Quickie: Elijah’s Ghost by Amber Kell

Other Reviewers: Goodreads

elijahsghostPage count: 115

For full disclosure, I was given this book for review by the publisher for an honest review.

I had only read one other book by Amber Kell, Attracting Anthony.   For that Goodreads’ review go here.  At the time, I was not that impressed with the novel, but there was something about the author’s writing that made me want to try another book.

When I came across this synopsis, it struck me as interesting, after all, who doesn’t love a story about an under-dog who finds out he is special?  In the end, I was glad I read the book.

Basic Plot:

Elijah Trention is one disappointment to most people in his life:  father, brother, and instructors.  Then comes the day when he saves a class from danger and everyone looks at him in awe. Devin Stewartson has had his eye on Elijah for a long time, but never had the nerve to ask him out.  When he finally does, will Elijah accept his friendship or will his past keep him away?

 

Elijah Trention:

Eli’s perspective is someone with whom we can relate.  He has low self-esteem, mostly because of his father’s lack of love and respect.  He is not an overachiever like his brother, in fact, he is behind in much of his studies, never even matching his peers.  We discover more reasoning behind this later on, but I do not want to spoil the suspense here.

 His father eyed Eli, approval in his gold gaze.  After years of seeking his dad’s attention, he now wished the man would just go away.  He certainly had no desire to supplant his brother’s spot in his father’s affections.  Those two deserved each other.  Power seeking and ruthless, the two men had the same goals in life — taking whatever they could get and stepping on as many people as necessary to get there.  Eli wanted nothing to do with them.

Now that Eli has all of this great power, he must learn how to control it and keep friends around him that will support him, not use him.

Devin Stewartson:

Devin is a character that I assume is in the other three books of the A Wizard’s Touch series.  Early on we see Elijah’s view of Devin:

Besides, there was a perk to the class, in the form of Devin Stewartson.  The sexy man sat two rows ahead of Eli and to the right.  Eli spent a great deal of time ignoring the professor and staring at the gorgeous triplet.  It just wasn’t fair that there were three of them.  He’d heard around campus that Dan had bonded with a fire wizard and Dean was straight — that left Devin a his only option.  Not that it mattered — he’d always been attracted to Devin more than his brothers.  Devin’s upbeat personality pulled at Eli.  Maybe because Eli didn’t have a bubbly personality, Devin’s charm called him.

I liked Devin, while he appeared to be popular and had a steady family, even he had questions about getting a partner and a successful relationship.

Strong Points:

I enjoyed the dialogue in this book.  It’s a short novel, at 115 pages, so  the author needs to be able to get us into the story quickly.  Early on we see how great Porter and Eli’s friendship is:

Porter put a hand on each of Eli’s shoulders and looked him square in the eyes.  “You’ll be fine.  If anyone messes with you, you call upon your legion of dead.”

Eli laughed, “So far my legion consists of a single dead assistant teacher who I don’t think is going to do anything other than help me with my studies.”

“Well, legions should be functional,” Porter said in a practical tone.  “Maybe you can build them up as soon as you can figure out which ones are dead.”

Porter is a great secondary character and I wished we had more time with him.

What Could be Better:

Because this is such a short book, there is very little time for getting in-depth character development.  This is book 4 in a series, so I an only assume that at least with Devin, we might have already learned about him as a secondary character.

Remember the phrase, “show” don’t “tell”, when dealing with writing?  Because this book is so short, the author compressed the development to “tell” rather than “show”.  From the writing that we see, I believe that the author has the writing skill to be more verbose.  I hope that in other series we get to see more developed world, plots, and characters.  I can tell by the writing of this story that Amber Kell is capable of writing a more lengthy novel.  I would love to read a longer book Amber Kell.

Conclusion:

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  It was a very fast read and was great for reading on my flight to a conference.  But, that being said, there was not that much deep thinking.  So I give it Three Stars for a score.  I did like this book enough that I will go back and read the previous three in the series.

Quickie: Clockwork Tangerine by Rhys Ford

ClockworkTangerineLGOther Reviewers: Goodreads

This novella is written by Rhys Ford, someone whom I have adored as a writer for some time.  Almost everything  she writes I love, and it is always difficult for  me to find fault with her writing.  As full disclosure, I was given this book for and honest review.  However, my opinions are honest.

First things first, this is a novella, pretty short at 90 pages.  So the criteria that I might have on a full-length book review would not be fair against this size.  Thus, this will be a “Quickie Review”, with some different criteria.

