Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Swiftly Dusted: Mini-review of Accidentally His by Shawn Lane

Shawn Lane:name
Title: Accidentally His
Series: Standalone, but I think I've read at the author's blog that it's the first of an A-to-Z series of 26 books that have 'His' in the title
Publisher: Amber Allure
Date: March 20, 2011
Word/page count: 14k words / ca. 60 pages

Backblurb/Goodreads link | author's website | buy link

Genre & keywords:
M/M, Romance, Contemporary, Bus accident, Recovery, Nerd as hero

Synopsis in short:
Kirk and Elijah ride the same bus to work a couple of times a week. When the bus crashes in a storm they both get injured, but it makes them to talk to each other for the first time. Their joint experience leads to a date and more.

Setting: I like the premise of an accident bringing two men together. It's inventive although perhaps not used to its full capacity by the author. The impact of what happened and their luck for surviving (as opposed to a few other passengers), could've been used for some more psychological conflict for one or both heroes. Now it was just something that helped them to finally talk and to get to know each other. No internal struggle or anything.

POV: We get both men's point of view, narrated in third person.

H/H & characterization: Elijah looks like a nerd and Kirk has the hots for him and always chooses to sit right behind him on the bus. Even though later on Kirk seems to be a very direct and open guy, he never dared to talk to Elijah before. Elijah is a really shy man, who thinks of himself as socially awkward. He has noticed Kirk but never even started to think about the possibility that Kirk might be interested in him. Although this is a sweet couple, they're a bit odd too. Their date and their first time in bed are on the awkward side, and I had a bit of a hard time feeling their connection or chemistry or whatever you want to call it. Nevertheless their pairing made me smile a lot and not only because it was all quite cute, but also because of the humorous moments they have going on.

Empathy level: These heroes didn't evoke a whole lot of emotions or feelings in me. Their relationship is only just blooming, they aren't actually passionately in love yet and their happy ending is really more of a HFN (Happy For Now) than a HEA ending. It was easiest to empathize with Elijah's insecurities about his love life, because of his past experiences with dates.

Heat level: The love scenes fell a bit flat for me, they were not much more than plain descriptions of the act, though sweet, hardly any feelings or emotions were shown which made these scenes lack some passion for me. 2 out of 3 flames

Angst level: This story is sort of angst free. There was a minor misunderstanding after the first date when Kirk didn't call back as promised, but their relationship was actually too new and young for deep feelings at that point. 0 out of 3 hankies

Overall entertainment level: For a short story (or Extended Amber Kiss as the publisher labels it) this has a good, entertaining plot, and it's featuring likable, sweet guys. It also seems to give a nice, tiny preview of the next book in the series (or so I'm guessing and hoping) which might be Elijah's famous brother and Kirk's friend's story (Lucas and Toby), who met in the hospital early on in the book. But even if this won't be a first in a series, I'd say it's a cute standalone story that I enjoyed reading.

Final judgment:
Great premise materializes into a cute story about a bit of an awkward couple that could use a little more passion. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, March 28, 2011

Review of Good For The Goose by Anne Holly

Author: Anne Holly
Title: Good For The Goose
Series: holiday series
Publisher: Wicked Nights
Release date: November 19, 2010
Word/page count: 12k words / 27 pages

Backblurb/Goodreads link | author's website | buy link

Genre & keywords:
M/F, Romance, Contemporary, Christmas, Divorce, Professor/student, May/December romance

Synopsis in short:
After her divorce, 36 year old professor Natasha is not looking forward to spend the holidays alone. Good thing 23 year old graduate student Raphael is helping her grading some papers. One thing leads to another.

My thoughts:
The romance between the hero and heroine is a so called May/December one, a couple with a substantial age difference, where in this case the heroine is the older person of the two. Aside from that, there's also a teacher/student relationship between them. Two reasons for Natasha to stay away from the temptation called Raphael. They would make an unlikely couple. Yet, they fall in love and I didn't find that completely unbelievable; I actually liked the reversed roles of hero and heroine, compared to more traditional patterns were the man would be the older one and the woman the student. However, it was difficult to understand where Raphael's feelings were coming from, because we didn't get much of his internal process: his view, thoughts or feelings. And given the short length of the book things went a bit swiftly all in all.

The story is told in third person and starts out from Natasha's perspective. After a while when things heat up between her and Raphael, the point of view suffers a little bit from some head hopping between heroine and hero. But the perspective stays mainly with the heroine throughout the story. Due to this mainly one sided point of view it's easier to empathize with Natasha than it's with Raphael. In general, I had a bit of trouble to feel connected with the characters. But that probably has partly to do with the fact that the May/December nor the professor/student trope is one of my favorite themes in romance, despite the choice to reverse the traditional roles.

