Review: Shift in Time — by Mercy Celeste

shift-in-timeOther 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.

One of my favorite books is Mercy Celeste’s Behind Iron Lace.  While the book was fairly short with lots of sex, it managed to pull me quickly into the story and the accurate description of the muggy deep south summer weather had me smiling.  So, when asked to review this book, I hoped that I would enjoy this book just as much.

Basic Plot:

Morgan Monstros comes from a family of witches, but is considered a “normal”.  And in this case, normal is not good.  Morgan has always felt like his life was bland in a world of flavor, but never felt he deserved a chance to thrive.  While taking care of his sister’s cat, Morgan discovers something unusual:  he can understand him!  What we discover is that the cat’s name is Fane — who is really a human.  Will Morgan be able to have a normal relationship or will outside forces hamper it?

Morgan Monstros:

From the start we feel badly for Morgan.  He is a “normal”, a word that demonstrates how beneath he is from the rest of his magical society.  He remains on this isolated island taking care of the family inn.  He has no protection from magic and we can see how vulnerable this makes him feel:

“I thought you weren’t poking around in my head.”  Betrayal, that’s what it was.  He had none of her talent, none of any of his sisters’ talents.  The one true normal in the family, and they all used it against him.

We can easily relate to Morgan, someone who feels like he disappoints his family and will never fit-in.

Fane Llewellyn:

Celeste did an excellent job with her depiction of Fane’s change from cat to human.  In science-fiction so often the extreme situations are so impractical that the reader will roll their eyes.  But the confusion and frustration that Fane goes through makes sense.

“I am fine.  I am cat.  I play at night.”  Fane replied, knowing he wasn’t cat anymore.  Most nights he really preferred a warm place to cuddle.  The past few nights had been with Gan.  Tonight, he didn’t know why  he felt the need to run.  “The moon calls to me.  Gan should not sleep in short johns.”

I loved how we understand how Fane struggles both by time, but also by the curse of the shift.  This struggle with the curse is something we can compare with the theme of sexuality.

Theme Summary:

I see the theme of Morgan and Fane’s struggle with not fitting into their society as a metaphor for those who struggle with their sexual identity.  We have two men who can not control their differences with their society and because of these differences they are shunned.  In fact, their lives are in danger.  While dramatic here, look at teen suicide and sexual identity.  Early on we see Morgan’s struggle:

“I had no choice.”  Morgan’s voice broke as he spoke.  He cleared his throat.  “Males are rare in our world.  We must marry a female.  We must have children.  We must carry on the magick into the next generation.  I was made to choose that or chastity.  To spill my seed in the body of a man is an abomination.”

In addition, Fane, has been “forced” to change (by the curse) and his quality of life is less than what it could be.  He has loss his specialness (I do not want to spoil part of the plot), but by Morgan breaking the curse, he is allowed to find is true shape/spirit.

I would actually recommend this book to those who struggle with their sexuality.  It is not a book that has any ground-breaking teenage moments, but I think that someone who does grapple can relate to the uncertainty and despair.

Strong Points:

I enjoyed the building of the “mystery” and how we, as the reader, slowly come to understand the background of Morgan and Fane.  The initial struggle seems silly until we understand the true struggle of our heroes.

What could be better?

There is a lot of sex, and while the sex was awesome, toward the end I actually skipped it.  The balance of sex and plot is a delicate one, and Celeste tends to write a lot of sex in her novels.

Conclusions:

I truly enjoyed this book.  I have a feeling that I got a lot more of out of the theme than some other reviewers on Goodreads, but that’s ok.  Sometimes you have to understand that while a book might be short and have a lot sex, it does not mean that there is not more complexity.  I would certainly recommend this book and I will go and check-out some more works of Mercy Celeste.

Bea

Review: Smoky Mountain Dreams — by Leta Blake

Smokey_Mt_dreamsOther Reviewers: Goodreads

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

I have previously read and reviewed a few books by Leta Blake.  What I love about her books are that they are not “typical” romances, meaning someone does not “rescue” the other one and no one has anything perfect.  While our men are very well matched and “Perfect” for each other, they have a significant amount of baggage that it takes the entire book for them to accept themselves and each other.

This format allows the reader to follow the character development and unveiling plot with anticipation, because you will never get what you think will happen!

Basic Plot:

Christopher Ryder is a singer, who tried to become a “star” in Nashville, but never had the talent to break through.  Now he is back to his grandmother’s home town, trying to make a living and settle down.  But he is lonely and the life he has been living is no longer satisfying him. Jesse Birch is a father of two, and struggling to be a single parent father with significant emotional problems due to his wife’s accident.  Now he has met Christopher, who seems to fill something that Jesse thought was missing in his life.  Can they put their pasts behind them enough to try for a future together?

