Saturday, September 4, 2010

Review of three debut m/m romances ~ by Caroline Stephens, Harper Fox and Wren Boudreau

Dance of Death by Caroline Stephens
Dreamspinner Press, August 2010

When FBI Agent Cole Stanton is assigned to a murder investigation, he’s shocked to discover he has a personal connection to it. Someone stabbed Russian ballerina Irina Markhov with an ornate dagger, and the prime suspect is Alexei Valchikovsky, principal dancer with the ballet… and Cole’s ex-lover.
It was Alexei’s mentor, Anton Stolin, who broke them up, and the man has secrets—secrets Cole suspects are connected to Irina’s murder. Cole’s gut instinct tells him Alexei’s murky past is intruding on the present, but neither expects the link between then and now to threaten their very lives.

*I received a review copy from the publisher*

This debut novella has an intriguing premise: former lovers meet again because of a murder investigation which one of them has to resolve and the other one is a suspect in. I admit I have a soft spot for m/m stories with a so called alpha hero hooking up with his opposite, the stereotypical non-alpha. In this case: the FBI agent and the ballet dancer. I especially like it when the stereotypes are not too obvious. Dance of Death does meet my requirements graciously. Both Cole and Alexei are well chosen and likeable main characters. Their interactions and smexy scenes were enjoyable and entertaining.

It’s where the secondary characters get involved that I lost some of my interest. Most importantly I had to suspend my disbelief in such a degree that it was hard for me to keep enjoying the story as much as I wanted to. The plot of the murder mystery got interwoven with the romance in such a unbelievable and somehow predictable way that I started to query Cole’s and Alexei’s previous break-up and the rekindling of their romance altogether. It was just too much.

Aside from the overdramatized plot Ms Stephens’ writing style was quite pleasant and her sexy scenes were absolutely hot, although the extended pages of foreplay perhaps would’ve been better suited for a full length novel than for this much shorter novella. In view of her passion for plotting and for writing sizzling love scenes I think Ms Stephens might excel in writing a novel more than in writing a novella. If she’s given the chance, I’d certainly want to read that future novel.
Although this wasn’t exactly a perfect debut as far as I’m concerned, it still was a nice, quick and hot read I spent some enjoyable hours with.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Author’s weblog
Buy Dance of Death here

Life After Joe by Harper Fox
Carina Press, May 2010

It's not the breaking up that kills you, it's the aftermath.
Ever since his longtime lover decided he'd seen the "heterosexual light," Matt's life has been in a nosedive. Six months of too many missed shifts at the hospital, too much booze, too many men. Matt knows he's on the verge of losing everything, but he's finding it hard to care.
Then Matt meets Aaron. He's gorgeous, intelligent and apparently not interested in being picked up. Still, even after seeing Matt at his worst, he doesn't turn away. Aaron's kindness and respect have Matt almost believing he's worth it-and that there could be life after Joe. But his newfound happiness is threatened when Matt begins to suspect Aaron is hiding something, or someone...

*I received a review copy from the publisher through Netgalley*

Matthew is having a hard time after his lifelong boyfriend Joe left him six months ago for a woman (hence the title). The beginning of the book shows his raw feelings and his out of control behavior involving drugs and alcohol abuse, which is a pretty intense start of the story enhanced by Harper Fox’s intensive writing style. Then Matt meets Aaron and things start to shift for the better for him.
I instantly loved this couple’s chemistry; they felt just right for each other. But Aaron has a secret of his own… Although I figured out what sort of secret it had to be before it was revealed, I still think this addition gave their story this little extra that I like in my romances. It made that not only Matt, who’s telling the story in first person point of view, but Aaron as well got more character depth.

For me the author’s writing style is one of the strong characteristics of this romance. Ms Harper is not afraid of using uncommon words and letting the reader think for himself. I’ve experienced the lack of explanation as refreshing. In that sense her writing was quite literary, especially for a debut.
Another characteristic that I enjoyed was the pace, which was high. For example after the ex-boyfriend Joe made his physical appearance I felt as if I suddenly was in the middle of a highly dramatic filmset-like action scene, altogether with an explosive outcome. Even while Joe’s role was just a small one its impact was big; it brought a whole new dynamic to Matt and Aaron’s relationship.

The high paced plot and the intense emotional parts of this story kept me reading and made me forget my surroundings. The love scenes played a part in that. They were hot enough and far from predictable but perhaps could’ve been more detailed (for my taste). Many times they were just mentioned, instead of shown, and I happen to be a big fan of the showing. In detail. Although I’m willing to admit that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, because the ‘mentioning instead of showing’ kept the pace high as well.
All in all, this debut novel had me glued to my seat for a few hours in a row. Its compelling and moving love story is making me look forward to Ms Harper’s second book, Driftwood, that I immediately purchased when it came out a few weeks ago.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Author’s website
Buy Life After Joe here


Ice Cream on the Side by Wren Boudreau
Loose Id, December 2009

Dylan Forest is really pretty happy. He's a successful architect, lives in a great little town, and has good friends. More than ten years ago, Dylan's first boyfriend betrayed him. Since then he’s learned to appreciate men briefly and intensely, with no lingering complications. But Dylan finds himself wanting something more with Michael Gilmore, the new art teacher in town.
Michael moved to Raven Pass to get away after a bad break-up. He just wants to teach and he's got an exhibit of his own work coming up. He doesn't expect to find himself attracted to anyone just yet. He has to give up his fear so he can explore a possible relationship with Dylan.
The guys manage to get past their insecurities and into bed, where they find out just how compatible they are. Before their romance gains momentum; however, life gets complicated. An old dead body and a new murder are both connected to Dylan’s love life, and if the guys can't stop it Michael will be next.