Page count: 90

Basic Plot:

One night, Marcus Stenhill, Viscount Westwood discovers a man in the act of being beaten by some drunk youths.  After saving the man, Marcus uncovers that this Robin Harris was responsible for death and mayhem years before by the Society.  While there is chemistry between Marcus and Robin, is it safe or possible for them to forgive the past and move forward together?

Relationship:

What I liked about this story is that it is not “sex focused”, but rather gives a large percentage of the novella to the plot, world building, and backstories.  That being said, this is HEA story with a hot sex scene at the end.  We get perspectives from Robin and Marcus, which I appreciated.  Because of the shortness of the novella, any interaction between the two main characters must be packed full of relationship building.

Strong Points:

  • The World Building: This is the best aspect of the story.  We get into the world quickly, as the author builds the story through Marcus’s memory and observations.  Bits of the conflict in the past give us hints of what led to the world’s current environment:

Thousands had suffered at the hands of the Society.  They’d brought about the rise of the Golems, creatures – humans according to the courts – created in workshops and grown to adolescence in bowls of plasma and blood, only to be used as shock troops and assassins for the Society’s cause.  They’d been terrorists of the basest form, attacking the very foundation of the British Empire, but Marcus had a difficult time reconciling the idea of the man laid out before him had anything to do with their destructive agenda.

  • Even Has a Theme:  I normally do not worry about a theme in this size of a novella.  However, I found something powerful in the story:

A man with power protects and serves those lesser than he.  It is only the weak who use their power to do harm.

This is the truth that both men have discovered and spend their energy in life now giving back to others.  We see it with Marcus early on as he saves Robin; Robin has spent his recent time trying to make other’s lives better with his skills.

What Could be Better:

  •  Too ShortThat goes without saying because it is 90 pages.  The reason that this is 4 stars instead of 5 stars was that while I did take the fact that it was a novella into account, I was still left wanting.  We had a definitive ending, and it was happy.  Yet, I still felt like some other action was needed.  More exterior conflict?  More relationship building?

Conclusions:

I really enjoyed this book.  There are some aspects to the world building that I do not want to get into here as it would spoil the plot.  However, because it deals with homosexuality, laws, and society, I can see how this book would not work for a full length gay romance novel.  I think the author did the right thing: give us an intriguing and entertaining look at a steam punk world to want more.  I think now Rhys Ford can build a similar world with huge plot lines and characters that we will drool over for years and years of series…. hint…. hint…

Bea

Review: Rats’ Alley — by Auburn

Rats_alleyOther Reviewers: Goodreads

Lately I have been trying to save money for our new house by not buying so many books.  That combined with my new job and new friends means less time available to read.  Next week, I will be reviewing Rhys Ford’s Clockwork Tangerine.  But I just could not put this book down this week and was massively impressed with the concept, writing, and conclusion.  So I HAD to do a review of Rat’s Alley by Auburn this week.

Normally with any Fan-Fiction, the author either goes into two directions:  Same-world, just alternative storyline or alternate storyline.  I have written several book reviews and blog posts which are here.  For this book we have a post-apocalyptic setting, and while they are still werewolves and the same characters on the TV show, the setting and plot is completely different.

Basic Plot:

What happens to the Pack when a catastrophic electrical breakdown happens in society?  Will they all make it back to Beacon Hill?  Will they all survive?  Will this be the chance for Stiles and Derek to stop fighting their attraction and accept fate?

Stiles Stillinski:

Stiles has the same personality that we see in the TV show.  He is smart and sassy, always getting into trouble but uses his brain to find a way out.  The story is set farther ahead in time, Stiles is now 20, with Derek being 26, so no longer do we have that conflict of “dating a teenager”.  In the beginning of this book we see him in Mexico, south Mexico.  He is doing some magical training with Consuelo, a witch.  When the satellite phone stops working for several days, he knows something horrible has happened, so he begins his way back up Highway 1 to the pack in California.  Luckily, the old Jeep is old enough to still run, most of the other cars won’t start.

Through Stiles we start to see how it must feel to have to rely on only yourself in isolation.  He has to pack up and travel, alone in what he is beginning to understand is a something world-changing.

By the second day, Stiles had that crawling, hunch your shoulders and get ready to run feeling that always preceded another shit show.  He hadn’t heard from the pack in more than a week.  Derek insisted on weekly check ins — either someone called Stiles or he was supposed to call Derek to prove he was still alive.  It went both ways: Stiles couldn’t settle if he was worrying about the pack.  And now all he could do was worry about them and Derek in particular and, damn it, he should have taken his chances and said something to Derek before leaving, what if it was too late…?

