Monthly Archives: March 2016

Thief by Ava March

Thief

Thief by Ava March

Series: Brook Street, Book 1
Published by: Carina Press on March 19, 2012
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Lord Benjamin Parker thinks he might prefer the company of men. He can only think because he’s never actually experienced it. But he’s learned there’s a place he can go to pick up a guy. And he tells himself he will give it one chance. Much to his surprise, he picks up the gorgeous Cavin Fox. He soon finds that one night with Cavin is not enough. He needs and wants more.

For Cavin, this is like any other night. He’ll his mark, flirt with him, and get him alone. He’ll spend the night with him, but then make off with his cash before the sun comes up. And that’s his plan when he first meets Benjamin. But there’s something about this gentleman that Cavin didn’t expect. And he finds that robbing him just doesn’t feel right.

To make matters worse for Cavin, circumstances bring him face-to-face with Benjamin again. The goal is to never run into a mark again. And even though Benjamin doesn’t know what Cavin’s plan was, it’s still a risk and it’s uncomfortable. Benjamin makes it clear he wants to pursue something more with Cavin. Cavin’s not exactly opposed to the idea, but he knows it can’t be. There’s no way Benjamin could accept Cavin if he knew what he did for a living. And there’s the issue of trying to escape the leader of Cavin’s gang. The chances that things will work out for them are slim. But they met in a gambling establishment, so neither is averse to games of chance…

Regency gay romance? Sign me up. And these two guys…I just can’t get enough. Their interactions, their feelings for each other, and their…well..private moments are so well written. I felt immersed in the story on every page. I definitely give this a solid recommendation!

Thief on the Carina Press website

Lazy Sundays by K-lee Klein

Lazy Sundays

Lazy Sundays by K-lee Klein

Published by: Goodreads M/M Romance Group on July 3, 2012
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Scott can hardly believe he’s landed Devon. Devon’s edgy and rugged, sporting long hair and tattoos. Scott, in contrast, is geeky, straight-laced, and clean-cut. He’s an accountant, and he lives many of the stereotypes. So when Devon turns into more than just a one-time thing, Scott can’t help his surprise. The two fall into a routine. Devon shows up on Saturday nights, and they spend all day Sunday together. Devon’s company feels right to Scott, and the time they spend in bed feels even better. But Scott realizes something after several weeks–they never go out. And the one time they did, Devon cut the date short and they headed home. Already insecure about being with Devon, Scott can’t help thinking that Devon is hiding something. And the truth is that he is. But it’s nothing like what Scott expects.

This novella is a short and engaging read. Although it jumps in after Scott and Devon have started their relationship, there’s no problem being right there with them. And the author gets us into Scott’s head right away. Early on, we know of his insecurities and we know his reservations. The story is all from Scott’s perspective, so we, as readers, know just as much about Devon as the character does. And that makes it even easier to understand where Scott is coming from. (Though I found that I still wanted to shake some sense into him more than once.)

The theme of trust–acting because of insecurities and misunderstandings–is strong here. Forgiveness and admitting to one’s mistakes also end up at the center. While none of these themes are particularly surprising in a romance story, the strong writing makes them resonate with the reader. Making something expected feel unexpected is a hallmark of good writing. And you’ll find good writing here.

Foxes by Suki Fleet

Foxes

Foxes by Suki Fleet

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on February 8, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Danny finds it difficult to interact with other people. A street kid who is great with technology–he can fix almost anything–most people avoid him. So becoming friends with Dashiel was quite the blessing. But Dashiel’s murder left Danny all alone once again. So he’s made it his mission to find Dashiel’s murderer. He goes out on the street each night to take notes on the guys he sees–looking for the sharks who prey on vulnerable young men.

When Danny meets Mickey, a young American hustler, he feels an unexplained urge to protect his new friend. In some ways, it reminds him of the way Dashiel always looked out for him. He knows Danny is in danger, though he’s not sure from what. As the two get closer, Danny confronts things about himself that challenge him. And he finds that to help Mickey, he may have to reach beyond the world he’s created for himself. It will be uncomfortable, but it might just be worth it.

This book made me ache most of the time I was reading it. Not because it was bad; it was actually great. It’s just that these characters have it rough. And they’re so wonderful that it’s tough to see them in these situations. There’s a raw grittiness to this story, without it feeling too heavy at the same time. And the author does an excellent job of drawing readers into Danny’s world, to see it the way he lives in it.

