Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

The Line of Beauty

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

Published by: Picador Books on April 16, 2004
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

In early 1980s London, Nick Guest walks an interestingly fine line. He’s a postgraduate student lodging with the family of a member of parliament. He’s gay. And he’s not entirely closed off about it. But the family is accepting, so it all seems okay.

But even in the 80s, prejudice against gays was more than just the norm. Many of the guys that Nick finds are still closeted themselves. And Nick finds himself having to make some choices about the men he chooses to be with. Secrets aren’t uncommon in Nick’s world, but he’s not usually the one who is keeping them.

Add to that the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, and Nick certainly faces some challenges. But he’s not going to let them hold him back from living his life.

But Nick might just find that when one lives in a house of cards, it just takes a light breeze for it all to come crashing down.

I saw the film version of this a few years ago, and I’m still trying to decide if I liked that or the book better. What I do like about this story is that it’s one that’s not usually told. Yes, there are plenty of historical novels that take place in London. And there are many m/m stories that take place in the 80s and address the AIDS epidemic. But I feel like this may be the first I’ve read that combines both. Most stories on that topic I’ve read seem to be US-based.

There’s also something about Nick’s tentative status as observer/participant that makes this one resonate for me. There are those moments in live where we find ourselves in a place where we’re not entirely sure why we’re there. We feel a bit out of our element. It’s not our world, but now we live in it. And at those times, it can be hard to figure out how to fit in. This is one of those stories.

The King’s Men by Nora Sakavic

The King's Men

The King’s Men by Nora Sakavic

Series: All For the Game, Book 3
Published by: Nora Sakavic on December 3, 2014
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Neil Josten is back on campus, more than a bit worse for wear. He took on his rival to keep his teammates safe, whether they like it or not. And he hopes it will be enough to keep Riko off their backs until the end of the season. Because he doesn’t expect to be alive must past that.

But something’s happened since Neil’s been with the Foxes. His desire to run isn’t quite as strong. And then there’s Andrew. His hard-to-read exterior isn’t quite a difficult for Neil to decipher as it is for everyone else. And there are moments when he thinks there’s something there. But even if there’s not, Neil won’t be coming back from the summer, right?

As the season progresses, Neil thinks that just maybe he can pull through. But he seems to have forgotten that there’s more than one person that’s been after him. And secrets can only be kept buried for so long…

If you want to talk about slow burn, this is up there as the ultimate. Third book in the series before the relationship between Andrew and Neil that’s been building at an almost painful pace finally has some sparks. But don’t get me wrong: it’s all worth it. There’s so much dysfunction here that it almost drips off the page, but I find myself devouring every scene.

My only complaint is that I wish there was more. Kind of disappointing to see this one end.

Content warning: violence.

The Christmas Wager by Jamie Fessenden

The Christmas Wager

The Christmas Wager by Jamie Fessenden

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on December 22, 2010
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

When Lord Thomas Barrington left his family home six years ago, he expected he might never return. His father, the duke, made it very clear that if Thomas was unwilling to follow his duty to the family, he was unwelcome in their home. Of course, duty to his family being marriage to a woman he didn’t love meant that Thomas could never oblige.

But Thomas has lost a bet to his best friend, Andrew Nash. And it’s a bet that Thomas can’t pay. Andrew is willing to accept something else in return: a Christmas at Barrington Hall. A Barrington Hall Christmas has always been a spectacular affair. So Thomas can understand why Andrew wants to witness it. But he’s still very unhappy about the prospect of once again coming face-to-face with his father.

The big surprise when they arrive, however, is not the duke’s attitude. It’s that Christmas is no longer celebrated at Barrington Hall. And Thomas could let that go, except that he’s disappointed that his niece, Susan, doesn’t get to celebrate one of the best holidays of the year. So he sets out on a mission to bring Christmas back to his family home.

Brewing alongside all of this, though, is Andrew’s unspoken attraction to Thomas. And then there’s the feelings Thomas has when he looks at Andrew that he can’t explain. Exploring and giving in to those feelings isn’t part of Thomas’s plan. And then there’s the fact that doing so would be a crime. But can someone deny their passion even if they strive to bury it in the deepest recesses of their being?

What a fun historical! Yes, there is the m/m romance element, but this is about so much more than that. It’s about family, expectations, grief and loss, discovering yourself, forgiveness…the list goes on and on.  The fact that Thomas is already on uneasy footing with his father is also an interesting element. (So often, it’s the whole dating a man thing that leads to estrangement in a historical novel.) That really brings the family issues to the forefront of this story. And they are handled wonderfully.

Solid recommendation from me!

