Review: Reparation by Eli Easton

StitchTitle & Author: Reparation by Eli Easton
Anthology: Stitch (Gothika #1)

Release Date: April 21, 2014
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: Unknown (the entire anthology is 294 pages)

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

Stitch is an anthology of 4 novellas by m/m romance authors, each with a Frankenstein/Creature theme. It is the first in a series of gothic m/m romance anthologies called gothika.

Reparation by Eli Easton

On the harsh planet of Kalan, weakness is not tolerated. When young spore farmer Edward suffers an carriage accident that kills his mail-order bride and his factory manager, Edward has little chance of survival, until Knox—an enormous “reconstitute” labor slave—plucks him from disaster.

Recons are part machine, part human remains from executed Federation prisoners. But Knox is different from other recons. He can read and has flashes of brilliance. With no one else to rely on over the bleak winter, Edward forms an alliance with Knox, and against social taboos, they become friends. Edward struggles against his growing lust for the large humanoid, and while Knox thrives in his new life, memories of his past torment him.

A twist of fate brought Knox and Edward together, but there will be a price to pay in blood when they learn how deeply their lives truly intersect

My Thoughts:

I should probably start by admitting that I’m not a fan of Gothic novels. In university, I read a few chapters of Frankenstein and couldn’t get into it. The characters, the language, even the settings just didn’t draw me in like I wanted them to. Later, I tried a few chapters of Jane Eyre. Same reaction. And, though I gave Wuthering Heights the old college try, before long the idea of putting my head in an oven held more appeal to me than finding out how Catherine and Heathcliff fared at the end of the novel.

So you think I’d avoid this anthology like the plague. However, there is just no denying the power of that cover. It. Is. Awesome. Moody and dark and evocative. All of a sudden it didn’t matter that I don’t typically read horror or sci-fi or Gothic novels; I had to read this one. (So bravo, Ms. Easton. Clearly, if this author thing doesn’t work out for you, you won’t go hungry.

Eli Easton is a real life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There is no other rational explanation for how the author of the sweet, fluffy, holiday romance Blame It on the Mistletoe is also the author of the darkly romantic slave tale, Reparation. But while I really enjoyed the first, it is the second that I know will stay with me over time.

Simply put, Reparation blew me away.

In Easton’s introduction, she mentions that the inspiration for her novella was a mix between Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights. And, while I can clearly see the parallels between those two classic novels and this one (with a little Pinocchio thrown in for good measure), Easton managed to give Reparation a few twists all her own.

Readers are introduced to Edward in the wake of a horrific carriage accident that has left his young wife and his foreman dead and his own life’s blood pumping steadily into the soil beneath him. This is how Knox, one of Edward’s Reconstitutes – a part human, part robot, entirely slave cyborg – stumbles upon him in the face of a terrible storm. Even devastated by his losses and fearing for his life, Edward can’t help but notice the unusual tenderness and compassion with which Knox handles him. And neither can I.

Life is sacred.

While I appreciated Edward and his struggles, all it took was one simple thought to have me putty in Knox’s overly large hands. There were just so many layers of complexity and vulnerability to his character that I couldn’t help but ache for him. And root for him. And love him. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time a character gripped me by the throat and refused to let go of my attention until I had discovered every last facet of his personality and history. And the fact that Easton managed a character of this depth within the space of a novella is all the more impressive.

And then there’s the story’s setting – that of the fictional planet of Kalan – which was at once both completely foreign and strangely familiar to me. I had no trouble envisioning the planet’s stark beauty, its endless “fields” of lichen, the haze of the spores in the air, the razor sharp rocks that cut Knox’s feet like glass, or the ferociously icy wind storms that swept away everyone and everything in its path. And then there were times as I was reading that I would feel this oppressive pressure in my chest – a sort of borderline claustrophobic feeling – at the thought of being surrounded by all that completely toxic air. It was legitimately frightening. It may sound strange, but for me, Easton described Kalan so vividly that it became another main character in the story – a beast that the story’s actual main character, Knox and Edward, had to battle together.

The story’s conflict felt inevitable and the resolution, organic; both were true to every breath the characters had taken to get to that point. I believed their actions. I believed their words. And I believed in Knox and Edward’s happily ever after.

As I said in the beginning of this review, this story is a memorable one. I have a feeling that at the end of the year – with hundreds of books read and thousands of characters met – this will still be one of my favourites of 2014. I hope that you read it and love it as much as I did.

Still to read in this anthology:
Made For Aaron by Sue Brown
Watchworks by Jamie Fessenden
The Golem of Mala Lubovnya by Kim Fielding

My Rating:

2 Smooch1 Smooch2 Smooch

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Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

FangirlTitleFangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Release Date: September 10, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 445
Read: April 18-20, 2014

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love. 

