Quickie: A Wealth of Unsaid Words — by R. Cooper

Other Reviewers: Goodreads

WealthofUnsaidWords

Page count: 112

Do you like holiday themed stories?  Usually we see this in an anthology as a short story or novella and the environment of family, love and redemption, and new beginnings are common.

This week I was in the mood for something a little more complex than just a basic “feel good” romance story.  In  A Wealth of Unsaid Words, R. Cooper adds a bittersweet facet by using mental illness as a source of conflict and character development.

Basic Plot:
It is a year since Alex has last been with his best friend Everett and his family.  Alex has spent the last year trying to gain control of his life from his bipolar disorder.  His habits and meds are working, so can he now take the risk to be the man he wants to be for Everett?

Relationship:

Alex has relied on Everett and his family throughout his teens and as an adult against his illness.  They are extremely supportive and now he feels as if he needs to stand on his own.  Everett has loved Alex all his life and he has begun to fear that Alex would never allow them to move to the next step.  Summed up:

“That and who hasn’t wanted something they haven’t gotten?  Those poems are full of all the reasons why he wants what he wants, which are also the reasons why he shouldn’t have it,” she added.

And really that’s what the book is about.  Are these two men strong enough and brave enough to try to make this relationship work?

Strong Points:

The strength of this story is that we only see Alex’s viewpoint.  We get to see how his mind works, and while he is now on his meds, we still get the impression through the skilled writing of how frantic his thought process has been in the past.  We see what an effort he is making on accepting the love of Everett and his family.

And I love the dialogue and descriptions.  Cooper just makes me laugh at times and cry at others.  While reading this book, I felt like I was in his mind, living Alex’s life.  One memorable moment between the lovers:

“My hands.  Naked, Everett.  I could bite your long limbs and lick the grace from your words and shock the neighbors with what obscenities I’d drive from your lips.”

Also, I really loved what Cooper wrote as Alex’s writing voice.  She really captured the manic and the depressive mind in writing with Alex’s words.

What could be better?

In this case, it’s not what could be better, but rather what else I wish I could have seen.  I would have loved to see the entire relationship, beginning with how Alex was before he began the meds, including all of the ups and downs of the past.  It would have been compelling reading and a chance for Cooper to really demonstrate a range of writing.   But, that would have changed the tone it was not the purpose of this story.

Conclusions:

if you want a good, quick read then this book is for you.  The story is more complex than just a shag and a pat goodbye, it has heart, a bit of angst, and a dash of compelling dialogue.

Bea

Review: Rock Me — by Cherrie Lynn

Other reviews: Goodreads

Intro:

When you find a little know treat, you always want to share it with others.  I ran across Cherrie Lynn on Maryse’s Book Blog about “bad boys” and once I started this book, I could not put it down!  I have this book in my favorites list and the author is an auto buy for me.  This is book two of the series (Ross Siblings), and you can pretty much read this as a stand-alone.

Basic Plot:

Candace Andrews is an overprotected college girl who yearns to be a little bad, but always seems to be the “good girl” to please her friends and family.  She yearns to be a little wild, like get a tattoo, or ask out the hot tattoo artist, Brian Ross.

Brian has been a bad boy in the past, and while he still has his piercings and tattoos, he is more mature and beginning a new phase in his life.  In enters Candace, while he knows she is a “good girl”, he just can’t stay away.  Can she face her family and will Brian put his bitterness behind him so that they can find happiness?

Background:

This is book two in the series:  book one is Unleashed, revolving around Brian’s older brother Evan.

Female Lead:

Our female lead is Candace Andrews, a 21-year-old college student.  She is to me, fairly immature for her age, but maybe I am just an old fart.  She has led a sheltered life and now as she tries to become more independent, she must stand up to her mother.  We see this youthfulness on Brian and Candace’s first night together:

He dropped to the bed and went into her arms, pausing only to grab her battered old teddy bear from underneath him and give it a fling across the room.  She could imagine him doing the same thing to her heart.

