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: Legally Bound by J.R. Gray

Legally Bound CoverTitle & AuthorLegally Bound by J.R. Gray
Series: Bound #1
Release Date: September 7, 2010
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Pages: 220

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

The last thing Daniel, a hard-working public defender, expected to see the morning after a one night stand was his hook-up staring back at him from the wrong side of the law. Assigned to work his case, Daniel vows to keep things professional with Rafael but has a hard time controlling his craving for dominance, the control, and the connection they shared. Rafael, a paid Dominant in the Chicago underworld, has been dealing with a cop problem for far too long. Used to sex with no emotion, he’s entranced with Daniel’s submission, his innocence, and…could there be something more? Can Daniel clear Rafael’s name, keeping him out of jail and in his life, with the odds, a cop, and the mounting evidence against them?

Be Warned: m/m sex, BDSM, branding, flogging, caning, whipping.

My Thoughts:

*** Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. Continue reading at own risk. ***

A friend and I recently had a conversation about BDSM erotica and romance novels. Though the specifics of what turned our cranks differed somewhat, one of the things that we agreed upon was that in order for us to enjoy a novel with BDSM themes, there had to be a deep emotional connection between the main characters. For us, the power exchange between a Dom and a sub is hottest when it is based upon mutual trust, respect, understanding, and a sense of equality between partners. I want to know about the character’s emotions and motivations – why are they drawn to the lifestyle? What deep-seated need or desire does the D/s relationship fulfill for them?

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel as if there was enough emotional depth in Legally Bound to make me invest in the characters or the story the way that I had hoped I would. I never felt as if the relationship between Daniel and Rafael moved beyond the lust and curiosity of a one night stand into something more meaningful. Lust and hormones and curiosity can make for a steamy sex scene, I’ll give the author that, but ultimately, this lack of a deeper connection between the characters made the BDSM elements of the books feel tawdry and rushed.

In fact, parts of the author’s depiction of the BDSM lifestyle made me feel downright uncomfortable. I understand that there’s not one “right” way to explore or engage in BDSM play (nor a singular way to depict it in books), but the one thing that people seem to accept unquestioningly is that it must be safe, sane, and consensual at all times. In Legally Bound, however, Daniel and Raf not only engage in restraints, and floggings, and wax play long before they have discussed limits and safe words, but Rafael’s character admits to engaging in scenes with clients while strung out on Vicodin! Later in the book he takes a crop to King’s slave while angry and not entirely in control! That is just NOT okay.

*watches as the author throws the “Safe, Sane, Consensual” edict right out the window, pours gasoline on it, and sets it on fire.*

As for the rest of the book, I respect an author’s prerogative to make creative choices and shape a book however they see fit. I just don’t understand why anyone would set out to create the most idiotic, unethical characters on the face of the planet. Between the characters’ very relationship, the ridiculously thoughtless timing of the couple’s solicitation role play, and Daniel’s decision to confront McCoy at his home and then refuse to go to the hospital or press charges after he is brutalized, I am baffled by these characters and the decisions that they make.

(Don’t even get me started on the fact that Rafael and Daniel have sex immediately after Daniel is assaulted!)

And, before anyone gets up in arms about that last paragraph, I’ll just point out that Daniel’s disregard for his professional ethics are one of the central themes of this book (and therefore fair fame for this review) and that the author, herself, refers to Daniel’s behaviour as “idiotic” on more than one occasion.

From a technical standpoint, I didn’t find the book to be particularly well-written either. It contained a fair amount of unnecessary punctuation, orphaned words that should have been caught and removed during editing, and awkward phrasing. Choppy sentence structure and jarring transitions between characters’ thoughts and actions often left me re-reading passages to ensure that I hadn’t inadvertently skipped something (I hadn’t). Although they may bother other readers less than they did me, I found that these errors made it difficult for me to get into the groove of the book’s narrative style and ultimately made the book feel amateurish.

That said, I did find that the writing began to smooth out somewhere around the book’s midpoint. This made for a much more pleasant reading experience in the second half of the book and bodes well for the author’s future work.

