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.

Challenge Participant

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

The Eye of the Storm – Review of Tempest

cover54381-mediumTempest (Playing the Fool #3) by Lisa Henry, and J.A. Rock

Thanks to Riptide and Netgalley for the review copy.

In the third Playing the Fool book, Henry and Mack are on the run, from the both sides of the law. They have no one to turn to but each other, and Mac’s parents, who’s farmhouse they make into their hiding place. This is reminiscent of book one where Mack fails to plan and ends up in the one place anyone who knows him would look for his ass.

But I do like that it gives Mack and Henry some time to be normal people and not on the run or threatened by stuff for a second. I also appreciate that the authors spent time with Viola, developing her character and giving her an arc, rather than making her a plot device, as can sometimes happen with children and the developmentally disabled.

The book wraps everything up nicely in the end, which you guys know that I’m not usually a fan of, especially with a series I enjoyed as much as this one. It makes me very doubtful that there will be a book four, which I very much want. By the end of book three, their White Collar thing is totally in place, and it looks like Henry and Mac are going to have a beautiful partnership, both in and out of the bedroom.

I’d really like to see more of the series with them solving crimes and actually being on the same side. The banter that gave me pause in the first book is completely on point by book two and stays that way through book three. If anybody reading this knows Lisa Henry of J.A. Rock, or the fine people at Riptide, let them know that a book four would be much appreciated. By me, but I’m sure by lots of other readers as well.

4 stars out of 5

Dressed to Spill – Review of The Merchant of Death

cover54382-mediumThe Merchant of Death (Playing the Fool #2) by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock

Thanks to Netgalley and Riptide Publishing for the review copy.

Book two of the Playing the Fool series was an absolute charmer. Henry Page, recently an FBI witness, has decided that something is rotten in the state of his twin sister’s adult care facility, and resolves to go undercover as her in order to figure it all out. As anyone would.

Mac, who started falling for the enigmatic conman in book one is quick to follow him down the rabbit hole, as it were. Or at least he would be if somebody wasn’t so busy framing him for murder.

The banter that was hard to round up in book one is on point in book two, as is the suspense, and the mystery. I no longer feel like Mac is making huge mistakes at every turn, maybe because Henry is so damn crazy that I’m just impressed he can hang on for the ride.

Henry in a dress turns out to be a major turn on for Mack, and the reader too, if my own experience is anything to go on. There’s also the signature Lisa Henry touch that takes a story just that much farther and makes it an impactful, humanizing scene rather than mere erotica.

In addition to their relationship heating up, we also get closer to a secret only hinted at in book one. The original trauma that set Henry on his dark path to begin with. Which just happens to be critical to solving the mystery of who’s framing Mack. The mystery of the hospital is a whole other bag of worms.

4 out of 5 stars

The One That Got Away – Review of The Two Gentlemen of Altona

cover54383-mediumThe Two Gentlemen of Altona – (Playing the Fool #1) by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock

Thanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

This will be the third Lisa Henry book I’ve reviewed, and I am on the record as being a huge fan of hers. I tend to be really bad with names, so I don’t usually recognize authors I’ve already read and liked unless they’re in my top 10, and she is working her way into those ranks. You always know with Lisa Henry that a book will have that little something else makes what could be a standard story into a unique and memorable narrative.

In Playing the Fool book one, Mac McGuinness and Henry Paige are on opposite sides of a lot of things. Mac is a cop; Henry’s a con man, Mac’s on a diet; Henry loves donuts. Henry is annoying and hot, and makes everyone love him. Mac is humble and hard working and pissed off that Henry seems to run circles around him in every available context.

If you ever found yourself watching White Collar and thinking that it would be a way better show if they were boyfriends and the FBI agent had more of a daddy-bear Bruce Willis thing going on, this is the book series for you. I can tell you right now that it’s the book series for me.

