Monday, 29 July 2013

Sonata, A.F. Henley

*** This review contains a lot of spoilers.  Keep that in mind before reading.  Also, my apologies for the length.***

- Review by Cindi

2.5 out of 5 stars

Ian is frustrated. He has a boring job at an investment firm.  He's a workaholic but not by choice. He is thirty-six and has no one to go home to each night so he always ends up working late into the evenings and his weekends are spent working as well.  Even after his last relationship ended as a result of infidelity on the other man's part, he still wants someone in his life, someone he can love. He goes to a bar after work one night and it goes as expected.

The three scotches meandering through his bloodstream should have been easing the tension in his shoulders, not increasing it. Yet even with his jacket off Ian could somehow still feel the constriction of the fabric, as if it were the very thing binding him into his middle-aged hole of existence.

His clothes screamed out the warning of too-old-to-be-cool and yet still too young to be the daddy replacement the rest were looking for. "Twenty-five or fifty-five, anything in between is simply viral," Ian's flamboyant ex used to always tell him.

The night is a wash and he makes a quick trip to the men's room thinking he'll be leaving soon and going back to his lonely apartment.  Only that's not exactly what happens.  While standing at the urinal he is approached by a man much younger than him and within seconds they are in a stall at the stranger's urging. What happens next shocks Ian but he eventually goes with it because he knows that men like him don't get approached for a quick fuck from strangers often, if ever. The stranger turns out to be a man named Jordan though Jordan is definitely not interested in trading info with the older man. He wants to get off and get gone. Ian, on the other hand, feels funny doing a quickie with someone he doesn't know so he tries to make it a little personal. I found the way he went about making things a little personal as needy, clingy. This set the stage for my opinion of Ian throughout the rest of the book I'm afraid. More on that later. Jordan comes across as a jerk in a sense but then again, not really. He makes it clear what he is there for and he has no desire to get chummy with Ian afterward.

"Are we done bonding now?"
He didn't wait for Ian's reply.  He reached for the jacket, dragged it off the hook and handed it to Ian.
"Let's fuck."

"Can I buy you a drink?" he'd asked, still panting from release, still trying to convince his legs that he could, in fact, remain standing.
"Nope," Jordan had said, tucking away body parts and straightening his clothes. "Now you can piss off."

Ian leaves the bar convinced he'll never see Jordan again but life has a funny way of changing things. First, he runs into Jordan at a mall while he's out with his best gal pal Aubrey. At this time, Ian also meets Jordan's 'son' Cole who is screaming in the middle of the mall. That meeting also goes as expected for Ian as Jordan makes it clear that he is not interested. Later, Ian runs into a female friend of Jordan's in a grocery store (who he had also seen at the mall) and ends up at Jordan's apartment building helping the woman, which then turns into Ian being pushed to take something up to Jordan's apartment. When the latter happens is when I seriously began to have major issues with this story. 

Jordan's 'son' is Cole and he is eight-years-old. Cole is not like all other children his age and when Ian knocks on the apartment door the child begins screaming. Ian, who doesn't know this child from Adam, immediately takes charge to quiet Cole down. The way this is done worked to quiet Cole but it also angered me. I am a parent and had someone, a total stranger, grabbed my screaming child and done what Ian did I would be doing more than having a meltdown. Ian would be on the ground and I assure you that Ian would be getting no "thank you" from me for getting my child to be quiet. 

This visit begins a relationship of sorts though I had a difficult time buying it. Jordan is twenty-two and takes care of Cole. There is major secrecy surrounding both and Ian doesn't just try to get to know Jordan and Cole, he comes across as a clingy stalker who thinks it's his duty in life to control Jordan and Cole. I also found Ian to be the type of man who is so desperate for someone, anyone that he would latch onto the first male who looked in his direction.  Jordan does not need a man in his life. He doesn't want a man in his life. He only wanted to scratch an itch at the bar that first night, not pick up a clingy older man who later searches his apartment looking for signs of neglect (in regards to Cole of course).

After all, should things be too severe, as much as Ian would hate to do it, he wouldn't be above a call to protective services. Jordan might be pretty, he might have a nice body and suck a good cock, but there wasn't a circumstance listed that would have Ian tolerating neglect.

Good point and I applaud people for wanting to do what's right for a child. However, Ian had been inside Jordan's home for all of five minutes and had seen Cole exactly twice. He knew exactly nothing about either of them at this point but yet he immediately latched on to "neglect" because the cabinets and refrigerator were not overflowing and because there was a little dust on some surfaces.

"What is it with you people? Like just because I'm not rich or old that somehow means that I can't take care of Cole?"

At this point, Jordan's absolute devotion to Cole had been obvious. Jordan had very little money and he had very little as far as material things but he did everything in his power to care for Cole. 

The relationship between Ian and Jordan is an odd one at best. For Jordan, it seems to be only about sex and this is made known early on, though he does eventually profess his love for Ian. Ian immediately jumps into the relationship with feelings and not just the sexual kind. Ian also has a very bad habit of discussing personal things in regards to Jordan and Cole with his best friend, Aubrey. This over sharing comes back to not only haunt Ian but Jordan and Cole as well.

Aubrey is the token bitchy female friend found commonly in M/M books. Only she takes her bitchiness to a new level and almost destroys everything that Jordan has worked for with Cole. What came later not only made me angry with Aubrey but with Ian as well. Jordan's secrets are forced into the light and instead of standing up for his man and the child he's grown to love, Ian takes a complete step back.  Granted, Ian has a health scare as a result but what about later? When he's better? He had promised to be there for Jordan and Cole but when it counted he was nowhere to be found.  The story then jumps several months in advance and concludes with what I consider to be a very rushed ending where I felt that nothing was resolved except a quickie between Ian and Jordan after they reunite after months and months of zero contact. 

Cole has Asperger's Syndrome. While I could never claim to be an expert, I am very close to someone who knows Asperger's well. I understand that Sonata is fiction and I credit the author for getting specific symptoms of Cole's condition correct. There were quite a few, however, that are not that close to what I learned from my friend who has a vast amount of knowledge on the subject. Because of this, I have to say that the lack of realism in some scenes in this story strongly took away from the story for me. Had I never heard of Asperger's or even known a little about autism, those particular parts of the story (with the exception of a major instance at the end that would not be realistic for a child with or without Asperger's or autism) would have most likely been a non-issue for me.  But as I know some about the subject, they weren't. 

What I liked:

- Jordan. Jordan, while young, did what he felt was right in regards to Cole. The decision may not have been the correct one but it was done completely out of love. He would go to the end of the earth for the child and this shines through brightly.

- Cole, though my heart broke for him.  

- The large age difference between the main characters.  Ian is thirty-six and Jordan is twenty-two. 

- The cover is beautiful.

What did not work for me:

- Cole's Asperger's and the way it is described. As mentioned above, some things are described accurately but some aren't. He is yanked out of his parent's home and forced to go on the run for four years. This means four years without the proper care needed. At eight he has not gone to school nor even learned how to spell his name. He has zero routine. He rarely speaks. The only people he comes in contact with are Jordan, a female neighbor and her child and later, Ian. The way that Cole is described is as a child with a severe case of Asperger's or as a child with severe autism as both seemed to be intertwined in his case. If it is severe then he would not be able to function as he did in this story without proper care and he most definitely would not have had what I would consider to be a 'miraculous' recovery later on... in a span of a few months... by learning how to spell, write, play piano, do a piano recital in front of a loud crowd, or handle noises or situations that he could not handle months earlier.  In other words, Cole goes from being almost 100% unresponsive to suddenly being able to do all the things he was unable to do during the first eight years of his life.