The one writing quirk that I couldn’t ignore or get past was the author’s habit of referring to her characters as “the lawyer” or “the male” or “the Dominant” rather than using their names or personal pronouns. It was weirdly impersonal and made it feel as if there was a distance between the characters long after they had supposedly formed a strong emotional connection. It also put a distance between the characters and me, as a reader, which I think contributed to why I never connected with either of Daniel or Rafael.

I believe that there are plenty of readers out there that will happily overlook the aspects of Legally Bound that I took issue with. Those readers will probably find the book raw or sexy or intriguing. However, this review is about my reactions to the book, and as much as I wanted to, I just didn’t like it. 😦

My Rating:

1 SmoochHalf

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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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Review: Ball & Chain by Abigail Roux

ball-chainTitle & Author: Ball & Chain by Abigail Roux
Series: Cut & Run (#8)
Early Release Date: March 9, 2014
Official Release Date:
 March 17, 2014
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Pages: 340 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

Home from their unexpected deployment, the former members of Marine Force Recon team Sidewinder rejoin their loved ones and try to pick up the pieces of the lives they were forced to leave behind. Ty Grady comes home to Zane Garrett, only to find that everything around him has changed—even the men he went to war with. He barely has time to adjust before his brother, Deuce, asks Ty to be his best man. But that isn’t all Deuce asks Ty to do, and Ty must call for backup to deal with the business issues of Deuce’s future father-in-law.

Nick O’Flaherty and Kelly Abbott join Ty and Zane at the wedding on an island in Scotland, thinking they’re there to assuage Deuce’s paranoia. But when bodies start dropping and boats start sinking, the four men get more involved with the festivities than they’d ever planned to.

With the clock ticking and the killer just as stuck on the isolated island as they are, Ty and Zane must navigate a veritable minefield of family, friends, and foes to stop the whole island from being destroyed.

My Thoughts: 

I woke up yesterday morning to find a veritable barrage of messages from friends in my email inbox, on Facebook, and all over Goodreads. All of these messages were variations on a theme of:

“OH MY GOD! IT’S HERE! IT’S HERE! BALL & CHAIN HAS BEEN RELEASED EARLY! OH MY GOD! TY AND ZAAAAAANE! *SQUEEEEEEEE!!!*”

And, because I love Abigail Roux’s Cut & Run series probably more than is healthy and I’ve been waiting almost five months for this moment, my reaction went a little something like this:

“OH MY GOD! IT’S HERE! IT’S HERE! BALL & CHAIN HAS BEEN RELEASED EARLY! OH MY GOD! TY AND ZAAAAAANE! *SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!*”

It was completely undignified (and I don’t care in the least). I’m not ashamed to admit that in that moment of discovery, had I needed to, I would have pushed small children, the elderly and even my own mother out of the way to get to my pre-ordered copy of Ball & Chain as soon as humanly possible. Thankfully, my Kindle is almost never further than arms-length away and a few clicks of a button later, Ball & Chain was mine.

Unfortunately, while I enjoyed the book and the opportunity to revisit two of my all-time favourite characters in the M/M romance genre, Ball & Chain didn’t quite manage to live up to my expectations.

Going into this book, I had high hopes for the mystery plot. I know that a lot of fans of this series merely tolerate its over-the-top mysteries and conspiracies because they provide a colourful backdrop for Ty and Zane, but I’ve always secretly loved them. They’re ludicrous, but that’s what makes them the perfect guilty pleasure. So, when the first dead body was discovered on the island, I was practically rubbing my hands together with glee and mentally preparing for all the snark and puns that were going to come my way.

But there’s no way to sugar-coat this one…. This plot completely jumped the shark. Even I couldn’t suspend disbelief this far. The body count? The reactions of the main characters? The motivations of those involved? The sheer number of those involved? The utter absurdity of who was behind it and the Machiavellian levels of machination and foresight it would have taken to pull off something of this magnitude?!? Good God! I felt like I was in a bad episode of Murder, She Wrote.

My brain just kept crying, “Abort! Abort! BAD plot bunnies! BAD!”

Thankfully, Ty and Zane still have insanely good chemistry together. When Zane and Kelly were standing at the docks waiting for the Sidewinders to disembark at the beginning of the novel, I had butterflies in my stomach because Zane had butterflies in his. His excitement and uncertainty and love were tangible and I couldn’t wait to see how everything played out. In the end, their reunion was sweet and cheesy and exactly what I was looking for from that moment. And that first sex scene in Scotland?! HELL-O! When I finished reading it, I had to look around see if I could bum a cigarette from someone. That shit was H-O-T.

