Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Zahra Owens

REVIEW: Sindustry II

REVIEW: Sindustry II

SindustryDear Authors:

I opened THIS anthology because I liked Sindustry I. But this volume is so obviously all the leftover stories from the Sindustry I anthology that didn't quite make it into the first volume. And most of these stories should NOT have been included. This anthology had very few redeeming stories and some that make me want to puke, which kinda dampens any enthusiasm I might have for the whole. Mostly it's filled with stories with awful, weak, boring, TSTL characters who couldn't characterize their way out of a paper bag, and their ridiculously over-protective and unrealistic saviors. I have never really understood what m/m readers are complaining about when they say that that one of the characters doesn't have to be the woman, but I do now. In this volume, one half of the relationship was invariably the damsel in distress who needed saving, the other the knight in shining armor who knew just how to take care of things, pretty lady-uh, I mean lad. Yech.

As in Sindustry I, the premise is that these are all stories about people in the sex industry, either strippers, prostitutes, or porn actors. This volume does a much worse job of speculating about whether it is possible to have a realistic representation of tricking and yet still have a good romance. Because the other problem with most of these stories is how glamorized prostitution or stripping is made out to be. And it's not. That's why I liked "Sunshine" so much, I think, because it showed some gritty realism about what money does to a relationship.

"Package Boy" by Connie Bailey
A strange little story about a high-end rent boy who has fallen in love with a client who happens to be the heir to a Mafia family. He hears a hit ordered on his lover while on another call and the rest of the story deals with how he and his lover respond to the news. Told mostly in choppy, untagged dialogue, the conflict is mostly external. The relationship conflict isn't sign-posted very well so I didn't know that it existed until it was solved. The affection between the lovers is genuine and the sex is pretty hot, but there's a bit too much grating, unexplained mafia language. Grade: C

"Dance for Me" by Maria Albert
This story was both so melodramatic it was funny, and so completely disturbing I was sickened. Carlo is saved from an abusive john by Michael, a bouncer at a club. Carlo is barely 21 and has been kept in literal sexual slavery for 7 years, only to have been thrown out by his captor 2 weeks previously. Michael is 43 and lives at the club, which seems to be a kind of halfway house for gay homeless men, complete with Leprechaun-like Irish owner. Carlo and Michael instantly fall in love, but can't communicate enough to actually figure things out without intercession by Michael's boss. Carlo is a complete mess and Michael seems a few cards short of a deck and to have a relationship between them when Carlo is only 2 weeks out of 7 years of abuse and Michael seems emotionally unstable was unbelievably appalling. There's a limit to what can be solved in a novel, let alone a short story. Don't set up characters who need years of therapy and think some sex and a few kisses makes everything all better. Ew. The ending’s even worse, the HEA degraded beyond compare by the creepiness of Michael’s final words to Carlo. Grade: F

"Unorthodox Utopia" by G.S. Wiley
Stephen owns a salon but needs extra cash. He hires on as hair and makeup artist for a low budget porn shoot, where he meets Jeff, one of the actors, who has an abusive boyfriend. The story, told from Stephen's first person point of view, is a nice, gentle blossoming of a good relationship, as Jeff leaves his boyfriend and grows closer with Stephen. There's no sex, just two men getting to know and care for each other, even if they do it rather too quickly considering Jeff's abusive relationship. Grade: C+

"Leather Dancer" by Andrew Grey
Denny is dragged to a Leather Expo by his way-more-outgoing friend. There he sees Robbie, the next-door-neighbor he's been crushing on for months, dancing at a booth. Over the next month, they build a solid relationship. The characterization seems non-existent. Denny is a shy introvert, then he's the driving force behind the relationship. Robbie is an annoying wet noodle who seems to bend to Denny's whim and whatever the story needs him to do. Complete lameness: having Denny buy books from a booth at the Expo that is obviously the Dreamspinner booth, complete with titles mentioned. Stretching credulity: Robbie takes Denny to his father's restaurant on their first date. Boring writing, very little conflict. Grade: C-

