Review: Murder and Mayhem — by Rhys Ford

MM_RFOther 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.

Rhys Ford has become one of my favorite authors in the Male/Male world.  You can see some of my favorite blog posts here.  So, I might be a bit of a fan girl here.  Just your warning.

Basic Plot:

Rook Stevens “stumbles” into a murder accusation, literally.  Now he tries to fight for  his innocence and find out who is framing him.  He meets again the detective that tried to put him in jail before, Dante Montoya.  The chemistry reheats between them is just too much to overcome.  Can they put both of their pasts behind them to make something work?

Rook Stevens:

Rook is our “bad boy” and most of the mystery of this book revolves around his past.  So, no spoilage here, although just note that he is not squeaky clean and he is actually one of the more grey characters that I have read in this genre.  There are points in which I hear about his past and I question if I would want to fall in love with him.

But then I think about the changes he made in his life and I have to respect his efforts at redemption.  At one point, I thought Rook was going to run, but then he takes his stand:

Charlene was right.  He’d earned his fucking normal, an neither Dani Anderson nor Los Angeles’s finest were going to take it from him.

Rook is one of the more dynamic characters in a romance book I have read.

Dante Montoya:

For Dante, he is a by the book type of detective.  Early in his career he learned what could happen if someone tried to get “dirty” to break a case.  Now he understands that.  However, he can’t keep his mind off of Rook and we see how he fights his attraction:

“Everybody fucks up, Dante.”

“I’m a cop, to, People depend upon me to be objective.  I want Stevens to pay for what he’s done, but it’s got to be done right — by the book.”  Dante scrubbed at his face with his bare hand, rasping his palm over his stubble-rough jaw.  “I just need to be fair, you know?”

“Of course you can be, Dante.”  His uncle patted his arm.  “You’re the fairest man I know.  But what you need to be more is honest with yourself.”

So, outside of the sex/romance and the mystery, this is about a man who learns to think beyond what he has experienced and understands to empathize.

Theme Summary:

While this is overall a book about love and a really good mystery, I also took the idea that redemption is possible.  That we can look beyond our narrow vision of what the past was and move on to becoming better and more fulfilled individuals.  Both of our main characters make this move.  For Rook, it was an actually physical and lifestyle change, but for Dante Montoya, it is more that he changes his black and white views on life to understand what he is missing.

Strong Points:

I always love the underlying theme of Ford’s books:  You are who you are.  So often we become persecuted by our neighbors or family for our sexuality, beliefs, or lifestyles  if they do not fit a “norm”.  This novel explores how you can first find acceptance within yourself and then create a “family”of outcasts like yourself.

“Uh-uh, I hear you talk like this, and I think I hear my grandfather or my own father, and that is not who you are.  Remember, tio, they tried to bury us.  They didn’t know we were seeds.”

Think about that last sentence.  “They didn’t know we were seeds.”  Everything that people have done to bring down these people, to make them assimilate has only given them more growth.  Don’t let someone bury your true “self”.  Such profound words buried in a romance novel.

Ford’s writing was fast paced as always;  she gives us heat but not too much that we get bored.

What could be better?

I think at this point, Rhys Ford’s strengths might lead to weaknesses.  Any director or writer will tell you that once you get a formula for success, you keep going. Obviously the fans enjoy it, they continue to buy tickets.  Just think about the new Avengers movie;  I could have predicted every plot twist as the formula has not changed in that movie series.

So, in Murder and Mayhem, we get those things we have come to love and enjoy:  exciting entrance, international culture within the American melting pot, hot cop, and reticent bad boy.  The problem becomes when every one of her series have the similar formats.  Did I enjoy it?  Yes.  Look at authors like Johanna Lindsey or J.R. Ward.  Their formats are always the same and they sell millions of copies of books.  So, writing in a format is possible, you just need to make sure that there is something different in each series that makes them stand out.

In Murder and Mayhem, the use of the Carnie and thief ring makes it stand out from others.  I would have liked some more background into that world and perhaps have seen more of the old Rook in action.

Conclusions:

Ford has once again given us a fast-paced mystery that was enjoyable.  I actually didn’t come to the “who done it” until the end, although I was feeling suspicious.  The secondary characters were great and they made me want to learn more about this new family Ford built.

Overall, very enjoyable. If you enjoyed the Cole McGinnis series, then I think you will enjoy this one.

Bea

Review: Play It Again, Charlie — R. Cooper

play_it_againOther Reviewers: Goodreads

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

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

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

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

Will Stewart:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Human Bondage?”

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

“Kinky.”

Charlie’s throat locked.  “I’m not…”

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

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

His face was burning.

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

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

Charlie Howard:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theme Summary:

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

Strong Points:

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

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

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

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

What could be better?

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

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

Conclusions:

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

Bea

Review: Sinner’s Gin — by Rhys Ford

Sinners_GinOther Reviewers: Goodreads

Full Disclosure:

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

Background:

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

Basic Plot:

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

Miki St. John:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kane Morgan:

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

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

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

Theme Summary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strong Points:

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

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

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

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

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

What could be better?

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

Conclusions:

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

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

Bea