Review: The Nothingness of Ben — by Brad Boney

Nothing_benOther Reviewers: Goodreads

Lately life has been hectic, and my list of to-read in Goodreads has leapt to 114 since the fall.  Deciding that I had reviewed enough fan-fiction lately, I pulled through my lists until I drilled back to the fall with The Nothingness of Ben.  I thoroughly loved this book and I am kicking myself in not reading it sooner.  This is just a warning to all of us to remember to look backward in our lists from time to time.

This is not the first of Brad Boney’s books I have reviewed; I read and reviewed The Return in August 2013.  The Return was a most unusual storyline, intertwining two different time periods with a bit of mysticism.  The books are not connected as a series, yet they are related.  The Nothingness of Ben was published in 2012 and The Return the following year, so I do believe I would recommend reading them in that order.  Note that the Mead family play secondary roles in both novels and are the tie between them.

Basic Plot:

Ben Walsh is a successful trial lawyer in New York, hobnobbing with the famous Mead family and dating a sexy pilot named David.  He is openly gay and is on the fast track.  Enter disaster when his parents suddenly died, leaving all three of his younger brothers in his care.  Can Ben leave everything in New York to raise his brothers in Austin, Texas?  Can he merge the two worlds?  Travis Atwood has been living the nomad life for years, never finding true love or a job he loved.  However, the Walsh’s had taken him in and now he finds becoming friends with Ben easily.  Is it possible they can become romantically involved or is the time just never right?

Ben Walsh:

We see the book through Ben’s perspective, so we hope that he is fairly unbiased.  Which, as a whole, he is a well-rounded individual so we trust his perceptions.  Within Ben we see someone who has felt a bit of an outcast all of his life as a gay man in the south and with a religious family.  Once he comes out, while he is not shunned, it is certainly not comfortable for him to remain, thus his estrangement with his family.  Ben is a brilliant lawyer, and that drive toward success has his focused on work rather than family.

Thus, the shock of finding out that his parents died and he must reassess his goals and priorities.  He is an overall likable character, although we could say he is a bit of an asshole, but he’s my type of asshole, not mean-spirited.  Early on Ben is frightened to become the caretaker of his younger brothers:

“I don’t know.  This is serious shit.  If I fuck it up, then I’m fucking up three lives.  And I don’t know if I can do it.  I have a life back in New York.  I’m supposed to walk away from all that?”

This is the crux of Ben’s inner conflict:  is he good enough to be a parent to his brothers and can he give up his dreams for his family?  Could you walk away from your dream job and adopted family?

Travis Atwood:

Travis is the same “fish out of water” as Ben is, but in the other direction.  Travis is a straight, country boy who lives a simple life but has a big heart.  Ben’s comments early on demonstrate Travis’ heart:

If you’re a second big brother in their lives, then that’s fucking fantastic.  You were there for them before this happened, so please be there now when they really need you.

The problem becomes that Travis doesn’t fit in Ben’s world and Travis is straight.  Yet, getting to know Ben starts to expand his horizon in more than one way.

Theme Summary:

I have several highlights on theme, all of which are good signs in the quality of writing.  There are several quotes:

“All you can do is be there.  They don’t need you to be the perfect brother.  Ninety percent of life is showing up.”

and then:

“I couldn’t know that from my point of view.”

and finally:

“Something my dad used to say.  When everything is confusing and murky, he told us to treat it like muddy water.  Stop.  Sit still.  Let the dirt settle and eventually the water will clear up.”

So we have two men stuck in the muddy waters of their lives, too focused on their own perspectives and history.  What they need to do is to look around and find some compromise and perspective.  I think this is a lesson we could all use in our lives.

Strong Points:

Boney is an extremely strong writer with a plan for theme and plot that goes farther than a “simple love story”.  He makes us think, which is something I love when I find it in a “romance” book.  The writing is top-notch and I found myself tearing up and fanning myself in all the right points of the plot.  What I loved best about the writing is the allusions and storytelling.  Boney didn’t hit us on the head with plot or theme, he gently and subtly moves us from point A to point B, giving us hints along the way.  I love an author who lets me get as much as I can out of the book.

What could be better?

The only thing I disliked about this book, was something that distracted me, but did not obstruct my enjoyment.  Throughout the novel we got what I call “jargon” talk like “LTR” and other “hip” talk.  A little would be fine, but this crossed over to me truly noticing it.

Conclusions:

I believe that Brad Boney will have a massively successful writing career in the M/M world.  He manages to combine strong characters that are not black and white, complex themes, and hot sex scenes all to keep us motivated to the last page.  This is certainly worth the read and your time.

