the true villain anymore than Elija’s perpetually drunk and verbally abusive boss is the villain. The real fight in Sweetwater is mans own struggle with himself.

When tragedy sweeps through Elijah’s life, he is faced with a choice: Remain (at least outwardly) the good, simple boy he’d been brought up to be, or give himself over Harlan’s ties, his belt, and the pleasure in the pain. As in most situations where only two choices seem evident, there’s also door number three, the mystery door. Does a self identified sinner like Elijah deserve to be happy? Can a criminal like Grady really go straight, so to speak? What matters more: love or vengeance?

Like Bliss, this book is well written and like Bliss, it takes chances, which I love it for. On a technical aspect, Sweetwater actually feels better written than Henry’s earlier work, and I love it for that too. I shouldn’t be surprised, considering my feelings on the creative mind behind these books, but I’m so glad to see an improvement in writing from book to book. Unlike the average ebook erotica writer, who gets as good as they get and then stays there, turning out the same level of work every time, I can see the development of a true craft in process. It’s actually inspiring.

The fact that Elijah’s masochism doesn’t magically disappear with the right lover also endeared the story to me. I’ve been reading a few books where it seems like the main characters sexual tastes change when they meet “the one.” Lately for the vanilla main character to discover their kinky side when they finally meet their soul mate. A guy goes from feeling weird about anything short of a peck on the lips if it’s not under the covers in an entirely dark bedroom to straight up public mouth-fucking his dude in the back of a book store (or something), and that somehow proves that they’re made for each other. Of course, this may well be a backlash against books that had hot, kinky sex in front to titillate, but switched to deep kisses and longing gazes in the moonlight for the true love bits.

Either way I like the strong kink-positive vibe I’m getting. There is such a thing as loving masochistic sex, and you are worthy of that careful attention, my friend. This is a very affirming book.

5 out of 5 stars, of course.

Twink Back the Night – Review of “Home the Hard Way” by Z.A. Maxfield

cover50620-mediumHome the Hard Way by Z.A. Maxfield

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

I have to admit that I wasn’t that interested in Home the Hard Way when I first saw it on the NetGalley shelves. Disgraced cop returns home to his twinkey childhood best friend and attempts to solve an old mystery sounded like pretty standard fare.

How these things usually go is this: the twink feels hurt after being abandoned by his straight crush, and the not-so-straight crush has to man up and admit their soul-mate level bond after one or more amazing blow jobs from his slightly embarrassingly femmey “bro.” At which point, closet case straight cop turns into a gay rights activist, but never has to deal with any real danger or adversity and life goes on as normal because people are just so damn happy about love.

Home the Hard Way definitely puts the old convention, if not on it’s ear than at least on it’s knees. When Dare Buckley comes back to his minuscule hometown in the Pacific Northwest, he expects some degree of animosity, both for the scandal that sent him running home, and for the apple carts he plans to upset in the 15 year old mystery of his dad’s uncharacteristic suicide. But what he doesn’t expect is his former best friend Finn Fowler. Finn was the little brother Dare had always wanted, someone to protect, someone to look up to him and boost his confidence with hero worship. But something’s changed… for both of them.

Diminutive and openly gay, Finn is used to keeping secrets and taking care of himself. So by the time his boyhood crush comes back to town, he’s quick with the brush off for a man who couldn’t possibly reconcile the starry-eyed kid he was with the confident, leather dom he’s become. He takes no time to figure out that Dare wants him, even that Dare craves discipline, but the idea that they could have more than secret sessions in the dark both terrifies and excites him. It’s untested waters for them both, and when Finn becomes involved in a murder investigation, it looks like Dare’s poor decision making has come back to bite him in the ass. Or can he really trust this man he loves, but doesn’t know?

I fucking loved this book. The idea that the little gay kid would be holding all the cards while the masc. cop who left him behind would be the needy wreck was entirely novel for me. The leather component took me completely by surprise, and was incredibly hot. Character development is top notch. There’s no good guys or bad guys in Home the Hard Way. There’s no cut and dry answers, either. Just people trying to find their way in a sometimes cruel and uncaring, but also sometimes genuinely beautiful, generous world. The alliances and secrets that hold us together, keep us apart, and make up our lives are a character in and of themselves.

The slow burn tension and suspense had me compulsively skipping to the bottom of the screen. The murder mystery and the romance vie for attention, which is just how I like the levels in my romance/mystery combos.

If I had one complaint, it would be that it seems like Riptide (of course this beautiful piece is a Riptide release) has no intention of publishing this on the Kindle* store. It’s paperback or nothing on Amazon at $17.99 for regular users, and $15.99 for Prime users. If you want a kindle format, it is available on the Riptide site for $7.99, and well worth the price.

