Pretty Jerks with Empty Lives


Available May 14, 2014.
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

Close your eyes. Are they closed? Liar, how are you reading this right now if your eyes are closed? Never mind. I see the flaw in my original plan.

So don’t close your eyes, but as you’re reading these words, picture in your mind’s eye a book called Narcissus Is Dreaming, published by a company called Pink Narcissus Press, which was founded by the author of the book in question.

Is it populated by young men who the writer desperately wants to be stunningly beautiful and tragically complicated, but who end up being pretty jerks instead? Is it more than usually vague, generally meandering, and ultimately empty? Is it couched in the background of a greater intrigue that is largely irrelevant?

If you answered yes to all of these questions then you have no need of this review, because you already know everything I know about Narcissus Is Dreaming.

You will like this book if you enjoyed such existentialist romps as The Stranger, and Waiting for Gogot, but felt there should be more space travel and aliens.

When I say Narcissus is Dreaming is ultimately empty, what I mean is that Rose Mambert has written a novel that undoes itself. Every major plot point and piece of character development disappears by the end of the novel. Nothing is accomplished, and nearly nothing changes. No one learns anything.

The main character, being a genderless alien with no ability to empathize with humans, is referred to as “it” by itself and by others throughout the book, and there’s special care taken to show that the lack of humanity of the alien and it’s cohorts isn’t a misunderstanding on the part of the humans. These aliens really don’t empathize with human emotions. They’re physically unable to.

Needless to say, it’s hard to find the main character relatable. Even when it starts to feel emotion, the raw experience explodes in a cloud of bad decisions and violent outbursts. Which makes them/it even more difficult to understand as the plot moves on and characters are killed or dismissed after contributing nothing.

Words like “beautiful” and “love” are thrown around, but they seem to have no real meaning or value. Characters who love each other destroy each other. Characters who should love each other remain indifferent towards each other. There is sex, and even intimacy, but I’ve read descriptions of opening a door that we’re more fraught with tension.

As for the conclusion, Camus would be proud. Here, my friends, is further proof that life is empty. There’s no denouement. What starts out as having the potential to speak volumes about the human condition and the nature of love and community is ultimately just a wink while passing by.

1.5 out of 5 stars

The Variable is Love: Paradox Lost Review

cover40051-mediumParadox Lost by Libby Drew

I’d like to thank the fine folks at NetGalley for giving me this review copy.

Sometimes I think I write too many gay romance reviews. But I’m trying to read something that’s slightly more serious at the moment, and I kind of fall asleep whenever I start it. I mean, the larger concept is intriguing and everything, but the distinct lack of penis is giving me heartburn. Story of my life, right?

Anyway, there’s a few of these in the pipeline. I read several books while I was sick week before last, and I need to push the reviews out. I’ll avoid the situation where I have a solid block of erotica, for those that aren’t into it. I still try and make these funny and interesting, but I understand.

What does one say about Paradox Lost? That it’s your run of the mill sci-fi, time-travel, mystery, love-story thriller seems not to do it justice. But that’s basically what it is. You take the old standard hard-boiled alcoholic noir detective, add a damsel in distress, and a wide-eyed foreigner in a race against time, and you have the basic ingredients of this book.

A simple time travel tour guide, Reegan McNamara had one job: keep everybody safe until you get everybody home. But when a flashy political wife takes a runner, he’s stuck in the past trying to catch her before time itself catches up with them both. Thankfully, Hunky P.I. Saul Kildare is fresh on the wagon and ready to fuck his troubles away. Oh wait, I mean help find the missing lady before it’s too late. But seriously, there is a magnetic attraction that laughs in the face of the linear perception of time as we know it, because this is romance on a quantum level.