The main characters are sexy, sensual characters though, and their physical attraction is undeniably hot. I thought the sex scenes were very well written, tender, sweet and scorching. These scenes were visual and tangible. A significant part of the intimate physical moments of this pair however also took place 'off screen' with only a few words for us readers to inform us about them.

Even with the short length of this book there's an attempt to weave some sort of angsty moment into the plot, based on fear for commitment of one of the protags. It was kind of inevitable, so, not much of a surprise that the story took this turn. And the reunion was more sexy (and also a bit over the top) than it was touching or sweet. Therefore, I was able to keep my eyes dry.

All in all, this is just a short story and altogether a nice, quick and hot read. It amused me for a short time, but it probably won't keep me occupied very much longer after reading it. Yet, I’m looking forward to reading more of this author, who has also written a Valentine's Day themed story and has a first full length novel available in the near future.

Final judgment:
Engaging and sexy holiday themed May/December romance with characters that won't stay on my mind very long after finishing the book. More chemistry driven than character or plot driven.  
3.5 out of 5 stars & 2 out of 3 flames

Friday, March 25, 2011

Happy Gay Friday

Today I'm extremely late with my post and Friday cookies. Sorry. I've been out enjoying the sunshine, being lazy and hanging around with a book. :)
Since it's almost midnight in my part of the world, I'll just post this *OMG-it-is-hot-in-here* picture and leave you with that. I think you won't mind. ;)

Have a happy Friday!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Swiftly Dusted: Mini-review of Beyond Reckless by Ava March

Author: Ava March
Title: Beyond Reckless
Series: Standalone
Publisher: Amber Allure
Date: November 27, 2010
Word/page count: 6k words / 27 pages

Backblurb/Goodreads link | author's website | buy link

Genre & keywords:
M/M, Historical Romance, Regency, Kinky, Birthday surprise

Synopsis in short:
It's Rys's 25th birthday. A significant one, because of his inheritance. But the promise of a fortune isn't what gets Rys's blood pumping. After four years together Martin is well aware of his lover's propensity for thrills. He asks Rys to meet him at a formal ton ball to give Rys his dangerous but very hot gift.

Setting: Regency England, 1822. Most part of the story takes place at a formal ball, where Rys and Martin find some privacy in a room. There's a risk of being discovered, which makes their meeting all the more sexy. The last scene takes us to their own bedroom. With just a few accurate descriptions Ava March gives her story a historical feel without it being too much for a non-enthusiast for historical romances.

POV: Third person narration, initially from birthday-boy Rys's point of view, which carries away the reader in the thrill of the danger. Later the perspective shifts to Martin as well, which uncovers the caring and loving relationship the heroes have. Wonderful choice.

H/H & characterization: Given the short length of this story there's not much room for character development. We're provided with just enough information about the heroes' social status, their sexual kinks and the roles they both play in their relationship.
At one point in the story the author lets Rys think about his lover: "He made it so easy to slip into the moment." and that perfectly applies to March's writing as well. For a short period of time you can lose yourself in her characters and their adventures. In this case without knowing everything about them (which makes me immediately crave for more, of course).

Empathy level: Ava March has the skill to make you feel completely in sync with her characters. She's a master at interweaving the emotional connection with the physical attraction between her heroes. You're equally scared, excited, hurt, relaxed, happy, aroused... as her guys. That's what makes her characters so real, made of flesh and blood.

Heat level: I honestly don't think sex scenes can be any hotter than this. 3 out of 3 flames

Angst level: No angst here, just excitement and a bit of fear for discovery. Rys and Martin are an established couple and love each other without a single doubt. 0 out of 3 hankies

Overall entertainment level: If this isn't entertaining than I don't know what is! It's 'Beyond Entertaining'. :)

Final judgment:
5 out of 5 stars

Monday, March 21, 2011

Swiftly Dusted: Mini-review of He Said, He Said by Jamie Craig

Author: Jamie Craig
Title: Aquarius: He Said, He Said
Series: Boys of the Zodiac, #11 (no reading order required, this one is a standalone)
Publisher: Amber Allure
Date: January 30, 2011
Word/page count: 51k words / 144 pages

Backblurb/Goodreads link | author's website | buy link

Genre & keywords:
M/M, Contemporary Romance, Fatherhood

Synopsis in short:
On the surface, the only thing single dads Peter and Aaron have in common are their eight-year-old loner sons. They develop - reluctantly at first - a friendship thanks to the friendship of their sons, Morgan and Sammy.

