Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys – Review of My Hometown

20161030myhometownMy Hometown by SJD Peterson, narrated by Ronald Ray Strickland

The last SJD Peterson book I reviewed was Plan B way back in 2013. It was actually one of the first erotica reviews I ever wrote as a collection I put together for a friend, and I think that my tastes have matured since then.

Not that Plan B wasn’t good. It had some problems, but it’s better than My Hometown. At first I was taken aback by narrator Ronald Ray Strickland’s decision to narrate the whole thing in a thick southern accent that clearly wasn’t his, but as the book wore on, I realized that even the narration was in dialect and would probably have sounded weird if he hadn’t had an accent. Speaking of the narrator, I swear I’ve heard him before somewhere but this is the first audiobook of his I’ve ever had, apparently.

I like the setting, the whole country cowboy thing is awesome, but the characters are mostly blah. Both how they’re written and who they are. Main character Jimmy goes off to Chicago to be a doctor and comes home to the family ranch with boyfriend in tow to take over when his parents retire, while pulling double duty as a resident.

At first, the fact that the boyfriend is a fabulous flamboyant man was awesome to me, but the irrational hate Jimmy’s best friend Eric has for the guy and the fact that he’s a manipulative jerk turned me off right away. Which is the point, he’s supposed to be the villain, a gold digger who will do anything he can to get what he wants: a rich doctor husband. The problem with that is all written by someone. His bitchy, slutty ways and the fact that he’s the only effeminate character in the book as well as hated by everyone on sight before they even realize how horrible he is rubbed me the wrong way. Eric does have an internal monologue about how femmy doesnt mean bad, but that realization is pretty covered up by the fact that he’s head over heels in love with Jimmy and has been their whole lives.

Which is another issue I have with the book. The characters are so stiff and two-dimensional. They say and do things straight out of a bad comic book or an afterschool PSA. The physical comedy is practically cartoonish and half the time I felt like I was reading a play written by the entire theater club of a local high school. When they finally hook up, the awkwardness continues.

Eric is really nervous about bottoming with Jimmy, but there is absolutely no discussion about that despite the fact that Jimmy has claimed to be an exclusiclve top for the entire book until straight guy Eric fucks him. What could have been a tender and steamy scenario is completely skipped over so straight dude is never uncomfortable or even vulnerable.

There’s also the complete lack of character arc. Eric goes from not understanding his feelings for Jimmy to really totally understanding them, embracing them and being completely out and proud. I got whiplash. And the non-conversations he has with his family and friends are basically painful with no positive resolution.

The one saving grace of this book is narrator Ronald Ray Strickland. He delivered even the most wooden dialog with life-like enthusiasm and realness. He described ridiculous scenes with a seriousness that suspended my disbelief admirably. Terrible accent and all.

3 out of 5 stars for finding the right narrator.

Emotional Unavailability – Review of Blue Steel Chain

201601023bluesteelThanks to Riptide and Netgalley for this review copy.

You can purchase Blue Steel Chain – Trowchester Blues #3 by Alex Beecroft wherever Riptide books are sold.

I read Blue Steel Chain during my absence from reviewing. From time to time I have thought about how I would write the review if I were ever to come back. Now here I am. This is the only romance book I know of with an asexual romantic lead and for that alone Beecroft deserves the respect due a professional of her caliber. Like her other books, Blue Steel Chain is a well-researched and quick read. But unlike her other books, I did not enjoy myself.

The story centers around Aidan, a young man who was “saved” from life on the streets by an abusive and controlling wealthy older douche who breaks his confidence down and uses his position of power to run every aspect of Aidan’s life from when and how much he works out to when he gets to leave the house, and even what tattoos he has. The reader assumes that Aidan doesn’t enjoy sex with his partner because the man is a total asshat. However, as the story progresses, we realize that he is asexual, and has no desire for sex in any way.

James is the love interest in theory, but he has his own baggage to deal with in the form of his terrible boyfriend who isn’t controlling or abusive, but is a cheating dug user with no boundaries or respect for anyone, least of all James.

Everything sort of mostly changes when James and Aidan discover a fairly fresh corpse in the burial mound behind Aidan’s house, which is revealed to be Aidan’s partner’s last boyfriend/victim who he killed because he’s a serial murderer.

At first I was extremely happy to see that the mystery component from Trowchester Blues, the first book in the series of the same name was back in full effect. But the mystery slipped down the plot like an old stocking and there are parts that didn’t make any sense at all.

