Friday, 30 November 2012

Faith & Fidelity (Faith, Love & Devotion #1), Tere Michaels

An angst-filled story about two straight men who become friends over a shared bottle.  Later, they are shaken to the core when that friendship becomes much more.
This review contains slight spoilers.

-Review by Cindi

I apologize in advance for throwing in something personal in this review but I am unable to type this without doing so for reasons that will become clear.  I was asked by a Goodreads friend, Steph, to read this book with her... as a buddy read.  I don't do buddy reads often and the last one I did was several months ago (the Cut & Run series)... also with Steph.  While I had been interested in this book in the past it was never placed on my 'to read' shelf because (as most know) I am not a fan of series that focus on one couple throughout.  I decided to give it a shot.  I'm glad I did actually because it was a good book.  But it was a very difficult book for me to read for a variety of reasons.

Nothing could have prepared me for the prologue.  Why?  Not five minutes before I sat down to read this book on my Kindle, I had typed an email to my friend and blog partner, Kazza K.  This message was personal and it was in regards to my late sister, Sherri, who we lost over three years ago.  This was a loss that I did not handle well and that I continue to battle with to this day.  At no point before starting this book was I made aware of the name of the main character's late wife... Sherri.  Coincidence, sure, but a very strange one, especially considering how close to home the first few pages were for me.  I admit to having to stop three pages in on my Kindle.  I was not emotionally able to continue until much later that day and even then it was difficult.  I persevered because I committed to read the book so I was determined to do so.  I am glad I did.

The story was good.  Seriously good.  Two men who are both battling their own private hells become friends and then later that friendship turns into something that neither man is prepared for.  They have to overcome a lot... mainly their own fears.. to finally get where they need to be.

This starts off with a very heart-wrenching prologue.  Evan is about to bury his wife, Sherri, of almost twenty years.  It describes them together before her death and there is even an off-page sex scene between the two.  Three days after they make love, Sherri is killed in an accident.  Evan is left alone with their four children.  There are scenes at the funeral home that were heartbreaking and hit way too close to home for this reader.   Evan and Sherri's marriage was a good one and they had remained extremely happy during all of it.  They had the perfect life and they were raising their four children together.  Then tragedy strikes and Evan is a single father with no idea of how he will be able to function much less how he will help his children to do so.  He becomes a shell of his former self, as do his children.  

Almost a year later, Evan meets Matt.  Matt is a disgraced former homicide detective who goes to his former coworker's retirement send-off at a local bar.  Evan and Matt (after a bit of awkwardness for Matt being in the presence of his former coworkers) end up somewhat friendly and decide to meet sometime in the future for a beer.  Matt is lonely.  He has a job he hates.  He has no family to speak of.  No friends other than his former partner.  The 'men in blue' turned against him when he turned in one of their own.  His only relationships are one-night stands with total strangers.  He's miserable.  An instant friendship is born between Evan and Matt.  Both are unhappy for different reasons but they click in kinship.  Both men are straight and have never considered being with another man.... much less falling in love with one.  Little do they know that life as they have always known it will soon be over.  From friendship comes love.  From love comes difficult choices for each man, mainly Evan.  Evan lives in constant guilt over his wife's death even though he had nothing to do with it.  Sherri's parents blame him.  His children are lost without their mother.  Then there is the fear of the relationship being discovered by Evan's coworkers, family and in-laws, most of which are not gay friendly.

This book had a lot of angst in it.  I mentioned this being a difficult read.  My reasons for saying that are obvious if you read what I said above but even had that not been the case, I still would have had a very hard time getting through it.  There is very little happiness here.  But had it been written as all flowers and roses the story never would have worked.  Yes, Evan and Matt fall in love and they actually say the words to each other and not just on the final page of the book.  Perhaps that is what should have warned me.  The words are said early on. When that is the case, the rest of the book (in my reading experience) will be full of drama and angst.  I was not wrong in that regard.

The secondary characters are written very well.  Evan's children are written as typical children with real issues.  His in-laws (Sherri's parents), while sympathetic to a fault, were absolutely horrible people in my opinion.  Evan's female work partner is the perfect friend and her mother is a blast.  There are others who also contribute to the story and are all integral to it.  

Evan's doubts and fears start from the minute he and Matt discover there is something there... with good reason.  He makes some dumb decisions in the relationship and it ends up causing a lot of pain for all involved.  Instead of communicating with Matt, he simply ends things and pushes him away.  This, after Matt was certain that all was going perfectly in the relationship and that they were moving forward.  Watching the break-up scene unfold was infuriating.  Evan is finally given another chance at happiness and he throws it away because of his fear.  Instead of discussing it with Matt he shows him to the door.  It takes a lot for the two to come back together and when they do?  It's more of a HFN as the relationship has only just come together at the end.  This is number one in a series so I can accept that.  
Faith & Fidelity (Faith, Love, & Devotion, #1)

Overall, a very enjoyable book with complex characters.  This has a lot of angst and as I said, it was hard to read at times.  That did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.  Will I read the second book and those that follow?  Certainly.  But I feel the need to hold off a bit before doing so for personal reasons.  The emotional scenes were a bit too much for me and I'm not sure I can handle another like this one anytime soon. It is excellently written and the author should be commended for writing such an emotional, real story.  My first by this author.  I look forward to reading more.

I love the cover. :)

Fifteen Shades of Gay (For Pay), T Baggins

I enjoyed every page. Loved the characters. Fabulous reading! 

- Review by Kazza K


Fifteen Shades of Gay (For Pay)Well, wasn't this ebook quite the surprise. I bought it because I love rent boy stories. And it sounded sexy - male escort needing to make money from gay customers, maybe finding out he likes it. Truth be told the whole GFY trope never sits right with me but....I liked the premise. So the perv won out!. I mean look at that cover and the blurb. Sexy right? I was in luck, it's sexy as sexy can be. But it is so much more than that. It's well written, thought provoking and has some lovely dialogue.

Andrew Reynolds is twenty-four and an aspiring, struggling actor, is there any other kind? who lives day to day, hand to mouth. He gave up the opportunity to work as a weatherman on a TV channel in his home, Kansas, to look after his older sister, Maire, who lives in New York. Marie has breast cancer and has already had a double mastectomy. It's stage three cancer, which is pretty darn bad. Andrew and Marie are very tight as siblings. They love and care about each other very much. Marie looked after Andrew when they were younger, after their father took up with Andrew's English teacher. When other kids were bullying him, saying his A's were a result of his father's cocksucking skills. Marie organised martial arts lessons and looked out for him. Now it's his turn to look out for Marie. He has hardly any money and is behind in the rent when an opportunity to be a gay-for-pay escort comes up from his neighbour, Huey Wasserman. He needs to be able to pay bills, support his sister and buy everday items, like food and clothes. The trouble is he feels physically ill at the thought of being with another man, He's straight but he's an aspiring actor so he can treat it like a role, right? He accepts the escort job, it pays much needed cash, and tells Marie he has a paying job as the understudy to the lead in a play so she won't stress anymore -

"I'm so proud of you," Marie whispered in Andrew's ear. When it's produced, I promise to be there for opening night. Even if they have to wheel me in on a stretcher." 

If Andrew does well with his client, a repeat, influential one, he also earns a $500 bonus. Initially this is what gets Andrew through, and it initially frustrated me - "$500 bonus, $500 bonus."

Cormac Donovan is Andrew's first client. He is a charming, yet enigmatic politician in his thirties. He loves New York, knows it well, and takes Andrew to an Irish cigar bar, that may be rundown but serves excellent food and Guinness. From there he proposes taking Andrew dancing. Andrew presumes it will be techno and lights but it's a very proper establisment that discreetly caters to same- sex ballroom dancing. Andrew drinks too much, to steel his nerves, and ends up falling asleep, then feeling sick. Cormac works out from the get-go that Andrew seems to prefer women over men. But Cormac likes Andrew's company - he's attractive, he's charming, he's honest, likes to talk sport and isn't interested in politics. Cormac doesn't push for sex and Andrew assumes the date is a disaster, particularly as Cormac ends up looking after him when he feels hungover. However, when he gets back to see Wasserman, Cormac has requested Andrew be his escort when he's in NY from here on in -

"What did you do to him, anyway? What kind of tantric voodoo bondage did you pull on Mr. Ice Water to turn him into your biggest fan?"
"We just....had a nice date. That's all.