But beyond that bedroom scene and a whole lot of truly adorable hand holding and shoulder nudging that made my heart happy, Ty and Zane’s dynamic fell a little flat for me in this one. There were some serious emotional landmines stepped on in Touch & Geaux that got roughly shoved to the side when the Sidewinders were suddenly recalled to duty. Ty and Zane had had six months without any communication; presumably they’d both done some serious thinking about themselves and their relationship and their future together while they were apart. In fact, Roux told us that they had. She also told us that they’d both changed, that Ty’s temperament was different now than it had been before his deployment. And yet… I didn’t really see any evidence of any of this. As far as I’m concerned, it was a whole lot of tell with very little show. I mean, heaven forbid the characters have a conversation about something this important.

One thing that I was really happy to see in this novel was the significant strides Roux took forward with Nick’s character. When we were first introduced to Nick in Divide & Conquer (Cut & Run #4), I actively loathed him for trying to come between Ty and Zane. I thawed towards him a little in Armed & Dangerous (Cut & Run #5) and a little more in Touch & Geaux (Cut& Run #7), but I still didn’t actively like his character. I read Shock & Awe (rolling my eyes at how Sidewinders turned out to be the most gay Marine Force Recon team in history) and thought that he and Kelly made an adorable couple, but I could really take them or leave them.

But Ball & Chain changed all that. It gave me a glimpse into Nick’s family history, his flaws, his fears, his demons, and a little about how dark and capable of destruction he really is. It shed more light on the complexity of his relationship with Ty, and filled me with warm fuzzies every time he looked or touched or even thought about Kelly. He’d finally become a three-dimensional character to me and demanded that I become invested in him. And I am.

Unfortunately, Ball & Chain is a Cut & Run book, not a Sidewinders novella. And although I enjoyed every moment that Nick was on the page, I couldn’t help but feel that the emphasis Roux put on his character in this novel detracted from the heart and soul of this series – the relationship between Ty and Zane. I felt that this was especially true given that the most emotionally stirring and tense moments in the books  – those moments that most connect me to the characters – happened between Nick and Ty, leaving Zane to feel like a third wheel in his own story.

And don’t even get me started on the final few pages of the book! I could hardly believe how Roux sabotaged the drama and emotion of Ty and Zane’s final scene in the book by prefacing it with not one, but two Nick-centric scenes. Individually, they were good scenes, but HOLY STOLEN THUNDER, BATMAN! 😦

Let’s be real: Roux’s books are always fun to read. I love the characters. I love the universe they inhabit. I even loved that Roux threw in practically every inside joke that this series had into Ball & Chain. Any time a character tried to utter the word “vacation” (the “Lord Voldemort” of the Cut & Run series) or when Ty had to get on the horse, I felt like Roux was sending her fans a cheeky little wink – like every joke was a “thank you” for sticking with the series and supporting her work. I thought it was sweet.

But I can’t lie, even to spare feelings. Ball & Chain is the weakest book set in the Cut & Run universe and Roux needs to seriously up her game if she’s going to end the series on the high note it deserves.

My Rating:

2 SmoochHalf

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Review: Red Dirt Heart by N.R. Walker

Red Dirt Heart CoverTitle & Author: Red Dirt Heart by N.R. Walker
Release Date: February 20, 2014
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 162 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

Welcome to Sutton Station: One of the world’s largest working farms in the middle of Australia – where if the animals and heat don’t kill you first, your heart just might. 

Charlie Sutton runs Sutton Station the only way he knows how; the way his father did before him. Determined to keep his head down and his heart in check, Charlie swears the red dirt that surrounds him – isolates him – runs through his veins.

American agronomy student Travis Craig arrives at Sutton Station to see how farmers make a living from one of the harshest environments on earth. But it’s not the barren, brutal and totally beautiful landscapes that capture him so completely.

It’s the man with the red dirt heart.

My Thoughts: 

I may as well call 2014 “My Year of Reading N.R. Walker.” In a little less than two months, I’ve read ten titles by Walker. Every last one of them has well-developed plots, three-dimensional characters, witty dialogue, and so much cuteness that a basket full of fluffy kittens would lose a head-to-head competition.

