Tag Archives: gay

Book Review: Into This River I Drown, by T.J. Klune

 

Into This River I Drown, by T.J. Klune

At once an exploration of grief and faith, Into This River I Drown is one man’s journey into the secrets of his father and discovering the strength to believe in the impossible.

Five years ago, Benji Green lost his beloved father, Big Eddie, who drowned when his truck crashed into a river. All calledit an accident, but Benji thought it more. However, even years later, he is buried deep in his grief, throwing himself into taking over Big Eddie’s convenience store in the small town of Roseland, Oregon. Surrounded by his mother and three aunts, he lives day by day, struggling to keep his head above water.

But Roseland is no ordinary place.

With ever-increasing dreams of his father’s death and waking visions of feathers on the surface of a river, Benji’s definition of reality is starting to bend. He thinks himself haunted, but whether by ghosts or memories, he can no longer tell. It’s not until the impossible happens and a man falls from the sky and leaves the burning imprint of wings on the ground that he begins to understand that the world around him is more mysterious than he could have possibly imagined. It’s also more dangerous, as forces beyond anyone’s control are descending on Roseland, revealing long hidden truths about friends, family, and the man named Calliel who Benji is finding he can no longer live without.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Staggering. What T.J. Klune does with this book is simply staggering and damn near overwhelming.

The atmosphere and emotions in Into This River are just as much central characters as Benji and Cal. By the end of the book, I could imagine standing at Mile Marker 77 and know what it looks like, how it feels. The grief, pain, hope and love experienced here damn near leave me speechless. As always, I am amazed at the depth of feeling that T.J. Klune can evoke with his writing.

This is a weighty book, and definitely not an easy read (at least it wasn’t for me). I had to take a break and read something a bit lighter every now and then! That said, it was extremely rewarding. I would urge any reader to stick it out through the halfway mark, because the latter half of the book is one hell of a ride.

I am glad that I have read other books by Klune before reading this one. Many of the themes (and indeed phrasing) featured in Wolfsong (reviewed here) are repeated here, though this does not detract in the least – rather, I feel it allows a glimpse into the author’s thinking.

I highly, highly recommend this book. Simply incredible.

Side note: Damn, that cover is great, and so very suited to this book.

Book Review: Protector of the Alpha, by Parker Williams

Protector of the Alpha, by Parker WIlliams

Adopted at an early age
by a wealthy family, Jake Davis has always seemed to have an easy life.
Even in college he was blessed with good grades and an apparently clear
path to a pro football career. Good thing his best friend keeps hanging
around to keep his head from getting too swollen.

Zakiya
Incekara has always been…odd. Being fluent in six languages and having
a flair for international cooking should open the world to him, but
those skills leave him isolated.

When Jake sees Zak for the
first time, with water beading down his slender form, something inside
him shifts, and it hungers for Zak. To have him. To claim him. And Jake
knows that whatever it is, it won’t be denied.

When they are
approached by a man who claims knowledge of a secret past they share,
Jake and Zak are thrust into a world they would never have believed
existed. The forests of Alaska might seem an odd place to find your
destiny, but these men will meet the challenges head on, as they learn
that sometimes you have to make sacrifices to be Protector of the Alpha.

Rating: 2 out of 5

No. Just no.

It says a lot when the blurb for a book reveals more about a character than you ever learn in the book. This was the case for Zak/Zakiya. It was painful to get through the first 60% of the book. After that I started skimming. I don’t feel like I missed anything.

Ugh, where to begin. Paper-thin characters, cookie-cutter plot, poor pacing…

I think I knew it was all over 23% into the book with this passage:

It
was as if he was seeing Zak through new eyes. The sinew of his neck
begged Jake to bite, to mark. The breeze fluttered through hair that
called to be brushed, to feel the silky strands trailing over Jake’s
body. His cock grew harder as he moved toward Zak. When those beautiful
eyes peered at him from beneath the long lashes, and the upturned lips
gave a shy smile, Jake groaned as he came in his pants.

