Review: Training Complex by Leta Blake

Other Reviewers: Goodreads


For full disclosure this book was given to me for an honest review by the author.

Basic Plot:

Book two of the series sees Matty Marcus (former ice skater, now coach), struggling to find work and his identity as he works on building his relationship with his partner, Rob.  But as his stress mounts, so does his personal issues as it affects his personal and professional life.  Can Matty find a safe space to accept himself or will he burn out?

Review:

This is a book two in a series called Training Season, as it follows Matty’s career and life.  My original review of book one is here, in which I gave it a 5 star review.  I found the BDSM realistic, intense, and Matty’s character was honestly flawed which is unusual to see is what we call “romance” today.

I have loved every book that Leta Blake has written, but I admit that this is the first time that I could not finish her book.  I think that I was just not the target audience for this continuation.  Matty’s character was just too dark and too troubled for me to enjoy his story.  Each chapter that I read (about 30%) just was one more illness, one more problem, and unlike the first book, there was no “new relationship” to break up the depression.

Conclusion:

From reading Goodreads reviews, I am in the minority here, most folks loved this book!  So, I think that if you loved the first one, then give this one a try.  Just keep in mind that this book is more complex and darker than the first and most other male/male romances out there.

 

Bea

Quickie: Bonded 2 by Sara York

Bonded_2Other Reviewers: Goodreads

Page count: 203

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.

Basic Plot:

Liam flies home to Mississippi to go to his grandmother’s funeral, only to have his parents commit him against his will for gay conversion.  Liam’s partners rush to his rescue bringing in their FBI from Sam Graves.

How will they save Liam and shut down this conversion operation and save others as Sam finds his own love.

Relationship:

This book is really a set of two relationships all revolving around the kidnapping of Liam.  This is book two in the Bound in Love series.  The relationship of Liam, Chris, and Greg is developed in book one, so don’t expect a lot of relationship development here.  What we get in this book for development lies within how Greg and Chris physically and emotionally support Liam through the legal processes.

While this plot continues on, we also get a new relationship flourish with Sam and Hudson.  There is a little mystery behind their relationship that should not be spoiled here.  We do get to see the beginning of a BDSM relationship here.

Strong Points:

  • Drama:  We got to see a lot of exciting drama in a short book of 203 pages.  There is a ton of sex and a lot of external conflict to keep the pace fast.

What Could be Better:

  • Too Much Sex:  This is a short book at 203 pages.  So to have so many sex scenes in BOTH sets of relationships made me start skimming.
  • Too Many Relationships: This goes with the “Too Much Sex”.   This felt like at the end of the first book the author had just a bit of relationship development to go, so York added the secondary relationship as filler.  So I had no committment to Sam and Hudson’s relationship.
  • Too Fast into BDSM: I know that in the gay leather community, sex and relationships can move very quickly, so to some degree Sam and Hudson was very believable.  But the Sounding that quickly in a relationship?  As far as we know, they have not played together, they have no mutual friends within the community to vouch.  That does not seem very safe or sane to me.
  • Does this really happen, even in the south?  Listen, I understand that gay conversion is a thing, and I can agree that living in the south gay bashing and religious persecution happens.  But I doubt that ADULTS are committed that quickly with the AID of police officers and an entire division.  It was laughable and an insult to southerners to stereotype them like this.  If the author wanted to talk about this very real gay conversion issue, then they should have made it more realistic.

Conclusions:

We had the happy ever after that I wanted when I started to work.  Getting to see Liam, Chris, and Greg again was great.  But I would have really rather have spent some time learning about Sam and Hudson if they were going to be characters I was supposed to care about.

But this book felt more like a gay soap-opera rather than any hard-hitting crime drama.  So, if you are interested in shallow sex and action with a happy ending, then this is for you.

 

Bea

Review: Spell Bound — by Jacob Z. Flores

Spell_BoundOther 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.

Basic Plot:

Mason Blackmoor is a Warlock — who has difficulty with his magic.  His lack of skill is a family joke and Mason feels powerless.  Now there seems to be a new evil in town, and Mason feels even more powerless.

Drake Carpenter is new into town.  He and Mason have immediate chemistry — but is it hate or passion?  As they fight the evil, will their love be allowed to catch fire?

Background:

I have previously reviewed a Jacob Z. Flores novel, Please Remember Me.  However, Spell Bound is the first book in a new series by the author called The Warlock Brothers of Havenbridge.

This book reminds me of the male/male sub-genre wizard of series under 200 pages.  These are series that focus on a group of individuals, with lots of  insta-mate sex scenes, groups fighting within the society, a big evil that is defeated right at the end, and character development that is plot driven.  Some series are:  A Wizard’s Touch (Amber Kell), The Aloysius Tales (Tara Lain), Dominion (Lissa Kasey), Triad (Poppy Dennison), and Superpowered Love (Katey Hawthorne).

