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REVIEW: Where the Heart Is by Ally Blue

Dear Ms. Blue,

where-the-heart-isWhen I began looking into various prolific m/m authors, your name seemed to be very prominent. When Samhain offered us a chance to review this novel, and I noticed it’s set in North Carolina, it seemed fate. Kismet. Meant to be. After I finished it, I’m not so sure.

Falling in love is easy. Holding on to it can tear your life apart.

A Bay City Paranormal Investigations story.

When Dean Delapore takes a break from Bay City Paranormal Investigations, he doesn’t expect his work to follow him to the eclectic town of Carrboro, North Carolina. The chance to investigate a haunting at the Blue Skye Inn and Winery is more than he can resist, mainly because of the inn’s owner. Deceptively shy and gorgeous, Sommer Skye is not only fantastic company, he’s the best lay Dean’s had in ages.

As Dean probes the misty secrets of the haunted inn, he unexpectedly peels away the layers hiding Sommer’s private pain. Pain Sommer’s not sure he can withstand. By the time Dean realizes just how deep his feelings for the innkeeper run, it’s far too late to turn back.

Now if only he can convince Sommer that falling in love changes everything, maybe for the better. If the bones of the past can be laid to rest-

“Where the Heart Is” is part of a series but I never felt I was missing anything for not having read the previous entries. There are a few references to an obviously previously featured couple but their appearance is for this story and serves to show readers of the past books how well they are doing.

I can’t help but see these characters in manga form. The long hair of so many of the characters, complete with descriptions of the varying colors. The popular places they shop in and frequent. This is a very visual book.

Dean and his college friends obviously share a long history. As such, I expect them to have “in-jokes,” short hand references and be able to convey thoughts and feelings with glances and looks. I would also think they would know at least a little about each other’s sexual history and preferences given that two of them are married to each other.

However, while reading the book the main impression I got was of latte slurping yuppies who snort-laugh, snicker and smirk a lot. I would guess this is supposed to convey how “in tune” and comfortable they are with each other but my notes stated this: “These people are starting to seriously annoy me.” Not, perhaps, what you were aiming for. Kerry yo-yo’s from urging Dean to go for Sommer to being furious when Dean doesn’t ‘call home’ and back again. Pregnancy hormones kicking in much?

Dean is a paranormal investigator? Oh, dear. How much demand is there for this? Just curious. I’m not sure about the whole paranormal aspect of the plot. At first Dean – and his coworkers in Mobile – are excited about an actual manifestation. But later on, Dean seems to shrug off the whole thing despite it being – at least from my POV – something that he should be jumping up and down about. His company should be turning cartwheels as here seems to be actual proof of ghosts and hauntings. But oh no, he’s too emo to be bothered right now. He’ll deal with it later, maybe. And how often do men feel “hollow and strangely tarnished” by the knowledge that their coworkers and friends know they get laid by at least one or two new people a month?

At first I thought Sommer and Dean were going to flounce at each other to see who was forced to be the top in their sexual relationship but my, didn’t Sommer take command in the bedroom? Dean was looking for a man to f*ck him through the mattress and he certainly found one. And the occasional feeling they have that the apparition is following and watching them certainly doesn’t inhibit their fun.

Wild sex toys – okay. Certain sexual practices – well, I hate to seem like a prude but there are certain things people will do to get their rocks off that I just don’t find exciting nor do I want to hear or read about them. Enemas are one such thing.

I don’t mind hawt, sweaty, man-goo sex but please for the love of G-d, have them take showers afterwards! A simple quick wipe with a wet washcloth before starting their day just will not cut it.

At one point, Dean tells Kerry that he dates a lot but later he says his dating skills are rusty. Which is it?

If Dean likes something, it’s “adorable.” He also wants to cuddle Sommer like a kitten. o-0

The final resolution of Sommer’s family mystery was flat. And it wasn’t really a resolution for me. I agree with Dean. What family member will do that and then not tell someone, especially their own son? And then what happened? Hippy or no, the person has to be somewhere.

I did like that Dean doesn’t equate lust and shared experiences as love. He’s wary of falling in love and doesn’t go off in girlish glee at the thought that he’s found his twue lurve. He’s aware that it takes time to truly know someone even if you do have an intimate acquaintance with that person’s favorite sex toys. But I did wonder if he remembered to remove the cock plug before going through security for his flight back to Mobile.

