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.

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.

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