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I have to admit I'm a sap for books featuring a guy with a kid. So when this offering from Dreamspinner came up, I simply HAD to read it.
Rue is working hard at a local gay bar, paying his way through cosmetology school. He longs to get out of his podunk town and go to California. He's got an acquaintance out there that he'd not only once burned the sheets up with, but who works with some big names and is eagerly trying to find him a space in the industry.
Then a mistake Rue made comes back to haunt him. It seems that Rue one night decided to get rather drunk, and while inebriated, decided to see if he was all the way gay or part straight. In the way that oddball shenanigans often happen while drunk, he came up with the idea to prove his gayness by trying to have sex with a woman, and so, still drunk, he picked up a chick and did the deed. Only a few months later, she's contacting him again, to ask him if he wants the baby she's going to have or should she just put it up for adoption. And so, the stork makes a rather unscheduled and unplanned delivery to Rue.
Rue falls in love with his daughter and wants the world for her. Sadly, he's still working at the bar and trying to graduate while angling for that lucrative job in California, so he needs cheap but top notch childcare. He finds that ANY childcare can be hard to come by, and the sort of care he insists on practically impossible within his budget. Until his desperation leads him to his work at home neighbour that is. He doesn't really know Erik, but he's quiet, has a clean home, and is home all day. All these things are already miles above what he's found so far. So, he bulldozes his way into Erik's and presses him to become his child's babysitter.
Erik is reclusive, not just quiet. He also works from home because he's a sci fi writer, and he's one with a LOT of personal issues. Issues that indicate he might be on the autistic spectrum a la Asperger's syndrome, but nothing about that is ever directly confirmed beyond a few mentions about childhood coping methods and his parents taking him to doctors, and his need for routine. He likes his routines, and he hates anything that doesn't follow it, and babies scare the bejesus out of him. They are unpredictable and cry and stuff, and no no no, this is a bad idea, but oh my gosh his royalties are dwindling, and his mind goes on and on in this manner at a frenetic pace until he decides to watch the baby.
It's actually rather cute watching Rue and Erik deal with arranging the childcare. Erik is obsessed over details and routine, but it's Rue who is actually the neurotic one. He freaks out over the tiniest detail, lest he forget something that his little darling might need- such as the number to the fire department so that she can be rescued in case of a disaster involving fire. It is his dedication though that leads him to become more involved with Erik, wanting to get to know the man he's left his daughter with and to become friends. Erik slowly leaves his shell, and so begins a sweet little romance as the two bond over one little cutie pie of a baby girl.
It's saved from being schmaltzy or saccharine by serving up just the right amount of angst as Erik deals with his personal boundary issues and begins to form personal attachments to the baby, Rue, and to Rue's best friend who comes to hang out and help with childcare. As their friendships develop and deepen, changes come as they adjust to life with a baby and come to realize that have, in essence, all become a little family of sorts. But when Rue gets the job offer he'd been hoping for, what is everyone to do? Can things stay the same for the three friends, or is change always inevitable? Rue's best friend faces losing the buddy he's spent years of studying and angsting with, and Erik faces losing Rue, the baby, and the new routine that friendship and affection have given him. Even worse, he's begun to become comfortable trying new things, outside of his set routines, but these things all centred around Rue and the baby. And what about Rue...is he ready to give up his support network and the people he's come to care so much for- including one very geeky Star Wars fanaticy sci fi writer that has gone from friend to beloved within his mind? I simply adored how it all panned out and yes, it's a HEA that was simply the icing on a very yummy cake indeed.
Charlie is not only acting as manager/custodian for the apartments that his grandmother owns, he also lives there. After coming home from his day job of teaching justice related courses at the local community college, he's often tired and aching. This doesn't stop him from noticing what goes on about him at the complex however, and so he encounters one very unusual young man who appears to be staying at the apartment of a photographer that Charlie knows quite well for his exhibitionism.
The young man in question seems irrepressible. Will is always quoting old movies, and has his hair is always different. He takes on a fascination with Charlie, and it doesn't take long for him to suss out that Charlie's hip bothers him a lot, and that a terrible accident left him broken in body as well as spirit, as well as retired from the police force. Charlie doesn't know what to do about this. He's no good at relationships, as his previous attempt at one, that ended at his accident, proved.
And then there is Charlie's family. He's the oldest male and his abuela has certain expectations of him. If she's not calling him to do something, his sisters are. Though his abuela also nags him to please find a man settle down with, so that his sisters will follow his example- but what would she make of this admittedly quirky twink? He somehow doesn't see his family, his job, and this Holly Golightly-esque young man ever meshing. Too bad his heart isn't listening.
Slowly, inexorably, Charlie is drawn out of his self imposed personal exile one movie quote at a time, and finds that he is desirable as well as worthy of love, even if he's not entire sure about the whole Bogart thing. He also finds that Will is a lot deeper than he he gave him credit for, with his own demons that he hides behind his façade. Between them, they might make up a whole, as long as the family accepts them both for who they really are, and who they want to be. Ultimately a tale of love, sacrifice, and family, it's a tender love story that moves slowly, never dragging, and that builds to a satisfying conclusion that leaves a gentle smile upon the heart.
This is available as a traditional dead tree edition, but can also be found in ebook format for fans of recycled electrons. I'd like to thank the publisher, Dreamspinner Press, for providing me with my review copy.
If you've followed me on Twitter or read very many of my reviews, you probably know already that I really, really love m/m romance stories that feature Mafia types. Aleksander Voinov's series Dark Soul delivers these men in spades: Stefano Marino is a young, recently happily married West coast Italian Mafia don whose obligations prompt him to travel to the East coast to pay his last respects to a dying Family patriarch. He's feeling off his game already, nervous lest he make a potentially fatal misstep with the other dons also there to pay their respects, but what really throws him isn't the not so minor politicking and subtle dominance games. No, it's the surprise he gets when an almost too feminine form rides up on a motorcycle. This turns out to be the very masculine indeed Silvio Spadaro, who quite surprisingly propositions him.
Spadaro himself is a very dangerous man, one that the other dons wish to give quite the wide berth. Not because he's apparently gay, because they have been known to kill men for that without breaking a sweat over it. It's because he is the protégé of a rather infamous but now retired consigliere Gianbattista Falchi and even more to the point, because he's known to have been the assassin who killed the one man they had all feared with a deep and abiding terror.
Silvio Spadaro's fathomless black eyes are cold, his movements calculated, precise, and well planned out in advance. So when Stefano wakes up that night to his bodyguard scuffling with Silvio, who then allows himself to be overpowered and humiliated, Stefano does not know what to do with himself. He HAS to punish Silvio, but will it come back to bite him on the ass? When the Russians move into his territory and start a turf war that turns deadly, he knows he has but three choices. The first choice, to just let the Russians move in and squeeze him, is not an acceptable option at all. Asking help from other dons is also out of the question, as they will see it as weakness and want a slice of his pie and jockey themselves into a position of power over him. But Falchi is retired and so out of the power game, and in Italy, so away from Stefano's interests anyway, making him a potentially viable third option.
When Falchi agrees to help him and Stefano finds himself having to deal with the pansexual Silvio, he doesn't know what to do with himself. The man oozes a raw sexuality that calls to Silvio. It's a siren song that disturbs him on so many levels running the gamut from upset about thoughts of betraying his beloved bride to fear over being discovered as a man attracted to other men and the death sentence he could expect for it. As events begin to unravel, he finds that not everything can be tidied away as neatly as he finds comfortable.
Over the course of the five novellas, Voinov delivers a romance that sinks its claws right into the viscera and then drags us along for the ride. It's not a romance filled with flowers and sweet nothings, but then these are two hardened men in an unforgiving world locked in turf war while trying to deal with their own emotional issues. Some of the sex scenes are pretty hard to take even for Stefano, as he balks at what he unwittingly witnesses between Silvio and Falchi as well as what his own base desires have led him to do while masquerading it as macho dominance posturing. Uncomfortable at times it may be, but it satisfies on so many different levels, not the least being a rather unconventional sort of HEA in the final volume that was a simply beautiful fit to the series as a whole.
I'd like to thank the publisher, Riptide Publishing, for providing me with a review edition of the omnibus volume. Dark Soul is available as a paperback as well as an ebook in multiple formats.
