Review: Queers — by AJ Rose

QueersOther Reviewers: Goodreads

This is an advance reader copy given to me by the author for an honest review.  As with all of my review, these are my own opinions.

I have loved AJ Rose’s writing, starting with the amazing Power Exchange.  Back in November 2012, I wrote a review and gave it 5 Stars.  What I loved about it was the strong theme, and the great depth in character development.  It was more than just a romance book, but more like message about self-discovery and being truthful to one’s self.

So, when I was given the opportunity to read Queers, I was both excited as well as nervous.  What happens if I didn’t like this book as much?  Based on the cover and the back of the book, it is nothing like the other series.  But finally, I said, “the heck with it”, and started reading.

Basic Plot:

Duff McKinley is a singer on his way to the big show, well, as soon as he is discovered that is.  His first break is landing a job at Brad Mosely’s bar/club called Queers.  Will this turn out to be a once in a life-time for his career and love life, or will he be stuck with settling?

Garrett Slater is Duff’s best friend, and he moved across the country to support him.  But now is Garrett’s time to shine as he finds Mr Right in the form of Landon Kennedy.  Yet, as Garrett drifts away from his friends like Jackson Moriarty, is he wasting is chance for happiness and true-love or living his dream?

Background:

There is  a lot going on in this book.  There are two “main” love stories here, both are explored fully; we see Duff and Brad’s story first and then Garrett, Landon, and Jackson’s stories are folded into it.

I have not read many of the other reviews on Goodreads about Queers.  I noticed that the range was wide on this one, some readers giving 1 stars with just as many giving 5.  I decided not to read much until after I had finished the book primarily to keep the influence down to a minimum.

I think that two things might have swayed the readers to the lower:  the complex story lines here and the domestic violence.  I will discuss both further in my review, but I believe that was the gist of what their issues were.

Duff McKinley & Brad Mosely:

This is the easy couple to talk about.  Duff is the first person introduced to and I was enchanted from the start.  He is a dedicated and talented singer who landed in LA to “Make it big.”  Now he is ready to make that break into contract-land and needs the job at Queers to get there.  We see into Duff very quickly:

This never gets easier, he thought, approaching the bartender, his back ramrod straight as he faked confidence in an effort to convince both himself and her.

We can easily identify with Duff.  Who hasn’t applied for a job and then was terrified that we wouldn’t get it?  When we meet Brad, we can tell that there is more going on then just his cranky demeanor.

“Pep talk time.  Don’t be afraid of Brad.  He’s a fantastic guy, a lot of fun if you get to know him, and he’s nowhere near as sour as he seems at first.  He’s very loyal, but you have to earn it.”

There’s much to say about Brad, but I do not want to spoil his back story.  Suffice it to say, he has a past love that still causes him pain and he has not moved on yet.  It isn’t until he meets Duff that he realizes it might be time to return.

Garrett Slater / Landon Kennedy / Jackson Moriarty:

This is the complex side of the book, full of angst.  Garrett is Duff’s best friend, really more of a brother.  He is also always been “Out”, not because of choice but rather because his sexuality was difficult to hide in the first place.  This builds a character who is more of free spirit, rolling with the punches rather than hiding or being careful.  It is this nature that attracts Landon and the trouble that follows.  We see Landon’s charm as they meet for the first time:

Landon slowly, deliberately drew him closer until their bodies were pressed together.  Garrett’s breath caught as the man’s warmth and expensive cologne enveloped him.

“I’ll temporarily let you go,” Landon said softly, commandingly.  “But expect my call.”

Jackson is another one of the best friends, a nurse who has loved Garrett from afar.  Unfortunately, Garrett doesn’t believe he is serious about trying to date.  Jackson’s known more as the “slut” in the past, and this stereotype doesn’t help him now.  As he sees Garrett withdrawing more and more of himself in the relationship with Landon he fears for Garrett.

