The Road Less Taken – Review of L.A. Witt’s Just Drive

20161023justdriveThanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

Look for Just Drive, Anchor Point #1 from L.A. Witt on November 16, 2016.

It was truly a pleasure to see a new series from Riptide and L.A. Whitt for my first review back after more than a year away (I know, I know, adulting is super hard you guys). I devoured it in a single night. The story is simple and sweet and surprisingly low on angst for the plot, but not surprising for L.A. Witt fans. In short, this was exactly what I need right now.

The story starts when just-dumped Naval officer Paul gets into Sean’s basically an Uber but not Uber and tells him to “just drive.” Annoyed at first, Sean softens when his hot older passenger tells him he’s just ended a floundering relationship and he doesn’t want to go home. A quiet walk on the pier turns into a passionate make-out session in the car and a mind-blowing suckfest in the backseat that had me very much engaged in the content.

The two continue meeting in the car and at various hotels for late-night marathon sessions that are at once searingly hot and sweet as hell. That the older, commanding Paul prefers the bottom while sincere twenty-something Sean exclusively tops is hot, but in a way that springs naturally from the characters themselves, and isn’t hammered on. Neither of these guys was born yesterday, they know what they like and there’s no novelty to their preferences like there can be when less experienced writers are at the helm. There’s one quick discussion where Sean explains that he doesn’t like the sensation, even saying that his preference isn’t about power, which leads to a brief but lovely lesson on frottage. And then it’s never brought up again.

As much as I like stories where characters who identify as exclusive tops learn to trust and blah blah blah, I also appreciate good boundaries and situations where identities aren’t tied to what position you take in bed. I guess you could say that like my erotica like I like myself: complicated.

Which leads me to the one bad thing I could write about this book if I had to write a bad thing about it and since I am reviewing it, I suppose this is exactly the case. There is almost no complexity here. Sean and Paul have exactly one friend each. Sean has no friends if you don’t count his father, and two if you count his car. And you kind of have to count the car a little bit, but only because it’s referenced as much as any other secondary character. But unlike dudes we’ve all known, Sean appreciates his car, but he’s definitely not in a relationship with it.

We don’t even know what kind of car it is. I don’t even think we know what color it is. Which sounds dumb, but for someone who grew up talking about cars, it’s odd to me that the car and driving are such a big deal in the story and the details of that don’t come up. Other subjects are similarly lacking, even the main characters. Paul is impulsive and driven, Sean is kind and reliable. Other than that, they have really great sex. We’re dealing with about as much depth as an oil pan, but that’s one of the reasons I loved this book.

Not everything has to be all deep examinations and descriptions of fenders or whatever I implied was missing from Just Drive. You know what has depth? My own life. I’m about good on depth right now. No, I prefer an impeccably described blow job, and on that front, L.A. Witt delivers in full as usual.

4.5 stars out of 5 for being exactly what I needed exactly when I needed it, especially for the sex bits.

And I Will Always Cover You – Review of “The Walls of Troy” L. A. Witt

cover53338-mediumThe Walls of Troy
L. A. Witt

Thanks to Netgalley and Samhain Publishing for the review copy.

You guys know I love me some L.A. Witt. She can take a story that might seem dull in another writers hands: mature, career oriented body guard falls for his younger, and saucier charge, and make it a cover to cover compelling read.

Navy cop Iskander Ayhan takes his first bodyguard assignment as yet another step in a military career ladder he desperately wants to climb, but he can’t see how guarding an admiral’s 22 year old son is anything but a joke. The only reason he can think of for the “need” for a body guard would have to do with political grand-standing, something Iskander sees as an all too common waste of taxpayer dollars. But when he gets to his post, it’s anything but grandstanding. If only Troy Dalton would be honest about the very real danger is in.

Troy has a secret, but the chances of him opening up to Iskander are slim to none. That is, until the sparks flying between them prove to me more than just skin deep. Can he trust his new body guard on the basis of their shared sexuality alone? Either way, he’ll have to trust someone. Before it’s too late for both of them.

Like I said, L.A. is the reason to read this book. Her inherent skill in storytelling and pacing take this out of the regular, everyday gay romance for me. The fact that nearly every novel she writes is a new and interesting journey is also a plus. It’s not the story, which is fairly run of the mill, but the way in which it’s told that make the difference between an okay book and a really good one. As usual, this is a good one.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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

A Man, A Mech, A Mission – Review of Noble Metals by L.A. Witt

cover48039-mediumNoble Metals by L.A. Witt

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

This will be the third L.A. Witt book I’ve reviewed. The first was Capture & Surrender, the second was Static, both received fairly high ratings, and now that I’ve been doing this for awhile, I honestly think they should have gotten at least one more star each than what I gave them. Or half a star more, since I was still using a 10 star system at the time.

From what I can tell this is a Riptide re-release of a book published by Carnal Passions back in 2012. The galley came with the note that it had been “edited extensively and expanded by over 10,000 words.” If I hadn’t read other L.A. Witt books, I would think this wasn’t that bad. I can see her trademark care-taking of her characters very clearly here. But in this book it seems to translate into a strained, politically incorrect paternalism.