"Corona & Lime" by Sonia Devereaux
Jacob hasn't wanted or had a relationship — or even sex — in ten months, since his boyfriend dumped him. Race is paid by Jacob's friends to pick him up in a bar. They go to Race's apartment, but Jacob puts on the breaks and they fight in a very amusing way (to me, at least). The next morning, they find a way to the beginnings of a relationship. The story is told from the point of view of both Race and Jacob as they each feel out their vulnerabilities and find how the other could fix them. Each convinced that the other couldn't want them, the end is sweetly optimistic. Grade: B

"Sunshine" by JL Merrow
I thought Merrow’s story in Sindustry I was one of the best in that volume. “Sunshine” is definitely the best in this. The story is set in England, I presume in London, and replete with British slang. Daniel is a street-walker, Rob a bouncer at a bar who checks up on Daniel on the way home. He takes Daniel home with him once, paying for sex, ruining their tentative friendship and the story tells how they find their way back to each other. Sweet and sad and wonderful. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Merrow has any full-length novels yet, just short stories. Pity. Grade: B+

"Night Moves" by Patric Michael
Guy who is NOT a trick spontaneously rescues a hustler and vows to protect and keep him all of his days. Huh? Over-emotional, crying at the drop of a hat, unbelievable love at first sight, out-of-left-field motivations, and generally a story that makes absolutely no sense. And don’t people know that relationship tattoos are incredibly bad juju? They’re a death knell to a relationship, so if characters go out and get one, I’m pretty much ready to chuck the book. Not sexy and romantic, just stupid! (But that might just be me.) Grade: D

"Wanting More" by Cari Z
Alex is a stripper who goes home with a trick, only to be discovered by the guy's long-term partner. He is surprised when the partner, James, shows up at the club 2 weeks later and asks for a private dance. Surprised but thrilled, because he's very attracted to James. They establish a relationship of sorts, with lots of really hot D/s sex, that eventually works into something more. A satisfying development of a wonderful relationship. Although if James didn't learn from his previous lover or from Alex, when IS he going to learn?: a fact which threatens my belief in the HEA. Grade: B-

"The Cowboy and the Movie Star" by Kate Roman
Oh, blech. Jake is the foreman of a ranch hired out for a gay porn shoot. Matthew is the star of the show and a complete and utter wet blanket. If any heroine acted like Matthew-’completely unable to take care of himself in any way-’I'd chuck that book across the room without hesitation. One night of hot man-lovin' changes their lives and Matthew quits in the middle of the shoot, except Jake doesn't believe him-.blahblahblah. The core of the story is when Matthew says to Jake, "Jake, do you know how long it's been since someone's touched me because I asked them to? Or because they wanted to? Because they wanted me?" And, I mean, sure. That's the fantasy, right, that prostitutes and porn stars want their One True Love as well, that sex isn't worth it without love. But these characters are awful, the story is unbelievable, the villain is ridiculous, and the sex is boring. Grade: D

"The Meaning of Perfection" by Taylor Lochland
A prostitute falls for the owner of the hotel who rents him and his roommate rooms for their jobs. Julian, the hotel owner, takes payment in kind from Felix's roommate, which makes Felix very jealous because he wants to be the one servicing Julian. He eventually gets the chance, only to have Julian reject anything more in the morning. They eventually find their way back to each other, and poof! Felix quits whoring. Um, yeah, not so much. Grade: C-

"See Me, Feel Me" by Zahra Owens
A stripper takes a private gig for a friend, only to be wined and dined by a blind massage therapist, who does his own, unofficial sex work during his business. A fun little read, but the length of these "short" stories sometimes leaves me feeling like the story could be 2000 words shorter. Very little conflict and merely a progression of the relationship ensues and while that's enjoyable, there's no incentive to keep reading besides some moderately enjoyable sex-’nothing's at stake. Grade: C+

"Exposure" by Marguerite Labbe & Fae Sutherland
Whoa, hello head hopping! Give me whiplash, why don't you! Ahem. That aside, this was a surprisingly hot story about a photographer introducing one of his models to a little bit of BDSM. The instant attraction between the two made me roll my eyes a bit, but then I was completely sucked in to the sexual and relationship tension between the characters and was very happily following along until the photographer called the model "Pretty baby." That just stomped on all my squick buttons and pulled me right out of the story. I could tell that it was still hot in the same way it was before, except every time "pretty baby" showed up again, I'd get squicked all over again. Except for that, very enjoyable, and very very hot, very well-written D/s sex with a little bondage thrown in. Grade: B

Looking through the whole, now that I'm done, there's quite a few more Bs than I thought there were. But still, the awfulness of "Dance for Me," "Night Moves," and "The Cowboy and the Movie Star" overshadows the good of "Exposure," "Sunshine," and the quirkiness of "Corona and Lime." Skip this volume unless you can find those three stories separate.