I found her angst annoying at times.  I suppose part of that comes from the difference between our backgrounds.  Certainly when I went to college it was to find the one in state that was the longest from home.  But, college is a time of independence and self-discovery, so her personality traits and behavior is realistic.

Male Lead:

Let me just say that if you like tattooed and pierced “bad boys”, then Brian Ross is it!  Other than having tattoos (which is always hot), the man has an Apadravya piercing (Wikipedia link with pictures so NSFW, but informative).  But even with all of these exterior embellishments, we still have a man who can have doubts in his self-confidence:

“I don’t deserve this.”

Her heart broke.  She’d never taken Brian for a guy who suffered from lack of confidence.  He’d always been so vibrant and sure of himself.  Why would he begin to have doubts about his self-worth here in her arms?

What I like about Brian is that he has both the Alpha male sexiness, but also some insecurity that makes him human.  The author could have made him this one-dimensional character, but instead drew him in vibrant colors.

Theme Summary:

I think for me, the theme is about being yourself and taking a chance.  We get this quote early in the book, but it sets the tone of the entire novel:

“I hear it all the time.  But I’d rather look back and regret something I did when I was young and crazy, than look back and regret something I never had the courage to do, and realize it’s too late.”

For Candace, she must learn to step out of the constraining grasp of her mother and be herself, even if that means disappointing her parents.  And for Brian, he needs to learn that it’s ok to be who he is, but he does not need to let his past limit his future.

Strong Points:

I love how Ms. Lynn brings the environment into the story.  The scene at the Korn concert was just amazing, I could almost feel the heat and sun and the smell of the sweat.

What could be better?

This is not necessarily a complaint about the book, but I did find the immaturity level of Candace hard to not roll my eyes.  But, that being said, I understood why Candace was written as she was.  This novel is written about a female who is just starting out in maturity and has been held back from “being independent” because of her family.  So we get to see her as she makes that break through.

Conclusions:

I love this book!  The author manages to bring us into the relationship, with just a little angst to keep up the tension.

Bea

Review: Living Promises — by Amy Lane

Intro:

My last blog post dealt with cheating, how it affects your enjoyment of the novel and how cheating is addressed differently between sub-genres.  This post focuses on one book this time, Living Promises, by Amy Lane and we consider how Ms. Lane manages to combine excellent story writing, romance, passion, love, death, and illness seamlessly.

Basic Plot:

(Book 3 of Series):  Jeff Beachum is best friend of Carrick from book 1 and he is HIV positive, but has been living with it for 5 years.  But by living with it, he hides his pain behind his acerbic humor and caring for others as a physical therapist.  He met a much younger man, Collin Waters several years before; Collin is also HIV positive and no romance develops but rather Jeff thinks he is way too young.  Collin never forgot the kindest of Jeff and has loved him from afar since.  Can Collin’s love and devotion help heal Jeff’s heart so that they can take their chance on love?

Background:

This is the third book of Amy Lane’s series, Keeping Promise Rock, which deals with a set of friends who are more of a family to each other than any other traditional family.  I actually started with the second book of the series and had no problem just jumping into this one.  But you do miss some back-story of Carrick and Deacon.

Jeff Beachum:

We have a little back-story at the beginning where we see how Jeff met Kevin Turner, his former partner who was the love of his life.  Kevin gave him HIV, and was killed in action overseas.  His death always hurt him profoundly and Jeff has never forgiven himself or Kevin.  Now enter Collin, a young man whose impact affects Jeff deeply, but he does not feel that he deserves Collin’s love.  A quote:

He still felt like a thief, there was no denying that, but sometimes thieves stole things that they needed them to live.

So now Collin is in his life and won’t take Jeff’s brush off, no matter what.  We see Jeff unable to fully push Collin away and finally his acceptance of friendship leads to more.  Getting to see Jeff finally let go and rely on Collin is a beautiful scene.  In fact, there is a point later one (do not want to spoil it here) where we see Jeff finally relinquish his control in the hospital and Collin is there to pick up the pieces.