We get that feeling of danger, tension, and deep feelings early on in the story that creates buy-in for their relationship to work.

Derek Hale:

Derek is one of my favorite characters on the TV show, and this book portrays his character correctly.  Derek is physically strong, and steps in when he should to protect those that he loves or to do the right thing.  We see early on in this book as he helps those in the car crash, that he has a moral strength in him to try to help others.  But always, in the back of his mind is loyalty and duty to the pack.  Pack always comes first.  Keep in mind that this is Derek at 26, so he has matured as a person and as an Alpha, so some angst we might have seen with his character in the TV has left.

“You’re back,” she said eventually.

“I’ve got water,” Derek told her.

“This is Alex.”

“Alex Komorovski.”

“Angela Bailey.  This is Billy.”

Billy peaked at Alex briefly then hid his face against his mother again.

They both looked at Derek.  Derek handed Angela a bottle of water and didn’t offer his name.

Angela alternated drinking and giving sips to Billy.  Alex winced when he saw Danny’s covered body and said nothing.  He sipped slowly at the bottle of water Derek handed him and squinted westward.  “Any ideas?” he asked eventually.

“Walk,” Derek replied.  A ragged line of people already had the same idea.  Some were headed west down the side of the highway, though a few were marching back, maybe figuring they were closer to a town in that direction.

Alex nodded.

“My grand dad has a house in Afton,” Angela said unexpectedly.  “We should go there.”

Derek shrugged and finished his own water.  “I’ve got to get back to L.A.”  He glanced down at Angela and Billy, then caught Alex’s gaze.  “keep the water.”

So we see early one from this quote that his focus is always the health and safety of his pack.

Theme Summary:

This book has  a lot of plot and action, so that always makes the theme harder for me to uncover.  But for me, the theme was simple:  Never give up, always move forward.  It actually reminds me of the quote (from Winston Churchill) that the counselor gave Stiles in the TV show: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”  And that is what both Stiles and Derek do throughout this novel.  They have to go through hell to get back home, and even then there might not be a magical happy ending.

What did I love?

This author kicked it when it came to creating a dark and dangerous environment through writing.  I was amazed at how unnerved I was while reading it.  It gave me the same feelings that Stephen King’s The Stand did.  Not because she was stealing plot or anything, she just has the ability to so thoroughly build the scene that you are SEEING it, FEELING it, and TASTING it.  Be prepared, the first few chapters with Derek will have you drawn into the storyline quickly and it will be hard to put the book down.

A river of weekend gamblers were pouring back to the LA basin – Derek’s bail jumper had been one of them, now in the hands of the Las Vegas PD – and Derek let his foot press down the gas a little more, half intending to pass the mini-convoy of semis ahead of him.  The SUV coughed and died instead; not just the engine but the electronics as well.  Swift reflexes and strength let Derek wrestle the steering wheel right, hard enough to bounce off the Interstate and maintain control as it bounded onto the shoulder at eighty-five miles an hour.  The SUV pin-balled and smashed sideways between two other vehicles in a horrendous screech of metal on metal and dust rose in a choking cloud around it.

So, the writing is compelling, but I also liked how the relationship of Sterek evolved through this book.  We can tell based on when it happens that the friendship is strong, and they already do love each other, just neither had moved it to the physical because of fear of hurting the friendship.  This story starts at that point and then because of nature of the trip, we don’t have sex every five minutes.  There is actual plot and character development.

I also loved how the author ended this book.  This is a traveling story, when the environment and journey IS the story; how Stiles and Derek handle the problems along the way back to Beacon Hill.  So, as they get closer and closer, while the book is still building tension, you KNOWN that more trouble is coming.  It was a great way to build the suspense within the storyline.

What could be better?

I really could not think of anything better about this book.  It is fan-fiction, so some editing might be expected (not for spelling but rather for pacing), but other than that it was a great book.

Conclusions:

I have a love for fan-fiction, no doubt about it.  What I like about it is the freedom to take something that originally was well thought-out in characterizations and world creating.  Fan-fiction gives us a chance to play with the world and plot, giving us something new and exciting that is not limited by society, ratings, producers, or the networks.

In Rats’ Alley, we see this in action.  The storyline is epic in scope and direction, more than “just a romance”.  You will go through numerous emotions:  fear, hope, pain, lust, love, and determination.  When the ending happens, it makes you feel glad, but only when you realize that some things will never be the same and we can only adapt.

