Saturday, October 20, 2012

Rock and Roll Sexy Time

Cunning, Olivia.  Double Time.  SourceBooks, 2012.

Rock and roll and hot musicians, does it get any better than that?  And Olivia Cunning’s upcoming Double Time, the newest release in a series about a fictional metal band (“Sinners on Tour”) is filled with delicious sexiness.  At the center of the story is Trey Mills, the bisexual rhythm guitarist for Sinners, who is desperately and unfortunately in love with his band’s lead guitarist, who is not only uninterested but completely in love with his wife and newborn son.  Trey’s melancholy is interrupted when he meets Reagan Elliott, the unknown guitarist who is stepping in as the newest member of Exodus End, Trey’s brother’s band.  Exodus End and Sinners are setting out on tour together, and sparks fly as Trey and Reagan’s relationship explodes into passion.  Determined to make the relationship work, Trey vows to give up on men, but can he deny his own desires?  Especially when those desires come to live in the person of Reagan’s roommate/bodyguard/ex-boyfriend Ethan – gorgeous, available, and oh-so-tempting?

Filled with delicious and frequently hilarious dialogue and steamy sex in a bounty of flavors, Double Time is a great erotic read.  Cunning’s world is peopled with interesting characters, freaks and musicians comfortable in their own lack of mainstream normality and the story feels authentic in its depictions of life on the road.  Trey, Reagan, and Ethan own their story and Cunning evolves the three-way relationship with a deft hand, balancing emotional personal evolution and the physical explorations of this unorthodox bonding perfectly.  If there is a flaw here, it is in the idea that a bisexual individual cannot be happy in a monogamous relationship, that Trey can only be happy or fulfilled with a lover of each gender, but Cunning is writing erotica, not a gender or sexuality treatise, and Double Time is clearly not meant to be a commentary on sexual orientation.    

What it is, though, is a great escapist read.  Fun, sexy, with just a touch of a mystery to keep the story rocking, Cunning moves her novel toward a great climactic confrontation and an unexpected happily-ever-after resolution, in which not only our heroes but their bandmates find satisfaction.  I highly recommend  this one to fans of non-hetero-normative romance.  And, personally, I’m eager to find the earlier volumes of this series.  While Double Time works well as a standalone, it might leave you hungry for more glimpses into the world of Sinners on tour :).

ARC received through NetGalley.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Two for One Romance

Today’s review post looks at two gay romances…Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino and Second Hand by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton.  As you can see, both books are written by women and both have a feminine feel, despite featuring male characters.  Let me start out by saying, these books are hot!  The sex scenes in both are deliciously done, with the right mix of emotion and steam to make for enjoyable leisure reading.

First, Tenino’s Frat Boy and Toppy, a fun college coming out story that introduces us to Brad, all-American jock and frat boy… who hates his own dating experiences, likes organic gardening and food preparation, and is majoring in PE because he thinks it’s expected, though he’s minoring in home economics.  Brad is discontented with his life, but he isn’t sure why until he meets Sebastian, the TA in his history class, and suddenly Brad starts to make sense of his own muddled feelings and desires.  Tenino does a good job here of playing with stereotypes…Brad, for example, uses the popular perceptions of what it means to be a college athlete and fraternity brother to hide his sexuality, even from himself, and Sebastian, the smart academic, is the more experienced sexual partner and the “toppy” of the title.  While there is certainly a happily-ever-after romantic component here, the journey to that ending is fun, with a delightful cast of supporting characters.  From Brad’s family to the marketing major ex-friend who tries to plan his coming out campaign to the frat brother who becomes “a card-carrying member of PFLAG,” Brad is surrounded by a motley band of supporters and confidants who try, successfully or not, to help him reconcile his emerging sexuality with his previous public personas.  Well-drawn and entertaining characters, a quick-moving if simple plot, and delicious sex scenes – both in Brad’s own experimentations and his relationship with Sebastian – make this a great escape read.  Even in the fun, though (and the story is fun), Tenino manages to raise interesting points on academic culture (or at least popular perceptions of campus life).  Definitely recommended.