Collin Waters:

On the surface, Collin Waters is a young, free-spirited kid who does not take life seriously.  Perhaps at one point, he did not take death seriously, but now with HIV, he does.  In fact, it forced him to grow up quickly and now he has a successful business and a reason to live.  He wants to finally enter Jeff’s life and make his move, but first he has to get Jeff to see him more than just some young pretty boy.

It was how he’d dreamed of taking Jeff for years, showing the kind man who had given him hope how much of a man hope had made him.

We see him make that journey and we get to see Collin finally get his man.

Theme Summary:

The entire series (subtitled: Keeping Promise Rock) often focuses on the literal rock on Deacon’s land, but it also signifies how we must always be the “rock” for our other half and family.   Each of us must have strength for each other, we must rely on each other, knowing there will be times when one will be weak and the other can take the lead and be the support of the other.  At Promise Rock:

This place, Promise Rock, is where you get to go if you keep your promises to the people who love you.  It’s a reward for trusting another soul enough that you let them make you happy.

So if I had to put a theme to this book, it would be that we are all pillars to each other, but with that strength comes the need to find the comfort of each other, knowing that we have someone out there would can catch us if we break.

Strong Points:

The writing style and voice is what I consider the strongest points of this book (and really the series).  Ms. Lane has the ability to get us into the story quickly, caring about what the characters go through, without being overly dramatic and making us feel like the author plays with our emotions.  Ms. Lane is able to sensitively talk about HIV and describe how two people can still lovely have a passionate love life with HIV.   The illness is not an immediate death sentence.

I am embarrassed to say that I knew little about current HIV practices or medicines.  When I was a kid, HIV/AIDS was a death sentence and I always saw it as an “oh God” moment where I feared even having sex.  Being a married woman now, I really had not considered HIV other than what “other people” deal with.  This book actually gave me some practical knowledge of the illness and made me go online and do further research on the topic to inform myself about HIV/AIDS.

I appreciate how the author balanced a bit of reality into this love story, without making it so realistic that it did not feel like a romance.  We did end the story with our HEA.  This is actually the first book (of what 1,000s of romance books) that I have read that had a HIV positive lead character.  I respect Amy Lane’s balls and courage to write this series and specifically this book.

What could be better?

Honestly, there really was nothing that impeded my enjoyment of this book.  There is angst in the story (series) so that might put off some readers.  I did not feel that it hurt the story.

And on a complete side note, I really don’t get the cover art for this book.  It is the picture of what looks like two boys and in the background another boy.  If someone did not know what the book was about (or the genre) they sure would get a big shock I think.  I suppose this could be the horse ranch of Deacon’s, but really it just creeps me out a bit.  But maybe it’s just me.

Conclusions:

I thoroughly enjoyed Living Promises by Amy Lane.  I found within these covers a love story.  But not just a story about love, it is also about pain, loss, family, and love’s return.  I found here a story of hope, that when life seems irredeemable, there is always a way forward, even if it is not your first choice.  To me, this book illustrates Horace’s quote and one that we should live by:

  “Carpe diem! Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have.  It is later than you think.”

 

Bea

Review: The Concubine’s Gift by K. Ford K.

Other Reviews: Goodreads

Intro:

For information, this book was given to me for a review, but as always it does not affect what I say about the book.  This is the first book by K. Ford K.  I look forward to reading future books by this author.

Basic Plot:

The main protagonist is Bernice Babbitt, a repressed female who has done everything that her overbearing parents asked her.  She currently is married, to the former high school football star and raises their children while taking care of their Inn.  She buys a black-lacquer makeup case and finds that it belonged to a Hong Kong concubine, Blissful Night.  What we find out is that it is enchanted with some face powder, which allows her to see visions of sexual past and future of individuals she runs into.  The only way that she can get rid of these images is to tell the people what she sees.

