Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Strongest Shape by Tessa Cardenas

The Strongest ShapeThe Strongest Shape by Tessa Cardenas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read this story several times now, and each time I find it rather enjoyable to read.

This story contains a rather believable look at a long-term, committed threesome relationship. It gives a good glance at the challenges faced by the members of such a relationship, and the insecurities that one would believe anyone going into such an arrangement would battle from day to day.

Caleb finds himself attracted to both members of a committed partnership, and doesn't know what to do with that. When they proposition him, he can't help but be drawn in, and I have a lot of sympathy for the things he struggles with. He worries he's going to be a novelty, that they don't really love him, that there will be troubles with their families...all valid concerns, and dealt with to some degree throughout the story.

I found each of the three main characters interesting and different enough to create a nice dynamic in the relationship. I also loved the fact that the story didn't focus just on the three of them, but their friends and families, and how they deal with telling others as well as fit their unique relationship into their daily lives.

If you're at all curious about the dynamics of an even more non-traditional relationship, a functional and believable menage, then you might want to check out this story. It had pretty strong elements (plot, etc.), and I find myself coming to this again and again when I want to relive the experience

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Libra: Outlined in Ink by Vivien Dean

Libra: Outlined In Ink (Boys of the Zodic, #7)Libra: Outlined In Ink by Vivien Dean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This has to be one of the best m/m books I've read in a long while. I know that's a pretty strong statement, and some people might be skeptical of the truthfulness of it, but it's true.

A lot of things combine to make this story amazing. The characters are well thought out, and brilliantly executed. The two protagonists are compelling, both individually and as a couple, and even the supporting characters are interesting...they have motivations, make mistakes, and are pretty 3D, which is something that I find lacking in most modern fiction.

But where this story really shines is the plot. A good story has great characters AND great plot, and the plot here is exciting and well-paced. I never felt like the story was dragging or rushed; the tense moments were well-balanced with the romance and the mystery involved, moving nearly seamlessly from scene to scene, and from one conflict to the next. The mystery of what is going on and who is behind the attacks...and more importantly, who to trust...made for a suspenseful read, one that kept me guessing until the end, which is rarely the case.

The sex is pretty hot, and in no way overpowers the plot. In fact, for me, it was another factor to balance...just when I felt the mystery getting too intense, or starting to bore me, the romance and sex heated up, and vice versa. I had a really good sense of the history of these two characters, and how the situation they're catapulted into helps to cement a bond that started years before.

That aspect, though, is one of my few niggles about the story. The fact that these two characters were very attracted to each other in the past didn't quite jive with the intervening years. I understand why Jarrett didn't pursue the young Eli...he wasn't quite or barely legal, and their age difference was much more sharply felt at that time. My problem lies with the fact that neither of them kept in touch with the other, either through direct communication or checking up on them through internet searches, etc. If the attraction was really that strong, particularly in Eli's case, it would be a little more believable that he would have at least known what Jarrett did for a living, or that he lived in the same city. This is alleviated somewhat by the fact that Eli is writing his comic starring a Jarrett lookalike...but as Eli says, the character Sovereign is based on his perception of Jarrett idealized, but has his own history and background separate from reality.

Another small niggle was the ending; the turmoil they're embroiled seemed to end a little abruptly, and while it's implied that their involvement in the investigation isn't over, we still don't get much of a resolution to what was going on, and how exactly Eli played into the greater scheme other than his comics and site were involved in criminal activity. I would love to see a follow-up story, even a short, that gives us more of a resolution to the case, as well as a glimpse at how Eli and Jarrett are coming along with a relationship not influenced by the tension and fast pace of being chased and shot at by both criminals and law enforcement.

An excellent story, and one I highly recommend to pretty much anyone.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bayou Dreams by Lynn Lorenz

Bayou Dreams (Rougaroux Social Club, #1)Bayou Dreams by Lynn Lorenz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book, despite a few niggles (discussed below), was probably one of the most realistic gay-for-you stories I've ever read, and also a good example of a werewolf/shapeshifter story.

I know that sounds like a pretty broad statement. No, I haven't read every werewolf story written, not even most of the m/m werewolf stories; I do know that I've run across a lot of stereotypes, a lot of the same story retold with different window dressing. On the surface, you might be able to say that about this story too; man meets werewolf, they find out their mates, have to fight the urge, pack doesn't approve, etc.

The difference here is in the execution. Scott (the werewolf alpha) is truly straight, with no "secret desires" or leanings toward homosexuality. He is baffled by what he sees as an unnaturally strong reaction to this man who shows up in his town one day, and is constantly trying to understand it, fight it, suppress it. I found his struggle to be very realistic, both with what a man with unexpected attraction would experience and the internal struggle with what he thinks he should be and do and what his instincts tell him to do. He seems torn in a million different directions, as wolf, as alpha, as man, as straight, as newly mated, as a son, as a sheriff, as a leader...he has a lot of roles to fill, and must come to some sort of conclusion about himself and his future.