- Aubrey.   

- Ian. The best way to describe Ian is needy, clingy, obsessive, stalkerish... among others. Not only does he immediately try to have a relationship with a trick but he acts whiny when he is told "no". He pushes and pushes and comes across as weak.  Then later he tries to appear as if he's the strong one who should be in complete control of Jordan and Cole. The word 'neglect' is tossed around often in regards to Cole's care when he knows absolutely nothing about Cole or the situation. He physically grabs a screaming child (who is unable to be touched) and locks himself in the bathroom with him, locking Jordan out I must add, in order to run water in the tub to calm Cole down. I touched on this above. Had anyone grabbed my child the way Ian did Cole, he would be picking himself up off the ground and I would most likely be arrested for assault.  Especially with him being a total stranger who has seen the child exactly two times. I will say again that what Ian did to quiet down Cole did work but this mom here has a difficult time getting past the fact that he grabbed the child in the first place.

- There is a lot of jumping ahead in this book. Early on, Jordan goes from refusing to be kissed to suddenly being in a relationship with Ian. The biggest jump in time is when this reviewer needed more detail, at the end. There is so much build-up in the story with Jordan, Ian and even Cole but then something major happens and suddenly the story is jumping ahead weeks and then months with very little detail to explain that time. The detail that is there?  All about Ian. I would have preferred to see what happened to Jordan and Cole during the few months as they were the center of the story for me. By reading what Ian went through during that time did not endear his character to me in any way, shape or form. He walked away when he should have been there for Jordan and Cole.  Never is it explained why he did not do a little research to find out what happened to Jordan and Cole after Ian's friend, Aubrey, brought everything crashing down on them. He just went on with his life and that was that.  Only when he receives something in the mail from Cole does he decide to man up and do something.

- Jordan and Cole's parents. Because of the time jump mentioned above, I had a difficult time buying into their sudden change in regards to their children. Had the author come back with their father being out of the picture, perhaps I could accept it.  That was not the case. He miraculously changed his ways. It must be noted that Jordan/Justin had kidnapped Cole when Jordan/Justin was eighteen and Cole was four, four years prior. I find it difficult to believe that after that, they would all be one big happy family a few months later.

- The ending.  It did nothing for me other than prove that Ian and Jordan's relationship is based solely on sex. When they should have been discussing all that had occurred in the previous months, they were having a quickie in the parking lot. And then it ended. What happened next? Did Jordan and Ian go on to live happily-ever-after? What about Cole?

- The Jordan/Justin thing. I totally understand it and I get where the author was coming from but I could not go from reading Jordan Jordan Jordan to suddenly Ian calling him Justin without hesitation.  Ian met him as Jordan, not Justin. One would expect Ian to slip up once the real name comes out.  Nope, that did not happen even one time once Jordan's real identity was made known.

I want to stress that I went into this book with an open mind once I got to the part of the book about Cole having Asperger's Syndrome. I am aware that this is a fictional story but it is written about a very real condition. While Cole may have still shown some signs at the end, I find that by changing him almost completely over a span of a few months to be extremely unrealistic and inconsistent with what I know about the subject. Someone I care about has Asperger's and I know for a fact that one must do more than Cole did in order to get where he did at the end of this book. I am aware that each case is different but Cole's quick behavior-change seemed to me to be a bit much.

Overall, I enjoyed the story though I was not a fan of Ian from the onset. This, in turn, jaded the rest of the book for me, on top of the other things mentioned above.  I fell in love with Jordan/Justin and Cole immediately. Had the book focused more on them instead of Ian perhaps my opinion would be much different.

This book was provided by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

On Top Down Under Book Reviews is Moving

When On Top Down Under Book Reviews was created in October 2012, never would we have dreamed that it would grow as quickly as it has. Two total strangers, from two different hemispheres, came together over the shared love of books.  A friendship between these two strangers happened first, of course, otherwise there would be no collaboration.  Not only has the friendship grown but so has the reviewing site.

Soon On Top Down Under Book Reviews will be switching over to a new-look WordPress site. The look of On Top Down Under may change but the books will still be reviewed the same, by the same two people with some guest reviewers thrown into the mix, and there will still be current and personal posts as well. Our name will remain the same. Our little reading hobby has taken on a life of its own and we, both Kazza K and Cindi, feel that it's in the best interest of the blog to move to a site with more flexibility and another server, one that is more accepting of the types of books we review and our occasional NSFW photo or GIF. Okay, sometimes more than occasional.

As changes occur they will be noted with additional blog posts.  We hope that our members will continue to follow us once the transfer is complete and that all will continue to support us as we continue to grow. We are aiming for September 1st as our transfer date as our resident computer guru has been working diligently to make everything happen quickly. 

What will change?  On top of having a more professional and inviting look, the site will be easier to navigate as each post will be properly categorized. Purchase links will be in place for ease of use as well as other dynamic more user-friendly functions. Our Facebook page will be accessible with the click of a mouse as will our Tumblr account. Our contact information and submission policies will also be easier to find. The only major thing (other than appearance and navigation) that will change is that each current member must rejoin the site. Once this is done, emails will be sent to members advising all of new reviews, contests, interviews and other posts. Choosing to follow our new-look site allows subscribers anonymity and access to reviews as soon as they are posted via email, if desired. 

We hate to ask our members to rejoin as all of you have been very supportive of our endeavor. However, this is the only way for us to move forward with the new server. Once we are up and running you will see why we felt that it was necessary to make these changes.  

Also, On Top Down Under Book Reviews will be celebrating our one year anniversary on October 6, 2013. We are very proud of this milestone. More on that will be posted as we move closer to that date.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, email us at the address below or click our pictures on the right of this post and send us an individual Goodreads message. If you are interested in receiving an email reminder when the time for the transfer comes, contact us at or click here and one will be sent to you. Any and all email addresses shared will remain confidential. We go to great lengths to keep our own personal information private and respect the need for privacy and anonymity.

We are excited to see what is in store for On Top Down Under Book Reviews in the coming years. We look forward to sharing that growth with you, our members.

Cindi and Kazza K

Friday, 26 July 2013

Deep In The Count (Love Has No Boundaries), Madison Parker

- Review by Cindi

5 out of 5 stars

Deep in the Count
My luck with YA/NA books with jocks and nerds hasn't always been that great. For some reason when I pick one up they are always the same story: The jock is in the closet and falls in love with the nerd. The nerd is either hesitant to date the jock or is too clingy. The jock ends up hurting the nerd because someone discovered the jock's love for men and his reputation is on the verge of being in tatters.

Deep In the Count?  Not even close to the others I've read. 

Brandon is a star baseball player at Virginia Tech University. He's openly gay and has no problem with people knowing.  He is a popular pitcher and never lacks for friends. Brandon is out and he's totally not ashamed of who he is or the fact that he is attracted to men. The girls want to date him anyway. The guys want to be him or at least spend time with him. His jock boy reputation is just fine, thank you very much, gay or no.

His best friend Jack is very straight but accepts him for who he is.  Jack is the stereotypical jock. His roommate, Corey, is the complete opposite of him and the dorm room proves this. Jack's side is a disaster. Corey's is perfectly organized with nothing out of place. During a visit to Jack's room Brandon discovers that Jack's roommate is gay. Corey isn't there at the time but that gets Brandon thinking. Corey is a nerd and Brandon has always had a thing for the smarter guys. 