Background:

At first I had to remember that this book is not a true “romance book” and there are sex acts described, but I would not call it erotica either.  K. Ford K. ‘s The Concubine’s Gift is a book that I think every woman should read, for self-reflection and self-discovery about their own sexuality.  The town Valentine, Nevada is one that has had a bordello, The Honey Bunny Ranch.  The bordello has been a point of contention between the conservatives (like Bernice’s mother, husband, minister, etc.) and other groups within the town.  Part of the plot of the book is dealing with the bunny ranch and banning prostitution.

Think about your life, your body, your decisions, is there anything about your life that you would change?  How do you handle those imperfections, do you just see them as marks of character or impenetrable faults?  For Bernice, some personality traits are to be buried not embraced:

But Bernice also did not believe that hiding her true opinions and sexual feelings was dishonest.  She thought it was similar to hiding a defect and Bernice felt that her defect was that she had too much sexual interest, too much excitability and far too much empathy for prostitutes.

This novel makes us take a sincere look at our emotions.   Are we being truthful with ourselves?  Are we pretending to be someone who we are not?

Protagonist:

Bernice Babbitt is someone in whom we can all relate, her mother corrects her actions, her father (Reverend) controlling her.  While these are stereotypes, I believe that we can all find people in our lives that reflect these types of influences.  In Bernice’s cases she finally breaks out of this cell that her insecurities have placed her entire life.  An illustration of her mental chains when thinking of her friend, Trinket:

But secretly, Bernice was fascinated by Trinket because she wore her sexuality as openly as a fragrant perfume.  She was also amazed by the fact that Trinket found life so easy and satisfying.

I think this is something that all of us should reflect on in our own lives: are you satisfied with your life?  Do you find it easy to be yourself? This does not mean, do you not work hard, but rather are you happy within your own skin.  Do you long to be someone else?

Theme Summary:

To me, the novel’s theme reflects Shakespeare’s’ Hamlet:

 This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78-82

 

Bernice’s visions are the manifestations of this theme, in all cases, people have been denying who they truly are.  Bernice illustrates this theme in describing her friend Mrs. Lin:

Secretly, Bernice thought that Mrs. Lin was the bravest person in Valentine, not because she knew how to handle ghosts, but because Mrs. Lin didn’t care a bit what anyone thought of her.

Being honest to ones self is vital and clearly missing in Bernice’s life and in so many of our lives we hide a part of ourselves.

Strong Points:

The author has the ability to describe such a colorful town, both in the conservative townspeople as well as the liberal members.  The author could have chosen to go over the relationship of Bernice or tried to make a romance out of the book, but instead she focused her purpose on one protagonist’s self-discovery.

What could be better?

When I started the book, I have to admit it took me a bit to get into.  It was not until 4% in that I finally met a person, up until that point it was all back-story of the town, Valentine.  However, it was not enough to stop me and I am glad that I kept reading.

Conclusions:

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  So many quotes touched me, but this review could only be so long.  It has been a while since I have read a book that had such a well-built and uniformed theme.  I found connections and concepts from A Game of Thrones to foot binding.  Every woman should read this book and reflect on their own life.  Is there anything that you need to change and be honest to yourself and others?  As Shakespeare says: “to thine own self be true.”

Bea

Review: Lover Unleashed — by J.R. Ward

Other Reviews: Goodreads

Intro:

This week I want to look at my favorite book series, Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R. Ward.  In March 2012, her 11th book of the series Lover Reborn was released, which I have only read once due to its intensity.   That particular book is rather dark, in fact, the darkest of the series.  However, today’s blog post is about Lover Unleashed (#10), probably one of my favorites, but to many it is considered the weakest.  This week’s post purpose will be to reflect on the book and see why I love it so much and yet BDB series lovers seem to hate it so.

Basic Plot:

Payne is the twin sister of Vishous and becomes paralyzed after a fighting exercises accident with Wrath.  Jane runs to get Dr. “Manny” Manuel Manello who is a specialist in the field.  Time is running out for Payne, will she be paralyzed for life and can Manny save her?  What happens when their attraction becomes too difficult to deny?  Can a human and a vampire live happily ever after?