Outside of the mystery, the book focused on people and relationships, a Beecroft specialty. In her characteristic style, she really takes you there as a reader, which is normally awesome. Except when the destination is long-term systematic sexual and physical abuse, or the slow and agonizing death of a codependent relationship with a drug addict who thinks he can do anything he wants, especially if it’s destructive. I was practically grinding my teeth with anxiety.

Then, after going through this (plus the murder bit) with the main characters, we have the angst of dating with that much baggage, and the added awkwardness of a sexual person dating an asexual person without either of them knowing it a first which just makes stress soup out of all of my organs, but at least it prepared me for how very uncomfortable the ending was.

Because the end of this book has asexual Aidan and sexual James in a relationship that looks more like an extremely amicable prison cellmate agreement. Aidan not only doesn’t want sex, he actively thinks it’s gross and has to mentally prepare before he can maybe agree to be present for sexual activity with his boyfriend who very much likes sex and specifically wants to have sex with Aidan. Neither of them seem to be in the sexual relationship they want and yet they basically ignore that fact because…. they have so much in common?

The entire book leading up to this point is them dealing with their terrible (basically I need therapy after reading about them) ex-boyfriends and the fallout from those relationships. It doesn’t make any sense to me except that these two codependent people have found a less horrible codependent relationship than their last horrible codependent relationship and so cling together despite their obvious incompatibility.

I loved every single part of this book that wasn’t about boyfriends. All the parts with Aidan’s post-break up queer femme posse, the interactions with the other secondary characters that were established in the first two books, and the descriptions of James and Aidan’s jobs and interests were great.

I wish that there had been a decision to break out of the romance genre and have this be Aidan’s story of recovery because the plot line with him finding his voice and becoming his own man is positively radiant and amazing. Like all Beecroft characters he’s so well constructed and genuine that I felt drawn to him throughout the book. He’s resilient and smart and extremely well defined. Giving him a boyfriend at the end of that soul-searching life or death journey seems anti-climactic.

As for James, he starts the book with a boyfriend who would rather do drugs and fuck literally crowds of other people than even talk to him, so I can see why attentive and nice Aidan would feel like a step up, but a life spent jerking off in the shower while your partner turns the radio up downstairs so he doesn’t have to think of you abusing yourself in the bathroom is no kind of life. Not to mention the complete mystery behind why they decided to be monogamous with each other, which is never even addressed except in a fishing analogy that reveals way more than it explains.

Basically, Aidan tells James that if James really liked to fish and Aidan thought it was dumb and gross, he would still go fishing with James because he wants to make James happy which is where I threw up my hands because ask any therapist if doing something you think is dumb and gross just because your partner enjoys it is good relationshipping in any universe. They will tell you no. They will probably suggest that instead of doing something you hate, you should let your partner go do that thing with their friends who also love that thing while you do something else that you love because you don’t have to do everything together. In fact it’s probably not healthy to do everything together.

3 stars out of 5 for being all over uncomfortable but extremely well-written as always.

The Road Less Taken – Review of L.A. Witt’s Just Drive

20161023justdriveThanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

Look for Just Drive, Anchor Point #1 from L.A. Witt on November 16, 2016.

It was truly a pleasure to see a new series from Riptide and L.A. Whitt for my first review back after more than a year away (I know, I know, adulting is super hard you guys). I devoured it in a single night. The story is simple and sweet and surprisingly low on angst for the plot, but not surprising for L.A. Witt fans. In short, this was exactly what I need right now.

The story starts when just-dumped Naval officer Paul gets into Sean’s basically an Uber but not Uber and tells him to “just drive.” Annoyed at first, Sean softens when his hot older passenger tells him he’s just ended a floundering relationship and he doesn’t want to go home. A quiet walk on the pier turns into a passionate make-out session in the car and a mind-blowing suckfest in the backseat that had me very much engaged in the content.

The two continue meeting in the car and at various hotels for late-night marathon sessions that are at once searingly hot and sweet as hell. That the older, commanding Paul prefers the bottom while sincere twenty-something Sean exclusively tops is hot, but in a way that springs naturally from the characters themselves, and isn’t hammered on. Neither of these guys was born yesterday, they know what they like and there’s no novelty to their preferences like there can be when less experienced writers are at the helm. There’s one quick discussion where Sean explains that he doesn’t like the sensation, even saying that his preference isn’t about power, which leads to a brief but lovely lesson on frottage. And then it’s never brought up again.

