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Dev Bentham

REVIEW:  Driving into the Sun by Dev Bentham

REVIEW: Driving into the Sun by Dev Bentham

Bad choices. We all make them, some more than others. Dusty’s choices have left him unemployed, broke and practically homeless. Despite the major issues he has with his family, his only rational choice is to sell everything and move into his parents’ basement. At thirty. Looking for a ride west, he answers a phone ad. The voice at the other end of the line flows like dark, rich honey. Finally something to look forward to—listening to Joe’s voice all the way from Illinois to Idaho.

Rather than the hip crooner of Dusty’s fantasies, Joe turns out to look more like a panhandler. Is that because Joe dresses down, or are Dusty’s preconceptions about Native Americans clouding his vision? Joe is silent more often than not. He has a complicated past and still has amends to make. But he is ready to move on. Dusty feels trapped. Two damaged men, one small car driving two thousand miles into the sun—sometimes things need to break down before they can get fixed.

Driving into the Sun by Dev BenthamDear Dev Bentham,

I have read and liked several of your works, so when you wrote to DA asking us to review your new release, I was very interested. Unfortunately while I liked your writing style and mostly enjoyed the characters, I just did not buy that their extra fast connection is necessarily going to be the everlasting love the narrative wanted me to believe in.

Dusty and Joe connect to go on this road trip in order to share expenses and have company while they get to the places they need to go to. And, they both have plenty of demons to battle. Joe has tried (and so far succeeded) to stay sober for five years, while Dusty fell in love with his boss who was arrested for financial fraud. While Dusty was not charged, he was fired and pretty much almost homeless.

Their trip lasts a little bit over a week and the book asks me to buy that in this short time Dusty reevaluated his choices, realized what he wanted from life, and was ready to move on with the right person. Unfortunately I could not buy it at all. It is not that I did not like Dusty, I did, but within the first couple of days of their trip he is ready to trust the wrong person – again. There was a third guy in the car with them who was only going to be there for the part of their trip. Dusty decided to go to a party with him when they got to the place where they stopped for a day or so, despite his inner voice being in doubt, despite Joe saying don’t go. What could have happened, right? The party ended in disaster and if Joe had not helped him, it would have been an even bigger disaster. Then, just a few days later, Dusty is absolutely sure that Joe is the one for him. I am not even talking about Insta!Love per se here, though no matter how much I will stretch here, it was way too fast for me. It was not even “– let’s start dating,” no it is basically – “we belong with each other”. Maybe. I wish I could be convinced more than I was.

But I am not just talking about that, I am talking about the fact that nothing in the narrative convinced me that Dusty is capable of making good choices, of trusting people who are worthy of his trust. Of course I get that Joe is a good guy, but how the heck did Dusty figure it out so fast if his people barometer is so off?

I did like, though, that Dusty figured it out that he has other choices in his professional life rather than to move in with his parents, I appreciated that. I also thought that while Joe’s battle with addiction was a never- ending one, I did believe that he made some major changes with his life and was ready for a relationship if he wanted one. I liked their chemistry together; I just wish their move from point A to point B was not so fast. I know this happens in every other m/m book, and in some I can swallow it, but in this one it gave me a whiplash.
And of course we have the inevitable anal sex scene making an appearance again.

“Who was he kidding? He was already in too deep. Joe inside him would only make things worse. He should stop it now before Joe got back to bed. Joe would settle for a blowjob, a hand job, whatever. Except it was too late. Every cell in Dusty’s body wanted Joe buried deep inside him. And he was kidding himself to think anyone or anything would stop him from getting it now”

After few days of them meeting each other (three or four days that is) and without condoms too – why? Let me stress again – I have nothing against the appearance of anal sex in a romance story, it could be incredibly hot and if the couple loves it, the couple loves it. I am really tired though of anal sex being the most intimate and the most significant sex in the gay relationship. From what I have read it is just simply not true. The first sex they had been rubbing I guess. They seemed happy and satisfied, how is it less than anal sex? Why does a blowjob or hand job equal “settling” for something? Yet every other m/m book seems to repeat this axiom over and over – unless the couple has anal sex their relationship is somehow not complete, not fully blessed or something.

Moreover, I am perfectly okay in fiction with two people who just met having sex without condoms. I mean I personally feel it could be dangerous in real life, but people do impulsive things and I certainly do not need my m/m romances to be a sex education manual. However, in this book I get the impression that having sex without condoms is not used only to show that two men are so incredibly attracted to each other that they need to do it and they need to do it NOW and everything else be damned. No, I thought that it was used as extra – proof of their love, to emphasize how fast it sparked, and I just did not buy it.

“Joe pulled his fingers out. He picked up the condom. “You sure about this?”
“You wouldn’t lie to me.” Dusty took it from Joe and tossed it on the table. Joe held his gaze for a long moment. Was Dusty being foolish to trust Joe like this? Maybe. God knew he’d made bad mistakes before. But not this time. He was certain right down to his bones. Joe wouldn’t lie. And Dusty wanted to feel him, really feel him. Impatiently, he reached for the tube of slick and lathered Joe’s cock with lube”.