He did like the date. The thing about Cormac is that he is a Republican Senator from California. He's the product of a conservative background and has run on a platform of traditional values. So he has never allowed himself to have sex with anyone before. He's dated women to appease his (now deceased) mother, and his party, but he's gay. So. No sex. He takes his escorts on dates - dinner, dancing - it's presumed he's picky in who he beds, or at least wants to be with. In reality he likes men but can't seem to go for sex alone. But Andrew sparks his interest.

Marie, Andrew's sister, is one of the best characters you will find in any book. I loved her spirit, her caring, her love for her brother, her non-judgemental eyes - cancer has a way of showing people how not to sweat the small things. It also has a way of putting life into perspective, and Marie embraced life, often living vicariously through Andrew, particularly as the book progressed. I wanted so much for her to beat the big C. Marie works out fairly soon that Andrew is lying about being an understudy, he never mentions quotes, lines, or his day. He tells her he's kissed a man...for the play, but Marie is onto that. She gets him to spill eventually, and she is supportive, appreciative and intrigued, as well as concerned. I just kept willing Marie to live. I loved her as much as Cormac and Andrew -

"Oh my God, " Marie whispered as Andrew took the bedside chair Cormac had vacated. "Did you really kiss him?"
Because Andy, you're my brother and I love you, but I'd kick you down a flight of stairs for that man. Is he straight and curious, or is he gay?"
"I should have known. He's perfect. Utterly perfect.

Andrew is a popular escort. He keeps working, making good money performing all manner of jobs - housecleaning in minimum  to no clothes whilst a client looks on, talking until late at night to an older man who has lost a lover, being a nude pool boy at pool-boy parties. It's at the last one that Andrew comes to the attention of a wealthy gay businessman, Paresh Choudari. Paresh is married, it's an arranged marriage, his wife knows that he likes men. He keeps a party house for escorts to come and play. Paresh is the one that introduces Andrew to the enjoyment of a blowjob by another man...and more. Gradually bringing out Andrew's reasons for his anger at gay men, the reason's for his denial of his sexuality, and helps him become a better lover for Cormac. He may have sex with someone else but Andrew always pictures Cormac.

So this is an unusual romance book. There is quite a bit of steamy sex. Andrew has sex with other people while Cormac only has sex with Andrew, but there are reasons; Cormac has to be the conservative politician, Andrew has to work to help Marie. Cormac gets this and is never jealous. I loved the real-feel it had. But it is so much more than a romance book, although that is well done. It's also about Andrew dealing with, and coming to terms with his tenuous relationship with his father, who is a know-it-all and buys Marie all manner of self-help books - 'if you're positive, cancer won't make you its victim' is his mantra,' much to Andrew's consternation. It is also very much about Marie's illness, her battle with cancer. Marie's outlook on life, what happens to her. Also Paresh's life and lifestyle, Cormac's job, his journal/book. All of which allows Andrew to develop into a better, more well-rounded person. Someone who cares and is not so cynical. I liked Andrew in the beginning. I loved him by the end. I adored Cormac throughout.

I loved that the relationship between Andrew and Cormac took time to develop but was incredibly sexy and lovely. Yes, Andrew kept working. Cormac knew this, they talked about it. He had to stay in the closet, only came to New York now and then. However, they were always in touch, had phone sex, whenever he came they would meet up and they grew closer and closer. Cormac couldn't have a relationship with Andrew other than clandestine meetings, mostly at hotels, making love and talking. Cormac supported Andrew as best he could regarding Marie. It was never sex for pay with Cormac and Andrew made sure Cormac knew this. So, while there was no exclusivity they both knew and both accepted it. If you go into this book thinking it's a fluffy, purely romantic rent boy book you may not be happy. If you go into it looking for all kinds of sexy, some BDSM included, some reality checks, sadness, anger, joy, character growth and development, how difficult families can be, and how they react differently in a crisis -  you will discover all these things in this fabulous ebook.

I totally loved Fifteen Shades of Gray (For Pay) even though it hits on two nerves of mine, GFY and a closeted character. I normally have a really BIG  problem with closeted characters in books. But I loved Cormac all the way through, from the beginning to the very end. I thoroughly understood his position, didn't like it, but understood it. I loved how he delighted in being with Andrew, made the effort to visit Andrew's sister when he discovered Marie was sick and in the hospital. Was patient, a gentleman and loving. I also don't like GFY very much, but the author handled this really well and it was mighty sexy, and felt right, once Andrew got over his feeling sick about the whole 'gay issue.'  The explanation to his aversion was more than plausible.

Now to the title of the book. Some have raised their dislike of it. I truly do not understand the reaction to the title. It is well explained and clever. The title is based on two things. 1) Andrew reads Marie's favourite 'mommy porn' trilogy to her, as she has cataracts and is not well. Yes, we all know which one it is, and 2) He starts writing a journal about his experiences with Marie, Cormac, and his escort clients - Fifteen Shades of Gay (For Pay). It's representative of his love for something he does with Marie, reading her the trilogy she so enjoys, and his life. He used to love to write and this is a catharsis for him. He can deal with his fear of Marie's illness, having to be gay-for- pay, he can deal with his growing understanding as to why he is/was so 'repulsed' by gay men, and his eventual understanding of his actual sexual fluidity, and of others around him - his sister likes men but on her bucketlist she says she'd like to 'go down on Charlize Theron.'

I cannot recommend Fifteen Shades of Gay (For Pay) highly enough. It is so deeply layered and yet so simple to read. The book is heavily dialogue driven, which I admit to liking. A lot. It is witty, clever, sexy, sweet, sad. The characters are all multi-dimensional and have their own, real issues. There is some wonderful, heartfelt, funny dialogue and some gut-wrenching moments. And there is a good epilogue. Five star reading all the way.

So I'll finsish with some lovely words from Cormac to Andrew.

""I thought since I came out, you might give me a chance. If I went to New York and, well, stalked you in a non-threatening, attractive manner...."
"Cormac." Andrew buried himself against the other man's chest.
"I love you," Cormac said softly. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Where Nerves End, L.A. Witt (Tucker Springs #1)

The first book in the Tucker Springs series.  There are spoilers in this review.
-Review by Cindi

Jason Davis is in pain.  Serious pain.  He suffered a severe shoulder injury years earlier and the pain has persisted over time.  On top of that, he is on the verge of bankruptcy.  He owns a large home that he purchased with a former lover.  Once said lover disappeared, Jason was stuck with a big mortgage.  He owns a gay bar that continues to drain his resources.  He is in over his head financially with no idea how to get above water.  The financial stress exacerbates the debilitating pain in his shoulder.  Scalding showers and pain pills are the only way he can get any type of relief and this relief is only short term.  He is desperate in more ways than one.  Jason's best friend, Seth, eventually talks him into seeing an acupuncturist, Michael, a childhood friend of Seth's.  

Michael Whitman is a divorced man who has joint custody of his 7-year-old son Dylan.  He has a successful practice but still has problems keeping up with his bills as Tucker Springs has a very high cost of living.  Moving to another town is not an option because of his son.  

Jason reluctantly schedules an appointment to see Michael.  Going in, he is convinced that acupuncture is bogus but he is at the end of his rope with the pain and is willing to try anything in hopes of getting relief.  Seeing Michael for the first time blindsides him.  Michael is gorgeous.

"He'd taken that old cliche 'tall, dark and handsome' and made it his little bitch."

Michael is also straight.  Or so it seems.  After a couple of visits (where Jason did get physical relief) he makes Michael a proposition.  Move into his huge home and share expenses.  This will solve both of their financial problems.  It would give Dylan somewhere to live during the two weeks a month he lives with Michael that is not a tiny apartment.  Eventually Michael agrees.  Living in the same home with the man who Jason wants more than anything is difficult but necessary because of the financial strain of both men.  They fall into a routine and eventually form a close friendship.  It turns into more much later.

Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs, #1)
What I liked about this book:

- Seth.  He is a pretty awesome character.  A good friend to both Jason and Michael.  I hope to see his story soon.

- Dylan.  He is not in the book much but there is one scene (toward the end) when I fell in love with the kid. "Can I have a pudding cup?"  If you read the book, you will see why that one sentence is important.

- Daina, Michael's ex wife.  She is not written as the typical bitchy female that is so common in m/m books.  

- No insta-love.  Insta-lust, definitely, but no insta-love.  The story is allowed to play out with the two mains getting to know each other before anything emotional or sexual happens.

What I did NOT like about this book:

- Michael.  Maybe I should say Michael's actions... not Michael as a character.  In one important part of the book, he and Jason are outside having a serious conversation.  During this conversation, he stresses to Jason over and over that he has never been interested in men and that he never could be.  A few days later, he's having sex with a man down the hall from Jason's bedroom.  The walls are so thin that Jason is very aware of what is going on.  Later, the lies were explained satisfactorily.  The tryst with the unknown man?  Not at all.  Michael tells Jason (much later) that the reason he had sex with this man (his first, he says) is because he wanted to make sure that being with a man was what he actually wanted before approaching Jason.  What if he froze with Jason and decided that was not what he really wanted and they were still stuck living together?  Okay, yeah, I get that.  But to bring this stranger into Jason's home knowing how thin the walls are and thinking that Jason won't hear them?  Uh, no.

- The acupuncture procedures were described in minute detail.  Yes, it was interesting but at times I felt that I was being given lessens and would be tested later.

- Jason betrays Michael's trust by outing him to Seth.  His reasons in no way justified him doing this.  Michael was having major issues coming to terms with his sexuality to himself... to be outed to his oldest friend was inexcusable.

Overall, I have to say that this was a good story, not a great one.  This has a HFN ending.  It definitely was not a HEA.  Granted, this is part of a series but the subsequent books are written by different authors.  I wonder how much time will be given to Michael and Jason?  Of course, I won't know until I read them.  I will go into the next in hopes of seeing Michael and Jason's future explained satisfactory.  As for now, I am not pleased with the ending on this one. Michael and Jason go through a lot to get together (though I felt the main reasons keeping them apart were petty).  I would like to see them in an actual relationship, not just in the early stages of one.  And by this, I don't mean an occasional mention of the characters in a subsequent book.  

Darkroom, Poppet

Graphic, brutal, unrelenting, horrifying, no relief in sight...ever...with strong religious overtones. A good piece of writing.

Fear is a darkroom where negatives develop - Usman B. Asif
- Review by Kazza K

First of all this book is dark. It is not going to be for everyone. It is not for the faint of heart, it is tough going. Reader beware.

DarkroomI can't in all honesty write a proper review for Darkroom. For several reasons. Darkroom is a visceral experience more than a read. To write it down makes it seem trite, and that's a disservice. It is also  loses impact. I will really just put the basics, quotes, and my thoughts down. Also things that I liked or interested me, or,maybe didn't work for me. I will say this, this book is all kinds of nasty, what did I say to a Goodreads friend? 'It's 10 kinds of nasty and twisted, ' I believe; and I was only about 20% through. Having completed it I still stand by that statement, but I threw myself into every minute of it. My adrenaline is still running high, my eyes are falling out of their sockets with tiredness; but I had to finish this book. And you know what's interesting? You get a choice of endings. I liked both. I never romanticised Victor. Wanted him put down actually. However, I can see where people could get attached because this book is like a dose of Stockholm Syndrome.

The basic outline - Shauna has been held hostage by a psychopath whom she couldn't see, it's dark, he hides himself from her. But he identifies himself as 'Vengeance,' who physically and emotionally tortures her all whilst proselytizing his fucked-up version of religion. Mostly using the Hebrew Scriptures, which are big on wrath....and vengeance. Asking her questions that she can never get right, degrading her, piercing her ears using biblical instructions, tattooing her, all with maximum pain. She is held for months and it is graphically described. Vengeance has had other quarry that we get to learn about, as we delve deeper into his mind, and their demise is also graphically outlined. It's just the worst place you could find yourself in. As a female I shuddered -

Have to get a grip. I have no idea how I reckon days here. Wherever here is. I have to save the fluids or I'll dehydrate. Oh God... Rocking myself, simply terrified. Please help me. Some one hear my prayers. Why me?

No! Shaking violently. Can't see. Pain. Oh Jesus! I hardly recongise the screaming as coming from me. Feel the thud before ears register. Like bone imploding against bone inside my head....The blood in my mouth is all I taste - smell-swallow. Shocked. Just- want- pain- to- stop.

"Crawl in the dirt. Dirty whore."

"Did your mommy teach you to say please so that vulnerable men would think you're adorable? You abuse that word."

When he moves behind me: the pain is about to begin again. Punishment for sinning. How can it be sinning if you're not a believer in a book written over two thousnd year's ago? 

Shauna is eventually let go with track marks on her body and dishevelled in appearance, babbling about Vengeance, religion, being kidnapped and brutality.

Soon I shall give my angel her wings back, to see if she can fly.  She will never forget when she discovers the tattoo on her back. Two little wings in the shape of my V, with "Dirty Angel." All the signs of torture have been corrected. It took my deepest surgeon's skills to reconstruct, but it was necessary. When I release her, and she tells her loved ones of what she endured during her cleansing, they will look for physical evidence, and there is none.

He's right. No-one believes her, not even her parents, they've been told, when she was younger, that she seeks attention and acts out because they had separated. Upon return she is treated as a drug addict, which she never has been, and also for psychological issues, further compounding her brutalization. This is just the beginning of the 'fun and games' for Shauna, as Vengeance follows her around. He has everything mapped out for his "Dirty Angel." She continually moves until she settles in South Africa, still an emotional wreck. She's isolated, lonely, missing human touch and camaraderie, with limited, uncomfortable contact with her parents who live overseas. She meets a neighbour, Victor, who seems nice, old fashioned and interested in her. He's a cosmetic surgeon - good career, he loves photography, that's nice. He also likes installing cameras in every room of her house, spying on her...and killing her dates, when she goes on one. Victor is Vengeance, this is not a spoiler, you know who he is. You're privvy to the two voices often describing the same topic - Shauna and her life, plus religious indoctrination. With Victor you also get to see his inner monologue about his Father, how he was raised, with religious zealotry, abuse, and the hatred of women - total, utter misogyny, hidden behind religions ravings - Eve is the defiler of men, the ruination of the human race.....There are many quotes of Scriptures or major prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, also quotes from photographers - photography can capture a moment like no other, the look on a face of someone drugged, defiled, in pain, impure, pure....

Here's what is incredibly interesting about Darkroom. You can find yourself looking at Shauna like she is loose in morals. Once we settle into life with her in South Africa she is still very fragile. However she gradually tries to have some contact, hoping Vengeance is left behind this time. She goes out on a few occasions, gets drunk and has sex with some guys, one a blind date another through a friend, fools around with a girlfriend that comes to visit and, yet, is she bad for this? Is she a 'whore?' No, she's a twenty eight year old adult. She is single, she should be able to live life, have sex, intimacy and pleasure, BUT Victor/Vengeance gets not only into Shauna's head but the readers heads,  too. If you let him. And what's more insidious is you don't know it unless you look for it, unless you're consciously aware of it. Nice writing, combined with unusual, strong, authoratative writing. It's not sympathetic to Victor/Vengeance, hell he slices a woman's breats open because she dared to disrespect the Father by having breast implants. He rapes, tortures, kills. He's not a nice guy, it's there in black and white. It shows you the power people can have over others, their thoughts, propaganda, brainwashing, its all quite simple really. Pick your mark, confuse them, break them down, rebuild them - your way - make them believe what you believe, push them so far off balance they'll never right themselves. Push your opinion's on someone else, they'll now soak it up.