Background:

The description sounds simple, but there is a lot of back story and baggage with Jesse and Christopher.  We spend much of the book understanding how they got this place in their life.  It sounds simple, but there is so much more to this book than a simple romance.

Christopher Ryder:

I loved Chris.  I think he is what we all feel like at some point in our lives.  One of the Blake trademarks is Chris:  a man with passion, but not enough raw talent to make it “big”.  To some degree, that is frustrating, because we want to see Chris “make it big”, but what we come to find out is that he just wants to be happy and fulfilled in life.  This is a lesson we all should learn, you do not have to be “famous” to make people happy and have a purpose in life.

Christopher wondered, not for the first time, what it would be like to have that kind of talent.  He always sensed the audiences’ disappointment when he stepped out onto the stage for the lead parts instead of Lash.  In the end, he usually won them over and they enjoyed his performance–he wasn’t Lash’s second for nothing– but he wished he knew what it was like to step out and see even one person’s eyes light up.

Chris has a wonderful spirit.  He could be bitter, but instead he embraces what he CAN do, and tries his best.  He just wants to be happy:

He put down the chili and rubbed his face.  It wasn’t the whole heteronormative package he wanted, but he just wanted someone to hold and be held by.  He wanted a man who would willingly brave a Ryder-Jenkins family event with him even if it got Christopher disowned.

Christopher’s back story is one that we have seen before, the conservative southern religious family that does not understand or accept anything but traditional heterosexuality.  Living in the south, I have experienced and seen this type of relationship in action.  So it was easy for me to relate and understand how Christopher feels.

Jesse Birch:

Jesse is a little harder to understand.  He is a bisexual, as a youth he was “Out and proud” mostly to piss off his father and married his wife after their friendship moved to something more.  Now he has two kids and she is somewhat out of the picture.  I do not want to spoil some of the plot here, so forgive the vagueness.

Blake also throws themes throughout and I found something profound about Jesse’s discussion on the hidden value of jewelry:

“Yeah, but buildings talk.  Jewelry– it’s full of magic because it keeps its secrets safe.  And, here’s the thing about jewelry — any given piece can change and transform the person wearing it.”

To  me, this mini-theme describes Jesse in so many ways: he has been living his life with other people as his own jewelry.  He was “gay” to transform into pissing his father off, he conformed by becoming “straight” with his wife.  All the time he was keeping his true secret self safe.  Note, this is not a knock against any sexual orientation, just that his life seems to be more about reacting to others rather than discovering and accepting himself.

Theme Summary:

What have we done in our life that we really didn’t expect to have done, but did it anyway because it was expected or what the road of least resistance?  For both Christopher and Jesse, they have taken actions in the past for those they loved.  While they might not fully regret their actions, it took them to the places they are in their life.  Jesse describes why he thinks Christopher wants him to make a piece of jewelry for his grandmother:

“Because you want her to have it.”  Jesse studied him a bit longer and added, “Because you feel like you owe her for something, and  you’ll never be able to repay her, and you want her to know that you’re grateful, and that you love her.”

Accept who you are (and how you got to where you are in life by those decisions) and make a new path while celebrating those who helped you along the way.

Strong Points:

I love the risks that Blake takes in her writing.  Things don’t all end Disney-like, we get realistic (yet happy) endings and our characters go through some shit to get through to the end.  That’s called being a great storyteller.

But my fave?  The humor!  Christopher’s Gran is so much how my grandmother was that I was laughing out loud (and crying when things happened).  I would hope we could all be that spunky when we get old:

She finished up her burger before asking, “Will he be at Thanksgiving?”

“God, no!”

“Why not?  Can’t you just imagine Bob’s face?”

“Yes, I can.  He’d have a stroke.”

“Perfect.  Then we’d be done with him.”

“Gran!”

“What?”  She smiled innocently.  “I’m old.  I have dementia.  I don’t even know what I said.”

She reminded me so much of my grandmother.  Blake writes such colorful and deep secondary characters that it creates a vivid picture in our heads.

What could be better?

I really can’t think of anything that I would improve.  The only thing I would say is there is a lot of sex in the book, so make sure you enjoy reading descriptive hot sex scenes.  I will admit that toward the end I did skim a little on the sex.  Not that it was bad, just that I wanted to see what was going on with the storyline.