The sex is hawt and these two do seem to have a lot of sexual chemistry. I’ve given up trying to decide if this is at all a realistic portrayal of homosexual sexual practices or just a wishful fantasy for the mainly female audience the book probably commands.

I graduated from UNC. I’ve driven through Carrboro many a time. I know it’s spiffing itself up but the images of it as the left armpit of North Carolina still linger in my mind. I guess it’s time for a drive through the next time I’m near there to check out all these neat sounding places. C

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in ebook format from Samhain Publishing.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

25 Comments

  1. hydecat
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 16:31:07

    Hmm. I live in Chapel Hill, right next door to Carrboro, and I’m kind of curious about a book set so close to home, but kind of reluctant based on your review. However, I can say that Carrboro has spiffed up quite a bit recently. Parts of it are still downtrodden, and parts of it are college-hippie, but parts are also upscale and sleek organic (if that makes sense).

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  2. Jayne
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 18:33:59

    Yeah, that does make sense. It’s been a few years since I really spent any time there but old memories of it while I was in college are hard to shake.

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  3. cs
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 20:59:58

    The book really did fall flat on its face.

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  4. Jayne
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 07:50:08

    cs, have you read other books by Blue? Should I keep trying?

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  5. JenB
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 16:15:07

    Are you fairly new to m/m? A lot of the things you mentioned not liking are very common in m/m romance. There’s lots of rimming, sharing of cum-flavored kisses, sniffing of sweaty armpits and ass cracks, etc. And men–even gay ones–don’t participate in a lot of dainty after-sex cleanup. I’m not trying to be flip, but that’s just the way it is in most of the good m/m romance. If you want to see the “prettier” (sweeter and less realistic) side of m/m romance, you might be better off reading Carol Lynne or G. A. Hauser.

    Also, the BCPI series (of which this is an offshoot) isn’t really a “romance” series. It’s paranormal/horror fiction with some sex and romantic elements. The overall arc may end with a solid relationship (I haven’t gotten that far yet), but no single book is “A Romance”. From what I can tell, this standalone is more of a romance than the others, but I would imagine it still has a lot of the BCPI tone.

    Ally writes nontraditional characters. She does write some hippies, yuppies, and geeks. And paranormal investigators–at least the ones I’ve met–are definitely geeks (srsly…our IT guy hunts ghosts in his free time).

    Like it or not, Ally Blue is also affectionately called the Queen of Angst among m/m fans. I love her writing, but some of her books are too angsty for my taste. That’s not a bad thing, just a personal preference.

    I do, however, heartily recommend Willow Bend if you’re willing to give her another try. It’s a book with realistic characters in realistic situations, and it has a completely different feel that’s nothing like the BCPI books. Fireflies is another good one if you’re interested in a dark fairy story (that wasn’t a slur…it’s a story about the winged fae). Forgotten Song is good too. It’s angsty, but also sweet. I’ve read fantastic reviews of Untamed Heart, but I’ve also heard it’s super angsty.

    I also loved Oleander House, the first book in the BCPI series. SBTB totally slaughtered that one a few weeks ago, but I thought it kicked ass.

    Willow Bend is my favorite though. It’s one of the e-books I liked enough to buy in print as well as electronic format.

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  6. cs
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 18:03:58

    Hi Jayne,

    I use to like Ms. Blue’s stories. I liked Willow’s Bend, Love’s Evolution (though I doubt you’ll like that book, because of sex reasons you mentioned in this book) and the first two Bay City Paranormal Investigations books were good. Other than that her books have been such disappointments for me. I haven’t liked any of her recent releases, and I was actually excited for this book, because I liked Dean in the books beforehand. But…eh.

    You could try Willow’s Bend, and see if that does anything for you. If not then I doubt you’ll enjoy anything else of the author’s. The author’s style and writing is pretty much standard in all her novels.

    Tory Temple and Angela Fiddler are two of my favourite m/m authors. Mainly because they write very well, and they’re characters are real with all faults. Kit Zheng is another good storyteller and Sharon Maria Bidwell’s “Snow Angel” and sequel “Angel Heart” are one of my favourite contemporary novels in the m/m genre (in e-pub).

    Hope that helps.