This whole thing is basically adorable. The science is, of course, so obviously timey-wimey that even I had some eyebrow raising moments, so if that kind of stuff bothers you, this book isn’t for you. There’s at least one point where a more than reasonable argument is made for the power of love being a driving force in the success or failure of certain scientific processes. Like time travel. It’s also, apparently, a cure for alcoholism. And there’s some dystopian future background stuff going on that doesn’t really go anywhere beyond character development. While fairly disturbing, is all sort-of swept under the rug by the end of the book. Because yeah, you live in a bureaucratic mono-culture, but now you have a boyfriend. I guess the same could be said of our current reality, but I don’t read a lot of romances where our cultural failings are laundry-listed and then back-burnered like there’s nothing wrong.

Other than the dystopia, Paradox Lost is a great book. It’s got humor, danger, intrigue, and sex without seeming too scattered or messy. I think this is because it’s unpretentious at heart. I get the impression that the author had a fun time writing this, and it makes me happy. It’s a quick read, there’s decent sex scenes, although all are extremely vanilla, and the ending will warm the cockles of your cock as long as you don’t know that much about the sciences, both soft and hard.

4 stars out of 5 Would recommend.

Most Pleasant Gay Romance in a Zombie Outbreak Ever

indescretioncover40589-mediumIn Discretion by Reesa Herberth

Thank you to NetGalley for the review copy of this book, which you can purchase on the Kindle store for $3.99

To say that the quality of books on NetGalley is diverse makes it seem like you’re just as likely to get a winner as you are to get a stinker. There’s a reason they give these out like candy to any sad sucker with a blog. But I’ve never been one to look a gift book in the mouth, and sometimes I want to review something higher than I normally would just because I didn’t pay for it. But you’d have to.

On the other hand, if $3.99 has your checkbook hurting, then you have much larger problems than mediocre space romance. Which is what In Discretion is. The writing itself isn’t what makes it mediocre. In general, the language is what kept my interest when everything else was getting annoying.

The first issue I had was with the premise, part of which is that Romantic Lead 1, Thanson Nez is in an elite guild of space hookers/spies that people hire as space hookers, even though they know that they are also officially organized spies.

So, if you were planning to overthrow the galactic government, like some evil baddies in this book are doing, why in the sweet hell would you hire a hooker who you know is also officially a spy for the aforementioned government, and why would you further make the information about your evil plot readily available to him? Because the first scene pretty much establishes that it’s common knowledge exactly what kind of arrangement the space hooker guild aka The Discretionary Service has with all their clients. This is part of a series, so maybe this weirdness is addressed in a different book, but it made no sense to me.

The second issue I had is that I could not, for the life of me, keep track of the difference between Romantic Lead 1, Thanson, and Romantic Lead 2, Kazra Ferdow. As far as I could tell, they basically look the same, talk the same, and are from the same home planet. One of them had a criminal dad, one of them had a law maker dad, and at some point one boy threatened to murder one dad while one other dad, or maybe the same dad, forced the other boy off planet under threat of death. Whose death also is unclear. Thus establishing their star-crossed and confusing history. A general lack of descriptors paired with vague blocking (where people are in rooms, on pathways, etc.) makes all the characters sort of blend together almost like it was a stylistic choice. To be honest, it didn’t bother me as much as it might from a more complex story.

The simplicity of In Discretion really takes the edge off its other issues. The story moves forward with Frogger-like doggedness (froggedness?). The main plot is almost literally a straight line, following the ex-lovers on foot through a damaged space-station, from a cargo bay to a control room. But as they dodge zombies (yeah, zombies) on their journey to the center of the station, they also journey to the center of their own hearts, and what they find there turns out to be each other. Can love be requited? Can the trauma of that thing one of their dads did to one of them, which one I’m still not sure, be overcome after all these years? Yes. The answer to all those questions is yes, and easily.

This is sort of a Hansel and Gretel story if Hansel and Gretel where dudes very much in love with each other, the wicked witch was kind of crappy at witchcraft, and the gingerbread house was soggy so the walls could be punched through with minimal effort. Ironically, the reason this book is like this is, in part, because the main characters are level-headed pragmatists who generally do the most appropriate thing. Even the sex is pragmatic. There’s one scene, it takes place at the end when everybody is safe, and it’s full of really honest, beautiful things you’d say to your long-lost lover if you found them again on a zombie infested space station and realized you still loved them, and moreover, forgave them leaving.