Because of the abbreviated nature of this sub-genre, I do not expect a lot of character development or world building.  I expected that there would be a large portion of this novel that was plot powered and more “tell me” than “show me”.

Mason Blackmoor:

The introduction of our main character, Mason Blackmoor leads the reader to immediately dislike him.

“Can’t, Busy,” I mumbled as I walked by, and I wasn’t even lying this time.  This was going to be a crazy, magical weekend, and my family had a lot to do.  And even if we weren’t all gathering for an important ritual, Laura and her slutty friends weren’t for me.

My type tended to have lean muscles, a firm bubble butt, and a nice cock.  Now someone like that would have my complete and undivided attention.

This description is supposed to make the reader immediately understand that Mason is gay and he is somehow in a magical world as opposed to the muggle.  But I read this as saying that Mason is a hypocritically critical of Laura’s sexual promiscuity, yet Mason likes fit boys and is a size queen.

If I had not had to read this for an advanced reader’s copy, I probably would have not finished this because of our character introduction.

Drake Carpenter:

Because this is first person (this seems to be the preferred method of the author), we do not learn much about Drake’s perspective.  We know that he has some some emotional trauma with the death of his family and that he is southern.  We know he is southern because all of his dialogue is written abbreviated with a plethora of ” ‘”s:

“Well, it’s always been my experience that when someone’s starin’ out as far as they can see, they’re missin’ somethin’.  They don’t always realize that.”  He paused for a few moments before repeating his question.

“So what are you looking’ for?”

You know how I would be able to tell that this character was from Texas?  If Mason just asked him where he is from.  There was no need to continuously abbreviate all of his words, it was distracting.

 

Theme Summary:

When I began this book I thought that there would be no way the author could establish a theme.  However, I was pleasantly surprised:

“See what you started?”  Edith asked me.  “All I’m saying is we shouldn’t blindly follow tradition.  It’s not who we are.  Our race is a result of humans challenging the laws of the universe.  Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”

And then:

“I know I am, but I don’t think you see it that way anymore.  I think you now realize that being a warlock isn’t a reputation, it just is.  Our magic doesn’t define us.  We define it, and when  you look at it that way, it makes it easier to manipulate.”

I see the first quote as a comment on conservative traditional philosophy with sexuality.  They are often so focused on how sinful and “wrong” homosexuality is, that they do not consider how much we have changed as a society from our ancestors.  What was “wrong” a hundred or more years ago is now acceptable.

The second quote I can also see as a comment about our sexuality.  We hear those labels all the time:  Bi, straight, gay, pan, etc.  But what do they mean?  If I tell you that I am bi, does that tell you everything about me?  Am I a good cook?  Am I a good wife?  A good worker?

Strong Points:

After the rough start, I was concerned there would be no depth with only a tropey plot.  Yet I found a buffet of thought-provoking theme.  I finished reading this book and dreamed all day about writing a blog post.  I can not tell you the last time I eagerly yearned to write a blog post.

As a side note, the cover is gorgeous!

What could be better?

The start of the book did not feel well written.  It was  a rough start:  the characters were two-dimensional and the writing was difficult to get through all of the tropey writing.

I would have given this a 4 star review due to the theme, if we had a better beginning and more character development.  If the author had spent some more time with a longer book (say 300-400 pages), then I believe the author would have had time to develop the story more.

Also, the notes say that this is a 216 page book, but the book ended on page 194. This is a bit misleading.

Conclusions:

I am glad that I stuck through with Spell Bound.  While the beginning was a little difficult to get through, I enjoyed the theme and the plot was pretty page turning.  I appreciated the metaphors within the novel comparing the magical classes to our current social biases.  I will certainly check out the second book in this series, Blood Tied.

Bea

Review: A Way Home — by Keira Andrews

A_Way_HomeOther 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 book three in the Gay Amish Romance series by Keira Andrews.  It is highly recommended that you read the first two books first, otherwise you will be completely lost.  My previous reviews are here: Book 1 and Book 2.

Basic Plot:

David and Issac have made it out of their Amish background and are adjusting somewhat successfully with their new English way of life.  However, now there is a medical emergency back home that pulls Issac (and David) back to Minnesota. Will their love be strong enough to keep them to their dreams or will family and religion bring them back into the fold?

David & Issac:

This book review will not go into detail regarding David and Issac’s character development.  We continue to see their struggles individually with adhering to the new English world.  For David, his panic attacks and self medicating drinking has brought a wedge between Issac and himself.  Issac has been so focused on making new friends and reconnecting with Aaron that he lets David deal with his problems alone.  In A Way Home, we see them reconnect back and learn to communicate.

Theme Summary:

I feel in many ways, David’s friend June represents the reader.  In discussing her relationship with her deceased husband, June talks about how marriage is compromise:

Isaac stuck the rubber toe of his sneaker into the mud.  “I always thought once you loved someone, the rest just fell into place.”

