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

I am the Vassal of Fuck Review of Icebound

cover52909-mediumIcebound by Corinna Rogers

Thanks to Net Galley and HarperImpulse for the review copy.

This was a page turner. Set in a world where magic is a new development, where fae creatures actively meddle in the lives of mortals, Drake and Shane are former lovers turned enemies by the very bond they shared. Faced with a choice ten years before, Shane enslaved himself to the Ice King rather than watch Drake die, but what should have turned him in to an unfeeling automaton only seems to make him a sharper warrior. So why can’t Drake see that?

Drake is tormented by the empty husk of his first and only love, unable to turn him away, unable to take him back, the last thing he wants is for them to work together, but when they learn about an opportunity to save the world… and Shane, how can he refuse?

I admit, I was bugged by the fact that the entire book was written in first person present. It’s exhausting to read for long periods of time, and it’s more than a little disorienting. Other reviewers have pointed out the lack of character development, the terrible dialog, that the author tends to show and not tell. Considering that this looks like it was Rogers’ first foray into full-length monographs, I’m not as scandalized by the lack of proper world-building as others have been.

She has something that kept me turning page after page, bad one-liners and everything. Her sense of narrative urgency is superb, and her sex scenes are the exact right kind of depraved. All the sweet love-making I’ve been reading about lately is nice, but this is the good stuff. The kind of rough and tumble assfucking that warms the cockles of one’s cock. This is not a skill to be easily dismissed.

It’s all well and good to have relatable characters, but if it isn’t hot, why take the time to write erotica? The other skills can be developed. Writing an impactful sex scene is a talent that even the majority of porn writers seem scared to embrace.

2.5 stars out of 5, but I will be keeping my eye on this author.

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

This is What it Feels Like When Eagles Cry: Review of Forbidden Destiny by Lia Michaels

cover43416-medium Forbidden Destiny by Lia Michaels

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

Can we just admire this amazing cover art for a second? So majestic.

Anyway, Forbidden Destiny is the first foray into M/M by straight/lesbian fiction author Tammy Dennings Maggy. It is an extremely short book, 33 pages, according to Goodreads, and it goes by quickly. I read it in a single evening.

The plot tries really hard for all the small stature of its book, which is supposed to be the intro to a series, so I don’t understand why it was so hurried. We meet our main characters, Abraham Tuttle and Ethan Quaderer through dream sequences and some small exposition where we learn that they are:

  1. Native American, specifically Chippewa
  2. Army Rangers
  3. Who were boyfriends
  4. 15 years ago
  5. Oh,
  6. And at least one of them is a shape-shifting were-eagle whose destiny is to save his people
  7. Bonus: shared dreams regarding their destiny as the savior(s) of their people.

The galley summery says that Abraham is a two-spirit, but as far as I can tell he’s just a regular gay guy, as is Ethan, who’s grandfather refers to both men by this term. As far as I know, two-spirit people in Native cultures are usually men and women who feel that their gender is a duality, or that they should occupy the gender roles of the sex they were not assigned at birth. That has nothing to do with hetero or homosexuality. A lot of the history of the two-spirits, along with other specific Native traditions have been lost to the ages and the occupation of indigenous lands. So who can say for sure? Although, I think if Michaels had read the Wikipedia page, she may have chosen a different term.

Language aside, there are a lot of things I had trouble with in this book. The writing can be difficult to read. The cadence feels awkward, there’s missing punctuation, and some rapid tense shifting. Other reviewers have been way more upset about the tense shifting. It was obvious to me that the author was trying to separate the eternal now of the shared dream space with the rhetorical now of the story. I wonder if that was the best way to do that, or just the easiest. The fact that the dream sequences are entirely in italics makes either the tense or the style completely redundant. But maybe not, if other readers couldn’t figure it out. There’s definitely a dearth of descriptive language.

The origin of their relationship is revealed via flashback. Apparently it was love at first sight, but the fact that Ethan was already a fully realized were-eagle, and that Abraham was unable to believe in his own were-eagle abilities, despite Ethan’s belief in them drove a wedge between the young Rangers in training, and after one really dumb-sounding fight, neither man spoke to the other for fifteen years.

As far as I could tell, they were both in Afghanistan for the entire time, they just never ran into each other. Or picked up a phone. Or wrote a letter. To meet and know the love of your life, destined soul-mate, partner, and fellow savior of your people, and then not talk for fifteen years seems a little more than overkill. Then, to add insult to injury, the entire fight is resolved in about three and a half lines. This grand reunion is followed by some fucking I don’t even remember. Then Abraham shape-shifts into an eagle and they get ready to save their people in book two.

If you’re wondering what the fuck I just wrote, that’s the exact feeling this book produced for me. So I just saved you $1.99 and 33 pages of trouble. You’re welcome.