Theme Summary:

At first, I thought I had the theme at 15% of the way through the book.  But what I realized was that it really fed into what I consider the “main theme”.  Moonshine tells Brad something early on in the book:

“You’ve been going through the motions so long, you’ve forgotten how to react to good feelings.  The numbness is wearing off, and I bet it’s fucking weird.”

For Brad, this is about his previous boyfriend.  For Duff, he put his career on hold while he finished his backup degree.  Garrett moved across the country to support his friend Duff and his photography is less about his creativity and more about working for something else.  Jackson is in love with someone who may never see the true him.

And then at 75%, I found the profound theme I was hoping I would find:

“”Death is not fair,”” Duff parroted her words from the police station alley.

Neither is life, but I do what I can to make it fair.”

Life has given pain to every one of our characters and that pain and experience has the ability to stop their dreams and relationships from being fruitful.  However, it is by moving forward through the fires that these characters are reborn into the stronger characters they are by the end of the novel.  They learn the lesson that while friends can help, they ultimately must commit to make the changes to help themselves.

Strong Points:

AJ’s strength is in his descriptions and writing.  I am always pulled straight into the story, and this is no exception:

What didn’t quite fit in was the girl behind the bar, looking more appropriate for a leather club than a dueling piano bar.  Perhaps it was her influence that gave Queers its snap, as if it was closely thumbing its nose at pretension.

It is not just the main character that gets development, but also secondary characters like Moonshine and  Jennica.  In fact, I see Moonshine as the embodiment of the theme and our greek chorus.

What could be better?

If you glance through the reviews on Goodreads for Queers, you will see warnings about triggers.  Remember when I said that AJ’s strength was in his writing?  Well, that also goes into the descriptions of abuse that one character goes through.  So, I give the warning, if you have suffered from domestic abuse, this might be a trigger.

I will be honest, domestic violence is a trigger for me, so there were several scenes where I had to skim through.  I do believe that it needed to be said to advance the plot and the characters, but it is painful to read.

I will also say that the end did feel a bit like the magical fairy came through and tied up all of the loose endings; but after all of the angst and pain I was ready for a HEA.

Conclusions:

This was a compelling read, one that I am very glad I experienced.  Do not be put off by the silliness of the cover, it is a serious read.  There are powerful emotions throughout, so be prepared to cry and cheer as our boys overcome their trials.

The message is one that I think we all could use.  Family is not always blood, but certainly our friends can be the support that we need to survive.  And when we fall down, they will be there to help us up.  While they will encourage us to do better, ultimately it is up to make changes in our lives.

AJ Rose is a brilliant author.  He always infuses his stories with powerful messages, like little kernels of truth and insight in hope that we will take the time to uncover.   If you are currently in an abusive relationship, remember that you can always leave.  You have family, friends, and outside support that will help, but you have to be the one to make the move for help.  This book certainly made me appreciate the support of my friends and my husband.  I have been very blessed; thank you AJ Rose for helping me to remember this truth.

Bea

Review: Spell Bound — by Jacob Z. Flores

Spell_BoundOther Reviewers: Goodreads

This is an advance reader copy given to me by the author for an honest review.  As with all of my review, these are my own opinions.

Basic Plot:

Mason Blackmoor is a Warlock — who has difficulty with his magic.  His lack of skill is a family joke and Mason feels powerless.  Now there seems to be a new evil in town, and Mason feels even more powerless.

Drake Carpenter is new into town.  He and Mason have immediate chemistry — but is it hate or passion?  As they fight the evil, will their love be allowed to catch fire?

Background:

I have previously reviewed a Jacob Z. Flores novel, Please Remember Me.  However, Spell Bound is the first book in a new series by the author called The Warlock Brothers of Havenbridge.

This book reminds me of the male/male sub-genre wizard of series under 200 pages.  These are series that focus on a group of individuals, with lots of  insta-mate sex scenes, groups fighting within the society, a big evil that is defeated right at the end, and character development that is plot driven.  Some series are:  A Wizard’s Touch (Amber Kell), The Aloysius Tales (Tara Lain), Dominion (Lissa Kasey), Triad (Poppy Dennison), and Superpowered Love (Katey Hawthorne).

