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.

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.

Reaching Out – Review of Stand By You

cover51538-mediumStand By You
by A.M. Arthur

Thanks to NetGalley and Carina Press for the review copy.

This is the third installment of The Belonging Series. Reviews for books one and two can be found here.

We met Brendan and Romy in book two, when Donner called in former football star best friend Brendan to help rescue his boyfriend Ezra’s ex-trick Romy from a seriously fucked abuse situation. It was pretty obvious right then that book three was going to be about these guys.

After literally breaking free from his dom turned kidnapper, Romy is shattered and experiencing a lot of social anxiety. Closeted, shy Brendan becomes the friend Romy needs, but he wants more than that. Can they overcome their own personal issues in order to build the kind of life together that neither of them had ever dared to hope for? With the help of their friends, the answer looks like it could be yes.

You may recall that I took some issue with the way trauma and anxiety was portrayed in the last book, Maybe This Time, and there still is a little bit of that for me. For example, in my limited experience, the first thing to do about an abuse survivor having a panic attack is to give them space. Certainly don’t touch them, and really really don’t touch their neck. My teeth itched through what was supposed to be a touching scene where Romy is having a panic attack in a bar and his future therapist, at that point a relative stranger, reaches out and casually palms the back of his neck. This is intended to show how they’re a really great therapist and can calm down panicking people, but it just freaked me out by osmosis. It’s really likely that I’m insinuating my own personal issues in here, and not being a medical professional, I’m just talking out my ass, but for future reference, if I’m having a panic-attack, don’t touch me. You might get kicked. Or puked on. Just saying.

Anyway, aside from that small incident that’s probably more about me than the book, I really enjoyed Stand By You. Romy and Brendan felt real to me. I could know guys like Romy. Given a different set of circumstances, I could have been someone like Romy. Mainly, if I was just a little bit less of an asshole.

One of the things I really like about Arthur’s books is that no one is saving anyone else. Her protagonists are flawed, amazing, uniquely human characters that come together on their own terms, not for a perfect love, but for a real love. The kind of love that can offer a little redemption, if we just reach for it.

As usual, the sub-five dollar price point looks damn good.

4.5 stars out of 5

If You Can’t Take the Heat – Review of “In the Raw”

cover51532-mediumIn the Raw by Nikka Michaels and Eileen Griffin

Thanks to NetGalley and Carina press for the review copy.

Fellow culinary students James Lassiter and Ethan Martin lust after each other in secret, but each man assumes it’s a one-sided thing. Lassiter, the pretty-boy rich kid feels the pressure from his soul-less conservative parents to go into the family business: corporate chain restaurants with cheap ingredients, uninspired menu items, and down-trodden employees. On the other side of the spectrum, white-trash Martin and his sister are orphans who look out for each other, and work hard to make it in the big bad world of professional chef-ery.

When a class competition throws them together, sparks fly and tempers flair. The initial action is all ego grinding, which is what I’m calling it when the massively over-inflated balloon of their delicate male opinions of themselves just fruitlessly squish against each other to no particular end. But what starts out as anger turns quickly to passion when the two figure out how to “work out” their differences.

In the Raw does end up being quite an adorable little love story, although I personally think it’s pretty schmaltzy, and totally unhealthy. Martin is a fucking headcase. What the author may have intended to be sexy bad-boy attitude came of as emotionally abusive nutcase to me. Any one of the terrible things he says to Lassiter both before and after they consummate their relationship are grounds for a break-up, number deletion, and the end of all contact. And his sad sack excuse that he’s poor, works too hard, and therefore has no manners is totally shit.

For the extremely affordable price of $3.99, its a good get for anybody who’s into cooking, and doesn’t mind one character hitting several red flags in the emotional abuse warning list.

4 stars out of 5

The Love that Were Not Speak Its Name – Review of Starstruck by L.A. Witt

cover52088-mediumStarstruck by L.A. Witt

Thanks to NetGalley and Riptide Publishing for the review copy.

I’ve reviewed several other L.A. Witt titles, and you guys know I love her. While I wasn’t as enamored of the recent Noble Metals as I have been of her other work, Starstruck brings her back up to level. L.A. is definitely one of the top performers in the gay romance genre, and I really appreciate the diversity of her work.

In Starstruck, retired actor Levi is offered the part of a lifetime on the hit supernatural drama Wolf’s Landing, if only he’ll stay in the closet. This seems like business as usual until he meets his smart, attractive, interesting, and very out co-star Carter. Then things go downhill fast.

Their friendship quickly has both men questioning their principals and their priorities. Carter refuses to hide, but could he make an exception for Levi? Levi can’t throw away his last chance at a meaningful career for a love affair, but he knows Carter isn’t just an affair.

The tension is at eleven. Each man has valid reasons to stay away, but the heart wants what it wants. In well-turned phrase and practiced drama, Witt makes what very well could have come across as schmaltzy Teen Wolf fan fiction into a beautiful story of attraction, personal growth, and honesty. I mean, Levi plays a werewolf named Max Furman, for Christ’s sake. FURman.

The Bluewater Bay series itself is also an interesting experiment. Riptide plans on publishing at least ten Bluewater Bay titles, each one a standalone novel, each one written by a different popular Riptide author. I’m really looking forward to everyone’s interpretation of the small coastal logging town in Washington, and how the natives interact with the cast and crew of the show that’s both reviving and over-running their tiny, isolated town. I look forward to reviewing them all.

4.5 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

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.