Really. Really? Really. It doesn’t improve much from there.

The buildup to the finale was tedious, and when they meet the big-baddies? Meh.

I can’t say that I would recommend this book at all.
       

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Book Review: Trust the Focus, by Megan Erickson

 

Trust the Focus (In Focus #1), by Megan Erickson

With his college graduation gown expertly pitched into the trash, Justin Akron is ready
for the road trip he planned with his best friend Landry— and ready for one last summer of escape from his mother’s controlling grip. Climbing into the Winnebago his father left him, they set out across America in search of the sites his father had captured through the lens of his Nikon.

As an aspiring photographer, Justin can think of no better way to honor his father’s memory than to scatter his ashes at the sites he held sacred. And there’s no one Justin would rather share the experience with more than Landry.

But Justin knows he can’t escape forever. Eventually he’ll have to return home and join his mother’s Senate campaign. Nor can he escape the truth of who he is, and the fact that he’s in love with his out-and-proud travel companion.

Admitting what he wants could hurt his mother’s conservative political career. But with every click of his shutter and every sprinkle of ash, Justin can’t resist Landry’s pull. And when the truth comes into focus, neither is prepared for the secrets the other is hiding.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Sometimes you just want to feel good.

I wouldn’t say this is a particularly complex story, but even so I enjoyed it. Justin and Landry are wonderful characters. I really got a good feeling for Justin, how he felt, and how he dealt with his conflicts. I was a little less empathetic with Landry but I still understood where he was coming from and why he responded the way he did.

Megan Erickson’s writing is clear and engaging, though the book has a couple of glaring typos (“seeing the sites” instead of “seeing the sights”, pasta with “muscles” instead of “mussels”). These are just minor complaints, though. I’d recommend this book to anyone who needs a light, enjoyable read with a couple of guys who are easy to like.
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Book Review: Unacceptable Risk, by Kaje Harper (Hidden Wolves, Book 1)

Unacceptable Risk, by Kaje Harper
(Hidden Wolves, Book 1)

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Simon Conley was born a werewolf, making him one of a tiny minority in a sea of vanilla humans. The safety of the pack lies in absolute secrecy, sometimes violently enforced. In a species where pack-members are born and not made, being gay is considered a perversion. So when Simon falls in love with a human man, he’s twice damned. Even his Alpha’s grudging tolerance may not be enough to shield him from the hatred of the other top wolves. Then his lover Paul stumbles across pack secrets Simon was sworn to keep, and if the pack finds out, they may both end up dead.

This book is a reminder that even if you can predict how everything will play out, if the writing is good enough you can still really enjoy the story. This is a story of relationship and pack politics. While it is successful on both fronts, the former is far more enjoyable than the latter. The courtship between Simon and Paul is so sweet, and the push and pull between attraction, fear, and doubt makes for a fascinating dynamic. Paul’s concerns and hesitation especially struck a chord for me. Harper has done a great job in building these characters and their personalities, and indeed constructing a believable niche for werewolves in modern society as well. (Side note: props for either having good knowledge of the day-to-day life and concerns of a veterinarian or doing some really excellent research!)

The pack politics part was the weaker part of the story for me. I was mildly annoyed at the HUGE cast of background characters, all with single short first names that were easy to get confused. This was a minor nitpick since really there are only a few principals that you need to remember. I especially liked Aaron and I look forward to reading more about him later in this series.

As for predictability, about two-thirds through the book I guessed how the critical issues would be resolved. While I was mostly right, there were just enough twists in there to keep things interesting. This was a very entertaining and extremely sexy read! No shyness here, but given the relationship concerns addressed even the intimate moments helped further the plot.

