Saturday, August 22, 2009

M/M Romance Reading Challenge - Finished!



As you all know, I've been a participating in the M/M Romance Reading Challenge started by Christina from I Heart Paperbacks. I joined this great Challenge as part of a wonderful team of enthusiastic ladies from The Manhole at The Phade. The official challenge started on April 15 and will end by August 31, 2009.  

This has been a wonderful experience for me personally. Our Manhole team had the most wonderful time coming up with great recommendations and unique category names, but most important of all they were there with some much needed encouragement when some of us were down and out -- that's one great group of ladies! A shout out and many thanks to all of them for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm. Thank you ladies, you are the best!

The biggest of thanks to Christina from I Heart Paperbacks for starting the Challenge. Thank you Christina! This has been a fun and wonderful experience and my M/M TBR pile is now enormous. Of course, I've "discovered" so many new authors whose backlists I "must read" that I know this Challenge will stay with me for a lot longer than August 31st. 

Since I've been posting most of my M/M Mini Reviews here, I thought I would let you see my completed list. Thank you all for sharing, for your encouragement and for stopping by. 

Completed M/M Romance Challenge List:

Anthology
1) Animal Attraction 2 Edited by Vincent Diamond - Review at Musings

Historical
2) Islands by Samantha Kane - Review at Musings

Contemporary
3) My Only Home by Pepper Espinoza - Review at Musings
4) Recovery by CB Potts - Review at Musings

New Releases
5) Recovery Ranch by CB Potts - Review at Musings
6) Little Tryst by Barbara Sheridan - Review at Musings
7) Best Unspoken by Bryl R. Tyne - Review at The Manhole at The Phade

New-to-Me Author
8) Star Crossed 1: Demon Tailz by Reno McLeod and Jaye Valentine - Review at Musings
9) ePistols at Dawn by Z.A. Maxfield - Review at Impressions...
10) Candy Courage by Angela Benedetti - Review at Musings
11) In the Driver's Seat by Angela Benedetti - Review at Musings

First Book in a Series
12) Three Day Passes - Jarhead Series by Sean Michael - Review at Musings

Small Town M/M Romance
13) Country Boys: Wild Gay Erotica Edited by Richard Labonte - Review at Musings

I Can't Believe I Haven't Read this Author Yet Category
14) Bound by Love by T.A. Chase - Review at Musings

Athletes/Sports
15) Out of Bounds by T.A. Chase - Review at Musings

Out of Comfort Zone
16) Which Way to Dominance by Gavin Atlas - Review at Musings

TBR Pile for over 2 Months
17) Natural Disaster by Chris Owen - Review at The Manhole at The Phade (Summary at Impressions...)

M/M Steampunk
18) Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale - Review at Musings

M/M Cops and Lovers
19) Dancing in the Dark by Jenna Byrnes- Review at Musings

1st M/M Author Ever Read
20) Str8gt Boys by Evangeline Anderson - Review at Musings

Monday, August 17, 2009

M/M Romance Reading Challenge - Part Ten

Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale

Belimai Sykes is many things: a Prodigal, the descendant of ancient demons, a creature of dark temptations and rare powers. He is also a man with a brutal past and a dangerous addiction.

And Belimai Sykes does not work for free and the price of Belimai's company will cost Captain Harper far more than his reputation.

From the ornate mansions of noblemen, where vivisection and sorcery are hidden beneath a veneer of gold, to the steaming slums of Hells Below, Captain Harper must fight for justice and for his life.

His enemies are many and his only ally is a devil he knows too well. Such are the dangers of dealing with the wicked.

Using heavy atmosphere, unforgettable characters and excellent prose, Ginn Hale builds a world in Wicked Gentlemen that grabs you from the beginning and stays with you even after you turn that last page.

Hale builds her world through the first half of the book -- using names like "Brighton House of Inquisition," "White Chapel," and "St. Christopher's Park" in Crowncross, the Holy Capitol and "High Tangle," "Low Tangle" "Underchapel Parish," and "Good Commons," in Hopetown (also called Hells Below), we get a sense of an alternate London and its surrounding Parishes... a familiar setting becomes otherworldly and dark.

