Saturday, 29 October 2011

Review: Layover by Elizabeth Coldwell

I requested this book from Xcite because it sounded like a fun bit of erotica, and actually, yes that's what it was!  It tells of Scottish flight attendant, Cal, who has an overnight layover in Aruba where he meets Justin, the manager of the resort where Cal is staying.  They hit it off and when the tail end of a hurricane means that Cal has to stay another night, the pair make the most of their time together.

This short novella had a lot of good things about it. I liked Justin and Cal but there wasn't anything which made them stand out from the ordinary. They are both nice men who have demanding jobs and who are a little bit lonely.  We find out next to nothing about them other than that and a little about Cal and his ex-boyfriend.  The sex scenes between Cal and Justin are hot and well written with a slight kink to them, although the number of times the word 'wank' was used made me snigger like a teenage boy.  One slight question was when Justin used the word wank. He's from the USA and I didn't think they used that word over there, maybe someone can correct me on that.  As this is an erotic novella, much of the story is made up of sex, but there was also a decent balance between sex/not sex in the book and so I didn't feel that it was all sex and no plot.and the HFN ending left me with a smile on my face.

 The setting was unusual and I liked some of the descriptions of Aruba. I've not been there and it sounds like a very interesting place to visit.

I did have some niggles, mainly minor ones. For example Cal and Justin both make great pains to let us know that they don't sleep around and that the way they jump into to sex with each other in the first few minutes is atypical.  I always find this a bit annoying in books as it's used as a sort of shorthand to signpost 'this is the one', and really it wasn't necessary. I'd rather a character behaved as they normally do, and it would have only taken a short time of them getting to know each other to make it believable that they would then want to have sex.   Another niggle was that at the beginning of the story the flight crew are partying rather raucously in the bar and Justin asks them to leave saying it was late. It was only 10.30pm! I can't see a hotel manager turfing out paying customers at that time - maybe asking them to keep it down, yes, but not asking them to leave.  Then Justin and Cal go skinny dipping and we are told that no-one was about because it was so late. It was still way before midnight by my reckoning so that seemed a bit wrong too as I would have expected plenty of people to be out enjoying the balmy night air at that time.

As I said these are only very minor niggles and are all from the first few pages of the book, after that the story settled and I rather enjoyed this erotic story.  If you're looking for a fairly quick sexy read with a pair of amiable heroes, then this book would be a decent choice.  Grade: Good.

Buy this book HERE.

Friday, 28 October 2011

A-Z Challenge Review: Unspeakable Words by Sarah Madison

Why I bought the book: It had a lot of good reviews.

Plot: FBI agent Jerry is used to being passed around between departments.  His brilliant mind is offset by his lack of people skills and so he isn't too surprised when he gets placed on a murder cold-case.  There's some possible new evidence in this serial killer murder case and so Jerry gets paired with John, who is handsome, charming and straight.  They clash heads for a while, especially because John ends up staying with Jerry, until an accident involving a mysterious artifact at the museum gives John a special power and Jerry has to then protect John whilst also attempting to solve another murder.

I'm going to have to be a bit spoilerish in this review because there's no way I'm going to be able to talk about the book without revealing John's special power.  It's a shame really because I bought this a while ago and had forgotten what it was about so the whole thing was a complete surprise to me.  In fact one of the few criticisms I have of this book is that the whole 'special power' thing came completely out of nowhere and flummoxed me for a while.  I thought I was reading a murder/mystery book and so when John gets zapped by the artifact, I was scrambling to catch up and adjust my brain to the new development!  Once I got back in the groove though it was fine, although I was a little disappointed with the gaping hole left when we never discover what the artifact is and why it would 'choose' John to zap.  Jerry makes a couple of half-hearted attempts to find out more but that whole part was dropped later in the book.

Characters: The strength of this book is in the great chemistry between the leads.  Jerry is well aware of his shortcomings and spends much of the first part of the book feeling a mix of resentment and grudging admiration for John, all muddled together with a growing attraction - at first for John's body but then for him as a person.  The fact that John can then read Jerry's mind makes for some hilariously awkward conversations, as Jerry is one of these people whose mind runs constantly and often with many inappropriate comments.  In particular he finds it difficult to hide his attraction for John, which John finds both flattering and embarrassing.  I loved how the whole mind reading aspect of the book was handled, especially because the humour blended perfectly with the romance and allowed the Gay For You story line to develop slowly.  I think the story also worked because we only get Jerry's point of view. Whilst this meant that we don't get John's thoughts during his confusion over his attraction to Jerry, the author had still done a great job in showing us John's developing feelings through his facial expressions, actions and the dialogue which zings between him and Jerry.  There were some great set pieces of action, such as Jerry taking the opportunity to masturbate whilst John is out of the apartment; or when they bump into Jerry's ex-lover; or the tense scenes towards the end of the book which lifted the story from the ordinary, gave us much insight into the character and forwarded the romance in a way that seemed fluid and easy to read.