I just ran a test of their shopping cart process, and while nothing is as easy as the Kindle interface, Riptide doesn’t make it much harder than it has to be. As long as you know your Kindle address, and you’ve submitted the riptide address as an approved email on your kindle account, you can send the title to your Kindle by clicking a button next to the book in your “My Account” section, then entering your Kindle address into the field provided. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to save the Kindle address, or make sure that future epub purchases go there automatically. That would be on my wishlist if they want to continue to keep epub off the Amazon marketplace.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: My mistake, the title isn’t on Amazon because they, like many etailers, don’t allow pre-sale for digital books. As soon as the publication date arrives, you will be able to purchase Home the Hard Way in the Amazon store.

5 out of 5 stars

Ghosts of Our Past – Review of “Second Helpings” by Charlie Cochrane

cover48960-mediumSecond Helpings by Charlie Cochrane

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

Stuart is still recovering from the death of his partner, Mark while Paul is struggling with the long distance relationship equivalent of lesbian bed death: cell communication blackout. When Stu’s dad and Paul’s mom become an item, Paul suggests they meet in order to suss out the character of his possible new step brother, he ends up sussing more than he bargained for. Is Stuart really ready to be over Mark? Does four weeks of no texts from Ben really qualify as a break-up? These are the kind of important live questions that are asked and then answered in Second Helpings.

I ended up calling the two main characters in this book Not Ben and Not Mark. As far as I could tell, every conversation they had was about their exes. When they first meet in the pub to sniff each other’s butts, it ends in a big growley huff. They seem to bicker at the drop of the hat. I got the impression that the writer was wondering how two men in such different places in life would possibly get along, and in the end it seemed like she didn’t really know. So the characters, being thrown together without an essential spark, turned to bickering to fill the void.

I did like all the Britishisms. For some reason everything seems more clever when written with an English accent. I also liked the setting and the premise. I wish that there had been more character development.

This being a romance more than an erotic story, the steamy bits, as the Brits would say, were more tepid than I usually go in for, but it was sweet in the end.

At $3.99 it’s not bad if you’re looking for something to knock out before you go to sleep, but I can’t recommend it over other similarly priced books. For example, the works of A.M. Arthur would be a better bet.

3 stars out of 5

A Man, A Mech, A Mission – Review of Noble Metals by L.A. Witt

cover48039-mediumNoble Metals by L.A. Witt

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

This will be the third L.A. Witt book I’ve reviewed. The first was Capture & Surrender, the second was Static, both received fairly high ratings, and now that I’ve been doing this for awhile, I honestly think they should have gotten at least one more star each than what I gave them. Or half a star more, since I was still using a 10 star system at the time.

From what I can tell this is a Riptide re-release of a book published by Carnal Passions back in 2012. The galley came with the note that it had been “edited extensively and expanded by over 10,000 words.” If I hadn’t read other L.A. Witt books, I would think this wasn’t that bad. I can see her trademark care-taking of her characters very clearly here. But in this book it seems to translate into a strained, politically incorrect paternalism.

Robert Belton is a whore who would be a gold miner. Stuck in a muddy steampunk Seattle, he’s too delicate for the men who don’t want him, and too wary of the men who do want him to accompany them on their voyage to the frozen, gold-laden North. Everything changes when he meets and befriends Dr. John Fauth. Hot on the verge of the next great scientific breakthrough, Dr. Fauth has little funding and a similar distrust of the rough trade miners looking to hire on to a team.

It’s a match made in heaven, or at least it seems like it at first. While nothing in the character’s actions outright say that John looks down on his new lover’s former profession, the frequency with which it is brought up, particularly during sex, started to creep me out. Even though both men are shown to be more than capable, professional and intelligent, I got the impression that we’re meant to feel like Dr. Fauth has saved Robert from his unfortunate position. This even after Robert literally saves Dr. Fauth on at least one large occasion, and then again several other times.

The rest of the plot is good, and I think that some chances were taken by putting the characters in some serious peril. If the relationship wasn’t so squiggy, and in fact, even if the dialog between Robert and John didn’t seem to focus almost 100% on whoring, I think I’d be far more likely to be on board.

Even with the addition of the 10,000 words, this is still a pretty short book. For $4.99 on Kindle, I have to say that there are much better offerings from L.A. Witt alone. Pay two more dollars and get Static if you haven’t read it already.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Adorable Small City Boys in Love – Review of “Maybe This Time” by A.M. Arthur

cover47561-mediumMaybe This Time by A.M. Arthur

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

I was already nearly a chapter into Maybe This Time before I realized it was the sequel to No Such Thing, which I reviewed here. Former main characters Alessandro and Jaime make several small appearances throughout this second book, but they’re largely background noise to the main romance between bar tender Donner and rich kid Ezra.

