Car Crossed Lovers: Review of Hell on Wheels

20150710hellHell on Wheels A Bluewater Bay Novel by Z..A. Maxfield

Everybody needs a break sometimes. But what happens when a much needed diversion from the rigors of everyday life turns out to be more than that?

Nash has a lot on his plate. He’s running his family’s auto shop while simultaneously looking after his wheelchair using younger sister and absent-minded inventor father. Spencer is a celebrity in the middle of divorce that is pure tabloid-fuel.

They find each other at the worst possible point, but can peace grow from chaos?

I am seriously loving the Bluewater Bay series. Not only is it set in my favorite place, the Pacific Northwest, but every character is so well made. The writers are truly the first string on team Riptide, and the quality is quite apparent.

Nash and Spencer are so well written, as are the various family members and self-identified minions that surround the two characters. I do wish that there was more fire between the two leads. I also wish that there was less loving kindness for Spencer’s shitty ex.

I get that how the story plays out is actually the healthier and more realistic, and I know that I’m always harping on these red-flag romances, but I also wonder if there could have been a little more flash bang. What can I say, I’m a woman of contradictions.

4 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

Sometimes They Come Back – Review of There’s Something About Ari

cover56244-mediumThere’s Something About Ari by L.B. Gregg

Thanks to NetGalley and Riptide Publishing for the review copy.

There’s Something About Ari is the second installment in the Bluewater Bay series. This one revolves around Buck Ellis, former golden boy turned career barista and his childhood crush/best friend turned TV star Ari Valentine. Buck Ellis is having a hard enough time raising his teenage brother when his former best friend, Ari god-damned Valentine, newest hottie on local hit show Wolf’s Landing moves next door.

In high school, Buck was the high achiever, and Ari might as well have been voted ‘least likely to graduate,’ especially since he didn’t. He ran away instead. Leaving Buck to deal with his mother’s death, the responsibility of raising his brother, and the anti-climax of spending his adult life working at the same coffee shop since he was 16.

By the time Ari rolls back to town with the media hot on his heels, Buck’s hard feelings for him are more of the angry variety than the hot, but when Ari suggests they relive the glory days in a way neither of them had the balls to do in school, Buck wants to know if it’s real, or just nostalgia.

Something is short and sweet, and priced to match. At $3.99 for Kindle users, it fits for a story that can be read cover to cover in a single night.

As usual, Riptide produces a superior product.

4.5 stars out of 5

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

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

Old Time Religion: Review of The Bells of Times Square by Amy Lane

cover52089-mediumThe Bells of Times Square by Amy Lane

Thanks to NetGalley and Riptide Publishing for the review copy. The Bells of Time Square will be available for purchase on December 15, 2014.

Reading this book, I was reminded a lot of Rupert Smith’s A Man’s World, mentioned briefly in a long-ago post on decent gay erotica that this review series is doing it’s damnedest to both capitalize and expand on. Like Smith’s book, Lane’s narrative switches back and forth between World War II and a modern setting, and both books deal with a gay couple in each setting, connected by history and proximity. Aside from them each being poetic love letters to our gay grandfathers (both literal and figurative), the similarities stop there, but I couldn’t help comparing them, as they are both very moving.

I’ve been listening to several of Amy Lane’s audiobooks lately, which I haven’t reviewed because if I reviewed non-NetGalley books, this fucker would be two posts a day of nothing but book reviews, mostly erotica, and I don’t think even you guys are up for that. I’m not, that’s for sure. But I digress. All I wanted to say is that I’ve been enjoying Amy’s other works, so was pleasantly surprised to see her name attached to this book.

This is a beautiful and heartbreaking story of love and loyalty though the ages. Nate Meyer goes to Times Square every New Year’s Eve to listen for the church bells he had promised his war-time lover they would one day hear together. The Bells of Times Square takes place in present-day, with Nate struck mute from a stroke being pushed to Times Square in his wheelchair by his grandson Blaine and Blaine’s boyfriend, but the majority of the narrative is set in occupied France where Nate and his lover Walter found peace and understanding in the midst of the violent terror of war.

Walter was a poor, uneducated man, experienced both in love and fighting when camera operator Nate literally fell from the sky. Tending to his wounds in an abandoned house deep in enemy territory, the two quickly form a bond that each man knows to be true and abiding love. And yet, Nate travels to Times Square alone year after year. Long after he’s married and has children and then grandchildren of his own, he spends one night a year with the man he once promised his life to.