Bea

Review: Paws of Fury — by Veritas03

Other Reviewers: Goodreads

This week is another fan-fiction review:  Paws of Fury by Veritas03

I am a big fan of Fan-Fiction, and now in TV series like TeenWolf, I am frustrated with their inconsistent plot lines.  In Fan fiction, we get the freedom to not follow these lines, but create a whole new world or expand on an established one.

In Paws of Fury, we are in the Harry Potter world again and we have a romance between Harry and Draco.

Basic Plot:

Harry is full of anger and it shows.  Finally an angry tirade is interrupted by an old lady and she tells him: “Bellow, bluster… your rage is insignificant. No more than the mewing of a kitten. Do not be afraid. He will save you. Calm you. Love you.”  Now, Harry finds himself turned into a black kitten at the feet of Draco Malfoy.  Is this relationship real or just a result of a curse?

Harry Potter:

Harry’s character is much of what I would expect from the movies.  He is once again put into a position of undergoing an unknown threat and he rises to the challenge.  He has been crushed down by this angry he can’t control:

“The evil … it’s like this malignant force.”  Harry sighed deeply and looked at Draco.  Receiving the encouraging smile that he needed, he continued.  “I’ve been struggling with… these feelings of anger for a long time.”

Now Harry has found someone he can rely on and while being a kitten, he can stop being the hero.

Draco Malfoy:

Draco’s character is a matured version of what we saw in the movies.  To be fair, I have not read the books, so I can only go on the character we found in the movies.  But Draco is forced to mature and has left the past where it belonged.  But we still see him as his sassy self:

The door slid closed as he realized that Harry Potter, rather than getting off at the floor for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, still stood in the lift, stabbing him with a glare.  This might have intimidated someone who didn’t know the Auror as well as Draco felt he knew Potter.  Or someone who hadn’t hosted the Dark Lord of Terror and Insanity in his home.

Draco understands where Harry is in his life, dealing with these curses.  He understands unexpected anger and Draco is the perfect person to help him heal.  I love his nurturing character, something that shows growth from the character we saw from their past.

Theme Summary:

This is mostly a love story, a light fluffy romp in the city.  But this is also about accepting people for who they are, understanding the past is there and learning to love the person they are now.  For Harry, he has been feeling anger and sadness for years because of the curse.  He had almost felt like giving up, but his friends and work kept him going.  For Draco, his family and work kept him going, but he still had not found someone who he was properly matched.  With this conflict and what feels like fate, they are pushed together and find that they are more alike than they thought.

Strong Points:

I love when I open a book and can have a simple, warm love-fest.  While there are problems and conflicts, the relationship is not really one that we need to worry about.  This gives the author time to focus on the actual mystery story.

The scenes between Draco and Harry were great, there was a sweetness between them that we obviously did not have in the Harry Potter world.  Making characters that resemble, but are not exactly like who they were in the books/movies is a risk.  What happens when they are so different from the “bible” so to speak?

What could be better?

The plot is fairly simple.  What concerns me the most is that Draco’s character is really nothing like what was in the series: he is no way a selfish asshole.  Which makes this book entertaining, but makes the character more of “inspired” rather than developing an established character.  At the same time, we see the author has created a character of their own, which is what is expected.

Conclusions:

I love fan-fiction, and I certainly love being able to see established characters and seeing someone else can do with the basic ideas.  This book is a nice fluff-fest, which if you need to feel happy and light, then this book is for you.  No real drama here, just lots of cuddling with a cute black kitten.

Bea

Review: DILF — by Twentysomething

DILF2Other Reviewers: Goodreads

This  week’s post is an unusual post: a book that is free and considered fan fiction.  The book is DILF by twentysomething. Don’t let the title mislead you (it stands for Dads I’d like to F#$%), this is actually quite a heartwarming story.

As of today, this book is available for free.  Based on the MTV TV show, Teenwolf, is a show about werewolves and angsty youths.  Although in this case the author removed the paranormal environment and teenagers, leaving only the characters’ names and some relationships.

But what I find fascinating is the quality writing.  What does this say about how a book can be free, someone felt strong enough about the story to create the cover image, and yet we have other books like 50 Shades that sells 70 millions of copies and have, in my opinion, far inferior writing.

Basic Plot:

The author’s blurb is this: “Today is Scott’s first day of kindergarten and Derek is terrified.”

Four years ago, Derek gained custody of his two nephews when his sister Laura and her husband are accidentally killed.  Now raising Jackson and Scott, Derek runs into Scott’s kindergarten teacher, “Stiles”.  Their friendship moves into attraction.  Can Derek and Stiles risk their friendship to discover if this romance can bloom?