I read this at the height of a head cold, and it was kind of nice to have something that was well written enough (not technically, but artistically, if that makes sense) that it carried itself without being too stressful or dramatic at any point. It avoided every major faux pas m/m kindle romance usually falls into, and it’s only $3.99, for the cheap ass bastard in all of us.

2.5 stars out of 5 – Real score.

Adjusted for price, and in comparison to the other shit that clutters this category: 3.5

Note: Although this book is technically in the Ylendrian Empire series, the series itself can be read in any order, and this is a spin-off novella, written over two years after the other two books, and without usual co-author Michelle Moore.

Review: Capture and Surrender

Capture & Surrender (Market Garden #5)
by L.A. Witt and Aleksandr Voinov

I recently joined NetGalley, which is a site where semiprofessional reviewers like myself can request digital galleys of books in exchange for reviews. Since I figure I’ll probably be writing about the books I read anyway, this exchange is amenable to me. Anyway, full disclosure: this book is from them.

When Capture & Surrender came on my radar via the Amazon suggestion panel, I was unaware that this was one if several books in a series. Unlike their cousin the Audible app, both the Kindle app and the Amazon app for Android make it difficult to know when a book is part of a series, and even more difficult to know which book it is, or even what order they go in. It doesn’t help that most publishers will maybe add the phrase “a Fuck Bubble book” at the end of their plot summary like I’m supposed to be like “Oh, Fuck Bubble, I know exactly what that means!”

Anyway, this is book five of the Market Garden series, and it follows kinky brothel owner Franks’s journey to love again after his partner’s death of AIDS. When I first realized this was a series, I incorrectly assumed that the other four books are also about Frank, but they are actually about three different couples who form out of or around the prostitutes on Frank’s staff, which makes more sense. I was wondering how a romance/erotica series would deal with something as bummerey as a main character’s death from AIDS. Turns out, they just make sure it was in the past.

While our leading man has probably been supporting cast in all of the books, this is the first one entirely about him. I got the idea that the writers know Frank very well, and there were a lot of times I wished I knew him as well as they did, but whether this lack of information comes from my own ignorance of the cannon, or some other issue, I can’t tell. I definitely felt like I was picking up in the middle of something, but I wasn’t getting a lot of context clues as to who Frank was as a person. During the course of the book, he mentions his past, and I realized that I would much rather read about young street-smart Frank struggling to reconcile his working class, criminal background with his identity as a gay submissive in a homophobic world. And yes, I know, there are probably millions of books about exactly that subject, and I shouldn’t be such a philistine. In fact, I should sing the praises of Witt and Voinov for writing a book that actually deals with aging, sickness, and death with sensitivity and grace while managing to maintain some solidly hot sex along the way. When I incorrectly assumed that the previous books were about Frank, it bothered me less because I thought the stories Frank alludes to had already been told. Now I know they have not, and I’m sad that the only version of Frank in print is an aging depressive with intimacy and self-esteem issues who goes more than a little too crazy over new dick for my general liking.

As for the sex, which is what we’re all here for, I have to say the BDSM in this book amounts to little more than rough handling and dirty talk. It’s good, it gets the job done, and in fact, is some of the better written stuff on the market from an emotional point of view. Especially given the context. But don’t expect anything more than some commanding suggestions in terms of sub/dom play. The majority of the scenes tend to be brief and superficial, but there is a real gem early on in the book between Frank and two of his dear friends that is really, seriously amazing. The fact that the characters have intimate knowledge of each other, that they all love each other as friends, and that the fuckfest itself is a life-affirming act is absolutely clear in the writing, and its depth lends a heart-string tension to what could have easily been a throw-away session to hold reader attention while the romance builds.