Because of the abbreviated nature of this sub-genre, I do not expect a lot of character development or world building.  I expected that there would be a large portion of this novel that was plot powered and more “tell me” than “show me”.

Mason Blackmoor:

The introduction of our main character, Mason Blackmoor leads the reader to immediately dislike him.

“Can’t, Busy,” I mumbled as I walked by, and I wasn’t even lying this time.  This was going to be a crazy, magical weekend, and my family had a lot to do.  And even if we weren’t all gathering for an important ritual, Laura and her slutty friends weren’t for me.

My type tended to have lean muscles, a firm bubble butt, and a nice cock.  Now someone like that would have my complete and undivided attention.

This description is supposed to make the reader immediately understand that Mason is gay and he is somehow in a magical world as opposed to the muggle.  But I read this as saying that Mason is a hypocritically critical of Laura’s sexual promiscuity, yet Mason likes fit boys and is a size queen.

If I had not had to read this for an advanced reader’s copy, I probably would have not finished this because of our character introduction.

Drake Carpenter:

Because this is first person (this seems to be the preferred method of the author), we do not learn much about Drake’s perspective.  We know that he has some some emotional trauma with the death of his family and that he is southern.  We know he is southern because all of his dialogue is written abbreviated with a plethora of ” ‘”s:

“Well, it’s always been my experience that when someone’s starin’ out as far as they can see, they’re missin’ somethin’.  They don’t always realize that.”  He paused for a few moments before repeating his question.

“So what are you looking’ for?”

You know how I would be able to tell that this character was from Texas?  If Mason just asked him where he is from.  There was no need to continuously abbreviate all of his words, it was distracting.

 

Theme Summary:

When I began this book I thought that there would be no way the author could establish a theme.  However, I was pleasantly surprised:

“See what you started?”  Edith asked me.  “All I’m saying is we shouldn’t blindly follow tradition.  It’s not who we are.  Our race is a result of humans challenging the laws of the universe.  Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”

And then:

“I know I am, but I don’t think you see it that way anymore.  I think you now realize that being a warlock isn’t a reputation, it just is.  Our magic doesn’t define us.  We define it, and when  you look at it that way, it makes it easier to manipulate.”

I see the first quote as a comment on conservative traditional philosophy with sexuality.  They are often so focused on how sinful and “wrong” homosexuality is, that they do not consider how much we have changed as a society from our ancestors.  What was “wrong” a hundred or more years ago is now acceptable.

The second quote I can also see as a comment about our sexuality.  We hear those labels all the time:  Bi, straight, gay, pan, etc.  But what do they mean?  If I tell you that I am bi, does that tell you everything about me?  Am I a good cook?  Am I a good wife?  A good worker?

Strong Points:

After the rough start, I was concerned there would be no depth with only a tropey plot.  Yet I found a buffet of thought-provoking theme.  I finished reading this book and dreamed all day about writing a blog post.  I can not tell you the last time I eagerly yearned to write a blog post.

As a side note, the cover is gorgeous!

What could be better?

The start of the book did not feel well written.  It was  a rough start:  the characters were two-dimensional and the writing was difficult to get through all of the tropey writing.

I would have given this a 4 star review due to the theme, if we had a better beginning and more character development.  If the author had spent some more time with a longer book (say 300-400 pages), then I believe the author would have had time to develop the story more.

Also, the notes say that this is a 216 page book, but the book ended on page 194. This is a bit misleading.

Conclusions:

I am glad that I stuck through with Spell Bound.  While the beginning was a little difficult to get through, I enjoyed the theme and the plot was pretty page turning.  I appreciated the metaphors within the novel comparing the magical classes to our current social biases.  I will certainly check out the second book in this series, Blood Tied.

Bea

Review: Queers — by AJ Rose

QueersOther Reviewers: Goodreads

This is an advance reader copy given to me by the author for an honest review.  As with all of my review, these are my own opinions.