Derek:

The book’s perspective is completely Derek’s.  We must rely on his observations of others sometimes to move the plot forward.  Derek is in his late 20’s working in a wildlife wolf preserve.  In this version, Derek is not a werewolf, but a lonely uncle who is slightly overwhelmed with singlehandedly taking care of his two nephews.  But what I enjoyed about Derek is how human he is, how insecure at times, his love for his nephews, and how he finds humor and joy in little things.  My favorite part about Derek is how his children see him:

“He can lift really heavy stuff, he lifts weights in the basement,” Jackson suggests.

Their food really needs to arrive to totally derail this conversation.

“Oh, oh! He does do a super amazing Optimus Prime voice.  For Transformers time.” Scott tries again.

How can you not fall in love with a guy like that?

Stiles:

He is cute as a button!  Yes, I know it is not a surprise considering the origination.  But from the first moment that we see him, we know that this guy loves his job and loves children.  Stiles is kind-hearted and simply desires to feel love and create a family and home.  What I like most about him is his charm and how they bounce ideas and one-liners back and forth between them:

Stiles contorts his neck to look up at Derek.  “I just want you to know this is the first time I have ever been so sexually appealing that a person rejected a meal.  This is a big deal for me.  I’m going to be pretty smug about this for awhile.”

While they do not have sex until the end of the story, their sexual tension keeps us interested until the end.

Theme Summary:

What we have here is a simple story of love.  Derek takes responsibility of raising Scott and Jackson when they are orphaned.  Derek had to sacrifice his chance at romance (although his options were no great loss) for his family.  Stiles too seeks love, he is looking both for a romantic love, but a way to create he is own family unit.  In all of these ways, this book is about the simple need for all of us to find a family.  Stiles’s father really says it all:

“You know, we lost someone really important to us, too.  And Stiles took care of me a lot more than I took care of him when that happened.  He likes to take care of people, to feel like he’s needed.  I think he’s looking for someone, or some people who might need that, too.”

This is a story about two care-takers who finally find someone to take care of them.

Strong Points:

I don’t have any children, nor do I have any plans for them.  But these children have to be some of the most intriguing children. Not so much that they seemed goody-goody, I found their attitudes and writing realistic.  Yet there was so much charm to them and the scenes where Derek interacted with both Jackson and Scott were some of the best writing.  In a book where the focus normally is on the romance between the two leads, I actually found all of the characters just as compelling.

Jackson crosses his arms over his chest, a rebellious frown on his face.  “I guess.”

He still looks worried and unhappy so Derek relies on his default– he grabs Jackson around his middle and pulls him into his lap.  Jackson makes a grumbling noise of irritation, but he curls up and puts his face in Derek’s shirt.

“Thank you.  For saving Laura.” Jackson mumbles.

Derek squeezes him tighter.  “Hey, of course.  She’s our wolf. You saved her before.  It was my turn.”

“Do I have to keep hugging you?”  Jackson mutters.

“Yep.” Derek says and he can feel Jackson relax.

“Hey, hey are you guys doing hugs?”  Scott asks.  “I want hug.”

I could completely see the older brother who thinks he’s too old for hugs, but really needs it and then the younger brother who just wants to be included.  It was scenes like these that just warmed me.

I also loved the humor.  For example, Derek’s inner dialogue of his attraction toward Stiles often cracked me up:

“Thanks again for letting us crash your family breakfast,” Stiles says, squinting into the sunlight in a way that crinkles his nose and purses his mouth into something that Derek just wants to take.

“It was good,” Derek counters when he remembers that a response is required and kissing Stiles isn’t an appropriate option.

These are things that all of us would think to ourself and it was easy to relate to Derek.

What could be better?

Of course there was some polishing that could have improved the story.  The story itself is quite simple, just one about two men who find love.  We don’t know much back story of either character, so if anything I would have liked to have seen more of that.

Conclusions:

Regardless of price, this has quickly become one of my favorite stories to read.  It is certainly on the top of my list when I need some “feel-good” mood enhancement.  I do not know what else is out there by the author, but I will certainly keep my eye out for it.  I do hope that some day we can 1). Learn what their real name is and 2) see something officially published some day.

But for me, this book helped me realize that there are people out there, often writing fan fiction with the only goal of writing something that they like to read and in turn hoping others will like it.  They don’t ask for money or really any achievement: just humble servants.  I think that we can learn something from their gift.

Bea

Review: From Out in the Cold — by L.A. Witt

ColdOther Reviewers: Goodreads

This is not first time that I have read this book, in fact, it is probably closer to 3-4 times since December.  Sometimes, it takes me a few readings to figure out nuances throughout the book.

