Review in Progress: Uniform Appeal (an Anthology)

Uniform Appeal CoverTitle & Author: Uniform Appeal by Various Authors (Anne Regan, Editor)
Release Date: April 11, 2011
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 308 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
Everyone loves a man in uniform. From the Armed Forces to civil service, it’s often a matter of logistics to balance work and love in life, and these men are specialists, up to the task of finding romance amidst crime, fire, and military service.

My Thoughts:

I have a love/hate relationship with anthologies.

On the one hand, they’re a great way for me to try a bunch of new-to-me authors with relatively little investment of money and/or time. I mean, who wants to shell out $6.99 for a full-length e-book or spend all day reading hundreds of pages only to find out that the author’s writing style is completely not to their taste? Not this girl. So I was pretty excited when I stumbled across Uniform Appeal; not only did the anthology include enough short stories about men in uniform to permanently melt my ovaries, but with the exception of Lisa Worrall, all of the authors were ones whose work I hadn’t had a chance to read yet. Yipee!

That’s the upside of anthologies.

The downside? The anthology is 308 pages long and there are 16 stories included in it. If you’re doing the math, you’ll know that means that not only are these all short stories, but they’re all short short stories. This might not be a problem for some readers, but I’ve always found that it was the richness of the main characters and the connection – or lack thereof – between them that was one of the biggest determining factors in whether or not I enjoy a book. No disrespect to these authors, but it’s damn difficult to make me feel anything for a character in only a handful of pages.

Still, Uniform Appeal has men (lots of men!) in uniform (lots of uniforms!). How could I truly resist?

Below, I’ve broken the anthology down story by story to tell you what worked and what didn’t.

Chasing Jamie by Eric Arvin:
I hate to say it, but this story read like a hick’s stream of consciousness exercise. The author provided too many extraneous details about the couple’s life and history together for a story of this length. Though I’m sure this was intended as a way to give his characters more depth, I found that it only served to pull focus from the central action of the story, leaving it feeling chaotic and melodramatic. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the titular character; Jamie came across more as a petulant child than a grown man in a serious, committed relationship. I found myself completely apathetic to him and his pink tights. Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true – I did want to put him in a time out. (Does that count as caring?!)

The one thing that I will say for this story is that Arvin did a good job of creating a distinct voice for Wade’s character using a drawl and regional expressions. When combined with the carnival atmosphere of the setting, these details helped to give the story a strong sense of place and time. [1.5 smooches]

Famished by Lou Harper:
Well, I have no idea what the title had to do with the story, but I liked what I read. Neither of the main characters were terribly original, but the story was well-written, well-paced, a little bit funny, and a lot a bit sexy. The tone was perfectly flirtatious, and Sean’s character was just awkward enough to be endearing. In short, it was everything that I was looking for in a story about a man in uniform (a motorcycle cop, no less!). After this, I’m definitely looking forward to getting my hands on a full-length novel by this author. [3.5 smooches]

Delayed in San Diego by Pepper Espinoza:
Chandler’s in a bit of a jam; his restaurant has failed, he’s flat broke, and he’s headed home to Utah so that he can be with family while he licks his wounds and tries to get back on his feet. Cody is a U.S. Marine returning from a harrowing tour of duty in Afghanistan. After years of bravely serving his country while denying who he is and who he loves, he’s ready to come home and move on. The only problem is, he doesn’t have a home to go to. When a winter blizzard grounds all flights to Salt Lake City, Cody and Chandler find the perfect way to kill time between flights — together.