This is a wonderful book, and I hope that this fan-fiction author goes on to become a professional author because she certainly has the skill to do so.

Bea

Review: Honky Tonk– by Rain Carrington

Honky_TonkOther 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.

This is the first book of Rain Carrington that I have read, and I always enjoy the chance to find a new author.  With this discovery, I now get to read all of the other books!

Basic Plot:

Ethan Kerr is on the run, from his past, as he hitch-hikes across the country to San Francisco to start a new life.  Ethan is more of a lover than a fighter, moving from one night stand to another.  He doesn’t believe in love or commitment.  He finds himself in New Mexico and somehow gets a job at a bar called Honky Tonk.  The owner, Hunter Westmore is silent, but intense, something that Ethan would love to conquer.  But for some reason, Hunter eludes him.  Can Ethan finally get his man, or will Hunter just keep their relationship “all business”?

Ethan Kerr:

When I started reading this book, I found Ethan annoying.  The author spends the first 25% of the book letting get to know how “happy-go-lucky” he is when it comes to relationships and that is a self identified “slut”.  What we learn as the book progresses is that there are reasons for his actions and Ethan has deeply held pain within that he hides with his “twinky” personality.

Frankly he didn’t see the difference as far as fidelity was concerned but who was he to judge?  He’d had married, single, straight, and gay alike in his few years of being sexually active.  One cock was a good as another as long as the bearer of it was decent to look at, had a fair bit of meat between his legs and knew how to use it.

So, Ethan is a bit of a kid.  I like to think of him as in the “young and stupid” phase of life.  I found his character obnoxious in the beginning, but really his character is the one that grows the most throughout the storyline.

Hunter Westmore:

Hunter is the “Hot Dark Male Dominant” that you see in most BDSM based romances.  He is a successful businessman (he owns a ranch and the bar), who keeps his sexuality apart from his daily life.  He has had no real relationships, mostly just using slaves from his club on occasion when he is out-of-town for work and pleasure.  What we find in Hunter is similar in Ethan, he has never felt the need for monogamy in his life.

“He’s not regular people and I don’t care about gay or not, it’s your own business but what he is has no label.”

I found Hunter’s characterization lacking, in fact he does something around 75% of the book that I found difficult to forgive.  I will talk about that later in this review.

Theme Summary:

For me, theme identification is the key to how I score a book.  If I can not find a book that has a clear theme that drives the plot, then I tend to not like the book as much.   In Honky Tonk, I found the theme easily:

There were tiny yellow wildflowers in small patches right next to small cactus plants.  It was a contradiction to see them so close, a fine delicate thing living with something so rough and dangerous.  He wondered if that is how Hunter saw the two of them.  Some pretty boy next to his tough and  hard self.  Then he looked a little closer.  One of the cactus plants had a beautiful maroon colored flower on it and the tiny yellow flowers had small but painful looking thorns.  Maybe the two plants looked different but they were more alike than one could see at first glance.

This is actually some of the best writing in the novel.  The problem with this type of theme however, is that it is about a couple as a relationship.  Most of the plot then should revolve around internal conflict, rather than external.  However,  Honky Tonk also includes a plot-line for cattle mischief.

Strong Points:

I have to say, that this novel has some of the most intense sex scenes that I read in a while.  The added M/s dynamics enhances the scenes, giving us more than just a quick shag in the alleyway.

I also found the depiction of the BDSM lifestyle and Master/slave relationship dynamics accurate.  There is a scene where Ethan and Hunter sit down and write out their contract, which is accurate and clearly done.

What could be better?

As you can tell, this book has a large BDSM and Master/slave component.  However, in my mind, this novel is more of BDSM erotica, rather than a gay romance.  While there is a side plot, it distracted me from the relationship.  I think that the author should have either beefed up the cattle plot or focused more on the emotional relationship of Ethan and Hunter.  Instead, we got a lot of sex scenes that tied together the cattle plot with the “mystery” solved in the last 10 % of the novel.

In the BDSM lifestyle, while a Master/slave can be a committed relationship like a vanilla might call Husband/wife, the relationship might never be a “true love” relationship.  Honky Tonk provides the reader the latter relationship type.  So, for someone who wants a “HEA” “true love” story, this is not for them.  I found Ethan and Hunter’s relationship (despite the “I love you’s”) lacking emotional depth.  What I would have preferred was not just hot kinky sex, but more depth on the power exchange aspect of the relationship.  We could have seen some intensely emotional scenes where we see Ethan deal with his past and see how Hunter find Ethan to fulfill something that he has found lacking in his life before.

