The Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Expect Radical Change When Coming Home

Z. A. Maxfield has been a favorite writer of mine for quite a while, so I was eager to see her newest which I'm happy to report incorporates much of what I've come to love about her writing as well as new flourishes.

My review of Maxfield's Home the Hard Way was posted at The Romance Reviews today, and here's a peek at what it says:

Old secrets turn to murder as a disgraced police detective returns home to find old friends aren't quite as he remembered them and that love is lurking in the shadows for him.

Former Seattle detective Dare Buckley comes back to his hometown with his tail between his legs after a grave misstep in judgment which nearly let a killer go free. On the surface, the town looks the same as when he left it after his father killed himself. Shy, retiring Finn Fowler is still being bullied by Bill Fraser, who is now one of Dare's fellow cops.

Once again, Dare is attracted to Finn and wants to protect him as he did before Dare's mother moved the family away to start a new life. But Finn has his hands full taking care of his dying aunt who was more mother to him than his slut of a mother was. As if that weren't enough, Finn is working two jobs, one at the local big box store and managing his aunt's beauty salon. Although he'd like to, Finn doesn't have time for Dare.

When a woman drops dead in the beauty salon, no one thinks it's murder until other mysterious deaths occur. As Dare begins to tear the rose-colored glasses from his eyes, he realizes that not only isn't Finn the man he once knew, neither are many of his other neighbors in town.

This is a typical Z.A. Maxfield story in that neither the plot nor the characters are what they seem on the surface and the complicated ties between the various relationships can easily be misinterpreted by someone who doesn't look below the surface.

Read the rest of the review at The Romance Reviews.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

British-isms abound in Charlie Cochrane's Second Helpings, in which family and a stiff upper lip limn the limits of public discourse.  Here's a snippet of my review that was posted on All About Romance today:

A father and son move on with their lives after the deaths of their spouses when a former classmate of the father reappears with her grown son in this very British gay romance.
Stuart Collins is pleased but a little stunned when his father Roddy starts dating Isabel Franklin, a widow he'd known years ago in school. When Roddy suggests Stuart start dating again, Stuart isn't quite sure he's ready to move on after his partner Mark died in a car accident the year before.

But when Stuart meets Isabel's son Paul, who's concerned his wealthy mother might be hooking up with a gold-digger, he's attracted to the man but put off by the suspicions his salt-of-the-earth father might be conniving for Isabel's money. As they hash out their parents' attraction and its possible outcomes, Stuart and Paul form a bond and then relationship that slowly melds into a love affair.

Of the two, the heart-broken Stuart is the more sympathetic at first, but as Paul gradually sheds his over-protectiveness for his mother, he too becomes a delightful young man. In fact, they share a passion for science, Stuart being a forensics expert whose cases often depress him, while Paul is a research scientist for a petrol company.

During a major part of the book, Paul is pining for Ben, a man he met and thought was going to be his life partner in the United States. Ben was supposed to find a job in Britain and join Paul there to start their new life. But Ben seems to have disappeared from view. So while Stuart is trying to come to terms with Mark's death, Paul is struggling with whether he should act on his attraction to Stuart or try to reconcile Ben's phone and computer silence as just a misunderstanding that can be explained.

Both men attack their problems in a mature, very subdued British manner; neither is given to over-emotional outbursts.

Read the rest of my review at All About Romance.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Quirky Tale of Two Law Enforcement Officers

Author A. J. Thomas doesn't write the standard gay romance which is one of the things I enjoy most about her writing.  In this book she follows two men last seen in her A Casual Weekend Thing

If you're following her, as I am, then you too might be having trouble deciding which of her three well-written and highly interesting books is the best. 

At this point, even though their star ratings are nearly the same, I'm going with Sex & Sourdough just because of the difference between the two men and the descriptions of the Appalachian Trail, descriptions that actually made me want to go hiking!

