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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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: March (Catherine)

I Heart Books

(Probably more than is healthy.)

Last month I read a couple of books. Then I put my sassy pants on and wrote a single sentence book review* for each of them. It was kinda like the fast-food version of book blogging, but it worked out so well that I thought I’d do it again in March.

Only this time… I refuse to wear pants. Betcha didn’t see that coming, did ya?!

1. Unbreak My Heart (Unbreak My Heart #1) by K-Lee Klein: A quietly beautiful story about a drifter who falls in love with a brokenhearted cowboy musician in a way that feels both authentic and inevitable.  [4 smooches]

2. Floodgates by Mary Calmes: A fluffy popcorn read that was let down by a doormat of a main character, too many ludicrous plot points and improbable red-herrings, and an entire gaggle of extraneous characters. [2.5 smooches]

3. Charlie, Rentboy by J.P. Barnaby: A sexy short story that grabbed my attention with its narrative style and the Cockboys on the cover, but had a happy ending (get your minds out of the gutter!) that felt… hopeful.  [3 smooches]

4. Secrets, Skin and Leather (Secret Series #1) by Sean Michael: All porn and no plot, this book had little to no character development, repetitive dialogue, clunky narration, and inexcusably bad punctuation. [1 smooch – DNF’d at 33%]

5. Trouble & the Wallflower by Kade Boehme: With its three-dimensional characters, realistic depiction of a sweet but sometimes rocky opposites-attract relationship, and a bittersweet ending, this book by new-to-me author Kade Boehme far exceeded every expectation I had for it. [4.5 smooches]

6. All in a Duke (Gambling on Love #1) by Ava March: This M/M historical romance was the perfect balance between sweet and sexy, with great characters and a realistic struggle towards their happily ever after. [4 smooches]

7. Medium, Sweet, Extra Shot of Geek by R. Cooper: While the characters in this short story are familiar, Cooper makes them enough against type to feel fresh and interesting, their dialogue both snappy and mundane, and their HEA satisfying in its realistic work-in-progress nature. [3.5 smooches]

8. The Perfect Play (Play by Play #1) by Jaci Burton: I really tried to enjoy this contemporary M/F romance, but even though there’s no denying the steam level of those sex scenes, having two main characters who were nearly flawless bored me to tears. [2 smooches – DNF’d at 60%]

9. Ball & Chain (Cut & Run #8) by Abigail Roux: The eighth installment of Roux’s fantastic Cut & Run series, this book disappointed me with its beyond ludicrous plot and its startling lack of focus on the series’ main characters Ty and Zane, but gained ground in some other areas (e.g. the relationship between Ty and Nick and between Nick and Kelly) and provided a few solidly sweet/cute/funny moments to appease my mushy heart. [2.5 smooches]

10. Stripping the Pain by Kathleen Lee: A friends-to-lovers short story that deals with too many big-ticket issues (sexual abuse, BDSM, etc.) in too short a time-frame (which makes it seem a little exploitative). [3 smooches]

11. From the Ashes (Fire and Rain #1) by Daisy Harris: A great novel by a new-to-me author that gave me a main character (Tomas Perez) whose voice felt fresh and unexpected, yet entirely relatable. [3.5 smooches]

12. After the Rain (Fire and Rain #2) by Daisy Harris: One of the main characters is a firefighting cowboy, gay sex virgin, who saves puppies, and the other is a snarky French-Canadian obsessed with coffee; my ovaries never stood a chance. [3 smooches]

13. Keeping Sweets by Cate Ashwood: A solidly sweet but entirely predictable story about a wannabe porn star who falls in love with his porn Yoda (like Amy Lane’s Johnnies series but with very minimal angst). [3 smooches]

14. Doctor, Doctor (Groves Anatomy #1) by Scarlet Cox: This short story is pure fantasy that reads like the raunchiest porn you’ve ever watched (but not in a good way). [1 smooch]

15. A Fostered Love (Foster Siblings #1) by Cameron Dane: A book about two men with troubled pasts finding a home in each other  that manages to balance the sweet, the angsty, the primal, and the thrilling. [4 smooches]