The Prodigals we meet here are descendants of the original fallen Demons who abandoned Damnation (or hell) by signing the Covenant of Redemption. It was the promise of Salvation for themselves and their descendants that made them leave their dark kingdom below. In three hundred years the Prodigals are no longer magnificent and that promise is now a double edged sword. 

When we first begin Wicked Gentlemen, Belimai Sykes seems almost familiar, someone reminiscent of an Arthur Conan Doyle character. The setting where we first meet him is a dark library in his home, in what seems like an alternate dark London with gaslights on the streets. Almost immediately, as part of his personality, we encounter a dry, almost morbid sense of humor and are exposed to a shameful addiction. All these facts together with his occupation, that of a detective, help with this sense of familiarity. However, as we go along, although these characteristics are very much a part of Belimai, he emerges as a unique and arresting individual.

The first part of the book -- "Mr Sykes and the Firefly" -- is told through Belimai's point of view and as we get to know his thoughts, we see he is not exactly the nicest of creatures. Indeed with a bit of a twist, Belimai would make an excellent villain. I found him to be an enjoyable, cynical, dry, self-destructive and flawed character.

The moment when Belimai meets Captain Harper is sharp, focused and dark. I loved the exchanges and chemistry between these two -- neither one a nice man/creature, neither one an easy character to like at first. If Belimai is a Prodigal and a demon, then Harper is his biggest nemesis -- an Inquisitor -- and that is exactly what it sounds like. As in the olden days, in this world an Inquisitor is charged with righting religious wrongs, usually through torture. In Hale's world he also dispenses justice -- a combination priest and policeman. The Inquisitors in this case are usually in charge of making sure Demons are purified and stay that way.  Belimai explains it best:
    
     Harper stood and opened his long black coat, I caught sight of the white priest's collar at his throat as well as the pistol holstered beneath his left arm.

     That pairing fit the Inquisition perfectly. The white band proclaimed the captain's authority to judge and redeem the souls of those awash with sin. The pistol embodied the very earthly duty of each man of the Inquisition to enforce and uphold the law. Salvation became far more appealing when damnation was faced at gunpoint.

Belimai and Harper's personalities emerge slowly as they solve a dangerous mystery together and quite a few interesting secondary characters are introduced. A more intimate relationship between Belimai and Harper is also building at this point and the development is slow and well done. This mystery is successfully solved within the first part of the book as Hale continues her world building, character development and introduces a new mystery in the second part of the book. 

The second part -- "Captain Harper and The 62 Second Circle" -- picks up at the end of part one and it is told through Harper's point of view. This is where we really get to know what this man is capable of -- his strengths and weaknesses. Harper is a man who believes in justice, but doesn't have the heart of a zealot -- there's a lot to discover and I loved the mystery and darkness in him.  The conflict presented in this part of the book was quite intricate and I was happily surprised by the resolution at the end. 

The intimate relationship between these two individuals is key to the story. There is sexual tension and there are two encounters between Belimai and Harper, but it is the growing feelings for each other -- the realization that there could be more for them -- that really made that part of the story special for me.

In Wicked Gentlemen, Ms. Hale presents a complete book with all the ingredients I look forward to in this type of story -- from the world building, to the characterization, to plot and prose, this was a winner for me. There will be a sequel to this book releasing next year and I'll be waiting impatiently for it.

M/M Fantasy/Steampunk: Grade A+
You can visit find this book here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Buddy Review At Breezing Through

I'll be over at Breezing Through having some fun with the lovely Nath. She invited me over to do a buddy review and I jumped at the chance. What could be more fun than to chat with someone who just finished reading the same book, right? 

Well, we chatted.... hmm, had fun... hmm, buddy reviewed the first book in an urban fantasy series we both wanted to try. So come by and have some fun with us.

Nightlife by Rob Thurman 

There are monsters among us. There always have been and there always will be. I've known that ever since I can remember, just like I've always known I was one...

...Well, half of one, anyway.