Equally recommended is Cullinan and Sexton’s Second Hand.  Like Frat Boy and Toppy, Second Hand features a confused central character whose journey toward happiness requires that he accept himself as being something other than “normal.”  Vet school dropout and recently dumped by his fiancé Paul is struggling to maintain the rental property his ex choose and then left him with, including a seemingly endless array of useless kitchen gadgets and  her ugly art projects, and his desire to rekindle the romance is rooted more in a desire for normality – wife, children, and all that those things imply in society – than his own passions or desire.  Enter El Rozal, the local pawn shop owner—gay, cynical, and saddled with his own problems in the form of a hoarder mother and crazy extended family.  These two put the fun in dysfunction, though, when they meet as Paul seeks to bolster his finances by ridding himself of all the kitchen cast-offs and El finds himself drawn to the insecure and confused young man.  One man doesn’t want a relationship….and the other thinks he’s still in love with his ex AND that he’s too boring for anyone else to want him…and yet, somehow a Panini press and a misfit mutt manage to help bring these two very different souls together toward that elusive happy ever after.  The balance of story and steamy eroticism is well-handled, El and Paul’s relationship is as hot as it is funny (ever had to figure out what to do with your dog when you’re trying to get some action?  Yeah, it’s got that!) Second Hand is the second of a series of novels, loosely connected and set in the same charming small Colorado town with more than its share of misfits, Tucker Springs and one hopes the authors will continue to produce such works.  I look forward to finding book one and hopefully future volumes in this series.

The existence of a largely-underground market if you will of female driven male/male erotic works is something I’ve been aware of for years, but it is interesting to see publishers beginning to capitalize on the market for such works.  I’m not a gay man, so I can’t judge the appeal of these books for that market, but I definitely think both will find female readers interested in this sub-genre of erotic and romantic fiction.

ARCs received from NetGalley.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Coming of age and coming out

Lavoie, Jennifer.  Andy Squared.  Bold Strokes Books, 2012.

Coming of age and coming out are two themes that appear frequently, not only in literature for young adults, but in literature as a whole.  Indeed, they appear often enough that, done poorly, the story can quickly slip into cliché.  In Andy Squared, Jennifer Lavoie does a fine job of avoiding that slide as she details the coming of age and coming out experiences of a small-town soccer hero struggling to find his own path to maturity.  Andrew and Andrea, both nicknamed Andy, are twins who share starring positions on their respective soccer teams, a bedroom, and plans for college.  But the comfortable shared pattern of their lives is rocked when Ryder, handsome, charming, and a little exotic, moves to their small New York town from Texas.  As his friendship with Ryder grows, Andrew discovers a new hobby, new dreams, and the reason why none of his relationships with girls has ever worked out.  As their relationship becomes both romantic and physical, Andrew struggles to come to terms with this new identity, finding surprising support along the way.  But when their secret is exposed to small-town high school minds, will Andrew be strong enough to admit, to himself and to the world, the truth about his relationship with Ryder?  And will his relationship with his twin ever be the same?  Lavoie is deft and careful with her subject, crafting a story that will work for most high school-aged readers.  While the implication of sex is present, both with Andrew’s past girlfriends and with Ryder, such activities are off-screen; kissing is as far as Lavoie takes her details.  This lack of physicality allows the story to focus on the emotional struggles of learning something new about yourself and finding a place for your new self in a world that perhaps isn’t ready for that personal evolution.  From her teenage protagonists and their supporting cast of friends to the adults that guide and support both Andrew and Ryder, Lavoie’s characters are interesting and well-drawn; if there is a lack at all here, it’s that Andrea, Andrew’s sister, is a bit shallowly drawn.  It would have been interesting perhaps to see more of her internal thoughts, though certainly her actions for good and for ill do allow the reader to judge her and the relationship between the two. 

Andy Squared is definitely a recommended title for readers, male or female, gay or straight, who are struggling with establishing an individual identity outside of the expectations of the people who love them.

ARC received from NetGalley.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

And now for something completely different

 Lavelle, Victor.  Lucretia and the Kroons.   Speigel & Grau, 2012.  eBook.