This collection left me feeling somewhat bemused. It's not that the sex scenes were terrible or the prose awful in general. No, it was because the one story left me feeling like I was missing something, another joyfully reunited me with some fellows I met in the sequel I'd managed to read FIRST only to leave me uneasily thinking that it felt slightly more rushed than the story itself deserved, and the yet a third one, well, the third one was an utter delight. There is a fourth story, but that one left me feeling ambivalent on several scores. I'm reviewing the stories in no particular order (just to confuse you, bwuahahaha!)
The story Cruce de Caminos (Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane) introduces us to Sean O'Hara who is one deeply conflicted young man. His childhood seems to have been no picnic and he fell in love during high school with a young woman whose problems led them to have a sort of drug fuelled co-dependency. Sean has been ditched by his beloved once more as she tries to leave behind the drugs and prostitution and begin her life anew with yet another john who promises her a happily ever after. Sean's own desperation leads him into the supernatural heart within New Orleans itself as the disaster that was Katrina approaches. His adventures as a rent boy are not Pretty Woman type fodder in the least, though they do bring him closer to his destiny. The supernatural elements are beautifully woven in, and they actually echo the dreamlike darkness that seems to cloak New Orlean's very being and which one feels wrapping round you should you wander the French Quarter alone at night.
The problem was it was so very different in tone from the rest, it left me feeling blindsided as I sank into and then disoriented when I began the next story. I should also warn you that if you read the authors' The Druid Stone (Carina Press), you will indeed meet Sean O'Hara again, but that Sean and this Sean are very much before and after images of the same man. THIS Sean is the one before he cleaned his act up, though his knack for getting into supernatural trouble doesn't seem to have abated any. A really good tale, but it just didn't mesh with the collection as a whole as one might have expected it to.
Priceless (Cat Grant) is a novella length entry that reunited me with the fellows in Doubtless (which is actually the sequel). When a nerd is bought a cute rentboy for his birthday, things begin to get interesting (and he gets annoyed). Said rentboy is desperate for cash to pay his college tuition, but a Very Bad Man becomes a client who takes things too far and does VERY Bad Things. Cue nerd to the rescue and a Pretty Woman outcome (nerd is mega rich and slums it out of habit) and you have a tale that hits all the right spots, even if it IS a trifle predictable. I loved getting to read their love story, but it did nonetheless feel a wee bit rushed in places. I also think that it would have made sense to package Priceless and Doubtless together in an omni rather than like this, but then, I'm not a publisher so what do I know? I'm assuming there was a reason why it was presented in this way.
Necessities Door (Fiona Glass) left me feeling rather ambivalent. A British police officer (Jake) who is openly gay is used as bait in a sting operation focusing on a crime boss who has a thing for rent boys. Said officer is undercover and so plays the whole rentboy role as real as possible. He comes up a cropper however when he ends up having sex with a punter, who actually leaves him cash in exchange. It opened up a whole can of worms on ethics that the while touched on somewhat within the story, was really something that the confines of the short story did not do enough justice to. It was also somewhat bleak and tawdry in ways that brought my mood down and despite the ending, it left a feeling of hopelessness ghosting about. I'm not entirely sure if I enjoyed the story, or if I didn't and the fence sitting itself is difficult as it's a rather pointy topped fence. It was well plotted enough that I would read another entry by this writer, but truthfully, if it left me feeling the same I probably would pass her on by in future as not my personal cup of tea.
Where You Hurt the Most (L.C. Chase) was one of those surprises that makes it all worthwhile. Having given up on love after his own heartbreak, Adrian is enjoying a personally fulfilling career as a high class escort. He's beautiful, charming, and educated, and his clients treasure their time with him. When his boss asks him to take on his cousin Dan as a personal favour, Adrian agrees quite readily. He owes the man a lot and to be truthful, Dan's situation interests him. Dan was once a man of flawless beauty whose face is now marred by terrible burn scarring. Worse still are the scars that the accident have left upon his psyche.. As Adrian reaches out to Dan, he unwittingly uncovers his own inner scars, and together, the two begin to make their way towards truly living once again. The hesitant steps each man takes as they reach out, and hide, are poignant.
While not subscribing to the Cinderella formula nor getting into the dark, grimy corners of the sex trade world, the story itself does show the personal limitations undertaken by many sex workers in this strata of the field. It also doesn't demonise the workers, and I quite liked the respect and care shown to the escort by his clients and employer. Not necessarily entirely realistic, but still, it made a nice change of pace while sharing a romance that was tender and raw in ways that really touched my heart.
Altogether, it's not that bad of an anthology to read, and if I could, I'd give it 3 1/2 stars. Dooyoo is whole stars or nothing though, and sadly, the limitations won't allow me to feel comfortable upgrading it to a full four. I'd like to also mention that you can purchase this as either a paperback, or an ebook, and that if you only want to read one or two of the stories, you can also buy them individually via Amazon, All Romance Ebooks and the publisher's own website as ebooks in multiple formats.
I'd like to thank Riptide Publishing for providing me with my review copy.
Brandon McKinney had a happy childhood with two parents who dearly loved each other and their son, Brandon. That all changed when Brandon turned 12, as his mother grew sick from cancer and died. Trapped in his grief, Brandon's father turned to alcohol and rage to cope and found Brandon a ready outlet to vent it all on. The icing on the cake for his contempt was discovering Brandon was gay, until the day when 15 year old Brandon found himself out on the streets. Having scrabbled his way into a sort of stable life, Brandon is a proud man determined to make his dream of becoming an architect come true. In fact, he's made his way up the ladder to foreman of a small, but well regarded construction company that builds luxury homes for the rich and his boss hopes that Brandon will be able to find funding to buy him out so that he can retire.
Brandon wants this very much, as it means he could not only finish his degree in architecture, but get to build the projects that really mean the most to him. The trouble is, a young man living in a ratty studio apartment with no savings and only an Associates degree that due to his financial constraints took him 5 years to complete instead of the usual 2, is not prime loan material for a bank, especially when the necessary loan is in multi-million dollar figures.
Enter Jonathan Watkins. He's a self made Silicon Valley billionaire with a bent for the decidedly kinky. One night in Chinatown, he spots Brandon at a bar, and the two engage in some down and dirty in the back alley. Appetite whetted, and without a current regular submissive, Jonathan hopes to bend this obviously proud man to his will. Knowing that he needs three million dollars, he comes up with the idea to offer him a financial incentive: "Give me six months , and I'll give you the world."
Brandon resists the idea, until he realises that he has no other possible way to earn the money he needs. Remembering the explosive and unexpected orgasm he had from their bit of rough play in the alley, he decides that having some enjoyable sex while on his knees is not that big a deal, as he can walk away afterwards and no one be any the wiser. He soon finds out that being submissive 24/7 is no easy feat, especially when the Dom in question is an admitted sadist. As his personal hang ups and sense of pride and accompanying sense of shame keep him from submitting without resistance, even when his head is rationally screaming for him to not be so stupid, both he and Jonathan end up exploring their personal boundaries a lot more exhaustively than either had imagined. Neither looked for emotional entanglement, but getting this far into each other's space brings feelings rushing to the fore. Will Brandon finally lay the ghosts of his past to rest and submit as his heart and mind yearn to do, and will Jonathan find that true love that is honestly reciprocated is possible even for a sadist and his sub?
Just by reading the synopsis, for many readers the obvious comparison is going to be 50 Shades. Forget 50 Shades, this book is the real deal. It's written by a pair of friends, one of which is a real life Domme (Rachel Haimowitz) and the other a submissive (Cat Grant). That alone provided the clue that going in, I wasn't going to see the sort of unintentional mistakes that littered 50 Shades, and that the BDSM aspect was going to be very, VERY important on a visceral level that only two life-stylers could possibly grasp. Fans of 50 Shades may very well like this however, as the sex scenes are frequent and they are definitely hot with a kink factor far past 10.I'm going to go ahead and say this straight out, however- this is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Jonathan is a hardcore Dom with a very sadistic nature. He's not a socio-path however, and is actually a fairly well balanced individual. The contrasts this provides makes for an interesting dynamic as he tries to bring his rebellious sub to heel as his caring side more than once wars with his impulse to inflict pain and punishment. He is very much a man who plays by the rules, however, whether it be the polite rules of the social side of business, to being a man of personal integrity who not only insists on a contract, but goes out of his way to ensure that both he and Brandon understand what they have negotiated and stick to their side of the contract.