As much as I like stories where characters who identify as exclusive tops learn to trust and blah blah blah, I also appreciate good boundaries and situations where identities aren’t tied to what position you take in bed. I guess you could say that like my erotica like I like myself: complicated.

Which leads me to the one bad thing I could write about this book if I had to write a bad thing about it and since I am reviewing it, I suppose this is exactly the case. There is almost no complexity here. Sean and Paul have exactly one friend each. Sean has no friends if you don’t count his father, and two if you count his car. And you kind of have to count the car a little bit, but only because it’s referenced as much as any other secondary character. But unlike dudes we’ve all known, Sean appreciates his car, but he’s definitely not in a relationship with it.

We don’t even know what kind of car it is. I don’t even think we know what color it is. Which sounds dumb, but for someone who grew up talking about cars, it’s odd to me that the car and driving are such a big deal in the story and the details of that don’t come up. Other subjects are similarly lacking, even the main characters. Paul is impulsive and driven, Sean is kind and reliable. Other than that, they have really great sex. We’re dealing with about as much depth as an oil pan, but that’s one of the reasons I loved this book.

Not everything has to be all deep examinations and descriptions of fenders or whatever I implied was missing from Just Drive. You know what has depth? My own life. I’m about good on depth right now. No, I prefer an impeccably described blow job, and on that front, L.A. Witt delivers in full as usual.

4.5 stars out of 5 for being exactly what I needed exactly when I needed it, especially for the sex bits.

Wherein Blue is Not Warm, But Sweet – Review of Blue Eyed Stranger

20150905blueeyedBlue-Eyed Stranger,Trowchester Blues Two by Alex Beecroft

First off, I want to say that I am really happy to be able to read a book with a black main character where he isn’t irrational and in need of the calming guidance of his white partner. You’d be surprised how many people of color, in romance novels especially, are portrayed that way. Even in the more lovingly written stories that were clearly made in order to include characters of color in a positive and accurate light, the white savior dynamic is so often hidden in places I’m sure the author didn’t even consider when they were writing it.

Alex Beecroft, you are a dream.

This second of the Trowchester Blues novels centers around Martin Deng and Billy Wright. Martin’s Somalian father doesn’t understand him. He certainly would understand him even less if he knew his son was gay. Maybe even disown him. Martin’s stuck-up British boss doesn’t understand how a history teacher would be so obsessed with history. She wants him to teach to the book and stop messing around with his historical reenactment society. Martin’s vikings understand his love for history, and would probably understand his being gay, but it’s not like he’s ever given them the chance to.

Billy understands all of this. If only he could understand his own depression. Dancing, music and melancholy are his constant companions until Martin Deng and his viking hoard come barreling into his dance troupe. Martin is sweet, he knows about depression, and he doesn’t ask for more than Billy can give. But does Billy ask for more than Martin can give when it comes to loving him openly?

Can Martin overcome his own insecurities in order to be the kind of partner Billy needs?

I genuinely liked Martin and Billy. Unlike other coming out will he/won’t he stories, I didn’t get frustrated with Martin, even though he really does do some pretty bone-headed things. I understood the pressure he felt, and I related to how difficult it can be to deal with the demands of the monoculture, the demands of your own family culture, and the demands of your heart. History wants to erase minority contributions and families tend to bulldoze individual members to the extent that a person can start to feel guilty taking up any space at all. More than exasperation, I felt elation and empowerment when Martin finally came out, both of his shell and of the closet.

For those reasons, I really enjoyed Blue Eyed Stranger.

However, this is definitely more a romance than a work of erotica. Those who read Trowchester Blues and hoped to spice things up in book two will not be especially stimulated by the direction this went. The sex is pleasant, affirming and sweet. Also rarely mentioned in detail. It’s lovely, but it’s not going to be keeping anybody up at night.

Oh, and if you were looking for an update on the orphan and bff from book one, you will not be getting one. The book one characters are hardly mentioned at all outside one small cameo by Fin.

4.5 stars for being the rare book with a solidly relatable black main character, despite a lack of steamy sexy bits.

New In Town: Review of Trowchester Blues

20150801cover58651-mediumTrowchester Blues by Alex Beecroft

Maybe it’s because I’m getting up in years myself, but I really prefer the stories about the above-thirty set. Kids are dumb, and their problems are dumb problems. Not like the main characters in this first Trowchester Blues novel, the start of what promises to be hit series from Alex Beecroft.