Setting: A modern city, probably San Francisco (Fisherman's Warf is mentioned). The men first meet in a city park where they take their kids to play. Other settings where the events take place are their apartments and other sites in the city.

POV: First person narrators, alternating between Peter and Aaron's point of view per chapter. Both have their own, distinct voice.

H/H & characterization: Peter is a divorced single dad and has to deal with his ex-wife and seeing his son Morgan only every other weekend. I felt for him and his difficulties with finding a serious partner. Aaron on the other hand is a single dad because his wife died. After her death his life only exists of his work and his son Sammy who has health problems. His loneliness was saddening and I was glad for him that he met Peter. At first Peter and Aaron don't like each other very much, but then a platonic friendship blooms after which they gradually grow into a more physical relationship. The slow build-up is nice and makes for a believable emotional connection. The author does a good job 'showing' instead of 'telling' who the heroes are, what they feel and think.

Empathy level: Thanks to the alternation first person perspectives and the excellent characterization you get a very good insight in the heroes’ feelings, thoughts and doubts. This made it very easy to empathize with them, and also with their sons to a certain level.

Heat level: The sex scenes were scorching and plenty, although it took the guys a while to get there. I really liked it that they didn't jump into bed from the start. I also felt the growing emotional connection through all the physical hotness. 2.5 out of 3 flames.

Angst level: There was a bit of a misunderstanding about what both men were expecting from the sexual arrangement they had, which made my heart squeeze a bit, especially for Peter. 1 maybe 1.5 out of 3 hankies.

Overall entertainment level: From the first to the last page this was a greatly entertaining story. The men were not only fun to observe together but also in interaction with their sons. The little guys were as engaging and lifelike as their adult cast members. Kids and romances are not always a good combination, but here it was a great addition. So, yes, overall a very enjoyable read.

Final judgment:  
4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 18, 2011

Happy Gay Friday & My first gay friend

TGIF! And let’s leave it at that, because I’m pretty positive you don’t want to hear in detail about me feeling blah this week…

So, instead let me tell you about the friend I’m meeting tonight for a drink. It’ll suit today because she’s one of the first gay, or actually bisexual, friends I had. Our friendship goes back to when I was about seventeen years old, and she was one of the most important people when it comes to forming my opinion on homosexuality. We were part of a group that went out to clubs, dancing to the sounds of The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, New Model Army, The Smiths, and so on. I think we were called new wave or goth and we adored the color black, lots of jewelry and make-up. In this group of people sexuality had many faces and experimenting wasn’t a dirty word, although it all was very chaste, of course (being teenagers in another era ;)).

She is the only one of the group I still see regularly even if it’s not every day or even every week; we go out for a bite or a drink every now and then, or we go to see a band perform whenever we feel like it. Our friendship went much deeper than with the other ones in the group. We lived together.
See, she had a crush on me and we had this wonderful intellectual and emotional connection. So, we decided to move in together, or actually I moved in with her. And we had a great time together; going to parties, having (gay) friends over, chatting until late at night. But, unfortunately for her, our story didn’t get a happily ever after, because although we had the intellectual and emotional connection, we never had the physical one. We shared the same bed but never anything happened between us there, because I’m as straight as I can be. Sadly for her.
Still we were happy (she assured me she could live with that)… Until I met hubby and fell head over heels for him…

I broke her heart and sometimes I can still feel bad about it, after all those years. It got ugly and after that we didn’t see each other for a certain period of time, but one day she came back in our lives when she was over it and realized that hubby wasn’t a temporarily fling for me. I think she ended up falling in love with him even more than she had with me. By the time hubs and I got married she was the happiest friend of all, that day. That’s just how big her heart is.
She made me feel loved and she made me accept, unconsciously, all varieties of sexuality, because she is, and always has been, openly gay/bisexual and very proud of it. And it’s so special to be adored by someone like that.
I just hope she’ll find the love of her life very soon! (maybe we can hook her up tonight *g*).

Happy Gay Friday everyone!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Guest Review: Relentless Passion & Relentless Love by A.J. Llewellyn

A.J. Llewellyn
Relentless Passion
Ellora’s Cave, 2010
Goodreads | Author's website | Buy link

Twins Alex and Zeca love to switch identities. It's harmless fun until Alex wants to date a hot tourist visiting their home of Capri, and asks Zeca to take his place on a date with Alex's current beau, Antonio. After a day in Antonio's arms-followed by a long, lusty weekend in his bed during a trip to Naples-Zeca discovers switching places with Alex isn't so harmless after all. Especially when he realizes he's falling hard for his brother's boyfriend.
While struggling with his feelings for Antonio, consoling his semi-celebrity father (who's having woman troubles) and trying not to upset Alex (who might be in love with Antonio . . . or his tourist tryst . . . or maybe the neighbor lady), Zeca wonders how any of them will make it through all the relationship woes with hearts intact.
As Antonio says, "Love has a way of fixing things itself."