Overall: I really enjoyed this book. It's not perfect, as I've already mentioned there are a few plot holes and the mystery plot very much takes a back seat once John gets zapped.  However, the positives such as the fantastic electricity between John and Jerry, the engaging writing and the humour in the story, all kept me reading. I was sorry when it ended because I could have read much more from these characters.  I've read a couple of shorts by this author, as well as this novella, and have so far been impressed with the writing and imagination. I'll be keeping my eye out for further releases from her.  Grade: Excellent.

Buy this book HERE.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Review: When I Fall by Belinda McBride

When I Fall is the sequel to An Uncommon Whore which I liked a great deal and reviewed HERE.  That previous book had been taken from the first person point of view of Pasha/Helios and I found him to be a very sympathetic narrator.  When I Fall has a change in narrative and is taken from the first person viewpoint of Griffin, Helios' rescuer and later lover.  The story picks up a little while after the end of the previous book.  Helios is now established king on Neo Domus, ruling over the band of displaced refugees who have found a new home on the planet.  Griffin is Helios' personal guard and consort, a position which he enjoys on the whole but which has its limitations in that Griffin is not privy to many of the state secrets that Helios has to keep. It's this which is starting to cause a rift between them as the strong and protective Griffin finds himself shut out.

The story is essentially divided into two halves. The first half, set on Neo Domus is full of political wrangling and Helios' struggles with power over the council.  As the story is from Griffin's point of view, and because he is excluded from some of the things that happen, it was, for me the weakest part of the book.  Griffin spends most of the time mooching about feeling sorry for himself because Helios is keeping secrets and no longer needs to rely on Griffin quite so much.  Gradually we learn some of these secrets but I couldn't help but get the impression that this section would have had more dramatic impact if taken from Helios' point of view. I wanted to know his thoughts and feelings about being in power, and his frustrations and sadness over his deteriorating relations with Griffin. As it is we only get everything second hand when Helios chooses to tell Griffin. The rest of the time we are subject to Griffin's sulking insecurity about his place in Helios' life.

The second half of the story takes place on another planet as Helios make an important diplomatic visit to secure allies for Neo Domus.  Here the action and tension of the book is ramped up as Helios and Griffin are under constant threat.  This allowed for less of the self-absorption from Griffin and more positive action.  We are introduced to a few new species and whilst there was still some political wrangling and arguments, this was broken up by some exciting action scenes. It was in this half where Griffin and Helios begin to resolve some of their differences, narrowing the gap that had begun to widen in their relationship.  It was interesting to see how the power dynamics shifted and also how the secrets between them were used to strengthen rather than weaken the relationship.

Another aspect of the book which I found very interesting was the way in which it dealt with the trauma of the past war on the Arashan people.  Some readers may not like some of the more brutal descriptions of what happened when the planet was invaded by the Landaun, but I thought it added a realistic note to the lives of these displaced people who are still recovering from the terrible things that happened to them. We get more insight into Griffin and his family, especially his wife, as a result of this dwelling on the past and some of the parts where we see the effect on Griffin's children in particular were poignant.

Despite my misgivings about the first half of the book the writing is still beautifully done. The descriptions of Neo Domus were vivid and brought the place to life in my mind.  The author also has a poetic way of writing at times which lifted this story from the ordinary. In particular I liked this passage where Griffin reflects on his and Helios' differing personalities:

Helios sat down next to me, sharing the silence like the gift it was. The snow came down heavier; tree limbs bent under its weight, until the springy branches finally bowed enough to rid themselves of the burden, then sprang up to collect it again. That was Helios. He bent under his troubles, then finally let them slip away. I was more like the giant hardwoods of Arash; they would split and crack under the burden of the snow. It was a lesson I would take to heart. I wanted to be more like him.

It was passages like this and the descriptions of the setting which added to my enjoyment of this book.

Overall, I very much liked When I Fall, perhaps not as much as the first book in terms of character, but it was certainly a book with more depth and richness of setting than An Uncommon Whore. In the end I am giving this book a grade of 'Very Good'. For those who have read the first book this is a must-read, but I do suggest that you read An Uncommon Whore first to really understand some of the background to this sequel.

Buy this book HERE.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A-Z Challenge Review: Tempestuous by Morgan Hawke

Why I bought the book: I bought it after reading Torrid by this author (which I reviewed here) and it's been on my TBR pile for two years, believe it or not.

Plot: This is one of Morgan Hawke's Yaoi inspired books. The story is based on the Kitsune myths.  Rusty is a costume designer who manages a costume shop.  When a gorgeous looking man, Shiro, comes in to collect a costume he flirts shamelessly with Rusty and is very interested in Rusty's black fox mask which Rusty carved when he was a teenager. When Shiro tells Rusty that he's been looking for him for some time and that he has a fox mask just like Rusty's, Rusty is thrown into a confusing world where nothing is as it seems and where he is has no choice but to to submit to a man.

The story itself is a typical Yaoi.  The strong and attractive Shiro confuses Rusty who isn't gay, but feels mesmerised and intimidated by Shiro's assertion that they are meant to be together. The Kitsune myth is successfully integrated into the story and there was a nice blend of the modern with the fantastical. The part where Rusty makes his transformation was handled in a way that was amusing but also showed how baffled Rusty is at what is happening to him.  I especially liked the way he had difficulty in controlling his ears and tail.  There were, however, a few plot holes which irked me by the end.  For example, Rusty leaves his old life behind seemingly without regret.  There were also a few things introduced into the story which are never properly explained, such as Rusty's power to control the weather or the reason why he bleeds from a wound in his neck when he needs feeding.