Welcome to the Big Apple. There's a troll under the Brooklyn Bridge, a boggle in Central Park, and a beautiful vampire in a penthouse in the Upper East Side - and that's only the beginning. Of course, most humans are oblivious to the preternatural nightlife around them, but Cal Leandros is only half-human.

His father's dark lineage is the stuff of nightmares - and he and his entire otherwordly race are after Cal. Why? Cal hasn't wanted to stick around long enough to find out.

He and his half-brother Niko have managed to stay a step ahead for three years, but now Cal's dad has found them again. And Cal is about to learn why they want him, why they always wanted him... for he is the key to unleashing their hell on earth. The fate of the human world will be decided in the fight of Cal's life...
A little poem I found for one of my favorite characters in this story, Robin Goodfellow:

My Dog

To Pan and the Dryads here
I dedicate my hunting spear,
My dog, the bag that holds my store;
I am too poor to offer more!

Nay, but my dog I cannot spare!
He must return my crusts to share,
My daily rambles to attend,
My little comrade and my friend.

Macedonius: 6th century A.D.


Nightlife is Book #1 in the Urban Fantasy, Cal Leandros Series (Half Human, Half Monster, All Attitude). Review here.

You can visit the author and find out more about the series here


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

M/M Mini Reviews: Romance Reading Challenge - Part Nine

Out of Bounds by T. A. Chase

Can a sexy nightclub owner convince an all star basketball player to risk it all?

Professional basketball player Kasey Johnson makes a point of keeping his sexual preference under guard and out of the public eye. Empty, off-season flings are all he can look forward to until he retires. He figures his secret is safe -- until he meets Ingram Fletcher, a nighclub owner who ignites a passionate inferno in his body.

Gram has lusted after Kasey ever since the long, tall basketball player was traded to Phoenix a year ago. But with Kasey's twin brother running interference, up until now Gram's been unsure if it's safe to make a play. Then some incidental contact in the crowded club leads to a kiss that starts Gram wondering if a relationship is possible -- now, and beyond March Madness.

A romantic weekend together answers that question. Now the only one remaining is if Kasey is ready to make a fast break out of his comfort zone.
In Out of Bounds, T. A. Chase touches on a few different themes: gays in professional sports; coming out to the public; privacy vs. the public's right to know. Most importantly Chase focuses on a man's personal needs and happiness vs. his career and having viable future. This is Kasey's dilemma and the one he and Gram must face together.

The contrast between Kasey and Gram's developing relationship and the almost brittle desperation we see in Garrett, Kasey's twin brother, is startling and it serves Kasey well. The protective and close relationship between the brothers was both exasperating and touching -- just as those brotherly relationships tend to be.

Kasey and Gram's story as told by T. A. Chase is full of sexual tension and eroticism. The chemistry between these two is scorching, as is the love that flourishes between them. Although their first encounter comes quick, Chase develops their relationship. Kasey's slow realization that their relationship might be worth more than a few encounters, and Gram's unrelenting and surprising commitment won me over.

Out of Bounds is a wonderful addition to my growing T. A. Chase collection.

M/M Romance Erotica: Hot B+
Find this book here.

M/M Romance Reading Challenge - Part Eight

ePistols at Dawn by Z. A. Maxfield

Choose your weapons.

Jae-sun Fields is pissed. Someone has taken the seminal, coming of age novel Doorways and satirized it. He's determined to use his Internet skills and his job as a tabloid reported to out the author as the fraud and no-talent hack he's sure she is.

Kelly Kendal likes is anonymity and, except for his house, factotum and all around slut, Will, he craves solitude. There's also that crippling case of OCD that makes it virtually impossible for him to leave the house. He's hidden his authorship of Doorways behind layers of secrets and several years' worth of lies -- until he loses a bet.

Satirizing his own work, as far as he an see, is his own dammed prerogative. Except now he has an online stalker, one who always seems several steps ahead of him in their online due for information.

A chance meeting reveals more than hidden identities -- it exposes a mutual magnetic attraction that can't be denied. And pushes the stakes that much higher, into a zone that could get way too personal...