In fact, at about 75% Hunter did something that I found so out of place with the character we had seen up until that point that I was tempted to throw the book down.  It being my iPad, I walked away instead.

After some time, I grudgingly accepted the fact that he acted along the contract they both signed, so technically he did not “cheat”.  I just found the “conflict” the author put in the couple’s path either an excuse for “hot naughty sex” or Carrington wanted to reinforce the Master/slave dynamics for the reader.

However, what really drove the stars down for me was the confusing “suspense” aspect that came to a strange halt at the end (I am still not sure how Hunter “fixed” it at the end) and the editorial and typographical errors I found throughout the novel.  The errors were not enough to ruin my enjoyment, but it did distract me.

Conclusions:

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book.  It provided me a look into how the Master/slave dynamic can work and it did it in a realistic manner.  The sex scenes were very hot, especially if you like any type of BDSM actions.  However, if you are looking for a soft, character driven gay romance, then perhaps look for another novel.

There is a second novel in this series, Honky Tonk: Coastal Cowboysso perhaps some of the relationship issues will be explained then.  If you like BDSM gay erotica, then I think this book is for you.

Bea

Review: 7 — by Adrienne Wilder

SevenOther 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 know very little about Adrienne Wilder’s writing, Seven is the first of her books I have read.  Yet, the chance to discover a new author or writing style is always exciting to me, so I jumped at the chance.  I also don’t get to read much about science-fiction M/M romance, so this was a great opportunity to expand my mind.

Basic Plot:

Chase Sarim has lost his job, is in a dump of an apartment, and is hiding from his father.  In the meantime, he meets his cooky neighbor, Seven, who while attractive is a little few cards short a full deck of cards.  But, there is something strangely compelling about Seven and somehow Chase is drawn into his world.  Maybe Seven isn’t as crazy as he seems?

Chase Sarim:  The first thing I thought about Chase was, that he needs to have better friends and better family.  We see through his perspective (1/2 the time), and I just wanted to smack most of the people around him.  The author does a brilliant job of building suspense around Chase, we feel how desperate he is for a job and I was constantly on edge about people taking advantage of him.

“I think the only person your grudge is hurting is you.”

But Chase had given in to his dad once, and let the old man bully him into taking a side.  Let his dad scare  him into saying things he didn’t mean.  And not saying things he should have.  At that time, Chase was unable to tell the man no.  Nowadays, all he had was no.

There is an air around Chase that says he is easily influenced, and that bothers me as a person.  So it was hard for me to identify with his character.

Seven:

I loved how Chase describes Seven early on in the book.

Chase stared at the strange crumpled metal cap Seven wore on his head.  It brought to mind Thanksgiving dinner and leftovers.  Seven wriggled the cap under Chase’s nose.  He took it, not sure if he wanted to know what the white powdery stuff was or not.  It couldn’t have been safe.  People who wore aluminum hats had to be inherently dangerous.

This quote shows us Wilder’s humorous writing and begins the plot along.  Seven is the person that I identified with and who I “rooted” for throughout the book.  His good heart and quick mind was something that I wanted to see how the ending would come for him.

Theme Summary:

I think the theme for me was about how these two men found each other (and themselves) from the isolation of their previous lives when they run into together.  Much of their back story, friends, family, and acquaintances used them to get what they wanted.  Now these two men tumble together and find something more than they expected.

Strong Points:

One of the things I loved about this book is the sense of humor.  Early on, Chase has a conversation with his friend Martin about his apartment:

Martin had better score Chase that position with The Tribune.  It had only been three days, but the man was known to work greater miracles.  Chase took out his cell phone and dialed.

It rang twice before Martin answered.  “So, did you get moved in?”

“Please tell me The Tribune is begging for me to start tomorrow.”

Martin laughed.  “Aw, c’mon, Chase, it can’t be that bad.”

“The apartment next to mine has no door, the hall smells like a public bathroom in Underground Atlanta, and there’s rat shit on my welcome mat.”

“You could always apologize to your old man and tell him you’ll take a position on the board at his firm.”

“I’d rather sleep with the rats.”

Another part that was compelling was the scenes with the bad guy (Dr. David Stone).  When I read the scenes with him, I found him disturbing and scary.  It is an example of how visceral the book is at times, in fact, I had to skip parts of his bad guy stuff because I was so nervous.

What could be better?

