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Kim Dare

REVIEW: Duck! by Kim Dare

REVIEW: Duck! by Kim Dare

Dear Ms. Dare.

You have a knack for writing characters who are all different, no matter how many times you seem to write them into similar situations or how similar they seem at the start. And your conflicts are entirely character-based, so the conflicts are all different. I find your construction of BDSM sometimes requires a lot of suspension of disbelief but as you get the emotions right, no matter how far-fetched some of the scenarios, I (usually) don’t really mind.

In my shopping sprees buying your books, however, I had avoided this particular book. I’m a simple girl and tend to like my romance non-paranormal, non-world-building-heavy. I like books to focus on the characters, not on supernatural aspects. But when I was rhapsodizing about your other books, Duck! was recommended so often and by so many people I trust, that I bought it, devoured it, and loved it.

Ori Jones is an avian shifter. The avian shifter community is rigidly heirarchical, with birds of prey as the aristocracy and all other birds fulfilling more or less submissive roles below them. The bird you are seems to guide your personality to a great extent, so crows are assholes who hang out in packs, ravens are clever and strong, seagulls are bad-tempered, peacocks are tattoo artists. And everyone’s gay. Or at least, willing to fuck other men.

Up front, the one thing that bothered me most about this book is that there are NO women. Anywhere. Not one female is mentioned — literally, the words “she” and “her” don’t show up once. I have no idea if there are female shifters, no idea how shifting gets passed down, no idea if women CAN be shifters, or if they can be a part of the shifting community. I found that extremely odd, especially since, if the entire world is built on heirarchies, some species of birds are matriarchal, with reversed gender dimorphism. If the invisibility of women in m/m romance bothers readers, they should avoid this book, because women are more that invisible — they’re almost hyper-present in their complete absence.

Anyway…Ori is “an ugly little duckling,” according to the avian elders who watched his partial shift when he first joined the community. He can’t fully shift until he comes of age at 21. He’s been serving in the “nest” for six months, a sort of communal hotel/dormitory/community center, having come to the community at 20 because his foster parents suggested he see if he’s a shifter (implying a Alternate Universe in which shifting is known and acknowledged by outside humans, but this is never really dealt with or discussed in the book). Ori’s been serving in the communal restaurant/cafeteria, suffering the abuse of the birds higher in rank than him (pretty much anyone). One day, Raynard, a high-ranking hawk shifter, saves Ori (twice) from a pack of crows and eventually takes him from the nest to be a personal servant. And that’s…pretty much the story for much of the book, although the emotional stakes are higher than they sound here. Ori serves Raynard and slowly finds his place in the world as they slowly figure out their relationship. Ori is first servant, then submissive to Raynard, then lover, then beloved. But all is halted when he completes his first shift.

This gets a bit spoilery, perhaps. It happens just over halfway through the story, so if you don’t like to know this stuff, then don’t read anymore.

This story is overtly styled on the “Ugly Duckling” fairytale, so it should be obvious what Ori actually shifts into, rather than a duck. But this changes everything, because swans are:

the purest species of avian that exists. They are good, and noble, and beautiful. They have the most exquisite spirits, the finest temperaments.

Swans are the tiptop of avian heirarchy, treated like royalty, cossetted and served, able to command all other avians, no matter their rank. It would have been nice to have some sort of indication, some foreshadowing, some hint of a swan’s rank prior to Ori’s shift, so we could have known what was coming. Instead, it comes out of the blue, because, really, why would a swan be royalty in the heirarchy except for the need to fit the fairy tale inspiration? So Raynard leaves Ori at the nest to get used to his new life as an unexpectedly high-ranking bird. Except Ori hates it, is actively hurt by losing his master, by not being allowed to serve, as is his nature.

The D/s in this book is all about the characters’ nature, tied up with their avian species. And I love what Dare does with Ori’s nature as a swan, why and how he’s a better swan when allowed to act upon his submissive nature. This is an incredibly emotional book. Not much actually happens, but every action is deeply felt by both characters (and we do get both Ori’s and Raynard’s viewpoints), their motivations deeply explored, their responses deeply examined. And it’s a very sexy book. Raynard and Ori have a lot of hot sex, all of it D/s flavored.