So, imagine my delight when Walker’s latest novella, Red Dirt Heart, was released last week. I’m serious, people – I was Jessie Spano on caffeine pills levels of excited.

And I was not disappointed.

Red Dirt Heart won me over immediately with its descriptions of the Australian Outback. Walker’s words painted the most beautiful pictures in my head of hard-packed red dirt, thick layers of dust, scrub brush, rabbit-proof fencing, and weather-worn everything. I could feel the sun beating down and the drops of sweat rolling down my temple. I could smell the pungent scent of livestock (ahhh! Eau de manure) and leather saddles. I could hear the cows mooing and the creak of the boards as Charlie and Travis stepped on the veranda. In my head, the landscape is hard, unforgiving, and just a little romantic.

I haven’t been this captivated by Australia since reading Bryce Courtenay’s books nearly a decade ago.

The characters had me falling headlong into love almost as quickly as Walker’s descriptions did. It’s hard to articulate, but there was just something about Charlie and Travis and the way that they interacted with one another from the very first moment that sort of settled over me quietly. It was like putting on a favourite sweater – the one that’s soft and thin from a thousand washes, maybe a little stretched out and fraying at the cuffs, but you know you’ll never part with it because it’s warm and familiar and comforting. Charlie and Travis were warm and familiar and comforting. But their first conversation – just a casual recitation of the Station rules, really – gave me butterflies. Reading it, I was all dreamy sighs and dopey grins.

I swear, I was crushing so hard on these two characters that I think I would have flirted with my Kindle if it would have flirted back!

And it only got better from there. The chemistry between Travis and Charlie is awesome. The book is filled with all of these tiny, meaningful moments – trembly kisses, silent conversations in the kitchen, a hooked foot under the dining room table. Each and every one is special. And yet the sex was hot as sin! It was so hot that I was absolutely horrified at the thought of Ms. Walker shoving these boys together with only ten condoms between the two of ‘em.

(I think that might constitute cruel and unusual punishment, Ms. Walker – to your readers if not those poor boys. Ten condoms are not nearly enough for two men that pretty!)

One of the great things about this book is that while you know from the get-go that Travis and Charlie only have four weeks together before Travis has to go back to the United States, nothing about this story feels rushed or forced. Time sort of seems to stretch out, and everything about their relationship progresses naturally. You can see them falling in lust. You can see them falling in love. You even know what the end result of the book is going to be. And yet, at no point did I get the insta-love vibes that always serves to throw cold water on my enjoyment of a book. No, their slide into love just seemed so inevitable that time didn’t matter. *Sigh*

See? There I go again.

As far as the book’s secondary characters go, I thought Ma and George were great. They were both characters I’d seen before, but ones that I love so much for their love and acceptance and no nonsense attitudes that I didn’t care in the least. After all, these are the types of characters that remind me that sometimes the best family is the one you choose to build yourself.

It’s a difficult task to make the climax of any happily ever after story feel truly suspenseful and dramatic, but Walker managed to accomplish this in Red Dirt Heart. I figured out very early on in the book what was likely going to happen to Travis before his time in the Outback was finished. Even so, when my suspicions were confirmed, my heart started to beat a little faster. And when the situation dragged on a little longer than I had expected, I was left squirming in my seat barely refraining from yelling, “Stop torturing me, already!” at my Kindle.

Then there was the bit with Charlie. We all know that he was going to be outed; it had to happen in order to free him from his father’s ghost and allow the boys to move forward together. But it didn’t happen quite the way or with quite the timing as I was expecting. And I LOVED that element of surprise! I also loved seeing that moment of vulnerability with George afterward – it was heart-wrenching.

And then there was that final moment where the dumb boy finally realizes he’s being a dumb boy and that if he could just stop being so dang dumb for one freakin’ minute he could be insanely happy. Yup. I loved that moment too.

This book, you guys. This book! You need to read it.

Red Dirt Heart has easily become my new favourite book by N.R. Walker. It transported me to Australia and dazzled me with characters and a setting that refused to be ignored. If you love Walker already, you will love this book. If you haven’t discovered her yet, you couldn’t pick a better place to start. It’s awesome.