Brandon's inner demons come out of hiding with a vengeance once he's not occupied with hours and hours of hard physical labour followed by a bone tiring weariness that robs him of the need to think of anything bar sleep. He comes unglued while having to do nothing but sit and be hand fed, petted, and so on. Used to distracting himself, Brandon finds that trying to focus on just being is impossible as the voice of his father comes to whisper insidiously in his mind. Weak, sissy, worthless, all words that he tries to shove aside but in the end, he still allows his own anger to erupt, to lash out and prove he is a strong man, a man who cannot be beaten down. It's an anger that stood him in good stead as he he got himself off the streets as a boy, but it's also an anger that is holding him back. Deep down, Brandon wants to be able to let go and to be able to accept the tender affections of another. A tenderness that Jonathan is all too happy to shower upon him until Brandon brazenly challenges him until the sadist is given free reign during punishment time.
This is where it gets rather uncomfortable. The nature of the contract means that Brandon has given full consent, unless he safe words. His stubbornness won't allow it, until even Jonathan is hard-pressed to know just where Brandon's limits are. Jonathan's sadism is not always sexual, as Brandon's resistance means that more often than not, he's there to be punished. Cue tiny cages and a clear plexiglass coffin complete with electric shocks that inspired even me to have a nightmare after making the mistake of reading this before bed and getting stuck tightly wrapped under and within my covers. Nonetheless, it is a story of personal discovery and love, and one that is well written indeed.
Over the course of their personal interactions, Brandon and Jonathan both end up doing a lot of self reflection. Jonathan explains quite carefully why he does everything that he does, from the why he wishes Brandon to be groomed a quite specific way, to the intent behind the hand feeding, end even makes certain that Brandon understands just why he is being punished. He thinks deeply about what he hopes to accomplish for Brandon, and examines his actions and Jonathan's responses closely when events don't go as planned, going so far as to run past experiences through his head (both that of his past submissives as well as his own time spent on his knees as he trained). Nothing is gratuitous and it's abundantly clear that Jonathan isn't doing this merely for fun and games- he has clearly defined goals that are of personally emotional and psychological benefit to both men and he is quite upset at the roadblocks being thrown up.
Brandon's experiences during the their time together not only allow his inner psyche out to play- that nasty inner voice that sounds like his father, but also for his rational mind to process what he has been doing to himself. While locked in cage with nothing else to do, for example, he eventually has to look over what precisely he did that led Jonathan to put him there. To be quite honest, it's extremely self destructive behaviour. From refusing to eat until he damn near requires medical intervention, to purposely mouthing off to ensure he racks up several demerits, Brandon's his own worst enemy. More to the point, he's locked up years of self loathing and hatred resulting from his father's physical and mental abuse, sublimating it to the point where no one could see it until there was nothing but Brandon and IT.
The physical chemistry is sizzling hot between the two and the sex scenes are always explosive, and it is this initial connection that not only draw the two men to each other initially, but which allows Brandon to excuse his letting go when he manages to allow himself to silence the taunts within his own head. The punishments serve drive Brandon into a corner, a corner where he cannot escape himself, having to focus himself. It is these moments of clarity that ultimately lead to the sea change within Brandon, where he faces his stubborn actions for what they are truly are. Only then can he move forward. It's exhausting physically and mentally for Brandon, but also for Jonathan, who despite his sadistic streak, cannot enjoy inflicting pain that is not given as a gift, nor pain that is not enjoyed by both parties on any level.
It was also exhausting for me as the reader, as I became tense, waiting anxiously to see what Jonathan was going to pull out next as he ramped up the punishments while trying to breach Brandon's self destructive defensive barriers. It was also incredibly rewarding, as the emotions of both men were clearly on display every step of the way. I could not dislike either man regardless of what I saw play out, and felt torn for them both. One reaching out to help with hand that wanted to show gentle care, while the other snapped and snarled like a previously abused rescue dog who can only react out of instinctual fear and distrust, so that a show of forceful dominance became a requirement. Watching the two men deal with their growing attraction and emotional bonds made the ending all the more satisfactory, leaving me happy that'd I'd waited to buy this book until the I was able to buy the sequel with it as I couldn't wait to see how the two continued to grow and bond as human beings as well as lovers with more than a bent for the BDSM lifestyle.
Blaine Harrington wasn't one of the popular kids at school, but that doesn't stop him from returning to the small Alabama town he grew up in and bringing his husband along. His Brazilian husband hits two hot buttons within that town- gay and foreign and so Blaine rethinks the wisdom of this decision when he notices that his beloved has disappeared and he finds his cell phone discarded in a potted plant and a homophobic doodle with a chilling implication scribbled upon a crumpled napkin left upon a table. When it becomes apparent that something untoward has happened and the police are being less than helpful, Blaine's real friends rally round him, but is it going to be enough as his world comes to a crashing end?
Drake Braxton takes a nightmare scenario and turns it into a suspenseful page turner with twists and turns that I couldn't see coming at all. He did it so deftly that when the story took an unexpected turn at a fork in the road, I was left breathless from the sheer emotional punch he delivered so deftly. I have to admit I myself have a real terror of something happening to my other half and being left alone in this world, and Blaine's fear, pain, and mind tearing grief were so well portrayed that I felt actual pangs of anxiety right alongside him.
The very palpable grief itself became a major plot point, and it is how Blaine and their friends dealt with it that made this story so very special. Braxton's handling of the subject matter was done with a real finesse that showed true mastery over the raw forces of emotions contained within the pages of this novel. It is an astonishing debut for a very promising writer. A must read for fans of romantic fiction of ANY genre and a jewel in the crown for this year's LGBTQ fiction.
Fergus Campbell was not very happy about going to prison. He was even less impressed with how he got there- stitched up by one of his partners in crime, Judas MacGregor. He's had a few years to plot his revenge, which he sets in motion the very moment of his release. Only there is an unexpected spanner in the works as MacGregor , hoping to not catch Fergus' bad side if he can manoeuvre around it, takes him to the newest, most popular male brothel in the city. There he meets the breathtakingly beautiful owner, Mikhail. Falling head over heels, he is determined to have the stunning Mikhail for his own, and Mikhail seems in line with idea. However, Fergus has had the clingy, slightly psychotic, alcoholic Hugo waiting lovelorn and faithful at their shared home. Hugo has had dreams of happily ever after in full Technicolor fantasy playing through his mind during Fergus' sentence, and he is damned if he's going to let anyone get in the way of what he deems as his. Fergus is HIS husband, and he will do ANYTHING it takes to make sure Fergus stays where he belongs- by Hugo's side. As a former part of Judas' and Fergus' criminal syndicate, he has ways and means of making sure things get handled, but he doesn't know about Fergus' plot to crush Judas, nor Judas' plans to stay out of harm's way, especially in the form of Fergus, all the while hoping to live another day and get to pull another handsome lad for a really good shag. In the midst of it are the rest of the criminal syndicate and the spectre of the robbery that went wrong and saw the start of the whole sorry mess. So who's going to come out on top?
It's very much Carry On meets Ealing Street gangster comedy with a yaoi makeover, and I must say, the writing sparkled with wry wit. The plot was well executed, with all the characters springing to life within moments of meeting them, and intricate plot threads that interwove without confusion. The personality quirks could have been cliché, but thanks to the verve they were written with and the snappy wit of the dialogue, they came off as highly original characters that were somehow timeless. The settings were familiar enough as well to anyone who has been a fan of the old British gangster films, or anyone with little more than a passing knowledge of Glasgow.
From the epithet carved outside Judas' very unposh flat to his expensive bad taste in clothes that could have been lifted off of a 1970's American New York City pimp, complete with his fur adorned jacket worn despite sweltering heat, to the grotty little hideout and it's meanly lit parking lot, it's all viscerally familiar. Likewise the modest gentrified walk-up Hugo voraciously defends as home is as everyday as it gets in Britain. When mixed in with the simplistic plans that these guys think of as criminal genius and their lust for misplaced self righteous revenge, the stage is set for laugh after laugh as the men are foiled by their own capriciousness.
