Friday, December 24, 2010

The Match Before Christmas by Eden Winters

Candlelight, mistletoe, gaily wrapped packages beneath a trimmed tree, and someone to share it with. That’s all contractor Barry Richards wants for Christmas. Desperate for a traditional holiday, he takes drastic measures. Creating a profile on “,” he hopes to find the perfect man in a matter of weeks. When one date after another goes sour, while all around him friends are falling in love, he starts to lose faith.

The first snows begin to fall and the world is filled with seasonal cheer, all except for Barry, for whom time is running out. Facing the prospect of a lonely holiday, he tries just once more to make The Match Before Christmas.


Oh, poor Barry. All he wants is someone fabulous to be with, now, always, at the holidays, and he's having so much luck finding that wonderful man that he tries an internet dating site. Blinded by the hype, Barry sets off on one dating misadventure after the next. There are so many toads that want to be kissed.

Anyone who's spent any time in the dating pool will relate to Barry's awful evenings -- there are some LOL moments, and face covering moments, and when hope has nearly died of experience, someone who beats Barry's revised expectations (it's gotten all the way down to 'someone he can stand to spend a second date with') emails him. And after that, it's hopeful and all you can do is hold your breath that it isn't Barry who screws it all up this time.

This story taps right into our collective dating experience and our hopes, and fulfills them, even for those of us still waiting for the fateful email of love. It's a Christmas story only because that's such a potent deadline -- this one is a sweet year-round re-read.

Buy here.

The review copy was very kindly provided by the author, who did herself out of a sale because she's auto-buy for me, so I'm going to buy it as a gift for friends.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Army Green by J Rocci

Army Green
Evan Miller and Cam Jackson have run Glenhaven Farm together on behalf of Evan's grandparents for the past couple years, giving the farm everything they have to make it a success. But when Evan’s old commanding officer asks for Evan’s help with the wild child of their squad, Evan and Cam don’t hesitate to find a place for Reo at Glenhaven. Reo is a city boy with a penchant for trouble, and he stirs up more dust than expected. Reo’s behavior -- and Evan ignoring it -- causes Cam to confront issues he hasn't been able to verbalize until now.

Evan has been juggling a whole set of worries, though, and they take their toll on his health. When he ends up in the hospital, it's up to Cam and the rest of Glenhaven to make sure he follows his doctor's orders.

Featuring the boys from the Torquere Press Single Shot "Taction.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
This slice of life story grew on me, from an initial reaction of foot-tapping to ah, let the relationships bloom. While I’ve jumped in on the second in a series (eyes wallet, need to buy more books) I didn’t feel lost with Cam and Evan, who clearly had a long-standing and still evolving relationship. Reo, from Evan’s past in the military, stir up a lot of feelings and aggravation, but is a very engaging character, and makes Cam think.

Reo also makes Derrick, the nineteen year old Hooligan and stable hand think, and the two stories are very entwined. The point of view, although it seems to ooze back and forth sometimes between Cam and Evan, does spend about a third of the story with Derrick, and that makes his storyline real important. He’s attracted to Reo, and doesn’t know what to do about it. That’s kind of cute but it’s way incomplete.

So, it smells like sequel-bait, and while I love followon stories, I still feel like instead of getting two complete story lines, I’m getting about one and a half in this book, and that is a lot less satisfying. Any sequel would have to back up a bit to get these two introduced, so how bad would a hug and a kiss have spoiled anything? If we’d only watched these two through Evan’s eyes, leaving it incomplete would be a whole different matter, because he sure wouldn’t be watching their first gropes or thinking Derrick’s thoughts.

The cast of dozens introduced before page twenty also added to a bit of dissatisfaction, because while most of them had something to do with either backstory or running the stables, they didn’t have a lot to do with the story lines, except they all seemed so important that I had to remember them for the whole book. If Ostie’s kid had shown up at the picnic to play his tuba, that might have made recalling all those details worthwhile, but he’s never seen or heard of again and he's one of several flash in the pan characters.

The real strength of this book is Evan and Cam together, and I’d like to see more of them.

Buy here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

And Is Never Shaken by Alexi Silversmith

And Is Never ShakenCassian Ford is a successful writer in his forties, established at the local university. Andy Havers is a book restorer in his early twenties who just moved to town. They have nothing in common, and yet somehow everywhere they go, they seem to run into each other. Despite a bumpy beginning—an exasperated Cassian accuses Andy of being a stalker—the gap in age, and their many other differences, a passionate romance develops between them. But just when Andy is convinced he's found true love, secrets from Cassian's past erupt into the present, and Andy realizes it might not be him Cassian wants at all....