Michael May was a police officer. One too many gruesome murder scenes sent him over the edge, and he was encouraged to take early retirement after assaulting a suspect. Back in the home where he was an outcast among his peers, and a victim of his father’s abusive cruelty, he is attempting to rebuild. What, he doesn’t know.

Fintan Hulme was a fence. A good fence, but he got out of the game and exiled himself to an antique bookshop in a tiny tourist village on the English coast. Content to live out his quiet retirement, he was completely unprepared for a new love or an old associate to show up at his door at virtually the same time.

Throw in a snarky orphan, a genderqueer, age-appropriate BFF (and maybe more) for her to bond with, excellent character development, and just a hint of sadomasochism and you have a pretty great combo. And that’s not even accounting for the very English mystery to top it all off.

Michael is afraid of his own anger, Fintan is aroused by it. Michael is adrift on a sea of uncertainty, Fintan knows exactly what he wants but his past isn’t going to let him have it.

The stand-out feature of Trowchester Blues has got to be the character development. It’s so crisp and good, even minor characters are real and whole people.

In terms of complaints, I only wish the sex was a little spicier. Fintan’s masochism is talked about, but not explored to the extent that I was hoping for. Vanilla readers, the kind who can be put off by the more hardcore pain/pleasure stuff will probably be grateful the scenes don’t go far, but they felt anticlimactic to me. I did, however, really enjoy that Fintan’s masochism didn’t automatically translate into submissiveness. All too often the two are portrayed as being practically the same trait, and as a masochist who likes to be in charge, it was refreshing to see somebody with a similar style.

4.5 stars for being a damn good read.

Challenge Participant

What Are Best Friends For: Review of Getting it Right

20150710gettingGetting It Right by A.M. Arthur

You may know Dr. James Taggert, or friendly club hook-up Tag from A.M.’s other successful books in The Belonging Series. This first book in the brand new Restoration Series is extremely promising.

Police detective Nathan and his psychologist best friend James have always been on the verge of something. Both have feelings for the other, each lives depressingly unaware of his friend’s internal struggle. James stays away from Nathan on the grounds that he’s straight, Nathan stays away from James on the grounds that James doesn’t like him back.

As Jame’s alcoholism progresses, and Nathan closes in on a career making case, the two friends fall into a drunken make-out session that leaves Nathan more sure of his intentions than ever, but black-out drunk James has absolutely no memory of the relationship changing event.

When a brutal attack leaves Nathan fighting for his life, then under the care of his parents, James is forced to come to grips with what loosing Nathan would really mean to him. it’s time to grow up and stop playing at club boy if he wants a shot with the true love of his life. But will Nathan still want him when he recovers?

For his part, Nathan pretends that his avoiding James is all about getting better, but it’s also about keeping his distance from a man he’s always thought didn’t want him, and who he can’t imagine would want him now covered in scars and suffering from some serious trauma.

Where the Belonging Series were clearly young and new, the Restoration Series feels grown up and serious. I like it. I also like the transformation that the characters go through. Unlike other books I’ve read where one partner turns to the other says “gee honey, I wish you wouldn’t drink so much” and the book basically ends in a giant heart around them both as the other partner promises to do just that.

There are some things missing, for example, how Nathan could be in love with his openly gay male best friend for most of their friendship and neither bring it up, nor act on it with any other dudes. Or that he would also decide to repress these feelings despite having incredibly accepting parents and a gay best friend.

My arguments in that past that the writer either didn’t access their own trauma, or didn’t know much about trauma are slightly assuaged. The portrayal is way more realistic than it has been in the past.

Otherwise, I approve of this new, darker direction.

3.5 stars

Car Crossed Lovers: Review of Hell on Wheels

20150710hellHell on Wheels A Bluewater Bay Novel by Z..A. Maxfield

Everybody needs a break sometimes. But what happens when a much needed diversion from the rigors of everyday life turns out to be more than that?

Nash has a lot on his plate. He’s running his family’s auto shop while simultaneously looking after his wheelchair using younger sister and absent-minded inventor father. Spencer is a celebrity in the middle of divorce that is pure tabloid-fuel.

They find each other at the worst possible point, but can peace grow from chaos?

I am seriously loving the Bluewater Bay series. Not only is it set in my favorite place, the Pacific Northwest, but every character is so well made. The writers are truly the first string on team Riptide, and the quality is quite apparent.

Nash and Spencer are so well written, as are the various family members and self-identified minions that surround the two characters. I do wish that there was more fire between the two leads. I also wish that there was less loving kindness for Spencer’s shitty ex.

