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Taylor V.Donovan

REVIEW:  Hearsay (Bylaws book 1) by Taylor V. Donovan

REVIEW: Hearsay (Bylaws book 1) by Taylor V. Donovan

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Senior associate attorney Derrick Swain wants it all: a loving husband, a fulfilling career, and a couple of kids. After years of hard work he’s on the fast track to a promotion. He’s also met the man of his dreams. A week of daily lunch meetings in Central Park provides the perfect setting to get to know him better, and Derrick thinks it won’t be long before they take the next step and go on a date. But instead of asking him out, the object of his affection stops showing up without explanation, leaving him to wonder what went wrong.

As part owner of one of the most prestigious law firms in New York City, Roman Bradford knows that professional success isn’t the be all end all. Although he’s been lucky in life, true love has eluded him for the most part. One too many failed relationships have caused him to be leery of trying again, until he meets a man that can only be described as temptation personified. A few conversations are all it takes for Roman to start believing things will be different this time around. It doesn’t matter that they are boss and employee, or that he’s feeling too much, too fast. Not when he can see the same emotions in Derrick’s eyes. Then life turns on a dime, and Roman has no option but to let his chance at happiness go.

A battle of wills ensues when a life-altering case brings them together a year later. Roman wants to do the right thing by not letting anything happen between them, and Derrick is determined to prove they’re meant to be together. Evidence will be presented and final arguments will be made. Will they be able to come to an agreement, or will they opt to have their potential relationship dismissed?

Review:

Dear Taylor Donovan, I have wanted to read your new book ever since you announced that it was forthcoming. I stalked your blog and the minute I saw that the book was released I purchased it. Unfortunately some of my book buddies, who were waiting for the book with as much impatience as I was, read it faster than me and warned me of the cliffhanger. That decreased my desire to read it because I hate cliffhangers. I was determined to wait till the second part was released but as you c see I could not stay away. And I am not even sure whether the ending could be called a real cliffhanger (even though the possible danger lies ahead for one of the main characters).

I really liked the settings in the book – the author clearly knows what work in a law firm looks like. I never worked in the huge firm, so I cannot attest to each and every detail, but I work in the profession in a smaller firm, and the details of legal work that are the same or similar for many lawyers, are spot on without any doubt. Whatever legal terms were used were correct, and the things lawyers do were described correctly. I really appreciated that, because I do not see it too often.

I also think that Derrick and Roman had an *explosive* chemistry when they were interacting and for me this is always a plus in romance – there is not much sex, but plenty of chemistry in this story. Unfortunately I really disliked the reason for unresolved sexual tension between main characters – I thought it should have been resolved much earlier than it was, because for me it made one of the characters look like a drama queen, and I had very little patience for that.

As the blurb states, after admiring one of his associates from a distance Roman made a very conscious decision to pursue Derrick, which is where the story begins. He considers the possibility that he may be sued for sexual harassment if Derrick is not interested or, if anything goes wrong, and because it is more than I get in some other romances, I was okay with it. Derrick is also interested in Roman, and later in the story he also considers the possibility that he may get fired if Roman is not receptive to his advances, and he makes a conscious choice to proceed anyway. What I am trying to say is, surprisingly enough for the purposes of this story, the romance between one of the Big Bosses and an Employee (Roman is one of the three senior partners of the firm, Derrick is one of the senior associates and on the partnership track) did not bother me. I was convinced enough to suspend disbelief which is no small feat to achieve, since usually this bothers me a lot.

In the prologue we learn that Roman started to court Derrick by inviting him to have lunch together for a week and a half or so, but at the end of that time he suddenly backed off. The present story starts about a year later and Roman is still very much in love with Derrick. Derrick still really wants Roman, and cannot figure out why his Boss and his Prince Charming (Derrick wants to have a Disney fairy tale and surprisingly that part worked for me very well too) suddenly put on the brakes. Take note, please, they are both dying to see what their courtship may bring, they want to have sex with each other and just plain be with each other, but for a year Roman does nothing. He does nothing, that is, except admire the object of his affection from a distance. He does nothing, despite his partners, friends, and family telling him to stop being an Idiot and go after Derrick if he wants him that much, especially since Derrick is obviously that interested. Derrick, by the way, was crushing and falling in love with his Boss for at least four years – no wonder he is confused.

We learn early enough in the book that the reason Roman backed off was because he learned he was in danger of becoming sick and he did not want to inflict that on Derrick, because Derrick, during the week and a half they had lunch together and talked for hours, said that he basically was not keen on seeing his loved one die, because he had watched his mother die from lupus when he was a kid.

I doubt that you will have trouble figuring out what Roman’s potential illness is, but just in case ( he only says it when the story passed the 70% mark on my kindle), here is the Spoiler cut:

Spoiler (spoiler): Show

Roman has HIV, his ex of six years gave it to him. I want to be very clear here – I do not begrudge Roman for being upset. HIV is a huge deal, and I am not living with it and as far as I know I do not have any loved ones, who are living with it. I cannot make any comments based on personal experience. Of course he has a right to be upset. However, no matter what the reason was, I do not buy that a 44 year old accomplished, brilliant, rich criminal law trial attorney (somebody who should have very few communication problems even about such a serious personal issue) would not have guts to ask the object of his affection to ask for clarification of what his comments (about seeing a loved one die) actually meant. I am sorry, but it threw me out of the story and badly.

