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.

Wherein Blue is Not Warm, But Sweet – Review of Blue Eyed Stranger

20150905blueeyedBlue-Eyed Stranger,Trowchester Blues Two by Alex Beecroft

First off, I want to say that I am really happy to be able to read a book with a black main character where he isn’t irrational and in need of the calming guidance of his white partner. You’d be surprised how many people of color, in romance novels especially, are portrayed that way. Even in the more lovingly written stories that were clearly made in order to include characters of color in a positive and accurate light, the white savior dynamic is so often hidden in places I’m sure the author didn’t even consider when they were writing it.

Alex Beecroft, you are a dream.

This second of the Trowchester Blues novels centers around Martin Deng and Billy Wright. Martin’s Somalian father doesn’t understand him. He certainly would understand him even less if he knew his son was gay. Maybe even disown him. Martin’s stuck-up British boss doesn’t understand how a history teacher would be so obsessed with history. She wants him to teach to the book and stop messing around with his historical reenactment society. Martin’s vikings understand his love for history, and would probably understand his being gay, but it’s not like he’s ever given them the chance to.

Billy understands all of this. If only he could understand his own depression. Dancing, music and melancholy are his constant companions until Martin Deng and his viking hoard come barreling into his dance troupe. Martin is sweet, he knows about depression, and he doesn’t ask for more than Billy can give. But does Billy ask for more than Martin can give when it comes to loving him openly?

Can Martin overcome his own insecurities in order to be the kind of partner Billy needs?

I genuinely liked Martin and Billy. Unlike other coming out will he/won’t he stories, I didn’t get frustrated with Martin, even though he really does do some pretty bone-headed things. I understood the pressure he felt, and I related to how difficult it can be to deal with the demands of the monoculture, the demands of your own family culture, and the demands of your heart. History wants to erase minority contributions and families tend to bulldoze individual members to the extent that a person can start to feel guilty taking up any space at all. More than exasperation, I felt elation and empowerment when Martin finally came out, both of his shell and of the closet.

For those reasons, I really enjoyed Blue Eyed Stranger.

However, this is definitely more a romance than a work of erotica. Those who read Trowchester Blues and hoped to spice things up in book two will not be especially stimulated by the direction this went. The sex is pleasant, affirming and sweet. Also rarely mentioned in detail. It’s lovely, but it’s not going to be keeping anybody up at night.

Oh, and if you were looking for an update on the orphan and bff from book one, you will not be getting one. The book one characters are hardly mentioned at all outside one small cameo by Fin.

4.5 stars for being the rare book with a solidly relatable black main character, despite a lack of steamy sexy bits.

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

New Dog, Old Tricks: Review of Lone Wolf

image
Lone Wolf, A Bluewater Bay Novel by L.A. Witt, Aleksandr Voinov

Another successful episode in Riptide’s Bluewater Bay series, Lone Wolf will have fanatic writers green with envy.

When Kevin Hussain aka Lone Wolf gets an IM from his fellow fanfic writer and cyber crush Wolf Hunter, it seems like it might be time to take it to the next level. Little does he know what level that actually is.

Wolf Hunter, also known as insanely popular fiction writer Hunter Easton, author behind the hit new show Wolf’s Landing has come to a complete stalemate in his writing. But when the flirty and very stimulating Lone Wolf shares his unique take on the next steps for their favorite pack, Hunter can’t help but reach out. Lone Wolf’s book needs to be the next volume in the Wolf’s Landing series, and Kevin’s name needs to be on it, but how to make that happen?

And what’s to be done about the very real chemistry between the two self-professed loners? Can two men so used to their own company learn to work together? To be together?

If you want to know the answer to these questions, as well as some hot sex between an extremely forward younger man and his equally enthusiastic older partner, this is the book for you.

As I have come to expect from both L.A. Witt and Aleksander Voinov, the writing is spot on, the plot is great, it flows well, and at no point did I find myself taken out of the function by something unrealistic or nonsensical. The only thing keeping me half a star away from the 5 star rating is that little extra punch that I look for in a true 5 star. This is good stuff and well worth the price. Pick it up.

4.5 stars out of 5

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

Dressed to Spill – Review of The Merchant of Death

cover54382-mediumThe Merchant of Death (Playing the Fool #2) by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock

Thanks to Netgalley and Riptide Publishing for the review copy.

Book two of the Playing the Fool series was an absolute charmer. Henry Page, recently an FBI witness, has decided that something is rotten in the state of his twin sister’s adult care facility, and resolves to go undercover as her in order to figure it all out. As anyone would.

Mac, who started falling for the enigmatic conman in book one is quick to follow him down the rabbit hole, as it were. Or at least he would be if somebody wasn’t so busy framing him for murder.

The banter that was hard to round up in book one is on point in book two, as is the suspense, and the mystery. I no longer feel like Mac is making huge mistakes at every turn, maybe because Henry is so damn crazy that I’m just impressed he can hang on for the ride.

