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: Queers — by AJ Rose

QueersOther Reviewers: Goodreads

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

I have loved AJ Rose’s writing, starting with the amazing Power Exchange.  Back in November 2012, I wrote a review and gave it 5 Stars.  What I loved about it was the strong theme, and the great depth in character development.  It was more than just a romance book, but more like message about self-discovery and being truthful to one’s self.

So, when I was given the opportunity to read Queers, I was both excited as well as nervous.  What happens if I didn’t like this book as much?  Based on the cover and the back of the book, it is nothing like the other series.  But finally, I said, “the heck with it”, and started reading.

Basic Plot:

Duff McKinley is a singer on his way to the big show, well, as soon as he is discovered that is.  His first break is landing a job at Brad Mosely’s bar/club called Queers.  Will this turn out to be a once in a life-time for his career and love life, or will he be stuck with settling?

Garrett Slater is Duff’s best friend, and he moved across the country to support him.  But now is Garrett’s time to shine as he finds Mr Right in the form of Landon Kennedy.  Yet, as Garrett drifts away from his friends like Jackson Moriarty, is he wasting is chance for happiness and true-love or living his dream?

Background:

There is  a lot going on in this book.  There are two “main” love stories here, both are explored fully; we see Duff and Brad’s story first and then Garrett, Landon, and Jackson’s stories are folded into it.

I have not read many of the other reviews on Goodreads about Queers.  I noticed that the range was wide on this one, some readers giving 1 stars with just as many giving 5.  I decided not to read much until after I had finished the book primarily to keep the influence down to a minimum.

I think that two things might have swayed the readers to the lower:  the complex story lines here and the domestic violence.  I will discuss both further in my review, but I believe that was the gist of what their issues were.

Duff McKinley & Brad Mosely:

This is the easy couple to talk about.  Duff is the first person introduced to and I was enchanted from the start.  He is a dedicated and talented singer who landed in LA to “Make it big.”  Now he is ready to make that break into contract-land and needs the job at Queers to get there.  We see into Duff very quickly:

This never gets easier, he thought, approaching the bartender, his back ramrod straight as he faked confidence in an effort to convince both himself and her.

We can easily identify with Duff.  Who hasn’t applied for a job and then was terrified that we wouldn’t get it?  When we meet Brad, we can tell that there is more going on then just his cranky demeanor.

“Pep talk time.  Don’t be afraid of Brad.  He’s a fantastic guy, a lot of fun if you get to know him, and he’s nowhere near as sour as he seems at first.  He’s very loyal, but you have to earn it.”

There’s much to say about Brad, but I do not want to spoil his back story.  Suffice it to say, he has a past love that still causes him pain and he has not moved on yet.  It isn’t until he meets Duff that he realizes it might be time to return.

Garrett Slater / Landon Kennedy / Jackson Moriarty:

This is the complex side of the book, full of angst.  Garrett is Duff’s best friend, really more of a brother.  He is also always been “Out”, not because of choice but rather because his sexuality was difficult to hide in the first place.  This builds a character who is more of free spirit, rolling with the punches rather than hiding or being careful.  It is this nature that attracts Landon and the trouble that follows.  We see Landon’s charm as they meet for the first time:

Landon slowly, deliberately drew him closer until their bodies were pressed together.  Garrett’s breath caught as the man’s warmth and expensive cologne enveloped him.

“I’ll temporarily let you go,” Landon said softly, commandingly.  “But expect my call.”

Jackson is another one of the best friends, a nurse who has loved Garrett from afar.  Unfortunately, Garrett doesn’t believe he is serious about trying to date.  Jackson’s known more as the “slut” in the past, and this stereotype doesn’t help him now.  As he sees Garrett withdrawing more and more of himself in the relationship with Landon he fears for Garrett.

Theme Summary:

At first, I thought I had the theme at 15% of the way through the book.  But what I realized was that it really fed into what I consider the “main theme”.  Moonshine tells Brad something early on in the book:

“You’ve been going through the motions so long, you’ve forgotten how to react to good feelings.  The numbness is wearing off, and I bet it’s fucking weird.”