I have loved AJ Rose’s writing, starting with the amazing Power Exchange.  Back in November 2012, I wrote a review and gave it 5 Stars.  What I loved about it was the strong theme, and the great depth in character development.  It was more than just a romance book, but more like message about self-discovery and being truthful to one’s self.

So, when I was given the opportunity to read Queers, I was both excited as well as nervous.  What happens if I didn’t like this book as much?  Based on the cover and the back of the book, it is nothing like the other series.  But finally, I said, “the heck with it”, and started reading.

Basic Plot:

Duff McKinley is a singer on his way to the big show, well, as soon as he is discovered that is.  His first break is landing a job at Brad Mosely’s bar/club called Queers.  Will this turn out to be a once in a life-time for his career and love life, or will he be stuck with settling?

Garrett Slater is Duff’s best friend, and he moved across the country to support him.  But now is Garrett’s time to shine as he finds Mr Right in the form of Landon Kennedy.  Yet, as Garrett drifts away from his friends like Jackson Moriarty, is he wasting is chance for happiness and true-love or living his dream?

Background:

There is  a lot going on in this book.  There are two “main” love stories here, both are explored fully; we see Duff and Brad’s story first and then Garrett, Landon, and Jackson’s stories are folded into it.

I have not read many of the other reviews on Goodreads about Queers.  I noticed that the range was wide on this one, some readers giving 1 stars with just as many giving 5.  I decided not to read much until after I had finished the book primarily to keep the influence down to a minimum.

I think that two things might have swayed the readers to the lower:  the complex story lines here and the domestic violence.  I will discuss both further in my review, but I believe that was the gist of what their issues were.

Duff McKinley & Brad Mosely:

This is the easy couple to talk about.  Duff is the first person introduced to and I was enchanted from the start.  He is a dedicated and talented singer who landed in LA to “Make it big.”  Now he is ready to make that break into contract-land and needs the job at Queers to get there.  We see into Duff very quickly:

This never gets easier, he thought, approaching the bartender, his back ramrod straight as he faked confidence in an effort to convince both himself and her.

We can easily identify with Duff.  Who hasn’t applied for a job and then was terrified that we wouldn’t get it?  When we meet Brad, we can tell that there is more going on then just his cranky demeanor.

“Pep talk time.  Don’t be afraid of Brad.  He’s a fantastic guy, a lot of fun if you get to know him, and he’s nowhere near as sour as he seems at first.  He’s very loyal, but you have to earn it.”

There’s much to say about Brad, but I do not want to spoil his back story.  Suffice it to say, he has a past love that still causes him pain and he has not moved on yet.  It isn’t until he meets Duff that he realizes it might be time to return.

Garrett Slater / Landon Kennedy / Jackson Moriarty:

This is the complex side of the book, full of angst.  Garrett is Duff’s best friend, really more of a brother.  He is also always been “Out”, not because of choice but rather because his sexuality was difficult to hide in the first place.  This builds a character who is more of free spirit, rolling with the punches rather than hiding or being careful.  It is this nature that attracts Landon and the trouble that follows.  We see Landon’s charm as they meet for the first time:

Landon slowly, deliberately drew him closer until their bodies were pressed together.  Garrett’s breath caught as the man’s warmth and expensive cologne enveloped him.

“I’ll temporarily let you go,” Landon said softly, commandingly.  “But expect my call.”

Jackson is another one of the best friends, a nurse who has loved Garrett from afar.  Unfortunately, Garrett doesn’t believe he is serious about trying to date.  Jackson’s known more as the “slut” in the past, and this stereotype doesn’t help him now.  As he sees Garrett withdrawing more and more of himself in the relationship with Landon he fears for Garrett.

Theme Summary:

At first, I thought I had the theme at 15% of the way through the book.  But what I realized was that it really fed into what I consider the “main theme”.  Moonshine tells Brad something early on in the book:

“You’ve been going through the motions so long, you’ve forgotten how to react to good feelings.  The numbness is wearing off, and I bet it’s fucking weird.”