While this is challenging read because of the characters’ circumstances, I don’t want that to keep people from picking it up off the shelf. Because it is a great piece of literature–a work of art, really. And it tells what I think is an important story of two young men who need to find a way to persevere despite their circumstances.

Foxes at the Dreamspinner Press website

The Lone Rancher by Andrew Grey

The Lone Rancher

The Lone Rancher by Andrew Grey

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on February 15, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Aubrey Klein cam home to help his family when they were in trouble. His parents haven’t been the best at managing their money. As a result, they are in danger of losing the ranch. He can’t let that happen. And he would do whatever it takes. Which is how he ended up dancing at a club in Dallas on the weekends. And he figures he’s safe. It’s far enough away that people shouldn’t recognize him. And his moniker, The Lone Rancher, allows him to wear a mask that makes that even less likely. But when Aubrey sees his old friend, Garrett Lamson, at one of the shows, he’s in trouble. He doesn’t think Garrett recognized him, but he’d be lying if he told himself Garrett wasn’t attractive. The two end up running into each other after the show, and their friendship rekindles. And it doesn’t take long for them to both realize they want something more. Something that might inspire both of them to come out to their families and be open about who they are.

But Aubrey still hasn’t told Garrett about his weekend activities. Would Garrett mind, though? After all, he was at one of the shows. He must have some appreciation for what Aubrey is doing. But it’s one thing to watch someone up on the stage and another to have that person be your boyfriend, right? And it’s not like Aubrey is proud of it. That’s why he’s kept it a secret. But he plans to stop as soon as the ranch is safe. So maybe he can just stick it out until then and Garrett will never have to know. If he can live with the guilt…

This is something different from Andrew Grey and I enjoyed every moment of it. A unique story with interesting characters placed in situations that are both tense and entertaining. I’ve been trying to think of another book with a similar storyline, and I can’t think of one. Yes, there are some similar themes, but nothing with this type of story. Which is quite a feat when it comes to new M/M these days.

Needless to say, I recommend this one. It’s sweet, fun, and a bit frustrating at times. The hallmarks of a great romance novel, for sure.

The Lone Rancher at the Dreamspinner Press website

The Winter Prince by R. Cooper

The Winter Prince

The Winter Prince by R. Cooper

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on February 24, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Prince Kisin is in trouble. A powerful pari stole his heart three years ago. As time has passed, he’s become cold–both in temperature and temperament. Without a heart, his veins are turning to ice. And he likely won’t survive another winter. Unable to empathize with his family, he’s content to leave them, knowing he will never come back. The court wizard, Razin, who also happens to be a childhood friend of Kisin, will not let Kisin’s plan stand. He convinces the prince that they must set out to find the pari. If they can find the pari, perhaps they can get Kisin’s heart back. But Razin doesn’t know the real story of how Kisin lost his heart. And Kisin’s not ready to let Razin find out. Can Razin convince Kisin to open up before it’s too late?

This turned out to be an unexpected epic quest fantasy story. And that’s a welcome sort of unexpectedness for me. Razin knows from the start that the journey won’t be easy. He also knows that Kisin isn’t going to be much help in moving them forward. Although the framing of the story focuses on Kisin, I feel Razin is the one to watch. He’s the hero of this tale, for sure.

A major theme here is that love can be a scary emotion. Being willing to let yourself feel love sometimes requires a commitment that isn’t easy. And when we find ourselves wanting what we think we can’t have, we might want to cast those feelings aside. But uncertainty can sometimes be the thing that makes life worth living. If we aren’t willing to take chances, then we can’t ever expect to get anything more than what falls into our laps. And if good things always happened on their own, would they be as satisfying?

The Winter Prince at the Dreamspinner Press website

Guapa by Saleem Haddad

Guapa

Guapa by Saleem Haddad

Published by: Other Press on March 8, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Rasa’s life has changed dramatically overnight. Last night, his grandmother caught him in bed with his lover, Taymour. Tonight, Taymour is getting married to a woman. And one of his best friends, Maj, is missing, likely arrested sometime during the night. None of these are things he can be open about. And even if he could, his grandmother isn’t speaking to him, and she’s the only family he has. Beyond his personal struggles, the political situation in his country is getting worse. As a translator for foreign journalists, he gets called out on a job that puts him face-to-face with one of the leaders of the resistance. And with everything going on in his life, he can’t help reflecting more and more on who he is and who he wants to be. He spent time in the United States, a land of “freedom.” He came back home, and for a while he had hope for his people. But what does it mean to be free? And who gets to dictate how another person should live? If there will always be a power majority, what hope does the minority have?