Quotable Quotes:

“You know, I read up on all the deadly animals you got out here. […] I’m guessing you don’t have any antivenin handy and we’re -” He looked at his watch. “-ooooh, a mere three hours and hello-complete-respiratory-failure from the hospital…”

***

“Peace,” I finally admitted. “He makes me feel at peace. And happy. And scared shitless.”
George smiled at me. “Sounds like love to me.”

My Rating:
2 Smooch3 Smooch

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Review: The Apothecary’s Garden by Julie Bozza

The Apothecary's GardenTitle: The Apothecary’s Garden
Author: Julie Bozza
Release Date: May 1, 2013
Pages: 204
Read: January 22-23, 2014

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

Hilary Kent, a Londoner all his working life, retires to Wiltshire after an estranged cousin unexpectedly leaves him an inhabitable tower surrounded by an overgrown physic garden – and that’s when graduate student Tom Laurence suddenly erupts into his life, convincing him that together they can restore the ancient garden to its former glory. Tom’s cheerful friendship is the best thing that’s ever happened to Hilary and he’s perfectly content with that until, to his astonishment and confusion, it seems that Tom’s affection for him is beginning to grow into something more … something he feels he probably shouldn’t allow.

My Thoughts:

Once upon a time . . .  Those four little words have always — past, present, and future — evoked feelings of magicalism and a world where dreams — all dreams — have the ability to become truth; all you have to do is wish it so. And though those words suggest a world of fantasy, of make-believe, they also suggest the possibility that once upon a time the story actually occurred, that the events that are unraveled actually took place, and that the people that the once upon a time belong to actually breathed their story.

So while, yes, a world of fantasy are breathed into existence because of those four little words, a world of reality, of anyone’s reality, are brought forth into the light and made aware to everyone who has the time and inclination to find it.

I can only hope that once upon a time the story between Hilary and Tom actually took place because this slowly formed friendship that then unfolds into love . . . It’s just a love, that if it existed, made the world a little better of a place.

I know, I know, I know that this book pushes a lot of people’s comfort zones because no one can deny that the age gap between Hilary and Tom is huge. Saying that the age gap is just too big to get over though is like saying that love between two people have an age limit. Now, does that make sense? It sure doesn’t to me. As far as I’m concerned, as long as everyone is of legal age and no one is being hurt (physically, emotionally, or mentally), then you can love whomever you want to.

And while Tom and Hilary’s story revolves a lot around their age difference, it’s not their entirety. It’s not what defines their love, it’s just rather a small, minuscule part of it that helps make it whole and theirs.

This was my first book by Julie Bozza so I can’t compare this work to any of her others, and I don’t want to compare it to any other author’s work because that’s like comparing apples and oranges (cliché, I know, but it’s true). All I know is that if her other work is anything like The Apothecary’s Garden, I’ll give it a go. One thing I do have to say that truly says something about Bozza’s talent as a writer (at least to me) is that while they’re a lot of exclamation marks thrown about in this story, which is a huge pet peeve of mine, I felt that, for once, the exclamation marks helped define the characters. I didn’t feel like they made what the character was saying feel forced, or fake, which is how a story begins to feel when an author uses too many exclamation marks; instead, I saw it as a way that she used to help show the eagerness of both Tom and of Hilary.

Like I said, Bozza is good.

Apothecary’s Garden is an extremely underrated book, but it deserves to be so much more than that, so do yourself a favor and pick up the book, forget about the age difference, and just read for Tom and Hilary.

Read it for their once upon a time . . .

Quotable Quotes:

“Hey, thanks,” Tom said as he took the cup of tea.
“Thank you for making it,” Hilary countered.
“Oh, that’ all right. I hope you don’t mind–”
“Not at all,” Hilary smoothly lied. Or, rather, told what he wanted to be the truth. There should be a special term for that. It should have positive connotations . . .

“You’ve got great hands, you know… I love watching them make tea, and handle fine china. Carry a tray so perfectly steady. Or tug a weed out of the ground, and then grasp the wheelbarrow’s handgrips. They’re competent, and they’re strong… and they’ve seen life.”

My Rating:

1 Smooch1 Smooch1 Smooch1 Smooch1 Smooch

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