Then there’s this: I notice that Lia has four five-star reviews on Amazon, and three five-star reviews with text on Goodreads. The three reviews on Goodreads are the same as three of the four on Amazon. It looks to me like her ratings are being inflated by devoted fans of the books she’s written as Tammy, which is cool, everybody loves fans, but this is not a five star book. This isn’t really even a passable first effort. It feels like it was written over a weekend and never proofed. If there had been good first readers, the kind that aren’t afraid to say the things I’m saying now, this could have been a way better book.

I’m not bugged by the were-eagle element. I’m not even really bugged by the 15 year hole in the relationship. I am bugged by the sloppy exposition. I get that you need your characters to be in their 40’s, or whatever. Cool. Just make it seem real, or the entire book series is about a couple of the dumbest morons on the planet. The author should have spent the first 33 pages of book one talking about the boys before they even met. There’s a lot of good stuff there, apparently they were dreaming about each other their whole lives. And yeah, that totally is an M/M cliche of the highest order, but this is romance, not fucking Tolstoy (who has his on genre-related cliches, let’s be honest).

For sloppiness, lack of research, and poor ability to pick first readers or editors, I give this novel:

1 star out of 5

Most Pleasant Gay Romance in a Zombie Outbreak Ever

indescretioncover40589-mediumIn Discretion by Reesa Herberth

Thank you to NetGalley for the review copy of this book, which you can purchase on the Kindle store for $3.99

To say that the quality of books on NetGalley is diverse makes it seem like you’re just as likely to get a winner as you are to get a stinker. There’s a reason they give these out like candy to any sad sucker with a blog. But I’ve never been one to look a gift book in the mouth, and sometimes I want to review something higher than I normally would just because I didn’t pay for it. But you’d have to.

On the other hand, if $3.99 has your checkbook hurting, then you have much larger problems than mediocre space romance. Which is what In Discretion is. The writing itself isn’t what makes it mediocre. In general, the language is what kept my interest when everything else was getting annoying.

The first issue I had was with the premise, part of which is that Romantic Lead 1, Thanson Nez is in an elite guild of space hookers/spies that people hire as space hookers, even though they know that they are also officially organized spies.

So, if you were planning to overthrow the galactic government, like some evil baddies in this book are doing, why in the sweet hell would you hire a hooker who you know is also officially a spy for the aforementioned government, and why would you further make the information about your evil plot readily available to him? Because the first scene pretty much establishes that it’s common knowledge exactly what kind of arrangement the space hooker guild aka The Discretionary Service has with all their clients. This is part of a series, so maybe this weirdness is addressed in a different book, but it made no sense to me.

The second issue I had is that I could not, for the life of me, keep track of the difference between Romantic Lead 1, Thanson, and Romantic Lead 2, Kazra Ferdow. As far as I could tell, they basically look the same, talk the same, and are from the same home planet. One of them had a criminal dad, one of them had a law maker dad, and at some point one boy threatened to murder one dad while one other dad, or maybe the same dad, forced the other boy off planet under threat of death. Whose death also is unclear. Thus establishing their star-crossed and confusing history. A general lack of descriptors paired with vague blocking (where people are in rooms, on pathways, etc.) makes all the characters sort of blend together almost like it was a stylistic choice. To be honest, it didn’t bother me as much as it might from a more complex story.

The simplicity of In Discretion really takes the edge off its other issues. The story moves forward with Frogger-like doggedness (froggedness?). The main plot is almost literally a straight line, following the ex-lovers on foot through a damaged space-station, from a cargo bay to a control room. But as they dodge zombies (yeah, zombies) on their journey to the center of the station, they also journey to the center of their own hearts, and what they find there turns out to be each other. Can love be requited? Can the trauma of that thing one of their dads did to one of them, which one I’m still not sure, be overcome after all these years? Yes. The answer to all those questions is yes, and easily.

This is sort of a Hansel and Gretel story if Hansel and Gretel where dudes very much in love with each other, the wicked witch was kind of crappy at witchcraft, and the gingerbread house was soggy so the walls could be punched through with minimal effort. Ironically, the reason this book is like this is, in part, because the main characters are level-headed pragmatists who generally do the most appropriate thing. Even the sex is pragmatic. There’s one scene, it takes place at the end when everybody is safe, and it’s full of really honest, beautiful things you’d say to your long-lost lover if you found them again on a zombie infested space station and realized you still loved them, and moreover, forgave them leaving.

I read this at the height of a head cold, and it was kind of nice to have something that was well written enough (not technically, but artistically, if that makes sense) that it carried itself without being too stressful or dramatic at any point. It avoided every major faux pas m/m kindle romance usually falls into, and it’s only $3.99, for the cheap ass bastard in all of us.

2.5 stars out of 5 – Real score.

Adjusted for price, and in comparison to the other shit that clutters this category: 3.5

Note: Although this book is technically in the Ylendrian Empire series, the series itself can be read in any order, and this is a spin-off novella, written over two years after the other two books, and without usual co-author Michelle Moore.