For Brad, this is about his previous boyfriend.  For Duff, he put his career on hold while he finished his backup degree.  Garrett moved across the country to support his friend Duff and his photography is less about his creativity and more about working for something else.  Jackson is in love with someone who may never see the true him.

And then at 75%, I found the profound theme I was hoping I would find:

“”Death is not fair,”” Duff parroted her words from the police station alley.

Neither is life, but I do what I can to make it fair.”

Life has given pain to every one of our characters and that pain and experience has the ability to stop their dreams and relationships from being fruitful.  However, it is by moving forward through the fires that these characters are reborn into the stronger characters they are by the end of the novel.  They learn the lesson that while friends can help, they ultimately must commit to make the changes to help themselves.

Strong Points:

AJ’s strength is in his descriptions and writing.  I am always pulled straight into the story, and this is no exception:

What didn’t quite fit in was the girl behind the bar, looking more appropriate for a leather club than a dueling piano bar.  Perhaps it was her influence that gave Queers its snap, as if it was closely thumbing its nose at pretension.

It is not just the main character that gets development, but also secondary characters like Moonshine and  Jennica.  In fact, I see Moonshine as the embodiment of the theme and our greek chorus.

What could be better?

If you glance through the reviews on Goodreads for Queers, you will see warnings about triggers.  Remember when I said that AJ’s strength was in his writing?  Well, that also goes into the descriptions of abuse that one character goes through.  So, I give the warning, if you have suffered from domestic abuse, this might be a trigger.

I will be honest, domestic violence is a trigger for me, so there were several scenes where I had to skim through.  I do believe that it needed to be said to advance the plot and the characters, but it is painful to read.

I will also say that the end did feel a bit like the magical fairy came through and tied up all of the loose endings; but after all of the angst and pain I was ready for a HEA.

Conclusions:

This was a compelling read, one that I am very glad I experienced.  Do not be put off by the silliness of the cover, it is a serious read.  There are powerful emotions throughout, so be prepared to cry and cheer as our boys overcome their trials.

The message is one that I think we all could use.  Family is not always blood, but certainly our friends can be the support that we need to survive.  And when we fall down, they will be there to help us up.  While they will encourage us to do better, ultimately it is up to make changes in our lives.

AJ Rose is a brilliant author.  He always infuses his stories with powerful messages, like little kernels of truth and insight in hope that we will take the time to uncover.   If you are currently in an abusive relationship, remember that you can always leave.  You have family, friends, and outside support that will help, but you have to be the one to make the move for help.  This book certainly made me appreciate the support of my friends and my husband.  I have been very blessed; thank you AJ Rose for helping me to remember this truth.

Bea

Review: Power Exchange — A.J. Rose

Other Reviewers: Goodreads

BDSM romance can come in different styles, from the light “bedroom kink” to an intense psychological journey through submission.  Both are valid examples of the lifestyle and romance sub genre, they simply call for different emotional impacts.  The book, Power Exchange, by A.J. Rose falls into the later category.

The title itself leads the reader to the heart of the novel: Power Exchange.  The literal, the process found within BDSM when the sub gives their power over to the Dominant.  The Dominant receives the “power” from the sub by gaining control.  Of course, the sub still has a certain power by being able to stop everything by using a safeword.  For more information you can go to this article.  Power Exchange explorers this aspect of a D/s relationship, as well as dealing with a hot romance, and a murder “who done it”.  But this book is so much more than face value;  I found Power Exchange deeply moving and emotionally challenging.

Basic Plot:

Detective Gavin DeGrassi investigates a murder that points to the BDSM lifestyle.  Under pressure to solve the case quickly and quietly he finds help in psychologist Ben Haverson.  But what Gavin discovers along the way is his own hidden sexuality and submission.