Overall grade: C-

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Books on Board or other etailers.

REVIEW: Sindustry I

REVIEW: Sindustry I

Dear Authors:

thumbnail.aspI only opened this volume when Dreamspinner sent it to us because Madeleine Urban had a co-written story in it. I adore her longer co-written stories with Abigail Roux, and the volume started off with “Reluctant,” so I thought I’d have a great little story and then skim through the rest. Instead, “Reluctant” was truly awful and the rest of the stories saved me from chucking the volume off my computer.

At 332 pages, this is a seriously hefty volume (electronic, of course). And with only 12 stories, that’s between 25-30 pages a story, much longer than the usual short stories crammed into an anthology. This gives enough time to actually flesh out the characters, plots, and themes. Or time for the story to move from blah to boring and awful.

The theme for the volume is sex industry workers: both low- and high-end prostitutes and strippers, mainly. What was fascinating to me more than anything was how each story used the sex industry angle-’as a meet-cute, as conflict, as a moral failing, as a perfectly legitimate profession, with or without comment. I’m strangely fascinated by this particular profession and by how the HEA is achieved or dealt with in light of the prostitution. I also love to see whether the prostitution itself is the conflict or just part of the story with conflict elsewhere. This volume certainly gave me enough to work with.

"Reluctant" by Rhianne Aile & Madeleine Urban
Gregory is recently divorced because he thinks he’s gay. His doctor (!) gives him the card of the high-end prostitute he employs and Gregory makes an appointment. He gets his first blowjob and a refund, then makes a "real" date with Rico, who has fallen in love with him. Considering this is the first story in a volume about sex workers, its complete lack of any exploration of the actual sex work and the effect it has on both worker and consumer is a glaring and incomprehensible error. Rico falls for Gregory. Why? No clue. Gregory falls for Rico because he’s hot and gives good head, apparently. No discussion at all of whether Rico will give up his very well-paying job, no discussion of anything besides a naughty meet-cute and some sex. Fail all around because even the sex was boring. Grade: D

"Stripped Bare" by S. Blaise
Luca is intrigued by the voice of the man calling to book him for a stripping gig for his sister’s hen party. Told in the first person, Luca chases a curiously reluctant Ethan until Ethan gives in a meets him, revealing his physical disabilities. I loved Luca’s relentlessness and his optimism as he works on bringing Ethan out of his shell. The conflict was of the "I can’t believe a gorgeous stripper like you would like someone like me" variety, but although there was nothing earth-shattering, it was a fun little read. Grade: B-

"Boomerang" by Rachelle Cochran
Chance works at the club Boomerang, moonlighting occasionally as a rent boy. He waits on a table with his old high school crush. They meet again and, after overcoming his uncertainty about Evan’s sexuality, Chance dives into a relationship with him. A nice, gentle, sexy story, in which Chance’s rent boy status is pretty much a non-issue. Grade: B-

"Fun and Games" by Lenore Black
I adored this sweet little story. Patrick is a video game designer, working the final kinks out of a game weeks before release. He’s not perfectly sculpted and toned-’he’s a dork and kind of soft around the edges. His friends buy him a prostitute for his birthday, just so he’ll get laid. But Jack keeps coming back, "the gift that keeps on giving." The connection between the characters, the fun they have and the affection between them makes this a gem of a story. Grade: A-

"How Could I Not" by Jamie Freeman
A complicated little story. Ben is set up on a job with Josh, a rich older man who wants Ben to fuck him while they watch a video montage of a guy who looks startling like Ben. Josh becomes a once-a-week client for Ben and they slowly build a real relationship. This sounds a little creepy, but the writing and the characterization is strong enough to make me believe in the romance. But then we drop a whole grade for "No condoms, just pull out." Give me a fucking break. Grade: B-