L.A. Witt has a wide range of writing, from an intense BDSM poly relationship in Out of Focusto this novel, where the story is a simple one of two wounded men finding solace and love within each other’s arms.  Her stories always have things that I search for in my favorite books:  heart, a bit of angst, humor, hot sex, and psychological complexity.

Basic Plot:

Neil’s life feels out of control, a recent trauma has resulted in PTSD.  His homophobic, but well-meaning family is calling him home for the holidays.  Torn between staying at home alone or torturing himself,  Neil struggles to commit to the Christmas holiday trip.  But before that happens, Jeremy Kelley, an old friend and flame returns to his life.  Jeremy returns from war with his own hidden pain.  Are the two of them strong enough to make it work this time?  Or is the damage just too great?

Neil Dalton:

There are some aspects of Neil that I do not want to go into and spoil the plot.  Let me just say that Neil struggles from his own case of PTSD and grief, even though he is not military.  His family, while loving him is uncomfortable with his sexuality, so ask him not talk about it when he visits.  This makes his visits home infrequent and his yearly smoking habit earlier in the year.

The tiny kitchen window offered an angled view of the balcony, and I watched him from the corner of my eye as I washed the dishes.  As he smoked his cigarette, his hands were shaking.  It was cold as fuck out there, but that was more than shivering.  If I wasn’t mistaken, they’d been unsteady before he’d even gone outside.

Witt does an excellent job of utilizing characters’ dialogue as well as physical actions to slowly build a picture of each character.  She does not just blast out an overly simplistic version of a character, but takes the time to develop it.  We see that Jeremy has noticed the changes in Neil and is concerned and confused.

Jeremy Kelley:

Jeremy has returned from his tour of duty with the military, suffering from PTSD and his family refusing to see him as he was outed as he returns home.  Now he is completely alone and suffering. He has no friends, no family, no job, and no place to live.  He winds up on Neil’s doorstep one freezing winter night. In Neil he finds someone who can understand his pain and fears:

So what if we were two men who’d briefly been lovers and were now lying this close on a bed?  I didn’t let myself read anything into it.  At this point I’d  been so starved of human contact for so fucking long, the only thing that mattered was that someone was touching me now.  Someone who knew, and who got it.

“I know it’s because of shitty circumstances.”  Neil held me tighter.  “But I’m really glad you’re here.”

I closed my eyes.  “Me too.”

What I liked about this book is how we get to see both characters emotionally bare.  In this quote, we found how Jeremy is so lonely and bereft of human contact.  We see Neil and Jeremy begin the novel as friends and through their shared experiences they find themselves falling in love.

Theme Summary:

Remember R.E.M?  This book reminds me of their song, “Everybody Hurts”.

When your day is long and the night
The night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
Everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes

Within the novel of From Out in the Cold, we have a similar theme that everyone hurts and everyone needs help.  From Jeremy’s perspective:

I wished I could say it had been a long time since I’d had a flashback like that, but it hadn’t.  They happened too often and too easily.

Oh God, I need help.

and then:

Thank God he’d been there tonight, and not just because he knew how to bring me back to earth.  Even before I made the connection that he’d grounded me, I’d been relieved beyond words when I realized he was there.  The second I looked in his eyes and realized it was him, a sense of safety and calm had cooled my blood, and I’d known in that moment that it would be over soon.  That I’d be all right.

You’re here, I remembered thinking, so I can breathe.

So for me, I found the theme to demonstrate that while these two psychologically wounded men, but not incapable of falling in love.  It through their own understanding of pain and fear that they can accept that in each other.

Strong Points:

Recently, it seems that more books published contain the first-person perspective.  This is normally a problem, because it limits gained insight from both main characters.  So, the answer that some authors choose is to do first-person, but switching between characters.  The problem comes when it feels like head-hopping and becomes confusing.  Yet, Ms. Witt does a fine job with this and I actually enjoyed the switching.

What is family?  What is the saying, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family?”  Within the pages of this book, we see that both Neil and Jeremy’s families are not perfect, in fact, some of the strongest pain has come from them, yet the main characters find they made their own family unit with each other:

But here, in the Daltons’ living room with Neil’s hand on my knee, I had everything I needed.  I had hope that the weight on my shoulders wouldn’t be there forever.  I had a family who picked up the ball mine had dropped.  I had Neil.

This book illustrated how difficult it is to come-out and that there are consequences that can result in pain: a newly formed family based on love and acceptance rather than blood.

What could be better?

I am not sure if it is really that it should be “better”, but I wished that the book had been longer.  Granted, the length fit the scope of the story, so I suppose what I really want is a follow-up book about what happens next.

