The Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Two Must-Read Books for Gay Teens

You'd think with only five months left before graduation that Foster High and its senior class would only have smooth sailing. If you really thought so, you haven't been following John Goode's series at all or you haven't been in high school for a very long time.

The previous book in the series, End of the Innocence (reviewed at All About Romance), brought the tales of Foster Texas High School through the first half of senior year when something cataclysmic occurred, an event so horrific that it reverberated through the tiny town of Foster.

Be warned: To get the most enjoyment out of this two-book look at Foster High's senior year, it's imperative to read the the books in order. Although readers will be brought up to date at the beginning of 151 Days, John Goode is making an incredibly important point in these books, a point that is blunted if one reads this book first and then decides to read the previous one.

The event from End of the Innocence is still on everyone's mind as the second half of senior year begins. And this tragedy is causing everyone to look inward.

Brainy Kyle Stilleno and baseball star Brad Graymark are still together, and Foster High's principal still resents their abnormal relationship being accepted by so many students, faculty, parents, and residents of Foster. The stir that Kyle and Brad made coming together has affected more than just the students, and past sins, especially the long ago death of a prominent citizen's son by a hit-and-run driver, are being dug up to join the pall that's fallen over the town from recent events.
Read the rest of my review at The Romance Reviews.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Booklist reviews in May

Four of my Booklist reviews have been published this month:

***** In Want of a Wife by Jo Goodman -- the latest in her Bitter Springs, Texas, historical Westerns about a mail order bride and the troubled man who just wants love in his life

**** Night Diver by Elizabeth Lowell -- an adventure thriller about deep-sea diving near the island of St. Vincent and the theft of treasure from a sunken ship

** Love or Duty by Rosie Harris -- set in the 1920s Liverpool, about a ditsy upper class woman who takes in a lower class girl when the woman's motorcar knocks over the girl accidentally

** Frisky Business by Tawna Fenske -- a contemporary romance rife with scatological humor and the theft of an ancient Native American dildo

If you don't have a subscription to Booklist, you can read my reviews at Shelfari and LibraryThing.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Amazing Reconciliation

Are fifteen years enough for a man to forgive the guy who nearly killed him? I wasn't convinced Jack Flemmings in Remmy Duchene's Deliver Me could.

In high school, Jack was stripped, tied to a flag pole, and left in freezing weather overnight as a prank by a group of guys including the teen he loved, Zachariah Durban. Jack survived, but Zachariah, now a famous author living in the South of France, hasn't gotten over his guilt in betraying Jack.

Fifteen years later, Jack's the co-owner of a garage and helps troubled teens by guiding them as they rebuild cars to raise money for their group home. He's been getting attached to a kid named Jordan Nash and has been thinking about adopting the boy.

But repeated phone calls from Zachariah, which Jack at first refuses to answer, have cut up his peace. Should he give Zachariah the chance to apologize for his part in the prank that nearly killed him?

Not only is Jack's answer yes, but he flies off in Zachariah's private jet to spend time with the man and see if the love they supposedly shared would reignite, leaving the emotionally scarred Jordan behind.

At this point, the story totally lost me. I could understand Jack being curious about why Zachariah went along with a senseless and harmful prank, but why it escaped Zachariah's reasoning powers to understand that Jack was in real trouble out there alone and cold was beyond me. That Zachariah, when he heard Jack nearly died and was in the hospital fighting for his life, flees to college without saying a word to Jack was beyond my comprehension.
Read the rest of my review at 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.