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

Down and Out – Review of Counterpunch

cover53372-mediumCounterpunch (Belonging Book 2) by Aleksandr Voinov

Thanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

This is the second Voinov novel I’ve reviewed, as well as the second Belonging book, which you’ll recall was the controversial series set in an alternate universe where slavery was never abolished.

Like the first novel, Counterpunch brings up questions about the nature of love and relationships in a society where equality is illegal, but also examines a draconian criminal justice system that takes everything from a person, making redemption impossible. This book starts with a the question: what does a man have when he has nothing left to take?

When all else fails, when one can no longer emotionally manipulate one’s captors and owners in exchange for even the illusion of safety, what is there? What choice is left to someone who has no legal right to choose? Alternately, what happens to good men in a cruel system where there’s nothing but choice?

Brooklyn Marshall was a freeman, a cop and a husband until an accident on the job sent him to prison, and then into slavery. Now he’s the property of a conglomerate that buys and trains boxers, and he’s set to become the slave heavyweight champion of the world. But that doesn’t keep “the management” from hiring him out to the highest bidder to do whatever they want with him.

Little does he know that his next playing customer, Nathaniel Bishop, has other plans for his time… plans that are destined to crumble just like everything else Brooklyn ever loved.

Like Anchored, Counterpunch isn’t erotica so much as it’s a socio-political think-piece made possible by virtue of the fact that it’s ostensibly erotica. On the face of it, Anchored is a much more intellectual book. Counterpunch shies away from both the extreme violence that Anchored tackles head on, and the difficult realities of the universe in which it takes place. I don’t mean that one book is inherently better than the other, but Counterpunch is way less heavy, and therefore less difficult to read, but it didn’t get my brain going like Anchored did.

4 stars out of 5

Review of Black Dog by Cat Grant

cover51417-mediumBlack Dog by Cat Grant

Thanks to Netgalley and Samhain Publishing for the review copy.

This book is totally sweet. Homeless runaway Tom stumbles in the path of serial mentor and lost-boy collector Eddie, who introduces him to local gym owner and boxing trainer Danny. Old friends Eddie and Danny work together to help Tom overcome the damage his abusive dad did, but can they overcome their own mutual trauma?

Tom wants to be a boxer, but first he needs to get over his range in order to develop the emotional discipline necessary to be a good fighter. Danny wants Eddie, and visa versa, but first they have to get out of their own way.

Black Dog moves fast, and the drama comes from the plot, not the characters or their inter-personal angst. Well, mostly. Danny and Eddie’s issues with each other are a little hysterical, but you can chalk that up to the fact that they were young men when things first went south between them.

There were some moments when I hated Tom, but I tend to dislike young people on principal. I wouldn’t give it much consideration. This being the first in a series, I look forward to seeing the characters develop in the next books. I especially look forward to more of Eddie and Danny’s story, and to Tom growing up and not being so whiney and entitled.

3.5 stars out of 5

Forget Me Not – Review of the River Leith by Leta Blake

cover49270-mediumThe River Leith by Leta Blake

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

Out of my last four Netgalley books, The River Leith is the second one to feature memory loss. What I like about this book is that it doesn’t have anybody getting their memory back in a dramatic, last minute flash. It deals with the drama and tragedy of what might happen if someone were to suddenly wake up a stranger to themselves and anybody who knew them. On the other hand, there’s no mystery B plot, which I usually enjoy, so it’s not perfect.

When amateur boxer Leith Wenz wakes up in the hospital, his last memory is preparing to get out of prison. In reality, three years have passed and things in his life have changed. His brother tells him that he’s doing great, that he has amazing friends, and up until the illegal punch that left him in a coma for two months, he was well on his way to his dream of being a professional boxer. His friends seem alright. The guy everyone says is his best friend is nice, and charming, and totally compelling, but he’s about the last person in the world he’d think to be friends with. On top of that, there seem to be huge gaps in the narrative of his life, and nobody’s interested in filling them in. Least of all mystery BFF.

While Leith recovers in the brain trauma ward, his supposed best friend, Zach is actually his very messed up, very grieving boyfriend. Zach takes to the web and vlogs about the roller coaster of emotion that his life has become since Leith’s accident, while trying to put on a brave face for their friends and family. But of course it all falls apart. Leith knows he’s keeping something from him, but with no memory of their years together, no memory of his coming out, nor any apparent awareness of his own homosexuality, this man is definitely not his boyfriend anymore.

Eventually Leith will have to leave the hospital and go back to his real life where he’s been interviewed as one of boxing’s few openly gay superstars, where unspoken truths about his family life, and even what put him in prison are common knowledge for anybody who reads the paper, and where he may never be able to box again. But in the meantime, his confusing feelings for Zach, the caginess of his friends, and the side effects of the head injury all conspire against his very sanity.

This book is mad with tension. I liked main character Leith right away. Everybody else, I found to be shallow and more than a little bit stupid. Zach doesn’t want to tell Leith the true nature of their relationship out of some kind of indeterminate fear. Leith seems to figure his shit out pretty quickly, but when everybody insists that he and Zach are just super good buds, he doesn’t want to ruin that with what he assumes is just his one-sided crush. In the meantime, Zach is acting like the one with the brain damage, and Leith’s brother and friends seem too distracted to be anything but background noise.

Eventually everything works out thanks to more than a little bit of codependency mixed with nosy controlling (but also absentee) friends and family members. I do like that there’s no point where Leith staggers, shouts something about remembering everything, and then he and Zach wander off into the sunset holding hands. There’s some very real difficulty that they’re faced with, even after they realize that love remains even when memory does not. And they work though it, albeit in ways I would probably find pretty self-destructive.

3 out of 5 stars