Review: The Roommate Situation by Zoe X. Rider

RoomateTitle & Author: The Roommate Situation by Zoe X. Rider
Release Date: October 7, 2014
Publisher: Loose Id
Pages: 330

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

College freshman Shane Hahn finds himself unexpectedly shuffled to a new dorm room–which is fine by him, but his over-involved mother takes one look at toothpick-chewing, motorcycle-riding Derek McClain, his new roommate, and gets on the phone with the school. The school requires that Shane be the one to file the room-change paperwork, but Shane’s reluctant.

He’s attracted to Derek’s independence, even though that independence means Derek has to pay his own way through college, which he does by making leather products (you know: belts, wallets…bondage gear) and selling it online. Shane isn’t even allowed to work while he’s in school, much less join a band, which is what he really wants to do with his life. Unfortunately, his parents are holding his guitar hostage until he can prove he’s taking his future seriously.

When he decides he needs a way to come up with cash–the kind his parents won’t find out about–so he can buy a guitar his parents can’t take away from him, he turns to Derek with what sounds like a win-win solution: he’ll model bondage gear for Derek’s online store photos, Derek will get more sales, and Shane will get a cut. The one thing he doesn’t factor into his plan is the giddy stomach-flip feeling Derek McClain causes whenever he walks in the room–and what that might mean for them when Derek starts locking leather cuffs on his wrists.

My Thoughts:

Overall, I enjoyed this one.

The relationship between Derek and Shane was strong and the slow-build from tentative overtures of friendship to lovers to being in love was utterly believable. There was also some decent character development. Both characters felt like your genuine ‘every man’ – like the guys that lived down the hall from you in the dorms, or sit next to you in class, or pass you in the hall at a party – and it was nice to see their growth over the course of the book (particularly that of Shane). Also, the small dose of kink that Rider threw in was somehow sweet and innocent and honest; it felt completely natural for both of these guys to explore these different sides to their personalities and sexuality while in college.

One aspect of the book that didn’t hugely thrill me was that after about 200 pages I found the minutiae of college life and the mundane nature of some of the conversations to get a little tedious. I’ve been there, done that – three times (but who’s counting?) – and I know these conversations by heart already. I’m over them. Let’s sing a new song already!

Still, I think the biggest obstacle to my enjoyment of this book was that the focus was split pretty evenly between Shane’s relationship with Derek, Shane’s relationship with his parents (particularly his sMother), and Shane’s journey of self-discovery. Personally, I would have preferred a little less of the parental pressures and a little more outright romance in my romance novel – just a few more outright declarations, sweet nothings, or casually affectionate gestures to lighten my heart. But that’s entirely a personal preference; you might find it to have the perfect balance.

Definitely worth a read, but it wouldn’t make the top of my recommendation lists.

My Rating:

3 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: The Backup Boyfriend by River Jaymes

Backup CoverTitle & Author: The Backup Boyfriend by River Jaymes
Series: The Boyfriend Chronicles (#1)
Release Date: November 28, 2013
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 225 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
Professionally, Dr. Alec Johnson has almost reached his goals. As this year’s recipient of a humanitarian award with his ex, Dr. Tyler Hall, Alec’s work with the homeless is about to be recognized. Unfortunately, his personal life sucks because now he has to attend several events alongside Tyler—with his ex’s new boyfriend in tow. In an attempt to lift his mood and break out of his rut, Alec purchases a motorcycle he has no idea how to start. 

Dylan Booth doesn’t have time for Dr. Clueless and his fickle 1964 Harley, but the cocky mechanic can’t say no to the request for help. Having spent his teen years on the streets, and losing his best friend to HIV, Dylan decides teaching the do-gooder how to ride is the least he can do. But watching Alec flounder in his ex’s company throws Dylan into protector mode, and the confirmed hetero introduces himself as Alec’s new boyfriend. 

The ex suspects Dylan is lying. 

Alec claims Dylan’s plan is insane. 

And Dylan’s not sure he can fake being gay. 

But he’s a master bullshitter, and the phony PDA soon turns ultra-hot. Alec can’t afford to get attached, and Dylan’s learned everyone eventually leaves. Unfortunately, playing the backup boyfriend is starting to feel way too real… 

My Thoughts:

After I got over the heartbreaking angst that came before the HEA, and reveled in the syrupy sweetness of the epilogue, I only had one major complaint with River Jaymes’ The Backup Boyfriend: it was over. Every other thing about this book was a study in pure perfection – perfect characters, perfect plot, perfect pacing, perfect dialogue, and a perfectly believable gay-for-you romance that left me wanting more. 

The Backup Boyfriend is set two months after Dr. Alec Johnson finds himself on the wrong side of one of the most awkward “it’s not you, it’s me” conversations in history. His ex-boyfriend and business partner, Dr. Tyler Hall, has moved on with a sexy new guy, but Alec still remains lonely and alone, mourning the loss of the man he thought he’d spend the rest of his life with. In an attempt to shake things up a bit, Alec impulsively decides to buy himself a motorcycle he doesn’t know how to ride or care for. It’s not the smartest decision he’s ever made. 