Characters: I liked Rusty a great deal as a character and thought him rather sweet and noble.  His confusion is endearing and I was interested to see how things worked out for him in the story.  Unfortunately I didn't like Shiro who was far too smug and self-satisfied.  Like many Yaoi stories, Shiro as the Seme delighted in taking the upper hand but the inequality irked me a little and I just didn't feel any romantic spark between the characters.  Shiro almost drugs Rusty with his sexual advances making him unable to form a coherent thought; he uses sexual bondage and manipulation to get what he wants; and whilst all the sex is consensual, Shiro is totally in control and almost blackmails Rusty into bottoming for him.  What did work was the way the two men clash in a battle of wills and some of my favourite parts were those where Rusty is refusing to back down from Shiro or finds a way to circumvent the sexual manipulation. This just made me like Rusty more for standing up for himself.

Overall: The parts of this story which worked best for me were those which used humour to lighten the situation and where Rusty fights for his independence from Shiro.  I also liked the background to the story where we learn how Rusty has come to be as he is, and also some of the ways he has learned to survive. The rest of the story still worked and made sense, but my dislike of Shiro as a character rather clouded my feelings towards their HEA.  The story was still worth reading though and gets a grade of 'Good' from me.  Those who like Yaoi inspired stories should give this one a go.

Buy this book HERE.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Review: Barging In by Josephine Myles

I've put off writing this review for a few weeks now.  Not because I didn't like the book but at around the time I was thinking about reviewing there were several reviews of the book posted on other sites, many of which were saying exactly what I was going to say. So, I decided to hold off.  It's an interesting experience waiting a while to review a book because your perception of it changes the longer you leave it.  Some books fade into only a vague remembrance and others, like this one, remain strongly in your mind. These are always the best books, I think.

The story follows Dan who is a travel writer for a magazine. He's doing a story on narrowboat (or barge) holidays and as we first meet him he is struggling with working out how to steer the boat.  His eye is caught by a good looking man on the tow path and this, coupled with his ineptitude, almost causes him to crash.  The man on the tow path, Robin, is not impressed by Dan, labeling him a dangerous tourist, especially when Dan gets stuck trying to turn the boat.

There were lots of things to like about this story but the thing that interested me the most is the way that the narrowboat community is shown. I have to admit, I know next to nothing about this aspect of my culture, despite living not too far from the Leeds/Liverpool canal.  I hadn't realised that people who choose not to pay for expensive moorings are seen in the same light as those travellers who camp out in caravans and therefore either scorned as 'dirty' or treated with suspicion.  I thought the author had done a good job in showing the different types of people who live on narrowboats: From Robin whose boat is well maintained and very clean, to those don't have the funds to keep their boats as nice; from those who have families and well paid jobs to those with little or no income.  The various personalities of those living on the canal intertwined with the lives of Dan and Robin bring a freshness of colour to the book which I enjoyed a great deal.  I also liked how the difficulties of life on a narrowboat was shown without it overwhelming the story.  As the story progressed I found out all sorts of information from the difficulties the boat owners face from British Waterways to how to cope with little fresh water or no electricity.  Very interesting!

Dan and Robin were wonderful characters. Both are very flawed and at first seem to clash more than complement each other.  Dan is a bit of a slut who always has an eye out for the next opportunity to get laid.  He's not one for commitment, preferring to live in the now rather than look for long term.  On the other hand he's also very socialable, making friends easily and winning people round with his charm and enthusiasm.  he certainly won me round and I warmed to him almost straightaway.  Robin is very different to that. He's quite quiet, a thinker who keeps to himself and doesn't make friends so easily. Those he does make, he keeps. He's not interested in short term relationships but Dan wins him round to a holiday romance.  Robin's main flaw is his stubborn independence and also his inability to trust Dan.  His misplaced jealousy drives a wedge between them.  Both characters grow a lot in the story.  Dan has to learn to keep it in his pants but also to tone down his flirty nature and to be more considerate of Robin.  Robin has to learn to trust Dan and also to allow people to help him when he needs it.  It was delightful to watch these men struggle against their natures to come together and stay together. They both had to work hard to make the relationship work, even failing at times, and that made for a very rewarding reading experience for me.

I'm trying to think of anything that bothered me about this book, but actually I can't think of any really off-putting negatives about it.  I liked the flawed but likable characters; the setting was unusual and uniquely British (which is always a bonus for me); the sex scenes were raunchy at first but settled nicely into something more romantic by the end; and the plot moved quickly.  Even a slight separation and misunderstanding at the end wasn't enough to detract from the book's overall merits. I'm giving Barging In a grade of 'Excellent' and I can see it will be a book I read again in future.

Buy this book HERE.