If I had any true complaint, it would be related to the sex.  The scenes felt more impersonal than sexy at times.  I felt more connection in their other interactions rather than the sex. It did not hamper my enjoyment with the rest of the book, but I do think it dropped it from a 5 star to a 4 star for me.

Conclusions:

The book is not perfect, but it is one that I have read numerously.  Both characters have faults and pain, but they are not afraid to show each other their fears.  We seen that these men find acceptance in each other and learn they are still capable of love.

This is an author that I will definitely read again.

Bea

Review: Play It Again, Charlie — R. Cooper

play_it_againOther Reviewers: Goodreads

 The choice for what book to review this week was difficult, there were three that I wanted to do and a few others I feel like I have to do.  Play It Again, Charlie by R. Copper won out.

This week’s reading focuses on the sub-genre (if we can call it that) as “daddy-kink”.  In the BDSM lifestyle this is called “age-play” (Wikipedia, so accept at your own risk).  Age-play can be sexual, non-sexual, or a mixture.  In BDSM definitions are fluid, someone else might have another take on it than this one.  This can be seen in romances (gay or straight) in how they apply aspects of BDSM.  For more explicit Master/slave story, read Angel and the Assassin.  However, for today’s blog post book review, I want to write about Play It Again, Charlie, which is a much tamer and “romantic” view of “Daddy kink”.

I passed by this book several times the cover put me off for some reason.  Recently I wrote about what can happen when you focus on covers.  Sometimes you either discount the book due to the cover, or you find the cover lacks proper portrayal of content.  This week I read R. Cooper’s A Boy and His Dragon and was blown away with how much I loved it.  So I took a chance on this book and was glad that I did.

Basic Plot:
This is the story of Charlie Howard, a cop who retired only because of a disability (his hip) and now teaches at a local community college and is the super of an apartment building.  He runs into Will Stewart, who is apartment sitting for a renter.  The sparks fly, but we are left to wonder if they can make the romance work despite  their differences.  It is worth the effort?

Will Stewart:

Will is at first glance the stereotypical gay hairdresser.  A description of Will as the first time that Charlie meets Will:

The man-the kid, because he was in his late twenties at most-suddenly moved, dropping the watering can to lean over the balcony ledge.  His eyes sparkled down at Charlie, somehow not looking the least bit apologetic about knocking over the planter, which could have killed Charlie if Charlie had been a few moments faster.

“Oh my God!  Are you all right?”  Full lips formed the question, curving up in a smile that said clearly that he knew Charlie was fine, that he was overreacting to a narrow miss with a potted plant.  Or maybe the man saw the look Charlie quickly swept over what else he could see of that face, that body.

He appears bubbly and care-free, a party boy.  When Charlie first meets Will, that is all that he sees and does not remove Will from this bucket until the end of the novel.

What we learn about Will is that he is courageous.  His background is rocky.  We understand he only has his sister as family.  His family is really his friends.  In many ways he is a chameleon learning that he has to fit into his environment.

What I love about Will is his sense of humor, his ability to laugh at life and make the most of it.  What fascinates a reader regarding Will is his encyclopedic knowledge of film, including the classics.  So many of the best moments in the novel are those where Will is making a quote and then Charlie got it.

Of Human Bondage?”

Will said quickly, moving just out of sight for a moment and forcing Charlie to move to the edge of the dining area to see him.  He tossed one arch look over his shoulder as he reached up to grab that book, and even knowing it was an act, Charlie felt himself tensing.  His eyes fell on the leather cuff at Will’s wrist, as they were probably meant to.

“Kinky.”

Charlie’s throat locked.  “I’m not…”

“Into Bette Davis?  I know, a lot of people find her scary at first, but after awhile you really start to get into her.”

The completely reasonable tone was at odds with the wicked light in the kid’s eyes, the way his lips were curved up, how he held his breath when Charlie blinked and frowned, replaying the insane words until they made sense.  Until he remembered that Bette Davis was in the film version of that novel, until he could finally take his gaze off that wide leather band.

His face was burning.

“Smartass,” he muttered, completely mystified when being called a smartass made Will hop in place, since Will had already made it clear that he had a brain under all that hair and glitter.

Will knows that he is attractive and charming, that is something he accepts and uses.  But what he really wants people to know is that he is clever, yet he feels intimidated by those who are learned.