At any rate, here's an excerpt from my review of her latest book that was posted on The Romance Review this morning:

A.J. Thomas carefully explores the unlikely relationship between two law enforcement officers--one with family ties to an organized crime group that the other's agency is trying to shut down--in this riveting police procedural.

When drug lord Alejandro Munoz visits his gay cousin Ray Delgado, asking him to look into the disappearance of Alejandro's sister Sophie, Ray knows something bigger is up. A police detective, Ray discovers that college computer science major Sophie has stolen a big chunk of Alejandro's ill-gotten gains, money he needs to pay an even bigger drug lord.

As he's trying to figure out where Sophie is and with whom she's staying, Ray runs into federal agent Elliot Belkamp, with whom he had a fling in the previous book, A Casual Weekend Thing. The sparks between them are still flying, and even though they try to resist, they cross paths so often that they end up together much of the time.

While Elliot is out to anyone who asks, Ray, because of his Hispanic background and his family ties to organized crime, is still deeply in the closet and declaring he's straight, not gay. But as he and Elliot often end up having sex, Ray is forced to admit to himself he's bisexual and hope that if his sister, his closest sibling, finds out, she won't abandon him.
Read the rest of the review at The Romance Reviews.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Emotionally Satisfying and Incredibly Thought-Provoking

I haven't been completely blown away by a romance novel in a while, so reading The River Leith by Leta Blake was a joy.

My review of it was posted today, and here's a sneak peek at my All About Romance Desert Isle Keeper review:

Get out your tissues for this incredibly moving and superbly poignant gay romance that explores the lost and found qualities of memory loss on two men in New York City.

When Leith Wenz is dealt an illegal blow to the head during a boxing match and goes into a coma, his lover, friends, and family are devastated. They rejoice, especially lover Zach, when Leith awakes.

The good news is that he'll live. The bad news is that he's can't remember the last three years of his life - three years in which he got out of prison, his father died, and he met and fell in love with Zach.

In fact, he doesn't remember Zach at all.

Told with interludes of Zach's on-going vlog posts, the story is one of grieving. Leith is horrified that so much of who he is has been stripped away. He's lost and terrified that he'll never find his way back to being a whole person again. Fortunately, he has a loyal brother and a good psychologist to help him along the way.

His lover Zach also wants to be supportive, but Leith's memory loss is akin to Leith's death as far as
Zach is concerned. Every time Zach sees him, Zach is hit by how much he's lost, how much they've lost. So in a sense Zach is also grieving, just as Leith is.

For those like me who don't know, the River Lethe in Greek myth is the place in the underworld where the dead drank the water in order to purge the memories of their lives before they crossed the River Styx into the afterlife. The name Zachariah, on the other hand, translates to mean "memory of the Lord.” But before Leith's doctor tells him of the myth and the definition, Leith must rediscover that he's gay and his friend Zach is in fact his lover since all of these revelations came to Leith in the three-year period he's lost.

Read the rest of my review at All About Romance.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Reading Challenge for July: Every Time I Think of You

2014 Reading Challenge
July Challenge: Lovely RITA (past RITA winners or nominees)
Title: Every Time I Think of You
Author: Jim Provenzano
My Rating: 4 stars

Since I'm trying to keep this year's Reading Challenge books to all gay romances, taking titles from the Rita winners or nominees won't work for this month's challenge.  Maybe someday, but not this year, alas.

So where would I find award-winning and award-nominated gay romance books?  There are a few good choices, but my go-to site is the Lambda Literary Awards.

A short recap:  From 1989-2001 although Lambda gave awards, none were for romance per se.  This year's winner for gay romance is Into This River I Drown by TJ Klune, and although I haven't read it, I decided not to read it for this challenge.

Instead I chose the 2012 winner, Every Time I Think of You by Jim Provenzano, which was a self-published work.  I'd read the nominated Something Like Summer by Jay Bell, also self-published, and loved it, so I wanted to see if I would have chosen Provenzano's book over Bell's.

Now I know why Provenzano won, but I'm not sure if I agree with the choice.  Fortunately, Bell's Kamikaze Boys, another m/m romance I really enjoyed, won the award in 2013, so I didn't feel so badly that Bell lost in 2012.