Robert Belton is a whore who would be a gold miner. Stuck in a muddy steampunk Seattle, he’s too delicate for the men who don’t want him, and too wary of the men who do want him to accompany them on their voyage to the frozen, gold-laden North. Everything changes when he meets and befriends Dr. John Fauth. Hot on the verge of the next great scientific breakthrough, Dr. Fauth has little funding and a similar distrust of the rough trade miners looking to hire on to a team.

It’s a match made in heaven, or at least it seems like it at first. While nothing in the character’s actions outright say that John looks down on his new lover’s former profession, the frequency with which it is brought up, particularly during sex, started to creep me out. Even though both men are shown to be more than capable, professional and intelligent, I got the impression that we’re meant to feel like Dr. Fauth has saved Robert from his unfortunate position. This even after Robert literally saves Dr. Fauth on at least one large occasion, and then again several other times.

The rest of the plot is good, and I think that some chances were taken by putting the characters in some serious peril. If the relationship wasn’t so squiggy, and in fact, even if the dialog between Robert and John didn’t seem to focus almost 100% on whoring, I think I’d be far more likely to be on board.

Even with the addition of the 10,000 words, this is still a pretty short book. For $4.99 on Kindle, I have to say that there are much better offerings from L.A. Witt alone. Pay two more dollars and get Static if you haven’t read it already.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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

Review: Capture and Surrender

Capture & Surrender (Market Garden #5)
by L.A. Witt and Aleksandr Voinov

I recently joined NetGalley, which is a site where semiprofessional reviewers like myself can request digital galleys of books in exchange for reviews. Since I figure I’ll probably be writing about the books I read anyway, this exchange is amenable to me. Anyway, full disclosure: this book is from them.

When Capture & Surrender came on my radar via the Amazon suggestion panel, I was unaware that this was one if several books in a series. Unlike their cousin the Audible app, both the Kindle app and the Amazon app for Android make it difficult to know when a book is part of a series, and even more difficult to know which book it is, or even what order they go in. It doesn’t help that most publishers will maybe add the phrase “a Fuck Bubble book” at the end of their plot summary like I’m supposed to be like “Oh, Fuck Bubble, I know exactly what that means!”

Anyway, this is book five of the Market Garden series, and it follows kinky brothel owner Franks’s journey to love again after his partner’s death of AIDS. When I first realized this was a series, I incorrectly assumed that the other four books are also about Frank, but they are actually about three different couples who form out of or around the prostitutes on Frank’s staff, which makes more sense. I was wondering how a romance/erotica series would deal with something as bummerey as a main character’s death from AIDS. Turns out, they just make sure it was in the past.

While our leading man has probably been supporting cast in all of the books, this is the first one entirely about him. I got the idea that the writers know Frank very well, and there were a lot of times I wished I knew him as well as they did, but whether this lack of information comes from my own ignorance of the cannon, or some other issue, I can’t tell. I definitely felt like I was picking up in the middle of something, but I wasn’t getting a lot of context clues as to who Frank was as a person. During the course of the book, he mentions his past, and I realized that I would much rather read about young street-smart Frank struggling to reconcile his working class, criminal background with his identity as a gay submissive in a homophobic world. And yes, I know, there are probably millions of books about exactly that subject, and I shouldn’t be such a philistine. In fact, I should sing the praises of Witt and Voinov for writing a book that actually deals with aging, sickness, and death with sensitivity and grace while managing to maintain some solidly hot sex along the way. When I incorrectly assumed that the previous books were about Frank, it bothered me less because I thought the stories Frank alludes to had already been told. Now I know they have not, and I’m sad that the only version of Frank in print is an aging depressive with intimacy and self-esteem issues who goes more than a little too crazy over new dick for my general liking.

As for the sex, which is what we’re all here for, I have to say the BDSM in this book amounts to little more than rough handling and dirty talk. It’s good, it gets the job done, and in fact, is some of the better written stuff on the market from an emotional point of view. Especially given the context. But don’t expect anything more than some commanding suggestions in terms of sub/dom play. The majority of the scenes tend to be brief and superficial, but there is a real gem early on in the book between Frank and two of his dear friends that is really, seriously amazing. The fact that the characters have intimate knowledge of each other, that they all love each other as friends, and that the fuckfest itself is a life-affirming act is absolutely clear in the writing, and its depth lends a heart-string tension to what could have easily been a throw-away session to hold reader attention while the romance builds.

Overall, I give it 7 out of 10 stars. It’s not this book’s fault that it was completely different from what I expected. It’s a well written piece of fun that was easy to read, and had hapily unexpected hidden emotional range, even if it was a little character weak.

While I was writing this, Ben came up and said “I feel like your reviews should feature incredibly over-wrought metaphors for the state of your vagina. Like, ‘this book left my cunt drier than the Nazca region of Peru.'” Then he added. “You can have that one.” What a giver.