Charlie Howard:

The character’s name “Charlie Howard,” does not immediately lend itself knowingly to a Hispanic culture.  However, Carlos is the “head of the family,” taking care of his sisters (Ann, Katia, and Missy) and grandmother, Nana. His father left the family early one, so for most of his life, women have played a large role in Charlie’s life.  There is a gargantuan emotional burden from his family, and it is apparently expected of him to carry this:

“Carlos, you are el patriarca.  The man.  You lead by example.  You marry, and your sisters will marry.  And do not tell me I am old-fashioned.”  Nana was upset enough to get up again.  He could hear her banging around the kitchen, opening and closing things.  “Katia talks big for a girl with a daughter and no man.”

So we have  a man who is alone and lonely despite the fact that he is surrounded by family.  There is more that I could say, but I do not want to spoil it here.  Suffice it to say, all of his emotions are tagged for their use.  If they have a problem, he drops everything to help them.

He recently recovered from an accident that forced him to retire as a cop, which results in intense chronic pain that forces him to slow down.  He lost his boyfriend, Mark when he was injured who walked out on him.  He never complains, sacrificing often for his friends and family.  If he is in pain, when questioned the answer is always, “I’m fine.”  His friend, Jeanine is really the only one that calls him on it, and often is the one that gets him drunk so that he will talk, or forcing him to go home and take care of himself.

What makes me angry is how his family takes advantage of Charlie.  Either they are oblivious of his pain or they knowingly lean on him knowing that he is in a precarious position.  Yeah, they might try to fix him up with a boyfriend, but they do not try to handle their own problems.  Coming from a very small family,  I have no experience in this, perhaps this is normal.  But I found I could not respect any of them, including Nana.  He is an example of someone who is so giving, he gives away his own foundation.  He needs to find a partner who can be his support and can be there to tell his family when enough is enough.  Will is this person.

What I like about Charlie is this lack of selfishness.  He is so giving to everyone, often doing things that he does not want to do.  We can all relate to that, going to family meetings or events despite the fact that we do not want to go, we go because of love.  He is also insecure, in opposition of what Will’s insecurity.  While Will is insecure of his inside (intelligence and education), Charlie is insecure of his body because of his injury.

Charlie’s greatest fear is abandonment.  His father left, his mother died, and when he was injured his boyfriend left.  So, accurate or not, Charlie learned the lesson that if you become a burden on any one you love, they will leave you.  Any of his actions then in this book with Will is about waiting for Will to leave him when he finds out about his pain and his family responsibilities.

Theme Summary:

A theme I believe is something that we should all take heed:  Don’t judge a book by a cover.  It sounds trite and tropey, but it’s profound.  For Will, he is beautiful and popular, seemingly carefree, but inside he worries that people think he is stupid and uneducated.  You think he is shallow, but what you learn is that he has so much depth.  Charlie looks at this flighty appearance and is frightened that if he shows that he is not strong, that Will will not stay with him.  Certainly the “daddy” aspect of the relationship gives Charlie the fear that he must always be strong for Will.  For Charlie’s side, just because you say that you are “fine”, does not mean that they are.  You must look deeper than their words and actions, but rather look at their body language, to know where the hidden pain lies.  It is worth the effort for both of them to dig in and find that they are really not that different.  They are the flip side of the same coin.

Strong Points:

What I liked about this book is the age-play (a.k.a “Daddy-kink”), and how slow and subtly it grew.  It has such an organic flow as it evolved, which that is how any person’s sexuality expands.  This is just an illustration of a theme within this book of how Charlie takes care of everyone.  And this aspect of their romantic relationship fulfills both sides of their needs.  This does not mean that Will wants to have sex with his father, but rather it is about how your partner is a strength and a protector.  Usually you will see that they are older, but that is not required.  It is a part of Dominance and submission, but it does not require bondage or whipping, although there is often common bleed over.  In their relationship, this is mostly “daddy” in their sexual moments, although Charlie’s giving and protective nature makes him often daddy like in other moments.  One sexy moment:

Will was talking, low murmurs as his body stopped moving, Charlie’s name, other words as well, and the idea of some of them, that he could be saying that Daddy again, made Charlie clutch at the body beneath him, hold him tighter until he was still too.

It was nice to see this aspect of BDSM as something new to the couple, they are exploring it together, but also coming to understand their own needs and wants individually.

One of my personal views is how a successful relationship must have a balance of yin and yang, where one’s strengths help fulfill the weakness of the other.  This novel is an illustration of this balance.

What could be better?

This is a common complaint I have when we only see one character’s perspective.  In many ways, this is like being in first person.  I wish we could have had more “inside the head” of Will.

The biggest complaint I have with this novel is in the “conflict” between Charlie and Will.  This book could have been finished in  1/3 of the time by them just sitting down and talking honestly.  I understand the reason behind it, but it just seemed rather contrived.