I get that how the story plays out is actually the healthier and more realistic, and I know that I’m always harping on these red-flag romances, but I also wonder if there could have been a little more flash bang. What can I say, I’m a woman of contradictions.

4 stars

The Thing I Should Have Known: Review of The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know

20150710thethingThe Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know Book 1, Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years by Brent Hartinger

I requested The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know because it was by the same author who wrote Geography Club. I’d never read the book, but I’d seen the movie and really enjoyed it.

Usually I don’t like books with young protagonists, owing to my singular hatred of anybody under the age of 25, and issue I’ve struggled with just about my entire life. But I did really like Geography Club.

Thus the thing I should have known. I haven’t been able to finish this book because I can not stand the protag. He has that John Green style over-analytical naivety that just sets my fucking teeth on edge.

Maybe it’s jealousy because I was never the kind of person who felt safe enough in my own home and with my own family to be that adorkably lost all the time, but God Damnit I can’t take it.

Somebody else would probably love this book. Somebody who enjoys painfully innocent young men who don’t actually get hurt so much as they learn deep lessons. Lessons the reader themselves probably learned or are about to learn just as gently and sweetly. I can’t take it.

1 star.

New Dog, Old Tricks: Review of Lone Wolf

image
Lone Wolf, A Bluewater Bay Novel by L.A. Witt, Aleksandr Voinov

Another successful episode in Riptide’s Bluewater Bay series, Lone Wolf will have fanatic writers green with envy.

When Kevin Hussain aka Lone Wolf gets an IM from his fellow fanfic writer and cyber crush Wolf Hunter, it seems like it might be time to take it to the next level. Little does he know what level that actually is.

Wolf Hunter, also known as insanely popular fiction writer Hunter Easton, author behind the hit new show Wolf’s Landing has come to a complete stalemate in his writing. But when the flirty and very stimulating Lone Wolf shares his unique take on the next steps for their favorite pack, Hunter can’t help but reach out. Lone Wolf’s book needs to be the next volume in the Wolf’s Landing series, and Kevin’s name needs to be on it, but how to make that happen?

And what’s to be done about the very real chemistry between the two self-professed loners? Can two men so used to their own company learn to work together? To be together?

If you want to know the answer to these questions, as well as some hot sex between an extremely forward younger man and his equally enthusiastic older partner, this is the book for you.

As I have come to expect from both L.A. Witt and Aleksander Voinov, the writing is spot on, the plot is great, it flows well, and at no point did I find myself taken out of the function by something unrealistic or nonsensical. The only thing keeping me half a star away from the 5 star rating is that little extra punch that I look for in a true 5 star. This is good stuff and well worth the price. Pick it up.

4.5 stars out of 5

The Book that Called Uncle – Review of The Flesh Cartel

cover52093-mediumThe Flesh Cartel, The Complete Collection by Rachel Haimowitz and Heidi Belleau

Thanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

I requested The Flesh Cartel back in the Fall of 2014, and every time I would sit down to read it, then put it down again, I thought that I was just having a bad day. I’d go on and read other books and review them, and then try to come back to no avail. I’m finally throwing in the towel. It’s unfair to continue to think that I will someday finish this book.

I blame my own headspace for this one. I tend to love this stuff. Stories of intense BDSM relationships and situations are usually right up my alley. I was totally excited to read The Flesh Cartel, I’d been hearing about how great it was for years.

For those not in the know, this popular series centers around two orphaned brothers who are kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery, where they are meant to be trained as the perfect submissive slaves.

The first several chapters are straight up terror and pain. Again, usually it’s totally my thing, but it was hard to get through. The original serial nature of the piece made it seem drawn out in book form. A lot of intense things happen in every chapter, because they were originally set as stand-alone pieces meant to sustain a reader until the next installation, but the plot moves incredibly slowly, a least at first.

The boys are likable characters, and they are very clearly not enjoying any part of their situation. I usually prefer my hardcore to be similar in caliber, but with an eventual kernel of consent or underlying secret desire, and while that is threatened, it’s not something that happens. So I begin to feel more than a little bit like the bad guy by continuing to read these characters into deeper and deeper depths of insanity. Yes, I am the kind of crazy person who actually (sort of) believes that I put the characters into and out of danger by reading or not reading. It’s a sickness.

I do know that the boys eventually escape, and I have a feeling that the story gets way less repetitive after that, but it was difficult to get there for me. I’m going to keep going back to the work, and when I do finish it, I will be updating this review, but I wanted to get something out after so long in draft.

3 out of 5 stars