Not sure if this is more of a comment about my preferences or something that could be improved.  In Seven, we get to see both Seven and Chase’s perspectives, which I love.  But there are large parts of the novel where we got to see Dr. Stone.  Remember how I said that he was disturbing?  Well, I think that one of the reasons that I gave this story a 3 star is because the bad guy was just that a “über evil bad guy”.  He was what I consider a stereotypical evil doctor.  This, in my opinion is a danger an author faces when they allow the reader to get inside a bad guy’s head.  For me, that can encourage people to skim your book, which is never a good thing.

I think for me, I would have preferred less scenes with him metaphorically rubbing his hands and cackling with his evilness.

Conclusions:

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  I would not say that this is a character driven novel, but it is an exciting romp.  But, the two main characters were interesting and the science-fiction story original and exciting.  I think that if you like to read books that have that dramatic “Doctor No” type plot line and villains then you will enjoy this book.

Bea

Review: Training Season — by Leta Blake

Training_Season Other 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.

This is the first book of Leta Blake that I have read, with no preconceived notions of her writing style.  This was a great opportunity to read Training Season with fresh eyes.

One note, this review will have some explicit quotes because I need to make a point. So if offended by sex (then you really would not be reading my blog), then this review might shock you.

Basic Plot:

Matty Marcus is an ice skater who is recovering from a sport injury and needs to begin preparing for the next Olympics.  Depressed about his failure and worried about money issues, he is given an opportunity to train and gain money in the wilderness of Montana.  Once there, he begins a relationship with a local rancher, Rob Lovely.  While their chemistry is instant, is it enough to last through Matty’s determination to win the gold?

Matty Marcus:

Matty’s introduction easily demonstrates his unstoppable drive to win at competitive ice skating.  This intense focus and drive has led him to the level that he has competed, yet he has always never quite made it.  This drive to succeed and make a name for himself colors his entire vision.

The question for Matty then through this book is something simple:  Is Matty happy?  What will make him happy?

Matty is our stereotypical flamboyant gay male, early on we see how his appearance is his expression of who he is and it is not something that he wants to sacrifice to “fit in” and be “straight”.  He is blessed with having a supportive family, including his father.  This is not a book where we have to deal with family strife.

However, one of the conflicts within this book is Matty’s internal struggles, both in relationships as well as his career.  Matty is afraid to put himself emotionally out there and has not dealt well with his professional disappointments.  Matty describes himself accurately here:

Matty found that Rob was a good listener.  He asked all the right questions to keep the conversation moving ever deeper.  Because of that, Matty soon found himself standing at an emotional precipice.  He was good at talking, good at expressing important concepts and emotions, but he wasn’t good at cutting through that final bit of protection band laying himself bare.  He kept a little armor up with most people nearly all of the time.

So, we can see that Matty’s flamboyant is a cover.  Much like when he is on the ice, Matty gives a performance to everyone in his life.  He allows no one to see his true self.

This is a quote later on in the novel as Rob describes Matty:

“But that’s not what I meant.”  Rob’s cheeks flushed a little.  “Like it says, bone to bone, down to your marrow, you’re beautifully made, like the swan.  And like the bring of pearls, you’re precious, shinning, and incredibly strong.”

This is where Rob comes in, as well as the BDSM.  Rob actually gets Matt and he understands what he needs.  I will not go into too much details here, because to me this is the majority of the novel.  But believe me that once Matt submits and gives Rob control with his submission, we see how Matt blossoms and gains control over his self-esteem and future.

Rob Lovely:

We are only given Matty’s perspective in this novel, so any characterization of Rob is through Matty’s eyes.  He is a divorced rancher with a son (Ben), who he raises on his father’s ranch.  There is a lot of back story that we learn about Rob, that I do not want to get into here.  The basics are fairly simple:  his entire life has unfolded without his control, so in his personal life now he administers it with complete control.  Yet despite this, he is still not happy or fulfilled.

With the entrance of Matty, Rob is drawn to this beauty (both inner and outer).  Rob sees the need for submission in Matty and this makes them a good pair.  The problem is that Matty focuses on his ice skating career and this leaves little room for a Montana rancher and his son.

Rob turned away and washed his hands again.  He smiled at Matty, “Sorry, I don’t mean to sound bitter, and I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.  Something came up today that reminded me of some bad times with my father.  I try, but I guess I haven’t really let it go.  I’m loyal that way I guess.”

This is Rob’s theme, “Loyalty”.  He is loyal to his family, but that responsibility to his family has kept him from doing what he really wants in life.  This responsibility also keeps him from moving forward with Matty.