Finally starting to recover from the loss of his boyfriend over two years before, Donner has just started to come back to life. He’s relaunched the activist charity that they had previously done together, and he’s met a new guy who seems like someone he could save rely on.

When it comes to recovery, Ezra seems to know the definition of the word, but he has no understanding of it. Still smarting eight years after some serious trauma, and living off the guilt payments his parents send him, he’s been joyfully unattached since his first serious boyfriend left him for someone “less complicated.” He drinks, he fucks, and he has a big screen TV. Basically, his life is perfect until Donner shows up to throw a wrench in the gears. The wrench of emotionally healthy monogamy.

The honest, clear communication skills I appreciated in No Such Thing are back in Maybe This Time, but I kind of get the feeling that someone close to the writer advised them to dial down the mystery and dial up the relationship drama (the exact opposite of what I’d have wanted) because there’s no real B plot here. Certainly not to the same extent as there was in the first book. So what we have is great communication, and a healthy reliance on internal turmoil to create drama, rather than the random yelling, mind-changing, manipulative bullshit character flaws so many lesser authors will use. But, we do have a few weird yelling and/or spastic emotional moments that result in Donner and Ezra not feeling as natural to me as Jaime and Ale did.

I can’t tell if A.M. is having a hard time writing about the somewhat broken protagonists because they themselves aren’t an abuse survivor, or if it’s because they are, and are afraid to really reach into that pain. Either way, the emotional process the characters went through feels a little like a puppet show. They hit a lot of the right marks, at the right times, but I had a hard time believing their emotional state. Unlike in No Such Thing, where the saccharine innocence of the characters was like the beating heart of their development.

That said, I still liked this book. I still want to know what happens to the rest of the series. I have a feeling I know who book three is about, and I am damn interested in the seeds that were planted. Hopefully by book three there will be some more development in terms of what trauma, recovery and relationship negotiation in the light of that might look like. But even if that doesn’t change at all, I’ll still be happy to read it.

At $3.03 for Prime members and $3.99 for regular Kindle users, this is a steal. There’s not much better at that price.

4 out of 5 stars

Sexas Ranger – Review of Hot on His Trail by Zavo

cover48509-mediumHot on His Trail by Zavo

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

I never read the wild West adventure books Hot On His Trail is clearly modeled after. Hell, I barely even read Nancy Drew. But if’n you appreciate liberal use of the word “if’n,” I reckon this here’s the book for you. This is the good review I promised Bold Stokes Books after the panning I gave their other offering, First Exposure.

Texas Ranger Jake is, as the title suggests, hot on the trail of supposed outlaw Ben, but what he doesn’t know is that this simple chase and capture is about to lead him on the adventure of a lifetime. Jake catches Ben, Ben escapes and turns the tables on Jake with sexy results, Jake and Ben are captured together with sexy results, then recaptured, rescued, released, and set on the right path. All with sexy, sexy results.

If you like descriptions of big dudes fucking each other in a fantasy land where trail-worn asshole tastes like candy, boy do I have a book for you.

This is good clean fun. And by clean, I really mean clean. Don’t think too hard about the unlikelihood of how happy everyone is to engage in sloppy, satisfying analingus with everyone else in this book.

My one complaint is that Jake and Ben end up in and out of so many scrapes and circumstances that they don’t really seem like heroes. They basically stumble, sometimes literally from one hard cock to the next. Which, on its face isn’t a bad way to live, but at the end of the day I had a hard time not worrying sick.

Especially considering that the book ends on a cliffhanger with the lovers separated, and one in mortal peril. I know it’s not that kind of book, but I have absolutely no faith in these boys ability to preserve their own lives. The hard truth is, they got more dick than sense.

4 out of 5 stars for being a joyful, unpretentious wild West fuck-fest.

QuickFlorist Pro Is a Shareware Book – Review of First Exposure by Alan Chin

cover49571-mediumFirst Exposure by Alan Chin

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy. First Exposure will be available for purchase on Aug. 1, 2014.

This is the first book Bold Strokes Books has approved my request to read, and all I can say is that I’m glad they gave me two of the books I asked for because this review will not endear me to them. A smart person would wait until she finished reading the good book, and review that one first in order to start out on the right foot, but I’m not known for my patience. Anybody from Bold Strokes who may be reading this, please know, I have 50% left in Hot On His Trail and you should have something nice and positive to make up for what I’m about to do.