I loved the different POV's....

Shauna - He leans a hand against the wall, while his hips imprison mine. The other hand traces my face and settles on my neck. It's a simple act of touch, yet it's deeply erotic. It is one move that few men employ.....But with Victor, I get the distinct feeling he's a little old fashioned. He likes making the first moves and leading. ....I'm yet to find out how old he is, and I know it wouldn't make any difference. he turns my entire body into a vibration of pleasure notes. Even his deep baritone sings to my soul   

Victor - In this stage I must still test the boundaries of her commitment to my absolute authority. Walking her backward until she's hard up against a wall. I hold her against it with one hand on her neck. She doesn't even lift a hand. She stays there staring up at me with lusty eyes. Trusting, seductive eyes. Keeping my hand on the fragile neck, I kiss her, testing responsiveness with her life under my command.....Whenever she passes a test, the dominance is like a hydraulic infusion into my libido.

...same senario, such differing psychology/outlook.

Shauna. I neither liked her nor disliked her. She just 'was' for me. That may make no sense. I felt sorry for her, she has been/is manipulated, she is a pawn in a sick fanatics game, the dysfunction of one family spilling into hers. I understand why she is where she is, how she can't get out - she's been dismantled. Her life is almost like the Truman Show, but only for one man and by extension his family, her life is not real anymore. She is dismantled and never allowed to get her bearings again. She never saw it coming and she was dragged into a vortex no-one could withstand given the circumstances.

Victor. I did not like him. Oh yes, I understood him. I could not like him. Just think to yourself what if it were me, my wife, my daughter? then reasess Victor. Was he interesting as a character? Absolutely. Was he cringe-worthy? Thoroughly; you cannot say he wasn't. He's a study in warped psychology and in paraphilia. He wanted sex, wanted to like sex, did like sex, didn't like sex, wanted to revel in dominant sex, wanted pain to be inflicted on his female, his 'angel' but he hated that. Women lead you into temptation, sex is dirty...but not with your 'angel,' but you can't trust them.....No-one can ever be right for this person. He will always snap. He is beyond redemption. You are never really let into a nice place in this book. there are times when Victor 'softens,' seem to  'care,' he really doesn't; it's a means to a controlled end. Something for the Father. Maybe, perhaps there was some new beliefs settling into his mind towards the end, but he is too far gone.

Just some thoughts and observations-

I'll be totally depraved here and say I found this book oddly erotic. I truly did. This is new ground for me given the content. Good writing! Every chapter is headed up with a scripture or quote for the chapter you are about to read, the situation. They lead you into the chapter with some idea of the intensity about to unfurl. There is a very good use of language, imagery, and intensity drawing together a ruined person and a religious psychopath. There are also photographer's quotes, and others that really gave substance and further meaning to the title of the book, Darkroom. Victor has his darkroom, no-one goes in there but him, unless it's to mess with a mind -

Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness - Yousuf Karsh

It is not for me to place my interpretation here on the Scriptures used. I'm not making a judgement call either way. I rarely give the Hebrew Scriptures any thought. However history has shown us a few things, continues to, actually. I do know they have been used for a lot of hurt and misinterpretation by people who are unhinged, hateful, twisted...and to suit as a means to an end for divisive behaviour. I'm sick of Leviticus 20:13, for example, to trample people's human rights into the ground. No, it's not a Scripture used here, just an observation by me.

I appreciated the use of the word Sheol instead of Hades. Sheol is the Hebrew word for the underworld, hell, or a mass human grave of death, and there are subtle differences in Bible editions eg Hades as opposed to Sheol or Hebrew Scriptures as opposed to Old Testament. It is the little things that make a sigificant difference in the writing and enjoyment level for this reader. I liked the use of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Greek Scriptures to showcase Victor's fanatacism.

 My one complaint - The CBT and hypno didn't sit right with me. It's a small, small part...and I'm picky.

Probably my favourite in terms of summing up the twisted logic of Vengeance, and his families long reaching twisted pschology is 2 Timothy 3:16 (Chirstian Greek Scriptures, but a book about what they considered to be the end of days)

Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for instruction, for refproof and conviction of sin, for correction of error and discipline in obedience, for training in righteousness.


Deuteronomy 25:5 - it's the same difference.Yes, I'm cryptic.

If you like dark, psychological reads. If you're prepared to hold your breath for a long period of time. If you're prepared for a rollercoaster ride that has you stuck upside down while they repair it, then Darkroom could just be for you. I really enjoyed the hell out of it!


Saturday, 24 November 2012

Men of Smithfield: Adam and Holden (Men of Smithfield #4), L.B. Gregg

An interesting conclusion to the Men of Smithfield series.
-Review by Cindi

Men of Smithfield: Adam and Holden

Holden Worthington was once a globetrotting host of a popular adventure show.  After a former lover publicly exposed something that he would have preferred kept secret, he retreated from the public eye...... not only retreated but became agoraphobic as a result.  He has not left the inside of his home in over a year.  He is quite wealthy and is a successful writer.  The wealth insures that he is able to live comfortably with his condition and the writing can be done anywhere.  He does his writing from the inside of his huge home and watches life pass him by, unable to so much as take one step outside his door without having a panic attack.

Until he meets Adam Morgan, his new gardener.  His young new gardener.  Holden is 40 and Adam is 24.  Having never personally met Adam, Holden watches him go about his duties from the safety of his home, secretly lusting after the younger man.  While working on the long-neglected estate, Adam stumbles upon a dead body in the back of the property.  The story begins the moment he rushes to tell Holden what he found.

Holden's family is dysfunctional with a capital D.  His brother, Porter, is a drunk who goes through wives faster than he can down his liquor.  Porter's friend, Kurt, is as bad as he is when it comes to the alcohol.  Holden and Porter lost one brother, Thayer, in an accident off the coast of Nantucket years earlier.  Their parents (who are only mentioned in passing) had been absent and snobby as a result of their wealth and were not overly affectionate to their sons. 

Adam is the product of an even more dysfunctional family.  His father served time for a hit and run drunk driving accident that killed someone.  Two of his brothers (who are in the book quite a bit) are selfish and all about themselves.  Adam's family lives from paycheck to paycheck taking any job available to support the family.

Holden and Adam are complete opposites, not only in age but in status.... both of which mean nothing once the connection between the two men is made.

This is a pretty good book.  The murder mystery is there but the story does not get bogged down as a result of minute details.  The Adam and Holden thing had me shaking my head a few times but somehow the relationship worked.  The secondary characters are interesting, if not annoying at times. There's Porter, Porter's ex-wife, Kurt, Mrs. H (an overbearing and judgmental housekeeper), John, the ex who exposed Holden's prior secret, and Tony, the police officer, as well as others .  Tony, from the first book in the series, is in this quite a bit as he is a police officer and a friend of Holden's.  Normally I am all about revisiting with characters from previous books but I was not fond of Tony in his own book so I can't say that I was overjoyed at seeing him so much in this one.  Thankfully, his presence was only scattered throughout and not a huge part of the book.

While I will not say it is my favorite of the four Men of Smithfield books, I will say that it is not my least favorite either.  I love books that have substantial age differences between the main characters so that was a big plus for me in this one.  I also devour opposites-attract stories and Adam and Holden are true opposites.  Holden is not the most likable character but Adam balances him well.  The murderer was relatively easy to figure out but that did not detract from the story in any way.  Everything comes together nicely in the end.

Overall, a good conclusion to the Men of Smithfield series

This book was provided by Net Galley and Carina Press in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Where You Are, J H Trumble

"Four months. Glaze on a donut." This is a wonderful, thought provoking Young Adult book.