Conclusions:

Blake writes novels that are more than merely saying “romance”.  She paints a vivid picture of people who struggled with their family, lives, careers, anything and everything about who they are today.  But what we get is an amazing story about survival and perseverance to finally accepting who you are, how you got to where you are and where you want to go in the future.  I loved this book and I loved the characters.  You will cry, you will certainly be aroused.  And when you finish, I bet you will call your friends and family (blood or chosen family) and thank them for supporting you in difficult times.

All I can say is, “read this book.”

Bea

Review: Down and Dirty — by Rhys Ford

down_and_dirty_rhysfordOther Reviewers: Goodreads

There is no hiding or denying that I love Rhys Ford’s writing.  No matter what series, I tend to enjoy it.  She manages to write in imagery; the opening scene is usually some sort of action hook and we are invested in the characters by the end of the first chapter.  In Down and Dirty, we get more of a sexually intense exploration rather than a Jason Bourne type thriller.

As always with my Advance Reader Copy blog posts, I try to be as unbiased as possible and give an impartial review.

This is not a short series, and Down and Dirty is book 5 in the  Cole McGinnis Series.  The majority of these books focus on Cole and Jae, but Bobby and Ichiro have been strong secondary characters that as readers, we wanted to learn more.  I always found Bobby intriguing and knew there was so much more to his character.

First things first, you MUST read the rest of the series to get the full power of this novel.  Down and Dirty happens in the same time-line as the previous book;  you will not necessarily be “spoiled” but I do fear that you would learn something that did not want to know if you had not read Dirty Deeds.

If you want to read any of my previous reviews on this series go to the following links: Dirty Kiss, Dirty Secrets, Dirty Laundry, and Dirty Deeds.

Basic Plot:

This book picks up during book 4 of the series Dirty Deeds.  Bobby Dawson is Cole McGinnis’ best friend, someone who has always been there for him.  He is a former cop, who after he retired came out as gay and has been making his way through scores of twinks vowing never to settle down.  But everything changes for him when he meets Cole’s brother Ichiro.  Ichiro is captivating and challenges Bobby to want more in his live than just existing.  But can Bobby and Ichiro put their personal experiences behind them to find a happy future together?

Bobby Dawson:

I admit that Bobby has almost overshadowed Cole in the past when he was in a scene for me.  There was just something about him that intrigued me.  Maybe it’s that older, “daddy” aspect with him, I just always wanted to see more of him and find his motivation.  What we learn about him is that he is an aging, hardened male warrior who fights to remain in the prime of his life by punishing himself:

The man definitely spend time pushing his body to its limits.  It showed in every long plane of muscle sculpted over his broad shoulders and flat belly.  Bobby’s thick thighs rippled with power when he braced himself and pushed Ichiro down onto the bed, his tongue licking his top lip as if he were debating where to start on Ichiro’s body.

I feel badly for Bobby.  He struggles with his personal history and is afraid to move forward.  It is because of his attraction and curiously about Ichiro that he is willing to try to change.

Ichiro Tokugawa:

So much that we see of Ichiro revolves around his tattoos.  They are his armor:

“I’m covered in bad ideas.”  Ichi sat up all the way, straddling Bobby’s hips.  Sucking his sleeves back, he bared the ink embedded under his skin.  “See these?  They’re supposed to be my idea of running in a burning building, because what I’ve done to myself is everything my family hates.  The symbols, the ink — everything.  But it’s my decision, and I took the consequences.”

Ichi has committed the first step to finding himself: making life decisions for independence rather than allowing others to change him.  Yet, he has only altered his cover, not the book inside.

Theme Summary:

No matter how much you attempt an outer metamorphosis to forget the past, you need to change the core within to move forward.  We see both of this in how Bobby and Ichiro change their form.  Bobby punishes himself for his past by brutally working out making his body perfection.  But at what cost?  For Ichiro, he leaves his father and Japan behind him by painting himself with a new skin:

His tattoos were less a rebellion and more of a birth, the wash of ink marking his break from his familial placenta, and he’d thrust himself gasping into a world where he’d wear who he was on his skin.

Yet, while both men have moved on in one way, they forgot to change the center.  It is not until they see each other’s struggles that they admit to themselves they need to change on the inside.  Luckily they have each other to show themselves the way.

Strong Points:

Rhys Ford’s writing style is always her strength.  As readers, we see it in her action scenes and humorous dialogue.  Her humor:

“Please, call me Charles.  Mr. Howell makes me sound like I should be stuck on an island with a bunch of incompetent sailors and a bevy of pretty women.”

I think in this case, I might have been missing the strong action scenes.

What could be better?