So many elements of this story piled on top of each other to make this a really good read. The same very things that brought Andy and Cassian together could drive them apart if they allowed it, which is a great trick, not often done right. The music and the quotes, some was new to me, some was familiar, added depth to the story. Watching Cassian return to life in Andy’s company, then seeing how it could possibly all go wrong, kept me turning pages.

This was a May/December story that really worked, and couldn’t have happened if Cassian hadn’t had some heartbreak in his past. I like that, when a story absolutely requires a character to be in it or else be different. Andy and Cassian had a lot to work through to become a couple, and it all might have gone more smoothly had they listened to each other better, but then, Andy’s youth and impetuous nature made that difficult, and again, nothing would have been the same without that. Win x 2.

The sex was sweet, but with a couple of weird assumptions, about who does what and what that means the receiving partner does, or doesn’t do.

What I especially loved about this was that Cassian’s erudition was an important part of the story -- and that Andy was well rounded enough to recognize and respond to things that were important to his lover. He didn’t just tell Cassian, “Turn off that irritating piano piece!” but could say, “Gnossienne #1 has always made me sad.” In a genre that contains a lot of characters more obviously sexy than academics, that’s refreshing. The author pays us readers a compliment, too, by assuming that we can either recognize Shakespearean sonnets or figure it out.

This was another story good enough to send me in search of more information. I recognized some of the pieces (Pam Singer played Meditation from Thais for me) but I didn’t understand why Gnossienne #1 made Andy so sad, until I listened to it. To save you the trouble, here’s a link to a good version.

Buy here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Black Leather by Vic Winters

Black LeatherTwo years ago, the lead singer for Axel Grind died of a drug overdose. Now, the label has brought the band back together and given them a new lead singer -- a young hot shot named Ricky. Ray, the band's lead guitarist and the man who writes most of their songs, has been given the task of being Ricky's babysitter. If anything goes wrong, it'll all be on Ray.

With a lead singer who has enough stage fright that he's puking before the show, and three original band members who resent the hell out of the new kid, what could possibly go wrong? Add in Ray's attraction for Ricky and he figures it's only a matter of time because things get messed up. In the meantime, Ray's going to ride the high performing brings him for as long as he can and maybe find a little love while he's at it.
In twenty-six pages, Vic Winters turns broken dreams, lost love, and substitute singers into some real magic. Ricky, who’se never fronted a band before, has replaced the previous lead singer, dead of all the classic rock star excesses, and he’s now Ray’s responsibility. While we’re seeing the evolution from Ray’s eyes, it’s Ricky who changes the most, starting out with a nasty bravado that’s hiding some real vulnerabilities, and becoming both a rock star and a really decent person to have around. This story is a look at dreams crushed and revived, and some dreams that work out better than the dreamer could imagine.

The language is rough, gritty, and perfect for Ray, who has a very direct way of looking at the world, and lets us share his joy in his music, his band, and Ricky. That joy is a while in coming -- Ricky's got to get to the right headspace too.

Buy here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Change of Tune by JM Cartwright

A Change of TuneA Change of Tune by JM Cartwright

Johnny Rayne has had enough - enough of being at the top of the rock music industry for the last decade, enough of constant touring and recording. He wants something more -- just something very different. Moving to a farm in West Virginia, Johnny meets Sheriff Virgil Grissom on his first morning in the mountains.

The sheriff challenges Johnny in a multitude of ways - with overt machismo, disdain for Johnny's musician past, and all-around know-it-all-ness. The two men clash continually, and Johnny resists succumbing to the sheriff's brash charm until Grissom forces him to admit some very basic truths. One: Johnny's definitely attracted to men. Two: Johnny's definitely attracted to Grissom. And three: Johnny's definitely going to enjoy every moment of it.

The logic-fail at the very beginning of the book should have warned me. Johnny Rayne, front man for the band, and the brains of the business operations, doesn't understand why his one-sided decision to leave doesn't go over so well. He's shocked the rest of the band resents having their artistic and financial futures thrown into doubt so he can go find himself.

So buying a house he's never seen in a place he's never been makes relative sense. Especially when he's coming to terms with his sexuality, going to an area not known for tolerance and understanding of such things is going to work out fine, because this chunk of West Virginia is really a suburb of San Francisco. The cover says so, those are "painted ladies" in the background.

Everyone thinks gay couples are cute, an openly gay sheriff has no problem with his staff or anyone else, although he allows there might be one or two grouches up in the hills. And he takes Johnny from m/m virgin to fisting in less than a month.

The part of the story that isn't directly sexual exists only in flashes through the first two hundred pages, and after that it's still thin. Johnny came to the country with adopting a family on the mind, so the sheriff thoughtfully provides him with not one but two kids. Grissom treats getting kids with roughly the same importance as getting kittens, and it's not much harder, either, when the judge thinks two months of sex equals stable relationship.