Once again, just how does Dusty know? Magic mirror?

Grade: C-/C

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What Sunita was reading in March and April

What Sunita was reading in March and April

The Starving Years by Jordan Castillo Price

This is a dystopian story set in the near past (1960) in New York. A new type of genetically engineered food, Manna, has ended starvation by providing basic nutrition to people all over the world. But something has gone wrong, leading to riots in Manhattan and implicating the company that makes the food. A handful of people who were attending the company’s job fair join forces to stay alive and to try to figure out what is going on. This is an m/m/m romance, which I don’t usually read, but Price makes it work for me. The three protagonists are all different from each other, all interesting, the polyamorous relationship makes sense in terms of their personalities and desires, and the sex scenes further the relationships nicely. As usual, the setting is excellently portrayed and the supporting characters are as well drawn as the leads. As a student of collective violence, I found the riot scenes gripping and authentic. The book began as a serialized novel whose course was determined by reader voting. I think this makes the storyline a little choppier, but it was fun to read about the way Price responded to the reader choices. I’m definitely picking up her latest (unrelated) serialized-novel-turned-book, Magic Mansion. Grade: B+. Recommended.

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Moving In Rhythm by Dev Bentham

This is a debut contemporary m/m novel that has received quite a few favorable reviews. I wish it had worked better for me. The main protagonist is a math professor with acute social anxiety; his condition is bad enough that he teaches online courses rather than being in the classroom. It also means that he is unable to sustain any long-term relationship and settles for quickie sex that makes him feel bad; his closest and most rewarding relationship is with his dog. When he goes to stay with his pregnant sister-in-law while his brother is deployed overseas, he meets a dance instructor to whom he is instantly attracted. It’s a leisurely story, as much about the narrator’s journey as about the romance. The dance instructor is unbelievably patient and sensitive and pretty much perfect, and we never really get to see what they are attracted to in each other. Given the level of social anxiety described, I found it hard to believe that falling in love and coming out of the closet was enough to make it manageable. The writing is quite competent, but the mood shifts (from melancholy to sunny to erotic, explicit sex) are sometimes quite jarring. Grade: C

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Harm Reduction by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane

This is a short story, almost a vignette. It alternates between 2012 and 1992 Manhattan. In the present day, Julio tries to keep his foster son on the straight and narrow. In the past, he negotiates a relationship with a troubled youth named Linley, trying to reach out to him, keep his own attraction in check, and convince Linley that Julio’s rejection of Linley’s advances isn’t a rejection of Linley. Linley disappears, and Julio is unable to find him or forget him. The sense of time and place in this short story is amazingly authentic, and the writing is very good. I badly wanted the story to be longer, because I didn’t want to let these characters go. No stereotypes, no trope abuse, just a moving, compelling slice of life. The ending gives me hope that just maybe, there will be more to come. Go read it and come back and tell me what you think, because it’s FREE. Grade: A-. Recommended.

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The Rebuilding Year by Kaje Harper

This m/m romance covers a year in the life of two initially straight men who meet and find they are kindred spirits, go Gay4U, start a relationship, fall in love, co-parent the children of one of them, and end up in an HEA. It’s smoothly written and the scenes with the teenage children are well done. The rest was much less effective. Both the men start out unhappy and/or frustrated in their lives, and to believe that they would quickly and unproblematically fall in lust and then love required a huge suspension of disbelief on my part. The ex-wife is mostly evil, until near the end, and there is an evil new husband who seems to exist primarily to make the ex-wife look better. There is also a suspense storyline that comes and goes until the end, when it sails completely over the believability horizon. This was an exercise in frustration for me, because the writing and the family-drama part of the plot kept me reading but I kept having “oh no you didn’t” moments about almost everything else. After two books and similar reactions to both, I’m pretty sure this author is not for me. Grade: C.

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First You Fall by Scott Sherman

This is a gay mystery with a romantic subplot, but it is in no way a genre m/m romance. For one thing, our narrator is a gay prostitute and the reader is shown that he is quite happy in his job. For another, the romantic storyline is up and down, with no HEA in sight (this is the first of a series, so I’m assuming the romantic arc spans the novels). But the author’s voice is a lot of fun, it is impossible to dislike Kevin Conner, and his relationship with his mother is the gay version of many a white male New York writer’s story. Yes, she’s a stereotype, but she’s also a lot more than that. Sherman does an excellent job with her, and he briefly but skilfully captures the mood of a long-married couple in late middle age. The tone is light but not superficial, the mystery is interesting, although it takes a few too many turns toward the end, and the supporting characters are deftly drawn. I grew a little tired of the voice toward the end of the novel, so I’ll probably take a break before the next installment. But I’ll definitely read it. Grade: B-.

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