I LOVED THIS STORY! Espinoza may have only been working with a handful of pages, but she managed to push every one of my humina humina buttons and still tug my heart strings. I found myself caught up in the action, entranced by the characters’ chance meeting, their first shy, clumsy overtures, and their downright combustible chemistry in the bedroom. These men were sexy as fuck together, but it was the hints of vulnerability and their willingness to take a chance on more than a one night stand that ultimately won me over. [4 smooches]

Hot Stuff by Maria Albert:
This story had such promise! It started out with a sexy, but exhausted man running a stop sign and being pulled over by a cop. Bow-chicka-bow-wow! The exhausted man is Drake, a firefighter and all around do-gooder. The patrol cop, Perrin, is a cute blonde twink and a rookie. I can hear the porn soundtrack revving up in the background, can’t you? But before Perrin can even issue Drake a ticket, there’s a shooting, and a car accident, and Perrin ends up injured and in the hospital with Drake at his bedside.

By this point, I am enjoying the story – the characters are likeable, the action’s good, there’s two men in uniform for the price of one, and we’re about to get some sexy time… aren’t we?! Nope. We’re about to get a whole lot of extraneous I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-this details. I didn’t need a sub-plot about an arsonist. Nor did I need one about a gay-bashing. Oh, and I especially didn’t need to be introduced to 15 secondary characters by name, get a run-down of Perrin’s entire family tree in excruciating detail, and listen to a back-story for each of them. I just want witty banter, smiles, sex, and a couple of feels, thank you very much. But I didn’t get that. Instead, I got our main characters’ first – and only – sex scene given to us as a DREAM SEQUENCE. [2 smooches]

Duty by Emily Moreton:

Discovering Columbus by Shae Connor:

Fire House Flame by Paul Taylor:

Sold! By K.R. Foster:

Heat of the Moment by Dawn Douglas:

Double Cross by Lesley Hastings:

The Night Shift by Louise Blaydon:

Jean-Paul by Ryan Loveless:

Walk a Mile by G.R. Richards:

Secrets and Lies by Jay Starre:

The US Male by Lisa Worrall:

Good Things Come… by Rowan McAllister:

My Rating:

*My overall rating is the average rating of all stories in the anthology.

Add to Goodreads ButtonBuy on Amazon Button

Advertisements

Review: What Can Be by Mary Calmes

Mary CalmesTitle & Author: What Can Be by Mary Calmes
Series: I’ll Be Home For Christmas (Dreamspinner Press’ 2011 Advent Calendar)
Release Date: December 1, 2011
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 116

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

Thirteen years ago, Eli went on a summer trip with his mother and never came back. Now, existing in a new life as Jacob Somerville, he’s again running from fear and memories, only to end up where he started. As Jacob struggles to reconnect with his father and brothers, he realizes that his lover, Craig Zhao, was the only thing filling his empty heart and standing between him and ghosts of the past. It will take the power of love—from his family, from Craig, and from himself—for Jacob to see that his life truly is filled with the promise of what can be.

My Thoughts:

This ain’t your typical Christmas story. In fact, I think it may have broken my brain. I need a minute to process my likes/dislikes before rating.

24 hours after reading…

Did I love it? Or, did I hate it? I still don’t know! Seriously. You can’t see me right now, but I have the most bewildered expression on my face.

The writing in this one felt kinda… sparse? But sometimes – especially nearer the beginning of the story as Calmes was establishing her characters and laying the trail of WTF? breadcrumbs for me – I reacted really positively to this method of storytelling. It felt refreshing. I was intrigued by the story (so many secrets, so much baggage!) AND by the way that she was telling it. Then, not too many pages later, the same bare bones technique was driving me bonkers and leaving me feeling cheated because I wasn’t getting the level of detail that I wanted in some scenes.

The dialogue was just as sparse. I often felt as if there were words or sentences that were left unsaid. On one hand, I was totally digging it because it felt like I was reading something that had finally captured that short hand that real people and real families use with one another. On the other hand, it was frickin’ disorienting.

And characters actions and reactions seemed to change almost by the paragraph. Just when I thought I had a character’s personality pegged, the next sentence out of their mouths or gesture of their bodies would be the complete opposite of what I was anticipating. Again, I found it disorienting. (Just as an example, Craig’s first phone call to Eli? I was convinced that the dude was a controlling, self-important asshat and that Eli was better off running in the opposite direction as far and as fast as he could. Then Craig would do or say something that had me shifting towards rooting for him. And then he’d do or say something that would have me shifting away from him again.) I felt like I was getting emotional whiplash.