From romance to horror is a bit of a jump, but it’s always nice to spread my reader’s wings and find something new.  While I quite enjoy horror writing, it is more common for me to reach for Poe or Lovecraft when I’m in that mood than to seek out a more contemporary writer.  However, the descriptor for this novella was interesting enough that I gave it a chance; and I’m very  glad that I did.  "Being young doesn't protect you. Horrors come for kids, too," Lucretia’s (better known as Loochie) brother tells her, a warning and a reminder for the adult reader that dark things and dark places surround us all, and the things we fear are perhaps much scarier than merely the threat of things that go bump in the night.  Though the central character of this short work is a child, Lucretia and the Kroons is a story for adults, one in which the things we all fear – loss, death, loneliness – are given physical form in a strange world that Loochie must both seek out and escape as she tries to rescue her friend Sunny from a dark fate.  Richly detailed (Lavalle’s description of flying rats, I must confess, gave me the heebie-jeebies) and filled with unforgettable and compelling characters, Lavalle’s novella is a great read – short, intense, and memorable.  A prequel of sorts to Lavalle’s The Devil in Silver, the story stands easily on its own merits while it also demands that the reader seek out the novel for more of Lucretia’s story.   
ARC received from NetGalley.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

More romance, who'd have thought?

And, my newly discovered interest in romance and erotic fiction continues in this post – this time looking at two upcoming gay romance/erotica titles.  Neither of which, it turns out, were at all what I expected (to be fair, I don’t know what I was expecting exactly), but both of which I enjoyed very much.

Vaughn, Piper & O'Shea, M. J.  "One Small Thing."  Dreamspinner Press, 2012.

First, “One Small Thing” by Piper Vaughn and M. J. O’Shea.  In this delightful romance, club boy and aspiring hair stylist Rue meets sci-fi writer and socially awkward hermit Erik under desperate circumstances – Rue urgently needs to find a sitter for Alice, the newborn daughter he has acquired through an ill-conceived one-night-stand with a female acquaintance.  Erik, in need of money to bolster his diminishing book royalties, agrees to be Alice’s daytime caregiver, and this unlikely arrangement soon leads to the formation of an unorthodox but wonderfully perfect family for this odd couple.  Vaughn and O’Shea craft delightful characters, who despite their perhaps stereotypical outlines, are nevertheless fleshed out into individuals who are more and deeper than they appear and about whom the reader cannot help caring and cheering for as they find their way toward happily ever after.  Even the supporting characters, like Rue’s flamboyant friend Dusty, are interesting and developed, giving the story some unexpected richness and depth though an surprising yet affecting subplot.  The novel does not shy away from the intimacies in Rue and Erik’s relationship, indeed the novel’s sex scenes are both sweet and titillating, but they are never gratuitous but instead seem to flow naturally as part of the relationship’s (and the story’s) evolution.  Sweet, hot, and almost ridiculously romantic in sports, “One Small Thing” is a deliciously fun read for anyone (male or female, gay or straight) looking for romance outside the normal paperback box.

Lane, Amy & Voinov, Aleksandr.  "Country Mouse."  RipTide Publishing, 2012.

The second story for this post is a novella, “Country Mouse” by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov.  Lane and Voinov use the novella form extremely well, giving the reader a perfect combination of story and sex to make this a fun and interesting escapist read.  The plot summary seems designed to draw the reader seeking erotic fantasy – young American in London for the first time meets a dangerous and masterful Brit seeking a night of masterful exploration, but Lane and Voinov take the story far beyond stereotype with characters who are more than they first appear.  Owen and Malcolm, and the reader, get far more than they expected in this brief yet compelling exploration of identity, relationships, and expectations.  Deliciously-detailed sexual encounters share page time with a brief tour of tourist London, and the city herself becomes a metaphor for this burgeoning relationship.  Can one weekend encounter really change your life?  Maybe, maybe not.  But one short novella can, if crafted by gifted storytellers, change your reading expectations for erotic fiction.

ARCs received through NetGalley.

