Monthly Archives: October 2017

Audiobook Review: The Weight of It All, by N. R. Walker, narrated by Joel Leslie

After being dumped by his long-term boyfriend for being overweight, Henry Beckett decides to make some drastic changes. In a vain attempt at getting his boyfriend back, Henry does the most absurdly frightening thing he can think of.

He joins a gym.

Reed Henske is a personal trainer who isn’t sure he’ll ever be ready to date again. He’s sick of guys who are only interested in the perfect body image, never seeing him for who he really is.

As Reed tortures Henry with things like diet and exercise, Henry enamours Reed with recipes and laughter. As the friendship lines start to blur, Henry is convinced there’s no way Thor-like Reed could ever be interested in a guy like him.

Reed just has to convince Henry that life isn’t about reaching your ideal bodyweight. It’s about finding your perfect counterweight.

The Weight of It All, by N. R. Walker, narrated by Joel Leslie

Ratings:
Story: 5 out of 5!
Narration: 6 out of 5! 🙂

I went into this book with some concerns. For me personally, weight is an ongoing concern. I was able to lose 100 pounds over two years and would like to lose more, so I am well-familiar with the difficulties and stigmas involved in being obese and the effort required to lose weight. As a genre, m/m romance tends to focus on guys who are all fit and buff as hell (probably like mainstream romance, I would imagine). Overweight characters are frequently viewed in less-than-charitable light, and I was concerned this would be a “rejected, ugly guy loses weight and is suddenly gorgeous and desirable” story.

I was very, very wrong, I am delighted to report! This book was touching, and resonated so much for me. Henry is a guy with low self-esteem who creates a wall around himself with self-deprecating humor and social isolation. Over the course of the book he starts to work through his esteem issues (though thankfully never losing his sense of humor). And the key word here is “start” – I really like that the story shows that there is no magic wand to weight loss. It’s not giving anything away that by the end of the book Henry isn’t a super-slim fitness god. He is still working on losing weight, and knows it’s an extended process.

The story is told from Henry’s point of view, so while we know what’s going on in his head, we know less about Reed. Even so, he comes across as a sweet, caring guy who is everything that Henry needs. Henry’s trepidation toward Reed is both painful and understandable, and I found how this was addressed to be quite powerful. I really loved these guys, and by the end of the book, I was sobbing (happily).

Then there’s the narration. I have heard and enjoyed Leslie’s work before on Lord Mouse, where he was excellent. In The Weight of It All, though, he surpasses that. As good as the story was he made it better by not only providing clear and consistent voices for each character, but also consistent intonation and speech patterns. The tremulous emotion that Leslie’s voice carries as Henry agonizes over his life is heartbreaking; the elation in Henry’s successes is thrilling and contagious. The bottom line is that the narration takes a great book and makes it spectacular. I would wholeheartedly recommend the audiobook version of this book specifically because it’s just so darned good!

 

Book Review: The Supers (The Supers #1), by Sean Michael

Blaine Franks is a member of the paranormal research group the Supernatural Explorers. When the group loses their techie to a cross-country move, newly graduated Flynn Huntington gets the job. Flynn fits in with the guys right off the bat, but when it comes to him and Blaine, it’s more than just getting along.

Things heat up between Blaine and Flynn as they explore their first haunted building, an abandoned hospital, together. Their relationship isn’t all that progresses, though, and soon it seems that an odd bite on Blaine’s neck has become much more.

Hitchhiking ghosts, a tragic love story forgotten by time, and the mystery of room 204 round out a romance where the things that go bump in the night are real.

The Supers, by Sean Michael

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

There was a lot of promise in this book, but I ultimately found it pretty frustrating. The first big issue I had was a complete lack of depth for either Blaine or Flynn. We learned the backstory for each of them but it had relatively little to do with their current states. The two fell in love almost immediately (in a week? Really?). Much of their relationship was them telling each other how much they cared for each other, though, and not enough showing this in their actions. I was unable to muster much empathy for either of them and this took me completely out of the story.

The book’s point of view switches back and forth between Blaine and Flynn chapter by chapter. The problem is that the way the book is written it wasn’t always clear whose POV we were seeing, and I saw some discrepancies in third-person narration that just made things that much more confusing.

As for the plot, it’s mostly coherent. There are a couple of out-of-left-field bits that popped up that strained logic of the story. More importantly the tone of the story tended to swing rather wildly from fun and happy-go-lucky to dark and broody pseudo-horror. Everything was wrapped up neatly in the end (and the stage obviously set for the next three books in the series), and even though all of the plot threads were addressed I still found it all unsatisfying.