While I truly did enjoy this book, it did feel like something was missing.  Maybe I am spoiled with the action scenes from the other books.  This one revolved around the action of the last book, but we really do not see much of it.  In a way, that is a good thing, we would get bored if we were just getting a rehash of the previous book.

If there is not a lot of external conflict, then to provide some level of suspense, we need to have some internal conflict.  We get this with our theme, yet I felt there was a level of “oomf” missing.  Maybe that is the danger of writing a book about secondary characters and making them primary in their own book.

Conclusions:

Overall, this is a great addition to the series and it was needed.  I wanted to know Bobby and Ichi’s story, which we got.  The way the story ended, we still have some conflict to explore.  Bobby and Ichi certainly could have a second book to continue this story arch.  I think that if you liked the other books in the series, you will enjoy this one.  Just remember this is less action and more love story;  well a hot, sexy love story!

Bea

Review: A Desperate Arrangement — by mikkimouse

Other Reviewers: Goodreads

Fan-Fiction.  It has become something that I read 75% of the time now.  I keep going back to my Goodreads list of to-reads and no of my published books look interesting enough to spend money on.  Maybe I am getting burned out.

So, I have been checking out Archive of Our Own, checking out my favorite worlds:  Sterek, Larry, and Drarry.  I found a historical royalty AU for Sterek and it looked very interesting, it is always great when we get to see our characters in a new setting (and actual plot).  For some other Sterek fan-fiction recommendations see this review.

Basic Plot:

The kingdoms of McCall, Hale, and Argent are in a battle for control and land.  The tentative treaties are not holding and war is imminent.  Now there is a possible treaty between McCall and  Hale — the solution?  Marriage between Stiles and Derek.  But can this loveless marriage truly be happy and can it stop war?

Stiles Stilinski:

The personality of Stiles is consistent with the character on the TV show.  Stiles love his father and his brother (actual brother in this universe), Scott.  Stiles is the illegitimate brother of King Scott and acts as his advisor and magician.

The reminder stung, and Stiles bit his lip and turned away.  He and Scott had been not-so-subtly playing matchmaker ever since Queen Melissa’s official mourning period had ended, and Stiles didn’t want to take that chance at happiness away from Scott’s mother or his own father.  But… “So you’d ask me to be trapped in a marriage instead?”

Scott had the decency to look a little guilty.  “I know what I’m asking, ” he said, “and I swear I wouldn’t be asking it if I didn’t think you’d be at least content in the end.”

So we see Stiles sacrificing his own personal happiness for the good of the country.  This action demonstrates his sense of duty and integrity.

Derek Hale:

Derek’s character has alway been a complex one.  In A Desperate Arrangement,  Derek is the second son who already had a horrific engagement to Kate Argent which ended with Derek’s father’s death.  The guilt has beaten down Derek so much that he is a shell of the man he was before.  It certainly does not help that his brother, the King is a big ‘ol A-HOLE that I want to beat silly.  But to Derek, pack is everything and he is willing to destroy his life (based on his experience in the previous betrothal) to save his country.

Now, he rested in the corner of the courtyard after a grueling training session, doing his best to burn off excess energy and get his mind off everything.  Like his father, who would be scarcely three months dead when Derek was married.  Or the getting married, which reminded him of the rules Stiles had set down.  Or Stiles himself, whom Derek had done an equality good job of avoiding because he didn’t trust himself to be around his betrothed for five minutes without attempting something abominably stupid, like tracing the outline of those blue tattoos with his tongue.

I feel badly on how Derek has been treated, like an asset to be used, even by his family.  You get the feeling of how trapped he feels, which is even more powerful due to the werewolf nature.  The author does an excellent job of describing the inner animal and his PTSD reactions.

Theme Summary:

A simple theme of “Don’t judge a book by the cover” could be applied here.  Stiles is a bastard son, but he is loved and deeply valued member of the court and family.  He is easily discounted, but his verbal acuity has made him an asset.  On the same hand, Derek is a fierce warrior who has a sensitive soul that only wants to be of value to his family and country.  His sensitivity is also hidden, and his relationship with Stiles brings that to the surface as he heals.

Strong Points:

The world building in A Desperate Arrangement had me turning the page to learn more.  I loved how the author turned the Teen Wolf tension and character profiles and made it into an alternate world.  The author did a great job of describing the action scenes:

Derek immediately went on the defensive, but the captain seemed to know how to turn each parry into another attack.  If Derek pinned the staff to the ground, the captain slid forward to kick Derek’s knee.  If he knocked the staff to one side, the captain rolled it across his back and came at him from the other.  And when Derek aimed his staff at the captain’s legs, trying to knock him off-balance, the captain slammed his staff into the ground and used the momentum to swing himself around and kick Derek in the hip

I also enjoyed the chemistry between Stiles and Derek and their dialogue.