Friday, July 20, 2012

More erotica, this time with history, fantasy, and sci-fi mixed in

So, my previous romance/erotica choices were interesting enough that I went looking for more in these genres.  I don’t know if “Fifty Shades of Grey” is responsible for what seems to be an upswing in erotic publishing or if there is just increased visibility of this kind of publishing, but I’m pleased to share my three latest discoveries.

Lord Atwood's Lovers
Clancy, Eva.  Lord Atwood's Lovers.  Harlequin, June 2012.

First, another ménage a trois novel, this one a historical romance called “Lord Atwood’s Lovers” by Eva Clancy.  Part of Harlequin line called Harlequin Spice Briefs, this delightful novel is a bit short on plot, but deliciously steamy and the novella format works well to offer a fun and tantalizing read.  Unlike most other threesome erotica I’ve read recently, this one does include an active sexual relationship with the male protagonists as well as with the female lead, which made it stand out from other titles.  The basic plot is simple – the newly married Lord Atwood and his new bride enjoy teasing society with her flirtatious public behavior only to enjoy unbridled sex after such social events.  But Lord Atwood has a secret in the form of his last liaison, with a very male partner and his comfortable, indeed happy, life is threatened when his former paramour returns.  It is the new Lady Atwood, a lovely coquette who generously finds the solution that will offer all of them happiness and satisfaction.  The brevity here works with the simple plot and the story lives up to the “spice” its imprint promises; the erotic scenes are titillating and satisfying, particularly for readers who enjoy something other than the kind of bland heterosexuality found in most romances in their erotic reading.    

Goddess in the Middle

Julian, Stephanie.  Goddess in the Middle.  Sourcebooks, July 2012.

The second erotic exploration this time was yet another ménage a trois (and, really, I had no idea this idea was so available in erotic fiction), this one a paranormal romance title from Sourcebooks called “Goddess in the Middle” by Stephanie Julian.  Part of a series focusing on Etruscan goddesses in the modern world, this one is the story of the former Goddess of Health, who now lives as Amity and works as a medical aesthetist, using her remaining powers to help heal those who have suffered serious trauma.  Under threat from a God of the Dead eager to escape the underworld, Amity falls under the protection of two powerful werewolf cousins, Remy and Rom.  It is in this unlikely trio that they will find the power to defeat the powers waging war against them and perhaps heal their own damaged souls.  Part of a larger series called “Forgotten Goddesses,” this one is well-plotted and an interesting read.  While I suspect it would be best to have read previous titles before reading this one, since there were a few plot issues I had questions about, Stephanie Julian does a good job here with world-building, weaving her goddesses and associated supernatural characters into the contemporary world in a way that works for her stories.  As with some previous threesome titles, I found myself somewhat bothered by the lack of sexual inclusion of all parties, but Julian at least offers an explanation for this sexual distance by making her male protagonists family.  And the sexual scenes are expertly crafted – erotic, rich, and detailed, yet at the same time worked into the story, not added in just for titillation.  Sex is part of the novel, but it’s just a part of the story rather than its reason for being.  I enjoyed this book very much and I do expect that I will seek out other titles in this series to see how Amity’s story fits into the larger story arc Julian seems to be crafting with this one.    

Undercover Alliance

Cain, Lilly.  Undercover Alliance.  Carina Press, June 2012.

My final erotic title for this post was a science fiction title called “Undercover Alliance” by Lilly Cain.  Another series title, this one is the third book in a series called “The Confederacy Treaty Series,” but it still works well as a stand-alone title.  Cain’s world features two species, humanity and the Inarrii, the aliens who have recently made contact and with whom the confederacy treaty is to be signed (assuming, of course, that they can work out all the details) facing off against enemies both human and alien who want to stop the burgeoning alliance.  A fabulous blending of scorching hot erotica and great sci-fi action, “Undercover Alliance” is the story of a damaged Inarrii warrior and an undercover human spy who find out they need each other, personally and professionally.  Only human John Bennings can offer Sarina the psychic connection she needs to achieve sexual wholeness and thus reintegration into her culture and Sarina may be the only being able to keep John alive long enough for him to find the traitor inside the spy agency that is trying to stop the human/Inarrii alliance.  A great read for science fiction fans who enjoy sex and violence with equal enthusiasm, “Undercover Alliance” hooked me into Cain’s world and didn’t let go.  Cain’s universe is well-developed, Inarrii culture is given real depth and detail rather than being merely a quaint (or titillating) other.  Sarina is no mere sex object, but a powerful warrior and strategist, a bodyguard of real power and yes, even, humanity in her emotions and honesty.  Bennings too is no stereotype action hero, but is given a depth that sets Cain’s character development a level above much science fiction (and a lot of erotica).  I look forward to going back exploring the previous books in this series as well as waiting eagerly for the next installment.