"The Frost Affair" by Sasha Skye
This one’s a little different, in that the sex worker is not a rent boy, but the kept lover of a senator. The senator is trying to spice things up a little in their love lives, to make sure Grayson isn’t bored with his older lover-’which means the sex is pretty hot and frequent. I enjoyed this story, although I spent the whole thing hoping that the Senator wasn’t one of those who was against gay rights but banging his boy on the side. But I did notice an entire lack of lube and some ATM action (Google it, but beware, NSFW), which just kinda grossed me out. Grade: B-

"The Stripper and the Hairdresser" by Bethany Brown
Can we have some conflict, please? Something to overcome? Something to make the characters grow? Something to draw the characters together. I mean, I know that most real-life romances are just "two people meet, are attracted, fall in love, and have a HEA/HFN." But romance stories need a plot with a dark moment, to have any impact whatsoever. This story is indeed "The Stripper and the Hairdresser" and that’s pretty much is. OMG boring. Grade: D+

"A Muse" by Zahra Owens
Ack! Second person narration: "You are very direct and the guy who recommended you to me had told me that." I don’t know why people do this. It might work for the author to write hir masturbatory fantasy in 2nd person, but it rarely works for the reader. First person can edge into bombastic and egotistical, but when you add second person too, it all gets a little too much for me. And seriously, "androgynous, but manly"?! You can’t have it both ways-’you really can’t. And please, do some research: "suddenly grateful for high-end digital cameras with state-of-the-art screens that don’t require me to peer through tiny viewfinders and miss ninety percent of the action": uh, no-’high end digital cameras require you to look through the tiny viewfinder. Trust me. It’s the cheap ones that use the screen. All that aside-this is an interesting story about a fine art photographer luring a rent boy into being his muse which I would have liked very much if it weren’t in second person. Grade: C

"Fin de Siècle" by S. Reesa Herberth
The only historical story in the anthology, this is an amazingly well-written glimpse into the turn-of-the-century encounters between an artist and a prostitute in Paris. Gabriel becomes Jean’s muse and they tentatively establish a relationship. The atmosphere and feeling of the story are brilliantly done, melancholy yet optimistic. And I actually like that although Jean and Gabriel find their way to each other by the end of the story, there is no talk yet of Gabriel giving up prostitution. Very well done. Grade: A-

"Chat Line" by Clare London
The conceit in this story was unoriginal, carried on too long, and almost embarrassing. Jerry calls a sex line, thinking it’s a line for a company that provides domestic help. The miscommunication goes on for pages longer than its funny, moving far into boring. The phone sex is pretty hot, but the "I want to meet you after one paid-for conversation" was a little unbelievable. Grade: C

"As Beauty Does" by JL Merrow
A professor-student story that doesn’t squick me! Very English set, Nathan, a rent boy, has a regular blow-job customer every Thursday night. He discovers the guy is his English professor in one of his new classes, which makes things a little uncomfortable on Stephen’s regular nights. After Nathan is bashed and ends up in hospital with a broken jaw, he and Stephen begin to establish a relationship. Great story, fabulous characterization. I especially love the use of the characters’ own language choices and words to indicate who they are and how they feel: you can tell that Stephen is very definitely a staid English professor, Nathan a working class student, just from the way they talk. Grade: B+

"The Four Seasons" by Diana Copland
This story is so unrealistically suspend-all-disbelief, it’s just yummy, because wouldn’t it be great if the world were perfect like that? Law student Michael endearingly hits on a beautiful man in a hotel bar, but is gently turned down because Christian is a very high-end prostitute who tells him to call when he’s made partner. 5 years later, Michael sees Christian on a corner, selling blowjobs for $50 a pop. He takes Christian in, finds out how and why he sunk so low, tells him he’s worth something, a la Pretty Woman ("The bad stuff’s easier to believe" moment), and they make beautiful love. Michael, of course, wakes up alone. 3 years after that-.well, you’ll have to read the story, but everyone ends up rich and happy and fighting for gay civil rights. It’s deliciously over-the-top but the affection and relationship between Michael and Christian is very well done. Grade: B

Overall, I enjoyed the anthology. Some stories definitely stuck with me ("Fun and Games," "Fin de Siecle," and "As Beauty Does" especially and none were truly horrific-’they were just boring, more than anything else. But I have a strange fascination with rent boy/male prostitute stories, so my fetish is well-fed and happy.

Overall Grade: B-

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Fictionwise and other etailers.