Book one is a little bit rusty. Their banter isn’t as on-point as it could be, and one does start to question the decisions of a supposedly seasoned professional when he does stupid shit like clearly letting the criminal get away with wacky escape plots, or going to the one place other than his house and his office that people would associate with him and him alone, but nothing’s perfect, and the writers get so much else right that I found myself not really caring about that.

For example, this book is fun. You’d think that would be easy to find in the erotica section. Not so much these days. I don’t know if it’s winter or what, but I have been needing a good mystery/romance that makes me smile and laugh, and fall in love with the characters as they fall in love with each other. Everybody’s so busy being tortured all the time. Not that Henry isn’t having his own little crisis, and not like nobody gets hurt of arrives hurt, but this is so much more adorable and vibrant than a lot of other stuff on the market right now.

Buy book one, at $5.99 it’s not a bad price, that way you’ll know the back story when you read 2 and 3, which are better books.

3.5 stars out of 5

A Library of Interesting Beginnings – Review of Liberty & Other Stories

cover56240-mediumLiberty & Other Stories by
Alexis Hall

Thanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

This is a collection of stories and original documents meant to accompany the novel Prosperity.

While I really enjoyed reading them, and was happy to see more of my beloved Byron Kae, I didn’t enjoy this collection nearly as much as I enjoyed the novel. I’m not a huge fan of short stories, and while I do consider storytelling via original/found documents an excellent post-modern literary convention, I miss the immersive feeling one gets from the good old fashioned unbroken 4th wall-style narration.

In my heart, I wanted every short story to be it’s own book, and they really could have been. Nothing’s keeping them from being now, I’d still read every one, even knowing the plot beforehand.

If you liked Prosperity, and you don’t mind paying nearly twice as much for a book that is not really as catchy or fulfulling as the first one, but does promise more time with all the awesome characters you met in the other book, plus a couple more you’ll like just as much and be just as fascinated with, then by all means, purchase Liberty. I’d buy it if only to encourage Alexis Hall to keep writing about these people.

I definitely, definitely want more from this universe.

4 stars out of 5

Take to the Sky – Review of Prosperity by Alexis Hall

cover56240-mediumProsperity by Alexis Hall

Thanks to NetGalley and Riptide Publishing for the review copy.

Newly landed in lawless skyport, Prosperity, our hero Piccadilly finds himself at the wrong end of a significantly more devious basted than himself. Chaos ensues; our journey begins.

Our charming, hilarious and completely self-made (self-named, even) protagonist does dangerously skirt the adorable orphaned trope that, being an abrasive and shitty orphan, I happen to take personal offense to. I mean, we’re already facing the cold realities of life all in our own, what cruel shithead decided we should be so fucking happy about it?

But I digress.

This book is precious. Usually overly complex or dialectical language tires me out, but every sentence is basically delightful and super fun to read out loud.

The plot is also great, and the characters are each a uniquely amazing flower. The androgenous sky captain and aethermancer Byron Kae was especially captivating. I wanted more and more of them, and missed them when they weren’t being talked about.

I don’t want to give anything away. There is a heavy Lovecraftian vibe going on, but it’s hardly the most interesting factor.

And for the 4.99, this is a steal.

5 stars out of 5

The Lives We Try to Lead: Review of The Jade Butterfly

cover52634-mediumThe Jade Butterfly by Jeffrey Round

Thanks to NetGalley and Dundurn for the review copy. The Jade Butterfly will be available for purchase on March 3, 2015

This is book three in the Dan Sharp series. If you haven’t read books one and two, the author does a good job of keeping the new reader informed without getting too specific, but with the title release more than three months away, and the first two books available as a bundle right now, I recommend catching yourself up on some good new-fashioned Canadian noir.

In this installment, Dan meets a mysterious Chinese diplomat with a simple request: Find his sister, who’s been presumed dead for more than 20 years, but who appeared on the website of a Canadian bakery only months before.

What follows is a tale of international intrigue, the rebelliousness of youth, the folly of best intentions, and the horrors of what happens when we try our hardest, but still fail spectacularly.