Genre & Keywords:
M/M, Romance, Twins, Mistaken identity, Food, Love, Holiday
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 3 out of 3 flames

Reviewed by Lis

Twins. Oh the fun you can have as twins. Dress the same, or as Zeca and Alex occasionally do: take each other’s identities. It’s a little harmless fun. That is until Zeca, who always had a thing for Alex’s current beau – Antonio – falls for the man. Suddenly switching identities is not as much fun anymore.

There is many a story out there about twins, but none are as fun as Relentless Passion. Alex and Zeca are identical in body, but in character they are as different as can be. Zeca is sweet, caring, considerate, introvert and a romantic. Alex is arrogant, egotistical and selfish. He wants it all and he isn’t above blaming Zeca for all the things that go wrong. He is the drama queen of the family, a bit like their crazy father Toppy, a former actor turned restaurant owner.

Relentless Passion is the story of Zeca and what happens when he falls for Antonio while posing as Alex. The story is mingled with little adventures, Zeca’s dreams, Antonio’s macho overprotectiveness, Toppy’s antics and a romance so sweet it will charm the pants right off you!

The story is well written, the story is fun and sweet with sometimes a serious interlude. The characters are filled out and have their own voice and characteristics. Antonio and Zeca are very sweet together. I loved the boys meaning of “relentless” in this story. If you want to know, go pick up the book!
Relentless Passion is the book you want to read when you want to get away from all the heavy stuff. Be warned though, it will make you want to go on holiday to Capri.

A.J. Llewellyn
Relentless Love
Ellora’s Cave, 2011
Goodreads | Author's website | Buy link

Sequel to Relentless Passion

Alex has already lost one lover to his brother Zeca. Now his fickle shenanigans have driven Hugh, his other lover, away as well. Alex desperately wants what his brother has, an intensely passionate relationship, so Zeca shares their father Toppy's advice-you have to love before you can be relentless. Good advice, if Alex weren't so afraid to follow it.
When Toppy's own love life gets a little, um . . . strange, he escapes to St. Tropez. He takes Alex with him, who finds himself face-to-face with Hugh. Too bad Hugh is already lip-to-lip with someone else. But Alex has come too far to turn back now.
The game is on, and while Toppy gets up to his own sexual shenanigans under the St. Tropez sun, Alex will do anything to get back into Hugh's life . . . his bed . . . his body. He'll first have to learn to face his fears. Only then can he find relentless love.

Genre & Keywords:
M/M, Romance, Twins, Mistaken identity, Food, Love, Holiday
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 3 out of 3 flames

Reviewed by Lis

Relentless Love is the story of Alex and Hugh and is set a couple of months after Zeca’s story. Hugh was the reason Alex asked Zeca to switch identities and they were in love. When it came time for Hugh to leave on the cruise ship, he jumped overboard and risked death by shark to get back to Alex. However, after a few months all is not so well and after a misunderstanding Hugh left.
Alex is not happy at all. In fact, he is even worse than he was before. So when Toppy is busted by his batshit crazy lover Angelina, they leave for a business holiday to where Hugh lives.

As in Relentless Passion this story is full of antics, fun, romance and some seriously crazy stuff. It’s funny and sweet story with the occasional serious interlude.
The characters are distinctive and I loved how they have their own personality and temperament. Hugh and Alex may not be my favorite characters – too much drama and crying going on their – but they were made for each other!

Again, this is a book you want to read when you want to get away from it all and phantom yourself on holiday with hot studs in the warm weather and wicked drinks!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Review: Love Immortal by Brita Addams

Brita Addams
Love Immortal (Mysterious Moonlight, #1)
Silver Publishing, 2010
Goodreads | Author's website | Twitter | Facebook | Buy link

Born in 1620, Laurent Kinsdale, an orphan at ten and a vampire at twenty five, goes against all his sire has taught him, when, on an impulse, he turns his lover, Graham Symonds. Graham does not take the turning well, his anger towards the man he's loved for four years knows no bounds. After he commits unconscionable acts directed at destroying Laurent, he disappears for a century and a half.
In 1820, Laurent meets Sebastian FitzHugh. The two men have common sexual interests, each other, despite the fact that Sebastian doesn't know about Laurent's vampirism. Their lives are disrupted by the re-emergence of Graham, who insinuates himself in the middle of their idyll and forces Laurent to make a gut-wrenching decision that could tear his and Sebastian's world apart. Does he care for Sebastian enough to let him go or will he repeat the mistakes of his past?