What could be better?

The only improvement I would suggest is that the mystery/adventure plot was to be expected and was tropey.  To be fair, this is due to the fact that all of the characters are from the TV show, so we can expect certain people to behave in the way that they did.  It did not dampen my enjoyment of the story, but I could see that if it was not so much fan-fiction the author would have had room to create more original side characters.

Conclusions:

Overall, I enjoyed the book, it was different that many of the other Sterek fan-fiction out there.  I will certain keep this author in mind for other works.

 

Bea

Review: Grif’s Toy — by Joseph Lance Tonlet

grifs-toyOther Reviewers: Goodreads

I had the opportunity to review Grif’s Toy, by Joseph Lance Tonlet and jumped at the chance.  When finding a new author, it’s much like discovering a new band or actor.  You get an opportunity to discover his writing style and then watch over the books and series as it matures and develops. So getting a chance to see it at the creative birth?  Magic.

 

As always, when given an Advance Reader Copy, my review is honest and unbiased.

Basic Plot:

Grif has always had issues with the size of his “equipment” and found any type of romantic relationship impossible because of it.  However, when he runs into a man named Wes, his life is changed forever.  The question is, will he be able to accept the possibilities?

Background:

Before you read the review any further, I need to you to realize that this book deals with BDSM in a realistic and detailed manner.  So if you are off put by that type of discussion or read, then this book and review is not for you.  I would consider what happens in this book to be Edge Play, so not something 50 Shades housewife level kink.  Ok, warning over, let’s get to the book.  Oh, and the quotes from this book?  They will be HOT, so no under 18 for this review!

Grif:

This book really is a follow through of Grif’s life from pre-teen to current time, so don’t get disoriented with the Memento time jumps. Without spoiling too much of the plot, let’s just say that Grif has a small penis and his embarrassment and humiliation because of that has kept him from any serious sexual relationship.  In college, he has a roommate named Tate, their relationship complicated but loving. I do not want spoil that for the reader, so let’s just say that it is the beginning for Grif to understand his need for kink.

Grif is, well us.  Let’s face it, there is something about ourselves that we don’t like about our own body.  In Grif’s case, he hates the fact that he has a small penis, but he is turned on by a lover who makes fun of his small package in a sexual situation.  This is called humiliation play and is considered a more advanced type of play.  For obvious reasons, someone could get seriously psychologically scarred because of this type of play.

But for Grif, this type of sexual interaction is a need that he requires fulfillment: a type of masochist, someone physical, but more psychological.  We see how Wes controls his orgasms and has various painful punishments.  You or I might not understand it or agree to the type of relationship that they have, but it works for them:

 And there it was, the key combination.  Sure, I enjoyed the submission, the pain, and the denigration.  But it was the combination — the indubitable knowledge — that he enjoyed my submission, inflicting the pain, and delivering the denigration, as much as I enjoyed receiving it.  That’s where the complete bliss lay.

We see where Grif has accepted who he is and what he needs from a partner.

Wes:

We only see Wes through Grif’s masochistic eyes:

“And speaking of aching, I often find it impossibly difficult to believe I’ve been lucky enough to find all of that in someone who not only understands my desire — my need — to inflict both physical and emotional pain, but someone who appreciates it.  Someone who burns with equal desire and gratitude in receiving it, in a way I never believed possible.”

Being a true sadist, which Wes is, is hard to describe and makes someone who is not in the scene understand he is not evil.  After all, how could you “torture” someone who you love?  I follow a podcast called Intellectual Kink (great podcast) and the Mistress there discussed how she had to accept that she was still a good person being a sadist.  Just because you enjoy being a sadist does not mean that you are evil or a mean person.  What it means is that you need to find that masochist who NEEDS the pain and humiliation just as much as Wes needs to give it.

And as we see Wes through Grif’s eyes, we can tell that this is a loving and caring relationship; in fact, Wes is giving something to Grif that no one else has been able to do.

BDSM:

Let’s talk about BDSM for a minute.  There is something called NMKBIO: “Not My Kink, but it’s OK” in the scene.  For example, someone might like to be just paddled in the bedroom, but if you tried to swat them in public it would not be acceptable.  For others, they have a more Master/save relationship and it is 24/7.  It all depends on the relationship.  And certainly, it is always (or SHOULD BE) consensual.  So, it might not be your thing, but it is certainly theirs.

I have written many BDSM reviews that discuss the types of psychological need that some individuals have.  No, not everyone in the scene has been sexual abused, most folks are just fine.  Here are just a few recent reviews:  Training Season, Screwing the System, and Leather + Lace that I also thought got the scenes correct.