Within a few hours of battling a testy carburetor and a fickle kick starter, Alec admits defeat and limps into Adams’ Vintage Motors for help. There, he meets Dylan Booth, the shop’s rough-and-tumble and oh-so-hetero owner. Despite Dylan’s initial reluctance, an unlikely friendship starts to develop between the mechanic and the humanitarian. And, when Dylan masterminds a plan to attend a party masquerading as Alec’s new boyfriend in order to help him save face with Tyler, Alec has no choice but to go along with the charade. Only, it turns out that not all those longing glances and casual touches are just for show…

Anyone who read my status updates while I was reading this book knows that I fell hard for both of these endearing and incredibly sexy characters. Dylan’s hard body and big-mouth hooked me immediately; I fell in lust with him over that first handshake (who knew rough hands and motor oil could be such a turn on?!), and slid headlong into love with him when he uttered the words, “sex swing.” But his appeal wasn’t just his spectacular muscles and mouthy comebacks. Dylan had a surprisingly sensitive soul and a protective streak that extended not only to those he cares about, but to complete strangers as well. I also loved that Dylan was so comfortable in his own skin and took his changing understanding of himself (mostly) in stride. It was some majorly sexy stuff.

As much as I loved Dylan’s darker past and blue-collar appeal, Alec’s intelligence, humility, wry humour, and easy domesticity was just as hard to resist. You add in the fact that the man’s a doctor who gave up dozens of more prestigious specialties to work with the homeless and my heart didn’t stand a chance. Also, Alec can talk nerdy to me any day of the week – I will probably never think of Da Vinci and the Vitruvian Man the same way ever again (and I am A-okay with that)!

Together, Alec and Dylan had the most amazing chemistry. When they meet for the first time, something just… clicked (despite the fact that both men were determined to keep things platonic). And then there was The Look. It was like one of those perfectly written Hollywood moments where everything stops and the music recedes, and all that’s left is Dylan and Alec looking into each other’s eyes and feeling those first fluttering of lust and confusion. My god. It was electric. 

I understand that gay-for-you romances aren’t every reader’s cup of MM tea because the plotlines can often border on the ludicrous or the gay character can come across a bit like a predator, but I thought Ms. Jaymes hit exactly the right note with The Backup Boyfriend. There was something about the ease with which Dylan accepted the physical aspects of the relationship but fought the more emotional ties, and the way that Alec was determined to suppress any romantic feelings for Dylan in order to preserve the friendship, that washed away these traditional criticisms. I loved the raw intensity of their reactions to one another, as well as their struggles to communicate, and thought that their relationship missteps felt entirely natural to their characters. So bravo, Ms. Jaymes!

I also thought that both Noah and Tyler were strong secondary characters. For obvious reasons, readers are made to dislike Tyler at the beginning of The Backup Boyfriend (let’s be real, friends always pick sides in a breakup and bringing his new boy toy to Alec’s house to pick up his stuff was a Grade A douche move on Tyler’s part). However, Tyler’s character started to redeem himself a little at the end, and the hints about a greater motivation for the breakup has me intrigued. Still, Noah was hands down my favourite of the two. He was consistently hilarious, a little over-the-top, and plenty dramatic, but Ms. Jaymes never let him become a caricature. I appreciated that he (metaphorically) bitch-slapped his best friends with tough love when it was needed, and that he held reservations about Dylan’s sudden fluid sexuality. Given the circumstances, his reactions always felt organic and true to his character. Even though I know it’s going to make me ugly cry over his and Rick’s relationship, I can’t wait to read about Noah’s happily ever after.

As one of the best books I’ve read all year, it’s hard to believe that The Backup Boyfriend is Ms. Jaymes’ first full-length novel. I gave this book 5 very enthusiastic stars and am left wondering what the heck I will do when her next work surpasses its awesomeness. Do you think if I ask really, really nicely Goodreads will loan me a 6th star?! 

Verdict: I highly recommend this book for anyone with a romantic soul and an appreciation for perfectly plotted gay-for-you arcs. My advice, though, is to read it slowly – you’ll want to savour every last adorable, butterfly-inducing, tear-jerking moment it had to offer. 

PS: This book gave me my new favourite term: “oh-holy-shit-gasm.” Epic.

Note: This review was originally published on Goodreads on December 4, 2013.

Quotable Quotes:

“I wouldn’t miss this fake-homo show for all the Gucci Shoes on Rodeo Drive.” 