-Review By Kazza K 

Where You AreRobert Westfall is a young man who is quite an achiever at school. He has a number of adornments  on his letterman jacket, he does community work with special needs children, he's in the band, he's popular, good looking, and even has this cutesy yet stalkerish groupie Facebook page dedicated to him by three students. He's also gay. So it's immediately interesting that this is not some harsh everyone-hates-the-gay-student book. Robert even has a good friend who is gay, Luke. Luke is in a committed relationship of his own, with an older college student. Robert also has a boyfriend, Nic, who is a really painful person. Nic doesn't 'do sickness' or 'death'. He loves 'his girls,' the cheerleaders. He's an air-headed-himbo, and while he is annoying, you have to laugh at his thought processes and self-centred actions. Robert isn't into Nic, so it's not like there is any great hurt coming his way from him, mostly irritation. These things all sound so typical, pretty nice, like an average to better teenage life, except Luke's father has brain cancer, has had it for ten years. Only now, over the last three months, it's become terminal.

In reality? Robert's home life is a disaster, his mother tries so hard but is, understandably, just holding it together, having to work, change catheters, clean up bodily fluids, clean fish tanks meticulously, because her husband demands it, and generally deal with an angry, resentful, self-centred man. Robert's father has never worked and has been ridiculously doted on by his older sisters and his mother, as the male of the great doctor-breedingWestfall family. They blame Robert and his mother because 'she fell pregnant with him' and 'robbed' their brother of his chances of greatness. Robert and his mother can never do enough, be enough, care enough for the dominating aunts and their brattish children, who, ironically, can do no wrong. Robert does nothing but step up to the plate alongside his mother but that is never seen. The only time they acknowledge him is in reference to how much he looks like his father. The extended family has so much toxicity it is painful to watch, painful to see two opeople who don't deserve it get berated and dismissed by these nasty family members. Robert loathes his father and can't bring himself to say this to anyone for fear of being thought of as mentally unhinged. We're supposed to love our parents, told to honour and obey. But what if they aren't worth those feelings? Once again, I liked that this book did not go into the whole someone-is-dying- therefore-he-must-be-good place. No, Robert's father is a a selfish, uncaring man who does not love his only child, his son. Wrote emails to his sisters about how Robert still wet the bed at twelve and how that "digusted" him.

Andrew McNelis is a twenty-four year old high school maths teacher. He loves his senior class, they take math - calculus, algebra - seriously, they work hard and there's some really good kids in the class; inlcuding Robert Westfall. His freshmen year class, on the other hand, has it's share of juvenile, churlish behaviour, especially from one student, which does come to a head. Andrew is divorced, seems to have a good relationship with his wife, Maya, her partner, Doug, and loves his two year old daughter, Kiki, to bits. He's a good dad, he's a caring teacher - he's one of the good ones. He is not overtly gay and feels it is hidden well enough at school for privacy. He has applied to a program that will allow him to further his career, eventually becoming a Vice Principal or higher if he is accepted. He's a nice looking young man and more than a few girls take an interest in him. They discover he follows AfterElton on Twitter and fill in some dots. Rumours fly in schools both amongst the students and the teaching staff. Although his friend at school, fellow teacher Jenny, doesn't seem to have received the 'memo,' and flirts without mercy with Andrew. The students feel they have a handle on his sexual orientation and when he discovers this he is horrified. It is instilled in teachers to be above board on their Twitter, and Facebook pages. I find this offensive. Unless you invite students onto your social networking sites, which a teacher shouldn't, Andrew McNelis didn't, then it should be no-ones business but theirs.

Andrew knows that Robert's father is dying, he has received emails form the Principal's office about it. He notices that the normally attentive and quick-off- the-mark Robert is floundering and helps him out on a test he is basically doodling on in obvious despair. Andrew has always thought Mr Mac, a nice guy, perhaps a bit more, and now he wants a friendship with someone that seems to care in a sea of non-caring adults. He tries to give Mr McNelis his mobile number but he refuses to take it saying it would be improper. When Robert is totally rejected and seemingly at his wits end Mr McNelis gives him his number instead, and says he can call if he needs to talk. It's a kind gesture by a caring man. Robert and Mr McNelis develop a closer bond, and Robert manages to have Andrew invited to a band dance by a fellow teacher who is looking for chaperones.The school Principal catches word of this, because a parent has mentioned that Mr McNelis has been seen with Robert at the band dance in the carpark. It was basically innocent, Robert was showing his teacher how to throw a rifle. However, he has been told to stay away from Robet Westfall from here on in, they're both gay but, hey, it's not about that, it's just inappopriate. So much so, it seems, that on the night of Robert's father's death, Andrew won't allow Robert any attention or closeness. When the faculty are offically made aware of his death, and the funeral, Andrew is denied permission to attend. He states that other teachers are going, but his requests are denied. He decides to attend the wake, as it's after school hours, he cannot let Robert do this on his own anymore; make him think he doesn't care. Because of his job, Andrew is scared to the point of shutting someone out that needs him. He's overwhelmed at the thought of being deemed inappropriate with a student, one he cares very deeply for, especially now he has been warned-off by the Principal. When he arrives at the wake it is well attended but no-one seems to know where Robert is, no-one seems to care. He eventually finds him outside on the ground against a wall -

I notice that he is holding a small notebook. "What's in the notebook?" I ask. He looks down at it for a moment like he's just seeing it for the first time, then turns it over twice in his hands. "One of my aunts gave this to my dad before he got so bad he couldn't write anymore. It was so he could record his memories, words of wisdom, his hopes for my future....his love." he bites his lower lip, then looks away. I take the notebook from him and open it. I flip through the blank pages and silently curse the man who dared to call himself a father.

He's folding his arms tightly across his chest, and he's twitching more violently, almost like he's cold. And I know he's hurting, for the father he's lost....or maybe the one he never had.

......I unlock the door and show him in, he turns and falls into me. "It's okay, baby." The words are out of my mouth before I can check them. I close the door behind me and hold on to him as he sobs into my shoulder, his fingers gripping at the back of my shirt. When his anguish dissolves into something like hiccups, he turns his face into my neck.

A few days ago this would have been out of the question. A few days ago all I could think about was my career, my reputation, how a scandal might affect my daughter. But then he'd showed me that notebook, something about those blank pages had written something on my heart, and there was no unwriting it.

It is from this point that things progress into an area that Andrew has little to no control over anymore, he can't pretend he doesn't care. He is falling for Robert, he loves his soul, they have been sending song lyrics to one another. Robert loves the goofy maths t-shirts that Andrew wears and he loves that he listens and does not judge, something he has rarely experienced before. He can open up to this man and feels like a person. As close as he and his mum can be, given the cancer, sadness, struggle to get through, judgement they have had to live with, that has been between them, they have little time for everyday comunication.

As a Young Adult book Where You Are has plenty to keep a fifteen year old, and over, rivetted if they enjoy a contemporary style of book. It is quite full of American school-isms, also pop culture, current song references, popular teen shops, social networking sites, and other youthful terminology that should be more than enough for teenagers to relate to. There's humour, snark, a romance, and carefully written sexual tension between Andrew and Robert. There are also moments of reflection and sadness, and more than a few young readers will relate to the way other kids behave, the way they can feel at school, or at home; when things are tougher than usual, dealing with annoying boyfriends or girldfriends, hurtful relationships. It's all very real and it's all very relevant. It is also written in an easy to read, interesting way. It's engaging, irrespective of age. I'm way past my teenage years but I found it a joy to read. I will buy a copy for my son, who is a teenager, and I guarantee he will love it.

The dual POV's were essential to drive Where You Are - due to the story being told, the subject matter, the absolute need to hear two distinct voices - and they were distinct and wonderfully written by J H Trumble. You needed to hear, to feel what is going on from both sides about their friendship, their burgeoinig relationship, their individual lives, their side of the story. If either POV had been left out it would not have worked. The youthful uncertainty of Robert, his need for school, aka escape, his pain at his home life, his father's neglect, his mother's stoicism and despair, his aunt's patronising, condescening, and insufferable attitudes needed his voice. Andrew's love of teaching, attempts to help a young man who needed it, offering compassionate friendship, his deepening feelings for Robert, his fear and genuine attempts at drawing a line, holding onto ethics, but having love overrule, his love for his daughter, and naivety and affection regarding his ex wife, Maya, were all very poignant and necessary.