Dinner for One by Meg Harding

Dinner for One

Dinner for One by Meg Harding

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on July 13, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Bastien isn’t known for taking criticism very well. But, then again, he doesn’t have much practice. His French restaurant always gets rave reviews, and he’s never really had any complaints. So when a respected restaurant critic gives the place a negative review, Bastien is a bit miffed. He channels that energy into making something extra special for his niece’s school bake sale. And it’s to his benefit when he meets an attractive writer who just might be interested in more than Bastien’s food.

Of all the things James expected when he showed up to a school bake sale, meeting someone like Bastien wasn’t one of them. The man not only knows how to bake, but he appeals to James in other ways as well. And James thinks they might be a good match–until he learns that Bastien is the owner of a restaurant he recently reviewed. And said review wasn’t exactly positive. James knows that if he reveals this to Bastien their potential relationship will stop dead in its tracks. But maybe if Bastien can have the chance to get to know James, he’ll see there’s something more there? Is it dishonest to omit this fact, when it shouldn’t matter anyway if it turns out they like each other?

Is omission really dishonesty? Such an age-old question that gets answers all across the spectrum. On one hand, it’s not an overt lie by giving misinformation. If a question isn’t asked, then is there really an expectation that it should be answered? But if you know sharing a piece of information would matter to someone but you withhold it, isn’t that just as bad?

Don’t let all the philosophical questions fool you. This is actually a fun and light-hearted book. But it does bring those issues to the forefront. Is building a relationship while you withhold something from your partner that you know would matter to them the right way to go? You know they’ll be upset when it all comes to bear. But you also can’t help thinking that if you tell them upfront, any chance of a relationship will be lost. James definitely struggles with these questions, and he gets varying advice from other sources in his life. Which goes to show that opinions on this subject haven’t really reached a widespread consensus.

This, of course, easily snags a recommendation from me. Especially because of the way everything ends up playing out for these two…

Pokémon Go

I’m just going to be honest: Pokémon Go is totally cutting into my reading and reviewing time. Anyone else caught up in this utterly simple but incredibly addicting game? I’m hoping now that I’ve achieved quite a bit in the game, I can get back into my reading routine because…wow…I am behind!!!!!

Wildflowers by Suki Fleet

Wildflowers

Wildflowers by Suki Fleet

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on July 13, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Xavi hasn’t had the best luck in the love department. And as a result, he’s become a bit of a loner, keeping everyone at a distance. Why let people get close when caring only leads to hurt and heartbreak?

One person Xavi’s connected with is Sam. But Sam has his own pain. He’s sick–Xavi’s not sure with what–and he’s made one single request. Sam wants Xavi to stay with him until he’s gone. And Xavi agrees, relying on the “I don’t really care for anyone” attitude he hopes will get him through.

As the two go on a cross-country trip, however, Xavi realizes that letting Sam slip away might be harder than he imagined. And maybe with the right support, Sam might not be as intent on just giving up. But how can Xavi change Sam’s mind when he’s already made such a major decision? And can he convince Sam to trust him to be something other than what he’s presented to the world for so long?

I now know that when I pick up a Suki Fleet novel, it’s going to be one that pulls at the heartstrings. This author has an amazing ability to tell deep, emotional stories that manage to be a bit rough around the edges. These characters are far from perfect. But you root for them every step of the way, even when they’re driving you up a wall because of the decisions they’re making.

Despite the emotional nature of the story, there’s never a feeling of angst for angst’s sake, which I think we get from many romance authors (especially M/M) these days. Fleet’s storytelling is unique in that regard and very refreshing.

The Photographer’s Truth by Ralph Josiah Bardsley

The Photographer's Truth

The Photographer’s Truth by Ralph Josiah Bardsley

Published by: Bold Strokes Books on July 12, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Ian’s life seems to be on track. He has a wife and two intelligent, well-adjusted sons. He’s a key part of a software startup that looks to be going nowhere but up. There’s nothing he feels is missing. This is what he’s worked for all his life.

But when a long-term assignment in Paris takes Ian away from his family and his life, his perspective begins to shift. Especially after he meets Luca, a former fashion photographer with a skill that leaves Ian in awe. As the two become closer friends, Ian’s memory of a brief one-night encounter with another young man in college brings him to a “what if” moment. Yes, Ian has what many would call a perfect life waiting for him back at home. But is that really the life he wants, or is it just the life he expects? While he knows he can go back and continue in his role as husband and father, would he then be true to himself?

This is the second Ralph Josiah Bardsley book I’ve read, and I’m always impressed by this author’s ability to capture characters who are on the brink. A character like Ian is dealing with a lot in this story. He’s confronting truths about himself–some of which he’s buried and some of which he’s never seen before. He’s trying to reconcile the responsibilities of his life and how they might fit into a possible new truth. But it’s all done in a way that feels very real and authentic without simply piling on the angst as so many authors would do.

The only reason this doesn’t pull a higher rating from me is that I would have liked to see a bit more in the resolution. But this is still a great read, and I give it a strong recommendation.