Background:

For details on the Series, check out this landing page, BDB.  It is an automatic buy for me, meaning downloading at 12:00am on opening day.  J.R. Ward has the ability to meld in love stories, vampire lore, complex storylines, action, suspense, and gritty dialogue as no other author I have read.

I am not sure why this series seems superior than any of her other writing, I have tried very hard to get into the Fallen Angels series and just can not make it through a single book.

Female Lead:

Payne, Vishous’ twin sister is one kick-ass female vampire.  Payne reminds me of a ballerina.  On the surface, she is beautiful, her manners because of her imprisonment on the Other Side very graceful and courteous.  Unlike Xhex, Payne appears to be able to survive her life traumas and she still seems feminine and that does not diminish her strength.  With Xhex, you almost get the feeling she is ashamed of expressing love, as if it weakens her, whereas Payne balances being a woman and a warrior.  Yet, there is a core of strength that she unleashes during her fights with Wrath.  At Manny’s first meeting:

Manny stopped by her side and glanced at her body, which was covered with a sheet.  She was tall.  Had to be at least six feet.  And she was built with sleek power.

This was a solider, he thought, measuring the strength in her bare upper arms.  This was a fighter.

And, God, the loss of mobility in someone like her took his breath away.  Even if you were a couch potato, life in a wheelchair was a bitch and a half, but to somebody like this, it would be a death sentence.

We can see how this injury is almost unthinkable to a warrior like Payne.  This is a female who is not only physically strong, but is fragile over the possibility of this disability.  But once she begins to fight her illness, she is not someone who whines or simpers around half of the book.  There is vulnerability in her speech and action that leaves you wanting to know more about her.  There have been females in past novels that are just such whinny bitches that I want to say “suck it up Nancy!”

Male Lead:

Ok, I have to say, Manny is possibly one of my favorite males in the series.  I love his arrogance, which in the face of all of these aggressive vampires impresses me even more.  Here is the danger when you have a strong female vampire and a human who is not a warrior:  the human male just ends up looking like a weakling.  Take D.B. Reynolds’ book Sophia, and I think I like that one a little less because the main character is a human and he is just overshadowed.

Yet, Manny’s presence and his surgical skill seems to give him gravitas in a book that should have had him curled up in a corner in a fetal position.  There is a scene when he encourages Payne not to give up, that demonstrates that Manny is not just a pretty face, but has a gentle, caring heart underneath all of that wonderful arrogance:

“…and I want you to remember this.  Your legs are part of you, but not all of you or what you are.  So wherever we go after tonight, I need you to know that you are no less for the injury.  Even if you are in a chair, you still stand as tall as you ever did.  Height is just a vertical number—it doesn’t mean shit when it comes to your character or the kind of life you live.”

I also loved how Butch describes him as looking like the wrestler John Cena and I laughed my ass off.

Theme Summary:

The Manny quote above to me is the theme of the book.  Your problems, illnesses, and disabilities do not define you.  This can be seen both in the Manny/Payne storyline as well as the Vishous/Butch storyline.  We see in both how they overcome the fractures in the psyche by accepting the problem and working a solution around it.  They are not limited by these issues but in fact are made stronger in their relationships.

Strong Points:

So, one of the complaints about Lover Unleashed (#10) from readers is that it is so much more of a love story in the Payne/Manny and less about action and angst.  The book before of Lover Mine (#9) is John Mathew/Xhex story arc and it is full of pain, abuse, and tears.  The book after this one, Lover Reborn (#11), is even darker and grief filled.

I think that because J.R. Ward knew what her plan was with #11, she made this one a little lighter.

Lover Unleashed (#10) is probably one of the most erotic books in the series to me, and yet, we really do not see much “sex” between Manny and Payne until the end of the book.  However, scenes like the one below had me Jonesing:

 A growl came out of him and he moved so fast that the only thing that could have stopped him was her saying no.  And that word was evidently not in her vocabulary.

In a flash, he was between her thighs, his hands spreading her wider, her sex laid open and weeping in the face of his male urge to dominate and mate.