Fergus in particular was a delight. He's nowhere near the mastermind he thinks of himself as, and in fact, his anger is misplaced. He did the crime, but feels he was not to do the time, and all because he wasn't the one who was supposed to get caught. And therein lies the rub- Fergus' troubles actually all began because of a previously failed machination that a bank heist was used to engineer. The rest of the gang, including Judas, don't know it, but we do thanks to Fergus' inner dialogue railing about it, and his fear of facing his father over it, as his father was the one who put it forward all that time ago. Amusingly, it was this past Fergus who was rash enough to declare undying love for Hugo, and who let his anger and humiliation at being caught drive a wedge between them. Refusing to let Hugo visit him while inside, he has left Hugo home alone with his small rat-like dog to grieve, and moon, and pine, and drink while he himself allowed nothing for himself but anger, hate, humiliation, and a lust for revenge to dwell within.
Having allowed these to move into Hugo's place, when he gets out, he has a surprise vacancy in his heart that gets knocked for a loop when he encounters Mikhail. Mikhail is a study of contradictions. Ethereally beautiful in an androgynous way, he also has a very generous heart. Despite running a bordello filled with male prostitutes, he has his own code of honour and works hard to not take advantage of those who seek employment with him. He makes a stark contrast to Fergus and seems to fit him like a second half...he is light where Fergus is dark. He is also a polar opposite to Hugo, who hates him on sight, and discovering Fergus' attraction to Mikhail just throws petrol onto that fire.
Judas meanwhile, is the blithe, almost carefree sort. He is ostensibly the focus of the story, and indeed, if not for him, none of the whole prison debacle would have happened, nor would Fergus have made Mikhail's acquaintance. He's crude, he's mouthy, he's stunning of face and figure, and he has a stunningly appalling taste in clothes that yet somehow manages to work on him in some kind of flamboyant way that no one else could possibly get away with. He's also the Roadrunner of the piece to Fergus' Wile E. Coyote, only this time, Fergus is certain he's actually going to get his man. But at what cost? He now has Mikhail and Hugo to consider, and as he finds out, jealous spouses are not to be ignored. It all goes due south with serious consequences that are as sobering as they
are ironically funny, and the ending left me wiping my eyes clear while reaching for the Kindle button to open the second volume.
Primarily a prose novel, it also boasts several truly stunning illustrations within. The setting and characters may be gritty, but the artwork depicts the men so that we see them to be almost as lovely to behold as fallen angels. This could very well have worked against the piece by presenting an incongruity, but instead, it works to show the reader just how unsuited these fellows truly are to their lifestyle. They are grown, lovely fresh faced choir boys with major Daddy issues gone bad, thinking they are gangster hard just from growing a few whiskers and committing a few felonies, and feel they have something to prove desperately to all around them, including to themselves. It not only shows in their looks, but also in their very thought processes and motivations. The downside to the illustrations can be laid at the feet of the Kindle, which by necessity of the device's limitations can only show one page at a time, so that some images were split into two screens. Of course, if you have the paper edition, you not only get the cover and such in full colour, but can also view the occasional double page spread illustration all at once as intended.
I'd also like to thank Ai Press for providing me with my e-edition for review.
Set in a parallel contemporary world, internal power struggles within a previously unknown but well established subspecies of humans has erupted into the public conscious, with dire consequences. The Lyche have possibly always been amongst us, but their common name amongst the normals is "vampire". Forget blood, these folks feed on chi and exhibit psychic abilities that terrify the rest of us for good reason. That doesn't stop the Nightwalkers though...the mostly young who walk the streets peddling parts of their chi in exchange for cash. Needless to say, this sort of job doesn't leave you with a very long life span, as your life force is literally drained away.
This makes one pair of Nightwalkers all the more obvious despite their attempts at keeping a low profile. Black and his twin sister Jhez have been around much, much longer than they'd be willing to admit. Not only have they survived for far longer than they could have been reasonably expected to, but they haven't physically aged. The very, very well guarded reason for this is that twins are able to steal chi themselves, and have actually been taking a bit of their customer's chi while he feeds. When the area's reigning vamp, Garthelle, becomes involved after catching Black in an act of chi theft, the twins' lives are forever altered. Monsieur Garthelle offers them a deal in exchange for simply not killing Black. As deals go, it's better than being dead. But not all is as it seems...
It was quite easy to slip into this alternative world. It was at once as familiar as it was alien, giving us just enough detail to find our bearings, but without getting too bogged down in the inconsequential. Black was surprisingly easy to relate to, and as his confusion grew about things he thought he knew to be true, so did ours as Etzweiler plays the cards close to the chest, not giving anything away along the journey as we navigate the labyrinthine intricacies of Lyche politics and interpersonal relationships. The growing sexual tension between Black and Garthelle is palatable, and when they give in, the sex is explosive while also adding to complications to their situation.The plot is detailed and filled with intrigue that leads us down dark corridors wondering what was going to jump out next, with dizzying twists and turns that lead me to turn one electronic page after another trying to catch my breath while enjoying the ride. The ending neatly ties up the plot threads, but I still found myself wanting more. It's definitely a world I'd love to revisit and get to know better.
This is available both as a paperback and as an ebook for those who prefer recycled electrons over dead trees. I'd like to thank the publisher for making my review copy possible.
Just 6 weeks ago, Kyle Juenger had a successful military career. It all seemingly ended when a blast from a Glyrinny designed blaster severed his spine and rendered him a paraplegic. Not considered high enough on the food chain to have his body fully restored, he finds himself outfitted with cumbersome prosthesis and retired on a barely liveable pension. In fact, he's on the brink of having to trade food credit and other parts of his living allowance just to be able to use public transport to get about, and actually runs completely out of transport credits the day he is summoned back to military HQ for a meeting with top brass.
Karl agrees to take on the hunt for a Glyrinny double agent who is making a run for Glyrinny space with stolen data. For one thing, the pay is beyond good- he can buy himself new cybernetic legs with the cash and possibly even go back to his home planet, though he hasn't made up his mind about that yet part yet. For the other thing, he really, really hates those Glyrinny. It was after all, one of their weapons that nearly ended his life, and put him into such physical and mental misery. The catch is, he must use a false identity as a criminal that has been established for him and no one else can know about his mission. Oh, and one more thing-the Glyrinny could be anybody quite literally, as the Glyrinny are a race of shape shifters. Armed only with his false identity and some data to trade, along with a lead that brings him to a certain mercenary ship, he heads out. What he doesn't expect is to find someone from his own home world on board, and a person of the high Warrior caste at that. Grimm too is very, very interested in Karl, and would like to get to know him in a much more intimate matter. This could complicate matters as Karl tries to get around to find where his Glyrinny could be hiding...
Voinov brings an intricately plotted and well executed tale of political intrigue and double dealings that unfolds with itself with an almost military precision of its own. Karl is a very disillusioned man. Growing up on a planet where he was first rejected for the warrior caste, he nonetheless pursued his dream by bucking tradition and going off-world, where he had a stellar career still on the rise until it was suddenly, and quite brutally, cut short. Finding out the hard way that the powers that be had no further use of him nor any real concern other than the minimum they could get away with, he's left feeling bitter and outcast. He sees the Commissariat's offer as one that offers him redemption of a sort, and even a bit of revenge, and he thinks that this will make him a whole man.
Grimm however stops him cold in several ways. The warrior caste of their home world not only protects the weak and helpless, but literally also help take on their burden. As someone who rejected his home world's teachings and left, Karl should be off the man's radar pretty much, but Grimm takes a particular fascination with him. Through Grimm, Karl not only begins to see that he is not defined by his disability, but that other assumptions he is holding about his personal condition may not be true. he is, however, puzzled as to just why Grimm is bothering with him. It makes him uneasy, as he sees himself as undesirable for so many reasons, not the least of which is his disability which he sees as making him somehow half a man.
The complex interpersonal dynamics of the pair as they travel to their agreed upon destination together while Karl tries to find the spy that may be a passenger or stowaway on board livens up what otherwise could have been yet another well written piece of space opera. It's not even about the sex- the pair make love just the once in an emotionally impacting scene, but it is a scene that proves to be pivotal for our hero in so many ways. At once examining the often underhanded tactics bureaucrats will use to further their aims, the poverty and lack of enough after-care disabled veterans often endure, as well themes of prejudice, ego, and an examination of the possible true scope of human potential, this short novel packs quite the story in within its pages.