Part Eight of the M/M Romance Reading Challenge, featuring ePistols at Dawn by Z. A. Maxfield
was posted at Impressions...

M/M Erotic Romance: Grade A

Saturday, August 8, 2009

No Limits by Alison Kent

Simon Baptiste's latest SG-5 mission just went south in a major way. It seems like a good time to take are of some business back home in Louisiana. Simon knows it ain't going to be pretty. He's got old enemies in Bayou Allain who won't exactly roll out the red carpet. But Simon's first night back is more than he bargained for: Not only has the homestead gone to hell in a hand basket, but there's a half-naked woman hiding inside it -- a woman whose face Simon knows all too well. It's Michelina Ferrer; the sultry spokes model for her family's Ferrer fragrance empire -- and Simon's been starting at her picture on a billboard outside his Manhattan apartment for weeks...

Micky Ferrer came down to Bayou Allain looking for her old college friend, only to discover that Lisa Landry has been missing for days. As soon as Micky starts asking questions, someone runs her car off the road. She's hiding out in the old Baptiste place when Simon shows up -- and he's the hottest thing she's laid eyes on since she got to town. Simon agrees that something strange is going on and that Lisa's disappearance may be tied to it. As he and Micky search for answers, the sweltering heat makes it hard to keep their heads straight on their hands off each other...even as they unravel the small-town secrets that some people are willing to kill for...
Alison Kent is a new-to-me author, and No Limits a no expectations type of read. I understand this book is part of a long series -- the SG5 -- however, I think it reads well as a stand alone. The above book description is very thorough in the way it outlines the plot, so I'll just outline my thoughts. 

No Limits gives us enough Cajun flavor without really steeping us into the culture or the true southern atmosphere of the Bayou. We get a sense of that flavor from some of the phraseology, usage of language and pacing, but the details are not really found here to provide heavy atmosphere.

Micky, as in Micky Mouse, reminded me of a cross between a super-model and the type of celebrity we see pictured in tabloids all too often. Although initially developed as an immature young woman who acts before she thinks and is adept at running rather than taking responsibility for her actions, her character does show some growth throughout the story. Simon is a character you'll recognize easily. He is a sexy ex-military, ex-mercenary who now works with the SG5 team. He is an alpha male who is not overdone in this story, although a bit brooding. I found the dialogue and tension between these two characters better than the chemistry.

King, Simon's cousin, is one of a memorable cast of secondary characters. A wonderfully brooding Cajun, King caught my attention from the beginning and kept it to the end of this story. Some of the most heated sexual scenes in this book are between King and Paschelle -- King's friend with benefits. As a secondary story, King and Paschelle's troubled, sexual relationship became my favorite part of the book. I certainly looked forward to every single scene where both these characters were included. 

The mystery/suspense in the book was a disappointment for me. The villain of this piece is known almost immediately as is the reason for the crime. There didn't seem to be any surprises at the end. 

No Limits was a mixed bag for me. I thoroughly enjoyed parts of it and thought Ms. Kent's secondary characters made the story -- from Judge Bear and pitiful Lorna to sexy King and Paschelle. However, I felt the suspense was lacking and the ending felt more like a "happily for now" than a "happily ever after." This book gets a C+ from me.   

You can visit the author here. You can read an excerpt here

Thursday, August 6, 2009

More Impressions than Review: The Edge of Impropriety by Pam Rosenthal

The ribald private life of novelist Countess Marina Wyatt is the stuff of public scandal -- and it doesn't hurt the sale of her romances either. But she's totally unprepared for her consuming new affair with Jasper James Hedges, noted art appraiser and her former lover's uncle.
In Marina, Jasper sees a work of art of another kind. And for all of Marina's passionate inventions, nothing can compare to what Jasper delivers -- an erotic and dangerous voyage to the edge of impropriety and beyond.
The Edge of Impropriety is a book that took me by surprise. Frankly, I didn't know what to expect since this is my first book by Pam Rosenthal. 