Genre & Keywords:
M/M, Historical Romance, Vampire, BDSM, Violence, Suspense

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 2.5 out of 3 flames

Why I read it:
I received a review copy from the author

Love Immortal is a historical gay vampire romance. The story takes place in the 19th century and although I'm not a particularly good judge of that (being Dutch and not a native English speaker) the dialogue has an authentic, ancient feel to it. The scene where our heroes, Laurent and Sebastian, meet takes place at one of those social, high-society get-togethers typical of that period in history. But other than this occasional setting and the use of some archaic phrases, the story could've taken place in any other period of history. So, if you're not really a historical romance fan this shouldn't be an obstacle with this book.

You do have to like paranormal romances though, because the vampire aspect plays a bigger role. Laurent is a vampire for two decades when he meets Sebastian, a human. Their attraction is immediate and palpable and they leave together for a hot night of sex, which was supposed to stay just that - one night - to avoid Laurent's secret to get exposed. But the passion continues. And so do their meetings. The vampire aspect is not being romanticized in this story, being a vampire is not desirable at all in Laurent's eyes. And he'll do anything to prevent that others will have to face the same destiny, even when they beg him to turn them. He has lost a lover recently due to his unwillingness to turn him. His reluctance has everything to do with a previous mistake with an old lover, Graham, who turned rogue and is out to get his idea of revenge.

Graham adds some suspense to the story but also a lot of cruelty and violence. And his actions bring a difficult decision upon Laurent, regarding Sebastian. All the action in this book was quite fascinating and thrilling but rather grim. It’s definitely not a cutesy and sweet love story. Which is not only Graham’s fault, although he does have a big influence on Laurent’s view on life and love. Laurent has a dark streak in himself as well, which is especially noticeable in his sexual preferences. He does get off on inflicting pain on his lovers. And although the sex scenes between him and Sebastian were really steamy, they also made me flinch on occasion. And I honestly wasn’t completely sure of Sebastian’s feelings about it all, including the painful BDSM scenes. This probably had something to do with the ‘vampire spell’ he was under once Laurent had bitten him:

Laurent licked him and murmured deep in his throat. "You will have no recollection of this, Sebastian, but you will feel compelled to be in my presence." Sebastian's body trembled, cold fear gripped him. He tugged against Laurent's strong hold. It was futile.

I wasn’t sure which of Sebastian’s feelings and behavior were genuine and which were caused by the bite. Only when the events take a turn, changing his faith, I started to believe his emotions were his own.

When I finished this book I felt as if I had read a lot between the lines instead of getting it all spelled out in details. There were a few jumps in time and sometimes information wasn’t provided where I’d expected some. This does have a certain appeal, because it gives room to the reader’s own imagination. On the other hand, it kept me wondering about the heroes’ relationship and the depth of their feelings for each other. I wondered if it hadn’t been merely the circumstances that made them a couple, rather than their emotional bond. Therefore, for me, the action arc is more memorable than the characters themselves.
Be that as it may, Love Immortal is an exciting, entertaining and hot read, which is well-written and satisfying enough to make me curious for the next book in this series!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Happy Gay Friday & My Thoughts on the Art of Reviewing

The past couple of weeks I’ve read quite some blogposts, tweets and discussions about ‘the art’ of reviewing and book ratings, that were supposedly bad or negative ones (even if they were 4 stars or higher). There were a few little riots in blogland in which some authors and readers/reviewers sort of became ‘opponents’. Everybody seemed to have an opinion and I read it all with fascination and admiration for the bravery and intelligence that spoke from some of these blogposts and discussions. Personally, I’m never good at voicing my opinion on matters of such topicality. Simply because I’m not eloquent enough in English and, more importantly, I rarely stick to one opinion after hearing other arguments, so in the end it’s very likely that I want to change my earlier comment, while that’s not possible once you put it out there. In general I need sufficient time to process it all and organize my thoughts and by then the discussion thread is already ‘dead’. Yeah, I’m slow like that, lol.

Anyhow, on the topic of reviews and ratings: It’s an explosive subject, apparently. And I don’t want to add fuel to the fire in any way. But I’ve given it some thought and I want to try to say something about the subjectivity of the art of reviewing. See, I’m of the opinion that ‘objective’ reviews don’t exist (as some authors are demanding). A reader/reviewer can’t help but bring his/her own preferences and personality to the book s/he is reading. However, it’s his/her responsibility - or if you wish ‘job’ - to be aware of the personal values s/he uses when judging a book (and -in a perfect world- to point them out to the readers of the reviews). I admit this is difficult and I am guilty myself of presuming mine to be known. But since I’ve actually never uttered them clearly and separately on my blog I think it’s time to give it a try…

To keep myself sharp and aware of my preferences and prejudices, I go back every now and then to the list below of seven most common arguments that we use to form our opinion on a book. And I attempt to get clear again which of these arguments are more important to me than other arguments (because this can change over time and with the genre I’m reading).

