Monday, January 30, 2012

Sharon’s Review: To Adam With Love by Adrienne Wilder

Adrienne Wilder
To Adam With Love (Gray Zone, #1)
Dreamspinner Press, August 28, 2011

Links: Author’s website | Goodreads | Buy book here

Adam's mother brought him as a child to the Gray Zone, the no man's land between the crumbling city and the Dens where the Kin-the Dragons-and Lesser-Breds-their mixed-blood-offspring-live. He was different, not completely Human, and she knew fear and prejudice would drive people to do horrible things... like a father trying to kill his son. Five years later, Adam's father is behind bars and Adam has come home to the Zone, the last place anyone would expect innocence, loyalty, and devotion, to complete his becoming Lesser-Bred and find his best friend and only love, Ean.
But Ean has a life of his own. He's always wanted to belong to Batu, the Male Kin who has watched over him since childhood, but now Ean's caught in a deadly trap of biology and vengeance: he isn't enough to feed his beloved Adam during the dangerous transformation, and Kin won't allow an emotional bond in their midst. Years ago Ean lost Adam after failing to keep him safe. Now that Adam is back, will a simple feeling give Ean the strength to defy everything he's ever known and keep them together?

Genre & Keywords:
M/M Romance, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Dragons, Shifters,

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 3 out of 3

Reviewed by SharonS.:

What an emotionally powerful story. I am a big fan of dark Urban Fantasy/PNR and this definitely fits that genre. The story is about the love and loyalty between two best friends who come from different worlds and the brutal choices they are willing to make to be together. I was also taken with the sweet innocence as they discover the physical and emotional bond between them.

Kin are not human. They are dragons who can look human and live by their own set of brutal laws. In their society you take care of what is yours and only keep what you need. There is no concept of love, just taking care of the ‘need’. Kin need to “feed”, with blood or sex, and by taking a metaphysical energy during these feedings.
Lesser-Bred are the offspring of a Kin and a human woman. They are born human, but eventually the Kin side will surface and without the help of other male Kin the Lesser-Bred will die.

Adam grew up in the Gray Zone because his mother knew he would become Lesser-Bred. As a child he befriended Ean. Ean is human, but for some reason has been raised by Batu, a Kin. Ean has only ever known the way of Kin which means he never learned to read or write and is waiting for the day Batu will make him ‘belong’, which means he will live for centuries and be able to ‘feed’ Batu. His human feelings were never nurtured.
I fell in love with Adam and Ean as they struggled to understand each others world. Ean’s struggle to put words he didn’t know to the feelings Adam awakened in him. There is brilliant layering of emotions from all the characters and the last line of the book brought tears to my eyes.

I don’t normally talk about the structure of a story, but the author’s use of flashbacks and secondary characters to help with the world building was genius. At no time was there the info dump that plagues many UFs. The character Brian, who is in love with Adam, gives us insight into how the human world views the Kin society. He also represents the normal life Adam has been denied because he is a Lesser-Bred, and the tragic consequences when the two worlds mix. The only other Lesser-Bred we meet in this story is Jerry. He lives with Batu and Ean. We only get a few scenes with him, but we learn so much about the life of the Lesser-Breds through him.
The story takes place when Adam comes back after a 5 year absence (he is an adult now) from the Gray Zone. The author uses well placed flashbacks to catch us up on Adam and Ean’s story as well as more world building. For someone who reads a lot of UF, I was impressed with Wilder’s writing skills.

I am a little disappointed with the cover art choice for this book. It doesn’t even begin to convey the dark edge of this story. I don’t know if you will be as taken with this story as I was, since I love dark Urban Fantasy/PNR, but I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sharon’s Review: Valiant One by Jay Hughes

Jay Hughes
Valiant One
Ellora`s Cave/Jasmine Jade, September 30, 2011

Links: Author’s website | Goodreads | Buy book here

Ragnar, a hardened Scottish soldier, is indifferent to English rule of his homeland until he falls in love with Gylis McIvoy, a fellow Scotsman. They have a brief and passionate affair, but circumstances tear them apart permanently. Ragnar swears vengeance, and soon becomes a freedom fighter modeled on the recently captured and executed William Wallace.
Ragnar manages to raise a ragtag army that rains terror down on Longshanks' occupying forces, but in the process, he has a chance meeting with the king's son, Prince Edward of Wales. Sparks fly between them despite the impossibility of an English prince taking a Scottish enemy soldier as his lover-giving new meaning to "the love that dare not speak its name". These two star-crossed lovers may cross swords on the battlefield by day, but they still manage to heat up the night.