My other problem related to that issue was how the portrayal of living with HIV comes off in the story. I again want to be very clear – the author is not saying that in these days HIV is a death sentence, of course it is not, it is mentioned that people who take medications live long and fulfilling lives, even the experimental drug Truvalda to protect the partner is mentioned as one of the ideas Derrick considers. The author is not saying it, HOWEVER Roman’s over the top dramatic reactions give a different impression, if that makes sense. It feels as if he is saying by his actions and reactions that it *is* in fact a death sentence, even though there words on the page which state the opposite. I just felt it was off for me, it felt weird.

For example, this is what Roman is thinking a few hours before he decided he would have a talk with Derrick:
“Roman felt like a death row prisoner in his last day on Earth. He’d made his confessions earlier, and now he was enjoying a special meal. The drive to Derrick’s place would probably feel to Roman like he was walking the last mile to the electric chair. He was praying Derrick would not kill their new relationship at the end of the night, but he wanted to enjoy himself for the time being.”

I guess maybe I felt that the story did not state strongly enough that Roman was being a little irrational in my opinion?

And then when Derrick finally learns about it, we have something like this:
“HIV wasn’t the end of the world. Not anymore. Some people lived decades without getting seriously ill after being diagnosed. But being positive was a game changer, and Roman was detectable, which translated into highly contagious. They’d have to be so careful all the time, and the virus would always be in the back of their minds.”

On the other hand at least it is mentioned that Roman knew he was overreacting when he gave Derrick separate toiletries (and thank God Derrick says that he knows he is not going to get HIV from Roman’s soap).

“Rationally speaking, he knew he was overreacting. But this was the first time Derrick was seeing tangible proof Roman was harboring a killer in his body, and he couldn’t help feeling like a fucking monster”.

In any event, the handling of all of this bothered me. I know that the way Roman behaved towards Derrick by staying away for a year bothered me a lot, no matter what the reason was for him staying away. However the handling of HIV issue also bothered me;, unfortunately I cannot quite put my finger on what bothered me, except that Roman’s reactions just felt too over the top even for such serious thing.

So this conflict between them which I discuss under the spoiler cut seems to be mostly resolved in this book (this is the first part in a trilogy, I believe, at least a second book is definitely mentioned at the end). The second, more external conflict arises from a high- profile, horrible case which involves one of Derrick’s friends, who is also a client of the firm, and eventually Derrick himself. This issue is very far from being resolved when the book ends, in fact it heats up a couple of chapters before the end and the book stops on some sort of cliffhanger. I say some sort of cliffhanger because despite the danger that Derrick will lose his freedom, somehow I did not quite buy the possibility and I cannot say more without spoiling it. I will be very happy if the second book roves me wrong.

I also think that the pacing was a little off, because this second problem was talked about in the beginning and then, while it did not completely go away it was barely mentioned till almost the end of the book. So I was a little irritated about that too, at times I wanted to scream at Roman to *tell Derrick already* and to see more about the case.

There are awesome secondary female characters in this book – especially Derrick’s friend Tashana and also Dani Contreras.

I still want to read the second book, despite the issues I had.

Grade C-/C

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REVIEW:  Disasterology 101 by Taylor V.Donovan

REVIEW: Disasterology 101 by Taylor V.Donovan

Kevin Morrison had it all. A house he worked hard for, a loving wife, and three beautiful children. But it wasn’t until his marriage ended that he realized what the void he’d felt almost all his life meant. Coming out as a gay man at thirty-six is not an easy feat, but he is determined to be true to his heart. Meeting a man who shares his values, and is good with his children would be a bonus, but when the guy arrives in a uniquely wrapped package, and has very specific handling instructions, Kevin needs to decide if he’s up for that kind of love.

Obsessed with order and symmetry, and a paralyzing fear of germs, Cedric Haughton-Disley has lived with isolation and loneliness as long as he can remember. Desperate to be normal, he makes some much-needed changes in his life. If he can commit to his treatment, he might very well be able to procure some quality of life… even if that’s all he can get, as finding love and having a relationship are only possible in Cedric’s wildest dreams. But when a chance encounter leaves Cedric wishing for more, he decides to take a leap of faith, and pursue the guy he wants.

Together the two men make an unlikely match. Cedric needs organization, and Kevin represents chaos. In order to stay together they both need to compromise, but will they be able to deal with Cedric’s issues and the potential disaster, or let it break them apart?

Dear Ms. Donovan,

I was smitten with your book, plain and simple. I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out whether the story was that good or it was just that it hit all my buttons, and I finally decided to leave it for your potential readers to decide. One thing I know for sure – the only trope that could make me like the story even if its merits are not as good is “from enemies to lovers” and the guys in this one never been enemies, so I am hoping that what happened was that I fell in love with a really good romance.

