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

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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: 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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