In fact, it’s got one of my favorite lines so far for a D/s sex scene. Ori, of course, is not allowed to come unless with his master’s express permission. Raynard’s just had a wonderful orgasm, leaving Ori wanting:

The older man pushed the last of his clothes off the bed and collapsed back against the mattress. Ori nibbled at his bottom lip as he watched the dominant settle and rest. There was a sensitive spot on his lip, where his master’s teeth had caught him hard enough to draw blood. He ran his tongue over it, relishing the sensations it sent spiraling through him.

“Come here.”

The first word almost had him spilling onto the sheet. Somehow, Ori managed to shuffle forward without tripping over his orgasm en route. [Seriously, I just love that. Sweet and funny.] His master’s hand wrapped around his cock as he reached his side, his grip tight and perfect.

Ori met Raynard’s eyes. There was a touch of amusement mixed in with the sleepiness and the afterglow, but all the anger and confusion was gone, at least for a little while. Moving his own hands behind his back, Ori knelt next to his master and arranged himself as close as he could to his rest position, his knees spread wide apart and his head bowed to watch his master’s hand toy with him.

Raynard had always liked to hold him like that, to cradle him in the palm of his hand and know that he had complete control over his lover. He was treating him in exactly the same way he had when he was a duck. Ori had never been more grateful to feel so painfully frustrated in his life.

“Come.”

The word was said at his master’s discretion, and according to his own timetable. Ori knew that. He also knew he’d never been more thankful to hear it spoken.

He came. Lights flashing, head spinning and his master’s hand never even slowing its movements. The older man’s palm kept pumping around his shaft long after he had stilled.

Ori whimpered, too sensitive to truly enjoy his master’s touch right then, too lost in his submission to even consider protesting. Gradually his master’s hand slowed of its own accord until it finally left him completely.

Despite my misgivings about the utter absence of females and the sometimes sketchiness of the world building, I really enjoyed this book. It was such a different take on the fairy tale, such a different take on a shifter myth, such a different take on D/s, that all in all, it was way more interesting — and way more well-written — than it was confusing or annoying.

Grade: B

Best regards,
-Sarah

P.S. Loved the cover. Very evocative. (Except that’s only one full wing, not two, which looks kinda funny.) Copy editing from this publisher sucks (I lost all my OMGWTFBBQ highlights when my Mantano app started acting strangely on my Android device, but still, the copy editing sucks.)

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REVIEW: G-A-Y series by Kim Dare

REVIEW: G-A-Y series by Kim Dare

Dear Ms. Dare.

I’ve been intrigued by your writing for a while. Your tagline is “Kink, love, and a happy ending. Do you Dare?” which I think is incredibly cute. Honestly, though, I’ve been put off by your publishers (Total-e-Bound and Resplendence Publishing…who?) and by the fact that your series are quite so long (TWELVE stories?!). But I bit the bullet, bought all TWELVE of your G-A-Y series, and I’m going to review ALL of them here.

I chose the G-A-Y series because they’re all m/m, they’re all kink (as all your books are), and they “revolve around various problems gay men might encounter. The stories can all stand alone, and can all be read in any order,” although I’m reading them in order. And the series is complete, so I won’t be missing any. $36 initially seemed steep for 12 stories, but, God, these are SO good, it’s almost worth it.

TL;DR overall impressions for those who can’t be bothered:

  • The editing sucks. Doubled words, missed words, and homonyms, worse in some stories than in others. So I was right to be leery of your publisher. And the prices are a bit ridiculous: $2.96 each for 15,000 words each. It just seems…a bit much.
  • However! The stories are AMAZING. Oh my ghods, lots of angst; perfect emotional arcs for the short novella size of the stories; amazing distinct, individual characters; hot hot sex.
  • The stories are all D/s. You’ve got very little pain play in the stories (except one) and occasional sneers about “sadists” which set up my hackles. But the D/s is fun and very well done and it’s SO fucking refreshing to have stories in which the fact that the characters are D/s isn’t where the angst and trauma is located.
  • I’ve read more of your stories than this series (all m/m, though — none of your m/f yet) , and unreservedly recommend every one I’ve read. You’re a very consistent author with strong writing, strong individual characters, great conflict that gets solved satisfyingly every single time, and really great sex.