Genre & Keywords:
M/M Romance, Historical, Scotland, Battle strategies, Politics of Feudal England, Prince, Soldier

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 1 out of 3

Reviewed by SharonS.:

I was disappointed with this story. Maybe because I was expecting something different. There isn’t much romance and the sex wasn’t…sexy. The author spends most of the story talking about battle strategies and the politics of Feudal England. There are too many secondary characters and subplots for a story of this length (novella). The author wanted to impress upon the reader that the Scots are fierce fighters and proud people. But it was mentioned so much it became a distraction to me.

The story of how Ragnar met his first love Gylis is told as a flashback. They met in a pub and talked. Then realized they had a connection and walked into the woods holding hands. Ragnar, a virgin, ends up the bottom and decides that this is what has been missing from his life and this must be love. Just didn’t ring true for me. I thought the story would be about Ragnar and the young Prince Edward, but they spent very little time together in the story, yet fell in love. I just didn’t buy it. I didn’t feel any passion between the characters.

The author obviously did a lot of research about the thirteenth century and put a lot of work into the story so it surprised me when the characters kept referring to the guerilla warfare of the Scots. That phrase didn’t appear until the 1800’s.

I am not sure what audience would enjoy this story. It didn’t work for me.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sharon’s Review: Sticks & Stones by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux
Sticks & Stones (Cut & Run #2)
Dreamspinner Press, January 25, 2010

Links: Abigail Roux’s website | Madeleine Urban’s website | Goodreads | Buy book here

Six months after nearly losing their lives to a serial killer in New York City, FBI Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are suffering through something almost as frightening: the monotony of desk duty. When they're ordered to take a vacation for the good of everyone's sanity, Ty bites the bullet and takes Zane home with him to West Virginia, hoping the peace and quiet of the mountains will give them the chance to explore the explosive attraction they've so far been unable to reconcile with their professional partnership.
Ty and Zane, along with Ty's father and brother, head up into the Appalachian mountains for a nice, relaxing hike deep into the woods... where no one will hear them scream. They find themselves facing danger from all directions: unpredictable weather, the unrelenting mountains, wild animals, fellow hikers with nothing to lose, and the most terrifying challenge of all. Each other.

Genre & Keywords:
M/M Romance, Contemporary, Suspense, Agents, FBI, Action, West Virginia, Mountains

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 2 out of 3

Reviewed by SharonS.:

Sticks & Stones has been out for a while and there are 968 ratings and 130 reviews of it on Goodreads. There isn’t much I can say about it that hasn’t been said already, but I am working my way through this fabulous series and maybe I can convince you to check it out if you haven’t read it yet.

This book picks up right after the traumatic events of book #1: Cut & Run. The first book was all about the action and suspense of the clever story line as well as the fiery passion that flares between Zane Garrett and Ty Grady. We learned a little about both men’s pasts, but the focus was on who they are now and the case they had to solve.

In book #2 Zane is still recovering emotionally from the last case and is forced to take a vacation. Ty invites him to tag along on his visit to his parents in the mountains. They are both struggling with the unfamiliar and somewhat unwanted feelings that are developing between them. Their relationship has been more of a physical one up to this point, but things are beginning to change. Though, Ty seems to be dealing with it better than Zane. What I loved most about this book is we got to learn about Ty’s past and how it made him into who he is today. We meet his strong and loving mother, his hard to please father and his funny and caring brother. Of course their relaxing camping trip turns into more of a bad horror movie when they run across some treasure hunters willing to kill to protect their secret.

Ty and Zane are forced to confront some of their fears and feelings for each other and there were some truly tender moments for these emotionally guarded men. My heart goes out to Ty as we learn he has never been in love before and is scared. He thinks Zane will never be able to return those feelings because he still loves his late wife. Lucky for Ty, his brother helps him deal with things. Zane on the other hand doesn’t have someone to confide in, even though he does start to open up to Ty’s brother too. Zane is just flat out terrified to love again after losing his wife. He has turned that part of himself off and I just hope he can find the courage to open himself up to what Ty is offering. I have a feeling I will be needing some hankies before this series is over.

The story ends with a happy for now ending as Ty cautiously reaches out to Zane. I can’t get enough of these two men! I am waiting for the first “I love you”. I have a feeling it will be Ty saying it and I can’t even imagine Zane’s reaction. I already have the next book Fish & Chips and can’t wait to find out!

If you haven’t read this series yet, you are missing out on a fabulous love story that will capture your heart as you watch it slowly develop. I can’t wait to read the next book(s) in the series.