On a side note, I would urge any reader to download the free short story, Unsettled Interlude, that immediately follows the action in the book. It really is more of an epilogue, and actually speaks to a lot of the unresolved concerns I had at the end of the book. That epilogue makes the whole story better. Overall, I really liked this book and will continue to read through the series!

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Book Review: Skin, by Jesse Daro

Skin, by Jesse Daro

Rating: 4 out of 5

Unbeknownst to most of human kind, Chimera Enterprises has resurrected a shape-shifting alien race that sank with the lost continent of Lemuria eons ago: the werekin, beings born with both a human and an animal skin, able to shift between the two at will. Seventeen-year-old Seth Michael Sullivan, a werejaguar, has grown up in the Underground, hiding from the hunters that capture and enslave werekin for Chimera Enterprises. After witnessing the murder of his guardian Naomi, Seth arrives in Fairfax, Indiana, on a snowy New Year’s Eve, a rare breed on the run. As he reconnects with the mother and sister who know nothing of his true identity, Seth discovers he is a key piece in Chimera’s plot to conquer humankind by securing the power of the werekin Totems – and uncovers a secret in his own past that could decide the fate of his kindred.

Top-secret scientific experiments, ancient alien technology, a powerful shadow organization inside the United States military – Seth soon finds himself at the center of a brewing interspecies war. Can he trust his own flesh and blood? Will he choose to stand with humankind or with his werekin kindred – especially when the best part of being human may be Marshall Townsend, the boy next door? 

What an unexpected treat!

From past experiences, I’m a little gun-shy about free, self-published books. Usually they are in need of heavy editing and have a myriad of problems with characters, plot, and setting. I’m pleased to say that (almost) none of that is present in this book, and what little there is does not get in the way of an exciting read.

Daro has done a fine job of world-building here. The ramifications of historical actions are played out in a logical manner, and this makes the world very believable. My only complaint here is that some of the mythical backstory is a little mushy and unclear, but other than that I really enjoyed the setup.

The characters here are believable, and there are quite a few! I admit I sometimes got a little lost toward the end trying to make sense of the cast. I really liked Seth, the main character, a werejaguar. The author falls a bit into the trope of one’s animal influencing the human’s actions and behaviors, but that’s a minor quibble. As a teenager Seth is a smart-aleck know-it-all, though as the book progresses he starts to get his head in order and this makes him a much more sympathetic character. Marshall, his love interest, is a little one-dimensional but we get a pretty clear idea of what his motivations may be. The rest of the cast is a fun collection of characters, and the shifting allegiances (and sudden reveals) definitely keep the reader guessing.

The plotting here is more than a little convoluted. I suspect a professional editor might suggest reducing the twists and turns just a bit, but it is a fun ride that was anything but predictable. The mix of mundane high-school life and high-stakes life-or-death action can be a little jarring at times, though.

I think that the first chapter is worthy of mention. It’s tough to bring a reader into a story from the very first words, and even tougher to throw them right into the middle of the action. The first chapter of this book is one of the best at this that I have seen and is worthy of any professionally-written novel.

Finally, I came by this book in a list of gay romances (and a recommended book at that). While it has gay characters and a budding romance, the interactions on that front are strictly G-rated. I would say that this is a great urban fantasy that happens to have gay characters. (Oddly, I’ve also seen it classified as Young Adult – as near as I can tell YA in this context is “Yeah, they’re gay, but they don’t have sex.” This seems weirdly different from the mainstream definition of YA, but there ya go.)

Skin is the first of The Ark Trilogy (Skin, Blood, Bones), all of which are downloadable for free from Goodreads. I look forward to reading the rest of the books!

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Book Review: How To Be a Normal Person, by T.J. Klune

How To Be a Normal Person, by T.J. Klune

Gustavo Tiberius is not normal. He knows this. Everyone in his small town of Abby, Oregon, knows this. He reads encyclopedias every night before bed. He has a pet ferret called Harry S.  Truman. He owns a video rental store that no one goes to. His closest friends are a lady named Lottie with drag queen hair and a trio of elderly Vespa riders known as the We Three Queens.