*Kris of Kris'n'GoodBooks recommended this book to me*

First let me say that I truly regret that I left this debut for so long on my ereader without reading it. But at the same time I’m happy to have read it now, in my vacation, because it added to my vacay contentment. But don’t be fooled by the title (or cover). It’s not a light, fluffy vacation read, although the ‘ice cream’ probably triggered me to pick it up while I was on the beach. ;)
This book actually has more layers than I expected. It’s an excellent romance with a touch of mystery and suspense added. And the role that art played in this story was beautiful; it wasn’t just a prop but more meaningful than that.

Dylan and Michael are well-portrayed, wonderful main characters and they make for great, droolworthy book boyfriend material (as far as I’m concerned). I loved the tender and hot moments between them. Especially the kissing scenes were fabulous, but also the hint (nothing more) of kink/submission made me alternately melt and combust.
The suspense and mystery are nicely interwoven with the romance between these lovely guys. The identity of the murderer came as a surprise to me. The mystery part of this story was actually done very well and added to the relationship development, which was a nice bonus.

I was kinda sad when the story ended – when the mystery was resolved – because I would’ve loved to spend some more time with these two hotties, to taste a bit more of their sexy chemistry and to wallow in their happily ever after for a little while longer. That's just greedy me speaking, I admit it, because it's not that Ms Boudreau didn't offer enough of the sexy, happy times and hotness. The contrary. It's her skill to write good scenes that makes me want more.
As far as I know there isn’t a second book from this author out yet, but I sure hope there will be one soon.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Author’s weblog
Buy Ice Cream on the Side here



  1. Nice reviews. I've been meaning to get to Life After Joe. I'll have to do that soon.

  2. Isn't Wren's book good? I need to reread it sometime.

    I liked Life After Joe, too, although it took me a little bit to get pulled into her style - after I did, it was absolutely wonderful!

  3. I really did enjoy Wren's book and I have Life After Joe in my TBR. I've heard very good things about it. I might pass on the first one for now since I have tons to read. Great job.

  4. Hi Janna and thanks for your lovely review!

    I do have a new book coming out October 5 from Loose Id, called "Back To Normal."

    Thanks, Chris and Tam, for the bumps! :)

  5. @FV: Thanks :) It's a nice, quick read, I think you'll enjoy it!

    @Chris: Again we agree! :D You know I don't reread many books, but I would reread Wren's book for the excellent kissing scenes alone!

    @Tam: I'm curious what you'll think of Life After Joe, Tam! The first book is only a novella so it won't take much of your time. ;)

    @Wren: Thanks for stopping by at my place, Wren! That's wonderful news, I'll mark that release date in my dairy and I promise I won't leave it for ages on my tbr shelf. ;D

  6. A lot of reviews today :) And I who should, well first of all be sleeping, and really I should have cleaned up the flat ;) But hey this is more fun

  7. Iya..I love the new hottie of the moment Janna!! Hey try this, it's a free read on lissa matthews site..

    And lookee, my lp let me leave comment!!! YAYS! XD

  8. I loved Ice Cream On the Side! It was a great story.
    Life After Joe is on my eReader and I'm looking forward to it.
    I passed on the first one when I first saw it. Just didn't appeal to me.

    Great reviews! :)

  9. Janna,
    Not that I >want< you to wait to read anything, but it was kind of cool to see this now that the book's been out a while. ;)

  10. OMG,

    I got side tracked by the best eye candy... I've totally forgotten what I was going to say...I need a cold shower.


  11. Janna, I'm so glad you liked Wren's book as much as I did. I'm really looking forward to her newbie too. :)

  12. All the books sound interesting, but I have to admit Life After Joe intrigues me more.

    The Romance Reviews

  13. @Blodeuedd: I'm still catching up with my reviews after all the reading I did in my vacation :) Argh, cleaning the flat is no fun at all, you better bloghop! :D

    @Redd: Glad you like him and that your lp is letting you visit me again!! :D And thanks for the link to the free read!

    @Lily: Although they're completely different stories, I think you'll enjoy Life After Joe as much as Ice Cream on the Side, Lily! Thanks. :)

    @Wren: pfew, I'm glad about that! :) I'm always full of good intentions but at the same time my tbr is huge... You know how it is. *sigh*

    @Hawk: What, those hotties? They're getting old. ;D

    @Kris: You and me both! Thanks so much for rec'ing it to me, Kris! :D

    @Carole: I take it you like a bit of angst and drama in your romances, right? Life After Joe gives you plenty of that, hon! :)

  14. These reviews are fantastic Janna! I've only heard of Life After Joe, which I may have to put on my TBR. It seems to be doing well at Carina. But, I'll need to look into the others as well! Thanks for the info.!

  15. Lovely reviews - thank you Jann! I have both Life After Joe and Ice Cream On The Side on my radar :) Dance of Death sounds interesting...I like the dance angle :)

  16. @Tanya: I'm curious what you would think of Life After Joe, Tanya. I've heard different opinions about Harper Fox's writing style. I'd love to hear your thoughts! :)

    @orannia: You'll enjoy the first two, I'm sure! :) I actually thought of you when reading about the ballet dancer! :D

  17. I really need to read that first one - I love books that have dance, music or some media/art creativity as part of the backdrop..

    Thanks for the heads up - I also liked wren's book, Alot..


  18. @EH: Yeah, the dance element drew me in too! I hope you'll enjoy it, hon. :)


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