(See what I mean about this story breaking my brain?!)

It also probably didn’t help that I felt like there were too many interactions between some characters and not enough between others, questions that went unanswered, and reactions I wish had been explored in greater depth. Not to mention the fact that I was really missing an epilogue to wrap things up with a big Christmas bow for me.

Ultimately, I think this story was great, but too layered and nuanced for a novella format. I’ve given it 4 stars, but only because my OCD wouldn’t allow me to leave it rating-less and I don’t know what else to do.

My Rating:

3 Smooch1 Smooch

Add to Goodreads ButtonBuy on Amazon Button

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

Add to Goodreads Button

Review: Operation: Endgame by Christi Snow

Snow Cover 1Title & Author: Operation: Endgame by Christi Snow
Series: When the Mission Ends (#1)
Release Date: June 20, 2012
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 302 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
It’s been six months. Six months since Jake Madsen let Chris Robertson die. Six months since the passion between Jake and Cassie, Chris’ sister, stepped over the line.

But now Cassie’s being stalked and it’s time for Jake to swallow his guilt, grief, and lust so he can save her life, even if it’s a life without him. He owes it to his dead friend and he owes it to Cassie. He’s fallen in love with her, but she doesn’t have to know that for him to keep her safe.

My Thoughts:

In Operation: Endgame, we’re introduced to twins Cassie and Chris Robertson and their childhood best friend, Jake Madsen. Cassie and Jake have been circling around their mutual attraction for years, but when Chris dies in combat and Jake feels responsible, a single night of shared passion and grief irrevocably change Cassie and Jake’s friendship forever. However, when a stalker begins to target Cassie, Jake is drawn back to Lubbock, Texas to protect the woman he loves.

Let me start by saying that I’m a massive fan of romantic suspense novels. However, it’s rare for me to find a new author whose work I think is as well-written and characters as well-crafted as that of Suzanne Brockmann, Cindy Gerard, Christy Reece, or Laura Griffin. That said, it only took reading a couple pages of Christi Snow’s novel, Operation: Endgame, to realize that I had found my next “must read” author. 

There was a LOT to love about this book.

Perhaps most importantly for me, Snow managed to create main characters that were strong, sexy, and smart. A university professor and video game consultant, Cassie Robertson was independent, intelligent, and ambitious. At the same time, she was fun-loving and deeply devoted to her family and friends. Basically, she’s everything that women in romance novels can (and should) be. 

Jake Madsen, on the other hand, was the perfect foil for Cassie. An elite pararescueman (PJ), Jake was strong, capable, protective, and just vulnerable enough to tug at my heart strings. Honestly, if the man were real, I’d take two! 😉

And, because this is a romance novel, I have to mention that the chemistry between these two was spot on! I love a good friends-to-lovers story, but throw in some guns and mortal danger and it’s good-bye panties! *wipes drool off chin*

Though the majority of Snow’s efforts were (understandably) spent on fleshing out her main characters, her secondary characters popped from the pages as well. The camaraderie and bone-deep caring the characters felt for one another was palpable on every page. Even though it was only a minor story line, I was really glad to see a relationship develop between War and Derek. Their struggle to accept themselves and their feelings for one another felt real and poignant. The more I see same-sex relationships (or anything else outside of the hetero norm) in romance novels, the happier it makes me. The world is a diverse and beautiful place filled with diverse and beautiful people, and it warms my heart to see romance authors embracing these types of characters and relationships in their work.

Love is love, after all.