Gus is not normal. And he’s fine with that. All he wants is to be left alone.

Until Casey, an asexual stoner hipster and the newest employee at Lottie’s Lattes, enters his life. For some reason, Casey thinks Gus is the greatest thing ever. And maybe Gus is starting to think the same thing about Casey, even if Casey is obsessive about Instagramming his food.

But Gus isn’t normal and Casey deserves someone who can be. Suddenly wanting to be that someone, Gus steps out of his comfort zone and plans to become the most normal person ever.

After all, what could possibly go wrong?

I loved this book so much. Gus and Casey are not particularly likable characters at the beginning of the book, but as the story progresses and we learn more about them and what makes them tick, they become utterly endearing.

This is a character-driven story, which is to say not much happens and yet you don’t need tremendous, earth-shaking events to tell a good story. This is a cozy tale of a guy who isn’t as
curmudgeonly as he thinks he is learning how to love someone, although in the most hysterical way possible.

Having read Klune’s The Lightning-Struck Heart, I am well aware of (and greatly appreciate) his amusing, fourth-wall-breaking humor. This, coupled with Gus’ sarcastic commentary, had me giggling most of the way through this book. Even so, I became emotionally invested in Gus and Casey, and even cried a few times as they worked through their relationship.

Casey is asexual, and I cannot begin to say how much I appreciate that TJ stays true to this. Asexuality is something that I am only learning more about now, but as a gay man I think it would be incredibly hypocritical of me to even begin to question let alone define other’s sexual identities. This is a well-written depiction (as far as I know) and helped me appreciate the concept more as well.

So yes, a book that is nominally within the m/m romance genre where no one is getting down and dirty, and Tab A isn’t getting inserted in Slot B? Yes, it CAN happen, and the book suffers not one whit for the lack. When Gus works himself up to going in for a hug with Casey without even asking? That was utterly adorable and made the book for me.

This is definitely one of my favorites by TJ so far!

Book Review: Axel’s Pup, by Kim Dare

Axel’s Pup, by Kim Dare

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

As the landlord of The
Dragon’s Lair and leader of The Black Dragons Motorcycle Club, Axel
Carmichael has seen it all and done it all. He’s a respected and
experienced dom. Nothing shocks him any more, and nobody catches him off
guard.

When Bayden rides up to The Dragon’s Lair on a bike worth
more than most men earn in a year, and immediately demonstrates that he
has far more attitude than sense, it’s easy for Axel to write him off
as a silly little rich boy who’s about to get himself killed.

But, there’s more to Bayden than meets the eye. He’s no silly little boy, rich or otherwise, and werewolves aren’t easy to kill.

Part of the trick to reviewing anything is to recognize when something is good even if you didn’t necessarily enjoy it. This book was a bit of a slow read for me because it didn’t engage me like many others do. That is most likely due to the main subject, the dom/sub relationship. That, and BDSM in general, are not to my taste at all, so this was definitely a read that was far afield for me. We all have our different interests, though. I try to live by “Your kink is not my kink, but your kink is OK.”

This concern aside, Kim Dare has created a fascinating world with this book, one that I would love to see more of. This is a world where werewolves and humans live side by side, yet due to an event sometime in the past wolves have been relegated to second-class citizen status. Anti-pack laws mean that wolves are not allowed to congregate or have distinct last names. They are regarded by humans as dirty and lazy, and are an oppressed minority, subject to random stop and harassment (or worse) by police. In spite of this, wolves remain a proud and fiercely independent people.

The racial and economic parallels to our reality are inescapable, of course, but that is not the focus of the story. Instead, this setting provides an interesting context for a human dominant, wolf submissive relationship. The narrative point of view switches between the dom (Axel) and the sub (Bayden), providing a balanced viewpoint as the story proceeds.