Please note that while this story takes place in the same universe as one of his previous novels, Dark Edge of Honor, you don't have to have read Dark Edge to understand what is going on as they are stand alone stories set in the same fictional universe. I'd love to see a sequel featuring this particular duo and the rest of the mercenary crew however, as there are so many possibilities for what happens next as they journey along their adventures and while the conflict between the political factions continues to heat up.
This book is available as either a paperback or as an ebook, and I'd like to thank Riptide Books for providing me with my review edition. You can also follow Riptide Books (@Riptidebooks) and AleksandrVoinov(@AleksandrVoinov) via Twitter for the latest news on upcoming releases and other related news.
Jayden Carter couldn't believe his luck. After scouring the ads for room-mates wanted, he finds eventually finds the perfect place. Dr. Ethan Bryant has a lovely home, and he values having a good house-mate over the amount of money he could probably charge for such a lush place. The pair hit it off socially too, and it seems the perfect place to be. Just one thing niggles at Jayden however, and that is the room at the end of the hallway by their bedrooms that is designated as off limits. He manages to ignore it until the evening he spies Ethan escorting a good looking girl into said room. The door closes, and then it strikes him. He can't hear a thing. Not a single muffled sound from the adjacent room, and it strikes him as slightly odd. As he observes this go on a few more times, his curiosity begins to grow. Why can't he hear anything? Surely he should at least hear the murmur of voices? And so he does the one thing he knows he promised not to do. He tries the door one day while Ethan is at work, and when he finds it unlocked, he opens it. Surely Ethan won't know if he just looks, right?
What he finds is beyond his wildest imaginings. He doesn't know quite what to think. He gets along with Ethan and loves living in his house, so he hopes he can manage to not look guilty over what the breach of trust he's committed. But somehow Ethan knows, and the consequences of that open the door to something Jayden never imagined he'd be part of - the world of domination and submission. Together with Ethan and his sub Lexi, Jayden begins an exploration of not only his sexuality, but his very psyche. They are all friends outside of the room, but not lovers in or out of it in the truest sense. But can they truly separate love and desire?
Jayden is a seemingly average guy- except for how closely he plays to societal and parental expectations, he's nothing really remarkable. Hat is, until he takes a step away from the defined straight and narrow path. Both frightened and exhilarated, he takes that first step into the taboo world of dominations and submission. Identifying as a straight male, he nonetheless finds himself craving Ethan's dominance, and while Jayden does have sex with fellow sub Lexi, he also willingly submits himself sexually to Ethan As each scene unfolds , Jayden discovers his personal limits and innermost desires. He begins to feel free in a way he never dreamed of, but is at the same time aware that no one outside of the lifestyle and within the confines of that room should ever find out.
When the unthinkable happens and he is is discovered in a compromising position with Ethan by his sister, his world begins to unravel as he finds he must reconcile his hidden personal world to the rest of himself, and that includes aspects of his life outside of their sanctuary. Battling negative preconceptions from within and without, he also has to contend with confusing emotions and sexual identity. Can he keep his family and still have what he craves? And what about love? Can he have true love within the lifestyle? And about Lexi..as a straight male, it's her he loves, right? But what about Ethan? Jayden struggles to maintain order within an exploding world of possibilities, becoming all too aware that his choices actually do affect others in ways he is only beginning to understand. One may take orders within a scene, but ultimately, one must choose their own destiny, and it is this that Jayden struggles with the most.
Through it all, his friendship with Ethan and Lexi outside of the scenes they play help give him balance while at the same time adding to his confusion. The two very different aspects of his friends' personalities shown during these different times leaves him trying to rationalise his own relationship and desires, without necessarily seeing them as an integrated whole. Jayden saw himself as an adult before this, and chronologically he is, but the events that take place are the real catalyst to him moving into adult relationships as he begins to see beyond himself and really see beneath the veneer people around him hide behind. Even his parents are a revelation to him, as he is confronted with the complex thoughts and emotions they express when his sister calls them with a wild version of events, a version coloured by her own narrow view of sexuality and the shock of how she discovers Jayden's secret. Through it all, Barnaby manages to not demonise anyone, and the characters remain relateable and even likeable all through it, despite how they react when confronted with sexual ideas outside of their own comfort zone. The BDSM element leans heavily towards the Dominance and submission end of the spectrum, with less sadomasochism than one might expect.
Make no mistake, this is no 50 Shades- while I was surprised to find this had also initially begun life tentatively as a piece of fan fiction in the same genre of 50 Shades, it is quite obvious that the characters in this work evolved far beyond their initial inspiration becoming unique personalities with their own social dynamic and the BDSM world is also portrayed much more accurately with sex scenes that positively sizzle. Ethan in particular is a complex person, with his own inner demons pushing him towards a need to control his environment and making romantic relationships difficult for him as he tends to rationalise his way out of them. It doesn't leave him without compassion however, and it is this fusion of traits that make him the master Dom that he is. His reasoning behind what occurs during a scene, his careful preparations, and his care of his subs before, after, and during a scene are well considered and show more than passing knowledge of the scene by the author. This is further borne out by the very accurate portrayal of a newbie to the scene complete with the exhilaration, the confusion, and even the misconceptions that is quickly tutored out. We're left with a well written piece of original erotica with flowing, natural prose, featuring m/f/m pairings in a BDSM setting that is not too harsh an introduction to the world for the uninitiated, but realistic and familiar enough to be comfortable yet also arousingly erotic and mentally engaging for the more experienced.
***Obligatory Warning- this review contains themes of a very sexual nature****
Despite having been together for quite some time now, the sexual part of mine and my husband's relationship is quite active. We also like to play quite a bit, so the Love Honey shop is where I tend to go to shop for certain supplies as they have a very good inventory and decent customer service.
Now, friction during sex is great, and while I admit to liking a bit of a burn, when putting certain objects in particular cavities, lube is a definite must. Not just any lube will do either. Given where it is going to be used, the materials any toys are made of, and any allergies the user(s) may have, if you're using condoms (or no), you have to be careful just what you use. Having a good many silicone toys, I chose a safe water based lubricant. Admittedly this is advertised as an anal lubricant, but it can actually be used vaginally as well.
As Love Honey is an online shop once I paid, I had to wait a couple of days for it to arrive (literally- it was all of 2 days), and the lubricant came well packaged with the two new toys the other half added to the order., with nothing rolling about and no labels or printing on the outside screaming "sex shop!" Even the label looked so innocently vanilla, I had to suppress a smile. The lubricant itself comes in a clear see through bottle with a pump style top, rather like some hand lotions. Unlike the pumps on the Durex lubricants, it did not require one hand to hold and another to firmly press, so adding additional lubricant during play is simple and easy. Just be careful though, as the lubricant flows quite easily and too vigorous a pump will definitely give you more lube than you bargained for.
Consistency wise we've both been quite impressed. It's as slick as many excellent silicone body lubes, but not so slippery that toys slide away. Unlike many other water based lubes, Durex included, we found this doesn't go dry nor tacky, so once you've applied the correct amount, you're good to go without need of re-application. When used vaginally, I found no later irritation but if engaging in oral sex, be aware that this product is tasteless, so if you prefer a bit of flavour, you'd best look to another lube for this part of your fun. Where this lube really comes into its own though is anally. Whether applied to aid stretching and then either on a toy or penis, the satiny feel greatly enhanced this lube's performance.
An added bonus is that this is a bio-static lube- that means that any bacteria, yeast infection wotsits or fungal spores it possibly encounters will be stopped from spreading. In addition, as it's water based and colour-free, if you happen to get any on the sheets, it washes off without leaving a stain, even if using a cold quick wash cycle (it's also glycerine free). Given the performance, versatility and overall quality of the lube, a 250 ml bottle is well worth the £9.99 price tag.
Kei Arimoto and Makoto Ohtaki had been bosom buddies since middle school, but their relationship begins to change as college forces the two to spend more time apart. Kei is using all his wiles to take their relationship to the next level but Makoto continues to resist a more physical connection. Can Makoto finally acquiesce to Kei's advances or will he find his soul mate stolen by a formidable rival instead? "Love Soul" shows that their paths to true love and positions in bed can be ambiguous and painfully funny. Includes two extra stories: In "Love is a Question", Harada finds himself falling for his best friend's rival in love. In "Double Face", Atsushi is determined to seal away an evil power - but must he risk his friend's life?-
I'm going to have to 'fess up. I've had this book in my review pile for quite some time, and I've read it several times before writing this up. That said, I put off writing this review because I couldn't quite decide what I wanted to say about this manga as I have rather mixed feelings about it.