"Is he cute?"
"Really? You're asking me if he's cute? This conversation is getting way too gay."
"Well, he ain't Zac Efron.  He wears glasses.  And he's always playing with one of those Rubik's cubes.  He's like, off-the-charts not cool."
"I bet he's really smart, though."
"He's a freaking brainiac, and I'm sure he thinks we're a couple of dumbass jocks. Guys like him don't hang out with guys like us."
.. Brandon sighed. "Yeah. You're probably right."

A few days later Brandon is having problems in a math class so he goes to the tutoring center. If he didn't pass his math class, he'd be at risk of being placed on academic probation, which could cost him his scholarship.  Without baseball, what the hell was he going to do with himself? There he finally gets to meet the elusive Corey. It doesn't take long before Brandon is letting Corey know that he's interested in more than just tutoring but Corey is hesitant. Corey has his entire life planned out and he has no desire... or time... to get involved in any type of relationship much less with a jock who has yet to decide what he wants to do in the future. This kind of starts a back and forth that turned sexy quick. Corey's way of 'teaching' Brandon the math he needs is cute and it's sexy though Corey doesn't so much as allow a kiss. But Brandon has a plan that will speak to Corey's nerd side and I have to say it was one of the most unique ways of 'wooing' someone I've ever read.

I fell in love with these guys immediately. It is refreshing to see a jock written in a book that is not trying to hide who he is. Brandon knew what (and who) he wanted and he set out to win the man of his dreams. Corey is not your stereotypical nerd either.  Oh sure, he's a smart guy and he focuses a lot on his studies but he knows (eventually) that he wants Brandon and when Brandon starts trying to win him with something dear to his heart he knows he's sunk.

I'm a total baseball freak so this short was right up my alley. Not only is it about baseball but the author uses baseball terms to help Brandon with his tutoring. There's even a glossary of baseball terms at the end of the book.  And here I thought I knew all there was to know about baseball. I just learned new terms that I didn't even know existed.  I won't dare say which ones were new to me as I'd never hear the end of it from my baseball-lovin' sons. Ah, but not all is great. Brandon is a Boston Red Sox fan (this reviewer is a huge New York Yankees fan, as in obsessed New York Yankees fan.  For those who follow MLB you know the two most definitely do not go together).  I was able to overlook that as it was only mentioned once. :D

There is a great set of secondary characters from Jack to Corey's bestie, Samantha (who lives 1,000 miles away and communicates with Corey via text or Skype). 

The way that Brandon gets Corey to rethink his 'anti-dating' stance is via messages left for him in code.  Corey is studying cryptology so this is the perfect way to be won over. The last message is left for the reader to decipher. The author gives hints and even a website to go to for help or to just solve the code. I'm ADHD so I admit to cheating and using the site to decipher the final message though looking at it now I could have easily figured it out without any help. This is yet another unique part of this story.

I fell in love with this author's writing style when I read another short of hers a few months back. I quickly became a fan and have since read her others. I would have a difficult time picking a favorite but Deep in the Count is up there.  It's funny.  It's sexy. It's really, really cute.  Highly recommended.

Overall, a great short. I loved all the characters and I found the story to be unique. I love how the author made each character 'out' so the story focused on getting the men together, not the trials of being in a relationship with one or both in the closet.  Another great read by Madison Parker.

This was written as a part of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group's "Love Has No Boundaries" event.  The free download link can be found here.

This short story was reviewed for this blog at the request of the author.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Wolf at the Door, K Drew.

To say the property was welcoming would be to compare a viper's grip to a mother's hug. The house possessed a furious quality, a silent anger that was impossible to ignore. If a home could speak, this one told me to get into my car and drive away, but in spite of this I stayed.
- Review by Kazza K

Wolf at the Door
A glorious cover.
I love paranormal. It's my biggest reading shelf. I'm also a huge fan of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, just the tip of the iceberg really. I do love that brooding, atmospheric, gothic romance style. So when I read the official blurb for Wolf at the Door I thought  - stately house + mysterious inhabitants + brooding character + disappearing men + paranormal = Kazza.

When Wolf at the Door starts Nicholas Ashbee is in an interrogation room at a New York police station. He is a suspect in the death of Lilith Blackwood...and he has seen better days. The detectives are spouting cliché lines at him to get him to confess to the brutal murder of his charge. From the  interrogation room the reader very cleverly gets transported back, you get to know Nicholas Ashbee and those he crosses the path of. And you get to see the last month spent at the Blackwood house. It is never written in jarring flashbacks it is always a trigger or some other smooth transition from present to past. The story builds from the focal point at the beginning to the end which is just past the beginning.

Nicholas grows up in the uninspiring town of Constance, Illinois. He lives in a trailer park that is full of dysfunction. This starts with his mother, Cheryl, who has alcohol and other substance abuse issues. He nurses his grandmother who has diabetes and stomach cancer until she dies, and he is gay in a town where "his tribe" is not many. Life is not a great joy to Nicholas and those around him. He has some gay encounters in a tunnel in the local park and he has trouble sleeping as spouses abuse the local hooker at the trailer next door or someone works on their bike, loudly, at early hours of the morning. They exist, and Nicholas wants to do enough to get out of his much despised poverty 

Nothing much was spared from ruin at Singer Trailer Park. Things had a way of breaking down here, not only the property, but also the people. I saw my fate spelled out on the worn faces of the residents each day.

But Nicholas decides that if he works hard enough at school it can be his ticket out -

After my eighteenth birthday, I decided to focus on school and try to drag myself up out of the gutter within which I had gestated.
I was driven to become more than just an extension of my parents' ravaged lives and pitiful mistakes, and for a time I succeeded. Perhaps I was a little too successful in my attempt to erase any trace of where I came from. I may have overcompensated.

He nursed his grandmother - he looked after himself from a young age - so he has a pragmatic career path -

Nursing is what you aspire to when you grow up in a dilapidated trailer park in Constance, Illinois, where dreams of rock star fame and teenage revolt are replaced with far more practical goals.

Nicholas attains a small scholarship into a New York college, Desentia, which specialises in medicine, and specifically nursing. By the end of the year he had done well enough to be awarded the coveted Blackwood Internship. Past recipients have apparently gone on to exclusive, private hospitals and great things, so they are told. So gaining this internship appears to be the right step in Nicholas' career. Nicolas is sick of poverty, sick of being at the bottom of the socio-economic rung -

That's the real difference between being rich and poor. If the poor make a mistake, they pay for it for the rest of their lives, and the world never forgets...or forgives.

Pretty soon Nicholas discovers that the Blackwood Internship may not be as thrilling as it first seems.
While Lilith is nothing if not interesting, Sebastian, her incredibly sexy, and seemingly much younger husband is cold and uses Nicholas to do many things around the house -  prepare breakfast, dress animals killed on the estate, clean, garden, prepare a banquet for Lilith's upcoming birthday festivities, serve at the party, all on top of nursing duties.

Nicholas notices things that are unusual but sometimes so much so that you wouldn't think anything more than you have imagined it. From the time he arrives at Blackwood he feels like he is being watched. Loki, Sebastian's dog, is almost like a wolf with uncanny closeness to his master and aggression towards Nicholas until his master's attitude changes. Lilith is incredibly old yet has moments of lucidity and activity followed by periods of being almost catatonic and seemingly at deaths door. When he visits the woods an occurrence is so surreal he questions it ever happened. Nicholas vacillates between leaving the estate and feeling compelled to stay for Lilith and for his odd and growing attraction to Sebastian. I can't say a whole lot more without giving away major plot and the ending. So I will break down what I liked and what didn't work so well for me.