In my opinion, I think that Joseph Lance Tonlet got the kink right.  He demonstrated how kink is a life journey.  We first need to find what arouses us and then we have to find safe partners to fulfill our needs.  Sometimes we make mistakes in the beginning and sometimes we get lucky.  In Grif’s case? He got some loving friends and lovers:

His voice was low and husky when he asked, “Chocolate?”

Surprised by the question, particularly in this setting, I paused briefly before swallowing and replying to our coded question with, “Yes, Wes.  Chocolate.”

I couldn’t help but notice the glint in his eye at my response, before he picked the menu back up and studied it.

Remember:  “Safe, Sane, and Consensual.”  This author got it right.

Theme Summary:

We are all searching to find a mate/mates in our lives that complete us. Hokey, maybe?  But not untrue.  For Grif and Wes, they have been waiting for find someone who got their needs, both in the “vanilla” as well the “chocolate” settings.  So, the theme here is that we can find someone who fulfills us, but we also must accept ourselves:

It had taken me a while to say it — hell, to even admit it to myself — as I had given up on the idea of finding someone to love and share my life with, let alone another person who understood me so completely.  But here I was, in love with a handsome, sexy, incredibly compassionate man whose strongest desire was to make me happy and build a life together.

This quote is everything about the book and the development of this relationship.

Strong Points:

The writing in this book was compelling.  I started this book  late one night and stayed up until 2 am to finish it; it was that addictive.  The sex scenes were so descriptive (and hot) that I felt like I was there.  Not a book to read while sitting with your family surrounding you!

But more than that, this was a well thought out book.  The pacing was good and Tonlet gave us the time to develop Grif’s character as we discover what his problems are and learn to care about him.  The accuracy of how the author wrote about kink and played the scenes demonstrates either someone who is in the scene or can do very good research.  I love an author who can give me the sexy kink, but at the same time give me the relationship development and the psychological connections.

What could be better?

This book is set in First Person, with all our focus on Grif’s point of view.  This is fine, but part of me wished I could have gotten into Tate’s and Wes’s head.  The author did a good job of getting their personalities across,  but I would have loved their perspectives.

Conclusions:

Overall, I loved this book, which can be seen by the 5-Stars I gave Grif’s Toy. The only caveat I would give a potential reader is that it is not your typical romance and the BDSM aspects might not be for everyone.  If you are not comfortable with BDSM, then I think you might be overwhelmed with some of the scenes in this book.  It’s not by any fault of the author, simply because of the subject matter.

I look forward to seeing the author’s voice develop as he tightens his craft.  I will be “first in line” when the next book comes out!  I have put Joseph Lance Tonlet on my must reader author list!

Bea

Review: A Forbidden Rumspringa — by Keira Andrews

a_forbidden_rumspringaOther 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 my first read of Keira Andrews’.  Finding a new author is one of the most exciting opportunities for a book blogger.  Opening the book might bring hours of fun, tears, and angst — OR hours that you wish you could get back.  At first I was hesitant to agree to read this book, after all, Amish?  Really?  I was ready to roll my eyes and prepare for the worst.

However, I was pleasantly surprised and I can now put Keira Andrews on my Goodreads Favorite Author list.

Basic Plot:

Issac Byler and his family have moved from Red Hills to Zebulon, Minnesota, a much more conservative Amish community.  Issac has not joined the church yet, but the time approaches, his first step is to work as an apprentice for woodworker David Lantz.  David is under a tremendous amount of pressure to provide for his family now that his father has passed away.  While David and Issac become friends, will they discover something about themselves and can they afford to seek it?

Background:

As I said, Amish story sounds rather hokey at first, a trope that could be taken into an overly dramatic manner.  Keira Andrews must have conducted some serious research on the Amish community, because how we see David and Issac struggle with the community appears realistic.  It is interesting to consider that just calling someone “Amish” can mean many things and each community set up their own rules and orders (Ordnung).  We don’t have to be Amish to understand how it feels to be trapped in a life we do not want and have no hope to ever escape.

Issac Byler:

This book is from his perspective.  He is 18 and realizes that he is attracted to men.  He struggles with the urge to explore this and the fear of leaving his family and life behind.  Where would he go?  What would he do?  This community does not allow a Rumspringa, so there is no opportunity for him to explore his sexuality.  We certainly feel how trapped he is, some of the strongest scenes are his with his family, as we see he can not question his Father and he is not given any questions.  I liked how they talk about his older brother who left, yet we do not know a lot about Aaron.