There are times in this book where I could have thrown the Kindle. It upset me, made me shout out, ticked me off, made me laugh out loud, made me sigh, had me sitting on the edge of my seat  - everything a good book should do. There is adversity to overcome for both of the protagonists. There are some nice times, and there are consequences. Two young men learn some lessons, who their friends are, what they mean to each other in reality, and the meaning of real family.The book has a nice ending and I think most will like how it turns out.

Where You Are presents an ethical issue. The teacher cares for, falls in love with the student, the student feels safe/ cared for/falls in love with the teacher. The student is turning 18 - when they can vote, already drive a car, often work. and, in my country, drink alcohol, not in America. However, many adult expectations occur with this age not only from within but from society as well. "Grow up," "you're not a child anymore"...ring loud and clear at this age. Many are sexually active well before seventeen/eighteen. However, if the teacher is caught doing anything deemed to be  inappropriate with a student they can/will lose their good name, lose their ability to teach, despite student loans and years of study, and could (depending on age and state) spend up to twenty-five years in jail; despite consent. It's a tricky issue, there are those that are older and predatory - a forty year old man/woman with a fifteen year old student is a different situation than a soon to be an eighteen year old, graduating student, and a twenty-four year old. Aah, but there are rules. aren't there.

While I understand the need to protect children from potential predators, everything is not always as it seems. I totally understand this point made by Andrew -

Maybe I want to be told that the heart trumps the law.

Do not be put off this book by the subject matter. I thought about this book from a professional's perspective. I thought about it from a parent's perspective, and I thought about if from a reader's, perspective... and every which way I looked at it I loved it. It is thought provoking, it is memorable and the characters went to bed stuck inside my head last night. The story is sensitively handled. It is told with much compassion, I never felt as though the author was ramming an opinion down my throat. Others can make up their own mind, see things their way. However, the subject is not as simple as one may believe it is. I fully understand the pros and cons. I could write forever on this book and topic. I work with children, I work with families, I teach parenting, I work with adolescents. I work with dysfunction. I can categorically say that this book should be picked up by study groups, youth organizations, teachers, and parents, as a talking point. To make people think a bit more about teenagers, people, situations, and perhaps how to look at a story without seeing the sensationalized headlines clouding judgement. A sublime piece of writing. Highly recommended reading for  teenagers up.

I'll leave with some words from Andrew McNelis, who ordered his thoughts about his growing relationship with Robert. This is point number four -

4. I'm crazy about him. I can't help that he came into my life four months too soon; he stole my heart when I wasn't looking. That I don't want it back even if he's willing to hand it over.

This book was supplied to me by Kensington Publishing in return for an honest review. All reviews on On Top Down Under Book Reviews are reviewed in an honest and open manner.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Men of Smithfield: Max and Finn (Men of Smithfield, #3), L.B. Gregg

Men of Smithfield: Max and Finn (Men of Smithfield #2)

A nice addition to the Men of Smithfield series.
-Review by Cindi

Michael Finnegan (Finn) is a teacher, a tutor and a dorm parent.  He is tutoring a student while secretly crushing on the boy's older brother, Max Douglas, a former Marine and current security specialist.  Everything is going fine (Finn thinks) until he is called into Max's office after one of the tutoring sessions.  Instead of waiting to find out why Max called him into his office, he acts on his crush and impulsively seduces him.  Big mistake.  After the best sex of Finn's life, what happens?  Max fires him.  Abruptly.  Rudely.  Humiliated after what had just occurred, Finn rushes out of the office in hopes of never laying eyes on Max again.

Of course it doesn't work out that way.

Max is called in as a security expert/bodyguard to one of Finn's students, Hemmi.  Hemmi's father is a famous actor and there have been minor threats aimed indirectly at Hemmi.  Max moves into the dorm, across the hall from Finn, in order to protect Hemmi.  Finn, still dealing months later with the humiliation of being fired after the hook-up, is not thrilled to have Max anywhere near him.... .much less across the hall.  As time passes, the indirect threats turn into violence which in turn pushes Max and Finn even closer.  Their relationship progresses as a result.

I have to say that I did not like Max right off the bat.  He willingly jumps right into having sex with Finn (the first time) even knowing that the entire reason for bringing him in the office in the first place was to fire him.  He did not have to go through with it.  He could have stopped.  He didn't. Afterward?  He was a bastard in the way he handled the dismissal.  

Then there is Michael Finnegan.  I liked him at first but come on!  The guy is intimidated by Max during the entire time he tutors his brother.  Yes, he is crushing on the guy but he is still intimidated.  So Max calls Finn into his office... obviously for a reason... and what does Finn do?  He walks in, locks the door and starts stripping?  Again, come on.

Both characters grew on me eventually.  I can't say that I really loved either one but they got better.  Max stays a jerk throughout (he is quick to point out Finn's faults.. often) but he does show his softer side.  Finn comes across as a wimp at times (when it comes to Max) but it wasn't the entire book so I was able to overlook it.  

Overall, this was a pretty good story.  Normally if I don't like the main characters (much) I don't like the story.  In this case, I did. The mystery was a surprise and the dangerous situations were written well. Because of that, this is probably my favorite in the series so far.  A good addition to the Men of Smithfield series.

I love the cover.  

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Blood Lust, Jessica Degarmo


An enjoyable darker paranormal with psychological depth.

-Review by Kazza K


Blood LustThis book is dark and it contains some graphic, violent, and nasty themes. If you aren't keen on darker, violent paranormals then perhaps you should think twice about Blood Lust. I think it is done well, and I think the context of the violence, paranormal themes, language, psychology, and situations perfectly suited the book. They were well written, and added to the book, not detracted.

Blood Lust is written in the first person POVof the female lead, which served the book well. It gave the reader a clear viewpoint of Nexess/Elizabeth and what she felt, was experiencing at all times. Why she reacted or behaved as she did. Without the first person perspective it would have been too easy to not like Nexess. However while she is an anti-hero, of sorts, I liked her indominatable spirit, I liked her darkness and the shading, as well. The book does move between four years prior and current day, but it does it well. Everything is well signposted and there aren't a lot of flashbacks, just enough to connect the dots on who Nexess was before the vampire she is now. It is a contemporary paranormal/psychological read set in Chicago amongst gang members. While the actual book starts in the present, with Nexess having already been turned, waiting to kill someone that has stolen from her master -
"I withdraw a knife from my coat and slice into him, making it look as though he bled out due to multiple stab wounds. It wouldn’t do for them to cite vampire bite as cause of death. When I am finished, he has more holes than a sieve.
And I smile.
...the saga actually started four years prior. Elizabeth, is a teenager coming home from school. On her way home she is nearly shot by a gang member, she runs to her family home only to find her family, her mother and her sister, dead. It appears she is going to be next as she is suddenly set upon by someone or something big and strong; she is in great pain, and then...nothing. When she comes to she is disoriented, craving blood, chained to a wall, and has a new 'master,' Antonio. Antonio says he has saved her from her attacker, a Feral .45 vampire gang member. He also feeds her his blood and renames her Nexess. Antonio is the leader of the gang Nuove Leve, and their sworn enemies are Rico and his gang, the Feral .45. Antonio baits and fuels Nexess, just like an attack dog, using her as his secret weapon as she can't be hurt by standard knives, guns, and, as a vampire, is physically much stronger than any human.
I went into Blood Lust with the view that this was strictly a parnormal read, and, yes, it sure is paranormal. A good one. What I also got out of Blood Lust was a deeply psychological book about domestic violence as well. Let's be honest DV is more of an inhuman act than human, and it blended so very well with the paranormal aspects of the book. I don't want to turn this into psych 101, but there is a powerful dynamic in DV that a lot of people do not understand - "why do they go back? "Why do they put up with it?" Those questions are generally followed by a lot of judgement, and I understand the questions, the's complicated. However this book, witten by Jessica Degarmo, gives some great insight, if you read it thoughtfully. Antonio picked his target, he was brutal, but he was smart, he would use words of affection - cara, bellisima - to Nexess to make her feel loved, telling her he saved her, whilst peppering violence in amongst it all. Such a neat psychological trick to confuse, to make someone think the tender moments are worth it, that the person truly loves them. Antonio also sets himself up as Nexess' saviour, her master, that he is benevolent and looks out for her. He isn't, but he's made sure that Nexess believes he is the singular source of her life and desire. He has brought about a Pavlovian response in her when she was vulnerable and scared - through indoctrination, chains, a titanium cage, withholding blood - until she feels and acts like little more than an instinctual, raw, hungry animal; then he uses that to his best advantage -

You want to feed?” he asked coldly, yanking at the chain around my neck viciously to get my attention. “Then you’ll listen to me. Who is responsible for what you’ve become?”
“Feral .45,” I shouted out, straining against the chains he held me captive with. God, I needed to feed, had to have blood, but Antonio refused. He said I needed to learn a lesson first.

