The Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews

Monday, April 14, 2014

How the Fake Becomes Real

Reading Challenge / April 2014: Contemporary Romance

Pull Me Under by Zarah Detand
Rating: B+

After a video of Ben, a famous footballer who's closeted, dancing with a guy goes viral, his manager suggests Ben get a fake boyfriend to show what an upstanding guy he is.  Henry accepts the challenge of becoming Ben's ersatz love because he admires Ben and wants to help him.  This doesn't go over well with James, who's in love with Henry and sees his "sacrifice" in becoming Ben's media boyfriend as too much.

The story on the surface revolves around how Ben and Henry get together as real lovers and overcome their fake relationship to find happiness.  But on a deeper level it's the story of how Ben grows up and stops believing his publicity in order to become himself.

What Ben and Henry don't understand at the beginning of the book is that Henry is in love with Ben's media image.  When that image changes from interesting footballer to gay sports icon, Henry falls even deeper in love with the fake Ben.

Consequently, both men have to change.  Both must look beneath the fame, money, and media images to find who they really are in order to come together on a level that is potentially lasting.  Until they do, not only are they cardboard cutouts but their relationship is too.

Detand is masterful in writing Ben's stream-of-consciousness first-person narrative.  Ben's at once puffed up with his sports prowess yet still uncomfortable with his success.  He has great rapport with his teammates and other athletes but is unsure of himself with anyone else.  He's self-conscious enough to be aware that maybe he isn't as great as the media think he is.  And that's a troubling thought.

Henry, on the surface, seems like a saint, putting up with Ben's often larger than life ego.  But Henry's got a secret agenda.  Henry can see how important Ben is to gay boys and men everywhere.  Henry knows that he's the one responsible for keeping Ben from becoming outrageous and embarrassing himself and everyone around him.  Ben's image is important to the gay cause, and Henry's there to help him keep that image clean.

James who wants Henry to be his boyfriend and is contemptuous of Ben is the third interesting character in this romance.  James sees Ben as a buffoon who should be ignored.  He can't understand why Henry would want to protect and promote Ben at all since as far as James is concerned there's nothing real about the footballer at all.  Instead of seeing how Ben's potentially a good role model, James sees him as a setback to the cause.

Although it took me a while to get into the first person streaming presentation, I very much enjoyed this book because it brought an entirely new look at gay athletes and their part as role models in society, especially since some of these athletes aren't the most mature or thoughtful people.  Maybe some of them really do need Henrys to make them think like adults and not just party and respond like teens.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Powerful Look at Life-Healing Love

Is it possible for a young man with emotional and physical scars and his deaf boyfriend to conquer their fears and make a productive life for themselves? Only with a lot of hard work and strength of will, J.P. Barnaby assures readers.

In AARON, the author illustrated how a traumatized boy can come part way out of his reclusive shell with the help of a loving and loyal friend. Five years after Aaron's attack and three years after Spencer befriends him, this sequel to AARON follows the young men as their lives are changing, both as a couple and individually.

As Spencer graduates from junior college and sells the software program he and Aaron have worked on together, Spencer agrees to move an hour away to Chicago and head up a team to launch the software for public use. This is a huge step for a guy born deaf who never thought he'd be able to move away from his psychologist father and live alone.

But Aaron, who was homeschooled after the attack that killed his friend Juliette and left him nearly dead with a slit throat, still has a long way to go to graduate. He is devastated that Spencer would even think about leaving him, much less actually move.

Just as Aaron's trying to get his head around the fact that the rock on whom he depends is moving, he learns the men who had assaulted him and Juliet have been caught. Now Aaron has to find the courage to testify against them, which means he has to bare his physical and mental scars to a judge and jury.

Read the rest of my review at The Romance Reviews.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Delightful Gay Fairytale

The old saying "Nice guys finish last" seems to be Mason Lawrence's fate in life until he decides to take his fate his own hands and be bold in Second Star to the Right, a delightful gay romance fairy tale.

Mason is at the top of his game, a workaholic who owns his own company and has friends with whom he enjoys meeting. What he doesn't have, and dearly wishes for, is a partner with whom to share his life. He's not so much pushed around by those he knows as much as wants everyone around him to be happy, and he works to make them so.

Before going on a vacation, he succumbs to the thought of a paid companion to revive his sex life and possibly his forgotten enjoyment of life. What he gets is Jack, jaded at almost thirty and without any skills other than sexual prowess.

Jack immediately lays down his rules, including sex only twice a day and his right to be given time out whenever he needs it. Mason is fine with the rules, but inadvertently starts breaking them as he and Jack become more than worker and client.

Although it seems as if Mason and Jack are eons apart - Jack wanting to become Peter Pan (hence the book title) and Mason aching for a permanent partner - Henley gradually brings them together as the caregiver becomes the care-receiver.

The success of this plot depends on the strength of its characters. Unless the reader buys into the fact that the people in this relationship (which on the surface looks like a train wreck about to happen) can come together successfully, the book is doomed.