The localization isn't the issue- the translation is smooth and natural, the editor did a good job all 'round, and the letterer did an ace job. The problem lies in HOW the story is told. We get thrust straight into the story while Kei and Ohtaki are adults, and any backstory tends to be fleetingly alluded to, but not with any real emotionally impacting reason. No past event caused any angst or trauma or anything. In fact, that is rather the whole point- these two have just sort of drifted along calling each other boyfriend, but without anything really more than a few kisses. Kei is rather anxious about that, and is getting a bit insistent about moving forward. Makoto is resistant because he doesn't want to bottom, but his reason is one that really the pair needs to explore and don't. In fact, the mangaka doesn't even bring up that titbit again (Makoto has some idea that it makes him the "woman" in their relationship).
Then there is the fact that the progress of the story is via loosely connected vignettes. We get isolated incidents in their lives, and these are quite entertaining in themselves, especially a fiasco at a host club, but without any continuity or connection to each other other than the fact that the two are boyfriends and haven't done "that", there isn't really one. It left me feeling like I was drifting along and catching parts of a show, getting enough to grasp what as going on, and being left unresolved. Yup, there's an ambiguous ending, which is cute, but all things considered, ultimately not super satisfying. I came away feeling I had had a sweet little taster of BL rather than a full snack or a meal.
That said, the art and layout were well done and easy to follow, and was very adept at conveying emotions without having to resort to exaggeration or lots of little asides. Her backgrounds were well done as well, and I quite liked the way her side cast of characters were depicted. No one was too gorgeous, or too ugly. In fact, even the two main characters were realistically without a lot of fanfare. This actually gave me more of a lift in how I felt about this, as this very ordinariness made me come to view the vignettes as little slices of life. Upon subsequent readings, Kei and Makoto became friends I just happened to observe at certain opportune moments, and the way the plot just sort of drifted as a shared theme became more palatable. The two non-related extras are pleasant enough as well, though the last one begs for a continuation, it simply felt like it had unfinished business further along.
So, do I recommend this manga? I'd have to say you have to be in the right kind of mood for this. If you're looking for a quietly funny story that is all about the relationship itself and don't feel the urge for Mr Super Rich and Drop Dead Gorgeous, then this is definitely a safe bet. It's definitely one that grows on you, given half a chance.
I deal with erotica on a daily basis. It's no huge secret- I translate Japanese manga and light novels, and the majority of the titles I've worked on have been classified as erotica. I also review many, many titles, both manga as well as prose novels, that come under that classification. There are a good many more that I read for pleasure, both LGBT as well as hetero, and after awhile of being exposed to so many different books by so very many different authors, one comes to appreciate the well plotted and well written.
The sorting of the merely good to the great can be further pared down by how well the author has portrayed key elements within a sub-genre. Mistakes in key plot elements often ruin a book, as the gaffes make the plot ever more improbable. Of course, every writer can't have an in depth knowledge of absolutely everything, but there is a rule usually best adhered to: "Write what you know". If you didn't know it before, you'd best do extensive research using reputable resources before sticking your neck out, else risk getting called out on errors. So, how did this stack up?
Well, let's take such a look at one of the key elements of this particular book: BDSM. Now, when I first heard about this book, I was intrigued. I then read an interview where the author admitted she knew nothing about BDSM herself, and did several other interviews where she admitted to no actual research on the subject, bar watching a few porn videos and reading some internet sites. Oh, and she kinda knows one guy she finds strange, and he happens to claim to be into BDSM. Uh oh...these facts do NOT bode well for accuracy. Now, if the BDSM in the story is of the Ann Summers role play type fun, this is pretty okay. But when you base an entire novel around a supposed serious and experienced BDSM practitioner and base the "love affair" around said "lifestyle", you need to know a bit more than one obvious weirdo, a few websites that may be suspect, and some porn videos (which as we all know are sooo realistic... yes, that's sarcasm. And I do know a lot about porn actually, and how it's filmed, due to some other professional acquaintances, but that's another story entirely).
When portraying a lifestyle, one first has to understand it. BDSM is no exception. First off, let's look at that acronym- BDSM. What does it stand for? Well, TWO things actually. Firstly, Bondage, Dominance, and SubMission. That pretty much explains the lifestyle as a whole. Within that are subcategories, where the S and M can stand for Slave and Master and/or Sado-Masochism. These subcategories are towards the more extreme end of the lifestyle, and often the most sensationalised. On a scale of 1-10 , think of the blindfolds and scarves role play end as the 1 and those last two as being 9 and 10. Most people into the lifestyle fall somewhere between these, and you are quite likely to NEVER guess. In fact, those that go so far as to submit to a collaring, you'd probably never know about, as it isn't necessarily a dog style collar- it could be a necklace, a bracelet, a unique finger ring, or even a cock-ring.
Now, admittedly, regardless of how far up the kink scale you go, there is dominance and there is submission. And we get that...Christian Grey is a Dominant who meets virginal Ana while she substitutes for her friend and goes to interview him for their university newspaper. She falls flat on her face as she is a right clumsy clots, and he is immediately endeared and decides that her shy embarrassment may indicate the makings of a damn good Sub. Ana is wowed by his good looks and gets her first sexual crush. And so their little mating dance begins, only Ana IS actually a virgin. Not only that, but despite having a worldly room mate and best friend and a mother who's working on yet another marriage, she is also woefully naïve. All she actually knows about love and romance comes from classic British lit, such as Thomas Hardy and the Bronte sisters and such. So when Christian shows her his playroom, she is freaked out. But also turned on. So, since it unexpectedly makes her panties wet for the first time ever and gives her an erotic orgasm inducing dream about being cropped on her genitals, she decides on the spur of the moment that Mr Grey is indeed the one for her.
Well, that is, except for what seems is every other paragraph. Grey is completely upfront with her on several scores- he normally doesn't do the girlfriend thing, but he's willing to try for her as she feels different. And he carefully explains the lifestyle to her. James' handling of this is just fine, up to a point. That is the point where her lack of in depth knowledge on the lifestyle shows up. Firstly, she has Christian tell Ana that he is NOT a sadist, but a Dominant, and indeed, the hard limits portion of the D/s contract's list seems to address this on the surface. But during the course of the story, several times she has Christian mention how much he loves to inflict pain and gets off on it. Sorry...but that's the mark of sadist, not an "ordinary" Dominant.
Indeed, the further and further along I read, the more the lack of knowledge became obvious, to the point of being a near fatal flaw to the entire premise. It also seemed to me that not only was Ana based on Twilight's Bella in look and in mannerisms, but was also perhaps a mouthpiece for the author's own preconceptions and possible prejudices. In fact, I find Ana to be someone with some serious personal issues. She has a very negative self body image for one thing. She's also prone to simply not eating and as soon as ANYONE asks her if she's eaten, she mentally starts rebelling and calling them names. She even resorts to it over an act of courtesy...being left 2 ibuprofen and a glass of orange juice by her bed to help her deal with her hang over from the previous night's drinking binge is apparently overbearing and domineering. This is something she does with great regularity over other, often trivial, things as well.
Take for example her interview session with Grey at the very beginning. She asks him about his role as company president, and when he answers with a reply that pretty much sums up what every other successful CEO I have ever heard has said the job, she mentally calls him a control freak. Eh? She also refers to her best friend as a control freak, but only in her head (to her face she's nice as pie). Pretty much anyone who is assertive, or tries to remind her to do what she is supposed to be doing anyway, or who is self confident and in a position of any authority, is a control freak to Ana. The fact that he is a Dominant just seals the deal and makes her feel smug about her savvy intuition. But this is a fatal reasoning flaw.
In a D/s relationship, it is NOT the Dominant who wields the control- it is the submissive. The Dominant is bound to the terms of the contract, and also to any time the Sub feels the need to simply stop what is happening (safeword usage). The Dominant only has control over scenes and situations that have been agreed upon, and ONLY when the Sub decides to go along with it. It all has a purpose as well, and it is NOT the reason of "getting off", though that is a form of release that a scene between a Dom/me and his/her sub may culminate in. The purpose is to explore one's self...not just the sexual side, but to also find balance and one's centre and thereby experience personal growth. In fact, much of what occurs between a Dom and his sub (during a scene) is to tear down personal barriers and allow the sub to "fly". This occurs when endorphins are released either through pain or pleasure thresholds being breached, resulting in a euphoric state commonly known as Subspace. The Dom not only has the obligation to help the Sub reach this place, but to care for their safety and well being while there and to help them come down gently.