Friday, 21 October 2011

A-Z Challenge Review: Slow Bloom by Anah Crow and Dianne Fox

Why I bought the book: This is another book which has been in my TBR pile for a loooooong time, so long I'm not sure quite what prompted me to buy it. I think it was after reading a good review at Jessewave's site.

Plot: Jack is a middle aged and rather curmudgeonly author whose summer is brightened up considerably when he realises that his neighbour's kid, who is earning money by gardening for him, has developed into a rather attractive 18 year old man. He's even more delighted when Ricky seduces him in his kitchen leading to a summer of no-strings fun for both of them. After the summer Ricky goes to College but neither of them are ready to break off the ties completely.

I seem to think that this books started life as a serialisation on the Turn of the Screw TQ subscription service. This shows a little in the way the book is structured in that each chapter is made up of a section where the scene is set and the plot is furthered, followed by an extended sex scene. Whilst this was still interesting and, at least at first, the sex showed a progression in the relationship, I found that by the end of the book I was getting a little tired of this structure and I skimmed the last couple of sex scenes.

What worked well in particular with the plotting was the theme of cross-dressing, which managed to be sensitively handled whilst also giving an insight into why both men enjoyed that aspect of that relationship; and the May to December theme which I shall say more about below.

Characters: There's an age gap of thirty years between the characters. I have to be honest that I found that uncomfortable at times. However, the authors did a really good job of showing both the positives and the negatives of such a gap in ages and so I settled into it after a while. Jack, as you can imagine, is very sexually experienced whereas Ricky is not (although he's not a virgin). This was a wonderful thing for Ricky whom the title of the book reflects. For Ricky does bloom during the book as he discovers himself sexually, and grows as a person through the story. Jack also blooms as a result of Ricky's enthusiasm and guileless affection. I loved how careful Jack is with Ricky, how protective he is of Ricky's emotional journey, not realising that Jack himself is being slowly charmed by Ricky. For me, this was the best part of the book. I could happily have seen a number of the sex scenes cut down or removed but the scenes before the sex when the men are just talking or dating were really special and very romantic.

Overall: Despite the slight problems I had with the overall structure and a little bit too much in terms of sex/plot ratio, this was still a darned good read for me. I really liked the dynamics between the two characters and wholly believed their romance even with the very large age gap. The book mainly focuses on the romantic couple but there are other characters and I especially liked Ricky's college friends who allowed us to see Ricky away from Jack and with people his own age; and Ricky's Dad who was a great example of a supportive and loving father. The cross dressing wasn't a huge part of the book so don't let that put you off if it's not your thing but was handled well and should be a draw for those readers who like the theme. In the end I'm giving Slow Bloom a grade of 'Very Good' and would recommend it to those who like the themes or who want to read a character based romance with plenty of very hot sex.

Buy this book HERE.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Review: Cross Bones Anthology edited by Anne Regan

I have to admit I approached this anthology with a certain amount of trepidation because I was convinced that nearly all the stories would be akin to Pirates of the Carribean slash. Whilst there were certainly a couple of stories which fit into that mode, and another couple which could have had their origins in Firefly fan-fic, on the whole this was a pretty good balanced mix of stories, themes and genres. I was pleasantly surprised.

There wasn't one story which I didn't find entertaining, and whilst the pirate theme was strong in all of them, they didn't slip into cliche, for which I am thankful. However, my favourite stories were the ones that came at the theme slightly sideways, where the setting may be a pirate boat, or the characters pirates, but that was incidental to the overall theme of the story.

One such story, my favourite from the anthology, was From a Simmer by B. Snow, which had as its hero, Sule, an escaped African slave who found work on a pirate ship. When the captain rescues a young man who speaks Dutch, he calls Sule to translate. Sule cannot bear the thought of conversing in the language of the slavers who took him from his homeland, and even the discovery that Olaf is Norwegian doesn't diminish the anger he feels towards the man. What I particularly liked about this story, other than its firm grounding in time and place is the way that the author portrays the anger and confusion of Sule, and his developing relationship with Olaf who stands for all that he hates. The change in Sule is gradual and wonderful to read. My only niggle was the way the author switched between present and past tense. It was all correct, but just distracting.

My second favourite story was a bittersweet story, Objectivity by K.J. Johnson, which was a modern day story. It followed journalist Matthew who is on a field assignment getting the story behind East African pirates. He's tagging along with a set of pirates captained by Achmed who he both admires and fears a great deal. What worked best for me with this story was the uneasiness of the relationship between Matthew and Achmed. Matthew is frightened of Achmed but also fiercely attracted to him too.  The dust, heat and poverty of East Africa is vividly described and the whole story is very poignant and balanced in its views of the pirates.  My only complaint was the rather inappropriately placed sex scene at the end, especially given that Matthew had been shot not long before and wasn't even on pain killers. Such a shame to spoil what had been a hard-hitting and memorable story.

Honorable mentions need to go to Irish Red by M.J. O'Shea and Black John by Piper Vaughn, a delightful pair of interlinked stories which told the stories of two separate but linked couples;  Touched by the West Wind by Ellen Holiday which left me smiling with its tale of two young friends who find companionship and love on a pirate ship; and My Hand in Yours by Emily Moreton which had two mismatched men whose sexual relationship turns into more, leading to hard decisions.

