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

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

Growing Pains: Secrets of Neverwood Review

cover47550-mediumSecrets of Neverwood: One Door Closes\The Growing Season\The Lost Year by G.B. Lindsey, Diana Copland, and Libby Drew

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy. Available for purchase June 30, 2014

Three ghost stories told by three authors, each focusing on one of three foster brothers who’ve just inherited a crumbling mansion with instructions to turn it back into a home for troubled gay kids, like it was when they lived there.

The brothers struggle to find footing with themselves and each other in a race against the clock, as the property is threatened by a big developer who will stop at nothing to wrench their mother’s last dream from their inexperienced, underfunded hands. On top of that, each brother has his own secrets and traumas to deal with, but not alone. The well-meaning, sometimes too nosy, sometimes downright unhelpful ghost of their foster mother, Audrey still haunts the halls; intent on seeing her boys happy, and her house thriving once again.

First and foremost, this book is fucking cute. Second, I was totally surprised at how threatening the big bad developer got to be. I was genuinely concerned, the tension was extremely well managed, especially in The Growing Season where the plot revolves around youngest brother Danny and his budding romance with the landscaper son of a conservative City Councilman who may just side with the developer out of homophobic revenge. Danny’s story was also the one I wished had been a full length novel. There was so much in there that I wanted to know more about. After looking up the writer, I wasn’t surprised to learn that I’d read and enjoyed her only novel to date, A Reason to Believe. I’m not much for ghost whisperers, but this lady knows how to turn the screw. If you like a high heart rate, Diana Copland can help get you there. My one complaint about The Growing Season, aside from wishing there was more of it, was that the sex could have been way hotter if she’d committed to the power dynamic between the two romantic leads. As it stands, they gloss over it and pay lip service to it, and it could be so much more.

One Door Closes was my second favorite of the trilogy. Clinical depressive, and all Grade A nerdlinger Calvin accidentally hires his high school boyfriend to supervise the massive and time consuming remodel on the house; hilarity ensues. A giant and terrible horrible thing lead to their break-up ten years before and now that they’re face to face again, Calvin can only try not to puke out of sheer lust and regret whenever building plans have to be gone over. There’s more than that, obviously, and it is ultimately a very sweet story, but it does have my pet peeve of major plot points being driven in all or in part by a lack of communication.

As for the rest, it’s not that I didn’t like The Lost Year, I still enjoyed the crap out of it, but it’s neither as tense as Growing Season, nor as adorable as One Door Closes. I gave Libby Drew’s Paradox Lost 4 stars out of 5, so I know she does good work. I think that the added difficulty of wrapping up several plot elements that started in books one and two, along with a complicated story on top of that made this section harder to follow.

Oldest brother Devon starts out on a mission to reunite a man with his son, detours over to an affair-turned-romance, slips into child wrangling, and ends up with some pretty epic ghost-assisted home defense. Like his younger brothers, Devon is a lost soul. He spends his time fighting for others, but who fights for him? We’re not really sure because along comes this helpless hottie with a missing child in bad sore need of a knight in shining armor. Then his kid needs trauma counseling, and then the house needs saving, and then the very last thing that happens in the story, and consequently in the book is somebody else is in need of a rescue.

Unlike the first two books, the brothers are suspicious of, and even actively hostile towards his DILF in distress for most of the story, and it’s not even a sure thing that they’re really going to be together until the last couple of pages. I wanted Devon to have the same awesome partner that the other brothers get, but he ended up with a fixer upper big time. Fixer upper and son, actually. It kind of made me sad.

Altogether, the book did keep me awake reading it. The overarching threat to the house was the most compelling plot. I had to find out what the crafty developer would come up with next and how the boys would foil his dastardly scheming. The Audrey ghost was good comic relief without being too deus ex machina, although there is one moment where it kind of has to happen. I also like the interactions with the brothers as the plot moves forward. They start the book as relative strangers, and end up genuine family.

There’s also a tertiary trans character that shows up in all three stories. I like her, I like the portrayal of her. It feels respectful without being didactic. She’s an actual person with actual person issues and the brothers all have their own way of relating to her, which comes out in each of their stories. Not being trans, I can’t speak to the authenticity of the character, but I like that she’s not a walking talking MESSAGE either. She’s just a character who happens to be trans.

4 out of 5 stars.

And the Song Remains the Same: Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon

cover45866-mediumStranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

This book is for anybody who ever stared wistfully out a window and just knew in their heart of hearts that their real mommy was a princess and their real daddy was a prince and that one day they would show up and take them away from all this awful middle class brooding they were doing.

I am honest to goodness actively jealous of people who can’t figure out most of the plot in the first 2-3 chapters. What must the world seem like to these curious, gentle hominids? I bet the New Year’s Eve ball drop is a magical journey for them year after year. Which direction will it go, why’s everybody counting, and where even am I? Such a simpler life.