Overall, I give it 7 out of 10 stars. It’s not this book’s fault that it was completely different from what I expected. It’s a well written piece of fun that was easy to read, and had hapily unexpected hidden emotional range, even if it was a little character weak.

While I was writing this, Ben came up and said “I feel like your reviews should feature incredibly over-wrought metaphors for the state of your vagina. Like, ‘this book left my cunt drier than the Nazca region of Peru.'” Then he added. “You can have that one.” What a giver.

Review of Captive Prince

Captive Prince by S.U. Pacat: Welcome to the book that sex forgot. The reason it’s on here is because good writing did not forget. The fact that there’s altogether two sex scenes in the two book (so far) run of the series is the only reason it even qualifies for the last place on this list. There are some patches that a professional editor would probably have been able to shape, but this is at least as good as half the books I read in college, despite being self-published (although the title has recently been acquired by Penguin).

Violence, secrets, political intrigue and an absolutely maddening amount of mystery, as well as manly anticipation boiling at the very edge of control make this book a joy to read. I honestly wish it weren’t stuck in the romance section because, while there is a love story at the heart of it all, there’s so much more than that.

Review of Cut and Run Series

Cut and Run by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux: I actually feel kind of bad making this book my number four, especially after Phil. This is when we get into the Kindle books, and to be honest, they are miles behind the top three. There’s a lot of writing problems that a publishing house will weed out. But this book is $5.79 on Kindle and you don’t have to wait for shipping. So, you get what you pay for.

Cut and Run is only the first in a series that is currently six books into a planned nine book run, and they do get better. They also lose co-author Madeleine Urban at some point, and the passive-aggressive dedication page to that regard is pretty much worth the price of admission. In fact, Roux’s enigmatic dedication pages have become integral to my book reading experience at this point. As much as character development isn’t a strong suit in this series, Roux does action extremely well; both the sexy kind and the gun-shootey kind in a steady supply. And after six books, I really love the protagonist rivals turned secret lovers Ty and Zane. They may not have been drawn with a steady hand, but they’ve got heart and I just can’t say no to that.

Review of The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame

The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: This is a comic book in the Japanese bara style, which means that the dudes are huge in all the best and most fun ways. As cuddly as these tall, chunk, and handsome bears are, this shit is not for the faint of heart. Those of you who do not have an appreciation for creative uses for BBQ skewers may want to check out another bara master, Seizoh Ebisubashi, who has similarly shaped guys but, as far as I can tell, no violence.

Review of the Back Passage by James Lear

The Back Passage by James Lear: I came across James Lear through Rupert Smith’s A Man’s World, a funny and fast-paced romance set in WWII and modern-day London showing the intersecting lives and loves of two men; one a pre-stonewall soldier and the other an a-political party boy. Its not erotica, but you should pick it up. I liked its snappy Britishness paired with a heavy dose of accurately depicted super-bad old times. But it’s not erotica, which is why I’m not reviewing it.

Rupert Smith and James Lear are the same person, Smith uses the pen name of Lear for his racier stuff, for example: The Back Passage, which is the first in a series that follows amateur detective Mitch Mitchell on his debauched adventures where just about every available dude is completely DTF. Although it’s set in 1925, this is definitely not the bad old days. The story takes place in a fantasy world where the threat of anti-gay legislation is mostly lip service because all the dudes in this mother be fucking. The thing that makes The Back Passage number one is that the story is actually fun and interesting beyond the rampant sex. Mitch is totally somebody I want to be my friend. He’s just the right amount of noble and immoral that makes the best partner in crime.

Review of Plan B by SJD Peterson

20163010planbThis book is more of a romance. It seemed like trite college drama at first, but I really liked the fierce and femmy main character Danny Marshal. Anybody who is into costuming will appreciate descriptions of his elaborate make-up and wardrobe magic. As far as plot or character development of anybody other than Danny is concerned, it’s not what I would call amazing, but whatever. Danny is the shining star. There are some hot sex scenes, even if they are rather few and far between.