For Brad, this is about his previous boyfriend.  For Duff, he put his career on hold while he finished his backup degree.  Garrett moved across the country to support his friend Duff and his photography is less about his creativity and more about working for something else.  Jackson is in love with someone who may never see the true him.

And then at 75%, I found the profound theme I was hoping I would find:

“”Death is not fair,”” Duff parroted her words from the police station alley.

Neither is life, but I do what I can to make it fair.”

Life has given pain to every one of our characters and that pain and experience has the ability to stop their dreams and relationships from being fruitful.  However, it is by moving forward through the fires that these characters are reborn into the stronger characters they are by the end of the novel.  They learn the lesson that while friends can help, they ultimately must commit to make the changes to help themselves.

Strong Points:

AJ’s strength is in his descriptions and writing.  I am always pulled straight into the story, and this is no exception:

What didn’t quite fit in was the girl behind the bar, looking more appropriate for a leather club than a dueling piano bar.  Perhaps it was her influence that gave Queers its snap, as if it was closely thumbing its nose at pretension.

It is not just the main character that gets development, but also secondary characters like Moonshine and  Jennica.  In fact, I see Moonshine as the embodiment of the theme and our greek chorus.

What could be better?

If you glance through the reviews on Goodreads for Queers, you will see warnings about triggers.  Remember when I said that AJ’s strength was in his writing?  Well, that also goes into the descriptions of abuse that one character goes through.  So, I give the warning, if you have suffered from domestic abuse, this might be a trigger.

I will be honest, domestic violence is a trigger for me, so there were several scenes where I had to skim through.  I do believe that it needed to be said to advance the plot and the characters, but it is painful to read.

I will also say that the end did feel a bit like the magical fairy came through and tied up all of the loose endings; but after all of the angst and pain I was ready for a HEA.

Conclusions:

This was a compelling read, one that I am very glad I experienced.  Do not be put off by the silliness of the cover, it is a serious read.  There are powerful emotions throughout, so be prepared to cry and cheer as our boys overcome their trials.

The message is one that I think we all could use.  Family is not always blood, but certainly our friends can be the support that we need to survive.  And when we fall down, they will be there to help us up.  While they will encourage us to do better, ultimately it is up to make changes in our lives.

AJ Rose is a brilliant author.  He always infuses his stories with powerful messages, like little kernels of truth and insight in hope that we will take the time to uncover.   If you are currently in an abusive relationship, remember that you can always leave.  You have family, friends, and outside support that will help, but you have to be the one to make the move for help.  This book certainly made me appreciate the support of my friends and my husband.  I have been very blessed; thank you AJ Rose for helping me to remember this truth.

Bea

Review: Sweet Young Thang — by Anne Tenino

SweetYoungThangOther Reviewers: Goodreads

First things first:  I have seen some “Meh” reviews out there for this book on Goodreads.  One explanation of the rating is that one of our characters, Eric, calls Collin some version of “Sweet” as pet names often.  I suppose some people don’t like pet names, either in novels or in real life.  But it did not bother me enough to reduce a star.  So this review will not focus on that and that will not affect any type of rating.

Second note:  This is book three of Tenino’s series, Theta Alpha Gamma, so if you have not read those (#1 Frat Boy and Toppy) (#2 Love Hypothetically) I would recommend reading them first.  Actually, I suggest that you read book #1 to get the best out of this book.  I never read the second one, with only 100 pages I did not want to invest the money in that short of a book. I think that you will understand the world better if you read book 1 first.

Basic Plot:

Collin Montes is in his Senior year at college and is the Alumni Representative for his fraternity, Theta Alpha Gamma.  Most of his world revolves around either his studies, his fraternity, or family.  His sexuality is very much in the closet.  Collin wants to come out, but his family, especially his powerful uncle Monty, might not approve.  His fraternity has recently changed their charter to explicitly not discriminate against sexual orientation and things start heating up – literally.  Now can Collin every come out of the closet and will things turn tragic at the House?