ARCs received from NetGalley.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Embrace the Dark and Sharing Hailey

I don’t read a lot of romance.  There are, I’m sure, many reasons for this – I’m too cynical (though I prefer the term “jaded realist”), I’m not a fan of euphemistic sex, and I prefer to find my escapism in movies being chief among them.  That said, recently two romance ARCs caught my eye and so, I grabbed both and was pleasantly surprised by both.  So, a two-for-one post this week on adult fiction.

Roane, Caris.  "Embrace the Dark."  Spence Hill Associates, 2012.

First, “Embrace the Dark” by Caris Roane, the first of what she’s calling “The Blood Rose Series.”  I’d heard of Caris Roane’s vampire series, even started “The Ascension,” but I managed to leave the book somewhere and never finished reading it.  And now I’m rather sad about that, because this novella is delicious.  Roane uses the novella-length perfectly, providing more world-building and development than could be found in a typical short story and yet offering a fun read that does not require the time investment of reading a typical novel.  At around 120 pages, “Embrace the Dark” is an ideal length for an quick escapist read.  The characters are intriguing and definitely not shallow caricatures; instead human Abigail and vampire Gerrod are well-developed, with room and potential growth if they (as I suspect they will) reappear in later series works and even the supporting characters are crafted with a skill and charm that make them memorable.  Their relationship is neither quick nor easy, despite the limits of the novella form, and Roane deftly uses the sexual scenes to expand her story, not merely to titillate the reader.  Culture conflict, family loyalty, personal sacrifice, all of these themes play out as human and vampire attempt to negotiate their unexpected, even undesired, relationship and find happiness with each other.  Richly erotic, yet balanced with both humor and drama, “Embrace the Dark” is an excellent read for fans of paranormal romance looking for a new series to explore.  I eagerly look forward to more.

King, Samantha Ann.  "Sharing Hailey."  Carina Press, 2012.

“Sharing Hailey” by Samantha Ann King was the second romance I picked up for the weekend, intrigued by the idea of a romance featuring a ménage a trois featuring one woman and two straight men.  King handles her topic with skill, combining both two- and three-person sex scenes with good character development and an actual plot to give the story form and purpose.  The emotions of the story ring true – from the family freak-outs over the unusual relationships to the challenges of two straight guys finding themselves sharing unexpected intimacies.  Domestic violence, in the form of Hailey’s ex-boyfriend, is also well-handled, both in the behavior of the abuser and the responses of Hailey and her men in coming to term with the situation.  King’s story could have been over-top melodrama or cheap kinky thrills, but it is neither.  Instead, it’s a well-crafted and enjoyable read, making the unusual seem quite normal.  The story’s unapologetic sexuality never overshadows the character development nor does it ever slip into tawdriness, but instead its eroticism allows the reader to glimpse inside a relationship that may be outside his/her own experience, but in which love is still love.  If I have a complaint at all, it's that there isn't enough sexual exploration, particularly between Mark and Tony, but I accept that not every woman wants that sort of thing in her romance.  Certainly, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.

Perhaps my problem with romance has been not that I don’t like it, but that I was reading the wrong romances.  I absolutely enjoyed both of these books and will definitely be considering doing more exploring in this genre.

ARCs received through NetGalley.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Auraria: A Novel

Westover, Tim.  "Auraria: A Novel."  QW Publishers, July 2012.