He gave in.  Fuck him, but he let himself go and kissed her core.  And there was nothing gradual or gentle about it; he dived in with his mouth, sucking at her and tonguing her as she cried out and scratched at his forearms.

I might need a moment here (fans herself).  Scenes like these are what make this book so hot and yet at the same time moving our plot forward (I will not go into this, as it might be a spoiler).  There is sweetness to their romance that is no less sexy than any other BDB installment.

I like the balance in this book, the sweeter romance of the main storyline of Manny/Payne, and the BDSM/pain aspect of the Jane/Payne/Butch secondary storyline, unlike the books before and after this one.

What could be better?

This is a problem that I have had with the series, not just this book.  J.R. Ward has a tendency to write “around” controversial romance issues like homosexuality.  For example, Qhuinn and Blaylock are meant to be (their book is slated next) and currently Blaylock and Saxton are together.  But whenever it is time for any homoerotic sexy fun time, we get them kissing and “then the door shuts”.  I understand that it is most likely because of the author’s fear of pushback by publishers/fans on gay romances in a straight paranormal romance, but it just leaves me frustrated.  Show it all, or do not include gay romance, do not slight the story arc because of fear.  I hope that we will get a full storyline with Qhuinn and Blay’s book next year.

And, the overarching storyline is not strong in this book, but this is more of a transition between the end of the previous main series story arc and introducing the Bastards for the next series story arc.

Conclusions:

I love this book.  The interactions between Manny and Payne are both emotionally intense and erotic.  We get the dark, gritty chapters with the Vishous/Jane/Butch sections.  Overall, it is a very balanced book and one of my favorites of the series.

 

Bea

Review: Hot Head by Damon Suede

Intro:

Last week I discussed the novel Private Eye by S.E. Culpepper and how much I enjoyed it.  My question was then, “can a woman write a gay romance”?  I thought the book was great, but wanted the opportunity to read a gay romance written by a gay man and see if there is any difference in writing style/perspectives.  This week, we investigate Damon Suede’s Hot Head.

Basic Plot:

Griffin Muir is a New York fire fighter whose best friend is fellow fire fighter, Dante Anastagio.  Dante comes to him with a proposal to help save his fixer-upper home by working for a porn website.  Can Griff help his best friend out and still keep his secret from Dante?

Background:

Based on the header of the book, I assume that this is the first in the Head series (hahahah, yeah, I know).  There are two secondary characters that I can see being future leads, Alek Vaklanov (a sexy Russian) and Tommy Dobsky (a sweet, sweet man).  I can see awesome story lines with both men (perhaps together?).  I found this on the Goodreads book list for best Male/Male romance for 2011.

Griffin Muir:

Griff grew up with the Anastagio family, a gregarious New York Italian brood who took him into their fold.  I have to say that Griffin is possibly, one of my favorite male characters ever.  He has self-confidence in his job and his friendship, but he is still shy and reserved with other people. Alek Vaklanov describes him:

“Because you are authentic, Mr. Muir.  One hundred percent genuine.  You don’t look like a stripper or a hustler or a criminal.  You’re not pretty or groomed or juiced.  You look like exactly what you are:  a handsome American hero who doesn’t know his own appeal.  And you are intensely appealing.  That is most of the reason, anyways.”

Yes, we like bad boys like Dante, but there is something about a man who does not know his own appeal.   He is a 6 foot 5 inch tall; marble skin-toned red-headed God, yummy.

Dante Anastagio:

This is one hot, aggressive, “Italian Stallion”.  I love the way Mr. Suede describes Dante’s eyes:

Up close, an inch away, face to face, Griff realized for the first time that Dante’s eyes looked velvet black but had a slight green cast to them, like scarabs.. an emerald iridescence only visible from kissing distance.

 

But, it is not just his physical appeal which is striking, but his own insecurities illustrate that even the most confident men can be anxious in some things.  I really enjoyed seeing the two guys get together and seeing how loving and attentive he is to Griff.  But to just look at his outer package, is to limit him, and this book does not stereotype him.  Dante is more than that, in fact, his devotion to Griff is immensely touching and I loved how ferociously protective and possessive he is at the end.