Even those stories I haven't mentioned here were all well written and enjoyable with rounded characterisation and thoughtful, or humourous, or sexy, or tender romance themes (and sometimes all four!).  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Cross Bones, with a grade of 'Very Good' to those who like pirate stories, anthologies and all those looking for an interesting and varied set of short stories.

Buy this book HERE.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Review: Moon Run by Joely Skye

This story is the third in the Wolf Town series. I've been enjoying this series a great deal and this was another solid addition to the series.

The hero of this book is Iain who is the former lover of Rory, one of the heroes of the previous two books.  In the earlier books Iain hasn't been a tremendously sympathetic character. He's been shown as rather needy and unwilling to accept that Rory has moved on with his current lover Scott.  Rory found his clinginess too much to cope with and was happy to leave Iain behind and move on.  Rather than being a sequel, this book has an almost identical timeline to the previous book in the series, with some overlapping events but take from Iain and Teo's point of view.  This worked well overall and filled in some of the gaps and reasonings from book 2.  This meant that the events of the previous book, and in particular the showdown with Garrett at the end of the book is given a different perspective and I liked that we get to see why Iain acted as he did.  It also meant that there wasn't very much in terms of surprises in the story which detracted a little from the dramatic tension.

What was most interesting about this story was seeing Iain as a main character. In the previous two books he is scorned by Rory as a manipulator and a liar, but here we are given reasons for his past behaviour: the hurts he's experienced and the rejection which manifests itself in overly clingy actions.  In many ways Iain despises himself and his weakness, and much of the actions of this book are his attempts to make sure he's not rejected in the future.  I liked Iain, even if he was misguided and a little foolish at times.

Iain's relationship with Teo is the main focus of the story. Teo is the beta wolf who has his own hang-ups, mainly the worry that he's being used by others for his position in the pack.  As a result he tends towards coldness, something which is certainly true at the beginning of the story.  One of the highlights of the book is seeing Teo soften and change in this attitude and to allow himself to take a chance on Iain.

Although the story does have some action scenes - especially those where we see the situation with Garrett from Iain's perspective - the story is mostly about the two men finding their way through a relationship.  The scenes where they come together in comfort and sexually were very well done.  Teo completes something in Iain and as such there's a tenderness in  their interactions. I liked the scenes where the men give into the wolf part of themselves, especially when Iain takes comfort in Teo's strength.

If I have any complaints about the book it's that the story is rather short, plus many of the fears that Iain and Teo have are so obviously unfounded that I puzzled a little over why they should feel that way.  These were only minor niggles though.

Overall, this was an admirable addition to the Wolf Town series and gets a grade of 'Very good'.  I enjoyed reading it a great deal and hope for further books in this series.

Buy this book HERE.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Review: The Rifter Part 8: The Silent City by Ginn Hale

This review can also be found at the DIK blog.

Reviewing the eighth part of this serialised novel is going to tax my reviewing skills a little! The book itself is the same number of pages as usual (each serial is about 130-150 pages) but this part, more than any other has a focus on setting the scene and consolidating information, rather than there being anything concrete in terms of dramatically furthering the plot. In fact I can probably give you the entire plot of part eight in one sentence: John and Ravishan join the Fai'daum and learn of their ways.

The story picks up straight on from part seven. John and Ravishan are now outlaws, and after being discovered by a band of Fai'daum rebels accompany them to their hideout - a huge city built underground. John uses his time there to try and control his increasingly erratic powers as he trains with Ji. As the part draws to a conclusion the Fai'daum are preparing themselves for battle, and John in particular is hoping to be able to rescue Loshai from Umbhra’ibaye.

As I said earlier, much of this part of the book is used to show the reader the world of the Fai'daum and for us to understand their goals and intentions in waging war on the priests such as those John trained with in Rathal'pesha. We meet characters that we have met before such as Saimura and Ji, but most of the characters in this part are new to us. It seems a strange thing to be introduced to so many new people so late on in the book, but I have a feeling that the key to understanding the future happenings in the book resides with knowing the goals and objectives of the Fai'daum. After all, Jath'ibaye in the future sections of the book allies himself with the Fai'daum and it is here that we see the beginnings of that alliance.

This part also continues to show us the depth of love and attraction felt between John and Ravishan, but also emphasises some of the differences in their temperament. There's a side to Ravishan in this part which aligns more with what we see in Kahlil in the parts set in the future, showing us that they may be on different time lines but are still the same person overall. John's wish for peace wars with the cruelty he experiences in the harsh world of Basawar, and some of the most heartfelt and poignant sections of this book were when John thinks of Nayeshi (or Earth) and longs to return.

An ongoing theme of the sections set in this timeline is that of John's discovery that he is the Rifter and his fight against his powers and his nature. This is given more space to explore here too. John's fear that his power should be discovered and used for ill is ever present, and yet it's becoming increasingly difficult to hide who he is to those who spend much time with him, especially Ravishan. One of my favourite scenes in this part comes towards the end and shows not only John's desire to hide his powers but the increasing suspicion of others towards his ability to heal so quickly. It will be interesting to see how this all comes to a head in the next part.