Why get there at all? While in Subspace, a Sub is pretty blissed out, and their mind is pretty blank. When they come down, whatever stress, upsets, or issues they suffer from is packed away, and can be dealt with from a now more objective point of view. It need not be anything major, in fact it can be just day to day frustrations. And the Dominant gets the joy of knowing he has helped his Sub, though during part of the flying, the Dominant may seek sexual release to relieve his own surge of endorphins and the resulting hormonally induced urges. In fact, the sub is usually quite sexually excited as well, so this works well.
This little titbit did not go unnoticed by James, but it gets played the shame card. Yes, Ana is ASHAMED. It's WRONG to get excited by being held down, or from erotic spankings. And it's twisted that Grey gets excited administering to this side of her, so the blame gets laid by Ana (and thereby by James), squarely on Christian's shoulders. To justify it, James has Ana clutch at straws. Grey suffered early childhood trauma before being raised in a happy, normal family that he fits in rather well with, but seemingly left him obviously damaged to the point where he is a sadistic pervert. He also had a Mrs Robinson type relationship during high school and part of university, so obviously he was led astray. Blah blah blah. Really?! His very early childhood may have left him with issues about hunger and wasted food (which led him to be a philanthropist relieving world hunger) and liking to be in charge, but to twist him into a sexual sadist? Err...just no. And that Mrs Robinson? She saw a kindred soul and introduced him into the world of kink, yes, and he was just shy of the age of consent which is just WRONG, but you can't create that which isn't there in nascent form. It wasn't even a 24/7 thing, but a ROLE play sort, as Christian himself admits. Nor did he think that he loved her...he just enjoyed the sex play. They "played" when they met up and he went on about his normal business at all other times, including going away to university. It was such a non issue, that the rest of his family, to whom he is shown to be quite close to, hadn't a friggin' clue. Huh. Okay...it's messed up, sure, but still not something that could have that twisted him into some kind of warped human being, given the the scenario.
In point of fact, modern psychiatry does NOT view BDSM as a sexual deviancy unless the BDSM behaviour is: 1) obligatory, 2) results in sexual dysfunction, 3) requires the participation of non-consenting individuals, 4) leads to legal complications, or 5) interferes in social relationships. None of which are true for Christian Grey. He not only requires consent, but won't move forward without it. It's NOT obligatory...he initiates vanilla sex on more than one occasion, as Ana wishes. Sexual dysfunction? Nope...legal complications...again, no...interference in social relationships..again...nuh uh. He only hasn't veered from having sex friends as it were before this point, because, well, he didn't fall in love with anyone else before. Fair enough. In light of this, the whole house of cards just sort of begins to fall down.
Likewise, I found Ana rather too immature in her general world view. Everyone who is vaguely nice to you is NOT your friend. Everyone who reminds you that you need to eat, or offers you advice, or tries to make sure you have what you need when ill, is NOT a control freak. And every other paragraph breaking out the "Oh golly!" and "Oh gosh!" and other 1950's Disney movie teen sayings only hammers home her childishness. Her insipid shallowness in regards to material things hammers this home as well. She takes a lot of time describing in minute detail just how posh everything is...whether it's a suit worn by a secretary we never see again, to the layout of his penthouse, to what his place-mats are made up of. She simply gushes over it in awe, all the while denigrating herself and patting her low self esteem on the back. But let someone try to share any of their good fortune by gifting...look out! It's control freak time again, being patronising, sulking "whatever" time. I actually began to wonder if Ana was bi-polar, as she was prone to such extreme mood swings.
And as for the sex scenes being "hot"...well, there is a good reason this got dubbed "mummy porn" I've found. Now, don't get me wrong...there is porn and then there is porn...and then there is erotica. The book may have been intended as erotica, but the sex scenes read like the script to some cheap porn you might find free online. I've got to say it...these scenes were almost cringe-worthy. In fact, I did actually cringe during a few. If you want to get an idea of what I mean without buying the book, Google "50 Shades tampon scene" and have a good read, as it's quoted in full in several places, including Tumblr. I've read a LOT of erotica, and a a Sub myself with over 20 years being in and around the community, I admit I do like to read erotica with a BDSM kink in it. I can tell you I have read much, much better. If I had to name just one, right off the top of my head, I'd recommend Anne Rice's Beauty series before this one. Even if you happened to enjoy this book, I'd still recommend Anne Rice's Beauty series...her prose is a sensual delight in itself.
This is, of course, book one of a trilogy, so the end is not the end. Suffice it to say, Ana's issues get in the way of things and so the story needs to drag out across two more volumes-where she hopes to fix him and "drag him into the light". Which all sits very uncomfortably with me, echoing as it does certain sections of society that view anything different to being morally wrong and in need of "fixing". Gay? Let us fix you... Like BDSM? Let us fix you...It's not a disorder, so these things are not something that needs fixing. What needs fixing is one's own insecurities that leads to a need to build oneself up while crying "deviant" and "control freak" or "weirdo" at everyone around you with alarming regularity. Rather than a boyfriend, I believe Ana requires a therapist, because this is precisely what she does, often while whining about how she needs a hair tie because her hair simply will not behave.
The book's editor seemingly needs professional help as well, as he or she seems to be having a crisis so that they cannot tell where they are, or where the character is from apparently. I'm aware James is a Brit. But the book is set in Seattle, and Ana several times refers to the southern state of Georgia as "home" (Ana and her Mom moved each time her mother remarried right up until Washington state, whereupon Ana stayed on with her then stepfather, seemingly as a teen. Mama's latest marital conquest has her back in Georgia). I spent several years in Georgia, as mentioned in a previous review. Ana exhibits absolutely NO Southern speech patterns...and neither does her mother back in Georgia There are certain "tells", mainly with certain turns of phrases,and such, that alerts a reader that that someone in the book is from the South...whether it is Georgia, or Alabama, or Mississippi or where ever. Not only are these missing, but the general prose veers between US and UK English. It was highly distracting when I came across it.
All in all, I cannot really recommend the book on several levels. James bills this as a fantasy and says it excuses the flaws and inconsistencies, but she has written it to mirror contemporary reality and roots the book deeply within a particular minority community. Her failures to do so consistently and without any properly researched understanding lets the book down. Likewise her sex scenes need work, and I would suggest rather than watch porn videos, that she try reading some well established erotica writers to get ideas on style and content. Lastly, the books need to be re-edited. I understand the story is being made into a film and that someone else is writing the script with the sex scenes made "tasteful", which suggests the film may not end up resembling the book closely (typical Hollywood, that) . So my advice...if you must, simply read the fan fiction that's still up from before she changed the names to be able to sell this (Google, you'll find it I'm sure). Or better yet, read Anne Rice's Beauty trilogy and wait for the 50 Shades movie to come to TV. As for me, I'm glad I was loaned the book and didn't pay for it. If I had, I'd have deserved a paddling.
I've gotta tell you...I've lived in a lot of places and had some...experiences. Growing up, most of my childhood was spent in various parts of the American South: Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, etc. While I have some happy memories, I also know from personal experience what being different is like, and always being the new kid to boot? Let's just say I learned to defend myself with my feet and fists, because even at 7 years of age, being different could and did mean a steel pipe across the shins and several punches to the head by a group of jeering...I hesitate to dignify them with the word people, but, oh well. It was not an isolated experience with community violence either.
I also grew up watching a beloved aunt struggle emotionally, as she first tried to conform to heterosexual "norms" and even married a man (a Marine, no less) for a short, very doomed while. To say that living in a small Southern community and having a conservative, religious extended family made it even harder for her would be admitting to a truth. Ultimately, she sought ways to numb her pain...first through alcohol and then via drugs. She did end up finding the love of her life, but sadly, not before much of her mind and body were destroyed. Loving her dearly, and spending many of my summer holidays with her and one of her longer term lovers (the view of the family was, she may be going to Hell, but she's free childcare and makes sure the kids are clean, fed, and put to bed and lives well away so nobody's in our hair), I observed her and her live in lover up close. When not drinking or busy getting high, they seemed like every other couple I knew, except they were two women and not going on and on about God (well, not unless she was drunk or high anyway). It made a deep impression on me, one that helped lead me to be the person I am today. I also have a son who happens to be gay, and I know what kind of life I want him to experience, one of filled with acceptance, happiness, and love. Why am I mentioning these seemingly random things? Well, the book starts in a small, close-knit, religiously conservative community in Alabama and features two young men who grow up side by side and come of age together. Oh yeah...they happen to also be gay.