The seven arguments:

Realistic argument
A book is good (or bad) when it’s projecting the world (un)realistically, when the story’s reality is (un)believable.

Moral argument
A book is good (or bad) when it contains certain ideas about sex, religion, morals or politics.

Structural argument
A book is good (or bad) when its structure is (not) solid, when the story is (not) built/paced well, when there’s (no) consistency.

Stylistic argument
A book is written in a good (or poor) writing style.

Innovation argument
You can learn something from the story. The book contains original ideas and provocative thoughts.

Emotivistic argument
A book has to touch you emotionally. It has to entertain you, move you and captivate you.

Intentional argument
The reader/reviewer assumes that the writer has a certain purpose/intention with his story and assesses whether the author has managed to achieve that goal.

Of course, I try to consider all of these aspects when I’m writing a review but I’m fairly sure none of my reviews contain all these arguments with detailed examples to prove the point *g*. I’m pretty certain though that most of my reviews say something along the line of the emotivistic argument. When reading romance books the emotional argument is very, very important for me, and I’m guessing for most other romance readers too. And especially this argument is one of the most subjective ones. A lot of factors can influence the emotional experience of a reader, including external ones (like the level of distraction while reading, your age and reading experience, the recent events in your life, etc).
Personally, I’m also rather focused on the structural argument and – especially when I’m reading Dutch books – on the stylistic argument. The more I read the more unforgiving I become when structural elements aren’t solid, for example when the plot has holes or the choice of narration isn’t consistent.
On the other hand, I’m not looking for a lot of thought-provoking ideas in my romances (innovation argument) although a little originality won’t hurt, and I’m quite good at suspending disbelief (realistic argument) as long as things don’t pull me out of the story and the characterization is done well (with more showing than telling). I’m not easily offended (moral argument) when a novel showcases somewhat extreme sexual, religious or political ideas, although I can’t stomach injustice, hate and inequality very well.

I guess, you can say that I’m quite easy to please, or at least that’s how I like to think of myself. ;) I give a lot of 4 star ratings and according to Goodreads my average is 3.74 stars (Kris and Kassa's recent posts gave me the idea to look at it). But when I look back at the books I first read in this genre (a little over one and a half year ago) I see that I was much more generous with the five star ratings than I am now. Simply because I hadn't read a lot in the same genre to compare these books with, so I was easily awed. (And somehow I’ve never felt the urge to compare them with the general fiction books I read and reviewed until then). Now that I have read a few more books in the romance genre though, I’m way more economical with handing out the five stars. Lol.

Okay, time to round up. You’ve probably fallen asleep by now anyway. If not, I’m curious which of the above arguments count most for you when rating (or reviewing) a book. Are #6 en #3 outweighing the other arguments for you as they are for me? Or are different arguments more important for your judgment?

Happy Gay Friday!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: Pushing Her Boundaries by Julia Rachel Barrett

Julia Rachel Barrett
Pushing Her Boundaries
Siren Publishing, 2011
Goodreads | Author's website | Twitter | Buy link

Maggie is done with men. Flying to Minneapolis, she’s seated beside the type of man she always falls for. A sexy, arrogant alpha jerk.
Mace Williams irritates the woman next to him. She's so damn sexy, he doesn't care. When their seatmate suffers a cardiac arrest, Maggie and Mace team up to save his life, but it's too late.
In Minneapolis, Maggie heads to a restaurant with her sister, only to find Mace waiting. Worse, she learns he's the brother of her sister's fiancé.
Stuck in her sister’s apartment with Mace, Maggie offers him one night of sex, anything goes. No obligations, no recriminations. Mace agrees...he wants more than Maggie's body, he wants her heart.
Thrown into a disastrous canoe trip, they must work together to survive. Maggie must face her demons and trust Mace with her life. Mace is determined to save her, regardless of what the future brings

Genre & Keywords:
M/F, Contemporary Romance, wildlife experience, survival, canoe trip

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 2.5 out of 3 flames

Why I read it:
The author sent me a copy for review and I read (and enjoyed) one of her books, Captured, before, which I reviewed here.