This is very definitely a character-driven story; there is not much action here. The focus is on the developing relationship between Axel and Bayden. And therein lies the problem – we get a lot of background on Bayden (who I found a fascinating character), but I never felt (until very late in the book) that we understood what motivates Axel, and even after some details are revealed no connection is made between his history and his motivations.

If there is not much in the way of plot development, that void is certainly filled by many, many sex scenes. Mind you, I do love a good, well-written scene, but by the latter third of the book I was starting to skim them because things were getting a bit repetitious, or delving into specific bondage techniques I don’t really care about. I can’t vouch for the dom/sub mind-sets or mental spaces in which the characters reside. I would be curious to see the opinion of someone more familiar with the BDSM lifestyle.

I can’t say I’d pursue other BDSM-based books that Dare has written, but I’d be interested to read other topics from her. The writing is solid, even if the character development may need some work.

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Book Review: Soul Seekers by Jake C. Wallace

Soul Seekers by Jake C. Wallace

Nineteen-year-old
college student Levi Reed has spent his life with hollow emotions and a
darkness so deep that he’s convinced he’s losing his mind. He’d give
anything to feel something, anything, real.

When a mysterious
stranger appears, Levi is convinced the man is trying to kill him. When
he’s near, Levi experiences head-crushing pain and something
surprising—real emotions for the first time. Jeb Monroe is arrogant,
self-assured, closed-off, and handsome, but he isn’t the harbinger of
doom Levi assumed. Jeb’s mission: help Levi find his missing soul.

Levi
is pulled into the secret world of Seers and Keepers, those born with
the innate ability to manipulate souls and tasked with balancing the
negative energy they can produce. Levi learns he possesses a rare gift,
and he’s in danger. As Jeb and Levi grow closer, they discover a group
of zealots who want to harness Levi’s power to cleanse the world of
damaged souls. Everyone Levi cares for is threatened unless he agrees to
become their tool of death. But agreeing could spell the destruction of
humankind. With no one to trust and nothing as it appears, it’s up to
Levi to save them all.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

This is a really clever read, and I
enjoyed it. It provides an interesting viewpoint from someone who is in
the middle of a very complex situation and can’t see all of the moving
parts – all they can do is keep their head down and push through it. The
conceit of souls and Keepers and Seers is an intriguing one, and I
would read more of this series if there are any sequels.

So why
only 3.75 then? Two big things: the first and most glaring thing is that
the theory of manipulation of souls and the consequences thereof is WAY
to tangled and confusingly explained. I could never get a clear picture
of what the energy issue was between Levi and Jeb. I _think _I got a clearer picture at the end, but the avalanche of explanations tended to really muddle things by that point.

The other issue is that while I love Levi and Jeb together (HOTNESS!),
Jeb was a bit of a cipher for a huge portion of the story, which left
his motivations and “insta-love” for Levi puzzling. In the end I get
what the author is going for, but in the middle of the story is was just
awkward and confusing.

These quibbles aside, I did enjoy the book, and I will happily seek out other of Wallace’s books.

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Book Review: Wolves of Black Pine, by S.J. Himes

An ancient civilization long hidden from humanity is on the brink of chaos and war.

Peaceful
for thousands of years, the wolfkin clans are mysteriously losing
packmates, kidnapped and killed by unknown foes. Among the dead is Luca,
youngest grandson of the two most powerful wolves in the Northern
Clans, but he is forced into a half-life, hidden in the far northern
wilds of Canada and cut off from his kind. Those who raised him have no
idea the creature they harbor in their midst, and name him Ghost. He
begins to lose himself over the long years, and though he barely recalls
his true name, the one wolf he never forgets is Kane.

Heir to
the wolfkin clan Black Pine, Kane is charged with hunting down the
traitors who them to the humans. Years fly by, and more wolves are
dying. He refuses to give up, and he vows to never again fail another of
their kind, as he failed young Luca years before. His heart tells him
Luca lives, but his mind tells him that it’s foolish hope, his guilt
eating him alive.