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

My Thoughts:

This is what all YA should aspire to be like.

Smart, intellectual, funny, and real.

❖ ❖ ❖

First thing first: One can hardly call this a review, but nevertheless, here it is:

I read this book months ago, but I think I’m finally ready to write this review. Why? Well, starting August 20th, I’m officially a freshman in college. And everyone that has ever been a freshman in college knows, that’s scary . . . Scary and exciting all at the same time. It’s on my mind all the time now, and even though I’m only taking a couple of classes to start off with because I work all the time, I’m worried that I’m no longer going to have a life between work and school.

Also, because I’m Cath. I’m anti-social. I’m not a people person. And the idea of walking into a classroom full of some odd number of kids and being expected to talk to them, ask the teacher questions, and act like I’m not scared shitless of making an idiot of myself (biggest fear ever) has my nerves jumbled and my head thinking ridiculous thoughts.

Just like Cath.

If I have ever read a book where I could relate so well to a character, it’s Fangirl. As I was reading about how Cath was hoarding granola bars in her dorm room so she wouldn’t have to actually go out and find the dining hall, I realized that I wasn’t just reading about a character, I was reading me. 

And that’s the beauty of Rainbow Rowell. She’s writing real people. Sure, their fiction, but the way she writes these “fictitious” characters, living “real” lives and talking “real” talk, they embody someone, somewhere, that makes him or her realize, “Hey, that’s me.” And maybe it might make them a little uncomfortable to see themselves in another perspective because probably they were rolling their eyes and thinking, How could anyone be that scared, that awkward, with life and people? But eventually they realize they are, and they realize that they’re not the only ones, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Cath went on a self-discovery journey in Fangirl and this time next month, I will be too.

And who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and find a Levi because everyone deserves a Levi. 😉

Quotable Quotes:

In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)

“I miss you.”
“That’s stupid,” she said. “I saw you this morning.”
“It’s not the time,” Levi said, and she could hear that he was smiling. “It’s the distance.”

My Rating:

1 Smooch1 Smooch1 Smooch1 Smooch

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Speed Dating Bibliophile Style: May & June (Runell)

Ugh. I hate fucking book slumps. They ruin lives. Or at least mine.

May

1. The Proposition (The Proposition #1) by Katie Ashley: Uh . . . No. Just no. I didn’t like this one at all. [1 smooch]
2. White Hot Kiss (The Dark Elements #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout: Team Bambi, the end. [4 smooches*]
3. Saga, Volume 1 (Saga #1) by Brian K. Vaughn, Fiona Staples (Art): My first graphic novel, and it was awesome. [4 smooches]
4. Archer’s Voice by Mia Sheridan: This. Was. Beautiful. Archer . . . *Sigh* [5 smooches*]
5. The Ackles Clause by Jay Tryfanstone: Really good fanfic; and my first Supernatural one. [4 smooches]
6. 300 Things by cautionzombies: The best, if not one of the best, fanfic stories I have ever read; Destiel forever! [5 smooches]
7. Asunder by rageprfrock: *Sigh* Destiel . . . [4 smooches]

June

1. Carte Blanche (Love’s Landscapes) by Nash Summers: A wonderful, wonderful little story apart of the LL Event hosted by the M/M Romance group on Goodreads. [5 smooches]
2. What Remains of Us (Love’s Landscapes) by J.H. Knight: A pleasant historical M/M which chronicles the day of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. [3 smooches]
3. The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie (Highland Pleasures #1) by Jennifer Ashley: My first regency romance in a long time, this one stands out from all the others because of main character Ian MacKenzie. [3.5 smooches]
4. Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices #1) by Cassandra Clare:  Why, oh why did I wait so long to read this book? Soo good. Reminded me why I like Cassandra Clare so much. [5 smooches]
5. Clockwork Prince (The Infernal Devices #2) by Cassandra Clare: So freaking good. I need to hurry up and finish this trilogy! And while I understand why everyone loves Will, my heart lies with Jem. [5 smooches]
6. The Art of Breathing (Bear, Otter, and the Kid #3) by T.J. Klune: The reason why I stopped reading the Infernal Devices trilogy; the reason why my heart was ripped out through my gut. [5 smooches]
7. Texas Family (Texas #4) by R.J. Scott: Ehhh. That’s all I really have to say about this one. [2 smooches]
8. Bound By Honor (Men on Honor #1) by S.E. Jakes: Jesus F-ing Christ. This book is a hot one. [3.5 smooches]
9. He Didn’t Have to Be (Love’s Landscapes) by Tracey Michael: My prompt and my guys brought to life. I appreciate Tracey’s story so much. [3.5 smooches]
10. Wait For You (Wait For You #1) by J. Lynn: Cam and his cookies are delicious. [3.5 smooches]