Theme Summary:

I found the theme fairly late in the novel, although as we can read in the characterizations of Rob and Matt, Blake does an effective job of working us through to the theme:

“Perfection lies in the imperfection,” Anja said, lifting her glass in a toast.  “To Matty.  May he always feel our friendship and support whoever he goes,a n may success always find him.”

Again, I do not want to go too deeply into the theme, to keep the spoils at a minimum.  But, what happens when your focus is on the perfection and you never can quite make that goal?  Can any human mange to have this perfection in their personal and professional live?  Will you have to compromise yourself and are you willing to do that?

Strong Points:

This is an intense book, dealing with serious issues and with more dramatic BDSM scenes than some other romance books that I have read.  So with this intensity, comes the need for humor.  Early on we have a scene between Matty and his mother discussing this move to Montana:

“You realize she just wants me to be her pet, don’t you?  This could all be some sick tactic to get me alone in the wilderness with her.  It could end up like that Stephen King novel.  She’s going to kidnap me and make me into her own private skater!  She’ll force me to perform for her pleasure!  If I don’t she’ll cut off my foot.”

And heck, any book that can refer to Stephen King so elegantly is a win in my book.

The other strong point to me is her understanding of BDSM dynamics.  Kinky sex play can range from the light and fluffy scenes in the bedroom to the hard-core masochistic scenes in a dungeon.  It seems that lately (think the Fifty Shades debacle) every author just throws in a BDSM scene and thinks they are “current” in the trends.

But a great writer who understands BDSM will incorporate aspects into the entire book, including both characters.  In Training Season, Blake incorporates aspects of BDSM relationships into the theme of the novel and the characters’ developments.  This makes the BDSM systemic, rather than a fluffy outer layer.

Training Season deals with some Edge play, which I loved!  Blake managed to describe the idea of Power Exchange and I got that these two men were emotionally involved with their sex.  The sex is not just for titillation, but moves the relationship and character development:

Matty’s cock ached, throbbing with every touch of Rob’s hand.  His hips jerked in rhythm with the strokes, desperate to reach climax.  He vision swam and his throat stung the fruitless search for air.  When Rob released his nose, Matty sucked in air so loudly that it was all he could hear, huffing through his nostrils like a race horse.

“Good boy.”  Then the air was gone again.

Matty flung his head back on Rob’s shoulder, his entire body shaking and his heart pounding so hard that it resounded in his fingertips and toes.  Rob’s whispers came through to him, words of encouragement and affection.  “So good…so fucking beautiful and sweet…come on.  Good boy, let go, there…like that.  Let go.”

And this is what Matt needs, the ability to let go and know that he is ok.  That being Matty is acceptable.  His entire life has focused on what these judges think about him and they have determined his self-worth.  This scene demonstrates that Matty has found a support in Rob, something that he has never really felt despite the support of friends and family.

What could be better?

This is the hard section of the review.  Usually when I give a five-star review, there is very little that I would change.  I would say that getting Rob’s perspective would have given me a better view of Matt and to “get into Rob’s head”.  It is not a deal killer, just something that I would have enjoyed.

Conclusions:

When I read a book, I want to feel the impact.  Just reading a fluffy book might be fun, don’t get me wrong.  But most of the time I want books of substance.  Training Season By Leta Blake is a quality book that deals with complex issues and has a sophisticated theme.  I admit that I was angry at first at the ending, not because it was not happy, but it was not a Disney ending.  Yet, the ending was realistic and heart-felt.  We get our HEA, but we get something so much better than that:  a metamorphosis of two men who go from letting others determine their own happiness and success to unfettered men reaching for their own happiness.

Bea

Review: Fish and Ghosts — by Rhys Ford

Fish_and_GhostsOther 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.

To be fair, I have loved almost every book I have read by Rhys Ford.  There is something about how she describes a scene, a place, or a character that just speaks to me.  Some of my past reviews of her books are found here: Black Dog Blues or Dirty Secret.

Basic Plot:

Tristan Pryce has a history of being thought odd and crazy by his family.  Now his family thinks Tristan has gone over the edge and they have called in professionals — ghost hunters!

Wolf Kincaid is a skeptic ghost hunter with a past.  He and his team journey to Hoxne Grange in response to Tristan’s family request to prove that the haunting is all in Tristan’s mind.  But what both men find is more than ghosts — perhaps a new future.

