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: 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

Review: The River Leith– by Leta Blake

the-river-leithOther Reviewers: Goodreads

Disclaimer:  This book was given to me by the author for an honest review.  My opinions are my own.

I have read and reviewed a previous book by Leta Blake, Training Season.  I remember liking that book and reviewing it well despite some other reviewers not supporting the ending or relationship.  I think that is one of Leta’s strong points actually, making us think and creating characters that are not black and white and sometimes things do not have Disney endings all the time.

Something happens within this story that makes me question the rating, which has nothing to do with the quality of writing.  I will get to it naturally within this review, but I had some serious problems with one of the main character’s actions.

Basic Plot:

Leith is an amateur boxer who was hurt in the ring, forgetting the last 3 years of his life.  This means he has forgotten his father’s death and the fact that he was in love with a man, Zach.  Can Leith recover his memory and move forward with his relationship with Zach?  Or is his future gone for good?

 

Leith Wenz:

Leith is my man.  I loved this character.  He portrays the right amount of angst, fear, anger, pain, and hope that we would expect to experience in his situation.  Dr. Thakur (his psychologist) tells a story about a monsoon water troubled river and some youths trying to encourage each other to cross:

Go first, Leith thought.  Sometimes he felt torn into different people.  One who wanted to hold back and wait — to not push anything because the answers were surely coming.  Another who wanted to tell the world to go fuck itself because he was starting a new life without any of the old hang-ups to deal with.

In Leith’s position, I would be torn, to try to discover my past or just forget it and move to create a new life.

Zachariah Stephens:

We only see Zach’s perspective through his video-blogs, before and after the accident.  I like how Blake handled his perspective, we get to see how the couple was before the accident, through the video (actual Leith) as well as through Zach’s observations.  I enjoy how Leith described Zach:

There was something about Zach’s busyness that made Leith feel safe, as though simply by moving in the world Zach took charge of it, and made everything somehow easier.

This is how all of our other halves, should be, right?  Just by being there they make your life better, safer, even if it is just emotional and not a big hulking boxer.

****Skip this section now and go to the Theme Summary if you do not want the spoiler****

 

 

Early on in this book, Zach cheats on Leith, while Leith is in the hospital.  I do not have a problem if say, Leith was there for months and all hope had been lost, but it had only been a couple of weeks and he was on the mend.  If you truly love your partner, you do not have sex with someone else when you feel frightened and sad.  For this reason, I have no respect for Zach and I think that Leith could do so much better.  I would not have been able to have easily forgiven the situation.

But, this brings me to a point, do we punish the author for building a story with faulty, yet compelling characters?  There are tons of men and women who would have done the same thing in this situation or similar ones.  So I feel that it was realistic, even if it was not something in which I could relate.  It takes courage to write a main character with this type of damaging actions.

 

 

Theme Summary:

Everything about this novel deals with the past.  Our memories of the past, how we remember what happened, and how it affects us when we lose our memories of those things.  The author does an excellent job of using our main character’s name as a guide, “Lethe” was a mythical Greek river in which if you drank it you forgot.  Makes sense here, huh?

There are several key words and themes throughout the book, one having to do with Leith’s past and a golden-crowned kinglet.  I do not want to spoil it, but it has deep meaning to Leith and it is a source of early emotional pain.

Our Dr. Thakur is our Greek chorus, and he often speaks the theme, giving us hints along the way.  He speaks of Krishna:

‘Krishna told us that he was the taste of pure water, the sound of every voice and noise, the radiance of the sun and moon, and the courage of human beings.’

We are told that Leith is lost, he has no recent memories of his friends, family, and recent events.  He is a lone cow in a field of loneliness.  He needs a Krishna, and he thinks he has found that in Zach.  But first he must find himself, the kinglet.

Strong Points:

One of the best things about Blake is her writing.  From the first page, I was hooked, wanting to know about this Leith, what happened to make him lose his memory and what was he going to do about.  Blake made me feel how Leith felt and I was humbled on how graceful he handled it compared to how I would have.  The author brings home the theme skillfully toward the end:

Sometimes it took divine courage to let go and end up in an ocean of the unknown.