Review: Man of the Match by Lane Swift

ManTitle & Author: Man of the Match by Lane Swift
Series: N/A
Release Date: June 13, 2014
Publisher: Self-published
Word Count: 20,041

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

This story was written as a part of the M/M Romance Group’s “Love’s Landscapes” event. Group members were asked to write a story prompt inspired by a photo of their choice. Authors of the group selected a photo and prompt that spoke to them and wrote a short story. The prompt is copied below, but please click HERE to see the NSFW photo that helped inspire this story.

Dear Author,

“Since that moment we figured out we were alike in more ways than the other boys in the locker room would ever know, we were inseparable. We even shared most of our ‘firsts’ together. But as it sometimes does, life pushed us in different directions after high school. Grad school will be hectic enough, but his appearance back into my life just might change my plans!”

These two guys look to have just finished playing/watching a ‘rousing’ game of football. They may have had to overcome a few obstacles to get to their current point of intimacy, but of course it was worth it for these two.

My Thoughts:

This story about two English teenagers had a lovely, quiet way about it that I absolutely adored. From Aaron and Laurie’s first slightly awkward encounter, through the growth of their friendship and those early flutters of attraction, to their separation and their inevitable reunion, I thought that Man of the Match hit all the right notes for a coming-of-age, friends-to-lovers story.

Over and over, the characters brought a smile to my face with their earnest emotions and the tender care they took with one another’s hearts. It was clear to me right from the start that Aaron and Laurie cherished each other (and that’s not a word I throw around lightly) in a way that few men seem to allow themselves to. It was lovely. LOVELY, I tell you!

And while there was no Big Misunderstanding that ripped the characters apart (thank heavens!), the author gave us plenty of tiny moments as they drifted apart that left me feeling like someone was jabbing my heart with a toothpick. There was a sense of realism in those moments that I think anyone who has ever drifted from a loved one would be able to relate to (it certainly gave some weight to the emotional journey of the story’s characters).

To be honest, I probably could have done without quite so much rugby jargon (because I didn’t understand a word of it), but that’s entirely a personal preference and not a reflection of the author’s obvious talent.

As always, my thanks to the author for participating in the Love’s Landscapes event and for all of the behind-the-scenes work that editors, beta readers, and the MM Group Mods put into making this FREE event a massive success! Don’t Read in the Closet events are hands down one of the best ways to find new-to-me authors like Lane Swift. I won’t even lie, I’m a little crushed now that I’ve discovered her that this author hasn’t published more work; I would love to see what she could/would do with a full-length novel.

Do you hear that, Lane Swift?! I want more. Pronto. 😉

My Rating:

2 Smooch2 Smooch

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Review: Operation: Endeavor by Christi Snow

Snow cover 2Title & Author: Operation: Endeavor by Christi Snow
Series: When the Mission Ends (#2)
Release Date: January 4, 2013
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 340 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
Colton Robertson left his career in the Air Force to come home and help his family heal. Unfortunately, his reception was not quite what he’d hoped for and he ended up as roommate to hippy dippy yoga instructor Penelope Pruitt.

Penelope has spent her life under the restrictive thumb of her parents and she doesn’t want to do the same with the straight-laced, serious Colton. But when it becomes apparent that Penelope’s life is in danger, Colton won’t settle for anyone else protecting Penelope besides him.

Opposites attract and that’s definitely the case with Colton and Penelope. On the surface, they don’t have anything in common, but as the sparks fly and the danger ramps up, their passion is inevitable.

My Thoughts:

Operation: Endeavor
 is the second book in Christi Snow’s When the Mission Ends series about the Robertson siblings and the men and women who love ‘em. After giving the first book in this series, Operation: Endgame, a very enthusiastic 4-smooch rating, I couldn’t wait to read the second installment. 

This book centred around Colton (Cassie and Chris’ older brother), a retired Air Force captain, and Penelope Pruitt, a local bookstore owner and erotica author. A sexy alpha male falling in love with a fellow bibliophile?! I’m already rubbing my hands together in glee and chanting “oh please, oh please, oh pleeeeeease let this be good!”

And it was.

I have to say that I really liked Penelope. All her life she’s been described by others as a flighty party girl, but I think the author did a great job of creating a character that was less flighty party girl and more free-spirited yet savvy businesswoman determined to live life on her own terms. 