Ted is a little easier to figure out; he's been burned before, falling in love with a straight man, and he avoids any sort of similar entanglement again. His struggle is more with his past, and trying to convince himself that his strong attraction to the shapeshifting sheriff is just physical. I do have a little niggle about his acceptance of Scott as a werewolf; he professes he doesn't believe in supernatural stuff, but he's swayed pretty quickly to Scott's story...though some of that could be the hot man. ;) I did also like the eventual reason behind the wildness affecting the pack; it was reasonable, and believable within the bounds of the werewolf/paranormal world.

Now to the niggles. The last 50 or so pages felt different, almost speeding up in pace enough to be noticeable. They felt slightly less polished, and made me wonder if the author couldn't have expanded the story a little bit, progressing through those last stages a little more slowly. I also felt that the storyline with Ted's case, the woman he's been following/observing, was a little awkward in places. This is most noticeable in his last conversation with her; she appears out of nowhere, and magically has the solution to Ted's current problem. It was a little too deus ex machina for me. I also thought that the shifter aspect was under-utilized at times. Scott only shifts about 3 times in the whole story, and the first time is at least halfway through.

I did, however, like the setup for the next story (if there will be one). It was sort of subtle, but also very believable in the context of the character involved.

Overall, I thought this was well put together, the characters were mostly fun and engaging, and it kept me involved throughout (which is sometimes hard). If there was the ability to give half-stars, I would probably give this 4.5 stars...the niggles I had were just strong enough to not allow a 5 star rating. Highly recommended, particularly for those who enjoy gay-for-you and/or shapeshifter stories.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Gemini: The Wicked Things by Pepper Espinoza

Gemini: The Wicked Things (Boys of the Zodiac #3)Gemini: The Wicked Things by Pepper Espinoza
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book hit a lot of my "good" buttons. Paranormal storyline, shapeshifters, complex plot, good characters, even ghosts. It progressed quickly enough that I was never really bored or frustrated with the pace, but slowly enough that I didn't feel it was rushed. The only thing that I was a little unhappy with about pacing was there were a couple of points where time shifts and/or scenes cut that felt a little awkward.

One such case is when Travis and John are making love for the first time, and the chapter ends about 2/3 of the way through...and we just forward to the next morning. It might have been okay, if approached properly, but it felt like someone had chopped off the last few pages of the chapter.

Another awkward moment was the ending. Travis restores John's humanity, and we see him worn out from that event, and then...nothing. I would have been happier with another paragraph hinting at their future together, or maybe a short epilogue scene (which isn't necessary, but seems to be the norm). I also wanted to see Travis' mother one more time, to see if she recovered from the bad fairy's influence, and how she lives now (as human, or fairy).

The flashbacks in John's history were relatively well-done, and it really helped to see John's character from where he started and the darkness of his life, to where he ended up. Travis, though, is a little harder to pin down. He has all of these powers that we only see elements of; we don't see the big fight between him and Maurveen, and there are just some things about him that seem flatter than John, which is odd since the POV in the story is mostly from Travis' perspective.

Despite these and a few other hiccups, I would say this was a rather enjoyable read, though not my favorite in the Boys of the Zodiac series so far (I'm trying to read them relatively in order).

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Family Unit by ZA Maxfield

Family UnitFamily Unit by Z.A. Maxfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This story works very well for me, because it hits a lot of my buttons...even some that I didn't know I had. :)

The first button it hits is that of family. This is a story about two men finding love, and one of them has a kid to care this case, his grandson. I love seeing a gay story with a developing family, because it paints a picture that many people in today's society don't see, or care to see...that of gay men as regular people, living regular lives, and building regular families. These characters really love each other, and they build a successful (IMO) family unit, both including and around the kid. Some stories with children seem to slap them in, and they feel very artificial and secondhand. This one isn't built around the kid, per se, but it is a primary focus of the story, and you get a real sense of how the kid would struggle to see his grandfather/primary caregiver in a different light...and how it would affect his life, both in school and with other people.

In a related vein, Richard struggles with the change in his relationship status. I think most of the people in his life, including his neighbors and Nick's worthless mother and other grandparents...but I get the feeling that most of them chose to ignore that fact, and just see him as a single man. When Logan comes onto the scene, though, he forces them to see who Richard really is...and I think Logan challenges their image of a gay man. Richard, for all that he is a good guy, is a little more stereotypical...he's a photographer, thus "arty." Logan, on the other hand, is a retired soldier, a "man's man," strong and very capable of defending himself and his family.

Along those lines, though, I don't like how the dynamic and background of these two characters sometimes forces them into "husband/wife" roles. It doesn't happen often, and the author tries to mitigate it as much as possible by showing Richard as strong in certain situations, and even topping Logan, but it still happens. Richard is more emotional, more motherly, at times, and it sort of bothers me that it comes out that way.

It was also hard for me to see their age in the story. I often forgot that they were over 50 years old...they didn't act that way most of the time, and felt more like 30ish. Some of that you can explain away with the excitement of their new relationship, and their new situations...and I certainly didn't want them depicted as old men, because 50 is certainly not "old and decrepit" or anything...they just didn't feel as old as they were shown. I'm not sure if that is my own perception (or fault, really), or if it really was an aspect of the story, and the author's voice through the characters, but it was something I struggled with on occasion.