There are times when “shit happens,” and we can not change the past, we can only move forward.  This book is a good lesson on how to try to pick up after a disaster and create a new life out of the ashes.

What could be better?

There is nothing really to improve, other than my complaint regarding Zach.  It was certainly possible to make him a faulty character without having that particular fault.  I can only imagine that Blake had a purpose here and not just a salacious angst moment.

Conclusions:

I read this book in one sitting (after watching World War Z, wow, what a movie!).  It was compelling and a good read.  I think that you can get something meaningful out of this book, that your problems, are really not that bad.  And if they are, all you can do is collect yourself and move forward.  Sometimes the past is just the past; you certainly can’t change it.

It has been awhile since I have read a book that I WANTED to write a review, so this read was a pleasure.

Bea

Review: Life Renovations — by Windseeker2305

Other Reviewers: Goodreads

I am tired and burned out.  For the last 7 months I have been working my ass off at a new job, trying to fix my new house up, and weave into a new community and friends.  My entire life has changed, including what I do to relax and unwind.  After a little more of a year, I have lost 85 pounds, much of this is due to limiting my desk / bed activities.  Which means that I spend less time being depressed and reading.

Thus my slowing down at blog posting.  And the good news, my blog site is getting tons of book requests.  The problem? I have not posted a book review in months that I wanted to read originally.  Not that I did not enjoy the books, just that it becomes “homework” and I do not want to jump at reading them.  And then my busy schedule hits and I put things off.

And now here we are, over a month later and I am finally getting to a post.  I feel badly for authors that I have scheduled to review, but I just have felt such a huge level of burn-out at every point of my life.

So, not to digress too far, I decided to post a review that I WANTED to do.  This week is a series I have not finished, but I have been reading non-stop for over a week.  And this series is MASSIVE.

When I say this series is massive, I mean massive:  at 1,376,466 words, you get your fill.  It is Harry Potter fan-fiction, which as you know, I love me some fan-fiction.  If you want to check out the direct link go here.  Archive of Our Own is a wonderful place, and if you are in need of great free reads, this is a great place to start.  I have been reading some One Direction, Sterek, and Harry Potter fiction like crazy.

The Life Cycle series is one that begins somewhat  in the Harry Potter universe, but we move quickly into an alternate universe.

Basic Plot:

Harry Potter is rescued by unlikely new allies from his abusive Aunt and Uncle’s home.  From there, Harry discovers that he has a new mate, Draco.  But what other changes in Harry’s life can he expect and is he ready for it?  Can he and Draco rise to the challenges ahead?

Harry Potter:

Harry is good at hiding his problems; he has been hiding them for years.  However, as much as he thinks his body can heal, his spirit is dying.  As he becomes trapped in is own mind, someone, Draco discovers that there is much more to Harry than his fame.

Harry’s head started to move back and forth, and he groaned and started to shake.  Draco stilled his hands.  “Potter?  Can you open your eyes?”

“No, I’m sorry… I know I deserve it, but please… stop hitting me.”  Harry was clearly trapped in his mind, in his pain.

Draco growled deep in his throat, and glared at Harry’s relatives.  “No one deserves to be treated this way!  Especially not Harry Potter!  Do you know who this boy is?”  He yelled, still cradling Harry’s head in his lap.  “He is the Savior of the Wizarding World!  He is the only one who can save us!”

This becomes one of the challenges of the book and the series:  is Harry good enough to have everyone’s faith put on his shoulders?   One of the themes of this book revolves a great deal around Harry’s character development.

Draco Malfoy:

I love Draco.  He is the warrior, the passionate fighter who is completely devoted to Harry and their destiny.  Draco too, matures and becomes who he is meant to be, but I saw less of character development with Draco.  From the beginning of the story we see the connection between the two.  Despite all of the action and subplots, we have a huge theme of love and devotion:

There was something else though.  He knew deep down t his ache was caused by something else, perhaps someone else.  Draco sighed and dropped his forehead against the cool glass of the window.  As soon as his eyes closed, a flash of pained and frightened green eyes flashed into his minds eye, causing Draco to gasp and clutch at his chest with that hand.