Conclusions:

My favorite romance books deals more with boy meets boy, boy gets boy, boy chases boy, and boy keeps boy.  This is a look at how our own insecurities can keep up from obtaining our own happiness.  Taking that leap with honesty is frightening, but in the end it makes a great relationship.  It certainly  makes a great book.

Bea

Review: Sinner’s Gin — by Rhys Ford

Sinners_GinOther Reviewers: Goodreads

Full Disclosure:

The novel, Sinner’s Gin, by Rhys Ford was supplied for review by the author.  While it should be obvious to say, this is a honest review and I was not influenced by any action of the author.

Background:

This is the third book of Ford’s I have read.  My review of her other series (Dirty) can be found here.  That series is about an Irish decent ex-cop (Cole) and a Korean photographer (Jae).  In some ways, those personal characteristics are very similar our main characters in Sinner’s Gin, which made me a little nervous.  However, I am pleased to say that while there might be superficial similarities between the characters, the tone between the series is completely different.

Basic Plot:

Miki St. John is the only surviving member of a band after a horrific car accident.  Now recovering, he hides from life and the world.  Enter Kane Morgan, a cop who is irritated by Miki’s “dog” and finds a body in Miki’s garage.  Now the mystery is who did it, was it Miki or is someone trying to frame him?  Why does Kane find Miki so enchanting and can Miki learn to trust Kane?

Miki St. John:

To describe Miki and what in his life shaped him to be what he is today, would  spoil a great deal of the mystery of the storyline.  So forgive me if this portion is not as in-depth as normal.  There are several things about Miki that I find fascinating and compelling.  Let me be frank, I am a fairly boring Anglo-Saxon based heterosexual female who has lived in the rural south for most of her life.  The bulk of information that I receive of other cultures comes from movies and novels, which may or may not be accurate.  Yet, any time I can expand my education and perspective I try to do so.  Ford’s work in the Dirty series is an excellent example of how enlightening it can be to read books that focus on another culture.

Miki is someone who grew up as an orphan and struggled in many ways to survive.  The band became his new family and saved his life.  Damien, his co-writer in their music becomes his best friend and the loss of him has left him devastated and inconsolable.  He finally found a new family in his band and from the explosive beginning of the novel we see this ripped violently from him.

The woman didn’t understand how her voice reminded him of the long weeks he spent on the road, complaining about the bad food, weather, and their bus drivers’ aversion to bathing.  She shadowed them through the ups and downs, either soothing their nerves or pushing them past their fears. The others griped constantly as they dragged themselves and their equipment from city to city, but Miki had never felt more alive.  Living in each others’ pockets strained their tempers at times, but they became tighter as a whole.  He agonized over the loss of Damien’s bossiness or Johnny’s cocky, swaggering boasts of his hookups from the night before.  Miki longed for a few more minutes of Dave’s quiet faith as he murmured thanks to some god before they hit the stage.

Hearing Edie made him miss them all the more, and his heart couldn’t take any more breaks in its already fragile shell.

We see this man from the beginning of the novel, broken in many ways, his blank countenance merely a pretense that quickly cracks under the emotional strain.  Enter the appearance of the dead body in his garage and this charming and strong police detective named Kane Morgan.

We find in Miki a person who is not deeply embedded in any culture, in fact, he has no cultural ties.  This to me, is an example of how Ford takes something that at first we think is very similar from the other series and twists a character into something unique.  Miki is someone who has re-invented his entire persona and as the book progresses we steadily realize that his unemotional facade is just that, a facade.

I think that Ford brilliantly painted a picture of someone with a horrific background.  The picture often is one so incomprehensibly painful, that I was sickened for Miki.  But what was so beautiful about the novel was the strength that Miki had and the courage that he demonstrated.  Ford also manages to make this character realistic and not a typical “victim” in a romance.  Yes, these horrible things make an impact on Miki, but it’s not as if he swoons around storyline letting Kane pick up all of the pieces.  Ford makes a character that bent but not broken, which I will address when I get to the theme.

Kane Morgan:

We see in Kane someone with whom we can all identify.  He is an “every person” type of character:  he works hard, he loves his family, and he tries to do the right thing both in his job as a police officer and his personal life.  I loved the aspect of the Irish family, the use of accents was charming and allowed me to fall deeper into the story.  I love how Kane’s father describes him to Miki:

“He’s got a good heart.  My temper, though, so I apologize to ye for that, but he’ll never do more than raise his voice at ye.  And then probably feel bad about that afterwards.  If I’ve taught them one thing, it’s that they’re strong, stronger than most.  They’re got to take care with that.  Ye’ll never have to worry about him taking a hand to ye.”