Eric Dixon is a fire fighter para-medic who is on the scene early when his former fraternity house has an explosion.  In the mass confusion, one boy stands out: Collin.  There is something that is just sweet and compelling about this boy.  But could they build a lasting relationship, an out older man and a closeted sweet young thang?

Collin Montes:

What I like about Collin is that he is so relatable.  When we saw him in book one, he was sweet on Brad, but was merely a secondary character.  But for me, I always wanted to know more about him, he seemed someone who had a large back story to be told.

We learn early on that Collin, while having a rich Uncle Monty who runs the family business, he is not like other “rich boys”.  He has his entire future mapped out, from his experience within the frat as well as his studies.  His mother has kept him grounded, but with the death of his father at an early age, Uncle Monty has become a father figure.  The problem with this is that Monty is a harsh taskmaster, acting as a svengali and shaping Collin’s future for what Monty has in plan.

So, Collin struggles with his self-identity, not just his sexuality and wonders if he can ever measure up.

Collin felt like he’d lived a half a lifetime in the last twenty-four hours.  In his sophomore philosophy class (why did they schedule those damn things at seven in the morning?  Who really needs philosophy before breakfast?), he’d read something that had stuck with him since:  “Each day is a little life.”  Who said that?  Schopenhauer, he thought.

Collin attempts to please everyone in his life, his frat, his instructors, his family, his uncle, but never really doing what he wants to do.  And with all of this comes loads of responsibility  he feels he cannot shirk.  What Collin needs is someone who will support him.

Eric Dixon:

Eric is the strong, silent type, an older man at 36, comfortable in his life.  He has two careers, one is the paramedic with the firefighter, and the other is a side project as photographer.  He is someone who other people depend on and while he might look badass, he has a very caring heart.  But he’s lonely and ready to meet someone to settle down with and even though Collin is young, he sees in him the qualities to make their relationship last.  We see Eric’s attitude when talking about his former boyfriend, Jay:

Eric laughed along with Lincoln.  Mandy always had his back when it came to his love life.  Thank God, because it had taken him a while to get over that asshole.  He should have realized that it was a setup when Jay had said he didn’t know if he could be faithful.  Then when he did fuck around, he’d been able to say, “Well, I warned you.”  As if that made it all right.”

What I liked about Eric is that he is such a loving, caring person, who in his place, we would want to do the same thing.  We all want someone who will be there when we come home, eat a good meal, sit by the fire and make love.

Theme Summary:

When reading books with gay romance, one of the biggest, obvious themes will be about being open with their sexuality.  Collin is closeted in so many things, that one theme could be that it’s about being honest with yourself and not compromising.  In fact, both Collin and Eric have compromised in their love life in the past, and this story is about their journey to find what they really want together.

Strong Points:

The humor is the strongest point within this book.  The author has such a great way of making me laugh out loud, which our boys in Theta Alpha Gamma do.

Danny stared at him, goggle-eyed, mouth hanging open.  “Dude!”  He stood up, reaching out to grip Collin’s shoulder.  “You mean no one told you you’re gay?  Shit man, I’m sorry, I didn’t know…”  He turned to Kyle.  “What am I supposed to do in this situation?  They did not cover this in that sensitivity training class we took fall term.  That’s a major oversight, man.”

I also liked the mystery aspect.  While I had an idea of the “who done it” early on, how the plot became unexpectedly twisted and it remained entertaining.

What could be better?

There was quite a bit of sex in this book, which while it did not bother me, toward the end I did skim the scenes.  I will mention the “Sweet” thing again, because it bothered other folks, but for me it was fine.  Some people also complained of the “insta-love” in this book, but that was not something that bothered me.  I met my husband and after a weekend I knew I would spend my life with him.  We are still as deeply (if not more) in passionate love together 15 years later.

Conclusions:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and have placed it in my favorites section to be a re-read.  It had excellent pacing and kept me interested as I finished it in one sitting.  If I had any draw back, it would be a lack of “relationship” building.  While there are some “external conflicts” that affect the relationship, neither men have any angsty drama between them.

So, what we end up getting is a humorous, sexy romp through a mystery and end up with truelove.  How could that get any better?

Bea