Gaydar by Kim Dare1. Gaydar
Mathias has incredibly bad luck with men. Either his gaydar is completely messed up, or he’s got really good asshole-dar. He makes an assignation to meet someone in the men’s room of a bar, only to be met there instead — and thoroughly kissed — by the bartender, who has been watching him and lusting after him for months. None of Matt’s experiences have ever been more than fumblings in the dark or an hour in a hotel room, so he’s completely unprepared not only to be with someone who is out, proud, happy, and looking for a longterm relationship, but is also a dominant. He’s very confused and very turned on:

The moment Flynn closed the door, Matt dropped to his knees and reached for the other man’s fly. Flynn easily caught both his wrists in his grip before he even felt denim under his finger tips.

“Don’t do that,” Matt protested.

“Do you remember what your safe word is?” Flynn checked.

Matt nodded. “Yes, but I find it a hell of a lot easier to think when you don’t do that, so if you’re going to start confusing me again, I’d much prefer it if you didn’t hold on to me like that.”

Flynn smiled. “It only distracts you because you like it, don’t you? Being held like this, belonging to another man.”

Matt looked at his wrists, somewhat scared by just how much he loved the feel of Flynn’s hands wrapped tight around his skin. Trying to push that aside, he cleared his throat. “I’d also like to suck you off. I’m good at that. I know what I’m doing with that.”

“I’m sure you do.” He made no move to release Matt’s wrists and let him get on with it.

Matt looked down. “I don’t know what you want from me,” he whispered, surprised by his own honesty. Without knowing what it was Flynn wanted, he had no idea how to keep Flynn wanting anything at all from him and that was even scarier than the lust that shot through his veins every time Flynn’s hands took hold of him.

I liked this story. Told entirely from the perspective of Matt, he’s funny and sweet and sad — partly it’s his unrealized submissive nature that steers him wrong in the first place — and it’s great to see him get his happy ending. Flynn was…pretty much a cipher, but he liked, respected, and wanted Matt and that showed. The only thing that was annoying was Flynn talked about himself in the third person: “It’s not a test. Just show your master how much you like sucking his cock and everything will be fine.” I loved the collaring scene in this story, how it shows that Matt has the courage to go after what he wants. And the sex is hot.

Grade: B+

2. Gay Like You
Gay Like You Kim DareTristan’s mother is trying to set him up with someone, anyone. She invites Cory to dinner, someone Tristan knew in high school but who hasn’t been around for years. Cory hasn’t been around because his family threw him out when he was 15. It’s implied, although never stated outright, that he hustled to make do. Certainly he doesn’t know how to interact with Tristan at all without bringing sex into the equation. Tristan shows him that he likes Cory without the sex, but it takes some intense work to get Cory to believe him:

Tristan turned the smaller man around in his grip. “If we have sex like this, you’ll disappear and I’ll never see you again.”

He had no doubt about that. Something about Cody screamed his need to belong to a man who didn’t screw him at the first opportunity. Even if Cody didn’t know it was what he needed, Tristan knew he had to prove that he knew Cody was more than a convenient screw.

“You think I’ll stick around to be turned down again?” Cody snapped. “Thanks, but humiliation isn’t one of my kinks.”

As a result of the waiting, the sex is put off and put off and is intensely emotional when it happens. I LOVED this story. I loved the angst. I loved Cody’s emotional barrier. I loved Tristan’s solution. It’s told from the alternating perspective of both men. And the sex was SO hot. I can’t think of anything wrong with it besides the fact that it was too short. Hits all MY buttons.