“Potter?” he whispered.

What is interesting of this fan-fiction is that we still have the same Draco character we know from the movies and books, yet we see him walking down a different path than what the movies show us.  He is still dark, but his love and devotion to Harry and  Harry’s vision keeps him on the “right path”.

Theme Summary:

This is a large series, with much of it consisting of world building, action, and dialogue.  But all throughout the story and sub-plots, we hear this refrain: We must learn to believe in ourselves before others will believe and follow.  Leaders might be born for their roles, but they must have the heart to pursue their dreams.

Draco and Harry are born with a destiny, one which at first they are not ready for and must have both mental and physical transformations.  The three books step us through this process, moving us from one realm to another.

Strong Points:

The world building in this series is amazing.  The author builds multiple universes revolving around the Ukatae culture.  It is too much to go into detail here, but briefly they are ancient magical creatures.  They once were leaders and plentiful, but inner turmoil and strife has left them all but extinct.  Now, it is up to Draco and Harry to lead and build a new world.

The first book is about Harry and Draco resolving the wizard conflicts we are familiar within the books and movies.  The second book is a mixture of wrapping up that issue and building the tension of the “new bad guy” of the Ukatae plot lines.  Be prepared for a lot of sub-plots.  But, at least for me, I was never bored with them and I did little skimming.  Sometimes with fan-fiction we can see where an editor might be able to cut, and while I can see that with the second book (God was that long), the first and last book are pretty tight.

Keep in mind that you will want to read straight through, so I would go ahead and download all three at once.  Also, accept the fact that you will not be able to read this in a week, let alone a day.  Pace yourself, you will need it.

What could be better?

If anything, the series could use some editing, there is a lot of sub-relationships that we see, both in the wizard world as well as Ukatae.  However, at the same time, they move the plot forward and with every relationship that we see evolve, we learn more about the culture.  So, I would find it hard to eliminate any of the relationships from the books.

Also, these characters are DARK!  If you have any type of problem with ambiguous morality, then this series might not be for you.  I would not say they are “evil”, but they are not “goodie-goodie”.

Conclusions:

This is another example of why fan-fiction is so important.  It is a great place for new writers to get a launching board into creating their own worlds and develop their own voice.  I can see with Windseeker’s imagination going somewhere with their writing.  We need fan-fiction like this and places like Archive of Our Own to give people a place to grow.

 

Such a well written series. I look forward to reading more by this author.

Bea

Review: Dirty Deeds — by Rhys Ford

dirty_deeds_coverOther Reviewers: Goodreads

I have been a fan of Rhys Ford’s writing since the first book I read of hers.  So, any time I get to review a book by Ford, I jump at the chance.  As always, my reviews are honest; I promise I have kept the fan girl deep inside for this review.

Note:  This is Book 4 in the Cole McGinnis Mystery Series, so if you have not read the previous ones — read them first!  My other reviews can be found here and here.  While, I think you could enjoy this book, you will miss a lot of the back story.

Basic Plot:

Book 4 starts after the startling ending of book 3.  Jae was shot, but recovered, his shooter, Sheila is still in the wind.  Cole tries to keep it together, but his fear for Jae’s safety gets to him.  Now, new danger surrounds them and Cole must fight his urges to become a white knight.  In the meantime, Cole starts a relationship with his half-brother Ichi and Jae learns how to live as a gay man.  Can their relationship survive all of this danger and drama?  Can Cole finally let his past go and embrace his present and future?

Cole McGinnis:

What can you say about Cole?  To me, he is the perfect man, that mixture of emotionally clueless, heartfelt enthusiasm for doing the right thing, and passionate lover.  Life has fucked him over and while he was down, he got his life back in order and is back to living again — due to his love and relationship with Jae.  Cole is NOT perfect, he makes mistakes like everyone else, but I like his heart.

“Ain’t that the fucking truth.”  I patted the bush.  It probably wouldn’t survive this assault, but I had high hopes.  If it made it through its shit, so could I.  Or at least that’s what I was telling myself.  “Good talk.  Thanks for having my back, man.”