Henry in a dress turns out to be a major turn on for Mack, and the reader too, if my own experience is anything to go on. There’s also the signature Lisa Henry touch that takes a story just that much farther and makes it an impactful, humanizing scene rather than mere erotica.

In addition to their relationship heating up, we also get closer to a secret only hinted at in book one. The original trauma that set Henry on his dark path to begin with. Which just happens to be critical to solving the mystery of who’s framing Mack. The mystery of the hospital is a whole other bag of worms.

4 out of 5 stars

The Man Who Loved an Island – Review of Waiting for the Flood

cover58650-mediumWaiting for the Flood by Alexis Hall

Thanks to Riptide and Netgalley for the review copy. Waiting for the Flood will be available for purchase on Feb. 23, 2015

I requested Waiting for the Flood because of Alexis Hall. I’ve reviewed other of his books, and loved his characters especially. He did not disappoint.

Edwin Tully lives alone in Oxford in the house he used to share with his boyfriend of 10 years, an artist named Marius. He leads a solitary life, having left all his old friends to Marius in the break-up, he’s spent the last two years with his elderly neighbor as his only companion.

When flooding threatens his neighborhood, Environment Agent Adam Dacre shows up literally on his doorstep, and things start to get… wet and uncomfortable.

How does a man who’s spent the last two years in self-imposed isolation finally decide to break the silence?

This is a sweet love story about the way a broken heart tends to mend itself in time, especially when we aren’t looking.

I was enamored of Edwin right off the start. The fact that he has a fairly serious stutter makes the whole things-he-didn’t-say plot element actually believable, and his quiet loneliness was extremely relatable. They say no man is an island, but it’s clear that he is trying really hard to be one anyway. With the waters rising, both literally and figuratively, he has to make a decision: sink alone, or swim for shelter. The acute pain of making what can seem to outsiders to be an extremely rational decision for a chronic isolater was very well depicted.

Adam comes across as a kind of non-character in comparison to Edwin’s rich depths, but since the narrator focuses only on Edwin, it makes sense that we wouldn’t know him as well.

Since this is a fairly short book, there’s not a lot of it to go over, but it’s adorable, and can be finished in a single afternoon. Worth the $3.99 price tag, but I wouldn’t pay more than that.

4 stars out of 5 for being adorable and having absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Pushing Buttons and Butting Heads – Review of Burnt Toast B&B

cover58649-mediumBurnt Toast B&B by Heidi Belleau and Rachel Haimowitz

Thanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

It was nice to see both Belleau and Haimowitz again. After my 5 star review of Bliss, which Belleau co-authored with one of my faves, Lisa Henry and Haimowitz’ cereberal slave/master piece, Anchored, I was really geared up for a good performance in book 5 of the Bluewater Bay series, which I’ve enjoyed so much.

And it totally delivered.

Burnt Toast isn’t my absolute fave BB book, but I was really happy to see a major title with a trans lead, and a story that didn’t shy away from the tensions, both psychological and personal that come up when a narrow-minded thinker is challenged to be greater than they are by the people and situations in their life.

Butch ex-logger Derrick has some deep seated issues with his own masculinity, born of a seriously internalized homophobia. So when he inherits his parent’s beloved Bed and Breakfast, the idea of making nice in a stereotypical gay paradise is beyond him. As the B&B falls deeper into debt and disrepair, he decides he’s done his filial duty, and it’s time to close up shop.

Fortunately for everybody, sassy stuntman Ginsberg, who you may recognize from the first Bluewater book, Starstruck is here to save the day. Except it looks like he’ll be ruining it first.

Derrick wants Ginsberg out of his house so he can sulk in peace, but he’s too polite and repressed to tell the kid to fuck off, especially after Gins says he’s trans. Derrick may be a grumpy bastard, but the last thing he’d ever want is for anyone to think he’s transphobic.

For his part, Ginsberg can’t get a read on the moody proprietor of his cheap new digs. After breaking an arm on-set, he needs to lay low and recover without expense. He knows more than anybody how quickly a sure thing can turn into a shit sandwich.

The sexual tension is amazing right off the start, but for a man who considers himself a fierce, self confident queer, the overgrown, underdeveloped Derrick is a little bit outside of Ginsberg’s normal level of acceptability. The fact that the man seems to go from nice, funny, and charming in one second to sub-verbal cave-douche the next is both annoying and frustrating.

Derrick finds himself thinking of Ginsberg all the time, but when it comes to the guy himself, he’s all elbows and thumbs. He completely ignores the shit Derrick means to be offensive, and takes offense to the shit he considers to be regular human interaction.

Can Ginsberg overcome his history in order to give Derrick a chance? Can Derrick trash his heteronormative hypocrisy in order to win the man of his dreams?