Grade: A-

3. Gay Till Graduation
Gay graduation Kim DareBaxter, who is gay, has lusted after his best friend for years. Spencer, who is bi, is swearing off women, because they might get pregnant and thereby prevent successful college graduation, as it does for a mutual acquaintance, six months before graduation. He’s also intrigued and, we get the impression, pissed that Baxter’s been seen subbing at a kink club. Spencer’s “gay till graduation” vow quickly includes “Baxter’s master till graduation.” Three months later, they’re doing well together, but there are cracks at the edges because Baxter’s convinced Spence is going to dump him as soon as they graduate. Seeing his stress, six weeks later, Spencer’s trying to convince Baxter that everything will be better after graduation, which hurts Baxter terribly, because he thinks Spencer wants to get rid of him.

It’s all one Big Misunderstanding, but for all that, it’s well done and believable. And the fight they have is so well done. Authors can write good sex, good barriers, good resolution, but still fuck up fights. This fight was great and natural and fun. And the make-up sex is, naturally, awesome.

Grade: B+

4. Gay For Pay

Gay for Pay Kim DareThis is NOT a Gay For You story, like I thought it would be. Ben Smith is a security consultant and has been charged with finding the missing son of one of his clients. He finds Nate Lockwood for auction as “Gay for Pay” in a ridiculous BDSM club. He buys Nate (hope he can expense that!) and gets him out of the club. He then works out that Nate has promised his father never to say that he’s gay (we find out that it’s because his father is worried that Nate, with his submissive nature, won’t be able to hold his own in business when the gold diggers come out after he comes out — it’s complicated…).

I thought the plot was a little too far-fetched, but Ben’s gentle, dominant guidance of Nate’s first sexual (and first BDSM encounter) was sweet and hot. The story wraps up all the emotional ends very nicely, but there’s one thing at the end that’s odd. Ben gets Nate to sign two documents and then uses the fact that Nate signed without reading them as an object lesson in the fact that Ben’s not a gold digger and doesn’t want any of Nate’s money. But we never find out what the documents are. And that’s just strange.

Grade: B-

5. Gay Divorcee

Gay Divorcee Kim DareThis one was a little odd. Jones is raving about the possibilities of gay marriage equality at a BDSM club and pisses of Grayson, an older Dom who, it is revealed after he makes a fool of himself ranting about how gay marriage should be banned, married his submissive as soon as he was able to but then found his submissive fucking another man and had to get divorced. So he’s bitter. But not bitter enough to refuse Jones’ offer of spending Christmas together. They hit it off while they each try to figure out what Christmas means to them, but have too much vodka-spiked punch. In their drunkenness, Grayson collars Jones using his submissive’s old collar and when he realizes in the sober light of morning what he’s done, he vows to take things much slower.

What I like about Dare’s work is how she’s got 24 men in these stories, and even though 12 of them are dominant and 12 of them are submissive, they’re all still very distinct from each other, as is the sex and even the D/s interaction between the men. This one is about two men who are really comfortable with themselves and their sexualities finding out what they like about each other and how they can negotiate each other’s baggage and still have a successful relationship, very little angst involved. Gentle, sweet, and hot.

Grade: B

6. Gay Since Today

Gay Since Today by Kim DareTyler Harris and James Ford are at university. Tyler’s had a crush, both romantic and kinky, on James Ford, even though James is straight. Except Tyler’s friend comes to tell him that James is in the gay bar across the street. Tyler rushes there and meets James, who’s just come out (“Gay Since Today”). Tyler takes him back to his place and introduces him not only to gay sex, but also to kinky sex — and he’s right: James is a fabulous dominant. But after their first encounter, it looks like James was pulling off an elaborate April Fool’s joke, rather than really coming out. The Medium-Sized Misunderstanding is dealt with quickly and the boys get back together.

I love reading about an experienced submissive and a virgin-dominant coming into his own. It’s so seldom done because the balance of being “tutored” by the submissive and still exercising dominance is pretty difficult to do. But Dare does a pretty good job. The misunderstanding in the middle was…annoying more than anything else and it seemed that the heroes went through the same realizations in the second half as they did in the first half.