Wolf Kincaid:

Wolf is our alpha male.  He is passionate in his job and he has the adoration of his family.  I loved how Ford describes him:

And if he had a chance, he’d go back in time and kick the shit out of its builders too.  At a little over six feet, he should have had more space to walk around in the upper floors’ hallways.  Instead, he felt like Alice after she had too many frosted cakes.  His elbows hurt from banging into the walls, and the household staff wouldn’t have to dust for cobwebs because Wolf was pretty sure he’d walked through all of the ones in the attic storerooms.

This quote hits perfectly because it describes both Wolf’s physicality but also his humor.  One of the best things about Ford’s writing is her sense of humor and Wolf embodies this.

There is a lot of back story for Wolf, mostly revolving around his family.  I would write about it here, but I fear that it would hamper his mystery and part of the plot.  So just know that his character goes from a work focused man to fully appreciate his family, culture, and need for love.

Tristan Pryce:

I actually adore how Wolf describes Tristan:

Hell, Wolf thought, he probably was the one in the case and Tristan was the one setting him free.

Staring up the length of Tristan’s long, slender body, Wolf was caught by the man’s hooded gaze.  The duality of Tristan’s soul lay bare on his face, a delicate, pure innocence striated with a weary, tattered wisdom Wolf wanted to patch together with kisses.

Wolf’s description captures Tristan’s character.  Tristan is comfortable with the role of caretaker for the manor and the ghosts, as taught by his uncle Mortimer.  Now, he hides from life and the living by taking care of the dead.  Wolf sees how this affected Tristan’s life and urges for some changes, but not how Tristan’s family might think.

Theme Summary:

I think this book is about balance.  Both men center on only one aspect of their lives, excluding all other things.  For Wolf, he focuses on his ghost hunting:

“Like we deal with everything we have so far,” Wolf replied softly.  “We go into every job with a clear mind and a need to search for the truth.  That can’t change.

While we can agree with Wolf’s statement, he ignores the heart, emphasizing solely on logic.  In the meantime, Tristan’s purpose is to carry on uncle Mortimer’s legacy.  This perspective has warped the current and his future.

“Plans are fluid, dear.”  Meegan whooshed by in another dancing sweep.  “Like the universe.  One must learn to bend to its flow.  It’s better for the soul and spirit.  Builds character.”

Both men must learn to move past this narrow focus on their lives and learn to live.

Strong Points:

As always, the strongest point of Ford’s writing are her descriptions.  Ford is an artist with words, painting a picture that is vivid enough for a movie.  There is a scene later on that is so macabre that it reminds me of something out of Stephen King’s The Shinning:

The already dead lay about the fringes of the grand hall, caught in the throes of either their previous demise or the one newly created by their murderer.  To the left of them a rotund man wobbled on his bloated stomach, his torso stripped of a shirt.  Something was trying to work its way out of his body, stretching the man’s mottled skin along his ribs and distorting the man’s already deformed body.  His face was slack, and his tongue lolled back and forth as his body rocked from its parasite’s efforts to break free.

“Shittiest version of a black cat clock I’ve ever seen,”  Wolf joked to ease the tension he saw building up in Tristan’s slender body.

In the past series, Ford’s focus was on suspense.  One of her hallmarks is an explosive beginning like a Bourne movie intro.  This book is no different, but while there is mystery and suspense, Ford captured the creepy horror aspect perfectly!  I actually kept interrupting my husband while he watched TV to read quotes from the book.  This hardly ever happens when I read any of my romance books.

The other aspect I love about her writing? The humor.

Glass cherries dangled from her lobes, a row of four in each ear, and they chimed when she moved her head.  While they matched the printed cherries on her button-up shirt, Wolf thought it looked like she’d lost a fight with a fruit salad.

What could be better?

In all honesty, there is very little that I would change about this book.  This section is where I determine if a book is a 4 star or 5.  In this case, it screams 5 stars.  In Ford’s other series, culture is a focus, especially Asian cultures, and while this gives the novels depth and uniqueness, it began to feel repetitive.  With this novel, however Ford takes that skill as educator and we learn a lot of ghost hunting!  I am actually interested in knowing if any of the technology descriptions are accurate in how modern ghost hunters operate.

Conclusions:

There were too many quotes that I marked for this review, which is a fantastic sign!  This is probably my favorite book of Rhys Ford.  I have always loved her suspense, but I found not just action, not just sexy love scenes, but a novel of substance.  This book allowed me see that Ford has more variety in writing style, and this novel demonstrates her growth.  I think that if you liked her other novels, then you will like this no less.  So, if you are a fan, get ready to love this book, and if you are new to the author you will certainly love the story.

Bea