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M/M Lightning Reviews

I read a handful of m/m ARCs over the past month, with varying levels of success. I either DNF’d them or didn’t have enough to say to warrant a full-blown review, so I decided a lightning-review post fit the bill. In no particular order:

But My Boyfriend Is by K.A. Mitchell

Mitchell is an auto-buy, auto-read author for me, and this novel is a spin-off set in the Aaron & Joey world (they starred in Collision Course and are featured in No Souvenirs). Dylan Williams’ twin brother Darryl winds up in the hospital after being severely gay-bashed in a park noted for cruising and hookups. He was saved from even greater harm by Mike Aurietta, who was cutting through the park and saw the attack. Mike is gay and out. Dylan is definitely not gay, as he keeps reminding himself and everyone else, including the reader. He has a female friend-with-benefits arrangement and the occasional hookup with men. Nonetheless, he is massively attracted to Mike, who returns the favor. Dylan gives in to his urges and he and Mike become fuck buddies, with Dylan all the while reiterating that he’s not gay. In anyone else’s hands this would be a non-starter for me, but Mitchell is an extremely skilled writer, and somehow Dylan manages to be both believable and appealing.

The messy but clearly developing relationship between Dylan and Mike is alternately hindered and helped by Dylan’s family. Aaron and Joey show up to take care of Darryl, and the close bond between the twins is frayed by Dylan’s inability to be honest with Darryl and vice versa (all of which are connected to the reasons for Darryl’s attack). If you’ve read and enjoyed the earlier books, you’ll probably like seeing Aaron and Joey, and if you’re not, you should still be able to keep track of everything. The family drama is a big part of the book, though, so if you’re a reader who wants all the focus on the couple, you may get frustrated at times. I found Dylan extremely annoying on a regular basis, but I have a low threshold for the “I’m not Gay! Yes you are!” trope. Mike is terrific, but he has to spend a lot of time waiting around for Dylan to get his shit together. If you like this storyline, K.A. Mitchell does it as well as anyone if not better. But you really have to like the storyline. It’s a K.A. Mitchell book, so there is lots of enjoyable, hot sexxoring. Grade: B-

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The Druid Stone by Heidi Belleau & Violetta Vane

Although I don’t read much m/m fantasy and I almost never read Irish faery-laden fiction, I chose this for review because I think Belleau and Vane have a lot of talent and explore m/m romance in unusual and innovative ways. This book did not work at all for me, and I was really disappointed, because I very much wanted it to. Sean O’Hara is a half-Latino, half-Irish-American who has had an Irish curse placed on him. He relives someone else’s torture every night in his dreams and can’t escape. Finally he goes to Ireland to seek assistance from Cormac Kelly, a druid who may be able to find the origins of the curse and remove it. Sean is not gay (he may be bi, but it’s not made clear in the early chapters), while Cormac is gay and out. Nevertheless, Sean and Cormac almost immediately have the hots for each other. After a graphically violent prologue, the first chapter opens in Cormac’s village of Tuam, where Sean tracks him down. In the first section of the book Sean and Cormac meet, get to know each other a bit, figure out where the curse might have originated, and make plans to go into the supernatural realm. I don’t know much about Irish mythology, so I can’t speak to its authenticity here, but the world-building is as well done as it was in Hawaiian Gothic. The Irish, supernatural, and emotional atmosphere is thick enough to cut with a knife. The prose style is almost too much (it verges on James Kelman levels of colloquial for some characters).

And that was my problem with the book, as much as I read of it before I finally gave up: there is too much of everything. Sean is not just cursed, he also has an estranged father, a deceased mother, and a very unhappy childhood. Cormac has a tragic and unresolved past relationship. Even Cormac’s dogs have awful histories. The setting, language, and characters exude Irishness in speech, cultural beliefs, and family relationships. Sean and Cormac are complex characters, but they are burdened with so much angst. I knew from the blurb and other summaries that they were the couple and would wind up together somehow, but there wasn’t much actual romance in the first third of the book. There was bickering, and yearning, and running to and away from each other. But mostly they had to figure out the curse, so I didn’t have a lot of romantic stuff to get me past the tons of angst and mythology. After a week, I realized that I was forcing myself to try and finish the book for review, which rarely ends well. I persevered until I discovered one more angst-filled piece of Sean’s past, and that was an angst too far for me. Readers who enjoy relationships and settings like this are more likely to enjoy the book. DNF, so no grade.