But at the end, there’s a HUGE error about the day on which everything happened. First encounter is March 31, second is April 1, but at the end of the novel, they’re saying it was April 1, and then April 2. Pulled me right out of the story and pissed me off right royally.

Grade: C

7. Gay Pride

Gay Pride by Kim DareJayden shows up drunk and wearing only a gay pride flag on Crenshaw’s doorstep. Crenshaw is a gay and leather rights activist. Jayden is a reporter who nominally wants to interview him, but really just wants to introduce himself to Crenshaw and hopefully start a relationship. Crenshaw refuses Jayden’s drunk advances that night but allows Jayden to sleep on his couch and in the morning they start to explore their attraction. Crenshaw introduces Jayden to some pretty heavy bondage and Jayden loves it. There’s a hiccup when Jayden announces that he’s a reporter and Crenshaw takes it the wrong way, but Jayden sticks up for himself and gets Crenshaw to admit that he’s wrong in his assumptions.

Over all cute, but not a standout story. I like that Jayden stands up for himself, but the opening scene where he’s naked and drunk and Crenshaw turns him down (rightly so) is a little wince-inducing. But the sex is hot because so unusual

Grade: B

8. Gay Man Seeks Same

Gay Man Seeks SameCraig McKinley has a huge crush on his coworker Donovan but feels that Donovan’s way out of his league, experience-wise, and anyway, he just wants to find one guy to love and grow old with and he knows One-Night-Stand Donovan doesn’t that. So he goes onto an online dating site and tries to find someone else like him. His first date turns out to be…with Donovan, who is finally ready to admit his interest — his long-term interest. But Craig is convinced that Donovan wants with him what he’s had with all his other lovers. Refusing to consider any alternatives, he figures this is a chance for him to have one night with Donovan before he moves on.

Donovan doesn’t make clear until the very end that he’s interested in anything other than a one night stand, so the reader is taken in as much as Craig is, especially since Craig is the only point-of-view character. Donovan is dominant, of course, so Craig gets to explore bondage with his friend. Confronted with Donovan’s bedroom of kinky delights, Craig feels overwhelmed. Donovan asks him:

“Do you know what my favourite thing is—what I like to play with more than anything in the world?”

Craig shook his head.

“A submissive. Without a man to tie up, the rest is all pointless. It’s the man who goes in the bondage that’s important—everything else is just window dressing.”

I love that answer. :)

Grade: B-

9. Gay Friendly

Gay Friendly by Kim DareEllis is 18 and goes with his cousin to a “gay friendly” hotel, where he finds himself fending off unwanted advances from all the other guests. Thompson helps him out by granting him a collar of protection and then letting Ellis sleep in his room when Ellis’s cousin’s friends get too “friendly” in their room. Over the next week, Ellis and Thompson slowly start exploring each other.

The age difference here was a bit squicky: Thompson is over 30, Ellis is 18. But Dare doesn’t leave this undiscussed. Thompson insists that Ellis ask for everything, that it be obvious to all concerned that Ellis wants everything that happens to him. And it goes deeper than that:

Part of him couldn’t help but believe that Ellis would be far better off with a vanilla boy his own age. Except he’d seen how panicked Ellis became when he was with a man who wasn’t old enough to know how to take his time and appreciate someone who was so new to everything. And he’d seen the way Ellis had soaked up every touch of dominance that had been offered to him.

Bowing his head, Thompson brushed another gentle kiss against the younger man’s lips and forced himself to face the true facts of the matter. He had no intention of telling Ellis he would be better off with another kind of man because the thought of another man laying a hand on him made him want to throttle the guy. He tightened his grip around Ellis’ wrists at the very idea. Ellis whimpered his approval and rose onto his tip toes in the hopes of gaining a deeper kiss.

Because the age difference isn’t ignored, and because Thompson is such a mature character, perfectly aware of how far and how fast he’s falling and how to deal with Ellis, I totally trusted that these two would make it, despite the age difference.