The drama throughout the story was rather good, though, and believable. The final section, dealing with Nick's abduction and rescue, was the hardest to swallow, though that didn't mean it was unbelievable...just slightly less believable than the troubles at school, and the tensions with the neighbors. Honestly, I would have liked to see more interaction with the neighbors, watching them come around more toward the 3 characters as a real family, and Logan as part of the community.

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Leo: All That You Are by Jamie Craig

Leo: All That You Are (Boys of the Zodiac, #5)Leo: All That You Are by Jamie Craig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this story out of order in the BOTZ series because it was the continuation of the "All That You Do" story, and I wanted to see where those two characters were going to go.

One problem I have with stories that continue a completed romance (as this story does) is the progression of the plot is usually some stupid fight/breakup that the couple goes through...this book doesn't really go there. The problem is with Gage's family, and dealing with the aftermath of his coming out. Really, "aftermath" is probably mostly a misnomer...only his parents truly know about Gage's homosexuality, and Gage must now reveal it to his many (SIX!) brothers.

I know nothing of Mormon life or culture, but the little I do know seems to fit with what is portrayed...rather rigid, unaccepting of "sinners" or those outside of the box allowed by their religion, and a strong emphasis on service/mission. The story and Gage's supporters may have been a little harsh at times toward Mormons, but that could be my ignorance hoping the reality isn't quite that bad. I was frustrated at his mother's inability to accept, and staunch refusal to even bend in her beliefs, although it was hard to see Gage's father with the same tenacity...maybe because he was in recovery or preparing for surgery the times we do see him. All accounts of his rejection of Gage are secondhand, except for one statement when Gage appears at the hospital, so it's hard for me to see his rigidity on homosexuality.

I really like the image of Gage's family, and how it divided them; he found a lot of support, which surprised him (and me), but also some heartache and harsh words.

My main problem with the book was the scene of infidelity. I always have a problem with infidelity in a couple that is supposedly committed and monogamous, but the act portrayed here was probably one of the easiest to accept/recover from. Part of that is the sex act itself; it involved only a drunk handjob from an old friend, and Gage didn't even reciprocate. Once he realized what had happened, he escaped and told Christopher as soon as they were together again in person. Brownie points for Gage.

Also, how Christopher works through the betrayal, both out loud to Gage and in his thoughts, made me accept how he handled it. It hurt him, but he does bring up the good point that they had never talked about exclusivity (although it may have been implied), and they talked about the incident, why it happened, that it would never happen again, and how to move past it. It gives us an idea how mature Christopher is by example, rather than inferring it from his friends' comments and teasing.

Related to this issue, it felt like the marriage proposal happened too quickly after the infidelity incident and made it feel fake or cheaper, since they hadn't taken much time to resolve that issue and put it behind them. Plus, at that point they had only really been dating a little over month...though it doesn't really say how long it is until the wedding (that I recall, anyway).

Really good conclusion to this storyline, despite the niggles. Wouldn't mind a short showing them in wedded bliss...but then, I always like to see happy ever afters shown rather than implied. :D

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Taurus: All That You Do by Jamie Craig

Taurus: All That You Do  (Boys of the Zodic, #2)Taurus: All That You Do by Jamie Craig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting story, in that for nearly the entire timeframe of the story the two protagonists are not in a relationship. Christopher picks up Gage the night meet, but backs away from intimacy once he finds out Gage is a virgin, and that his innocence is not an act. After this, Gage enters into a relationship of sorts with a semi-friend of Christopher's. I really like this element because it led to some awkward situations between the two protags, and ramped up the sexual tension between them with the obvious barrier of the pseudo-boyfriend.

The only part about this element that I don't like is when they have sex for the first time...which is when Gage is still technically dating the other guy, and right after assuring his boyfriend that they were exclusive and he had no designs on Christopher. It seemed to jar a little with Gage's character, who doesn't strike me as much of a liar, and I really don't care moments of infidelity (although I'm more okay with it here, because the cheating isn't on Christopher, but it implies it could happen in the future in their relationship).

Watching Gage evolve and grow was very satisfying, and I really liked the interplay between Christopher and Gage; their an interesting couple, and really diverse and into each other.

I wish there had been a little more alluding to the reasons behind Christopher's initial reaction to isn't until rather late in the book that it's revealed that Christopher's reaction are due to a previous relationship, not some aversion to virgins. He speaks of a rule against innocents, and first-timers or those just coming out, but earlier we only see his reaction to Gage's virginity, no reasoning or hints that there might be more to it, despite the fact that we're in Christopher's head for much of the book. Even something as simple as "I couldn't have sex with Gage that first night because of his innocence; I couldn't go through that again." would have been enough to give a hint that there WAS another reason for us to find was hard to understand Christopher's reticence before Gage was in a relationship without that bit of knowledge.

Despite that niggle, I really liked the book, and it ended in such a way that I felt really satisfied at the outcome.

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