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

Softpaw by Beryll & Osiris Brackhaus

Softpaw

Softpaw by Beryll & Osiris Brackhaus

Series: Smilodon Pride, Book 1
Published by: Beryll & Osiris Brackhaus on July 14, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

A serial killer is targeting male prostitutes on the streets of Paris. And the grisly nature of the crimes earned the perp the moniker “Jacqueline the Ripper”. At a complete loss for leads, the police are set to send Michel in undercover. The hope is he will make connections easily, since he used to work the streets before he joined the force. And as much as he never wants to fall back into that life, he knows that they need to do everything they can to catch a killer.

Connor seems to have what he considers a dream life. He lives on a house boat and spends his time in the gay district surrounded by art, culture, and beautiful boys. He teaches youth about art by day and plays piano in a bar by night. And he takes the time to look out for the young men who are working the street–even offering them a place to stay when they need it. But his dream life is shattered by the fact that so many of his friends are dying–and the rest aren’t safe.

When Michel walks in the door, Connor’s dream feels like it might have repaired a bit. Although he doesn’t really want a relationship–especially with someone in Michel’s line of work–he finds him hard to resist. And when Michel takes up Connor on his offer for a place to stay, proximity brings temptation and desire. Connor doesn’t know Michel has ulterior motives: Connor is one of the chief suspects in the police investigation.

But Michel doesn’t know Connor’s secret: he seems connected to the murders because he is hunting the killer. Of course, Connor also has a much bigger secret. He’s a werecat–and that’s just the tip of the supernatural iceberg that might stand in the way of the two of them having an actual relationship. Of course, first they have to track down a killer who is much more difficult to kill than anyone could have imagined…

I very much enjoyed the juxtapositions that are present within this story. Michel worked to get away from his past but now he’s fallen right back into his old haunts. Connor is trying to catch the killer, but his connection makes him the prime suspect. Michel isn’t being completely honest with Connor; and, well, vice versa. The number of opposing issues and forces could make this an unwieldy story to tell. But in the hands of these storytellers, they’re used to effortlessly build a web that is engaging, interesting, and thrilling.

This is the first book in a series. And I’m absolutely looking forward to the next installment.

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

Another Country by James Baldwin

Another Country

Another Country by James Baldwin

Published by: Dial Press in 1962 (original publication)
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

In the 1950s, liberalism took a different form than it does today. For many, rejecting the norm and what was proper meant possibilities. For others, it wasn’t subversive–it was just who they were. But society didn’t do anyone any favors. Race, sexuality, and class weren’t areas where there was much room for latitude or forgiveness.

Another Country follows a group of friends who try to navigate this environment while seeking truths about themselves. What does it mean to be an artist? How does one know when their life is fulfilled? Are they really universal truths in life? All questions with no easy answers. But over the course of several months the characters wrestle with them in search of some truth.

Glimpses of history are always very interesting to me. And here James Baldwin gives us just that. And not only is this book a window into the time period, he wrote it at a time when these weren’t the kinds of things people regularly wrote about. So the book itself goes against convention by telling the story of people who went against convention. It’s a bit meta, but it’s also really well written and engaging.

The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington

Sleep Revolution

The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time by Arianna Huffington

Published by: Harmony Books on April 5, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

How many times do you hear or say things like: “I’m tired.” “I didn’t get enough sleep last night.” “I’ll just stay up to get this done and try to sleep more this weekend.” “Sometimes I try to sleep in, but it just doesn’t happen.” “It takes me forever to fall asleep at night.”

These phrases are becoming increasingly common for us to say and hear–and even tell ourselves. And Arianna Huffington sets out a good case for what this all means. Without a doubt, we are in a sleep deprivation crisis as a society. With the pressure to do more and more in the same amount of time in a day, people are overextending themselves and giving up something essential to survival: sleep. As we are also more stimulated and connected by technology, it makes it that much harder to wind down at the end of a long day.

While we often dismiss this as okay, using some of the phrases above, it has health implications that we may not always know are there. Fatigue and exhaustion are just the tip of the iceberg. Sleep has been shown to have connections to healthy weight, blood pressure, and several other conditions.

But knowing we’re sleep deprived is just the beginning. Especially since almost everyone would admit that they feel tired or sleep deprived on some level at some point in any given week. Where Huffington takes things a step further is offering some suggestions for how we can each start addressing the crisis in our own lives. Working on the issue starts with each person. Not only is this because society isn’t going to shift until the people pushing for the shift reaches critical mass. It’s also because the tactics and strategies for prioritizing sleep need to be determined on an individual basis.

This is an interesting read. Huffington has collected a great deal of research and anecdotes in one nice, tidy place. And while I don’t think anything here is particularly profound or novel, it’s a stimulating and thought-provoking read.

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