Issues are introduced and then dropped, the author makes a big deal about the Sheriff's name, Virgil Grissom, being the same as the astronaut's, but nothing further ever comes of that. An escaped prisoner plot fizzles out before page eighty, and the prisoner never does anything desperate, he gets talked about a couple times. Johnny's a good enough musician to coach a local into Julliard, but that gets a handful of paragraphs and shows mostly that he's a good guy.

The language is probably the strongest point, it's fluid enough to lull you along into not noticing what's really going on for pages and pages. Until you run into yet another use of the Lord's name that isn't capitalized. I got so mad at this that I stopped reading and started counting, and got to 40 before I gave up, and there was still a half a book. "Blondie" is apparently important enough to capitalize, but 'god' is not. The nickname vs name issue in another story by this author is here too, it's a plot point, but annoying.

In short, there's no conflict. It's all happy happy, get comfy with gay sex, laugh at grown men learning to change diapers. If you want an extremely undemanding read with lots of sex, you'll like this, it's erotica, with babies and doggies and kitties and old ladies on the side. If you're expecting an honest-to-God story, you'll be as disappointed as me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rainbow Awards

One of my favorite reviewers, Elisa Rolle, has been working very hard to narrow down a huge number of good reads to a small handful of really outstanding stories, distracting us along the way with the cover contest. (WOW did I love looking at some of those covers every time I went to vote.) Results are in.

The entire list of winners is here at Elisa's LJ blog but I hope she won't mind the signal boost. Because there are three categories that are really close to my heart.

Best Gay Contemporary Romance:
1) Sloan Parker - More
2) Marie Sexton - Strawberries for Dessert
3) Eden Winters - The Wish

And if you click on that link at Elisa's, you'll Eden's other book, The Angel of Thirteenth Street, was Honorable Mention in this same category, so two books in the top ten!

And some other serious favorites have also been honored: Ruth Sims' Counterpoint: Dylan's Story made the top ten for Best Gay Historical Romance, see the entire list here.

And if Eden hadn't already cleaned up one category, her novel Duet made the top ten for Best Gay Paranormal/Horror, which may be as close as you can come to characterizing a book this unique. The whole list is here.

Allessia Brio picked up an honor as the cover artist for Angel of Thirteenth Street, too, more reason to celebrate! You guys have to see this. Hardly ever see such a good fit with cover and story, too, so congrats, Allessia!

So why is a reviewer getting all excited about all this? First off, I'm so new to being a reviewer that I'm just happy that someone else agreed with me! I reviewed Duet not long ago and, and I've read almost all of her other work and loved it, whether or not I reviewed. Ruth Sims' short story is wonderful, too, and Counterpoint is burning a hole in my hard drive on the TBR list.

And second, Eden and Ruth both took the time to say a kind word or two to someone they don't even know, because I (and Pam) opened my mouth about what I'd read. So I'm all excited that something good happened to two sweet people.

As Eden said, "I'm jumping up and down, and that could be dangerous for a woman my age!"

Ladies, I'm jumping with you.

(And my TBB list just expanded by about 42 books.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Unfinished Business by Angela Benedetti

Unfinished Business (A Hidden Magic story; Sentinels #1.5)
After a morning of saving the world, apprentice mage Cal Toscani heads down and works a full day in his busy restaurant, because foiling the bad guy doesn't pay the bills. After midnight, bruised and aching from the aforementioned foiling, and exhausted from a long day of work, Cal goes home hoping for a hot bath, a nice massage and some sex, not necessarily in that order. His lover and master, Aubrey Fletcher, unfortunately remembers that he'd given Cal a lesson that morning before everything got exciting, and he's determined that Cal's going to finish that lesson before anything else happens -- yes, right now. Cal finds himself naked in bed, trying to figure out how to remove Aubrey's spell, while a naked Aubrey does his best to be distracting. Cal's pretty sure he's going to explode long before he figures the damn thing out!

This was fun -- the author expanded on a little scene in a larger work (A Hidden Magic). Cal, the apprentice, gets a really funny, sexy lesson on paying attention under duress, and Aubrey, magical adept and Cal's master, provides plenty of hot, hot duress. If every lesson was that much fun, Cal will be an adept in no time at all!

I'd read A Hidden Magic a few months back, so I remembered the set-up for the whole asses-ears business, and that was my only quibble with this story. The beginning feels like a scene that was removed from the book for flow, and it doesn't really capture the purpose of the ears or why they even existed -- as a stand alone story they come sort of out of the blue. As a read with, it just follows right on. Following Cal around the restaurant at the beginning establishes that he's got a life outside magic, but it doesn't set up the rest of the story as well as it could. Asses ears --> creme brulee --> asses ears might have worked better than creme brulee --> asses ears.