The main character is basically a stand-in for every reader in our generation who’s nearing 30 without ever getting their happily ever after. Having gorged ourselves from birth on the corporate Disney teat, all we want is a prince and a castle before the crows feet set in. We wished real hard, and we followed our dreams, and we thought that was all it took, that a man (or lady) and would just fall to the ground at our feet, the symbol of a life well-lived. But they didn’t. 18, 21, 25 have all passed us by. 30 looms, failure threatens.

Maybe if we could just be 24 again, we’d do 25 right. We wouldn’t waste it on late nights at the office, or strange dicks in our mouths and asses. We’d find love. Or make money, or whatever it is we feel now, nearing 30, that we failed to do those short five years ago.

It’s a sweet dream, and if you have to dream it, Josh Lanyon isn’t a bad guy to do the legwork. His writing is technically good. I’ve never had any complaints on that front. The book itself is a fine piece. Just because we’ve all seen this one before doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable. You’re looking at the blog of a girl who liked the new Spiderman. Loved it, in fact.

The book goes fast. Despite the core being very predictable, there is a certain measure of intrigue surrounding the supporting cast that keeps the interest. And everybody loves a happy ending.

I’m giving Stranger on the Shore three stars because there is totally nothing that I can complain about here.

3 out of 5 stars.

Adorable Small Town Boys in Love: Review of “No Such Thing” by A.M. Arthur

cover41136-mediumNo Such Thing by A.M. Arthur

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

What can I say about No Such Thing? Except that it’s sweet as shit.

Earnest, intelligent college student Jaime Winters may have recovered from his heart transplant, but being a gay guy in a small town hasn’t exactly done his sex life any favors. That is until reformed bad boy Alessandro Silva walks into his sister’s bakery looking for a job and finds so much more than that. Back home to help his foster mother take care of his youngest foster siblings, Alé is unprepared for the combination of new love and old debt that’s about to hit the fan.

Arthur is serving bucolic haze of youth so hard in this book, and I fucking love it. Even though Alé is supposed to be at least slightly more hardened than Jaime, both boys are just adorable. Silva’s criminal past is more that of a stoner wash-out than anything really serious, and the haunting secret of his youth is one hundred percent a wrong place, wrong time situation. Winter’s almost childish naivety is sharpened by a razor wit and an obviously well turned hand at research. Together, these gamboling lambs will warm the hackles of your cynical, porn-stunted limbic system.

Despite, or more probably because of this overwhelming tenderness, the sex scenes are positively bursting with tension. Heat rolls off the characters, especially when they go into the big city (Wilmington) for some fun gay bar action and end up getting steamy in a foreplay foresome. There’s no actual group sex, but you won’t miss it. Especially if you’re as ADD as I can be when it comes to multiple partners in text-only format (in an IRL format too, but we’re not talking about high school right now).

I do wish A.M. had done better character motivation. It can be scattered. Jaime seems to be extremely well read in terms of sex and sexuality one moment, and then it’s like he grew up without cable the next. His shy impulsiveness in regard to communication can be explained away with his relative lack of social interaction. However, Alessandro’s not so much. Here’s a guy who “doesn’t do boyfriends” but who also gives up his job and his apartment in the city to come home and take care of a woman and her children for no other reason than that they need him; who thinks everybody leaves, but has the unwounded generosity of spirit that could only belong to a man who believes in love and kindness. Maybe I’m judging the character more harshly because I’ve been the no boyfriends, everybody leaves type (for as long as that lasted) and it didn’t keep a lot of room for compassionate patience with my fellow man. But I’ve only got myself as an example. Maybe there is such a thing as a pessimist so mellow and so yet so cynical that they’re totally cool with giving of themselves, despite the fact that, at the end of the day they know they’ll get left high and dry with nothing to show for it.

I also wish there was one major dramatic plot device instead of two. Jaime and Alessandro’s love me or leave me cha cha was in direct competition with the far more interesting, far more dramatic past-comes-back-to-bite-you trauma with Alé and the town jock/bully/rich and privileged douche bag. If I were the editor, I would have advised the author to tone down the emotional turmoil over the future of their relationship and dial up the mystery. Although I would also would have advised against making Jaime too much of a damsel in distress. It’s an easy place to put him in, but easy isn’t always the best course of action.

I don’t want to make it sound like the boys are fighting about their relationship or having the kind of irrational commitment fits so many less skilled romance writers will fall back on in lieu of naturally occurring plot, far from it. All their relationship turmoil is completely internal, and they manage to communicate with one another in a healthy way, while maintaining the appropriate amount of tension. This well-walked line is probably one of my favorite elements in No Such Thing. The characters have drama, they are not themselves drama. This is so hard for so many writers to accomplish, and it shines in this book.

For the oddly lucky looking price of $3.03, you can have one of the most adorable pieces of good clean porno I’ve yet found. So pick it up. There’s supposed to be a sequel, but having read the ending, I do wonder what the duo could possibly tackle next. Personally, I hope for more on the extended family members we met in book one, I kind of fell in love with everybody, and I want to see them grow and change as well.

4.5 stars out of 5