Colton, on the other hand, is your typical alpha male – strong, smart, a little pushy and a lot gruff. All of that is enough to push my humina humina buttons, but it was Colton’s utter dedication to his family that made me melt into a giant puddle of “awwwww” at his feet. It’s at the very core of his being and informs everything he says and does in the novel (and just in case you were wondering, it’s sexy as fuck). The flashbacks of Colton at the funeral just about broke my heart, and his willingness to quit a job he loved in order to support his family through a difficult time was beyond endearing. *big, dreamy sigh* I need a Colton of my very own!

And let’s talk about the chemistry between these two for a second, okay? It was off the freakin’ charts! Snow gave it an exciting new twist and totally delivered on the heat factor hinted at by the many mentions of BDSM/erotic literature early in the book. And that scene – you’ll know the one I’m talking about after you read the book – was hot enough to melt the bed sheets. Good Lord, was it ever! Still, as explosive as the love scenes are, the book had enough true romance to make my heart flutter as well. 

One of my favourite things about Snow’s writing is her ability to make the snappy inner voices of her characters come across feeling incredibly natural. For example:

When Penelope said yes to riding Colton’s motorcycle, she hadn’t taken into account how arousing it would be to have him in between her thighs with her arms wrapped around his muscular torso. This. Was. Torture. But oh, what an incredible way to die.

As women, we all think (or say!) these pithy, off-hand kind of comments in our daily lives, but to write them in a way that comes across as funny and effortless rather than overworked, is difficult. And while it may seem to some readers like a small thing, I find that it’s exactly these small details that breathes life into the characters and has a big effect on my overall enjoyment of a book. So, kudos to Snow for pulling this off.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but think that an otherwise great book was let down a little by its climax. Thirty pages to go, and what had been building nicely to a dramatic – yet believable – conclusion took a sharp left turn into the ridiculous with the introduction of “fluffy yellow ducks”. (Please note that since WordPress won’t let me use spoiler tags, I’m using the term “fluffy yellow ducks” as a stand-in for a significant plot twist.) Up until that point, I’d been totally buying in to the villains’ nefarious actions. They made sense given the context. But messing around with “fluffy yellow ducks” seemed way above their pay grade and I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief as a reader that far.

Don’t get me wrong, the climax itself wasn’t bad. Far from it, in fact. It was both interesting and well-written, but the “fluffy yellow ducks” twist felt unnecessary (at best) and as if it belonged as the ending to an entirely different book (at worst).

Further, just as in Operation: Endgame, the climax of the novel had practically everyone outside of the main character’s inner circle utterly betraying her. I thought the fact that there was more than one villain was a really refreshing twist, but the sheer number and diversity of those involved was a lot to take in. Between that and the multiple abusive ex-boyfriends (Really?! The poor woman had to suffer through more than one Grade A asshole ex?!), I was left wondering seriously about the soundness of Penelope’s judgement.

I think that a lot of readers will just roll with the ending and really enjoy its over-the-top nature (it’s super FUN, after all!). Personally, however, I prefer the less is more approach. I feel that a few small edits could have gone a long way to to making this ending truly stellar. But that’s just my opinion. *shrugs*

Overall, I thought that Operation: Endeavor had an original premise (I love the concept behind the When the Mission Ends series!), well-crafted protagonists, tonnes of sweet romance, rich descriptions, and an almost perfectly plotted story arc. It was entertaining and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who loves romantic suspense as much as I do.

Now on to Operation: Endurance! It’s time for Chris and Julie’s HEA, dammit!

My Rating:
2 Smooch1 Smooch

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Review: The Guilt of the Wealthy by Matt Zachary

GuiltyTitle & Author: The Guilt of the Wealthy by Matt Zachary
Series: The Billionaire Bachelor Series (#1)
Release Date: May 18, 2014
Publisher: Porterlance Books
Pages: 123 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
Billy Marstock is the son of an influential judge.

He has the best of everything, including a girlfriend who’s the head cheerleader. With only a few weeks left of school, Billy receives news that he is failing a class and, unless he works with a tutor, may not be able to graduate.

Against his will, Billy agrees to be tutored, less so that he’ll pass the class and more so that he can go on the class’ Senior Trip.

As he spends time with Stuart, his tutor, Billy’s mind is opened up to many new things…things that completely change his outlook on life and what’s important.

Through these revelations, he finds humility, appreciation, courage and even love….

My Thoughts:

Right off the bat, I have to say that I find the title of this series pretty misleading. When I hear the term “Billionaire Bachelor” I, well, I think of billionaire bachelors. Adult billionaire bachelors – men old enough to vote and drink and enlist in the Armed Forces. Calling a kid in high school – a kid too young to have on-the-page sex in your book – a “bachelor” just feels a little skeevy. So I don’t (and neither should you, Matt Zachary).