Things that worked -

It definitely fulfilled my desire for a gothic romance with a paranormal slant.

There is a beautiful turn of phrase and lovely prose in this book. K Drew has quite the style -

Something compelled me to venture into the woods and discover more about Blackwood, a history as twisted as the branches of the dead foliage which bore its name.

My grandmother had always taught me that dreams were a means of entering an alternate world. A domain uninhibited by social formality, where the truths we don't wish to acknowledge exist. As I would later learn, she was absolutely correct, and this series of images that my mind had conjured was no silly daydream, but a premonition of dangers to come.

Interesting characters. Nicholas Ashbee really has a darkly resigned perspective very much skewed by the desire to earn a living, break the cycle of poverty --

"You have an impressive grasp of Victorian literature," Sebastian said reverently.
"I considered becoming an English major before going into nursing," I stammered.
'What prompted you to give up the rewards of literature?"
I suddenly turned serious and told him, "I gave up beauty for practicality a long time ago."
"One should never have to choose between the two."
"You have to when you're poor."

I appreciated the name of the nearby town, Drekton, that was visited for a bar pick-up-fix if so desired. Clever.

I'm a people/character observer so the descriptions of the residents of the Singer Trailer Park were incredibly well drawn. Life in Constance was starkly observational and real. Nicholas' mother could not be mistaken for mother of the year material.

Once the paranormal aspects were written in they were well done. There was a true gothic build. The latter part of the book had some good world building and action. I wanted to know what would  happen.

The ending. I wasn't sure where it was heading and I thought I may have to throw my Kindle, but no such thing was needed. My Kindle and I were both left intact! I really enjoyed the ending and I'm glad it is not cookie-cutter, but it was the most optimistic part of the book and I liked Nicholas' thoughts. K Drew did a great job with the end in my opinion.

I enjoyed the way this book subtly compared the life of those with wealth against those without. It was a good study in human nature and perceptions. It parallels life and behaviour of people in Constance, in the lower socio-economic demographic, against those of the rich in the Blackwood's world.

Even though there is only one sex scene in this book it has definite erotic undertones throughout, which worked well given the style of the book.

There were some rather gruesome and graphic parts to this book. Not often, but when they occur they fit with the story and style.

What didn't work for me -

Whilst I loved the background on Nicholas' hometown of Constance and the trailer park's inhabitants I could have done without other minute details. I believe I read at the end that the writer draws or paints and I would say that the writing at times is done with an artists eye to detail but not so much from the author's eye for multi-layered character development. For example, Detective Anderson, who has a bit part in the book - he is in it twice for a few moments - has everything described from the colour of his clothes, to stains on said clothes, to moustache etc. Clive, who disappears, the same thing. I was more interested in getting to know Sebastian more and I felt that time spent on him would have been a better investment from the writer.

So, having said the above, there was not enough emotional development of Sebastian. This book is purely Nicholas Ashbees' narration, so Sebastian needed some stronger development to shine through. What there was given was good and intriguing, but I wanted more. Towards the end I was all over Sebastian. I am really hoping there is another book to follow this up.

I needed to know some more about Loki, the lake, the woods.

The narrative was, at times, too sophisticated for the MC. Nicholas could look at something and compare it to this artist or that artist, and had more than a basic or working knowledge of art history.  At his age, his level of education, his lack of a parent, or family who would show him these things, take him to art galleries, travel the world,  it seemed a stretch. Example, he knew to compare a guest and his mask at Lilith's party to that of the horny devil from the commedia dell'arte, which suited his personality like a glove. Hell, Nicholas kicked my arse in art appreciation and intricacies.

Overall -

Wolf at the Door is very much written in a true noir, gothic romance style. It is heavy on details, and while I may not have liked all of the detail I appreciated the intricacies and the writing. The thing is, the characterisations did suffer somewhat because of it. BUT...I liked the book so much, and as I reviewed it I appreciated it even more - if you write reviews as often as I do you will possibly appreciate that last comment. Do not go into Wolf at the Door thinking this is a werewolf novel, or that it will be driven at a rip-roaring pace, because you may be disappointed. Go into it thinking very descriptive writing, moody feel, enigmatic characters - bar the narrator, Nicholas. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I am looking forward to more from a talented and incredibly promising author, K Drew.
4 Noir Stars
This book was supplied to me by the publisher, Dreamspinner Press, in return for an honest review.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Billy's Bones, Jamie Fessenden

This book contains scenes that some readers may find disturbing and that could be considered triggers for abuse survivors. The author handles these scenes with sensitivity but a few are quite graphic in nature. Keep that in mind before choosing this book as your next read.

- Review by Cindi

5 out of 5 stars

Kyrie eleison down the road that I must 
Kyrie eleison through
the darkness of the 

The first time Kevin Deroacher meets Tom Langois he is thirty-two, newly married and has a baby on the way. He has also recently tried to hang himself and has been referred to Tom, a psychologist, by another doctor after Kevin's release from the hospital after the suicide attempt. After the initial consult, Tom is convinced he will never see Kevin again as a patient and that prediction turns out to be correct.  

When Tom shook his hand and looked into those sleepy, soft hazel eyes for the first time, he was struck not by the pain he often saw in his client's eyes, but by the confusion he saw there, as if Kevin had no idea why any of this was happening.

Fast forward three years.
Billy's Bones

Tom has bought a home that has an outdoor hot tub in need of repair. He is given the name of a local contractor, a "Mr. Fix-It" if you will, to call about the repairs. The name of the contractor is Kevin Deroacher, a name that Tom recognizes immediately as the lost man who had come into his office three years earlier. 

Tom debated whether he should call Kevin, feeling he might be violating the professional relationship between a therapist and his client. But Kevin had seen him only once, three years ago. And it was just to get the goddamned hot tub fixed. So he gave in and dialed the number.

There is no recognition of Tom's name but when the two men come face-to-face Kevin remembers Tom well because of his soothing voice during their one and only meeting prior. Kevin is now divorced. It doesn't take long for Tom and Kevin to become friends (not therapist and patient), though it is more than obvious to Tom that Kevin never dealt with the issues that caused him to attempt suicide three years earlier. There are nightmares and panic attacks and Kevin does things that he would not do had he properly been treated years earlier instead of abandoning it all. 

Kevin doesn't remember much from his childhood.  Kevin doesn't want to remember much from his childhood.  He knows that something horrific occurred when he was a child but he has blocked it all out and has no desire to remember any of it.  However, there are triggers.... a song on the radio, the forest, among many other things that most would consider minor.  To Kevin, they force him to panic and to run. As much as Kevin doesn't want to remember he knows that he has to or he will never be able to live a normal life. He is a loner with few friends because he's never been able to get too close to anyone. That caused the demise of his marriage and has kept him distanced from others. He remains friends with his ex, Tracy, but even she knows very little about his life before she came into it years before.  Meeting Tom again not only triggers things for Kevin but it makes him want to have a relationship with someone, a man, for really the first time ever.  Unfortunately, the time spent with Tom pushes Kevin in a direction that he would prefer to not go. After a few panic attacks (one violent), Tom encourages Kevin to see his friend and fellow psychologist Sue for therapy. Seeing Sue is a long time coming but the more his feelings for Tom grow the more he knows that he can't keep going as he is. The two have quickly fallen in love but their relationship is not normal in any way.

Kevin can't be touched.  Kevin can't be kissed. There can be no sexual contact at all. Certain smells trigger attacks. A specific song triggers attacks. 