Theme Summary:

I believe that the theme is summed up by a quote from the novel:

“No one deserves to be punished for loving with an open heart.”

We have a story here about two men (Griff and Dante) who are both scared to embrace their love and chance to ruin their friendship.  But they take the chance to love each other without any barriers.

Strong Points:

Reading this book for the fourth time today, I specifically sought for items like social commentary or other things that made this book stand out from any of the other male/male novels I have read recently.  This is not just a love story, but the author also observes tough topics like gay bashing and New York fire fighters experiences from 9/11.  I loved so many quotes from this book; Mr. Suede has such an ability to paint a picture:

Whole stations were incapacitated, hearts broken on every block.  Half the trucks went on antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds.  There were 343 instant vacancies and more retiring daily.  They’d all looked into the abyss and it kept right on looking back, window-shopping for damnation, it seemed.

I mentioned before that I sought to discover if there were any differences in this book to others written by female authors.  I can see that one point is the ability to capture nuances of the male experience.  An example:

Griff was a coward, but Dante had no fear and no shame.  Hell, he’d flashed his pecker at his English teacher in high school just to hear her shout.  Detention be damned. And everyone knew he always wandered around his house bare-assed; he’d been the same as a teenager.

What could be better?

Honestly, not much.  I enjoyed the character development as well as the storyline.  The only thing that I could wish was to see Dante’s point of view, all we get to see is Griff’s.

Conclusions:

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel; the storyline was compelling, the sex scenes hot and emotionally driven.  But, what made this book even better than just a love story was it realistic looked at living in New York as gay fire fighters.  The author dealt with serious issues like gay bashing and 9/11 without getting maudlin or overbearing.

This is a must read book.

Bea

Review: Private Eye — by S.E. Culpepper

Intro:

Last week I described the evolution of my library: how I began in contemporary romance and moved into more lengthy and “non-traditional” romances.  I recently decided to try reading novels from the male/male genre and see how I enjoyed it.

What I discovered was a high number of female writers.  I also found that there of the readership, there seemed to be a demand from heterosexual females readers.  I suppose the obvious reason would be “more penises!”  But I am not sure how accurate these “two Alpha hot males” are, any more realistic than that all gay guys are like Jack from Will and Grace.

My quest began with reading the Goodreads lists for “Gay for you”, subgenera.  These books are basically the story of a “straight” male falling in love with a gay male.  I have read quite a bit of them as I worked through the list, and found some of them worthwhile and others that just seem like glorified sex scenes.  It seemed clear to me some female writers do not understand what it is to be a gay male because characters seem very stereotypical.  So my quest became simple:  can I find a female author who seemed to accurately portray a male/male relationship?


Basic Plot:

Rafe Bridges is a private eye who is asked by a cop (Jeremy Halliday) to look into the disappearance of a childhood friend’s sister.  Rafe finds he is attracted to Jeremy, who is clearly straight.  As the investigation unfolds, it becomes harder to fight the attraction and Jeremy discovers his own fascination to Rafe.  Can they both move past their personal history and fears to give this love a chance?

Background:

The book Private Eyes, by S.E. Culpepper, tops my list of male/male romance novels.  I also loved the second book of the series, Question Mark, which picks up with Mark (Rafe’s previous boyfriend).  I have chatted with the author on Goodreads, and asked her about how she so seemingly (as I am only a female) accurately portrayed a gay relationship.  Her response was very funny and sweet: by talking to gay friends on their relationships, watching a lot of European and South American soap operas, and quizzing her husband on the male physiology1.

My next book review will be Hot Head, by Damon Suede, who is an “out-n-proud”2 male and I will be interested in comparing the two novels and see if I can identify any major differences.