I found this to be an excellent historical romance with a mixture of fictional, historical characters, and/or based on real people of the times, peppered with beautiful details of time and place. I loved the way the writer allows us glimpses of the "ton" from the outside -- through the eyes of those who resided on the periphery, even the tradesmen. Her observations from that point of view were quite refreshing and kept me turning the pages.

Her hero and heroine are presented as mature adults with responsibilities and not-so-pretty pasts. You must keep reading to really get to know Marina, but there is nothing coy or disingenuous about her -- she is who she is and I loved her character. Jasper is easier to know and is presented as straight forward in his dealings with Marina and complex in his relationship with his family. I found their encounters to be very passionate -- nothing coy in that regard either -- although I found the way Rosenthal went about writing these scenes quite interesting.

For me, the way Ms. Rosenthal resolved conflicts in this book were also refreshing. Secondary characters are interesting and add much to this story. There's a secondary romance in the book that was both sweet and unexpected and a twist at the end to a bit of a mystery. The ending to this book was unusual, yet appropriate in my opinion. The only minor problem I found with the book was the length of some of the internal dialogues, which were a bit long winded at times. The Edge of Impropriety was an A- read for me.

Visit the author here. Read an excerpt here

ETA: Added second Cover to this post. Cover on the left was used for paperbacks and Cover on the right for the Hardcover release.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

M/M Romance Reading Challenge - Part Seven


Islands by Samantha Kane

Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Conlan, United States Navy Seabees, knows he's not in Kansas anymore when he steps off the launch at the small island of Ile Dorée and sees gorgeous Frenchman René Dubois waiting for him on the dock. The year is 1943, the place is the Pacific and the world is at war. Free from the censure of the military, Gabe has an explosive affair with René. But when the world intrudes, Gabe denies René and tries to forget the best sex of his life.

The only westerner on his small Pacific island, René is desperately lonely. When the tall, lanky American steps onto his dock, René knows his life will never be the same. He teaches Gabe how to make love to a man and, unexpectedly, falls in love. René will brave prejudice, Japanese Zeros and Gabe's reluctance to find love at last.
Gabriel Conlan is a man of his times. A man who is used to being in command and control as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, but also a man who maintains that same control on his emotions. He knows that he can't let his true self show for a moment or his credibility and career will disappear in an instant. His self-contempt and repressed longings are made evident early on in the story, as well as his lack of experience in the love arena. Oh, he knows what it is to have sex with another man, but love? That, he has never experienced.

René Dubois is a Frenchman and the only westerner in a Pacific Island where he is responsible for all its inhabitants. A lonely and passionate man, René grew up in France where he was accepted as a gay man from an early age. He wears his passionate nature and capability for love like a second skin. Gorgeous and confident, René oozes the type of sensuality and determination that scares Gabriel.

In Islands, Samantha Kane writes a love story heavy in atmosphere and 1940's period details. She makes you feel as if you were there in the Pacific Islands during WWII during those terrible times of war and danger, and yet she provides that oasis for a short period of time where these two characters met and changed each other's lives forever. From the way Gabe held his cigarette, to the pacing of their dialogue, this felt like a period piece. I could visualize it as I was reading it.

Secondary characters and backgrounds are not neglected in this story either. Ms. Kane gives us rich details about the culture of the island and its inhabitants. The Fa'afafine are highlighted in this story as they play a part here. These are young men who think of themselves as females and are treated as such from the time they are children. They dress and act as females and are highly respected within the culture. We also meet other servicemen -- Mr. Watson's story parallels Gabe's, although in a supportive role. Gabriel and René stay as the focus.

For me, this book was a Romance with wonderful erotic scenes. The way René seduced Gabriel and showed him a man could be loved was more than erotic -- I found it moving. Gabriel's doubts and reservations didn't have a chance... not after René called him "Mon Ange" the first time. Their trials and tribulations take place within a short period of time, but the resolution to their conflict takes time. I think this is one of the parts I most appreciated about Islands.

Ms. Kane delivers a complete story with compelling characters, wonderful atmosphere and an intensity to her scenes that left me more than satisfied with this book. For me, Islands is a keeper and it will be re-read. 

M/M Romance: Grade A
You can find this book here