Gavin DeGrassi:

Once again, we have a book set in first person, in this case, Gavin.  He is someone who is hiding his homosexuality, and is indeed married.  While discovering the murder of the BDSM case, he discovers his own submission through Ben.  We can easily relate to Gavin.  Where in our lives have we felt trapped and suffocated?  He is stuck in the closet, married to a woman who is slowly emasculating him.  He withdraws into the only passion he has left, his job and through this job he finds his liberation.  We see his relationship with Ben here:

My chest flooded with warmth, at how this confident man– this person who had not once judged me for my inexperience or my uncertainty, had only held my hand and unhesitatingly walked with me through the scariest revelation of my life — had wormed his way behind my closet door and given me what I’d been afraid no one else could.

Acceptance.  Before I’d even found the courage to admit I was in the closet.

There is much to say about Gavin’s emotional and character development, but I do not want to spoil the story.  I felt such a kinship for Gavin, and the beginning of the book there were so many scenes with his partner, his family, and his wife in which he was overwhelmed.  The author did such an excellent job of allowing us to feel his emotional claustrophobia.

Ben Haverson:

Because we are not allowed Ben’s perspective, everything we know about Ben we see through Gavin’s eyes.  It is through the suspense dialogue, play scenes, and romance that Ben’s character comes through.  He is a leading Dom in the lifestyle, and a psychologist who helps those within the BDSM world.  He comes into Gavin’s life understanding that he is in the closet and by being his friend helps him to step out of it.  He also helps him to understand his submissive nature.

“Ah, the power exchange.  A submissive’s greatest gift is giving someone else control.  As I said last night to you and your partner, it takes more courage to kneel before another than to stand beside them.  Subs are not weak.  They simply choose to let someone else fulfill their desires, and trust that person to do so.  They put their Dom’s wishes ahead of their own, and their payoff is a happy Dom, who also rewards them with praise and love and the safety net of guiding them around life’s obstacles.”

Ben is a man who we would all want to be friends with and he has a kind soul.  He is the example that all Doms are not “Domly Doms” assholes.

Theme Summary:

A quote early on in the book discusses the theme:

Submissives enjoy making other people happy, and it doesn’t have to be only in the bedroom.  It’s an exchange of power.  Believe it or not, the subs have more power than you realize.  They have the power to choose whether or not they give themselves to a Dom.  Once the exchange is made, the Dom takes up that power to use as they see fit, but it’s a power they earn.”

As I hinted in the beginning of the post, on one level, this book is about a developing BDSM relationship.  On another level, we see it as the awakening of one man from his submission of self his entire life and understanding to exchange the control of power from outside to within.  This sentence is repeated throughout the book:

“They say it takes more courage to kneel before another than stand beside them.”

This is such a beautiful story about one man’s liberation.

Strong Points:

The strong point of this book is the writing.  A.J. Rose is an amazing writer, bringing a complex story to life in vivid descriptions.  He balanced an intense crime story with a romantic love story in a BDSM setting.  So often we find a BDSM story in a light fashion, it was refreshing to find something that delved into the psychology of a D/s relationship.

Another strong point is the murder mystery.  I had figured it out before the end, but there was a great deal of suspense as we eliminated suspects and the body count increased. I spend a lot of time in reviews discussing the personal growth of a character or the relationship because that is what I find interesting.  But this book is also a very good crime story and it is important to remember that.

What could be better?

I really have found nothing lacking about this novel.  But I do want to warn folks who are new to reading BDSM, this might not be the best choice for your first try.  The murders are graphic, the violence intense.  While this does have a HEA,  there are several aspects of play that is edge play and not just “entry level BDSM.”

Conclusions:

When I find a book that I rate a five star, it has to have an emotional impact on me.  This book had me laughing, smiling, and crying at various points of the story.  I learned many new things about BDSM (especially edge play), that challenged my comfort zone.  To me, then a good book challenges you to consider a situation from another perspective, often in the end you learn something new about yourself.  For me, this book taught me that I am lucky to be in a relationship where I can be honest with my partner about my wants, hopes, and desires.  That sometimes you confuse loyalty and duty as absolutes, that sometimes you have to think of your own self first.  You can always change your path.

Read this book.   It is well written and provides characters that are flawed and endearing, and if you are lucky, you will find something about yourself that you never knew.

Bea