Excesses.  In Zebulon — as was the Swartzentruber way — they never uttered the word rumspringa, and the  younger children had no concept of it.  Thoughts of Aaron flickered through Isaac’s mind, unbidden.

I loved the scenes that Issac had with his younger brother.  I hope we see more of him in later books.

David Lantz:

We only see David through Issac’s eyes:  David is older, more worldly than Issac.  However, he is closer to having to join the church and marrying; he has more to loose than Issac.  His family depends on him, so he feels like he has no choice but to sacrifice his happiness for the greater good.

“I’m sorry if you regret going tonight.”  David’s words were bitten out.

“David, I don’t.  At least, I don’t think I do.”  Isaac’s heart skipped.  “Are you angry with me?”

Head down, David laughed, but it was razor sharp.  “No, Isaac.  Only with myself.”

“Why?” Isaac touched the sleeve of David’s coat.  “I wanted to come. I’m glad you trusted me.”

When he looked up, David’s eyes shone with unshed tears.  “I was selfish to bring you here.  Please forgive me.”

I loved how Andrews showed us the difference in the characters.  They might still be gay, but that does not mean that both are equally ready to accept their sexuality and needs.

Theme Summary:

On some level, a theme could be, “be true to yourself.” Yet, these men are not even really able to understand that concept because of their restrictive upbringing.  So for me, this novel is about the inevitability of curiosity and personal growth.  We see through many characters of the younger generation as they struggle with finding tech, going to the movies, drinking, and smoking.  Because they are forbidden any of these (including the rumspringa), they still find a way:

“We’re all curious.  We’re all tempted.  The tighter they try to lock us away from the world, the more we wonder.  They try to prevent rumspringa, but they can’t stop it.  Most of the time I feel like I’m drowning in sinful thoughts.  A zipper and a movie aren’t so bad, really.”

I imagine that the next book’s theme will focus more on they exploring their relationship and how to integrate themselves into the English society.

Strong Points:

The background research of the community made me appreciate the group, but not feel so overwhelmed with details.  We get the feeling of how restrictive it is and how our protagonist want out without spending hours talking about how they farm and make quilts.  With a simple interaction with a tourist, we get insight of the community:

Darren tilted his head, still smiling easily.  “So Michelle and I are what you’d call English, right?  Why English and not American?  Or Canadian as the case may be.”

“I asked once when I was a boy, and Father said it’s just our way.  He says that a lot.”

And this quote pretty much sums up why Issac and David struggle within Zebulon:  Don’t question, just follow the rules.  Which reminds me of a time I was in a Bible studies group one Sunday.  The Bible study was going through the lesson and we were having a group discussion.  I asked a question (using the scripture) to make a point that was not the point he was making.  After the session I was basically told not bring up things like that, that we were following the lesson as is.

So, we eventually left the church because we were not allowed to question.  In A Forbidden Rumspringa, Issac and David face this type of of problem, but magnified.  We could leave the church, imagine if you had to leave your brothers and sisters behind, never to be able to contact them again?

What could be better?

Not sure if I would call it “better”, but I am certain that Amish people might not like how they are portrayed here.  There are a few of the Lantz girls who seem to be “modern”, but most of the older generations seem very black and white.  They weren’t portrayed as “evil”, but there was no scene where we got to see how some folks were trying to make change from within.

That being said, they are very insular community and we do get a few side descriptions of the “liberal” community they left behind. I just wanted to see a more mix environment.

Conclusions:

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  I could have liked to see a less black and white view of the Amish and see some more development of the secondary characters.  However, if the author wanted to portray the feeling of isolation; Andrews was very successful.  I look forward to reading the second book next year!

Bea

Review: Duck, Duck, Ghost — by Rhys Ford

duckduckghostsOther 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 say that I love Rhys Ford’s work is an understatement.  I won’t say that I am a fan-girl, but when I get a chance to review one of her books, I jump at it.  So, this week I had the opportunity to read Duck Duck Ghost.

If you are interested in reviewing my other posts regarding Ford, then check out this tag.

Basic Plot:

This is book two in the Hellsinger series.  Wolf and Tristan are still trying to learn how to be in a relationship.  The results of their exorcism in book one has left Tristan uneasy, so it is time for a road trip.  They go to help Wolf’s cousin in her haunted house, gaining more than they expected.  What they discover at the farm is even more frightening than at Hoxne Grange.  Will they get out of this alive enough to starting living together?

Background:

This is a book two in the Hellsinger series, so it is advisable to read book one first.  My review of Fish and Ghosts, might be helpful, keep in mind that it could contain spoilers!