"We have this fucked-up relationship that feels almost romantic one moment and like we're just friends the next. You don't want to have sex with me, but you like being naked with me and sleeping in the same bed with me. I don't know what to make of it."

"I can't think of any way to ask this," Tom said, "without sounding like I think you're five years old.  So forgive me.  But... you can tell the difference between platonic love and romantic love, can't you?"

"Then are you saying you want to be my boyfriend?"
"If you can handle a boyfriend who can't kiss or have sex..."

This is a hard book to read. Don't get me wrong, it's written brilliantly and it is very obvious that the author did a lot of research in order to get Kevin's problems down accurately. This is by no means a typical M/M love story. What Kevin went through as a child is so horrific that I literally had a hard time turning the pages on my Kindle Fire because I knew what was coming next. When Kevin's memories start coming back I admit to getting teary more than once. One set of memories came back and I got emotional, as expected. Another set of memories returned and I had a hard time continuing because my heart broke in so many places not just for Kevin and what he was forced to endure but the other party involved. I'm not going to give it away but this particular scene is why I posted a bright red warning at the top of this review. You can't read that without getting angry, disgusted, sad. You want to reach inside the book and protect two innocents and kill the one who dared harm them. I'm an emotional reader.  I am also a mother of three sons. Reading this really affected me as I'm sure it has other readers.

There is no miracle fix for Kevin in this book. It is a very long road for him to get where he needs to be and even after everything comes back, he still has a long way to go before he is able to get beyond his childhood.  His mother is horrible and I found myself cussing her on more than one occasion. I mention above that this is not your typical M/M love story and I really need to stress that point again. This is no happy and roses story. Kevin and Tom do find their happily-ever-after but Kevin's past life will always be there and Kevin will always be forced to deal with the ramifications of it. I applaud the author for writing this story real. Sure it's fiction but I know that there are cases such as Kevin's in the real world. Anyone who can read this book and not be affected is much stronger than me. I finished this book hours before typing this review and I am still strongly affected by it. 

There is an interesting set of secondary characters from Kevin's ex wife and her new man to Sue, Kevin's new therapist. His mother plays a large part as does his late father. My favorite secondary character, however, is Shadow the dog, who Tom adopts at Kevin's urging. Sometimes Shadow seemed to understand Kevin more than any humans could.

As Tom and Kevin's relationship begins to grow, Tom wants to jump in and try to fix Kevin but at the same time he is scared of what will come out if he keeps pushing. As a psychologist, Tom is able to surmise early on what Kevin went through as a child because of some of Kevin's odd behaviors as an adult.  This causes friction between the two men because Kevin wants a boyfriend, a partner, not a therapist. 

"No! You aren't trying to help me. You're trying to fix me so you can have a normal boyfriend. One who likes to suck your cock and take your dick up his ass! And if I can't be fixed, then fuck me! You'll go find somebody else."

"I do want to fix everybody.  That's why I became a therapist. Most of the time, I'd argue that's a good thing, but... well, I guess you're right about me trying to fix you so you can be my boyfriend. Part of me was probably thinking that if I helped you figure out why you had such an aversion to sex, then we could have sex."

There is an issue with Sue, Tom's friend and fellow therapist. Sue, understandably, feels that Tom should stay far away from Kevin as he was once one of his patients, even if they only met one time.

"You really shouldn't be seeing a guy you've treated."

"In any event," Sue said, "you shouldn't be friends with somebody you've treated either."

"I saw him once, three years ago.  I think we're well past him thinking of me as an authority figure."

"Besides," Tom added, "neither of us sought each other out.  Destiny just threw us together again."

There is much more I could say in this review but I am choosing not to. I do not wish to type any type of spoilers as anything else I say would take away from the story for others. I will say that this is my first book by Jamie Fessenden and if Billy's Bones is anything to go by, he has definitely gained a new fan. Rarely do I find an author who can write a story like Billy's Bones. It's honest. It's brutally real. It made me want to grab every book the author has released to date. 

All is not serious as there are quite a few humorous moments as well. Kevin has a warped sense of humor and it shines through brightly. Even after all Kevin has been through, he is still able to throw out a funny line or two here and there. He is also quite blunt in describing certain things with an example being how many times he masturbates and how he goes about doing it. Tom feels that by shocking others Kevin is able to take the attention off of his real problems. Tom also finds some of these shocking statements to be more telling than Kevin probably wants.

Someone asked me before I started typing this if the door is left open for a sequel.  I will say yes but I want to stress that there is a HEA. Any future book would (I assume) deal with the relationship as Kevin continues to heal. I would gladly read any future books about Tom and Kevin on the day of release.

Overall, I have to say that this is an outstanding book.  I told someone today that it is definitely one of my favorites of 2013. Thinking back I now have to say that it's one of my favorites of all-time. There are no words to express my total love for this story and the author's writing. This was an easy 5 stars for me.

Note that there are warnings posted by the author before you get to Chapter One. I suggest reading those as well as everything else written before the story begins. Kevin's suicide attempt (that led him to his initial meeting with Tom) is described later, along with the feelings involved at the time. Kevin's childhood memories are described in detail and the reader is not only given a glimpse of what Kevin endured but is forced to feel things along with him as well.  These memories are not pretty nor are they glossed over.  Keep that in mind before reading. There is also an issue that some might find disturbing in regards to Kevin and Tom's relationship as the first meeting was as patient and therapist.

This book was provided by Dreamspinner Press in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Sidelined (Southern Scrimmage #2), Mercy Celeste

This beautiful boy, with gorgeous eyes, smiled at me. And I had to go out and throw him on the ground a few times...

-Review by Kazza K

SidelinedTracy Wright is a coach at a local high school in Alabama. A school that has seen three high schools amalgamated into one. Which means three football teams that have been, are being, consolidated into one. Nothing like rivals now having to be team members and only one spot per player. The team is a mess, certainly not cohesive, and the school has decided that they will be bringing in another assistant coach to help. They already have one defensive coach now they'll add a new offensive coach to the mix. But Coach Wright is not impressed when he finds out who that is-

"Not fucking Levi Brody.
"Why not? He's an alumnus. He's more than qualified to -"
 "Not Brody. I won't have his prima donna ass on my field. Let him find another team to play God on. I don't want him here. We can't afford to pay him anything close to what he thinks he's worth -"
"You asked for qualified coaching assistants, and I found you probably the best one on the planet. And he volunteered. This is a win-win situation, coach."  

Tracy and Levi played on opposing teams when they were younger. So clearly Tracy is not impressed by the new choice of assistant coach. But why is that? Why such disdain?

Levi Brody has been let go from his team The Pirates in New Orleans. He's in pain and reeling from a career-ending injury to his shoulder, the ease with which his football club has dumped him - paid out his contract, told him to go. His (friends in the) team don't know -

Hey, 501, let's go tee up. Then you can treat me to a couple rounds at Rascals.
So Slayer was back in New Orleans but hadn't gotten the memo that Levi wasn't.

They didn't know yet. None of them. Management took the god damned cowards way out and cut him on the quiet. And no one knew. Yet.

So Slayer, one of Levi's best friends, calls him -

"Where the hell are you anyway? I'll come get you, and we'll talk to management. They can't just cut you. You got us two rings, man."

Levi is back in Alabama, his home town. Jude, Levi's brother, still lives in Alabama. In the town they grew up in. That's why Levi is back. Jude is a lawyer. Lives in the local McMansion that people say came off the winnings of his brother's NFL success. Jude has offered Levi up to the local school, with a few provisos; like naming the local sport field after him. Only thing is he didn't bother telling Levi. Oh, and, Levi isn't taking any calls from his brother at the moment.