Let me preface the actual review with this thought…Tim Westover can WRITE!  The language and phrasing here is just lovely, the descriptiveness brings to life a wonderful and charming world, one in which the reader, like James Holtzclaw, is completely and almost unwittingly seduced by until he (or she) realizes that s/he is as much a part of Auraria as the singing tree or the mist fish.  The novel is oddly reminiscent of an Appalachian “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” a magical and isolated world coupled with unique and fascinating characters, a world which moves at its own pace and which cannot be hurried or tamed despite the best efforts of man or technology.  It is character, not plot, which drives Auraria, a delightful cast of myths and topsy-turvy stereotypes who never quite react or behave as one might expect.  The novel’s protagonist, city-slicker James Holtzclaw, presents at first as a predictable middle management flunky, one who counts beans and follows orders, yet it is through Holtzclaw’s eyes that the wonders and mysteries of Auraria unfold until both the reader and the erstwhile Holtzclaw realize that perhaps what one thinks one wants is in fact no such thing and happiness may be found not in excess or success but in finding a place to belong and to tend.   Capturing with deft skill the constant tensions between the old and the new, between tradition and progress, and between Appalachia and the outside world, Westover’s novel is a stunning example of best of the Appalachian literary tradition.     

 Advance reading copy received through Netgalley.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Her Majesty's Will

Blixt, David. “Her Majesty’s Will.” Sordelet Ink, April 2012.

 Two confessions – I love good historical fiction and I am completely enthralled with Kit Marlowe, who I firmly believe would have been more famous than Shakespeare had he not met an untimely end, most likely due to his involvement in espionage.  Having said that, it is no wonder I was intrigued when I discovered this title in the NetGalley listings.  And Blixt does not disappoint with this fabulously fun frolic through Elizabethan London in which Shakespeare, a naïve country lad is pulled into a twisting and turning spy adventure through the city by a charmingly roguish and well-connected Kit Marlowe.  Mr. Blixt offers a intriguing explanation for Shakespeare’s “lost years” and his movement from Stratford to London as well as providing him with rich inspirational material for his future theatrical endeavors and an introduction to the London theatre community.  While there are spots of uneven writing and odd notes to the reader, these small flaws cannot distract from the overall delightfulness of this historical tale.  The plot is well-twisted and fast-paced with a cast of ruffians and wits that Shakespeare himself would have been proud to create and, indeed, many will seem familiar to the readers of Shakespeare’s most famous works.  It is in characterization that Mr. Blixt truly excels – both Shakespeare and Marlowe are crafted with a deftness that gives them depth and charm, seducing the reader into wishing success for their quests and the supporting cast of characters, from the lowest to the highest, teems with an authenticity that helps draw this irresistible portrait of London under Good Queen Bess.

 Advance reading copy received through Netgalley.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Immortal Rules

Kawaga, Julie. “The Immortal Rules.” Harlequin Teen, April 2012.

 I love GOOD vampire fiction, have since I was pretty young. But too much bad vampire fiction in recent years, particularly some very popular young adult vampire fiction, was starting to rather taint the whole genre for me. And then this gem of a YA novel crossed my path. Julie Kagawa’s “The Immortal Rules,” the first book in a planned series, introduces one of the most captivating protagonists I’ve encountered in a novel. Allison Sekemoto is strong, determined, fiercely moral according to her own code of beliefs, and almost suicidal loyal to the families she makes or joins. Kagawa crafts a compelling dystopian future, one in which vampire overlords both enslave humanity as blood donors and protect them from a greater threat to survival in the form of feral “rabids.” This chaotic existence forces those, like Allie, who eschew the vampire protection to scavenge to survive in hostile and dangerous world and will soon demand that Allie make the choice to become what she hates in order to survive. Allie’s journey, and the people she meets, will force her to rethink what it means to be human and how exactly to separate what makes a person human and what makes a monster. And that journey will have consequences not only for Allie, but possibly for all of humanity. Kagawa’s heroine is a powerful representation of the human instinct to survive and to thrive even in the darkest circumstances. I eagerly wait for the next book to see how Allie’s story will continue to unwind.

 Advance reading copy received through Netgalley.