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Room To Grow by Kate Sherwood

Cole Wheaton, successful landscape architect, takes on a wildly expensive garden renovation project for a wealthy couple. Little does he know that the husband, David, has been struggling with his sexuality, and the garden becomes the tipping point for him to leave his wife Stephanie and come out of the closet. Cole and David are drawn to each other, but Cole has been burned by closeted types before. He’s willing to have David as a friend but he refuses to play Transitional Man. So far, so good. I like the garden aspect (I did not know you could spend $400,000 on trees alone for a private estate renovation), and I appreciated that no one was Gay For You or immediately in a relationship. And Stephanie was a very nice woman who coped realistically with David’s decision (especially given that David was an executive in her family’s company). But then, as the plot unfolded, the air of unreality ratcheted up. It makes sense to avoid emotional involvement with someone who’s just come out. But for two men in their late twenties/early thirties to put off having sex until the perfect moment that will launch their relationship? And having a fairly long conversation about waiting for that perfect moment? That was a little much for me.

And then, when they do finally do the deed, there is immediately a post-deed crisis that requires David’s full attention. Cole, who has been the sensible grownup of the couple up to now, jumps to the conclusion that David doesn’t care about him after all because David hasn’t called him. At this point my eyes roll back in my head. But then they talk it all out, and they realize everything is really OK, and then they become a total couple and everyone accepts them and they live happily ever after. Ms. Sherwood writes smoothly, and the characters are mostly sympathetic and mature. If they had talked about their feelings less (or less articulately), I probably would have enjoyed the book much more. It’s not that I think men don’t talk about their feelings, I just don’t know many that talk like this or at this length. I know, it’s fantasy. But for me to get caught up in a story, there has to be a threshold level of believability in the characters’ actions and responses. Grade: C-

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Men of Smithfield: Mark and Tony by L.B. Gregg

This is a re-edited reissue of L.B. Gregg’s novel Gobsmacked, now with a new cover. The short novel opens with a bang, as Mark Meehan smacks his live-in boyfriend, Jamie DuPree, upside the head with a Bible during an Ash Wednesday church service. But catching Jamie in bed with their weird-smelling landlord Kevin turns out to be the least of Jamie’s many transgressions. Mark turns to his old friend and state trooper, Tony Gervase, for assistance and discovers all kinds of bad surprises about Jamie and good surprises about Tony.

Mark is an utterly appealing narrator and Tony makes an excellent foil and partner for him. Since they’ve known each other for many years and have a history, there’s no insta-love to deal with, and it was refreshing to read about two men who were gay and out and comfortable with it. I especially enjoyed Gregg’s depiction of Smithfield. It’s a small town where everyone knows everything about everybody, but it is neither idealized nor vilified. The sex scenes are hot, well written, and integral to the plot, and the balance between the funny and the serious is very well done, and the serious parts aren’t just played for laughs. There are three more books in the series and I look forward to reading them all. I didn’t read the original release, so I can’t say how different this version is from the original, but there is an author’s note that clearly states that the books are revised and reissued. Grade: B+

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Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Jordan Castillo Price, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley.

12 Comments

  1. jmc
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 12:14:37

    Thanks for the quick review of Room to Grow. I downloaded a sample and have been wibbling about going back to buy.

    I liked But My Boyfriend Is more than you, I think, in part because of the twin aspect (predictable, I am), and also because I really appreciated Mike’s lack of drama and the fact that he wasn’t all twisted up about Dylan coming out or being in the closet. And also because I found the treatment of Mike as the nominally out one of the pair to be ever so ironic.

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  2. Sunita
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 12:38:51

    @jmc: I liked your review of the Mitchell very much, especially your take on the twins angle. One of my disappointments was that although Dylan has this fascinating biracial, multicultural background, it didn’t play much of a role and wasn’t integrated into his issues with his sexuality. Maybe Mitchell consciously chose to go that way, but I felt as if it was a missed opportunity. Mike was a great character, I really enjoyed his perspective.

    I mostly enjoyed the first half of the Sherwood. The unraveling of the marriage, the slow friendship of the main characters, and the coming out angst was well done. It fell apart for me once we were into the relationship. I believed in the maturity of the characters, so when they morphed into m/m fantasy type men, it was almost worse than if they had started out that way, if that makes sense.

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  3. cs
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 14:41:06

    I really liked the new Mitchell novel, you are right I did get frustrated with the family bits, even though they were warranted. I liked Darryl fine enough, he was pivotal but not Aaron and Joey (not to the extent the author wrote them). They bugged me in their own book, never mind their introduction in this one. I wish Mike was more fleshed out as his own character. His whole thought-pattern was centered around Dylan, which made him rather one-dimensional, if sweet. I’d probably rate this book a B, considering I felt Dylan’s emotions so clearly throughout this book.