Wolf Kincaid:

In book two, we follow Wolf as he investigates his cousin’s haunted house.  But what we learn about Wolf is that behind that confident attitude is a man who has always wanted to get his family’s love back and chasing after a dream that he never can quite attain.  There is much more behind this thought, but I think that would spoil a large part of his character development.

What we do learn about Wolf is that he has never been in love with anyone, like Tristan:

Tristan ended up under Wolf’s skin, and part of the argument — most of the argument, if Wolf was really honest — was that he was scared.  He was frightened by how quickly Tristan hooked his soul and pulled in Wolf’s heart.  He hadn’t been looking for love when he went to debunk Tristan’s ghost-hosting inn, but that’s what he found — and he didn’t want to every let him go.

So we have some serious character development with Wolf, and I find it quite charming how Wolf feels unsteady around Tristan.

Tristan Pryce:

I can relate to Tristan.  His family doesn’t understand him and he feels isolated because of his gift.  It’s easy to appreciate that because of his issues, it’s just simpler to stay hidden away in the estate.  But, we humans are social creatures and living with the dead can only help so much:

“That’s not the point,” he said sadly.  “I’ve been hiding in that tower, and whether I knew it or not, I grew my hair long enough for you to climb up it and visit me there, but Wolf, I don’t want to stay there.  I want to be with you.  Out here.  And it’s time I kind of embraced the weird I’ve been given.”

So, in a way, I see Tristan as the homeschooled child whose conservative and repressed family background has left him both physically and mentally isolated.  His gift makes him even more isolated and he tries to integrate himself back into the “real-world” so that he can be good enough to be with Wolf.  Wolf’s “normal” presence allows him the security to stretch his wings.

Theme Summary:

I don’t want to spoil the plot of the book by discussing the theme too much, but I think that it is important to discuss a bit:

“You sit here in this house waiting for death, and it comes to you.  Little bits and drabbles of the dead who share their lives with you.  You are living through them, Tristan.  Can’t you see that?  Mostly everything you know about the world is what you heard from the dead.  That’s not healthy, kiddo, Not at all.”

In book one, I wrote about how both men needed to find balance in their lives, both focusing too much on their work.  In book two, Ford continues this theme, but delves deeper.  These men have focused their lives in certain viewpoints, and finally they both begin to realize that while their life goals might be in the right directions how they were going about it was not healthy or the only way.

Strong Points:

Ford’s writing.  As I have always written, Ford has this ability to pull us into the book, from the first scene.  She gives a vibrant taste of the environment, like a punch to the gut.  I am usually hooked from the first paragraph.  In Duck Duck Ghost, the first paragraph got me:

It was a foul smell.  A blackness to it Wolf would never get used to.  With the proximity of the Florida swamp and Atlantic, there was a faint hint of stagnancy as well, with an overlay of brackish algae just for good measure.  He couldn’t imagine living in its stink every day.  Like cigarette smoke, it would flavor everything he touched, breathe, or ate.

Yes, Ford can write a sexy and hot scene.  But what I love more about Ford’s writing is that I would be captivated by the story and the characters even without the sex.  So often in M/M (or hell, romance at all), the writer will focus not just on the relationship, but the sexual tension.  I think that’s why I have problems with serial romance; when they talk about sex all the time in the first book, what do they have left to develop in the rest of the books?

Yet Ford gives us the happy ending in book one, there are still unresolved conflicts between Wolf and Tristan.  Also, because we have a serious new mystery to solve in book two, we are driven to discover what the hell happens.

In addition to this, Ford gives us interesting secondary characters like Aunt Gildy, Sey, and Cin.  I hope to god we get a book about Cin some day, he is hot, hot, hot!

What could be better?

Really, nothing.  Although, I should warn any reader that we are left with a cliffhanger!  Darn that wily author that keeps us panting for more!

Conclusions:

This is my favorite series of Ford’s.  While I love the others, I almost feel that the cultural focus becomes a crutch that we lean against.  In the Hellsinger series, we do have a theme of the paranormal, yet we have a strong mystery that does not revolve around their relationship and we have the development of the relationship.  That is one of Ford’s strengths, she build’s series where yes, we get our “HEA” in book one, but everything is not solved.  That’s life.  While there might be some hot sexual chemistry, we still have to learn to communicate with each other and learn to well, live.  This book is about how Wolf and Tristan begin to learn how to refocus their life’s purpose in a more healthy manner and they learn to trust each other.  In the meantime, we get some kick-ass horror level BOO intensity that will have you wanting to put the book in the freezer.

This is a great book, and you will not be able to put it down!

Bea