Perhaps if you are a fan of Sean Michael you would like this book. Anyone else, though, I’d suggest skipping it.

Book Review: Rescued (Guardsmen #1.5)/Parker’s Sanctuary (Guardsmen #2), by Cooper West

Greg Lademar is an ordinary and average Army veteran who has settled down with his job as an accountant and his lingering PTSD. He lives a quiet life as a single man, alone on the former blueberry farm he bought from his parents after they retired to Orlando. When a friend who works with animal control asks him to foster Parker, a severely injured dog who has just been rescued from an abusive home, the last thing Greg expects is to be dragged into the mysterious world of the Guardsmen – the bonded pairs of humans and their weredogs, known as Protectors, who are literally the stuff of myths and legends.

Greg’s life is turned upside down by unexpected events involving Parker and the strange Guardsmen pair Marcus and Alex Stephanek, but far more dangerous to him is the man who used to own Parker and holds a grudge for having “his” dog taken from him. A game of cat and mouse ensues, with more on the line than even Greg ever thought possible: his life, and the life of Parker, who has become more important to him than Greg ever imagined a rescue dog could be.

Rescued (Guardsmen #1.5)/Parker’s Sanctuary (Guardsmen #2), by Cooper West

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

This is what I was hoping for! I’m fascinated by the world of Guardsmen, Handlers, and Protectors that West has created, and while the first book (The Protector) didn’t live up to my expectations, this book did and then some!

I’m reviewing the free short story (“Rescued,” which serves as a prequel) together with the book (Parker’s Sanctuary) because in my opinion they really do need to be read together. While the short story is told by Parker, the book is told from Greg’s point of view and I think is a better book because of it.

There’s so many things here to like here. The world-building is great, of course. The characters are sympathetic and interesting. Greg has no idea what he’s getting into, though adapts well as he goes. Parker is shocked to find he’s a Protector (weredog) at an age far older than any Protector has ever manifested and struggles to adapt to new senses, feelings, and a rigid tradition where Protectors are second-class citizens whose lives are controlled by their Handlers. The latter aspect is something I found particularly interesting, and I love how West has built this into the book’s popular culture. I’m very impressed how the author has set up a world with a lot of possible narrative threads to follow. The occasional sex scenes are pretty damn hot, too!

The pacing of the story keeps things moving along at a brisk clip. The suspense builds nicely – the tension and wanting to see how it all worked out kept me up entirely too late reading! My only complaint is a small detail that was thrown in at the last minute that could have used more explanation, but the story did not suffer for it.

It would probably be best to read these in order (The Protector, “Rescued”, Parker’s Sanctuary), even if the first book drags a bit. The payoff in the second book is well worth it. I would recommend this series highly!

Book Review: The Protector (Guardsmen #1), by Cooper West

The Protector (Guardsmen #1), by Cooper West

Guardsmen are always matched in a bonded pair. The Protector can shift into a weredog, and the human partner is his Handler. They are incredibly rare and highly valued, but people also fear them for their mystical abilities. No Protector in living memory has outlived his Handler-until Alex Taylor.

Now a widower, Alex lives a lonely half-life and faces day after day of grief with no hope for happiness in the future. When he unexpectedly bonds with the young and vibrant Handler Marcus Stephanek, Alex is angry and unwilling to leave the memory of his former Handler behind. He pushes Marcus away and tries to distance himself from their bond. But then a mysterious villain who has been secretly shadowing Alex for years sets his plan in motion. Alex and Marcus must learn to trust their bond and love each other, or risk not only their own lives but the lives of those closest to them.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

This review pains me because I wanted to like this book SO MUCH. I loved the world-building and the characters were initially interesting. Unfortunately, as the book went on the main characters each came to be identified by a single trait: Marcus trained to be a Search-and-Rescue handler all his life and is disappointed that may not come to pass, and Alex is mourning his late husband. There is not much character development beyond this.

I come to this book with a unique perspective, having lost my husband of 18 years suddenly in the spring of 2017. I know and understand grieving. I also know that everyone grieves at their own pace in their own way. That said, there is something deeply wrong here. If Alex is under such close scrutiny by the Guardsmen organization, they are going to see that isolating himself and mourning for three years is not healthy and would hopefully do something about it. I’ll at least accept the change in attitude toward Marcus due to the bond between Handler and Protector.

That concern aside, the other problem I had with this book was its awkward pacing. 70% of the book was very little going on, mainly watching Alex and Marcus wallowing in their respective misery. Suddenly at that point there’s a huge plot development momentous enough to merit its own book, but that is swept aside. Stupid decisions and actions follow, making the ending rather frustrating even though all of the plotlines are wrapped up neatly. I even liked how everything ended, but I just wasn’t satisfied with how we got there.

