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Man & Monster by Michael Jensen

Man & Monster

Man & Monster by Michael Jensen

Series: The Savage Land, Book 2
Published by: Buddha Kitty Books on January 4, 2017 (re-release)
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Cole Seavey knew it might not be the best idea to venture west on his own. But he needed to get away from his life back east and he figured he might see if he could catch up with his brother out on the frontier. But a run-in with a cougar as he tried to save a young child in the middle of the woods left him in the path of a much more dangerous and mysterious creature. And it also left him on the run without any of his supplies. He’s saved by a Delaware Indian name Pakim and he quickly finds himself pulled into the politics and drama of the local community. But the creature he encountered in the woods isn’t going away, and more people are going missing or reporting sightings of something strange in the forest. When it finally makes a move that could bring them all down, Cole and Pakim realize they might be parted–just when they’ve started to connect on a deeper level. Is this just Cole’s luck? Or is there a chance they will both make it out alive?

This is a very well-written historical m/m romance, which is a genre I absolutely think we need more of in the world. We know that there were certainly LGBT people during these eras in history, but because they had to keep their lives hidden most of their stories are lost to us. I love the idea of thinking about what life may have been like and filling in those gaps with good stories just like this one.

This is the second book in a series, but there is no need to have read the first book to dive into this one–it can live as a stand-alone novel. I’ve not read the first book, and I had no problems understanding what was going on or following the story.

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

Barefoot in the City of Broken Dreams by Brent Hartinger

25790092Title: Barefoot in the City of Broken Dreams (Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years, Book 2)
Author: Brent Hartinger
Published: August 14, 2015
Pages: 204
Publisher: Buddha Kitty Books
Author Website: link
Rating: ★★★

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

After reuniting with his high school boyfriend, Kevin, in Seattle, Russel Middlebrook is ready to make his life complete by pursuing his dreams. Together, he and Kevin pick up and move to Los Angeles so Russel can begin his career as a screenwriter. He doesn’t have any contracts when he arrives, but it’s only a matter of time, right? And much to Russel’s delight, it’s not long after he arrives that one of his scripts–one based loosely on his own life–is optioned by a producer who has worked with some of the biggest names in the business. But it’s not all easy. Kevin gave up a job he enjoyed to move to California, and Russel quickly learns there is much more to the business of filmmaking than he ever could have imagined. Will Russel get his break he’s been hoping for? Will the challenges of their new environment test Russel and Kevin’s relationship past the breaking point? Or will they be able to live in the “City of Broken Dreams” whilst keeping their own intact?

I’ve been a fan of this series since I first read Geography Club, where we meet Russel Middlebrook for the first time. There’s just something about the way Brent Hartinger captures this character’s voice that speaks to me in a way I don’t know I can fully explain. There is an ease in reading these books for me, but they also tell stories that describe real challenges and personal and relationship dynamics. It’s been interesting to see Russel go from high school student to college graduate, seeing the ways in which he’s changed while still so clearly knowing it’s the same character I’m hearing from in these books.

In this installment, there’s a lot going on. Russel and Kevin have made a big move, and on somewhat of a whim. That’s obviously challenging for them both and the cast of characters they find themselves thrown into when they get to L.A. serves up more challenges and issues for them to sort through. There are a few twists and turns thrown in that aren’t exactly expected, and readers can expect a fun, and dynamic read.

The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know by Brent Hartinger

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Title: The Think I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know (Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years, Book 1)
Author: Brent Hartinger
Published: December 15, 2014
Pages: 256
Publisher: Buddha Kitty Books
Author’s Book Website: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Review:

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

Russel Middlebrook is in his early twenties, living in Seattle with his two best friends from high school, and trying to figure out what to do with his life.  Splitting his time between two jobs, neither of which he really enjoys, he feels a bit aimless.  Everyone else seems to have figured out what they want from life, and while Russel knows he wants more than just random hookups and jobs that don’t leave him fulfilled, he doesn’t know how to solve his problem.  After he saves the life of Vernie Rose while working as a lifeguard and she becomes a fast friend, Russel starts to see things differently.  And when his high school romance, Kevin Land, shows up, Russle begins to center in on exactly what he wants.

I read and enjoyed the first series of Russel Middlebrook books.  I found them meaningful and I enjoyed experiencing the development of Russel as a character.  Although we’ve jumped ahead a few years with this installment, it’s clear that this book is still in keeping with the style of the previous series and it seems part of the same world.

The story itself here is very engaging.  It moves at a good pace (for the most part) and the overall story arc flows well.  Russel’s friends Gunnar and Min seem a bit more subdued here than in previous books, but that made sense to me as Russel is obviously more focused on himself in this book than he was in the earlier series.

I did find myself cringing just a bit at the reappearance of Kevin.  While I definitely enjoy and understand a good second-chance-at-love (or in this case I think it’s something like fourth-chance-at-love) story, it was just slightly disappointing to find Russel’s life suddenly revolving around this same guy once again.  I would have liked to see Russel develop some sort of meaningful connection with someone else to remind him that he, in fact, can do so (Otto was mentioned VERY briefly here with no real context–even just acknowledging that relationship would possibly have helped, I think).

That said, I do look forward to what Russel’s big move brings for him in the next installment…

Title: The Elephant of Surprise
Author: Brent Hartinger
Publication Date: March 30, 2013

Rating: ★ ★ ★  
Review: 
The fourth installment in the Russel Middlebrook series is probably my favorite. The story isn’t too far out from the previous three books, but there were a few things about it that I think pulled me in a bit more.

For one, I like the way the author is able to show that Russel is gaining a bit more maturity. It shows not only in the character’s actions, but also in the voice of the narration. Secondly, the development of some of the side characters over the course of the series has helped to give more depth to Russel’s world. And, finally, this is one where I actually didn’t see one of the major twists coming until I was up to that particular scene (some of the previous books have been a bit more, well, predictable at times).

I’m not sure if there’s a fifth book in store, but at this point I hope there is if the series is going to continue moving in this direction.

(eGalley provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Title: Double Feature: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies
Author: Brent Hartinger
Publication Date: February 1, 2007

Rating: ★ ★ ★  ☆
Review: 
The third installment in the Russel Middlebrook series takes a bit of a different turn in terms of presentation. While I can understand that some might think the idea of reading a story and then reading it again from another character’s perspective, I contend that Hartinger’s choice and method were both ingenious and well-done. Thus far readers have seen everything through Russel’s eyes (thus is the nature of first-person narration). Since a number of things happened to Russel’s friend Min that he didn’t know about, it makes sense that the only way to present them to readers is to have Min tell her story. By doing so, Hartinger also helps us to understand Min even better – her narration is in a distinct voice that is in line with what we know of her character and gives us more insight into her life.

I enjoyed this just about as much as I enjoyed The Order of the Poison Oak and am looking forward to the latest book, The Elephant of Surprise.