The series so far:
#1 Cut & Run
#2 Sticks & Stones
#3 Fish & Chips
#4 Divide & Conquer

Friday, January 20, 2012

Happy Gay Friday & My 3 Favorite Pastimes

Thanks to my Queer As Folk addiction that started a few months ago, I've discovered the wonderful (and sometimes awful) world of fan fiction. There are thousands and thousands of stories out there on websites dedicated to fan fiction about the characters of QAF alone. So, while I was partly incapacitated because of the lower back pain I not only rewatched all 5 seasons but also spent some time catching up with all the Brian and Justin fanfic stories I saved to my Instapaper. It was the perfect way to make the forced rest time in my internetless bedroom slightly bearable.

I've especially enjoyed an elaborate series of 'post 5.13' episodes called 'After the End (aka 514-526)' by Rachael (bloodyrose82) that give a longer and different ending to Justin and Brian's love story. The episodes start here (at the bottom is the link for the next episode, and so on). 
It took me some time to get used to the narrator's voice, which tells the stories not in first or third person but in second: Brian and Justin are 'you' during their alternating POV's. It's quite intriguing. And I think the author managed to stay very close to Brian and Justin's personalities as created in the show.

There are more QAF fanfic stories that I really liked, yet there are still so much more to discover. Here are few links to sites that have nice collections:

Aside from the fanfic there were a couple of books that kept me from going insane all alone in my bedroom. I mainly picked books that didn't need to get reviewed per se, because sitting up to type was a PITA. And I happened to choose some fabulous books. One of them was AL Turner's I Just Play One On TV. This is not such a surprising choice in the light of my QAF obsession, because like the title says, it's about a couple of actors playing together in a TV show and falling in love. Their roles on screen have a gay subtext and in real life one of the actors is a deeply closeted gay while the other one is kind of openly gay. This book surprised me with its depth and intensity. I loved it and I appreciated that it never became predictable. I have to thank Mariana from Hips Like Mine for making me get this book after I read this post of her.

No matter how much I enjoyed myself with QAF, fanfic and good books during the first weeks of the new year, I'm really glad to be pain free and able to move again.
The lazy watching and reading is fun for a short period of time but gets old very fast, especially when it's not voluntarily and during busy times at work. Did you know that you can feel stressed while doing nothing? Well, you can, when you think about all the work that's waiting for you when you finally get back to the office, knowing that it only gets worse the longer you stay away. And now that I’m working again I’m even more stressed than before because I can’t seem to get a grip on my work and I ended up staying way too long at the office the entire week.

So, what a way to start 2012, right? Thank goodness for sweet hubbies to bring change. Mine takes me away for the weekend to Bruges (Belgium). We're going to relax, enjoy each other and quietly celebrate my Birthday together. He perfectly sensed that I was not up for a house full of guests to remember me of my age, and he booked this nice weekend away for the two of us. After a few weeks of mishap I can finally say that I'm in my happy place again!

Happy Gay Friday everyone!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Double review: Apples and Regret and Wasted Time by Cornelia Grey

Cornelia Grey
Apples and Regret and Wasted Time
Storm Moon Press, May 27, 2011

Links: Author’s website | Goodreads | Buy book here

He lives in the shadows of the law. Now, wounded and stranded in the city after a job only he could do, he has no qualms about climbing through the window his old lover left open—or stealing his shampoo, at that. He has, however, not taken into account the possibility of being surprised in the shower. Three years is a long time to go between visits, especially if you've left so much anger and hurt and desire unresolved. They try to negotiate a truce for one night—over Chinese takeaway leftovers and apples, and between the sheets.

Genre & Keywords:
M/M Romance, Contemporary, Assassin, Cop, No HEA

Reviewed by SharonS. and Janna:

Sharon’s thoughts:

This was an interesting and bittersweet read. It is written in the first person POV of an assassin who has just finished a job and ends up sneaking into an open window of an old lover. We are never given the names of the two men. This adds an extra layer to the hopelessness of their situation. They obviously care for one another, but because of their professions they can’t be together. They have angry sex at first then settle into the tender habits of what they had. This is well written and moving.

Now I will give my two cents about short stories. I personally think short stories belong in anthologies. I just can’t justify paying $1.99 for an 8 ½ page story. If the author had bundled maybe 3 of their short stories for this price, I would say it was well worth it. Since this is just my opinion I didn’t factor this into my rating of the story.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 2 out of 3

My thoughts:

In the case of this specific story I don't agree with Sharon about the story not being worth its money. This one is written so well that I would happily have paid even more for it. I think I'll reread this story many times in the future, to enjoy the skillful way it's written and narrated. There's a world of information behind each sentence, nearly behind each word.