The only part of this book that didn’t make it my fave in the series is that Derrick really reminds me of myself sometimes. My own weird butch shit made me hate Derrick like cold fuck, but my love for Ginsberg and the supporting cast made me stick around. Also, I wish there was more sex, but Bluewater Bay books don’t usually have a lot of sex scenes anyway, so it is in keeping with the series.

4.5 stars out of 5 for an awesome read

You Captured My Heart Review of Tame a Wild Human

cover58648-mediumTame a Wild Human by Kari Gregg

Thanks to RipTide and NetGalley for the review copy.

In a world where humans and werewolves exist in an uneasy truce, humans live in fear of the three days surrounding the full moon. Locked in their walled cities, there is a terrible hierarchy between claimed and the unclaimed. Everybody has somebody that they’ve lost to the wolves, and any human found wandering outside the gates on the full moon is in danger of having their lives, and status changed forever.

When Wyatt Redding wakes up drugged, blindfolded and dropped in wolf country on the full moon, he knows his old life is over. If being a free human is preferable, being a claimed human is the next best thing. The wolves fiercely protect their claimed humans, and despite their tragically short lives, they act as if they are free for the short months and years they survive. Wyatt’s own dad was once a claimed man, and watching him waste away before he eventually disappeared was enough to scare anybody.

But being an unclaimed human is unthinkable. Unclaimed humans are the bottom rung of human society. They are used and abused by every free human. Little more than empty fuck holes, they contract themselves to brothels, or, if they’re lucky, the very companies where they used to hold management positions, taking in an endless string of partners, only too happy to be sexually dominated by their former coworkers.

Wyatt knows that without that token, his life is over. With the token, he has a chance. He can go back to the city, empty the secret stashes he and every other well-prepared human keep of cash and supplies, and disappear before his wolf can call him to his inevitable death. He can start over in a new city, and no one will be any the wiser about his terrible history.

But what happens when the vicious treatment he’s been taught to expect never seems to come? The cruelty he expects from the human world isn’t mirrored in the wolf pack that finds him, and it never occurred to him there might be more to the wolves than he’d been taught. More to one wolf in particular…

That’s a rather long intro for what ends up being a 71 page short, but the world-building is surprisingly complete. From looking at her work, I have a feeling that this isn’t Gregg’s only story set in this universe, and I wouldn’t mind reading others. The concept of discipline in the wolf-pack, as well as the inherent depravity of the human world make for some interesting possibilities in my mind.

The sex itself is blazing hot, and at $2.99, it’s a steal.

One thing though… (highlight to reveal spoilers) At the end of the story there’s a bit about the main character getting to be reunited with his long lost dad that gave me pause. Either it’s going to be that kind of story, and dude is going to get fucked by his own dad, which is totally cool, everybody loves a little daddy action once in awhile, or his new boyfriend/master just thought it would be good timing to bring up the dad thing immediately after shoving a butt plug in his ass. Either way, was kind of odd placement on the dad bit.

4 out of 5 stars because I wish it was longer.. also that piece I put in the spoiler section.

The One That Got Away – Review of The Two Gentlemen of Altona

cover54383-mediumThe Two Gentlemen of Altona – (Playing the Fool #1) by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock

Thanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

This will be the third Lisa Henry book I’ve reviewed, and I am on the record as being a huge fan of hers. I tend to be really bad with names, so I don’t usually recognize authors I’ve already read and liked unless they’re in my top 10, and she is working her way into those ranks. You always know with Lisa Henry that a book will have that little something else makes what could be a standard story into a unique and memorable narrative.

In Playing the Fool book one, Mac McGuinness and Henry Paige are on opposite sides of a lot of things. Mac is a cop; Henry’s a con man, Mac’s on a diet; Henry loves donuts. Henry is annoying and hot, and makes everyone love him. Mac is humble and hard working and pissed off that Henry seems to run circles around him in every available context.

If you ever found yourself watching White Collar and thinking that it would be a way better show if they were boyfriends and the FBI agent had more of a daddy-bear Bruce Willis thing going on, this is the book series for you. I can tell you right now that it’s the book series for me.

Book one is a little bit rusty. Their banter isn’t as on-point as it could be, and one does start to question the decisions of a supposedly seasoned professional when he does stupid shit like clearly letting the criminal get away with wacky escape plots, or going to the one place other than his house and his office that people would associate with him and him alone, but nothing’s perfect, and the writers get so much else right that I found myself not really caring about that.

For example, this book is fun. You’d think that would be easy to find in the erotica section. Not so much these days. I don’t know if it’s winter or what, but I have been needing a good mystery/romance that makes me smile and laugh, and fall in love with the characters as they fall in love with each other. Everybody’s so busy being tortured all the time. Not that Henry isn’t having his own little crisis, and not like nobody gets hurt of arrives hurt, but this is so much more adorable and vibrant than a lot of other stuff on the market right now.

Buy book one, at $5.99 it’s not a bad price, that way you’ll know the back story when you read 2 and 3, which are better books.

3.5 stars out of 5