The book started strong for me, but if I’m being honest, I felt that it stumbled a little towards the end. It was as if Snow’s descriptive capabilities which had been so well executed in the first half of the novel (especially in those fantastic, stirring flashbacks), weren’t able to keep up with the momentum of the plot she created as the action snowballed towards the climax. The description became a little thin, lacking in the more sensory experiences that would have pumped life into the scenes. Where was the stinging feel of the wind whipped up by the helicopter blades on Jake’s face? Or the deafening whump, whump of the blades that would have made conversation inside the helicopter nearly impossible without shouting or the use of headsets?! 

And although I was 100% entertained by the novel’s climax (Snow knows how to write thrilling action), I couldn’t help but feel as if it placed the characters in an almost unbelievable role reversal situation. I mean, I’m all for a woman who can hold her own and kick some serious ass, but Cassie was almost so in-charge that Jake felt redundant. And let’s be real, Cassie might be a military strategist of unparalleled skill, but Jake is a freakin’ PJ and those guys are badass – the elite of the elite. They don’t sit back and let others make the plans and take the risks. It also struck me as completely out of character that Cassie would be able to carry out the acts of violence she did in the final few pages of the book, even if it was to protect herself and those she cared about. 

Despite a somewhat problematic climax, I still thought Operation: Endgame was a great book. It was well-written, fast-paced, included several really creative plot twists, and I was happy to see two characters I genuinely liked get their happily ever after together. Honestly, I can’t wait to read the next book in this series!

My Rating:
2 Smooch2 Smooch

Add to Goodreads ButtonBuy on Amazon Button

Speed Dating Bibliophile Style: April (Runell)

Book slumps fucking suck.

1. Mark Cooper versus America by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock: This was bloody damn good. [4.5 smooches]
2. Frog by Mary Calmes: I get what people are saying about “the classic Mary Calmes” now. [3.5 smooches]
3. Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira: This was so, so, soooo good; ugh, my heart still gets fluttery when I think about just how good this was. [4.5 smooches*]
4. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: I really liked this one, and I can see why people fangirl (see what I did there) about it so much; Rainbow Rowell is a really fantastic author. [4 smooches*]
5. Only Love by Garrett Leigh: Yeah, it hurt. [4 smooches*]
6. Collide by Riley Hart: A huge difference between Broken Pieces, but still good. [3.5 smooches]
7. Wood, Screws & Nails by Piper Vaughn and Kade Boheme: Sooo much better than I thought it was going to be (and I already thought it was going to be awesome). [4 smooches]

Speed Dating Bibliophile Style: April (Catherine)

Books vs E-ReadersEvery month, Runell withholds love and affection (and sexy Jensen Ackles .gifs) until I write these single sentence book reviews. Since I clearly can’t go without Jensen Ackles… er… Runell’s love and affection, here’s a brief rundown of what I’ve been reading this month:

1. Shiny! by Amy Lane: A sweet GFY story about how two adorkable men met over a golden dildo and fell deeply in love (told in a flashback style reminiscent of How I Met Your Mother); it wasn’t as funny as I was expecting it to be. [3 smooches]

2. Once a Marine by Cat Grant: The plot of this book about an ex-Marine and a waiter/writer was a little messy and meandered a bit, but did so in the same way that life is a little bit messy and meanders a bit; it was thoroughly enjoyable. [3.5 smooches]

3. Promises (Coda #1) by Marie Sexton: The first in a series loved by many M/M romance fans, Promises was a story – equal parts sweet and frustrating – about two men who built their romantic relationship on a foundation of friendship. [3.5 smooches]

4. To Catch a Fox (Fox Mysteries #1) by Geoffrey Knight & Ethan Day: A thoroughly enjoyable mystery novel, To Catch a Fox had charm, grit, humour, surprises, action, panty-melting sexy times, and it managed to capture the flavour of New Orleans; all that was missing was a HEA or HFN. [4 smooches]

5. The Party Boy’s Guide to Dating a Geek (Clumsy Cupid Guidebooks #1) by Piper Vaughn & Xara X. Xanakas: A cute book with cute characters (I always love a great opposites-attract story), I think I liked the premise more in theory than execution.[3 smooches]