This is the story Nate would tell his grandson if only he could. It’s about devotion, and being true to yourself and your heart, in whatever way that’s possible. It’s about the ways that duty to country and to family can be at odds with duty to self, and the things we do to honor all masters in a world where nothing is as simple as it seems.

In this present our grandfathers and grandmothers built for us, where you can be a lover and a fighter, where a man is judged more by the content of his character than he ever has been before, what would those grandparents have us do with the gifts they cut for us from the live, bleeding heart of the past they came from? It’s a beautiful question for a beautiful book. I cried like a bitch, I can tell you that honestly.

4.5 stars out of 5 because sometimes the transition from past to present and back again can make a person a little bit cross eyed, which I can say is a habit the author has based on other of her books that I’ve read.

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

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

Big Country Lovin’ – Review of “Stripped Away” by Ellis Carrington

cover51012-mediumStripped Away (The Escapade #2) by Ellis Carrington

Thanks to Netgalley and Ellis Carrington for the review copy.

This is the second in a series, but you really don’t need to read the first one to get the lay of the land. David is the son of a now disgraced preacher man, Ricky is a bisexual strip club owner looking for anything, as long as it’s not serious.

After a contentious start, the boys go from battling it out to sticking it in, but can their relationship really last? Crazy exes, family emergencies, and the rigors of everyday life in the heartland conspire against them. Will their love shine through?

This is kind of standard, enemies to lovers track. Nothing’s really ventured between the dudes involved, and nothing’s really gained. The good thing about Stripped Away is that the emotional “I can’t… but I want to… but I’m not sure… but does he even want to… but but but etc.” that so many erotica writers tend to fall back on for drama is mostly internal. So there’s no dramatic storming out followed by dramatic declarations followed by even more storming out. Thank God. But there is a lot of uncertainty that seems to simmer but not quite boil in this weird way.

The tension didn’t strike me as being that high, despite the plot having a lot of things to be really tense about. I can’t put my finger on it. But even the very dramatic scenes where the characters were in danger, or enthralled with each other were sort of hazy. I think the issue is with the narrator. For example, David’s heart is described as pounding in his ears, or something like that, but I’m not seeing a lot of David himself feeling his heart pounding in his ears. It’s a subtle difference, but I think it’s what’s bothering me.

When a narrator describes the actions or the effects of the story on the characters without getting inside them, they all end up with this lacquered feeling, like a diorama of a story. The dialog in Stripped Away is great. The characters talk like real people, and they actually speak to each other, which I love. But they don’t relate to each other because of this lack of internal narration. That small edition to the next book should be the missing piece that ties this whole thing together.

3.5 stars out of 5

Dat Spoiled Brat Lyfe – Review of “The Before Now and After Then”

cover50977-mediumThe Before Now and After Then by Peter Monn

Thanks to NetGalley and Pen Name Publishing for the review copy.

I keep seeing article after article on how YA is the new thing, how they’re supposed to be better than regular novels. I’ve tried to read John Green, arguably the undisputed king of YA right now, and I can’t fucking stand it. It’s all about these spoiled white brats in the middle of the country whose pain I’m supposed to take seriously? GIVE ME A BREAK.

In the case of The Before Now and After Then, it’s annoying, whiney characters are only part of what bothers me. The books starts off with a dramatic loss, for which I am supposed to feel so sorry for the main character that I totally don’t care about what a tool he is for the rest of the book. His parents give him a car, his parents have two amazing houses, at least one of which has a pool. His parents give him a puppy, but all he wants is a boyfriend. So he finds another sad, tortured bastard to foist his drama on, and doesn’t it just follow that it turns out to be true love.

If you ever wanted to go to a place where the parents act like petulant children, and the children act like those nightmares where you’re back in high school but all your friends have needles instead of teeth, by all means come into the magical world of The Before Now and After Then. Nonsense made over to sound like truth, codependency and bad choices recharacterized as good living. A veritable smorgasbord of awful, all in one amazing little screaming, crying package.

Needless to say, I was not enamored of this book. The fact that they kill off one character at the beginning of the book instead of dealing with the complexity his presence would add, the fact that they try to pass teenage angst off as real drama, and the fact that throughout the whole thing, the people who are supposed to be mentors and leaders are, in fact, some of the most ridiculous and stupid characters in this whole thing had me finishing it on principal just so I could say that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I know it earned this rating.

If a friend of mine had written this book, I would tell them, obviously, to try again, but to focus on what they know, not on what they think they should know. Don’t write for everybody else, for some imagined audience, but for yourself. For example, if this review doesn’t ring true at all, feel free to disregard. The book obviously wasn’t for me in the first place.

1 star out of 5 for at least not being written in first person principal on top of everything else.