June’s laughter echoed across the field.  “Wouldn’t that be nice?  Love counts for a lot, but you need a heck of a lot of patience and grit too.  Sometimes Conrad would frustrate me to no end.  I did the same to him.  But we’d talk it through.  Compromise.  But you and David can’t do that if you’re  not being honest with each other.”

These two men have been through so much throughout all three of these books, and most of the tension within the novels has been because of miscommunication.  They could not live in the life style of their Amish heritage, but at the same time living in the city is not an exact fit.  What they need to do is find a compromise where they can still honor their roots of heritage but still live successfully with each other and be honest to who they are.

Strong Points:

Andrews has the ability to draw the reader into the Amish culture and give the feel of suffocation of “properness” of the Amish to David and Issac.  I am not certain of the accuracy as I am not Amish, but I felt the isolation and how painful that was as Issac and David tried to hide who they were and their dreams.  I felt their pain so fully that I had a hard time reading through.

What could be better?

I like a little angst, but if there is so much angst I feel the urge to put the book into the freezer ala Joey I hesitate.  Toward the end, when we were dealing with the parents, I will be honest — I skimmed.  I was so afraid that they were going to be pulled back into the Amish world.  I felt a bit like I was watching a horror film and I was yelling at the book, “don’t go in there!”

I just had a week of my Mother-in-Law in my house, so in many ways I can relate to David and Issac.  I have come to realize that I will never be accepted by them because of religious reasons, and trying to be myself only seems to bring stilted conversation.  So I completely can relate to how David and Issac must feel:  wanting to fit back in but knowing that they would never be accepted in that world if they showed their true self.

Conclusions:

I am glad that we finally get a happy ending for David and Issac.  In the end, they find compromise and are still true to themselves.  I think that is something that we can all strive for in our lives.  I think that if you loved the first two books you will be satisfied with the conclusion.

Bea

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: 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: A Clean Break — by Keira Andrews

A_clean_breakOther 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 book two in a three-part series (Gay Amish Romance) by Keira Andrews.  I have previously reviewed the first book in the series, A Forbidden Rumspringa, which can be seen here. If you have not read the first book, then I suggest not reading this review as it will contain spoilers.

Basic Plot:

Isaac and David have made a break from their Amish community, straight to Isaac’s brother’s home in California.  Can the boys learn to live in the English life or will they find life together too difficult?

Isaac:

Isaac seems to have an easier time of assimilating into the English world.  Isaac’s struggle is with building new relationships and friendships.  The support of his brother Aaron keeps him balanced and his love for David gives him strength to move forward.

“Look!”  Isaac pointed as they rumbled across a street that dipped down.  “The water.”

Isaac glowed, and David found himself watching him more than the view.  To see Isaac so filled with eight calmed his worries.

Isaac reminds me of the person who runs head first into a challenge.  He’s scared of the newness, but he is so excited to be moving forward in his life.  There is still the guilt and concern to leaving his hometown, but for him it is worth everything to be with David.  That would never have been feasible for them to remain together in Minnesota.

David:

David is our tortured character.  We saw that in the first novel, the stress of trying to take care of his family lead him to question his relationship with Isaac.  For David, being the supporter of his family and then Isaac is all that is important to him.  We see this early on in A Clean Break:

For so long he’d tried to be a good Amish man.  But when it came time to give his vow to God and join the church, he’d faced the truth.  On his knees in front of Bishop Yoder and all of Zebulon, David had said the only thing he could: no.  To say yes would have been a betrayal not only of his heart and honor, but of Isaac.

Most of David’s conflict is with how difficult it is him to leave his guilt from leaving the family behind.  Andrews does an amazing job of letting us into the head space of someone trying to leave a conservative community.

Theme Summary:

It is difficult to decide to leave a life that is so different like being Amish.  For Isaac and David, this challenge is overcome by the love that they have.  They are willing to give up their old way of life to be together.

Exhilaration rushed through him at the thought that soon they’d work together again.  He didn’t know how or where, but they’d make it.  They’d build a life with new tools, piece by piece.

I think for any of us, we could relate to this.  Imagine that you had to move to another country, one that did not speak your language and had completely different cultures.

Strong Points:

The strongest part of this novel is the emotions that we feel as we read about their struggles.  There were so many times that I was crying, pulling my hair in irritation with the characters.  I wonder what type of research the author must have had to go to so easily portray the drama and emotions that David and Isaac go through.

What could be better?

There was a lot of sex in this book, which in the end I actually skipped some of the scenes.  I think that if it was a case of book length, I would have rather just merging book two and three together.  While book 1’s ending was natural, although there was the slight cliffhanger.  In A Clean Break,  the ending is jarring and the wait until the next book will be rough.

Conclusions:

I enjoyed this book, although I had to give it a 3-star rather than 4.  The jarring ending and the reliance of sex scenes made the read not as enjoyable as the first.  However, the emotion that Keira Andrews is able to depict in A Clean Break is amazing.   I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a bit of angst and lots of steamy sex.  Just remember, there is a cliffhanger!

Bea