Above all though, Part eight shows us the depth of imagination of this author. Each time we move to a different setting the wealth of detail amazes me. The underground city of the Fai'daum is shown to us in all its vivid richness. The people, no matter how incidental, are well drawn and realistic. There might not be a lot of action in this section but I was still engrossed in the lives of the Fai'daum and their preparations for war. I get the impression that this eighth part of The Rifter is the deep breath or calm before the storm. All the pieces are slotting into place and I'm looking forward to seeing how everything comes together in the final two parts of the book.

You can either buy this eighth part - and then any of the other parts - separately for $3.99 each, or buy the whole book at $29.95 and each month the new part will be sent to you via email. More information about this and the buy now page can be found HERE.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

A-Z Challenge Review: Raw Food by James Austen

Yes, I know I've already done a 'R' book but I thought I'd do another one. It's my challenge :P.

Why I Bought the Book: The author friended me on Twitter and I followed a link to his Good Reads blog.  His posts were amusing and so I checked out the blurb of Raw Food, his self published book, and decided to buy.  This just goes to show what can happen if you target the right people people and also how boredom can be a dangerous thing for me :).

Plot: This short (which is about 21,000 words) tells the story of Joe who has recently started a new job in Soho, London.  On his way home from work his eye is caught by a raw food restaurant and he stops to check out the menu.  As he's standing there another man, Francis, engages him in conversation and a bit of flirting and they decide to go for a pint. It turns out that Francis is an enthusiastic proponent of the raw food diet and lifestyle.  Not only that, but Joe is swept away by Francis' boundless energy and overt flirtatiousness and so he agrees to go back to Francis' flat to find out more about raw food.

The story itself is a rather outrageous comedy with a great deal of British toilet and bottom humour.  I found myself laughing on a number of occasions at some of the things Joe and Francis get up to, and I don't think I can ever look at a banana in quite the same way again!  There's a really good light-hearted tone to the story helped by a couple of engaging leads in Joe and Francis.  I have to admit, I'm never hugely fond of sex scenes involving food, but I found myself enjoying these. I think it was because the sex was supposed to be funny as well as erotic, after all it's quite difficult not to derive some amusement out of the creative way fruit is used during the story.

Characters: Joe is very easy to like. He's a bit of an innocent and spends much of the first part of the story in wide-eyed wonder, firstly at Francis' overt come on and then at some of the things he discovers about himself.  Francis is older and has a whirlwind personality. This meant that Francis does most of the talking whilst Joe spends much of the story in a bemused but accepting state of mind.  This difference between the main characters was one of the more effective parts to the book.  Alongside Joe and Francis we meet a handful of odd characters: the lecherousness ex-porn film maker, Charles; the drugged up prostitute, Button (whose conversation with Joe about the band Radiohead was another scene I enjoyed a great deal); Joe's boss, Marty; and the chef and owner of the raw food restaurant.  These characters flitted in and around the main pair adding a depth to the story which worked well, even if some of the scenes were slightly bizarre.

Overall: I've mentioned most of the things I liked about the story already but I did have some niggles.  Firstly, it was very obvious that this is a self published story.  Don't get me wrong I've read and reviewed a number of self-pubbed stories on this blog so I've nothing against self-publishing in general. However, this story could really have benefited from an eagle eyed friend of the author reading over it before publication.  There are a large number of homophone errors (manner/manor, wear/where, etc), at least one name switch and a lot of other typos and apostrophe errors.  Whilst I rarely mention the odd slip in a book, there were so many mistakes in this book that it began to annoy me after a while.  Another thing that was a bit odd was that the author would often mix first and third person narrative within a paragraph.  The story is written in the third person but Joe often thinks in the first person.  This was quite clunky and distracting, and a good editor would have ironed out that error.

One final niggle is to do with the story, rather than the writing.  I enjoyed the story, but there was a very odd scene towards the end when Joe seems to gain some bizarre special power to multi-ejaculate which jarred a little with the contemporary setting.  It was a bit of a 'huh' moment in what had been an unusual but straightforward comedy about sexual kinks.

If you're looking for something fairly short and humourous to fill in gaps between longer books then this story could be just the ticket. I liked the characters and the situation was funny enough to make me laugh several times.  Raw Food gets a grade of 'Good' from me, but would be higher if the author irons out the mistakes and I shall keep an eye out from this new-to-me author in future.

Buy this book at Smashwords HERE or at Amazon HERE.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Review: Counterpoint: Dylan's Story by Ruth Sims

As many of you know I'm a fan of m/m historical romance so this book by Ruth Sims was very appealing.  It's not your typical romance, although it contains two romantic story lines, because it breaks some romantic conventions - something I think some readers may not like.  Instead it's a Victorian set drama about the creative life and frustrations of Dylan.