What I like about Kane is how he approaches loving and supporting Miki as the book develops.  He learns how to support and comfort Miki, but not try to fix him or rearrange his life.  As their relationship develops, Kane discovers methods to understand Miki’s past and find ways of reaching Miki.  Kane’s character development comes through in how he adjusts to this new love and learning how to be the man that Miki needs.  He has never found anyone in the past that made him want to care this much and pull them so deeply into his life.

Theme Summary:

For me, I found two themes: one from my perspective and another I think Ford intended.

As I stated with Miki’s portion of this review, he is bent and not broken.  This is a truth about Miki as well as something in life.  We can be bent the fuck up, so much so that we are not in the original image.  But from this destruction we can be reformed and made anew; we are changed, perhaps scarred, but we can still live a full life.  Sometimes we can do these things on our own and sometimes we need support to do this.  In Sinner’s Gin, Miki gains this support through Kane and his family to build a new future.  This can be illustrated in an early quote between Miki and Kane:

They became the eye in the center of a wicked storm.  Kane rested his chin on Miki’s shoulder and simply listened to the man breathe, stroking his fingertips up and down Miki’s spine.  The man dug his hands into Kane’s shirt, tightly fisting the fabric as if afraid to let go … afraid he’d fall into something he couldn’t crawl out of if he didn’t have Kane to hold on to.

Just because you are not physically or emotionally perfect does not mean love is illusive.  It is possible to find love and find that person that completes you.  Yes, perhaps it is hokey, but still true!

But I also found the theme that I think Ford meant:

“See, I get it now.  For a long time, I couldn’t figure out how my dad and mom stayed together.  They’re too different.  They like different things.  Hell, they can’t even agree on what kind of Christmas tree to get, so it never made sense that they were…inseparable.”

“And now you do?  Because of St. John?”

“Yeah, I do,” he replied softly.  “People like my mom and Miki are like kites.  They need the sky.  They need the wind.  Me and my dad?  We’re the people holding the string.  We’re their anchors to the earth.  Miki and I can feel each other through the connection.”

“Huh, how does that work out?  You’re… wait, you’re not the string.  You’re holding the string.”

“Yeah, dude.  I’m holding the string.”  Kane laughed at Ke’s confused look.  “I can feel the power of the wind catching Miki, lifting him up and dropping him down.  He can feel the world beneath me, and he knows… he trusts me not to let go… not to let him drift off into the sky.  And when he gets too tired of flying, he knows that I’ll reel him in and take care of him.  Just like my dad does with my mom.”

One of my personally favor themes of yin / yang, that in every successful couple is a balance of strengths and weakness.  A perfect couple is not one that are exactly alike, but two people who are complementary.  Their own strengths and weakness are reciprocal and that is why Miki and Kane just work.

Strong Points:

One thing that I loved about this book was the humor.  This is a pretty dark book in many parts, and Ford did an excellent job of splicing humor into it.  Granted, sometimes the humor was pretty dark:

“Okay, tell you what.”  Kane reached for the piece of paper Miki still had clenched in his fist.  “I’m going to leave them here and go grab what’s on your list.  You go inside and wait.”

“And do what?”  Miki pursed his lips.  “I feel like I’m in some damned slasher flick, man.

I’m sure as fuck not going into the shower.  I’ve seen that movie.  It did not end well for that chick.”

Another aspect that I loved about this book is the ensemble cast.  Ford beautifully builds the world of Sinner’s Gin with Kane’s family and friends and these secondary characters help to create an intriguing environment.  The imagery is so vivid I often feel like I am watching a movie.  The conversations with Kane’s father Donal was hilarious and colorful, I could visualize the Irish clans jovially arguing with each other.

What could be better?

When I give a book a four or five-star review, it is usually difficult to really find something to improve the novel.  In this case, the only thing that really bothered me was the cover.  Not really the composition, but the tone.  The book, while containing a HEA has a very dark background and some of the events are quite graphic and intense.  Yet, the cover does not illustrate any of this darkness.  Not sure what I would really do to change it, and I was certainly surprised by the darkness inside the pages so it did add to the intensity of the scenes.

Conclusions:

When I look for a book, I hope to find something that compels me to reflect on something other than my world.  Sometimes, that might be a mystery story, a foreign culture, or a faraway planet.  Through all of these themes I want to discover something about myself.  What I found in Sinner’s Gin is a story about a man who is trying to rebuild his life again after a tragic car accident and finds love along the way.  We discover that despite a shattering background you can start over and love can find you if you have the courage to try.

I thoroughly loved this book and I am giddy with excitement about the next book.  I can say with quite certainly that Rhys Ford continues to be an auto-buy author and I look forward to reading her next book.

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