While Provenzano's book is enjoyable after the first few chapters, it's the beginning chapters that really bothered me the most.  In them two boys go into the wooded area between their two very different neighborhoods in the middle of an Illinois winter to pull of their clothes and jack off.  They don't know each other, but spy what the other is doing and form a bond.

Not a bad opening volley, right?  It's clever, catches attention, and seems right enough for two teenage boys.  So what's my gripe?  The writing style which is overblown and pretentious.  Not only was it off-putting considering what was going on in the scene, but I was really afraid it would be used throughout the book.

I understand that the narrator is supposed to be a nerdy, word-smith geek, maybe even a precocious kid, but considering that the language choices and tone don't continue throughout the book, the beginning struck me as unnecessarily condescending considering that male teens might want to read this.

But I don't think that is why the book won the Lambda Award, even though many award-winning literary fiction works begin the same way.

I think the book won because it centers on one character's unexpected off-scene accident which makes him paraplegic.  Although the issue of gay men and paraplegia isn't really addressed in the book, I think the shock value of a young men in love romance turning down that path sealed its award.

True, because the book is a first person account from the boy who isn't injured, delving into the mechanics of how a young man lives and functions in a wheelchair isn't the focus of the romance.  Perhaps that's why Provenzano published the sequel, Message of Love, this March--in order to flesh out the parts that were missing in the original story.

No matter what his purpose, even with the quibbles I talk about here, Every Time I Think of You was a good choice as the Lambda 2012 gay romance of the year.  It took an established theme in a new direction and did it well.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Two Reviews in August 2014 Booklist

Two of my reviews are posted for August on the Booklist site for those who subscribe.

The first is for Takedown by Cat Grant, a gay romance:

In Grant’s second Bannon’s Gym gay romance, following Black Dog (2014), former mixed-martial-arts fighter Tom Delaney returns home to Lincoln Beach, California, to find his family in shambles and bad memories bubbling up at every step. Although the constants in his life—the café where he worked as a teen and the gym where he trained and competed—are still there, both are run down and lack the vitality he remembers, as do the adults who nurtured him. Only his former friend, lover, and sparring partner Travis, who gave him a concussion and knocked out two teeth during their last bout, still knocks him out romantically. Travis comes with baggage in the form of an ex-lover whose drug habit has put hit men on his trail. When the café is blown up, both Tom and Travis realize living day-to-day isn’t enough. They must plan for the future. Although at times hard to follow without having read the first book, this sequel packs a punch for those who enjoy sports romances. — Pat Henshaw

And the second review is of Sherryl Woods' Swan Point:

Woods proposes the notion that there’s nothing more self-centered than two people dating in a small town in her latest Sweet Magnolias cozy romance. When recent divorcee Adelia Hernandez starts going out with former town bad-boy Gabe Franklin, whose mother had been the town slut, the Sweet Magnolia group of gossipy women makes them the topic of conversation and a couple to watch. Adelia has her hands full, however, with four children, a disapproving mother and sister, a supportive brother with a new wife and baby on the way, and an abusive, resentful former husband. Keeping all the outside groups from sabotaging their burgeoning romance is nearly more than Adelia and Gabe can handle as they steal kisses wherever and whenever they can. Even fans of Woods’ chaste romances may be disappointed by this uneventful and colorless courtship which takes place while Adelia’s younger sister becomes a textbook battered wife.
— Pat Henshaw

Elegant Video with Two Male Dancers

I was blown away when I saw this video for I Try to Talk to You today and just had to share. 

I don't know anything about Hercules & Love Affair nor do I know anything about director David Wilson nor who John Grant is. 

All I know is that putting all of these ingredients together made one lovely and remarkable video to a song that will stay with me probably until I die.

This video (sorry about link only--for some reason it won't load into my blog) about how I Try to Talk to You was made is just as interesting as the finished product.

Enjoy!  I certainly did.