16. Snowfall (Foster Siblings #3) by Cameron Dane: A sweet, gooey (and insanely hot!) glimpse four years into Jonah and Christian’s life together that made me deliriously happy to read. [4 smooches]

17. Taboo For You by Anyta Sunday: A totally adorable GFY romance told from three rotating perspectives (the two MC’s and the one MC’s teenage son) that is equal parts sweet, frustrating, poignant, and sexy. [4 smooches]

18. His Client by Ava March: Ava March sweeps you into her stories by creating characters you’ll care about, then sprinkling liberally with smokin’ hot sex, genuine affection, and a hard-won happily ever after; His Client is no exception. [4 smooches]

19. To Feel the Sun by Marie Sexton: Eight pages of poignant perfection. [5 smooches]

20. This is What a Cold Lake Looks Like by S.A. McAuley: A 4-page story that reads like the most heartbreaking poetry. [4 smooches]

21. Slide (Roads #1) by Garrett Leigh: With its unique characters and gripping story, Garrett Leigh’s Slide will break your heart but leave you wanting more. [4 smooches]

22. Marked (Roads #1.5) by Garrett Leigh: This “missing scene” from Slide was perfect – sweet and sexy and if you read this without getting just a little turned on when Ash tattoos Pete, I’d check for a pulse. [4 smooches]

23. Coffee Shops and Condoms by Eden Winters: Effectively a PSA on safe sex, this cute friends-to-lovers story about two sexually inexperienced teenage boys is sweet but purposeful. [3 smooches]

24. Blind Faith (Blind Faith #1) by N.R. Walker: Not my favourite by this author, but Blind Faith was another sweet novella with mostly likable characters (I wanted to throttle Isaac after his last temper tantrum), a few tear-jerking moments, and a gooey happily ever after. [3.5 smooches]

25. DILF by Twentysomething: The third person present tense narrative style of this Teen Wolf / #Sterek story took a little getting used to, but the dialogue was so spot on, the characters so endearing, the humour so well-written, and the sheer cuteness factor so overwhelming that I couldn’t help but adore it. [4 smooches]

26. Normal Enough by Marie Sexton: A raunchy muscle car kink/fetish novella from the same woman who wrote the adorable twisted fairy tale, Cinder: A CinderFella Story. [3 smooches]

27. Where the World Ends by Kade Boehme: This book had strong, likable characters, palpable tension, blisteringly hot sex scenes (facial cum shots – yeah, buddy!), and a setting both familiar and alien, but I found that it lost momentum in the last third of the book and not all of the conflicts were resolved in way that I found personally satisfying. [3.5 smooches]

* I sometimes use punctuation in a shameless (and often incorrect manner) to give myself a second sentence. Don’t judge.

There you have it – my picks and pans for the month of March. Is there something you’ve read lately that I need to bump to the top of my TBR pile? Please let me know in the comments section below.

Most Anticipated Reads: March

It’s March! This means it’s time for another round of Catherine and Runell’s 3 Most Anticipated Reads of the Month (or, as I like to call it: the-tiniest-TBR-pile-in-history-that-can-still-defeat-us). For those of you keeping track at home, the stats from last month’s 3 Most Anticipated broke down like this:

Catherine – 2          TBR Pile – 1
Runell – 2                TBR Pile – 1

Not too shabby. But, as my childhood reports cards used to say under the grades for Environmental Studies and Science, it “needs improvement.” With that goal in mind, here are the books that we each most hope to read this month:

Catherine’s 3 Most Anticipated Books of March 2014:

???????????????????????????????????????1. Ball & Chain (Cut & Run #8) by Abigail Roux: When Ball & Chain is released on March 17th, my guess is that a significant number of Ty & Zane fans are going to find themselves coming down with a mysterious 24-hour bug that keeps them from going into work. I can hear the fake coughing and over-acted sick calls already. But who can blame them?! We have been waiting for this book for months.

After the emotional wringer Abi Roux put her readers through with Touch & Geaux, and an unexpected deployment that kept our two favourite men apart for far too long (in other words, any time at all), I think we’re all just ready to see Ty & Zane back together again. And Ball & Chain has a wedding! And Scotland! And murder and mayhem and sex and feels! I. Can’t. Wait.