Tracy is pissed off about the whole Levi Brody thing. It has stirred long buried emotions back up - by sixteen Levi Brody made Tracy know for sure he was gay. He was a fantasy before he went away to play professional football - even after. Levi will never be interested in him and he sure as hell isn't interested in Levi anymore. He's going to be a pain in the arse and turn his team and coaching into a circus. Levi didn't even turn up when he was supposed to for coaching. He neither wants or needs this shit. So Tracy goes to the local bar before he heads home. He is going to have a few quiet drinks to help deal with it all. While he's at the bar the football news is on and it is announced that Levi Brody has been let go. Things get a bit heated with some patrons -

"Bet he's off getting a blow job from that lousy fag they let play on the team..."
One of the pool table boys shouted at the TV, "Go look for him in Murphy's bed."  
Tracy lunged off the stool and had Brody around the waist before he'd made more than a couple of steps. "Easy they're just assholes. Easy," he said softly, pulling the long lean quarterback away from the commotion. 
"Fuck off." Levi turned to look at Tracy as he shoved him off. Nobody talks about Bo that way and gets away with it."

Levi is under the influence and Tracy can't let him drive home in the state he is in, so he ends up having to drive Levi home. They talk, a bit, Levi a mixture of snark and off-kilter, and Tracy holds his own or is trying to figure out what the deal is. And, of course, Levi is still as sexy as ever -

The bark of laughter from the dark rippled over his skin like a caress. Damn, the man had a sexy laugh. One that had Tracy trying to get his body under control. Hard fucking body and a sexy laugh. Not something he wanted to know right now.

When they drive by Jude's McMansion Tracy is stunned to find that Levi is living in a single wide. What the hell is up with that? But right now Levi is not 100% steady on his feet. Irrespective, he has a tight arse and a nice sway to it. Tracy is not staying, no way no how...but -

He put his hand on the gearshift and started to reverse out of the yard, because this was dangerous territory, watching Levi Brody move and wondering what those long damn legs would feel like..."

Tracy stood on the small stoop watching as Levi made his way deeper inside...
...Levi opened the small amber bottle and shook out a pill, then chased it with whiskey straight from the bottle.
This was his high school nemesis. The damned reason he knew he was into guys. Levi Brody, the one who did the impossible...falling the fuck apart right in front of him.

Tracy goes in after Levi to see if he is okay. But Levi isn't. There is no one around to look out for him, his shoulder is obviously giving him a hard time and he is washing painkillers down with whiskey. Levi ends up literally crying on Tracy's shoulder, venting his sadness - he's lost, cut from his team, in pain...and one thing leads to another. Tracy is holding his high school fantasy and Levi is keen on taking this further -

Tracy didn't know what to say. Or do. He turned to meet Levi's mouth when his breath ghosted over his lips. Slow dancing to no music turned to soft kisses in the middle of Levi's childhood home. This wasn't happening. This so wasn't happening.
"You want me. I can tell. I need to be with someone. Take me to bed...."
He slid his hand down Levi's back to grasp his ass, pulling him flush against him. He lost all pretense and groaned as Levi's rock hard dick pressed against his...
"I want you to take me to bed. Want you to fuck me until I forget...
Want it. Need it. It has nothing to do with the liquor."
Tracy's body clenched in need. God damn, Levi was a bottom. He was going to burn in hell for this...

And they have some smoking, needy, lost-in-lust sex. Tracy is very dominant in bed and Levi a power bottom. There is some nice dirty-talk going on in bed... or wherever they can fuck. And, let me tell you, Sidelined has some incredibly erotic sex in it. Inventive - including hot kilt sex, and sex with an unexpected bottom...and then some.

Sidelined is not anywhere near as angst-filled as Six Ways From Sunday, the first in this series. There is still enough tension to keep the pages turning. Certainly Levi calling Tracy Bo in the beginning sets the tone. Tracy is worried that he is a substitute for another man - because he is blonde like Bo and built like Bo. Irrespective of the fact that he desires Levi, Tracy has his not-so-happy feelings too -

Tracy leaned over him, his heart beating hard. "I wanted to hate you. I was set to hate you. How did you get so damn close this fast?"
"I'm irresistible, And Cute. And hot. And sexy. And I love dick. And football. And you're the only game in town."
Tracy felt the knife twist in his gut about the time his balls drew up tight. Levi's mouth went slack as he came in Tracy's hand. He wanted the fun back. But he didn't want to be Levi's default fuck.

But Tracy likes Levi and he doesn't give in too easily. Okay, so it seems like it's about sex initially for Levi. But feelings grow. It's not just Tracy that has them. It's whether Levi will share his feelings and whether Tracy believes him. But there are some light hearted times and events. Tracy's family are lovely and Tracy is a nice guy who is thoroughly gone on Levi - he has never really gotten over his
first crush. I really liked Tracy and Levi. They were meant for each other. They fit well together and both give as good as they get from one another. They have some fun as well -

"Mmmm, Doctor Tracy, I love it when you get all analytical on me. Tell me, Doc, I have a stiffening of my third lower appendage, and need a cure. Can you help me?" Levi backed his ass against Tracy's stiffening lower third appendage and rubbed sensuously.

But Levi has some issues from his childhood that make him seem a little 'off' at times. As the book progresses they come out gradually. His childhood, his life, his secrets, other aspects of his persona, and why. I did not expect it and I liked that Mercy Celeste went somewhere a little different with the characters, particularly Levi. There is a tying-in to Bo and Dylan - the MC's in Six Ways From Sunday - using some flashbacks and also because they actually are in the book. They form an important part of Levi's backstory. It was interesting to see how Bo and Dylan coped after Dylan came back a broken man in SWFS.

Overall -

If you like the following - semi-angst, sexy, sexy men, and erotic writing, humour and snark, two engaging characters, something a little different for one of the characters that you don't expect, some jocks and a HEA. And if you enjoy Mercy Celeste's writing, then I say don't miss Sidelined.

4.5 Viking King Stars 

PS: There is a sneak peek at book #3 at the end. That should be interesting.

My Life as a Myth, Huston Piner

If you're not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.

-Oscar Wilde

-Review by Kazza K

My Life as a Myth by Huston PinerIt's August 27th, 1969. And it's Nick Horton's first day of high school. He feels like a text book case of a loser. He doesn't have many friends and school is not a joy. He's certainly not overly confident and feels somewhat like an outcast -

A social life? I don't have one; the few acquaintances I have don't really count. If I vanished out of their lives, they'd never notice. My only real friend is Bruce Philemon, he says I just need to try harder. So to help me try harder, I'm starting this journal.

And that is exactly what Nick does. He starts a journal and that is how this book is told.

While Nick is waiting for the bus home, Andy Framingham decides to chat up a girl. When the girl's older, and larger, boyfriend is going to show him just how he feels about that, Andy throws a can of coke down on the pavement spraying everyone with the contents -

Just as they prepared to kill Andy and hide the corpse, Mr Wiggins, the elementary school principal came running from the building. He yanked Andy out of harm's way and announced he would report everyone to the high school principal.
"Horton? I remember you, still making trouble, eh? Well, this time Mr Fuddle will see you pay for it."

This starts off a series of events in Nick's life. Nick really isn't trouble. He just wants to go to school, not get beaten up, not be embarrassed in PE -

The way some of them show off makes me very nervous. Talk about embarrassing! You'd think "faggot" was my name! Today I just tried to keep my head down, change fast, and get out of there.