"That’s right. And what do we do to them?”
“Fight them, fuck them, finish them!” I shouted, repeating the mantra he’d taught me earlier. We’d been doing this for hours and I was close to my breaking point.

“That’s right. We finish them. You know they killed your family. They have a vampire they use to control people, to kill innocent people, like your family. And they would have killed you if it wasn’t for me.”
 “Fuck them!” I shouted, twisting my body wildly. The hallucinations had started that day. He hadn’t fed me in days, and he chained me to the wall so he could instruct me and control me at the same time. It was physically painful.

Let's look at the paranormal side. There are times when I want my paranormals dark. I want my vampires being pure creatures of the night. It had everything I want in my darker paranormal reads - a tough, non-fluffy, violent, drink-to the-death, aggressive female vampire as the main character.

"It is night again, always night when I prowl. I am a  nocturnal hunter, a bump in the night, a shadow on the  bedroom wall, the monster under the bed. I am what children fear and what adults deny exists.  But I do exist and I am on another mission.....They can’t hurt me. I am already dead."

He fucked like a stallion and tasted like filet mignon. I wish I could have kept him longer, but by the time I was done, his own mother wouldn’t have recognized him.
Although Nexess is your worst nightmare, if she's looking for you, if she needs to feed, she also has redeeming qualities, which were well developed by the writer by taking the reader back to her time before 'Nexess.' Plus little things would occur that brought out her humanity when Antonio wasn't around or she had some rare freedom. You know there are better qualities there, they have just been psychologically manipulated by Antonio Bianchi. It was easier to sympathise with Nexess as a character knowing her treatment by Antonio, when you saw what was meted out to her.

Antonio is into every kind of illegal activity, making money off all manner of contraband - drugs, weapons, illegal casinos/gambling - and rave parties, where age is no problem, as long as you have the cash to buy what he's selling. He has his henchmen but Nexess is the ace up his sleeve when he wants someone scared witless or dead; as she is fast, guns, standard knives and ordinary strength are no match for her. In terms of world building there are some standards, some I mentioned above, plus - no sleeping, no sun, speed to burn, stealth, an increased desirability and libido, especially after drinking blood,  Ms Degarmo also opts for - no reflection in mirrors, venom that is deadly if it touches a person, and hallucinations if blood is withheld for her vampires.

Life is pretty much the same for Nexess, kill, be fucked, torutured, be submissive to Antonio. Which is not much of a life. Then, on one mission where there is a battle, Nexess smells something unusual, another vampire. She has never seen one before and this vampire calls to her physically and at a visceral level. We learn his name is Jace, and he is an interesting character. He works for Feral .45, so he is a sworn enemy right off the bat. Or is he? I was so glad to see another vampire come onto the scene for Nexess, because I wasn't sure where her miserable existence was going to go with Antonio before he came along. They have some very snarky dialogue and soon Nexess can't stop thinking about Jace -

“You’ve got a fucking bad attitude,” he says with a smile. It looks as though he’s going to back off and I fall for his bluff. I relax for a moment and it’s all he needs. I’m on the floor underneath him, and his teeth are on my throat. He’s growling again, and I can feel it welling up from inside him. It’s hot. His cock is hard and it’s pressing against me and without thinking, I purr sensually and move against him. We’re struggling against each other now, half fighting and half engaging in the weirdest foreplay I’ve ever had. My hands are frantically roaming around on his back, trying simultaneously to rip into his skin with my claw-like nails and trying to pull him closer to me. My hips are bucking and I don’t know whether I’m trying to get him off of me or trying to get him inside me. My mouth is pinned to his neck, my fangs sinking into him, but it’s more a sexual act than a violent one.

But then I catch his scent and I turn sharply toward it. It’s a scent unique to him and I hone in on it and follow, like a child running toward the smell of fresh-baked cookies. I can’t stop. I have to find him. I can’t be out here and not be with him. He’s suddenly the center of my existence, my reason for
being out on these dark streets. And I’ve found him.

A relationship of sorts develops between Nexess and Jace, but Nexess finds it hard to believe anyone other than Antonio, she's so deeply indoctrinated. Jace is a catalyst for revised thinking. Slowly he attempts to chip away at Nexess to let her know she doesn't have to be chained, she doesn't have to be a slave, she can have freedoms like he has. Will she accept Jace, though, or will she continue to bow to Antonio and all that he has stamped on her psyche? This is probably the hardest part of the book, watching what she does and hearing Nexess' inner conundrum.

Overall -

I really liked Blood Lust. I didn't like putting it down until the next day. I wanted to see where it would go. I knew how it would play out with Antonio, but I didn't mind that. I liked the duality, this two parts within the framework of paranormal. There was some delicious dialogue. There's an erotcism to the book, however most of the sex scenes were not sexy more driving home a point. Nexess and Jace only get together physically on one ocassion and it's not explicit but it is intimate and passionate. There is a romantic nature to the book, if you call sharing a bag lady as a snack together romantic, and of course Jace helps Nexess understand her nature; I appreciated the fact that it wasn't made out to be other than who the characters were. The book finishes too soon for me. I wanted more, there was an epilogue, and it does end well, but, still..... I liked the book enough to want to keep reading. Luckily for this reader there appears to be a sequel in the pipeline for 2013, Wanderlust. I hope this is so, because I'm not finished with Nexess or Jace. If you like a darker paranormal, psychological read, and good writing of those themes, it's all here in Blood Lust. Highly recommended reading.

This book was supplied to me by the publisher Taylor Street Publishing for an honest review.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Closure, Kim Carmichael

This is my first Kim Carmichael book and it won't be my last. A very enjoyable, sexy M/F read. 

-Review by Kazza K

Riley and Mike.
When Closure begins, Riley Williams is waiting impatiently in an upmarket restaurant for an interview assigned to her, by her magazine editor, with a digital publishing entrepeneur. Once Riley looks at the name of the person she is to interview, Mike Taylor, a stored-memory-reaction kicks in. Someone that she has strong memories of, and connection with in her past shares that name. But what are the odds that it's the same Mike Taylor, I mean it's a common name, right? Of course it is that Mike Taylor and we get to know why Riley has the reaction to the name she does. It seems that Riley has reinvented herself. She was once Margaret, a young girl who stood out at school for being different, and also loved a young guy named Mike Taylor, who let her down and didn't show for an important date. It's fifteen years on and Riley still has strong feelings for Mike, it seems. She's now facing him again but he doesn't recognise her. They've both grown up, and while Mike looks a lot like he did, only more mature, Riley has changed considerably - no more heavy, unusual make-up, and out- there dress sense.

So, fifteen years on Riley still feels that magnetic pull she did as a seventeen year old, and Mike is also attracted to Riley. What is she going to do? Exact revenge for her hurt? Or have some fun with Mike, but then let him go? It can just be a fuck, surely? Perhaps she can get some closure and exorcise this 'ghost' of emotion still locked away inside her. Of course things never go as one plans, and Riley finds herself in deep again, as Mike is both sexy and charming. She starts out with a plan, but she is torn about it, because Mike doesn't know who she is. Should she reveal herself, if so when? Her plan suddenly doesn't feel right, still....fifteen years....