Grade: B

10. Gay Best Friend

And here we have the Gay For You story I was expecting earlier and the opposite type of sub from the previous story. Carlton, who is straight, is best friends with Bryce, who is gay. At the pub one day, Carlton is sort of goaded into kissing Bryce (the other guys they’re with made a bet behind their backs, but Carlton noticed, kissed Bryce, and took the ante for the bet and split it with Bryce). This precipitates Carlton getting trashed, finding out that Bryce is not only gay, but kinky, not only kinky, but a very pushy, brash submissive, and then trying out his Gay-For-You feelings out on Bryce when utterly smashed. Bryce pours him into a cab, but the next time they get together, they explore things a bit more.

This is another story with an inexperienced dominant and an experience submissive. But this submissive is very dominant in his everyday interactions with everyone:

As fantastic a friend as he was, Carlton was more than a little aware that Bryce had the potential to be a complete bastard when you caught him in the wrong mood, and he sure as hell wasn’t the kind of guy to make things easy for a friend who suddenly found himself out of his depth.

No, Carlton couldn’t help but smile a fraction at the idea of him babying someone through anything. Bryce was very much the ‘learn how to swim fast or get back into the shallow end where you belong’ kind of guy.

I love how we get into Donovan’s head, even though the whole story’s from Carlton’s perspective:

The look of easy relaxation Carlton had seen in his friend’s expression earlier in the night deepened with every moment that passed, as if Bryce had focused in on that one task and, if only for a little while, that let him forget about the rest of the world.

I also love that this story has the dominant choosing to bottom for sex, to make a point to his submissive about how “Gay For You” he really is:

When Carlton opened his eyes, Bryce was staring up at him. It was only then that he really realised just how closely every single move he made, his every reaction was being studied. And Bryce would remember it all. He had no doubt about that. Bryce would always know, and he’d always know that his gay best friend knew just how much pleasure shone in his eyes when he rode him for the first time.

Loved this story all around.

Grade: A

11. Gayday! Gayday!

GayDay! by Kim DareOkay, first thing: Rip and Slade? Really? Scraping the bottom of the name barrel there. >.<

Right. So, Rip is a submissive who has a habit of getting himself in over his head at clubs. At which point he calls Slade, his dominant but straight — or so Rip thinks — friend to come save him. And Slade’s happy to oblige, giving them a great scene each time he does, with no strings attached. Except both Rip and Slade increasingly want strings. Finally, Rip gets himself into a really bad situation…and gets himself out of it again, meaning, he thinks, that his need for Slade’s “white knight” routine is exposed for the ruse it has been for a long time. Then things get really interesting.

I love the twist at the end where Rip thinks he’s messed everything up by NOT needing saving. But I found it incredibly frustrating that he remains utterly blind to the fact that Slade is very very bisexual. Even at the end, Rip thinks:

he had never allowed himself to fall so far into his fantasies that he’d forgotten he was playing with a straight man who was occasionally willing to indulge in a little guy-on-guy kink when given the right motivation.

This is quite so frustrating, because it’s made very clear in their very first scene that Slade comfortably identifies as bi.

That aside, this is a great story. It’s one of the very few that has some pain play in the D/s when Slade punishes Rip.

Grade: B+

12. Gayish

Gayish by Kim DareAfter reading eleven really strong, interesting, sexy stories, it was very disappointing to read the last one of the group. It seemed very scattered and confused and the characters seemed a little off.

Ben Langford, out and proud, is at a gay pride rally in the rain. He sees across the road, standing in the rain, the deli counter guy he’s been lusting after for months. The guy’s either waiting for a bus, or trying to get up the courage to go to the rally. Langford takes him home, dries him off, takes him back out to the rally to introduce him to people, then takes him back home and fucks him. And I understood why he did that, but it dragged the story out and didn’t seem to add much to character development. And Tayton was just a wet blanket. I wanted him to grow a spine and he never really did.

Grade: C-

Overall, except for the last story, I loved these stories. They all did a great job at showing the very beginnings of twelve different relationships between twelve different couples. Each of the characters were distinct, as were all the relationships, all the D/s pairings. This series utterly hooked me on your writing. Which is great, because you seem to do a lot of it.

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