Anybody who has had the misfortune of pursuing higher education in the last century will recall the atonal philosophical works of the enlightenment. If you enjoyed such tombs as Voltaire, and Faust this might just be your jam. If, however, character development and narrative realness are personally important, you may want to skip it. Didactic and overly intellectual, First Exposure is the work of a smart man who wants us all to know how smart he is. His dumb characters aren’t allowed to be dumb, and by extension, his smart characters fail to stand out.

Every conversation sounds like the same well-read guy is having it with himself, which is basically what’s happening. Characters who are educated and intelligent know and speak about great literary and scientific figures in casual language, as do characters who are downright stupid. There’s also a strange and alienating egotism that surrounds the main character like a pestilence. Everyone is always thinking about him. None of the other characters have any motivation that doesn’t come directly or indirectly from the main character: failed painter, aspiring florist and disgruntled navy man, Skylar Thompson.

The writer has a clear message about what it means for an artist to find and follow his calling, and the supremacy of that quest at any cost. There’s other stuff that seems to be at least nominally about loyalty and human compassion, but it’s not. It’s about artistic people doing what makes them feel free and fuck all the rest. To that end, one character literally pees in his dying father’s face, while dressed like a woman. Because that’s his dream. Not to be a woman, just to dress like one. (Honestly, this scene had every right to be fun and amazing, and it was not.)

I was constantly reminded of the recurring “MESSAGE!” gag from 90s Wayans brother’s comedy Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. Every single conversation in this entire book, and well over half of the narration is Oscar-worthy in it’s dramatic capacity. Whenever a character opens their mouth, the shit they say is the sort of shit you (and by you, I mean the reader) are supposed to remember for the rest of your life. These lines are intended to be the kind of literary bell-tollings that undergrads will tattoo on the inside of their forearms for years to come. This is real truth here, people, this is how life should be lived.

The plot is basically that Skylar doesn’t like the military, so when a simple misunderstanding reveals him to be the floral version of Neo from The Matrix, he wants to pursue his new-found calling. However, he suddenly comes under attack, literally, from his old friends in that bastion of homophobia, the United States Naval Service, and everything goes to hell. His shallow, social climbing, materialistic harpy of a wife doesn’t understand his desire to end year-and-a-half long deployments in favor of spending time with his son, learning a trade, and creating something that makes people happy, his shithead father thinks he should go into computers like his cousin Bill, and his only real friend seems to be amateur drag queen Ezra Dumphy, also apparently the Navy’s only gay guy. You’d think this alone would make it a great book. This synopsis is why I requested it, plus half a star for interesting plot, but neither the plot of the characters get any space to develop.

The author bio says Chin worked in computer science for 20 years, and I actually let out an audible “of course” when I read that tidbit at the end of the book. In addition to the preachy overly significant dialog and narration, the action is peppered with unnecessary specificity about trivialities, and advanced by cursory generalities instead of major plot points. For example, for one flower arrangement, I know what angle Skylar puts flowers into Oasis (45 degrees, if you’re curious), which I now know is the official name for that green stuff they poke your flowers in to make sure they stand right, but I have no idea why his bitch wife decides to give up her “keeping up appearances” attitude, and get behind her husband on his journey to flower shop ownership. She goes from contemplating how she can wait out his nonsense until the Navy deploys him for another 18 months, to demanding her father in law finance their down-payment.

Theoretically, her change of heart is precipitated by her first-ever glimpse of her husband’s glorious floral talents. Apparently the same thing happens to the dad because there is a funeral scene just so the dad can see the son’s work, and that somehow erases more than a decade of shitty parenting and disappointment on both sides, and magically produces armloads of cash they had no idea they actually had. Which is what I meant when I said that there’s a strange egotism attached to the main character. Everything that happens in this entire book happens in order to direct, encourage, and then validate his creative spirit. Even other character’s funerals. Also, there’s a weird forward that apparently has nothing to do with the funeral in the book, but some other unknown funeral that is never revisited or even mentioned.

First Exposure is a mess. There’s level of brutality, and absurdity that could be fun if the whole damn thing didn’t take itself so seriously. Other of Alan Chin’s novels have won scores of LGBT and diversity awards, and I can see why. But if you’re looking for overly dramatic speeches about minority lives, rent a Tyler Perry film. There’s a lot wrong with that man, but his ability to move from insane comedy to tear-jerking uplift is something to be admired. Certainly something this writer could work more on.

Oh, and minus that half star I added for only being available in paperback, and being $16.95. John Fucking Green doesn’t even command a $16+ price point anymore, and he’s like, the king of didactic fiction.

1 star