Little Boy Lost: Enlightened introduces us to Brian McAllister and Jamie Mayfield. They are in their senior year of high school and about to graduate and go on to university. They've been best friends for quite some time, but things have moved on since childhood- Brian and Jamie are in love with each other and that's something that in their rural Alabama town is a definite no-no. In fact, Jamie's parents are very religious. They not only give their faith lip service, but attend church every Sunday and attend church functions without fail. Brian and Jamie know they won't be accepted, so they huddle together in that proverbial closet. They pretend to be straight best friends and make sure to do the straight guys "thing", and no one is none the wiser.
It's not an easy thing to do. Firstly, they love each other deeply. When you love someone that much, you want it all. And so they use the best friends thing to cover up their time spent together, including sleep overs at Jamie's where they covertly kiss and cuddle, and do horny teen-aged stuff. Sleeping over on Saturdays also means going to church with the Mayfields and this is where Brian and Jamie really come face to face with the reality of what being gay in their community means. One Sunday, the preacher does a special sermon on homosexuality. It's a sermon that is to have a lasting impact on their lives, as events move forward. Hidden secrets have a way of coming out, and when they do, the backlash can be exceptionally harsh and violent both physically and emotionally. Brian is left finding out just how much his long term foster family truly has loved him, who his and Jamie's real friends are, and that love is something he finds worth fighting for.
Author J.P. Barnaby has precisely captured the flavour of small town Deep South America. Communities are tight knit and everyone tries to look out for each other. Social activities often revolve around school and church. Now, schools and churches run on conformity, and this can be the crux of a problem when the conformity is challenged. I can recall a period when my mother and I had to live with my grandmother, and yes, it was in a rather small town in the Deep South. There was rather a big to do about an older girl- she had the audacity to be a tomboy and not in the "acceptable" way either. You see, it was OK to be in 4-H. It was OK to maybe wear jeans if you were working in the yard or garden or horseback riding or something. But to refuse to wear a dress to school, to church, or to town, now, that was "wrong". That made you unwomanly apparently, and that meant you either were going to be (oh horror) a feminist...or even "worse"...a lesbian! So, steps were taken by the ladies of the community, by her teacher, and her parents. I don't think those steps worked, because a scant month later, she was sent away to stay with an aunt or something who lived in an even more rural area, presumably to remove whatever was "tempting" the young lady to such "extreme" nonconformity.
Now, that was just from being a tomboy when she was over the age of 12. My aunt grew up in that town, and she WAS a lesbian. She NEVER came to visit. In fact, the ONLY time I ever heard her mentioned was the night before Mama disappeared, and that was during an argument Mama was initially was having with Granny over me (turned out Granny had her admitted to a "clinic" for "mental problems". She came back a different person). I was only a child, but I knew two things:
1.My aunt was "funny" (this is how they referred to her being gay, and I often heard it used to describe gays I general)
2. Being "funny" in a place like this was no laughing matter and quite possibly dangerous. Also, disagreeing with the status quo put you in the same dangerous position as the "funny" people. And that could make you vanish and come back...wrong.
Knowing these things viscerally meant that as I read Jamie and Brian's story, I felt a rather uncomfortable familiarity that held more than a small amount of dread. Theirs is a beautiful coming of age story, in the sort of small town that people find charming and idyllic, often wishing they could live there, yet underneath the smiling charms of this town is a very black undercurrent. In the past, it probably had a blatantly racist face. It quite possibly still has traces of that too, and women probably have more "traditional" roles (to put it politely). But homophobia, now that's something the polite folks will deny- they aren't haters. They love you, just not your supposed sin. And they want to fix you. And I'm going to warn you, that particular beast does indeed raise its head, so be prepared to weep right alongside these lovely boys as their lives are literally torn apart.
It's not the end of the world, however, as there are five more books in the series that take us along with Jamie and Brian as they navigate their way through hurt and hope. I found myself buying and downloading the next book one after the other until the end of book 5, where I came up short as the final instalment was not yet out. That's now been remedied (I should thank J.P. Barnaby here herself for that), and it was well worth the wait. The entire series was riveting enough that beginning the journey with these boys with this volume was well worth the time and money spent.
From watching Brian and Jamie try to come to grips with their burgeoning sexuality, to how their families and friends struggled to understand (despite some truly appalling reactions), Little Boy Lost: Enlightened is that rare thing- it's a true mirror of very real things that happen to youths and families, showing every flaw, every naked emotion, and inner thought. It does so without sensationalising, without being overblown drama, giving us emphathetic characters that will draw in nearly every reader. You don't have to be gay or know someone who is to appreciate this book. But once you read it, you will come to understand just what all the fuss is about as it shines the light in those dark corners.
This is available both in print and as an ebook in Kindle and epub formats. While it is available from Amazon, if buying one of the ebook versions, I personally recommend purchasing via the All Romance Books site, as for every 10 books you buy, you get a free one, and they do all genres of romantic fiction, not just LGBT.
Having overcome the trials and tribulations encountered in volume 1, everything at first seems like it will all be going Kei and Ranmaru's way. But the gods have a way of laughing ingraciously at people who settle anywhere near a peaceful outlook. With Ran's ability to walk restored and him gaining back much of his strength and range of movement, trouble comes knocking in the form of family. Before his accident Ran was not only extremely gifted at kendo, but the heir apparent to the family's prestigious kendo dojo. Ran's grandfather expects him to return and resume training, to gain back as much as his former glory as possible, and take up his rightful place as a sensei at the dojo. This of course is no simple matter. It not only would entail grueling retraining of muscles that only recently began to approach normal use for an average person, but his grandfather's demands would mean possibly moving back to the dojo and leaving the flat he shares with Kei. Seeing as his traditionalist grandfather has no clue that Ran and Kei are gay, never mind about the room mate thing being a cover-up for their status as live-in lovers, this is an especially delicate situation.
And Ran is not alone in his family troubles- one evening while out, Kei spots half brother Kai conducting a drug trade. The family's yakuza group is a traditional one and as such, follows the honour code which forbids trade in illegal drugs. So what is Kai doing? Is he striking out on his own? Is he trying to expand the Group's business without permission, and sullying the reputation of the Group while doing so? Kei doesn't know, but is determined to find out. He may not be close to his half brother and has foresworn the family business but he has no desire to see Kai get in over his head and so sets events in motion that no one could have possibly foreseen. With the two families pulling in opposite directions, can Kei not only make Kai see sense before it's too late but see his bond with Ranmaru remain unbroken?
Once again Kodaka presents a story that is very plot driven and rich in exquisite detail. her characters remain as humanly flawed as ever, filled with the tiny character quirks that add to the complexities of their psyche and make them seem all the more realistic. Even the more minor characters are fully fleshed out with vivid personalities, making the ensemble cast surprisingly easy to follow. Her visuals are as rich as ever, imparting a sense of emotional empathy that really adds punch to the unfolding drama. From the most seemingly insignificant moments to the big pivotal watersheds, every single scene is used to layer the feelings of the reader so that the tension is ratcheted up almost imperceptibly which makes the experience that much more cathartic in nature when the big moments arrive.
This is rated an 18+ and while is due to scenes of violence and illegal drug trafficking, the main reason is the graphic depictions of Ran and Kei's physical expressions of their love. Kodaka is not shy about showing us just what these two get up to, enough so that the sobriquet "porn with an actual plot" is often used in the US in regards to this body of work. But I disagree. The scenes are not there to titillate, but rather come about naturally within the story. These are two young lovers trying to build a life together, and like all other lovers, that sometimes leads to sex. The difference here is that just as with real life, we don't get a big fade to black moment as soon as the kissing starts. They are both men, so if you can't handle a bit of guy on guy action, you might want to skip ahead several panels or simply avoid this altogether.
This currently available as a paperback from Digital Manga Publishing under their June imprint, and I'd like to thank them for providing me with a review copy.