As I read the book blurb, however, it became very obvious that this was a Young Adult (YA) novel. Though there are some exceptions (The Red Sheet by Mia Kerick comes to mind), I’m not generally a fan of YA. Still, I loved the jock/nerd and rich/poor tropes that teased me from the blurb, so I thought I’d press on and give The Guilt of the Wealthy a try anyway.

Unfortunately this novella did nothing to change my mind about YA.

Billy (the high school jock) and Stuart’s (the brilliant nerd) characters were so one-dimensional and uninteresting they may as well have been cardboard cutouts with the emotional depth of a puddle. I never managed to feel a genuine spark between the characters and so their professions of love (that came way too early in the novella to suit my personal tastes) felt flat and unrealistic. In fact, I may have rolled my eyes so hard in that moment that I strained something.

I also found it difficult to get past the pacing of the story. Between the sheer number of events that happened in the space of a few days, the massive life-changes and self-realizations that took place during that time, and a secondary character changing her tune from “You homo!” to “I’m happy if you’re happy” within the span of 24-hours, I just couldn’t deal. I think the story would have been better served cutting a few of the ideas entirely and devoting those extra pages to developing some of the other plot points more thoroughly. I think the author just needs to learn to give his characters some time to breathe.

Matters weren’t helped any by truly atrocious editing. My spelling and grammar is far from perfect, but c’mon! You can’t deny that nothing throws ice cold water on a barely sizzling sexy moment like a typo or the use of the wrong main character’s name. For the love of all that is holy, please consider investing in beta readers, editors, and proofreaders!

I hate to say it, but I probably won’t be investing any future time or money in continuing to buy and read this series.

My Rating:

1 Smooch

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Review: Awakenings by Jayson James

AwakeningsTitle & Author: Awakenings by Jayson James
Series: N/A
Release Date: June 2, 2014
Publisher: Self-published
Word Count: 17, 068

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
This story was written as a part of the M/M Romance Group’s FREE “Love’s Landscapes” event. Group members were asked to write a story prompt inspired by a photo of their choice. Authors of the group selected a photo and prompt that spoke to them and wrote a short story.

Dear Author,

I’d always considered myself sort of asexual up until now. In high school no one interested me and I was too busy with schoolwork to date anyway. I figured I didn’t have a big sex drive or I just hadn’t met the right girl. However, the more time I spend with my roommate, Ben, the more I’m reconsidering everything.

The more he walks around half dressed the more I keep noticing him. Even if I am attracted to him, which I’m not sure that I am, I don’t think he would be into me. He seems like the type of guy that girls flock to. He couldn’t be interested in me, could he?

Requests: Clearly I’m angling for a gay-for-you here, folks! It can be a double or single GFY, lots of sexual tension (please!), slow build romance, lots of heat. I would rather no BDSM but some light stuff wouldn’t bother me.

My Thoughts:

Firstly, I want to thank the author for taking time out of his busy life to participate in the Love’s Landscapes event. Without people like you willing to give your time and creativity freely, asking for nothing in return but feedback from your readers, the M/M reading community wouldn’t have this wonderful event each year. So THANK YOU!

My appreciation for the author’s efforts aside, however, this story just did not work for me. I love a college-aged GFY as much as the next girl, and I found the idea behind a character who self-identifies as asexual finally experiencing a sexual awakening for that one special person (a sexy man, of course!) intriguing. Unfortunately, all of that was laid out in the prompt and it was the overall execution of the story that I found lacking.

While both likable enough, I didn’t find that either Solo or Ben drew me in and demanded that I become invested in them or their relationship. There just weren’t enough deeply emotional and angsty or sweet and gooey moments between the characters to build that sense of connection between them and me, and I found the constant stripteases awkward and repetitive. So, when the story ended with one lackluster kiss and a HFN, I just kinda *shrugged* and moved on.

I think my biggest difficulty with the story was that the narration and the dialogue seemed overly formal for a story about two college guys in their early twenties. It was also the exact same voice for both characters, so you wouldn’t have been able to distinguish which man was talking at any given moment without the “Ben said” or “Solo said” bits. The lack of contractions and overly concise use of language made the story feel stiff and stilted – like the story had been edited within an inch of its life. Not good.

On the upside, I believe the author’s still relatively new to the publishing world and this is a career with a pretty steep learning curve; he may find a more relaxed, natural rhythm to his writing with time and experience (let’s hope).

My Rating:

1 Smooch

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