Things that I enjoyed -

There's some good dialogue, and I do love that -

The chance of this Mike Taylor being the Mike Taylor were about the same as her putting on a frilly yellow sun dress and sweet sandals, and going out for a night on the town.

She needed to order a yellow frilly dress, some sweet sandals and a tranquilizer. This was her Mike, the boy, now man, who destroyed her past. She'd never been the same since.

After fifteen minutes of discussing the world of digital publishing with Mike Taylor, Riley realized this man had absolutely no twinge of recollection of her.

I liked the journey the book took.

There's nothing like a second crack at someone that hurt you....or that you wanted so badly. But perhaps Riley is not so easy to persuade, but her inner-Margaret is -

"I want to take you out." He stepped closer. Getting this date was proving to be more difficult than securing investors.

"I made reservations at this restaurant and asked for an ocean view." He helped her up and laced his fingers in hers.

Her heart fell, landing in the centre of her stomach. She could only hope the poor organ would save itself before it drowned in a pool of acid. Flowers, a planned date, dinner on the beach, holding hands, this was Margaret's fantasy.

This books is very sexy, erotic. The phone sex scene was all kinds of yummy, same as the club - just that right combination of dirty words, a woman who knows what she likes sexually, a man happy to oblige, with a bit of exhibitionism/fear of being caught thrown in, mmm, mmm - loved it.

I have to say that I am a sucker for people holding onto love. Not so much in real life. But in fiction? Oh, yeah, it's a real hot button of mine, and it was pushed here.

Whilst Closure is predominantly from Riley's POV, you also get Mike's POV as well, which I liked. I wanted to know how he was feeling about things, particularly given he had hurt Riley when she was seventeen. I wanted to know he was a nice guy now, that perhaps it was all a misunderstanding.  I wanted to know he liked Riley, and I wanted to know how he would feel about what had happened when he recognised who she was. He did all the right things, in my opinion.

The title of the book, Closure, was a good one. Ms Carmichael tied it back to the storyline really well. Closure is important, but is it worth holding onto a grudge for? Sometimes things aren't always as they seem.

A couple of niggles -

The story of why Mike and Margaret, now Riley, parted as they did fifteen years earlier isn't fleshed out as much as I would have liked. I enjoyed the characters so I would have liked some more on that. I would have liked some more on the changing of 'Margaret' to 'Riley,' when it happened, and the importance of it for Riley.

The editing of typos, some redundant words, needed to be tighter. It's certainly not major, but sometimes it distracted me from the moment.

Overall -

This is my first Kim Carmichael read and it certainly won't be my last. I thoroughly enjoyed Closure. I raced through it, couldn't wait to see what would happen; because at times I thought the ending could go one way, and then I thought another. Closure was fun, easy to read, and very sexy. If you like an erotic M/F story with a female MC that likes her sex, and isn't afraid to take some control, a male MC who is a nice contemporary lead, characters that get a second chance with a first love, plus a HEA, Closure is highly recommended reading. Due for release November 23rd, 2012.

Please note: This book was supplied to me as an ARC in return for an honest review.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The City War, Sam Starbuck

I very much enjoyed Sam Starbuck's addition to the Warriors of Rome Collection.

- Review by Kazza K

How to review The City War? While it is based on a time period, and a significant event in history - the death of Julius Caesar in 44BC on March 15th (the Ides of March) - there is a bit of poetic licence around the history of the time. It was necessary in order to tell the personal story/interpretation of Marcus Junius Brutus's life leading up to and including March 15th. This book does sit very nicely in the Warriors of Rome Collection. This time the book is set toward the latter period of the Roman Republic, prior to the time of the Roman Empire. This is an interesting fictional look inside Brutus's life and Rome.

As a very basic lead in  - Marcus Brutus is a patrician, and a member of Caesar's Senate. He is a former military man, who actually fought for Pompey, against Caesar, during the civil war; until Pompey was defeated by Caesar. Brutus surrendered, asked for forgiveness, which Caesar granted, taking him into his inner sanctum. There was speculation that Caesar was Brutus's father as his mother, Servillia, had been Caesar's mistress.

When we begin The City War, Brutus is leaving the heat of Rome to have some downtime at his country home, or villa rustica. He has taken along his entourage; which includes his mentor and friend, Aristus. When he arrives he is meeting Cassius, who is his long-standing friend, lover and brother-in-law. Along the way to the villa a wayward youth, with a somewhat noble horse, points out the fact that Brutus's horses could look better, and he could be the one to do that job for him. Brutus is none-to-happy but also amused with his audacity and his youthful zeal. Not only that, for someone who seems to be of the servant class, this lad's horse is quality. So Brutus tells him to head along to the villa, await their arrival, and take care of their horses as they arrive. Brutus likes spirit, and it seems he likes to take on people needing employ. Porcia, Brutus's wife, and first cousin, I might add, never accompanies Brutus away, she likes life in Rome much more than the country. She also knows about Cassius and Brutus, and has no qualms with their relationship, so long as it is discreet. Likewise his sister, Junia, has the same arrangement with Cassius. It's Roman times, they were a somewhat incestuous lot. Cassius refuses to be intimate with Brutus in Rome, however,
outside Rome he has no problems being Brutus's dutiful lover.

While away, Cassius approaches Brutus letting it be known that he does not like the way Caesar has become all powerful and is making changes that take power away from Senator's like Brutus and Cassius, how there are grumblings from others as well. He wants to feel Brutus out about how Butus sees Rome and Caesar. Who will he side with? Initally Brutus is not happy about these conversations, but a letter arrives from Porcia, during his stay at the villa, tellling him of changes, that he should return to Rome poste haste to deal with the issues that are arising. Brutus likes being a Senator, more than he did a military man. He doesn't like the way things are shaping up and he doesn't like that politics can be like war - brutal,  dirty, and bloody. He feels those things should best be left on the battlefield not in the city of Rome.

Cassius wants Brutus to step in and give his official nod to ridding Rome of Caesar, because his plan entails murder. If Brutus is involved Cassius is sure it will not be seen as traitorous, rather a necessary act, as Brutus is a popular man amongst other patricans and the general populace alike.If Brutus will join then others will follow, and he needs many for his plan.

I know in the official blurb it says - 'Brutus must return to Rome and choose between Cassius and Tiresias'- however this really isn't correct. There was never any choice made about one or the other. The book was about Brutus' life leading up to, during, and shortly after the murder of Julius Caesar. How Brutus was feeling, his growing realisation that the plan Cassius has devised is going to happen. It is also about his relationships - with Porcia, Cassius, and now Tireasis. It is also about his great depth of feelings for Rome.

The City War is well named given Brutus's thoughts about war and Rome. It is not full of action, it is not full of sex, it's fairly minimalist in that respect, but there is a slight kink to the story. The sexual relationship between Brutus and Tiresias, which only comes into play at the 85% mark, is nicely handled by Sam Starbuck. It's different and I wondered how he would handle it.

Although I understand why the book ends as abruptly as it does there will be some that may well be disappointed with that. Just know going in it's historical, there is no HEA or really a HFN, it doesn't end badly for Brutus, except he feels great emotions as to what has occured in regard to Caesar and also Cassius.

This book is on the slower side, but I thought the writing was strong, interesting, intelligent, and witty. There is a subtlenss to the writing, to the words. It doesn't make you laugh out loud, yet the dialogue can be incredibly amusing, it doesn't make you cringe away, but the murder of Caesar is quite powerfully relayed to the reader. I cannot imagine what it would have been like going in with a premeditated plan to kill someone you knew so well. Someone from your youth. It's also well written because Brutus, the MC, comes off as a likeable character, and I'm not sure how true this would have been of Brutus in reality, but it made for a nice piece of fiction.

The writing is purposeful, the style charming, quick-witted, and personable; it was difficult to dislike  Brutus and his friends. The City War is not bogged down in too much history, but there is enough to make the book very interesting. I have never heard of Sam Starbuck before this book but I thoroughly enjoyed the laid-back quality to his writing here. Highly recommended for those that like M/M historical writing with Rome as the central theme.