Fate and magic change the course of their
lives, and the two wolves long separated by the years find their paths
intertwining, though the reunion does not come without cost…

Rating: 4 out of 5

I really liked this book. I liked the setting, I liked the characters (even if there was a little much of The Ace trope going on), and the world-building was sound. All of the parts of a great book are there.

What’s not there is fitting all the pieces together as well as they could. The pacing is problematic, and it can make the book a bit of a slog at times. The best example that comes to mind is in a climactic action scene, we take a break for a page or two of exposition. There’s also a number of scenes repeated twice, from different character’s points of view. I think it comes down to narrative efficiency – tell the story as cleanly and efficiently as possible. I think with a little more editing this could go from a really good book to great book.

These quibbles aside, I enjoyed this book very much and I look forward to reading the sequel.

Oh, and fair warning for those reading for the hot man-on-man sexytime: it’s there, but only gets started 60% into the book. After that the times sexytime occurs starts to get a little ludicrous, but it doesn’t negatively impact the story.

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Book Reviews: Howl at the Moon series, by Eli Easton

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How to Howl at the Moon, by Eli Easton (Howl at the Moon #1)
How to Walk Like a Man, by Eli Easton (Howl at the Moon #2)

First off, a few things about me: I’m a gay man who enjoys well-written gay romance novels. I am a complete sucker for courtship stories. Finally, I’m a fan of anthropomorphic fiction and art (colloquially, a furry fan).

All of these things combine to make me the target demographic for these books (though the latter is not a requirement – if you enjoy fantasy fiction, this will be up your alley as well).

Eli Easton has created the tiny town of Mad Creek, California. It’s a secluded hamlet on the edge of Yosemite National Park, that is hidden for a reason. We all know of werewolves, however Easton introduces us to the quickened, people who are part human, part dog. Dogs of all breeds, and the breed has a strong influence on the person’s personality. They appear human, but can take on canine form at will. The trait is passed down genetically, though when a dog forms a very close bond with a human, they can become quickened as well. The residents of Mad Creek are almost all quickened, or are their human allies. The need for the town to keep the existence of the quickened a secret is the driving force behind these stories.

The plotting of these books is not going to break any new ground, but not every story is required to do so. What really sets these apart is the writing and the characters. Easton really gives a good feel for the mountains and forests around Mad Creek (particularly in How to Walk Like a Man), and writes in such a way that it’s easy to feel you are present in the story. Additionally, the courtships in the books, willing and not, intentional and not, are incredibly sweet and romantic.

The characters, though, are the best part. Sheriff Lance Beaufort, the unofficial protector of Mad Creek, comes from a family of border collies, and it shows in his intensity and protectiveness of his pack. Tim Weston, is a human seeking a safe place in the mountains after his life has crashed down around him. Deputy Roman Charsguard, a German shepherd quickened only two years prior, is naive in human ways but grateful to have a place in the world. That naivete could easily have been overplayed, but Roman’s confusion and dogged (heh) determination to understand human behavior make it easy to sympathize with his plight. All of these characters are engaging, relatable, and fun. You want to know what happens to them, and you genuinely cheer for them.

If I had any complaint, it’s that the “conflict” (as every story has to have a conflict, Chekov’s gun sitting on the mantel) that is a thread in these books, illicit marijuana farmers, seems sort of low-stakes. This is a minor gripe, though, because of the rest of the stories are so enjoyable.

Finally, there is the caveat that if you are offended by explicit descriptions of sexual activities between male adults, you may wish to look elsewhere. They are a small part of the overall books, but they are present. If you happen to like that sort of thing (I’m not complaining…) then it’s icing on a very wonderful cake. Ms. Easton has said that she is working on the third book in the Mad Creek series. I eagerly await it and will certainly buy it the moment it becomes available.

4.5 stars out of 5!