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  4. cleo
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 14:46:48

    I’m so glad you reviewed But My Boyfriend Is. I read it yesterday (KA Mitchell’s an autobuy for me too). I found it both compelling and annoying and I just want to talk about it. I think I agree with your grade – it’s good, but not fabulous. And the “I’m not gay” refrain got old.

    I liked the way she treated the multicultural part of the romance. At the beginning, both Dylan and Mike are very conscious of their respective races and differences (more in their thoughts than in their conversations) and as their relationship develops that fades, and that seemed right.

    I liked the family stuff – I like seeing lovers dealing with the outside world. And the scene where Mike tears into Aaron for not fully supporting or getting Dylan – sigh. I liked Joey in this one. I hated him in No Souvenirs (I thought he was an annoying, manipulative little drama queen in NS, even though I liked him in CC).

    The ending bugged me. The last chapter felt like an epilogue and I could have done without it. At the same time, since it was there, I wanted to know more – yes it was lovely to see them playing house together, but what happened to the gay bashers? There was so much angst about the possible trial that I wanted at least a sentence about how it was resolved.

    @Sunita: Now that you mention it, it would have been nice to see more about Dylan’s heritage and his issues with his sexuality.

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  5. Sirius
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 16:13:15

    Oooooo you read Druid stone. May I email you and ask to unconfuse me on some issues? ;) It worked for me more than Hawaian Gothic actually, but omg I was confused in places. I got a feeling that the authors expected me to read their minds. Room to grow had all the components of ye story I would have loved but the guys I don’t know, was not quite feeling them. I loved LB Gregg’s series. Have you read first edition? Are changes substantial enough to buy second edition? Thanks Sunita.

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  6. Sirius
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 16:46:39

    Doh I clearly missed your sentence which says you have not read the previous edition Sorry.

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  7. sula
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 19:26:55

    loooove LB Gregg! We used to blog together way back in the day before she started writing, and I have fond memories of beta-reading “Mark and Tony”. She’s got a great voice, funny as hell, but sweet too. I’ll have to read this re-release to see if the changes are significant, but either way, it would be worth it to spend some time in Smithfield again. :)

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  8. Sunita
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 20:13:30

    @cs: Yeah, Mike did wind up being kind of reactive. I didn’t mind Aaron and Joey because they fit the family theme of the book, but I feel as if Joey dominates every scene he’s in, which gets tiring.

    @cleo: As to the multicultural aspect, I just think that if anyone can pull it off in a short word count it’s Mitchell, and there was so much scope. But I don’t want to complain that she’s not writing the book I want to read just that it would have been interesting.

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  9. Sunita
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 20:22:18

    @Sirius: Yes of course! I’m not sure how much I can help but I’ll try. I’m not sure why Hawaiian Gothic worked better for me. It might have been the setting and the type of paranormal. I did like the characters in Druid Stone, apart from the angstiness.

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  10. Sunita
    Aug 22, 2012 @ 20:27:24

    @sula: Let us know if the changes are substantial, for those who read the first version. I read a different book by Gregg and wound up DNFing because I grew tired of the narrator’s voice, but the balance here was terrific. I also really liked the short she had in Carina’s Christmas anthology a couple of years ago.

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  11. Kaetrin
    Aug 23, 2012 @ 02:52:11

    I read all the reviews except for the Mitchell review – I’m trying to avoid spoilers (even though I ‘accidentally’ read Mandi’s review. Bad Kaetrin). I have But My Boyfriend Is lined up for my next read. She is an autobuy for me as well. So looking forward to this one.

    If they had talked about their feelings less (or less articulately), I probably would have enjoyed the book much more. It’s not that I think men don’t talk about their feelings, I just don’t know many that talk like this or at this length.

    I totally agree – I finished Cameron Dane’s A Younger Man recently and had similar problems with it. Guys talk differently than women and the super-articulate touchy-feely stuff with overuse of adjectives doesn’t feel realistic to me. Even if it could theoretically be real in some cases, it doesn’t feel real to me and it gives me eye-rollitis.

    Also, completely agree re the LB Gregg story. So much fun. :)

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  12. Sirius
    Aug 23, 2012 @ 20:55:33

    @Sunita: Okay, done, thank you :). I am sure you will be able to unconfuse me at least somewhat :)

    ReplyReply

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