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  7. Jayne
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 18:30:56

    Are you fairly new to m/m? A lot of the things you mentioned not liking are very common in m/m romance. There's lots of rimming, sharing of cum-flavored kisses, sniffing of sweaty armpits and ass cracks, etc. And men-even gay ones-don't participate in a lot of dainty after-sex cleanup. I'm not trying to be flip, but that's just the way it is in most of the good m/m romance. If you want to see the “prettier” (sweeter and less realistic) side of m/m romance, you might be better off reading Carol Lynne or G. A. Hauser.

    Yes, I am fairly new to m/m. I don’t get into wild sex from any genre so perhaps this is something I need to watch for in descriptions of books. As for dainty clean up, what I’m talking about is the morning after an all night, full on, no holds barred, tons of sweat and body fluids all over the place encounter between the two leads. And all one of them does is barely wipe off with a washcloth before he heads out for the day. I would find this disgusting for anyone, male or female, het or GLBT. After a night of non stop sex, take a fucking shower before inflicting your smelly body on the rest of us.

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  8. Jayne
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 18:33:50

    cs, thanks for the info about her other books. I might try the Willow Bend and see how it goes. Or perhaps I’ll find out I’m just not the best fit with her style. And also thanks for the other recs. I’m still learning my way around the m/m genre.

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  9. maygirl7
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 19:13:20

    @ Jayne
    Read Josh Lanyon!!! *jumping up and down* Absolutely the best! The romance elements are not as strong in some of his books (Adrien English Mysteries) and, in general, (except for Mexican Heat co-authored with Laura Baumbach) the sex is not that explicit. Lovely prose, strong plots, and well-developed characters. I would avoid Carol Lynne as intro to m/m, as she almost turned me off the genre. And everyone should feel the same way as me (joking).

    M. L. Rhodes is good, too. And I am really into Laney Cairo right now. Though, they both tend to be a bit explicit.

    You should try some historical m/m: Alex Beecroft (Captain’s Surrender) or Lee Rowan (Ransom)– both very well written and not too graphic.

    Anyway, those are my many cents worth.

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  10. JenB
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 19:22:05

    I would avoid Carol Lynne as intro to m/m, as she almost turned me off the genre.

    I feel the same way. Take one of the more formulaic M/F category romances, replace the vagina with another wiener, and voila, a Carol Lynne story. I used her name as kind of a joke.

    But her books are certainly…um…tame. And, though I don’t understand it at all, her books have converted lots of readers that were reluctant to try m/m.

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  11. GrowlyCub
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 19:32:30

    I recommend Jules Jones’ Lord and Master. It’s fabulous and the best m/m I’ve read. Both partners are very aware of sexual hygiene/safe sex.

    ReplyReply

  12. cs
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 20:00:25

    Jayne,

    If you don’t like “Willows Bend” then you’re better off checking someone else in the genre. Her plots do vary a lot, but her writing doesn’t (in my eyes anyway, and not necessarily a bad thing either). So I don’t think you’ll be missing anything spectacular if you figure her style isn’t for you.

    Josh Lanyon is an obvious recommendation from everyone. For me his first three novels in his Mysteries series were good. The new book and most of his novellas have not worked for me at all. I hope people recommend you out with the obvious, because there are a number of talented author’s in this genre.

    I can also recommend you one more author, who I gather self-publishes (but I read his/her story in an anthology) name is Marquesate. The short story I read was stellar and the reviews by in large are in favour of the author’s writing. So there is another one.

    In m/m fiction most of the time I find the sex can be very kinky, heavy on the bdsm or just plain dirty. Have no idea why? Maybe there’s a stereotype there. But it takes a lot for an author to make me love their sex scenes, most of the time m-m fiction writers just use the same methods over and over, and something you’ll figure out as you read more m-m fiction.

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  13. DS
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 22:26:58

    I read Oleander House which was I think the first in the Bay City Paranormal books– it was a Kindle give away. I was disappointed in the horror aspect– very mild and unscary except for a bloody ending that I thought was introduced soley to get rid of character who might have been in the way of a future m/m romance pairing.

    The thing I particularly remembered not liking about the writing was the body parts that seemed to act of their own volition. That is a real pet peeve of mine. Just say “He entered the room and everyone looked up.” Don’t tell me that “Four Pairs of eyes fastened on him when he entered the room.” And there was a plait of hair that got a lot of mention. I got very tired of the plait.

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  14. K. Z. Snow
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 22:49:23

    You’re a trip, JenB!

    ReplyReply

  15. JenB
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 22:54:02

    KZ – So I hear. LOL Is that a good thing or a bad thing??