His sense of humor in troubled times is also something I love and can relate.  Gallows humor always makes me laugh.  There is a lot about his former live with Rick and as a cop that we do not know.  This book goes a bit deeper into that back story and I greedily read as much as I could about it.  Half-way through the book I think we get a perfect quote about who Cole is:

“That’s because you’re a good man.  Sometimes a stupid one who runs into shootouts with a gun, but your heart is in the right place.”

And I think this spirit is what Jae and I are attracted to and in love with Cole.

Kim Jae-Min:

In the past, I had mixed feelings about Jae.  I loved him because I could relate to his identity struggles and he was a very sympathetic character.  You really were supporting his success.  But Jae always held something back from us, certainly from Cole.  Was he really invested into the relationship?  Should we care enough about the relationship if he did not?  Jae is different and we must understand that his mind works differently:

“Cole-ah, some days you hurt me simply by breathing.”  His words were quick, short jabs, but they found their mark, leaving me bleeding out through a thousand shallow cuts.  “And then there are days when I love you so much I don’t mind the pain.”

But what we came to understand was that he was not just struggling with his sexuality, but with his culture and very identity.  For him, to fully commit to Cole was not just a “gay-straight” thing, but most likely to be shunned by his entire family.  And for his Korean background that was unthinkable.

Book 4, begins with most of that Cole and Jae tension gone.  Jae is with Cole, and they love each other, Jae has made that commitment.  I was relieved in that, this time when our emotional tension began we did not have to deal with that angst drama.

Theme Summary:

My previous discussion on themes can be found here and here.  But I found this book’s theme and it reinforced my previous determinations:

You are hot, virile, and you are mine.  The man in that photo is sexy.  I love his mouth and his face and those hands.  God, you have no idea what people think about you, what you can do with me with those hands.  You are beautiful, even with the scars — or maybe because of them.  They are larger in your mind than they are on your skin. I touch those spots and my fingers slide over them because they are slick.  I kiss you there and you shiver.  And you cry out more when I bite them.”

I see several meanings from these words.  The simplest is that our past should not define who we should be, but they do influence our reactions.  We must learn to leave the past behind and embrace the present.  But also look at that last sentence.  Jae touches the physical evidence of his past pain and Cole cries “out more when I bit them.”  It is more meaningful when we can find someone who accepts you, your past pain, your faults, all of you.  There is no  hiding anything here, they love each other, scars inside and out.

Strong Points:

God, I love the humor.  I love the both the dirty and dark:

“How the hell do you listen to something you can’t even understand?  It’s all in Korean.  You don’t even peak Korean, and I don’t think you can say swallowing Jae’s cock makes you fluent.  If that were the case, I’d speak all kinds of shit.”

“It’s music.  And I can pick stuff up out of it.  Now shut up.  Here comes the guy.”

And while this quote is made to make us laugh, it is really an insight into Cole and Jae’s relationship.  Cole doesn’t need to understand Korean to understand and support Jae, he learns more and more about Jae jut by being near him and he loves and supports him even when he does not fully understand his motivation.

As always, I love the immersion into the culture: Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese this time.  I love learning and this series does a good job of getting me into the culture without overwhelming me with foreign words and ideas.

Finally, I love the action and the trademark hook that Ford gives us in the opening of the book.  It always pulls me in with a rush of adrenaline.

What could be better?

There is nothing really that I would change about this book.  I really, really want to know the back story of why Ben did was he did to Rick and Cole.  Ford has been stringing us alone with this back story, taunting us!  I so look forward to finding out what the heck was Ben’s motivation.  I am not sure that we ever will, but it drives me bonkers.

It also drives me crazy how she does cliffhangers!  Oh the woman!  But to be fair, they are really well written cliffhangers.

Conclusions:

This is probably one of my favorite series in male/male romances.  While the romance aspect runs throughout the series, what we really get to see is well written mysteries and a slow-build character development. Both of these things I love!  I will continue to read this series; this book is just another well written chapter to a great series!

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: 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