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.

What Are Best Friends For: Review of Getting it Right

20150710gettingGetting It Right by A.M. Arthur

You may know Dr. James Taggert, or friendly club hook-up Tag from A.M.’s other successful books in The Belonging Series. This first book in the brand new Restoration Series is extremely promising.

Police detective Nathan and his psychologist best friend James have always been on the verge of something. Both have feelings for the other, each lives depressingly unaware of his friend’s internal struggle. James stays away from Nathan on the grounds that he’s straight, Nathan stays away from James on the grounds that James doesn’t like him back.

As Jame’s alcoholism progresses, and Nathan closes in on a career making case, the two friends fall into a drunken make-out session that leaves Nathan more sure of his intentions than ever, but black-out drunk James has absolutely no memory of the relationship changing event.

When a brutal attack leaves Nathan fighting for his life, then under the care of his parents, James is forced to come to grips with what loosing Nathan would really mean to him. it’s time to grow up and stop playing at club boy if he wants a shot with the true love of his life. But will Nathan still want him when he recovers?

For his part, Nathan pretends that his avoiding James is all about getting better, but it’s also about keeping his distance from a man he’s always thought didn’t want him, and who he can’t imagine would want him now covered in scars and suffering from some serious trauma.

Where the Belonging Series were clearly young and new, the Restoration Series feels grown up and serious. I like it. I also like the transformation that the characters go through. Unlike other books I’ve read where one partner turns to the other says “gee honey, I wish you wouldn’t drink so much” and the book basically ends in a giant heart around them both as the other partner promises to do just that.

There are some things missing, for example, how Nathan could be in love with his openly gay male best friend for most of their friendship and neither bring it up, nor act on it with any other dudes. Or that he would also decide to repress these feelings despite having incredibly accepting parents and a gay best friend.

My arguments in that past that the writer either didn’t access their own trauma, or didn’t know much about trauma are slightly assuaged. The portrayal is way more realistic than it has been in the past.

Otherwise, I approve of this new, darker direction.

3.5 stars

Dirty, Sexy Slavery – Review of Bliss

cover48959-mediumBliss by
Lisa Henry and Heidi Belleau

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy. Bliss will be available for purchase Aug. 18, 2014.

Trigger warning: Mind rape and rape rape.

Can I just say that I love Riptide Publishing? Good and bad, their books are always fun. You’re never in for a dull ride with Riptide.

That being said, Bliss is an ambitious novel. It would be an ambitious novel outside the erotica field. This is actually why I love this genre. If you add fucking to any subject, it automatically becomes more human. What would seem like an insurmountable feat for a vanilla writer ends up being way more accessible in the erotica field.

Bliss deals with some heavy shit. Set in a combination paradise/dystopia, main character Rory James is a new immigrant to the city state of Beulah when he becomes the victim of what would be an everyday crime back home. But things are different in paradise. Very different, it turns out.

After Tate Patterson accidentally assaults Rory in an attempt to evade police, he is offered what looks like an incredible deal. Serve the man he hurt for seven years, live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. Maybe learn a trade. It seems too good to be true because it is.

Turns out Beulah has a secret. And now that he’s been implanted with a top of the line behavior-modification chip, Tate isn’t telling anybody. Least of all the only person who might give a damn.

This is a dirty, sweet, even uplifting story of obedience, loyalty, and ultimately of love found in a hopeless place.

Anybody with a sub/dom kink is going to love this shit. Especially if you enjoy non-consent that turns into emphatic consent. Consent in this case, being used lightly. Mind control chip, and all.

Political thriller fans, especially if they like whistle blowers, will also be pleased. Bliss doesn’t rest on cheesecake. The writers put the characters in danger, in distress, and the consequences are serious.

What can I say except that I loved this book. This is erotica that goes out on a limb. It’s totally different from the usual run of snarky, non-communicative bro-ish assholes chest bumping at each other. Compared to what I read most of the time, this book was a breath of fresh air.

Erotica writers, out of all the genres have the most ability to take risks, and yet it is the genre where risks seem to be taken the least sometimes.

Sex is so universal. It can happen in literally any setting, between anybody for any reason. More authors should reach out, try new things. Be fucking adventurous!

Unlike hard line sci-fi and political books, Bliss does get sappy at places. But I wouldn’t hold that against it. Considering some of the shit that goes down, it’s the only way it avoids being a boner killer. Which it absolutely is not.

5 stars out of 5 for being the most interesting thing I’ve seen in months.

Queer Studies Basics for Everyday Wear: Review of Static by L.A. Witt

cover41359-mediumStatic by L.A. Witt

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

This will be the second L.A. Witt book I’ve reviewed. One of the first, if not the first NetGalley book I wrote about was Capture and Surrender, book five in her Market Garden series. Static is actually a Riptide re-release that Witt originally put out through Ambure Allure press in 2011. The pedigree of sci-fi and LGBT book awards it’s won definitely shows in the writing, although having read some of the authors more recent work, I can see her progressing in her craft. The emotional landscape that was so finely tuned in Capture and Surrender, is less easily done in Static, but you can see the hopeful beginning of what is now a clear and skillful voice.

The plot of this book is ambitious. In a universe where, in addition to cisgender and transgender, a minority of humanity can change their (physical but not mental) gender at will, average straight but not narrow dude finds out his girlfriend is a shifter, and trapped in male form. We follow our lovers as they struggle to overcome the hate crime that disabled the shifter, and examine what they mean to each other as an on-again off-again gender dysphoric gay man and a straight man in love. Trans, cis, straight, gay, and other characters add a lot of perspective, and while it can get preachy at times, it’s nothing any advocate of gender equality hasn’t heard before.

There are a lot of pieces that fall into place in ways that I associate with younger, less experienced writers. I wonder if Witt would make the same choices, even as little as three years after the fact. I understand how difficult it is to write on the edge of reality without tipping a work over into depression. Chances are, if a writer makes a character, they like them and want them to be happy. It can be too tempting to run around tying things in bows for them. I don’t mind this kind of plot device. In fact, the more I read, the more I’d rather see writers who do this for their characters, than the other extreme, which you can tell is made by grown-up versions of children who put salt on snails just to watch them bubble.

Through skill, but also through her at-the-time-of-writing relatively untrained emotional intelligence, Witt makes a piece of gender queer fiction that, at points, rivals some of the literary greats for sheer engagement. While literature tends towards the clinical when it comes to sex and sexuality, Static doesn’t have this problem. Unlike Market Garden, this book doesn’t purport towards erotica, but the natural human drive for sexual companionship isn’t overlooked like it can be among those writers who consider themselves highbrow.

I’d defer to actual trans and gender-queer readers on the finer points of the landscape in regard to portrayals of trans and gender-queer individuals, but as an outsider, I felt like a queer and minority experience was extremely well represented with dignity and realness. This is basically the ready-to-wear line from the house of queer studies, an easy-going love story for people who regard The Left Hand of Darkness as required reading.

I may not have been completely sold on L.A. Witt in my last review, but this book has definitely encouraged me to keep an eye out for her in the future.

8 out of 10 stars