    ReplyReply

  16. Jayne
    Feb 12, 2009 @ 06:47:34

    I’ve read – and loved – books by Beecroft and Lanyon and have plans to read much more by those two. Jones and Langley have been rec’d here and I’d like to read some of their work. Due to reviews I’ve read in several places – including here – I don’t plan on trying Carol Lynne.

    Where does Marquesate publish books?

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  17. Jayne
    Feb 12, 2009 @ 06:49:13

    The thing I particularly remembered not liking about the writing was the body parts that seemed to act of their own volition. That is a real pet peeve of mine. Just say “He entered the room and everyone looked up.” Don't tell me that “Four Pairs of eyes fastened on him when he entered the room.”

    Used once or twice, something like this probably wouldn’t bother me too much. But if it’s a common feature throughout the book, it is the kind of thing that would eventually reduce me to hysterical giggling then make me pissy. Thanks for the warning.

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  18. Jayne
    Feb 12, 2009 @ 06:50:51

    Meant to include Rowan and Rhodes in the list of authors I have on my radar.

    ReplyReply

  19. cs
    Feb 12, 2009 @ 16:18:34

    This is the author’s website. You’ll find the publication link there.

    ReplyReply

  20. MD
    Feb 12, 2009 @ 19:40:27

    Meant to include Rowan and Rhodes in the list of authors I have on my radar.

    If you are looking for sweet and sexy m/m without the yuck factors that commonly squick you, I recommend authors Charlie Cochrane, Ann Somerville, Max Pierce, Ruth Sims, and Mark Probst. Their stories have strong plots, fully realized characters with believable relationships, and erotic moments that are intrinsic to the story without leaving behind that sense of TMI. =)

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  21. cs
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 08:26:40

    MD,

    Thanks for those recommendations. I have Ann Somerville’s Encounter series (book 1& 2) in my TBR pile. I’ve heard great things about her writing. I’ve think I’ve seen Charlie Cochrane mentioned, so will give him a try. I really want to read less erotic m-m.

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  22. Kelly
    Aug 26, 2009 @ 19:02:14

    I’ve been reading m/m fiction for a lotta years – over 35, starting with the marvelous Mary Renault. These days my favorite writer is Josh Lanyon. I’ve read just about everything by him. My personal opinion? He spins beautiful stories, brings flawed characters to life and makes you want to cheer for them; there’s suspense, plot, dead on dialog and a clever wit. His “Somebody Killed His Editor” made me chuckle out loud at times. “Mexican Heat” is fabulous (I had concerns about the first chapter as it was surprisingly raunchy – not Josh’s style) but I got past that quickly when I fell for the two polar opposite characters. Adore the Adrien English novels and “The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks.” Okay, I love everything by Lanyon:)

    I’m now reading J.P. Bowie’s novels. Not in the same league as Lanyon, however there’s *something* there – I think maybe it’s the characters. His “Portrait” novels and the Nick Fallon mysteries include recurring characters – all good friends and/or lovers. His writing can be…quite mushy at times and the characters just a little *too* perfect, yet I still find the characters kinda endearing. He needs, imo, a good editor to catch things that made this reader wince (i.e., in one novel he uses the word “clever” to describe the main ‘bad guy’ constantly). The sex is quite mild – very nice.

    I haven’t read anything by Charlie Cochrane yet, however, I have two of her novels set aside to read when time allows.

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  23. Ooh
    Nov 26, 2009 @ 16:31:14

    Josh Lanyon!! Crazy writer, love him.

    I started with Adrien English, and almost didn’t continue because Adrien annoyed me, but somehow decided to go on and fell in love with the character. He still kinda irritates sometimes, but adorably so. Surprised to read that another commentator doesn’t like the fourth book. I personally liked the fourth book best.

    Mexican Heat: I’m just wild guessing but I think Lanyon simply wrote the first part, Laura wrote the second part. That’s because I enjoyed the book less once I got to the second part, almost immediately.

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  24. Jenny
    Dec 24, 2009 @ 14:12:10

    Eigentlich bin ich ja nicht so der “Blog-Fan” aber nach deinem Artikel überleg ich mir das glaube ich nochmal. Danke!

    ReplyReply

  25. REVIEW: The Happy Onion by Ally Blue | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Feb 11, 2010 @ 04:01:59

    [...] EW factor: Jayne noticed something similar in her last review of one of your books. My “ew” wasn’t a body odor issue, it was a sexual practice issue: I’m [...]

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