6. More Than Moonlight (Lucky Moon #0.5) by Piper Vaughn & M.J. O’Shea: Three completely adorable vignettes that had me fanning my face one minute (‘cuz that first sexual encounter was HOT!), and swooning over how cute and painfully earnest Shane and Jesse were the next; I cannot wait to read Moonlight Becomes You! [4 smooches]

7. Moonlight Becomes You (Lucky Moon #1) by Piper Vaughn & M.J. O’Shea: These two write the BEST best-friends-make-the-best-lovers books. Period. Full stop. (Note: I read the 2nd edition) [4 smooches]

8. Roped In by Marie Sexton & L.A. Witt: A sexy little novella from two great authors, I couldn’t help but feel as if Graham ended up with the wrong man (the opposites-attract trope was fun, but didn’t strike me as lasting). [3 smooches]

9. Tell Me It’s Real by T.J. Klune: Hands down the funniest book I have ever read, the premise is adorable and every single one of the characters is sweet, endearing, ridiculously over the top, and fucking hilarious. [5 smooches]

10. Snowcroft Lost (Snowcroft Men #1) by Christi Snow: Typically a M/F romance author, I thought Snow’s M/M debut was really well done – awesome main characters who genuinely care about one another and tonnes of creative plot twists that built to a fantastic conclusion. [4 smooches]

11. Breaking Point (Turning Point #2) by N.R. Walker: Reading books about established couples can be pretty hit or miss, but this grittier second installment in the Turning Point series was pure awesomeness (I flippin’ adore Matt & Kira)! [5 smooches]

12. Two Times Lucky (Luck Moon #2.5) by Piper Vaughn & M.J. O’Shea: A dirty hot vignette between Luka & Nicky that made this fan’s heart happy. [3.5 smooches]

Speed Dating Bibliophile Style: March (Runell)

Here we go again for March:

  1. Broken Pieces by Riley Hart: If only every M/M/M was written like this . . . [5 smooches*]
  2. The Darkest Hour (KGI #1) by Maya Banks: Ethan, sweetheart, you can call me “baby” anytime you want. [4 smooches*]
  3. St. Nacho’s (St. Nacho’s #1) by Z.A. Maxfield: I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did, but Cooper and Shawn stole a piece of my heart and refused to give it back. [4.5 smooches*]
  4. Ball & Chain (Cut & Run #8) by Abigail Roux: I loved it because it’s Ty and Zane, with the wonderful bonus of Nick and Kelly, but it still left me feeling like a mixed bag of emotions; I’ll always love my boys though, no matter what. [3.5 smooches*]
  5. Sinner’s Gin (Sinners Series #1) by Rhys Ford: My first audiobook and dear God . . . Tristan James + Irish accent = eargasm of the fucking century[5 smooches*]
  6. Wanting (Rocky Mountain High: Campus Hearts #1) by M.L. Rhodes: A quick, light GFY (my crack!) that made me aww, but is still pretty forgettable. [2.5 smooches]
  7. Silent by Sara Alva: This hurt. [5 smooches*]
  8. Pony (Guards of Folsom #3) by S.J.D. Peterson: I was in the very least expecting first degree burns; I was hardly singed. [2.5 smooches]
  9. Normal Enough by Marie Sexton: A nice, light, fluffy read. [3 smooches]
  10. Our December (The Making of a Man #1) by Diane Adams: I thought there would have been more angst considering how one of the main characters was so caught up with the age difference (and rightly so), but there wasn’t. [2.5 smooches]
  11. Coming Home (Rock Bay #1) by M.J. O’Shea: I didn’t like it at all. That’s all I got to say about that . . . [1 smooch]
  12. The Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon: Three things: 1. This book is fucking awesome; 2. Claire is probably my favorite female protagonist ever; 3. I want to marry Jamie. [5 smooches*]

*Will Be Reviewed Eventually