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.

And I Will Always Cover You – Review of “The Walls of Troy” L. A. Witt

cover53338-mediumThe Walls of Troy
L. A. Witt

Thanks to Netgalley and Samhain Publishing for the review copy.

You guys know I love me some L.A. Witt. She can take a story that might seem dull in another writers hands: mature, career oriented body guard falls for his younger, and saucier charge, and make it a cover to cover compelling read.

Navy cop Iskander Ayhan takes his first bodyguard assignment as yet another step in a military career ladder he desperately wants to climb, but he can’t see how guarding an admiral’s 22 year old son is anything but a joke. The only reason he can think of for the “need” for a body guard would have to do with political grand-standing, something Iskander sees as an all too common waste of taxpayer dollars. But when he gets to his post, it’s anything but grandstanding. If only Troy Dalton would be honest about the very real danger is in.

Troy has a secret, but the chances of him opening up to Iskander are slim to none. That is, until the sparks flying between them prove to me more than just skin deep. Can he trust his new body guard on the basis of their shared sexuality alone? Either way, he’ll have to trust someone. Before it’s too late for both of them.

Like I said, L.A. is the reason to read this book. Her inherent skill in storytelling and pacing take this out of the regular, everyday gay romance for me. The fact that nearly every novel she writes is a new and interesting journey is also a plus. It’s not the story, which is fairly run of the mill, but the way in which it’s told that make the difference between an okay book and a really good one. As usual, this is a good one.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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.

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.