Jeffrey Round knows how to write suspense. All the little threads of coincidence and desire that tie us to each other are strung taught at his whim. New readers will be able to follow the plot, but the larger tensions of family and personal history that follow Dan from the from book one may be lost on them.

Above everything, Dan is a good man trying to do right in a hard world. There are circumstances beyond his control, that’s a given. But the real art is how Round lays out those elements of our lives that we do have control over: How we treat our family, how we choose our lovers; that can mean the difference between happiness and ruin when taken in aggregate. You try to do right, to solve the unsolvable problems of your life, to prioritize those things you hold most dear, and yet, there is always something to get in the way; some trick of fate that pushes you over the edge, that ruins all your carefully laid plans.

That’s the real suspense in a Dan Sharp book. That’s the hook that keeps you coming back for more. It’s almost a uniquely Canadian kind of writing. It’s not the absence of connection that builds tension in these books, it’s the perilous nature of the connections we do have. It’s not only the world as we know it that’s dark, it’s the ways it could be even darker than it is. It’s the vast, unavoidable distance that stretches between who we are and who we try to be.

5 stars out of 5

Men on Seamonsters – Review of Rise of the Thing Below

cover52738-mediumRise of the Thing Down Below by Daniel W. Kelly

Thanks to Net Galley and Bold Strokes Books for the review copy.

In this third installment of the Comfort Cove series, private dick Deck Waxer is once again on the case. When men on the gay island paradise start washing up disembodied on the beach, it’s up to Deck and his friends to solve the mystery before the mysterious murder-spree is discovered by the populace.

Having never read a Comfort Cove book before, I felt like the author did a good job of catching new readers up to speed without overwhelming us with info that may or may not be relevant to book three. We also meet three new characters, and learn some interesting facts regarding what I presume is the larger plot stretching through all the Comfort Cove books.

This book reminded me a lot of the literary stylings of Zavo in terms of there being readily available sex between extremely well-built and joyfully horny men around every corner. They go much farther than Zavo in that the sex tends to be anything but the vanilla oral/anal combo we know so well from the Jake Slater books. Sex in the Comfort Cove universe is almost gamified, even outside of the context where it is literally a series of carnival games. I wouldn’t even call it hot so much as it’s mentally intriguing, and i don’t think I’d change a thing, because while I can think of a dozen books with more stimulating sex scenes, I can’t think of any with more interesting ones, and that’s the true beauty of Daniel Kelly.

If you ever wanted to know, for example what an entire carnival full of sex games would look like, or how a two foot tall man would fuck a giant, or even just what life would be like on an island entirely populated by confident, disease free gay men in their sexual primes, The Rise of the Thing Below is for you. Bonus murder mystery.

5 stars out of 5 for knowing what it is, and being that extremely well.

Review of My Haunted Blender’s Gay Love Affair, and Other Twisted Tales

cover52086-mediumMy Haunted Blender’s Gay Love Affair, and Other Twisted Tales by Abigail Roux, Andrea Speed, and Anne Tenino

Thanks to NetGalley and Riptide Publishing for the review copy.

So, I already reviewed one of the stories in this trilogy, and I am damn glad that Riptide decided to release the whole book, because my review of the collection is significantly better than the one story by itself.

The other two stories, The Bone Orchard and Horny really round out City of Monsters, and as a package, the book is way more than the sum of its parts.

Bone Orchard is a beautiful story about two crazy ghosts in love through the ages, locked in immortal battle with the man who killed them. Those familiar with Abigail Roux’s popular Cut and Run and Sidewinder series will recognize some secondary characters.

Horny is an adorable ensemble comedy about a group of Greek Gods who come to earth in search of the wayward Zeus and get a more than they bargained for. I was glad to be introduced to Anne Tenino, as this was the first story of hers that I’ve read

And, for the package cost of $7.99, my previous stingy book buyer objections based on price are null and void. This is a steal, the stories are cute and funny.

4 stars out of 5