Although the premise of this story seems simple, it’s a rather deep read. I found myself thinking and reflecting quite often while I was reading. Rasa is an intelligent young man, and he’s engaged in the world around him. He knows that some parts of his situation are beyond his control. He also knows that he needs to find a way to live with that if he’s going to stop himself from breaking. While he lacks support in some areas of his life, he does have support in others. And maybe it’s those others that need his focus.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but there is one specific point in the book that I need to comment on. When Rasa is thinking back to his time in the United States, he describes his thoughts on being open about his sexuality. He mentions that he could choose to live openly. He could show up places and say he’s proud of who he is. He could pretend to be comfortable in his skin. But that would be a lie. He wasn’t comfortable. He was still trying to come to terms with who he is. His other option would be to make it known that he experienced discomfort and shame. But that would lead to people labeling him a victim of religion and society. Neither of those felt right to him, so he chose neither option.

This point got me thinking and reflecting. I sometimes have to remind people that coming out stories are still relevant. It can be easy to dismiss them as outdated as more people are coming out at younger ages. While some parts of society are becoming more accepting and open, that doesn’t mean everyone feels comfortable being out. And some people are hesitant to speak up about it because it has nothing to do with religion or society. Coming out to yourself can be a difficult process on its own. And coming to terms with that can be difficult, even without any outside influences. So it’s important to remember that there are all kinds of reasons that people struggle. And it’s equally important that we tell and share those stories.

I also appreciated that this story focused on a young man from the Middle East. I almost never see LGBT stories that take place in that part of the world. And we need to have stories where people can find themselves. Just as much as we need stories where people can learn about those different from themselves.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Guapa at the Other Press website

The Stolen Suitor by Eli Easton

The Stolen Suitor

The Stolen Suitor by Eli Easton

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on February 1, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Most people might wonder if Mabe Crassen is serious about her scheme. But her son Jeremy knows better, even though he’s surprised about one aspect of it. Chris Ramsey is set to marry Trix Stubben, a widowed single mother. Trix also just happens to live on the most successful ranch in the area. Mabe has her sights on that ranch, so she’s set her sons to work. Eric, Jeremy’s older brother, is to use his charms on Trix. It shouldn’t be too hard; Eric’s great with the ladies. And Jeremy’s assignment is to seduce Chris. If they can get Chris in a compromising position, there will be no engagement. There are two problems with that: Chris isn’t gay (is he?), and Jeremy’s never come out to his mother. There’s no way she could know, right?

Jeremy isn’t keen on being a part of the scheme. But he wants nothing more than to get out of Clyde’s Corner and go to college. That’s not going to happen as long as he’s needed to contribute to the family finances. His mother’s plan seems like his ticket out. So he’s willing to play along. But will he be able to go through with the plan when he gets to know Chris better? And if he develops feels for Chris, will he be able to leave him behind when he finally gets out of town?

The plot of this one seems like it might be straightforward. But one thing’s for certain: it’s not. There are some major twists here that throw the story for a loop. And the relationships that build here do so in a believable and understandable way. The character development is well done too. The strong writing here brings Clyde’s Corner to life and it’s almost like they all jump right off the page. I had a hard time putting this one down.

The Stolen Suitor on the Dreamspinner Press website

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman Malik

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman Malik

Published by: Tor.com on April 22, 2015
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

As a child, Sal was always fascinated by the stories his grandfather would tell of his life in Pakistan.  And the story he loved more than any other was the one of the Mughal princess. Her family’s protector was a jinn who lived in a eucalyptus tree. And even though few people believed her, Sal’s grandfather wasn’t a big skeptic. And though Sal’s grandfather never said it, Sal always felt there was something more to the story.

When Sal’s grandfather dies, he feels compelled to go check out the source of the stories. Even his girlfriend, Sarah, can see that he seems distracted. Perhaps if he goes to Lahore, he can put the fantastic stories to rest. But instinct is a powerful force, and there may just be more waiting for Sal than he expected.

This is a novella, and I often find reviewing short fiction to be difficult. One of the biggest reasons is that it’s hard to give a synopsis without giving too much away. And because I tend to review based on my reaction, it’s harder to keep from spoiling key parts of the story.