TD_Disasterology_101Let me count the reasons I was so impressed with this book. Cedric is not the first character I have “met” in m/m romances who has OCD. Cedric however is the first character (not saying that they do not exist just that I have not read about them) who actively tries to take charge and get some semblance of normalcy in his life *before* a potential love interest comes into his life. I thought his symptoms were very well researched (based on my brief research only), I thought his battles and setbacks were extremely well done. I also have to say that while this is not the first romance where the character who has a mental illness goes into therapy, I really liked how therapy was integrated in the book. It is not intrusive on the love story, and it does not take a lot of page space, but one can never doubt that it is important for Cedric and Kevin.

Of course I can never judge from personal experience as to how effectively Cedric’s illness is portrayed, but from the view of the outsider I really liked it. I liked that while the love makes him feel better as a person and I am sure influences his general mood and helps his strength, the other improvement he experiences comes from medication. And I loved that the writer did not shy away from portraying some side effects of the medication (such as that it decreases sexual performance), built the very naturally moving conflict based on that and still made it so unbelievably romantic for me.

His building romance with Kevin just made me swoon – that’s the best way to describe it. Yes, there are fantasy elements there, but I just went along, especially since it was so easy for me to believe in it. They were in lust almost right away, but it was lust not love, so I had no problem with that. It made perfect sense for me why Cedric was looking for somebody more than a casual hook up, he was already making some improvement in therapy and his doctor even encouraged that. In some stories that I read about damaged guys, I often catch myself thinking that these two need to have a whole lot more therapy before they even think about the relationship. Granted, Kevin coming out at 36 after a long marriage takes a bit more suspension of disbelief to buy, but I can buy a gay man suppressing who he was for that long, especially because Kevin did not come out as “gay for Cedric”, he just came out as gay. I also stumbled a bit over Kevin being so impressed with Cedric (which was fine since he did not know anybody else), but nobody would measure up after one encounter? This was a small niggle for me though.

I also liked how this story handled more dominant and more submissive roles in the building relationship. I typed this sentence and cringed, because in a story which does not have BDSM themes this often translates to me as – “I am the alpha hear me roar and you are somebody who always needs saving and cannot do anything for yourself till I come to take care of you”. This book went into more interesting direction. A couple of chapters before the end of the book Cedric muses about what roles they were taking in their relationship so far (note that they had been dating for just a month at that point, so it is not as if the roles were fixed in stone).

“Money. Cedric had it in abundance, and Kevin didn’t. Although their status was never verbalized, the truth was Kevin behaved like a boyfriend. He may be considerate of Cedric’s needs and let him top sexually, but there was no doubt Kevin was the big, strapping, dominant half in their relationship, taking charge in every aspect. He believed in being the breadwinner, and providing for his partner. He pulled chairs, and opened doors for Cedric. He held his hand when they went on their walks around the neighborhood, and marked his territory by placing his hand on the small of Cedric’s back.Archaic as the concept may be, he much preferred taking a more submissive role. He wasn’t a fart who could not taking care of himself, but Kevin’s breathtaking masculinity made Cedric feel safe and protected. He was perfectly fine with the caveman’s act, but he’d be damned if he would let it break it apart.”

 

I wonder how the reader who has not read the book would imagine Kevin after reading this quote. No, it is not as if I failed to see the signs through the book that Kevin is a big guy who likes to take care of Cedric. Nevertheless, I was almost shocked when Cedric was musing that he preferred “submissive role”, because if that’s what submissive role meant for him, I would love to see more characters like him. Cedric had been fighting his condition, trying to win some sort of easier life for himself way before he met Kevin and continued to fight it every single day. Maybe fight is the wrong word? Trying to live as normal life as possible? What is normal anyway? I never had any doubts about his strength of character and he continued to remain just as strong as he was when Kevin came along. That’s what I do not always see in so many stories – the moment the alpha male comes around, it is as if the other character’s strength and will power goes somewhere and never comes back.

And as you can see based on the last sentence of the quote Cedric’s thoughts are at time they are having problems, and almost at the verge of break up. And as far as I am concerned Cedric gets a huge credit for making sure the actual break up does not happen. I loved the characterization and this development – almost break up, but they managed to not make it happen. And notice how dominant/submissive does not translate into being that in bed? And why should it be necessarily, especially since the story is not about BDSM?I also never found Kevin to be overbearing, but instead a rather nice guy, who wanted to do everything he could to help his boyfriend. Of course he had his issues and his pride and money was a concern, but I never wanted to shake him and tell him to snap out of it.
Oh and I have to note as an aside that Kevin’s ex-wife was likeable. That was so very refreshing and when she committed a misstep she apologized. Have I mentioned how very pleased I was to meet such a rarity? Of course when people divorce often there are often plenty of hurt feelings to go around, but surely there are situations where two people manage to stay friendly for the sake of kids. And while they may not be in love anymore, they do not hate each other either, kids or no kids. According to most m/m stories I have read (not all but definitely most) where ex-wives are present such thing never happens. I know I sound a little sarcastic, but I truly was impressed by Jenny. She was mostly a supporting character and may have used more fleshing out (as most of the supporting characters actually), but I liked her.
I loved this book and can recommend it.

Grade B+

Sirius

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