...and the change rooms, have some friends and a bit of a social life, ride the bus in peace, get a locker in a better location - not on Dead Student's Row, as he names it - and go home every day without much drama. But the list that Mr Wiggins gives the principal at his high school has his name at the top for the coke-can-fountain incident, not Andy Framingham. Then a few other events occur where Nick is the one seen to be doing something he shouldn't. But the real bombshell occurs when Nick mixes up the name of the film he is to meet Bruce at, and ends up in a theatre watching Fellini's Satryicon. The film is a bit of a revelation, so much so it is raided by the police, he is taken out like a criminal, photos are taken, he makes the news and the front paper of the local paper. Nick is suddenly a rebel.

Meanwhile, Nick has come to the attention of Jesse Gaston and his gang - Gary, Matt, and Bobby Warren. Jesse is an interesting character who seems to get intense delight in taking Nick under his wing and talking up his bad boy persona. When Nick jokes that he is Napalm Nick Jesse runs with that name. Napalm Nick is a good rebel's name, something he can work with. And work with it Jesse does. Jesse is the ultimate school spin-doctor -

Every time I attempted to reveal the truth about how I ended up at a movie destined to be raided, Jesse always jumped in to enlarge on my magnificence, my audacity, and my criminal invincibility.

I've come to realize that it is useless to argue with Jesse Gaston. When he decides to do something he can come up with a hundred reasons to convince you to go along.

And very soon Nick becomes cool. Rumours spread, aided by Jesse. The girls all want to be with him, guys want to be seen with him, and his social life has never looked better. The thing is, Nick is not Napalm Nick, he's just a fourteen year old trying to find his way and discovering bit by bit that he isn't attracted to girls. He is, however, attracted to guys and in particular he's attracted to Bobby Warren.

Nick comes from a fairly typical suburban family of the era - his mum stays at home, his dad works, there are rules, but a certain amount of freedom. And, oh yes, he has two older brothers, Nathan who died in Vietnam after being drafted, and Raymond who has disappointed the family by growing his hair, and dropping out to live in a commune - very sixties. Neither name is allowed to be spoken in the household for the last three years for different reasons. Pretty hard on a young boy who just wants to talk about his brothers. But, once again, fairly typical of many families of any era, just change the war.

Increasingly, Nick is realising that girls just aren't who/what he finds attractive. He tries everything to see if he can be like other guys who talk about girls. Who like Playboy. But perplexingly (at first) he's not. He also isn't enjoying being Napalm Nick. It's not who he is either, but it's better than being a loser...and there are perks. Plus there's a protection in the group and he cant bring too much attention on himself for other reasons - 

Damn it! The truth is maybe I do sort of like guys. I just don't know. But I can't let Jesse and the guys think I'm a fag. Okay. I'll be Napalm Nick for a month or two longer. Maybe after things die down I can move on and be a normal teenager again. That's not too much to ask, is it?

But Jesse continues to weave his magic and the rumour mill just chugs along. Nick also makes a friend with a senior, Brian. Brian is a popular jock but he likes Bobby and is rather mellow and very much full of live and let live philosophy. There was definitely more of a story to Brian and I would like to know more about him. Meanwhile, Nick and Bobby are growing closer and closer. Nick gets to stay over at Bobby's. He lives in the FROG - front room over garage - and his parents are former beatniks who are liberal in their thinking. Nick and Bobby discover a lot of things together, their likes are similar,  they are both sweet, young boys, they are gay, they grow close as friends and fairly soon they are intimate with each other. The author does a good job of displaying teenagers - their language, their fears, their worries, their intensity of feelings. After Nick wakes up naked next to Bobby the first time -

I dried my hair with the damp towel. Bobby had rolled over and snored quietly, now clutching a pillow. I finished dressing and watched him sleep for a minute, taking in how perfect he was from head to toe. My God, he's beautiful, I thought, and I felt myself stiffen. It took me a couple of minutes to tear myself away from just admiring him.
There are some things you just know you'll remember all your life and I knew right then that even when I'm a hundred, remembering him sleeping like that will bring out the same feelings in me.

To later when they are intimate -

Then something in me snapped, and all my frustrations transformed into desire. When we got to my room, I closed and locked the door behind me. I put my hand on Bobby's shoulder, turned him around, took him in my arms, and kissed him. His eyes told me it was unexpected but welcome, and we fell onto the bed.
I felt him up and loosened his shirt and trousers. He stiffened as I ran my fingers through his hair. He moaned softly and at that moment, I don't think I could have stopped myself it I tried.
Right now Bobby's sleeping next to me. He's beautiful when he sleeps. I can't believe how much I love him. It's not just the physical stimulation I get from him. It makes me just as happy to do things for him as when he does things to me. It's even enough just to be with him, like now, and to know that he loves me as much as I love him.

And the two boys do fall very much in love. But life is not easy. Napalm Nick is a lot to live up to. Jesse complicates this immeasurably and everywhere Nick turns there is pressure - girls he isn't interested in wanting more, being gay but having to hide it, being a rebel that he isn't. A new series of events as someone is blowing up trashcans at school and one of the teachers is now tailing him everywhere he goes as they believe Napalm Nick is the person behind it.

Then there are family matters ready to take centre stage in Nick's life. His brother - Raymond - comes home unexpectedly for Christmas. He hitch hikes from San Francisco and while their mother is glad to see him, their father isn't. But Raymond stays and cleans himself up - a shave, a hair cut - and even his father is feeling better about Raymond now. Nick is glad to have his brother home and he feels that Christmas is better for having him there. There is much to learn about one another in a short time - like Nick is now smoking pot, cigarettes, drinking beer, and taking magic mushies -

He and I snuck off to get high before supper. This time he provided the weed....He called the marijuana Acapulco Gold, whatever it is, it's damn potent. When we got home and wandered into the kitchen, both smiling from ear to ear and giggling, my mother cracked us up saying how nice it was to see her "two little boys" having so much fun together.

 But Raymond has a secret and when it is revealed things will never be the same in the Horton family again.

I won't say anymore about the plot because I will ruin the book and it is best read. What I will add is this. Every chapter is headed up with a song title of the period that is incredibly apt. The last two chapters were beautifully named. Perhaps some people may feel unsure about the use of drugs or alcohol by minors, but this is what was happening at the time. Still does now. It isn't glorified, it's just part of the times and the story. Did every kid experiment in the 60's? No. But a lot did. The 60's was a crazy era of change mixed with a lingering conservatism. I lived during this era, was around the same age as the characters and I did all of these things...and then some. The music listed - I had every single one - bar the jazz - on vinyl. The attitudes that are portrayed were so real. The culture. But
here's the thing, this book translates well to today. There is still the group mentality, the homophobia. How difficult it is to be an outcast at school. How the word "faggot" is more than just a name. How friends can turn on you and the hurt that is associated. The fracturing of a family. The mistakes parent's make, and the repercussions. There are some real messages that are not lost between 1969 and 2013.

My Life as a Myth is one of the most realistic LGBTQ YA books that has crossed my desk and I encourage anyone who may be remotely interested to read this book. I am so glad I did. I will also add this -  there is no HEA. I say this because some people will rate badly if that is the case and they are not aware of it. So, I'm throwing that out there as much as I don't want to have to say that.

If you like a period piece. If you are interested in the 60's. If you like LGBTQ YA, if you like humour, a message, young love, and can handle a bittersweet piece of fiction that is firmly rooted in reality, then please do yourself a favour and read the beautifully written, wonderfully named My Life as a Myth.