We first meet Dylan as a pupil at St Bede's where his inattentiveness in lessons and his compulsion to do nothing but compose music does not endear him to his tutors, especially when his compositions do not fit into musical canon.  After an incident with a stolen key, Dylan is sent home in disgrace only to be brought back when the music teacher has an accident.  One condition of Dylan being brought back to St Bede's is that he has extra lessons to make up for his poor results overall.  His tutor is Lawrence, who sees that Dylan is ahead of his time with his music and offers him quiet support along with the tuition.  When Lawrence realises that Dylan has fallen in love with him, and that he has feelings for Dylan too, Lawrence decides to leave St Bede's and move to Paris, only to meet Dylan there when the young man is taking his 'Grand Tour'.

There's was much to like about this story and hands down my favourite part was the way that the frustrations and difficulties of Dylan and his music was portrayed.  I'm not a huge fan of classical music but this is Dylan's passion and that shines through the plot of the story.  He's musically ahead of his time and as a result encounters nothing but indifference, criticism and downright contempt for what he is trying to do.  The story is set in the late 1800's and maybe if Dylan had been composing 30-40 years on, then he would have had significant acclaim for his work.  I liked that there is some comparison with what Dylan is doing and the Impressionist painters who were also reviled for the new techniques they were using in art.  Dylan begins the story as a hot headed and arrogant young man, certain that he is going to set the musical world on fire, and part of his development as a character is coming to terms with the fact that no-one understands what he is trying to do.  By the end he is still hot-headed and sure of his talent, but more resigned and mature.  He spends a great deal of the book seething with frustration at the actions of others, and the way he is constantly blocked or prevented from doing what he feels is musically the best thing.  The innate snobbery of the musical world also comes across strongly, and again leads to Dylan bashing heads with those who could possibly further his career.

In many ways I admired the tenacity of Dylan and his unwillingness to conform to what society and the musical world expected of him.  However, he's also very flawed as a character because in some ways he's just as blinkered as those who can't or won't understand his music.  At times his arrogance and self-centred attitude were not not most endearing qualities and his obliviousness to the opinions and feelings of others made him difficult to like on occasion.  This is where the character of Lawrence was so successful.  He balanced and soothed Dylan's brashness.  Lawrence is a loyal supporter of Dylan and loves him despite his flaws but he also isn't afraid to gently steer Dylan in the right direction when needed.  I liked Lawrence a great deal and he came across as caring and loving without being a pushover.

The story is divided into two parts, with part one ending with a shocking event which brought me to tears.  It's a different Dylan who emerges from this event.  He's less self centred and most of his frustrations are based on trying to get the musical world to accept a talented violinist, Geoffrey, who was born a Romany gypsy and therefore looked down on with disgust by society.  The character of Geoffrey gets a lot of page space towards the end of the book and I found him to be an interesting character. He's a much more generous person than Dylan, more caring and affectionate but he's also more fatalistic and at times very naive.  Despite this, I liked Geoffrey and was glad at the way things worked out for him.

One thing to say about this book is that it certainly puts you through the emotional wringer.  There were times when I wasn't sure I could continue as time and time again things went badly for the characters. It's to the author's credit that the story never tipped into melodrama, mainly because the story is so firmly grounded in the time period and therefore felt realistic. It all works out for Dylan at the end and I was left feeling happy for him and optimistic that things would continue to improve.

Overall this historical has a strong sense of setting - Paris in particular was depicted with loving care; flawed but realistic characters; an unusual musical theme and a story which takes you on a number of highs and lows. I greatly enjoyed it and was so engrossed I could hardly bear to put it down. I'm giving Counterpoint: Dylan's Story a grade of 'Excellent' and highly recommend it to all fans of historical romance.

Buy this book HERE.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Review: Music in the Midst of Desolation by Charlie Cochrane

It says on the cover of this book that it’s a twenty minute read. I think you’d have to have super-reading powers to read this story in that time. I consider myself to be a fairly speedy reader and it took me an hour! Also, please don’t be fooled by the naked men on the cover. This is a very chaste book and the only physical contact between the romantic pair is a cuddle on the sofa and a chaste kiss on the forehead. Don’t let that put you off though because this is a nicely written fantasy story with a great balance of drama and engaging dialogue.

The story begins with an introduction to Patrick. Taken out by a sniper bullet in the First World War, he’s spent the last 90 years in ‘HQ’ before being brought to Earth for a special mission. He finds himself teamed up with Billy, a veteran of the Iraq war who rather ingloriously got run over by a truck after leaving the army. Patrick and Billy are given the mission of making sure two men become lovers. Unfortunately for Billy one of these men is his grief stricken ex, and the other a man he hated with a passion.

Part of the fun of the story was in the pairing of Billy and Patrick. In some ways they are ideally suited as a pair of ex-soldiers and a few scenes where their training influences their actions in an almost identical fashion shows that not much has changed in terms of what makes a good soldier. This often made me smile, especially when the pair get to discuss tactics or reminisce on their time in the war. However, there are major differences too and Billy retains a very modern way of speaking and acting whereas Patrick is very much a man of the early twentieth century.