***

“Jesus had two Dads and he turned out okay.”
My Rating:
2 Smooch3 Smooch

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Review: Screwups by Jamie Fessenden

Screwups CoverTitle & Author: Screwups by Jamie Fessenden
Release Date: March 7, 2014
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 204 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
In 1996, Jake Stewart is starting his third year at the University of New Hampshire. Even as a successful business major, he is absolutely miserable. Not only is Jake pursuing a field he hates when he’d rather study art, he is utterly terrified of what will happen if his father finds out he’s gay. When he finally gets up the courage to move into the creative arts dorm on campus, his new roommate, Danny, is openly gay—and there’s no denying the attraction between them.

Danny Sullivan has been out since high school, and he appears comfortable with his sexuality. But something happened in Danny’s past—something that gives him nightmares he refuses to talk about. Unknown to Jake, the way he mistreated his friend, Tom Langois, when Tom came out to him in high school, is mild compared to the way someone very much like Jake treated Danny.

It may be too late to fix the mess Jake made with Tom, but if Jake wants to be with Danny, he’s going to have to fix the mess made by another closeted jock he’s never even met.

My Thoughts:

I think Jamie Fessenden’s Screwups was a case of “everybody loved it but me.”

For a couple of weeks after its release, Screwups showed up on my Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter feeds like crazy, and the feedback was pretty positive across the board. The author was one whose work I hadn’t read before, but some of my most trusted friends count him among their favourites. For me, that was as good a reason as any to give his book a try. 🙂

The book started out strong and Fessenden’s writing in those first few pages had an undeniable emotional pull. I could feel this weight in Jake’s character; it was this enormous fear warring with an intense yearning – a yearning to be allowed in Eaton House, to embrace his art, to find a place to belong, to be himself, to accept himself. Call me a sap, but there was no way that I was going to be able to remain detached from his character in the face of such need. But the beauty of Screwups was that Fessenden accomplished this emotional connection between his characters and his readers in a way that was almost heartbreaking in its subtly.

“It occurred to Jake at that moment that, with her [Eva] holding his hand and Danny’s hand still resting on his shoulder, this was the most physical contact he’d had in years.”

Though I’ve never been one for gooey public displays of affection with a significant other, I do consider myself a pretty tactile person – a casual toucher, if you will. I think nothing of putting my hand on someone’s back when I pass behind them in tight spaces. I pat or poke people when talking and joking with them. And if I go too long without a big, solid, two-armed, rib-squeezing hug, my body starts to crave that contact. So Jake’s casual acceptance of the lack of physical affection he has received in the past hurt me on a soul-deep level. And yet it doesn’t feel like the author was being emotionally manipulative; it’s just a simple statement of fact (and all the more powerful for it).

There’s a handful of similar moments in the first few chapters, and as I read them, I started to get excited. Was this going to be my new favourite book of 2014?!

Sadly… Not quite.

As soon as Jake moved into Eaton House, I could feel the book start to slip away from me. I found the whole section from the moment Jake moved into the dorm until the first snowfall to be lacking in the emotion and connection that I felt reading those first few chapters. I mean, there were words on pages. They were objectively well-written and certainly edited and punctuated better than my own writing, but they evoked nothing for me. I was bored with the detailed descriptions of the D&D and LARPing experiences. And, while I could relate to some of the dorm antics from my own freshman year at university (I can recall one particularly drunken night of Gnome Hunting, and another involving a 6-foot tall Technicolored, papier mâché elephant…), I saw nary a bare butt cheek, let alone two naked brawls and tandem jack-off sessions between roommates. Maybe it is because I’m a woman. Or, maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, but I just couldn’t relate.

The book picked back up around 70-75% and I was able to re-invest somewhat in Jake and Danny’s relationship, but the action and dialogue still felt like it was missing… something.  Between Danny’s past sexual experiences, and the homophobia and abuse Jake endured at the hands of his father and brothers, the author tackled some pretty dramatic (though not entirely original) issues in the last third of the novel. And while I believe Fessenden capable of writing about these issues in a nuanced way, the execution left something to be desired. I guess I was looking for that subtly and emotional impact that he’d had achieved in those first few chapters, but I just didn’t find it. Everything felt just a little… not clunky. Distant, maybe?

One thing that I’ve got to give Fessenden credit for, though, is the fact that this book had an incredibly strong sense of place and time. Between the D&D, the LARPing, the lack of cell phones, and the telephone booth painted to resemble a Tardis (the Tardis?), I never forgot that it was 1996. Nor did I forget that our characters were in New Hampshire or that Eaton House existed – and continues to exist today – as part of the university’s vibrant arts community. His descriptions of the dorm was rich and colourful and it was easy to tell that the author’s own time there greatly impacted him.

In the end, it was a sweet coming out story set against a backdrop of college shenanigans, and I can easily see why other readers will love this book (especially if they are already fans of Fessenden’s work). The boys were incredibly cute together once they sorted out their issues, and the book’s epilogue was sugary sweet and left me with a nice fuzzy buzz. It just slightly missed the mark for me and that makes all the difference.

My Rating:

 2 SmoochHalf

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