Would I say this is worth the read? I think so because there is a framework of a great series here. Just be prepared to be occasionally frustrated by the characters.

 

Book Review: Hexslayer (Hexworld #3), by Jordan L. Hawk

Hexslayer (Hexworld #3), by Jordan L. Hawk

Horse shifter Nick has one rule: never trust a witch.

Nick has devoted his life to making his saloon a safe haven for the feral familiars of New York. So when a brutal killer slaughters a feral under his protection, Nick has no choice but to try and catch the murderer. Even if that means bonding with a handsome Irish witch.

Officer Jamie MacDougal came back from the war in Cuba missing part of a leg and most of his heart. After his former lover becomes one of the killer’s victims, Jamie will do anything to solve the case.

Nick comes to Jamie with a proposal: after making a temporary bond, they will work together to stop the murders. Once the killer is caught, they walk away and never see one another again.
It sounds simple enough. But the passion that flares between the two men won’t be so easily extinguished. And if Nick can’t learn to trust his witch, he stands to lose everything-including his life.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

I loves me some Hexworld books! The narrative threads laid out in the earlier books start to come together here. Hawk is creating something big and complicated, conspiracies within conspiracies, but it all holds together quite well.

The author has done a great job of creating a cast of characters with very different personalities and relationships. All of the characters from past books show up here, and it’s great to see how everyone interacts. As for the main characters in this book, though: Jamie is a complex guy. He’s been willing to do what he was told all of his life, and he’s slowly learning that maybe that wasn’t always the best course to take. Grieving and unsure, he’s trying to figure out where he should go from here. I loved Nick’s personality, horse-like in his stubbornness and brusqueness, but with a compassionate streak that he doesn’t often show. (His mannerisms got to be a little over the top thus the small deduction in rating but that’s a minor quibble.) Jamie and Nick are a hell of a couple, and watching them come together even against Nick’s refusal to do so was fun to watch.

The overall story is a heck of a ride (so to speak). I’ve only been to Central Park a few times and I like how Hawk has captured the feel of the place, with its obscure buildings and features. I like that as a reader I was guessing culprits along the way and getting proved wrong again and again. That’s a hallmark of a great suspense story for me. This book does not end with a cliffhanger, but we are left knowing what will be coming up in the next book and who will be involved. All of that makes me happy. I will be pre-ordering Book #4 as soon as it’s available!

Book Review: Clay White (Bureau #2), by Kim Fielding

Clay White (Bureau #2), by Kim Fielding

Someone-or something-is murdering young men in San Francisco. Clay White has been fired from the Bureau of Trans-Species Affairs, but he’s determined to track down the killer. When he comes across a vampire named Marek, Clay assumes he’s caught the perp. But the encounter with Marek turns out to be more complicated than Clay expected, and it forces him to deal with his own troubled past and murky psyche. As Clay discovers, sometimes the truth doesn’t come easy-and the monsters are not who we expect.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My goodness, but Kim Fielding excels at creating atmosphere in her writing. The first Bureau novella (Corruption – my review) put the reader in the heart of Kansas during the Dust Bowl years. With Clay White we’re in the present time, in gritty downtown San Francisco – the clubs, the alleys, the vacant storefronts.

I really liked this story for what is stated and what is unstated. There are some details of the characters’ past which are hinted at, but aren’t laid out in long exposition (which is good, given this is also a novella!). We get enough to understand the characters and their motivations, and that’s enough. I also love when a character’s beliefs are challenged and they are forced to rethink things they had always taken as facts. How they come to grips with this is a big part of making a character come alive for me.

Although I suppose that this story could be read by itself, but given the recurrences in theme and characters you’d really be best served if you read Corruption first. Taken together these are both excellent reading. I hope that we’ll hear more from Fielding’s Bureau universe!

Thoughts for a Friday Afternoon

I need
to have financial stability
to have a job that I do not hate
to be there for my dogs
to travel
to never give up
to feel part of a family

I should
define myself as me, not in terms of someone else
support those who are in need
let my friends know I am here for them
lean on my friends when I need to
have the strength to perform daily tasks
believe that I will not always be alone
recognize my anxiety for what it is
recognize PTSD for what it is
get professional help when it is needed
seek the companionship with close friends
not be clingy or emotionally dependent
find joy in daily life
not be a hermit
have hope that life will be better

I want someone
to come home to
to snuggle with
to cook for
to shower with
to walk with me when I walk the dogs
to take some of the burden of daily tasks
to share space with even if we’re doing different things
to go to dinner with
to go to a movie with
to travel with
to share experiences with
to be an “us” and just an “I”