When I received Pushing Her Boundaries in my mailbox the author piqued my curiosity by telling me that this story was inspired by her own real life experience, that I remembered as a 'canoe trip from hell' from her blog posts last year. It made me open the attached PDF-file for, what I thought would be, a quick look. But once I started reading the first page I got drawn into the story by the compelling way of writing. Before I knew it I was on the plane with main characters Mace and Maggie, two total strangers thrown together into action when the passenger sitting next to them suddenly goes into cardiac arrest. Mace, being a doctor, and Maggie, a nurse, do everything they can to help the man but without avail.

After this unusual meeting they part ways only to meet again shortly after when it turns out that Mace's brother and Maggie's sister are getting married. Maggie is annoyed and Mace delighted about their unexpected reunion. Despite feeling attracted to Mace Maggie doesn't like him because he reminds her too much of the type of men that hurt her in the past. Mace is oblivious of this but does sense her dislike of him which he finds rather amusing. He can't stop teasing Maggie. And when they end up alone in Maggie's sister's apartment sparks fly and passion ignites between the two of them. But Maggie has one condition: it'll be for one night only.

So far, I still couldn't stop reading, although I hadn't planned to read this much at all, due to other obligations. But I was that engrossed in the story, even though there wasn't a canoe trip in sight yet. So, I kept reading and continued enjoying the hot chemistry between the hero and heroine. Their sexy romp of one night is very, very amazing and I fell piece by piece in love with Mace. He's such a wonderful and giving lover and man, and I was a bit annoyed that Maggie couldn't see that. I think Julia Barrett did a fabulous job with the characterization of her protagonists. Alternating between both their perspectives, she shows their insecurities, their thoughts, their behavior and their feelings. We learn to understand Maggie and her reluctance to fall in love again. And we learn to admire Mace and his perseverance. They feel real.

Finally, the canoe trip is about to take place. Maggie is unaware that Mace will be part of the trip as well; somehow her sister Lynn kept this a secret from her. Earlier Lynn also played a dubious role that caused Maggie and Mace to end up alone in her apartment. And now it's strange again that she’s keeping Maggie in the dark about her canoe partner. Initially Lynn and her fiancé Jeff would come on the trip as well, but Lynn broke her foot and now she and Jeff are staying at the cabin of their friends who will be the guides for the canoe trip (honestly, I can't fathom how they can call these people friends). Lynn insists that Maggie will follow through with the original plan for the canoe trip. Even when Maggie has a bad feeling about their guides and tells her she wants to go home, Lynn convinces her that she should go. And this is where I started to find the set-up unbelievable. Lynn's reasons for her behavior stayed obscure (not even an explanation after everything was over) and therefore it felt as if it was just for the plot's sake. To throw Mace and Maggie together in a life threatening situation in which love can bloom.

Admittedly, this idea worked out fine and the adventures in and around the canoe are breathtaking and very well-written. The descriptions are vividly and precise, so that I could imagine every move of a paddle, nearly experience the motion of every wave and almost feel the wind and icy rain. And I also could enjoy every sweet touch and loving gesture between the protags as if I were there myself. It all is quite an adrenaline rush. And the HEA for this love couple is well deserved, although perhaps based on not the most solid basis one can start a relation on. Adrenaline is fickle like that.
Nevertheless, or the more, I regretted the lack of confrontation after the ordeal was over. I would've liked to see Maggie and Mace confront the guides of the trip for what they've put them through. And I was also expecting a serious get-together for Maggie and her sister and a realistic explanation from Lynn for her behavior. But, unfortunately, none of that.

The relational conflict in Pushing Her Boundaries is all about Maggie’s bad judgment of the men in her life and her unwillingness to lose her heart again. Therefore the plot is focused mainly on proving her wrong, on showing her that Mace is the exception and that he is fabulous. Unfortunately this makes Mace nearly unrealistically perfect and a bit of an ‘easy catch’. Almost from the beginning he wants Maggie and he knows that she’s the one for him. He rarely has doubts about her, he’s all set on winning her heart. But we never learn much about his history with women, why he’s still single, why he’s ready for a relationship now, why it should be Maggie he wants to spend the rest of his life with... Okay, in the end we can see why. And true, they made a good team in the canoe, so they do match, outside as well as inside the bedroom. But as the title already tells us, the story is more about Maggie and her development, than about Mace, even though we do get his point of view occasionally. The relational conflict is embedded wonderfully in an exciting, adventurous survival story, which is a big plus for adrenaline junkies who like their romances to be plot driven and action packed.

Altogether Pushing Her Boundaries is a sexy, adventurous and entertaining novel. Apart from a few plot turns that felt forced, a couple of unanswered questions, and some issues I had with the guides' unlikely personalities, I enjoyed reading this book a lot. Especially its humor, the characterization and the engaging writing style make this a recommended read.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Happy Gay Friday & My New URL is live!