5 Stars

It may be hard to be true to yourself, especially if you're different and people hate you for it; but it's still harder living your life as a myth. It's a lie and in the end it's self-defeating. In the long run, it's better to let people know the real you. It may be hard, but it's a lot less complicated, and at least you find out who your real friends are.
If you love someone, go on and tell them. If they can't love you just because you're different, you're better off without them. And when you find someone who loves you too, don't let anybody or anything stand in your way.
- Bobby Warren.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Sweet Young Thang (Theta Alpha Gamma #3), Anne Tenino

- Review by Cindi

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sweet Young Thang (Theta Alpha Gamma, #3)
Collin Montes played a huge role in his fraternity (Theta Alpha Gamma, aka TAG) at Calapooya College accepting openly gay and bisexual pledges. His frat brother Brad helped him to get the ball rolling when he himself came out to the shock of other members not long before. Collin's Uncle Monty is the president of the TAG Alumni Association and makes it clear that he and the other alumni are not pleased with the frat's new acceptance policy.  There is fear by some of the alumni (commonly described as the 'Good Ol' Rich Boys' club) that by accepting gay and bisexual members that TAG will gain a bad reputation and might turn into a fraternity that gets bashed for its new acceptance policy. A threat to remove alumni funding is not just implied, it's promised.  

A fire and eventual bomb at the frat house confirms Monty's suspicions (he thinks) and he strongly encourages his nephew to push his frat brothers to change the policy back to what was in place before Brad's coming out moment. The old policy was basically a don't ask, don't tell situation when it came to gay and bisexual members. Collin refuses to try to have the policy changed back as he himself has a personal stake in it. Collin is gay but in the closet to his family and (he thinks to) his friends and frat brothers. Only when he meets someone worth coming out for does he realize that staying in the closet is no longer an option, not with his friends and mother and most importantly his uncle... his uncle who has practically raised him since his father died when he was four. Monty has controlled every aspect of Collin's life from what schools he attended to even his college major. The plan is for Collin to graduate university and work for the family company. Collin has never questioned Monty as he always believed that the man had his best interests at heart. Only later when Monty shows his true colors does Collin see him for what and who he truly is.

Firefighter paramedic Eric Dixon is called out to the scene of a fire at his old fraternity. One of the current members has been injured as a result of the fire (and an explosion caused by it) and while Eric doesn't do anything unethical with the patient's care, he does take notice of a young man close by... a young man he falls instantly in lust with. When there is a bomb scare in the uninhabitable frat house later, Eric sees the man again but with all the chaos of the scene, the young man disappears once again. Only later does he finally meet Collin and hook up with him. 

There is a large age difference between Eric and Collin.  Eric is thirty-six and Collin is only twenty-one.  Normally I am all about substantial age differences but I had a few issues with it in this case. Collin, while responsible, came across at times as much younger than his twenty-one years. I have three sons varying in age from nineteen and twenty-five so I am very familiar with how a twenty-one-year old male acts. Also, Eric.  Eric is only thirty-six but you would swear he is much older in the way he is described at times. Having gray hair at an early age is one thing but I felt that Eric came across as a bit too stodgy with some of the comments he made. As he and Collin quickly begin their relationship (not just sexual but with feelings... over the course of a week) comments are made about Collin, a twenty-one-year old college student, and his phone and emails. I considered it to be a bit odd because I know thirty-six year olds who are more obsessed with technology than even teenagers. I am quite a bit older than that myself and I completely related to Collin, not Eric, in that regard.

The book started out good.  I love the slight mystery with the fire and the bomb.  I like how Collin and Eric met.  I even liked Collin's bastard Uncle Monty. The secondary characters I love as I am a huge fan of the other books in this series. Kyle (a fraternity brother) will forever go down in my reading history as the greatest straight friend ever (who helped with one of the greatest coming out scenes ever in Frat Boy and Toppy).  However, there are a few things that seriously bugged me while reading this book. The endearments and pet names mainly. I am a southern girl (born and raised in Mobile, Alabama) so endearments are part of my every day life. If I go one day without hearing one or using one then something would seriously be wrong in my world. It's the norm in my part of the country.  But Eric went entirely too far with his endearments to Collin.  To the point where instead of enjoying the story I was making fun of the character.. even during very serious parts of the book.

Sexy Eyes. Sweet Thing.  Sweet Thang. His Boy. Sweetness. Sweet Boy.  His Sweet Boy.

... to name a few.

We're not talking a few times here.  It was on every single page several times. If Eric wasn't calling Collin one of these pet names he was thinking them in his head. His boyfriend is also used a lot by both characters and Collin is big on "His Sexy Man" or "My Sexy Man".

This is the third story in the Theta Alpha Gamma series and before I started this book I went back to Frat Boy and Toppy to reacquaint myself with Collin as he played a big part in Brad and Sebastian's story. My skimming turned into my reading almost the entire book all over again. Frat Boy and Toppy is one of my favorite books and I have read it many times.  It even made my favorites list on this blog for books published 2012. Each time a new book in the series comes out I am eager to jump into it and Sweet Thang was no exception even if I am definitely not a fan of the cover or even the title. I wanted to enjoy this addition to the series and I did enjoy it. I liked Collin in the first book and I liked him again in his own.  I even liked Eric though I did find the relationship to be a bit on the 'daddy' side with him and Collin. I'm okay with that as I'm a fan of those types of books as well.  What I didn't enjoy were (as I said) the distracting use of endearments and pet names.  I feel that the constant use of them took away from the rest of the story.  

Another thing that bothered me early on was the author bringing in a little discord between Brad and Sebastian from Frat Boy and Toppy. When I read a book centered around a couple I want their HEA to come at the end of their book. I love seeing characters from earlier books revisited in later ones but not if it's to disrupt their relationship.  Only later into Sweet Young Thang did I see where the author was going with them. I realized that it had to be brought up as Collin played a part in their relationship early on.  For awhile there I was nervous because again, Brad and Sebastian are one of my favorite M/M couples.

The mystery of the bad guy was figured out early on but not the reasons for it. I enjoyed watching Eric and Collin as they moved from hooking up to a real couple. There is a major sweetness with these two and even if it was much too sweet at times I really did like watching them get where they needed to be at the end.

The secondary characters are perfect. From Kyle (the perfect straight friend) to all the others in the fraternity house, some of which had me laughing out loud. Uncle Monty is a true control freak and is written perfectly as such. The fraternity aspects of the story are not very realistic in some instances but that was okay because it was all humorous and I got a big kick out of some of the antics. The mystery/suspense was written well though not much real time was given to it. The resolution was nice. There is also a slight history between Eric and Uncle Monty that I wish would have been more realized.  I do think that the book could have been cut in half in length and still been a good story. Even with what I consider to be too much length, I enjoyed it as I am a big fan of the Theta Alpha Gamma Series. A new gay character is introduced so I look forward to seeing where the author takes him and his story. I only hope that the use of overly sweet pet names and endearments aren't in any future books.  I'm fine with sweetheart or dear or honey or even baby. Sweetness and sweet thing and my sweet boy were a bit much when used to excess.

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  The love story is an insta-love situation as everything that happens between Collin and Eric occurs over the period of one week.  Normally I'm not a fan of insta-love but with everything else going on the story seemed like it all happened over a longer period of time. The sex between Collin and Eric is hot, frequent and written extremely well. It was nice seeing Brad and Sebastian again even if the author had me worried for a little while there. Thankfully their issues were resolved rather quickly.  I love how everything finally came to a head with Collin and his Uncle Monty even if I do feel that it was slightly rushed.

I look forward to number four in the series.

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