As Sharon said, the story is told in first person POV from an assassin's perspective, which I found rather interesting and particularly well done. I don't think we learn the assassin's name, nor that of his lover, a cop. With the first sentences we're dropped in the middle of the action and only in bits and pieces we get a better picture of what's going on.

The encounter between the former lovers is such a beautiful display of the ‘showing' (instead of 'telling’) technique. Through their actions and activities we get presented many gradations of emotions and feelings, and we get to know their personalities and to understand their irreconcilable differences. And meanwhile the author succeeds in convincing me of their profound love for each other, while it's completely evident that a HEA is not a possibility. And how much I would've liked to see them find their happiness, it wouldn't have been an appropriate ending for Apples and Regret and Wasted Time.

I hadn't heard of this author before, but this story has impressed me enough to keep my eye open for other titles by her. I definitely want to read more of her work.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 2 out of 3

Monday, January 16, 2012

Lis’ Review: Office Hours by Sean Michael

Sean Michael
Office Hours
Amber Allure, November 20, 2011

Links: Author’s website | Goodreads | Buy book here

Thad Wells has had enough of lovers. He's focused on his career—hell, that's hard enough, being a young professor fighting for his spot—so when he, literally, runs into Jay Banner on the green, he finds himself saying, "No, no, he's not interested," even as his body's saying, "Yes."
Jay Banner, on the other hand, knows exactly what he wants and knows how to get it. He also knows someone's hurt Thad—and not in the fun, spanky way Jay does when he wears his leathers—and he's determined to get closer to the hot professor.
Things heat up between them, but they both have secrets, and no amount of book-learning can educate two men who might have outsmarted themselves.

Genre & Keywords:
M/M Romance, Contemporary, Professor, Students, D/s play, Spanking, Nipple play, Stalker

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 3 out of 3

Reviewed by Lis:

Office Hours is a vintage Sean Michael story. It reminded me a lot of Little Jamie. Not so much story wise as because of the sweet nature of the ‘dom’ in question, though this is hardly a hardcore BDSM story.

The Characters
This story revolves around English professor Thad Wells and PhD Student/TA Jay Banner who literally bump into each other at uni. Thad is a jaded man, wronged in the past and severely bullied about his looks, he worked hard to get where he is now and doesn’t care about the world at large. He’s known as a hardass to his students, but fair. He’s not looking for love when he meets Jay.

Jay, on the other hand, is positive, has a strong feeling of justice, is nothing if not stubborn and persistent. He knows what he wants and doesn’t beat around the bush. And what Jay wants is Thad. From the first moment they meet.

The Story
The plot of Office Hours is nothing extended, but not light either. It focusses on Thad and Jay and the obstacles they have to get past while they get to know each other better. Centered in this story are secrets and the keeping of them and the fallout after they are revealed. Of course there are several hot, spanky, smexing scenes that will set your e-reader on fire. I love how this author is always very creative with the sex scenes. Even if the story itself lacks – which is not the case with Office Hours – the scenes are hot enough to melt you in a puddle of goo.

While the plot itself is not terribly original, it’s not badly done either. I liked how Thad and Jay are portrayed and there is no real ‘big misunderstanding’. The conflict in this story is believable.

However, what did bug me a little was the easy use of the stalker trope. Thad mentions his past with his ex several times throughout the story, but never really elaborates on it. Nor does he mention ever being stalked by his ex, but he does have a restraining order out on him. Therefore when Thad’s ex does emerge it’s a bit of “DOH” mixed with “WTF?” However, the stalker theme is used to draw both Thad and Jay out of their secretive shells, therefore I didn’t mind so much.

The Writing
Sean Michael has a typical and recognizable style of writing. Those of you who’ve read other books by Sean Michael know what I’m talking about. There is lots of use of fragments and short exclamations by the characters. It returns in all of this author’s books to some extent. When reading this, it’s very recognizable. This is a style of writing you’ll either like or you don’t. In the more romantic stories by this author it fits very well and I found it very cute in Office Hours.

Office Hours is a likable story. The BDSM theme is not present in a hardcore manner. There aren’t really scenes in this story, but the characters do play. This I liked very much. There are many books where the BDSM theme is used in its typical way of scenes in clubs or at home or playrooms, but there are few books where the characters just play. So if you’re looking for a hardcore BDSM book, you’ll have to browse other books by this author (and trust me, this author has some hardcore BDSM stories). If you’re looking for a sweet story where a jaded main character is courted by a sweet, positive, stubborn man, than Office Hours is for you!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy 2012 & A short break

I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year's Eve and a good start of 2012! May this year be better than last year and may all your dreams come true.

My new year starts slow and I have to take a short break from blogging because I can't sit much longer than 15-30 minutes in a row because of lower back pain. But I hope to be back soon.
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