TGIF again! It’s been a busy week at work and - in retrospect - it wasn’t the smartest of moves to pick this week to steer my blog through the domain and name change. LOL!
The blog is still not what it should be, even though I’ve used every spare minute to tweak it. I’m pretty much frustrated with Google/Gmail, it seems that once you’ve linked your blog to one gmail address it’s impossible to change it to another gmail address. Even if you delete the first account. What’s up with that?
And somehow my blogrolls decided to disappear once I had the new URL working. But thank goodness, the whole domain thing and URL linking back and forth worked out okay. My blogspot url is still working while the new domain url is showing and working as well. I’m pretty proud that I managed to figure out the stuff with DNS settings myself. :) Pfff… now there’s still quite some fine tuning ahead of me, of which the retrieval of my blogrolls is the most important, because I use those to blog hop…

Anyhow, it’s Friday and that means browsing through my Happy Gay folder. Those cookies never fail to make me feel like I’m on the top of the world. So, I’m sure all the blog stuff will work out fine. And I might even be able to squeeze a little bit of reading in this weekend! :)

Happy Friday everyone!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Review: Cops and Rubbers by A.J. Llewellyn

A.J. Llewellyn
Cops and Rubbers
Amber Allure, 2010
Goodreads link | ebook | 199 pages

Hell hath no fury like a pirated ebook author...

Jason Jagger has finally realized his dream. After years of struggling, he is a successful, multi-published author of gay erotic paranormal romance ebooks. His happiness, however, is shattered by rampant online piracy. He feels he’s in a constant cat-and-mouse game with pirates fond of uploading his books to multiple file-sharing sites. One flagrant, prolific pirate in particular seems to feel it’s his duty to illegally upload Jason’s books as fast as Jason can write them. Just who is this person with the nickname of Private Eye? And why has he targeted Jason?
With his obsession about e-piracy growing, Jason knows both sides of the argument, but he doesn’t see it as a victimless, faceless crime. He’s struggling to make ends meet as it is. Rumor has it that the theater where he works is on the verge of closure, and his lover, a recovered meth addict, is starting to act weird again.
Jason can’t help but wonder how the thieves would feel if he turned the tables on them. So with nothing to lose, he decides to track down Private Eye. But has he picked the wrong guy to mess with? This game may have long-lasting consequences, especially when, in the eyes of his quarry, it’s a game of Cops and Rubbers...

Genre & Keywords:
M/M Romance, Contemporary, Ebook Piracy, Cheating, Stealing

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 2.5 out of 3 flames

Why I read it:
I’ve read The Bouncer from this author before and enjoyed his way of telling a story.

In Cops and Rubbers the author takes the time to introduce his heroes Jason and Darius during the first half of this book in separate, alternating story threads. It's only well into the second half of the book that they actually meet. I liked this extensive introduction a lot. We see both men struggle with their love lives and their daily routine which makes them three dimensional characters with whom you can easily empathize. If you’re not a fan of books that have the heroes have sex with other characters than their intended love interest, this book isn’t for you. However, in their defense, these scenes all take place before their acquaintance.

Before they meet, the heroes are 'connected' - without them knowing it - through ebook piracy. Jason is an author of gay erotic romance; Darius is one of the owners of a piracy site that causes Jason much grief. (btw the backblurb misleadingly mentions an uploader called Private Eye, but he doesn’t play an active role and he's NOT Darius. And Jason certainly didn’t track him down either.) This topic about the thievery of pirates was entertaining and something I'd never come across before in an ebook. It was kind of surreal, and I can only imagine how readers who illegally downloaded Cops and Rubbers themselves, had to have been flinching and cringing while reading certain scenes. Jason's hopelessness and passionate feelings on the topic were conveyed very well.

When the guys finally meet in real life sparks fly and things happen fast. They fall in lust (and love) head over heels but they have this Big Secret looming over their heads. I really liked this plot twist, although it was no surprise at all that things turned out the way they did of course, with the careful build-up we got with the first half of the book. Unfortunately, I felt that the pacing of this second half of the story was at odds with that of the first half though. Not only was the insta-love a bit too much, but the whole wrap-up of the Big Secret felt really rushed too. When the book ended I was almost flabbergasted that it had. The speed of the last pages was unreal and in the end I was left a bit unsatisfied, to be honest. But overall, Jason and Darius were engaging and likable heroes, who entertained me the entire time I spent with their story. I just would've liked them to have more 'on screen time' together to work things out between them and to give their HEA a more solid base, that's all. It's still a recommended read.

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