The story itself is one of overcoming grief, both for Rafe, Billy’s ex-lover, and for Billy who is fairly new to the afterlife and has yet to mourn for his lost Earthly life. The mission is hard for him because it involves letting Rafe go, and I particularly found the scenes where Billy has to come to terms with this loss poignant and touching. Patrick has had many years to acclimatise to life in HQ, so for him the book focusses on being back on Earth, in an Earthly body and all the problems that causes. I thought the author had done a good job in giving a vague idea of the muted emotions at HQ when compared to the stronger feelings of fear, sadness and joy that Patrick feels during the story. There are also some amusing touches to the setting, such as the fact that Earthly HQ has the perfect tea, coffee and sandwiches.

There is a romance sub-plot in the story, but its confined mostly to the end of the book and is more a comfortable slipping into past feelings than the bright sharpness of newly acquired feelings. It left me feeling warm and contented rather than excited and thrilled, but that’s no bad thing.

If I have any complaints it’s that once Patrick and Billy have completed their mission, Billy disappears from the story completely. Also we’re told the outcome of the mission rather than being shown. I felt a little cheated out of seeing Rafe get his second chance at love, although I understand this might have been too much for Billy to bear.

These were only minor niggles though in what was a charming short story. Charlie Cochrane always has a sly thread of humour running through her writing and that’s evident in this book too, even if the humour at times tips towards black. The tone of the story is generally quiet, but never drops into bleakness and the hopeful ending left me with a smile on my face. I highly recommend Music in the Midst of Desolation, with a grade of 'Excellent', to those looking for an unusual character based fantasy romance.

Buy this book HERE.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Review: The Usual Apocalypse by Christine Price

The Usual Apocalypse is a sort of sequel to In Darkness Bound. It follows the investigator for the shadowy institution known as the Society, Matthew, who was instrumental in rescuing the heroes from the previous book. This book begins with two important events for Matthew. Firstly, the death of a senior and well loved colleague leaves Matthew with a new case: He has to find her killer. In doing so he also uncovers things about his own past and those of some of his fellow agents which leads to complications that could endanger his own life. Secondly, Matthew finds the brother of Chris, one of the heroes from the last book, and reunites them. Brennan and Matthew begin a tentative relationship which threatens Matt's secure workaholic lifestyle.

Those readers who haven't read In Darkness Bound don't strictly need to read it before this book. There are things that tie them together. For example, in looking for the reason why his colleague was murdered Matt has to examine the contents of the case she was working on which happens to be an investigation into Dr Dalhousie, the woman who incarcerated the heroes from the previous book. Also, whilst we don't see Simon and Vance in this book, we do have some scenes between Brennan and Chris. In the end, I think my enjoyment of this book was helped by having read the previous book, but it still works as a stand-a-lone.

How well you like this book relies on the character of Matthew, because although we also get into Brennan's head (and a couple of other characters) he is the main narrator for the story. I did like him, despite his flaws. He's completely obsessed with his job, spending long hours in the office. Whilst this makes him damned good at what he does, it also means that he unconsciously pushes people away, making relationships difficult. At the beginning of the book, Matt's ex returns from a year's secondment to Paris and the pair are still smarting from the acrimonious break up. I thought it very clever that the author showed that both men were culpable in the break up, even as both deny fault. As well as being married to his job, Matthew is very good at using his job as a way of hiding away from things he doesn't want to think about. This made him, at times, a little frustrating but it was telling how as his relationship develops with Brennan so his job becomes less of a refuge for him. Matt's paranormal ability is that people are unable to lie to him, which made for some very amusing scenes, but you can also see that it's caused him a lot of hurt over the years. As the book progresses, we learn more and more about Matt and his past making him quite fascinating. The secrets that are revealed were very surprising and rather unique, making Matt one of the most unusual characters I've come across for some time.

Brennan therefore rather fades a little when placed side by side with Matt. He's got a magnetic personality and a paranormal ability to read minds and some telekinetic ability. He's an all round good guy who wants to make things work with Matt, and a determination to stop Matt from working himself into the ground. This made him very likeable but without the layers of complexity which make up Matt's character. That doesn't mean to say he's dull, he isn't, and in fact his more straightforward character worked well with Matt. The scenes with them together were a great mix of fiery heat and lovely romantic moments and overall the romance was a big hit with me.

As well as marvellous characterisation from both leads (and various secondary characters) the highlight of the book was the twisty, turny mystery plot which kept me on my toes. This was a mix of methodical, nose to the grindstone, dull investigative work - often done by the sharp tongued but adorable, Tate, who is one of the best female characters I've seen in an m/m book recently - and all out action/explosions/fights/kidnappings/general seat of your pants stuff. This gave the pace of the book a great mix of forward thrust in the action scenes and slower patches where the romance and world building tended to be developed. The secretive world of the Society is also explored, and we learn much about its turbulent history, as well as how the current leader fought and won the position. This showed that the paranormal world building was carefully planned and integrated into the story. I was very impressed.

I've been trying to think of a niggle to tell you about the story, but to be honest, I can't think of one. This alone should tell you how much I enjoyed this book!

I really feel like I've only touched the surface of what made this a five star read for me. I was captivated by the very first page, propelled through the story by great characters, a gripping story and a romance which had to be worked at. Those of you who love paranormal UF stories are in for a treat with this one and I highly recommend The Usual Apocalypse with a grade of 'Excellent'.

Buy this book HERE.