All the same, the sex was hot, the relationship between master and apprentice was both loving and responsible, and the ending sweet.

Buy it here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Off Trail by JB McDonald

Off TrailOff Trail by J.B. McDonald

Recently widowed, with one dog now crippled and another about to give birth, Keith needs help. Problem is, he doesn't want it. When Spencer blows into his life, Keith does his best to shove Spencer back out. Spencer is everything his dead husband wasn't, and little too close to the wild side for Keith's taste.

Spencer can see that Keith is drowning in details, just as he can see how a little aid would go a long way. But Keith keeps refusing help -- for everything except the crippled dog. Spencer's way into Keith's house is through fur on wheels; finding his way into Keith's heart won't be so easy.


McDonald does a beautiful job of drawing an overwhelmed and still grieving widower, who has to get a handle on life as it must go on. I really don't know how Keith has survived the previous year without his husband -- nothing could have been one bit easier back in town, except for intact walls and ceilings to keep the elements and wildlife out. He's reached that point of exhaustion where he will keep putting on foot in front of the other because he's too tired to stop, until he drops.

Spencer is a good guy, willing to break that cycle because he sees someone really worthwhile inside Keith's closed off feelings, and he has some great attributes -- I wanted to shake Keith and say "Listen to the man!"

There was a really great turn-about sequence, involving the dogs that are such an overwhelming part of Keith's life, the author clearly understands big dogs, but honestly, while I get why Keith struggled so hard to keep Sam going, it didn't seem fair to anyone, yet, how could he stop once he'd started?

The tone of hopeless exhaustion on Keith's part does go on a while, understandably, but not pleasantly and probably has something to do with why I didn't like it more than I did, and yay for him seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. For all that it isn't pleasant, it's well done, and when the tone lifts, it's all the better.

Buy here for ebook or here for print.

Rants to the Universe

I am trying to buy some books. This is behavior you authors and publishers try to encourage, right? Then make it easy - why can't you

A) make your website easy to navigate with some tags, so I can find the rock star books or the firefighter books or something a little more specific than 'contemporary' or 'BDSM'? My wishlist at Goodreads isn't a substitute for decent navigating here.

B) authors, do your publicity under your own name? If LJ names are how you market yourself, like  longhairedcat21 publishes under SB Jones, which do you think I'm going to remember? You just lost a sale, cause I am not digging back through there. My time is valuable enough that I'm not going to spend longer hunting than it would take to read. Too many other choices.

C) Proofread before you post on your website. I do look and if there's 8 mistakes in a coming soon blurb, I won't get excited to read.

Aghhhhh back to spending money.

Apologies to any real SB Jones who markets under the right name.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Smoke:Askari by Lee Benoit

Smoke: AskariSmoke: Askari by Lee Benoit Noble is an American medical anthropologist who wants to save the world. His work in Kenya is off to a slow start until he accidentally moves into a brothel. The night guard, Harry, is more than what he seems, and soon he’s helping Noble take his research, and love life, to a whole new level.

Their work among the poorest of Nairobi’s poor is challenging, and they find great comfort in each other until an old crush calls Noble away and sinister forces mass against him and Harry. From slums and whorehouses to game parks and Indian Ocean beaches, this isn’t the tour books’ Kenya, and Harry and Noble aren’t your ordinary couple! Can simple love triumph against the complex forces of corruption, prejudice, and public health crises? Or is it just a curl of smoke, ready to be blown away?

This is a cross-cultural romance, done by someone who has to have had experience in East Africa. The smoke burned the back of my throat, the smells and tastes startled me with their strangeness, and the attitudes made me think. The romance, though it was importance, was almost secondary for me in the strange culture. It wasn't a travelog, it was an immersion.

The main character, Noble, gave the impression of looking for a new culture because he didn't quite fit into his 'home' one, and he found a way in, with Harry the askari of the title, a protector that always seemed to have a little more meaning lurking than the author actually explained. I like that detail, it gave the impression of you could figure it out if you could just read a little more, if she would PLEASE just write more pages with more hints. Anyone who's reading just for  the sex would probably be irritated by that quality but I loved it.

So don't read it just for the sex, which is sweet and hot, understated for the most part and a reminder that the rest of the world sees things a little differently, but read it because it's a big step outside your culture and that's good.

A negative for me was Stuart, because while I could understand the evolution of Noble's feelings towards him, I wasn't so sure what Noble saw in him in the first place. Maybe it's another kind of win if the reader wants to hit a character with a big stick.

Buy here.