Forget day-drinking, I know what I’m going to be doing on St. Patrick’s Day!

Slide Cover2. Slide (Roads #1) by Garrett Leigh: Last month I won copies of Slide (Roads #1) and Marked (Roads #1.5) from the author as she was promoting the release of the second full-length novel in this series, Rare. I wanted to read them immediately, but you know how it is – I go to queue up Slide on my Kindle, something shiny distracts me, and next thing I know, a week has passed and I’ve read five other books in its place.

Well, not this month. This month I am reading it. A) because that cover is killing me (in a good way – it is FIERCE!), b) because the author’s blurb pushed all the right buttons for me (so much angsty goodness!), and C) because everyone I know who has read this says it’s amazing and can’t shut up about the chemistry between Ash and Pete. I need to read this book. I need to know these characters!

Floodgates Cover3. Floodgates by Mary Calmes: I read Frog by Mary Calmes in January and adored it. Weber was one of the dreamiest main characters I had ever come across and the story was one that stuck with me long after I finished the last page. It has turned into one of my favourite books in the genre, and one that’s always on the tip of my tongue when someone asks me for an M/M recommendation.

It’s my hope that Calmes’ newest novel, Floodgates, will have this same magic. By the sounds of the book’s blurb, this novel is going to have off-the-charts UST (Unrelieved Sexual Tension) and I am looking forward to every single moment of it. Plus, my dear friends on Goodreads are planning a massive Buddy Read of the book on March 3rd. I was already looking forward to reading the book, but reading it with a dozen of my closest friends and fellow bibliophiles?! Even better.

Runell’s 3 Most Anticipated Books of March 2014:

1. Ball & Chain (Cut & Run #8) by Abigail Roux: This is guaranteed. It will be devoured. No doubt about it. And after I’m done, the waiting commences for Cross & Crown in June and whenever the ninth (and possibly final?) Ty and Zane book. *Sigh* The life of a fangirl.

I’m just so freaking excited . . . As any Ty & Zane fan are.

Abi’s minion torture will come to a conclusion . . . or rather her torture of this kind will be put to an end. And then our torture, the kind that only minions can do, will really begin. We’ll wonder if we should take things as they appear to be, or if we should second guess everything. Most likely, it’ll always be the latter when it comes to Abigail Roux because she likes to keep us thinking, always guessing, driving ourselves insane.

2. Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover: I’m a huge Colleen Hoover fan, and I’ve been dying to read her latest novel, which Maybe Somedaycomes out March 18. The difference with this one is that she partnered with Griffin Peterson, who is the face of Losing Hope and was also on an American Idol (no, I do not watch the show), and as the story is about two songwriters, all the songs in the book are written by Griffin who also recorded a soundtrack of the songs. Apparently, when you get to a certain part where a song comes in, if you have the ebook there will be a link that takes you to a website that will play the song and if you have the paperback there will be a barcode thingy that you scan with your phone which will then take you to the website and will play the song.

Awesome? I think so too.

Three songs have already been released, and they are simply amazing. The CD will be released March 4, and I highly suggest that you do yourself a favor and pick it up. Along with the book too, of course.

The Return3. The Return by Brad Boney: Having read The Nothingness of Ben by Brad Boney, and thoroughly enjoying it, I’ve been itching to get to the sequel/companion novel (one of the main characters in The Return is mentioned in The Nothingness . . .) ever since I read the synopsis and saw the magic words Bruce Springsteen. Guys . . . I love me some Bruce Springsteen. ALSO! It’s GFY. *Squeals*

I didn’t do too hot last month when it came to hopefully getting around to my most anticipated. I started off to, and then something else would catch my eye, and then I’d start on that. In my defense, however, I didn’t get anywhere near the amount of reading done that I wanted to get done, so hopefully in March I’ll do just that.

We told you about our most anticipated books of March 2014, now we want to hear from you! Please leave us a comment below telling us about the book you are most looking forward to reading this month.