Jeremy Halliday:

Jeremy has had relationships with women before, but he has never been fully satisfied.    This seems to be the way the “gay for you” type of romances begins:  a straight man who is divorced, widowed, or just had a bunch of troubled relationships.  They are usually almost asexual in nature; thinking that it must be that he is not interested in sex.   A quote from Jeremy on this:

“…I realized that so many women in the past I’ve dated for the sake of dating, not because I was interested in them.  I found them attractive in a casual sort of way; nobody has ever stood out to me.”

From the beginning Jeremy is hyperaware of Rafe.  It moves from a friendship approach to a sexual attraction.  Jeremy just cannot identify it as sexual:

He was one of those guys good looking in a way that it was impossible not to notice – for guys and girls alike.   And Bridges probably knew it, too, sauntering around with slick looking sunglasses and the fit guy appeal, making women drool.

The best scene of Jeremy for me was with his sister Tracy, as he breaks down because of his sexual confusion.   It was such a beautiful and emotional scene; because of the support and the acceptance that Tracy gives him.  With Rafe, we see the disparity in his family; they are the stereotypical conservative Catholic family, considering homosexuality a horrific sin.   What is fantastic about Jeremy and Tracy is that, while she does not entirely appreciate what he is going through, she fully supports him.  It was a beautiful illustration of how a family can encourage rather than be homophobic.

Rafe Bridges:

Rafe is out, and his family knows and thusly they have all but disowned him.  We do not see any other family members, but we assume that there is no strong supportive family.  His best friend Brian is loyal, but he teases him like any competitive brother would. Rafe’s reflection on his family:

 Now he was an embarrassment and the thing was, he was unwilling to work for their affection like a dog – to change one part of his behavior and be welcomed back into the fold.  No way.

Rafe is a private eye, and the non-relationship aspect of this book is interesting and it did keep me guessing a bit.  It is more than just a romance, but it was not just an entire book of angst.

Theme Summary:

I found a strong theme of acceptance of both yourself and your love.  In the case of Jeremy, he has to recognize he is attracted to men, and Rafe must fully engage in the relationship.  Rafe needs to discover a connection that is significant enough to commit, including complete honesty.

Strong Points:

There are many things that I love about this novel, and I can tell that Culpepper will be an automatic buy for me in the future.  I had been nervous to try a gay romance, fearing that I would not be able to relate to their relationship.  The book is just a good book period, which has nothing to do about anyone’s sexual orientation.  I have read some other male/male books and it is as if it is a series of sex scenes and the author says, “Weehee, now I have two penises to play with”!  But Culpepper actually focuses on the relationship.

For example, there is a powerful scene when they finally get together, however I do not want to give too much away.  But it is so emotionally exposed, so beautiful.  It is an exquisite demonstration of honesty and truth between two lovers; finally letting their guard down.

The second thing that I love about this book is the humor.  S.E. Culpepper’s humor so matches my own.  Here is a quote:

Rafe found another dry towel on the top of his dryer in the garage and was dragging it along the kitchen floor with his foot when the doorbell buzzed.  His heart buzzed right along with it and he sucked in a deep breath before he called out for Jeremy to come in.  Best not to be too excited and pirouette to the door like a true fairy.

There are very few authors that I give a 4 or a 5, but I give both books 5 stars.  I have already read both books at least 4 times each and I started to read them for less than a month.  I constantly highlight quotes, whether because of humor or powerful prose that affects me.  That is how I know that what I am enjoying is worth remembering.

What could be better?

The only problem that I have with this book is what I wrote in my intro.  How can we know that a woman can write an accurate portrayal of a male/male romance?  So for example, I find it hard to believe that someone would not realize that they were gay.  However, I am in no way an expert so I will leave it to the author to know better.  It certainly appears as if this author has conducted thorough research on the topic.

Next week I plan to revisit this topic from another gay male author and see if we can see any differences.

Conclusions:

If you have never read any male/male romances before, I recommend trying this book first.  It contains an even balance of romance, character development, humor, and mystery.  Not to mention, some great hot sex!

 

Bea

Reference:

1 Q&A with S.E. Culpepper (Groups), http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/67789-q-a-with-s-e-culpepper

2 Suede, Damon. http://www.damonsuede.com/author.html