Here's where Henley shines. On the surface Mason's too-good-to-be-true personality should be repulsive since he seemingly lets people push him around. But Mason has a spine of steel. It's not that he's a push-over but rather that's he's burnt out after a lifetime of building his company and working 60-hour weeks. His entire life has settled in a rut. And how many men do we know just like Mason?

Read the rest of my review at All About Romance:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Canadian Hockey versus Curling

Burning Up the Ice by Devon Rhodes and T. A. Chase marks the first time I've heard that Canadians break down into two groups about ice sports.  I knew both hockey and curling were huge crowd pleasers in Canada, but I never knew that the ice is prepared differently for the sports and different kinds of ice are needed for each one.

Call it the education of an American who as a child spent her time both on lake ice and inside on auditorium ice.  I understand and appreciate the vast difference between these, much preferring the auditorium ice only because I didn't have to take a snow shovel beforehand to clear snow and debris off the ice before I could skate.

I was particularly taken by injured NHL hockey player who turns into a little boy when his friend and soon to be lover lets him drive the Zamboni.  Having watched a Zamboni make its rounds before a skating lesson or to clean the ice before public skating, I too have always wanted to drive a Zamboni.

Have sex on it like the two men in the story do?  Not so much.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dear Goodreads Authors

Today I got a message from the Goodreads Team that they want me to cease and desist from posting this message in the review section of a book:  Watch for my review at (the name of the venue at which my review will run and the URL for that venue).  I review for All About Romance, Booklist, and The Romance Reviews.

After my review ran at the review site, I always change the Goodreads review to be the first four or five paragraphs of the review with the last paragraph as Read read the rest of my review at AAR, Booklist or TRR with the permanent URL for the review.

I posted the first message as a courtesy to authors who might want to know if their books will be reviewed and where it will be reviewed, and the second so authors and readers would know the review had run.  It never occurred to me that this would be unacceptable to the Goodreads powers that be.  But it is.

I understand that Goodreads is a fan-based site, but I didn't understand that the fans (or at least The Team who represent the fans) don't want to know that your book is being reviewed somewhere else.
So now that I've been called on the carpet (or to the principal's office as it actually feels), I'll stop notifying you at Goodreads that your book is going to be reviewed.  If you want to know this, you'll have to go to Shelfari or Library Thing instead.
Thanks for reading this note,


What's Erotica and What's Not?

A few years back I was blown away by an interesting contemporary romance that revolved around weight, Heavy Issues by Elle Ayecart.  The book was classified as erotica, a classification that perhaps Loose ID, the publisher, probably tagged it.

Like Deep Down, the latest Ayecart, the designation of erotica bothers me because so many of the Regency romances I was reading at the same time I read Heavy Issues were as erotic if not more so.  At the time I wasn't quite sure what made erotica erotica.  Now I'm even less sure.

The sex scenes in Deep Down are no more detailed or lusty than those found in the run-of-the-mill contemporary or historical romance.  If plot and not sex is the issue, then again erotica, at least Ayecart's erotica, is less erotic than every other romance published today.  Deep Down features the same angst-ridden couple who share a Big Misunderstanding.

In fact, the only thing that separates Deep Down from probably every other lusty contemporary or historical today is the trio of grandmothers, whose sometimes nearly slapstick antics lighten the otherwise fairly typical plot.

I'm wondering if erotica is a subgenre of the past.  Has its time come and gone already?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fessenden's Delightful Screwups

Nothing is screwed up about Jamie Fessenden's new novel Screwups, not the characters, the plot, or his excellent writing.

In 1996 at the University of New Hampshire, business junior Jake Stewart takes a bold step, moving into Eaton House, the creative arts dorm. Jake's homophobic father has denied his youngest son's love of art, saying art is for sissies. But Jake rebels because he realizes that if he doesn't give reign to his artistic side now, he'll never be able to do so when he goes to work for his dad's company.

Eaton is a revelation to the closeted Jake, whose out-and-proud roommate Danny Sullivan is a key player in an ongoing Dungeons & Dragons role playing game. Not only that but music major Danny is Jake's dream man. But since Danny, like everyone else, thinks Jake is straight, this is a bit of a problem. Is Jake ready to come out to his new friends in Eaton House and more importantly to Danny?

As are most guys around the age of eighteen, neither Jake nor Danny is completely self-confident. Jake's so far in the closet, with good reason given his father's and brothers' homophobia, that he's miserable as he looks around at the free-wheeling hookups going on around him. He wants to belong to the GLBT club, but can't quite out himself, even to those like Danny who would support him.

Danny, too, is miserable, but his misery is somewhat self-imposed. Danny did something stupid in high school and has been taunted for it ever since. He wants to move on and leave the past in the past, but unfortunately, one of the Eaton residents also attended Danny's high school and isn't above persecuting Danny for his past mistake.

Read the rest of my review at The Romance Reviews.