What I did like about this particular story is the way it’s framed. There are so many themes that one can see here: family, travel, exploring your past, fantasy, etc. But it’s woven together in a seamless way. I feel like this is one of those that is likely to mean something a bit different to each reader. And those are some of the best stories to read and share.

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn on Tor.com

Hard Fall by James Buchanan

Hard Fall

Hard Fall by James Buchanan

Series: Deputy Joe, Book 1
Published by: MLR Press on February 13, 2009
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Joe Peterson is a dedicated and respected sheriff’s deputy. He’s active in the Mormon church. He’s also gay and in the closet. But he figures it’s a secret he can keep. It’s never gotten in the way of his work or his life. But when Kabe Varghese shows up in the area, Joe’s not quite sure what to do. Kabe pushes every one of Joe’s buttons. And Kabe is also an ex-con, recently released on parole. When a mysterious death occurs on the ranch where Kabe is staying, Joe asks him to help investigate. He needs someone who can climb with him without risking a fall. But it may just be the one at risk of falling is Joe. And if he falls for Kabe, can he live with the consequences?

I’ve heard people say that coming out stories have lost their relevance. They reason that society is accepting now. They argue that people need not fear being out. And I can agree with wanting the world of “the closet” to be in the past. But the truth is that it’s not. For many people, and for many reasons, it’s still not safe to live out loud. Some communities just aren’t there yet. And many professions remain conservative. For Joe, as a Mormon and law enforcement officer, his sexuality isn’t going to go over with everyone. And even when one wants to live openly, you have to consider those outside influences.

Of course, there are characters in this book that I dislike. But I understand why they’re there. And even though this book is from a few years ago, I think the story’s still rather relevant. I plan to pick up the next book in the series when I get a chance.

Hard Fall at the MLR Press website

 

Musings on Book Fandom – Thursday Thoughts #2

Thursday Thoughts

On Thursdays, I take a break from reviewing books to share my thoughts on all things books, fandom, and random. All opinions are my own. Yours may differ. Feel free to respectfully disagree and discuss in the comments.

One of the communities I identify with online is fandom. And fandom is a rather broad term, as it consists of so many smaller sub-communities. So, to be more specific, one of the primary groups I’m a part of is book fandom.

The other day, a colleague asked me about my fandoms. She asked, “What do you spend your time on outside of work? What excites you?” And my response included books, reading, and volunteering. It also included specific television shows and podcasts. And since I’d already been thinking about the nature of book fandom, I walked away with more on the brain.

When I talked about being a fan of books, I left it at just “books and reading.” When I described being a fan of other media, I cited specific examples. And I tend to notice this is the case for many when it comes to fandom. In other media, people tend to identify on a more direct level with a specific work. And while there are books and series that have active fandom groups, I sometimes feel like it’s not on the same level.

For me, I think a big part of this is just the nature of books themselves. As someone who would describe himself as a huge fan of books, I don’t often read the same book twice. There have been a few exceptions over the years. But I usually prefer to read something new if I can. So that means that the experience of reading a book isn’t always a sustained one. Yes, I spend time thinking about a book after it’s finished. I usually review it, recommend it, and talk about it (if it’s a good one!). But I’m onto the next book by the next day.

With movies, it seems a bit easier to do a re-watch. And television shows usually run over a period of days, week, months, or even years. There’s an increased ease with which one can engage with a work over a sustained period in those types of media. Thus, I think it becomes easier to identify with a specific work rather than the medium as a whole.

But that identification with specific works brings its own challenges. Television fandom finds itself segmented, and sometimes that leads to tension across fans of the medium. In book fandom, because we so often jump from book to book, it seems easier to feel like a part of the broader community. I don’t have to watch three seasons of a show to catch up to a fellow blogger. I just need to pick up that book she’s just recommended and see if I feel the same way.

When I try to identify what makes me a part of book fandom, I think of my brother. If you ask him what he likes to read, he will tell you the names of the two books he’s read cover to cover. And then he’ll let you know those are the only two books he’s read cover to cover. If you ask me what I like to read, you best have at least a half hour to even just dip below the surface.

I think what defines book fandom is that people who like to read, well, they like to read. And we will read as much as we can. Even though I’m a huge fan of movies, I don’t often go see a film just to see a film. But I will pick up a book because I’m bored and it looks semi-appealing. Readers are as much a fan of the act of reading as they are the books in front of them. And that’s how I think I will identify myself going forward. I’m not just a fan of books (though they are pretty lined up on my bookshelf). I’m not just a fan of specific authors or specific genres. I am a fan of reading.