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B- Reviews

REVIEW:  Afternoon Delight by Anne Calhoun

REVIEW: Afternoon Delight by Anne Calhoun

Dear Ms. Calhoun,

I’ve read and enjoyed a few of your novellas in the past, so when an ARC of your new 164 page offering, Afternoon Delight, was made available to DA’s reviewers, I requested it. Afternoon Delight is set in New York City and features a hero whom readers of your novella Breath on Embers have met before.

AfternoonDelight-final-250x374Tim is a paramedic with the FDNY. Racing from one rescue attempt to another, he finds it easier to live life at a fast pace because it keeps him from feeling too much. Since he sees so much aging and death at his job, he is afraid to slow down and really feel. Casual hook ups fit his life and serious relationships do not.

So it’s a good thing that Sarah, a food truck chef Tim meets in the park one day, isn’t looking for a serious relationship. Sarah used to be just like Tim, footloose and fancy-free, until she cared for her dying aunt. That experience taught her to slow down and savor the moment. Before she died, Sarah’s aunt made her promise to go back and find the carefree girl she used to be.

Tim is a New York native while Sarah has only recently relocated from San Francisco. The first time they meet, Sarah and her business partner are trying new sauces, and Tim is willing to be her tasting guinea pig. The second time they meet, Tim asks her over and at his tiny apartment, they have hot, competitive and enthusiastic sex.

Tim loses a bet that he can keep from grabbing Sarah, and Sarah issues him a new challenge—if he can keep from getting off for a whole week, he can do whatever he likes to her when they meet again. The dinner Sarah cooks for Tim on that occasion is sublime, and as for the challenge, well, I won’t spoil it.

Sarah and Tim see each other while never officially dating. Tim shows Sarah New York’s sights, sounds and tastes and helps her learn to appreciate the city despite its frenetic page. Sarah begins to realize she is developing feelings for Tim, and Tim gets a glimmer of a clue that sex with Sarah is so hot because it’s more than sex.

But can Tim keep from slowing down and feeling if he and Sarah progress to a relationship? Can he overcome his fears enough to do so? And how will Sarah handle it if he tries to prevent the connection between them from growing beyond a simple afternoon delight?

Afternoon Delight is fun and well-written. There were many things I enjoyed about it, from the New York City milieu to the sex-positive approach to the story. Sarah was never slut-shamed or judged for liking sex—not by Tim, not by her friend and business partner Trish, and I never, ever felt the author was judging her. Thank you for that.

I also really, really liked that like Tim, Sarah could be playfully bossy in the bedroom. It is so nice to come across a heroine who isn’t a “natural submissive” but rather one who can enjoy both top and bottom. I wish there were more heroines like that.

Sarah was as a good sport, someone who knew how to have fun, but she could also be gentle and compassionate when a compassionate and gentle touch was needed. She was there for Tim when that moment came.

Another aspect of Sarah I enjoyed was her love of cooking and the way it was incorporated into the novella. Sarah’s awareness of good flavors and desire to savor each bite facilitated and enhanced Tim’s journey from speeding through life to slowing down enough to smell the coffee – or the split pea soup.

I thought the chemistry between Tim and Sarah was very nice but Tim was a harder character for me to connect with. I liked his attitude toward the guys he worked with and toward Casey, a new guy whom Tim was helping train on the job. Tim was a good guy down to his bones, so I couldn’t help liking him even with his approach to getting through life, from shoving food down fast to keeping his relationships simple. But his determination to speed through everything so as to feel nothing took me a long time to empathize with.

Tim saw a lot of death and suffering at his work but I think what tripped me up was that he hadn’t raced through life the same way in earlier years at the same job. For that reason, I expected there to be a revelation about an event that had caused him to choose to change his pace. There wasn’t any one thing that had caused that, it turned out. And when I think about his job and his past, his choice makes perfect sense, but I wanted that to be something I felt in my heart and not just understood in my head.

Even so, there was so much to like in this novella, from the fun challenges Tim and Sarah set for each other, to Tim’s relationships with his fellow paramedics and an elderly couple he got to know on the job, to Sarah’s relationship with food, and of course, Tim and Sarah’s journey to coupledom. I especially liked the last few scenes and the romantic gesture near the end. B-/B.

Sincerely,

Janine

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REVIEW:  Probation by Tom Mendicino

REVIEW: Probation by Tom Mendicino

probation

 

All it took to destroy Andy Nocera’s seemingly perfect life was an anonymous tryst at an Interstate rest area. Sentenced to probation and thrown out by his wife, he spends his week as a traveling salesman, and his weekends at his mother’s house where no questions are asked-and no explanations are offered. To clear his record, the State of North Carolina requires Andy to complete one year of therapy without another arrest. He attends his sessions reluctantly at first, struggling to comprehend why he would risk everything. Answers don’t come easily, especially in the face of his mother’s sudden illness and his repeated failure to live as an openly gay man. But as Andy searches his past, he gets an opportunity to rescue another lost soul-and a chance at a future that is different in every way from the one he had envisioned. With profound honesty, sharp wit, and genuine heart, this debut novel portrays one man’s search-for love and passion, acceptance and redemption-and for the courage to really live. .

Review:

Dear Tom Mendicino,

I really liked your book when I first read it a few years ago; I however could not see myself ever rereading it. Nevertheless the saying “Never say never” is true in this instance.

We meet Andy when he is in front of a judge and being sentenced for having sex in a public space. The book is basically Andy telling us about his life, what led to his arrest and what happened afterwards. The book is mostly written in the present tense with some flashbacks in the past tense.

Andy Nocera is a deeply flawed character and it is very hard to like him, but the writer won me over. It took a lot of effort for me to finish the book however, because it was literally very painful to be in Andy’s head all the time. I think part of the reason why I ended up liking Andy is because the writer explained his character to me so well. I did not ever hate him of course – lots of bad things happened to him and quite a lot of those bad things were not his fault, but society’s fault. However, several times I felt that I needed to stop listening to Andy’s musings, because otherwise his self-hate would become my own – not because our circumstances in life are similar (mine are surely more fortunate), but because it felt so powerful and easily spread in the emotional sense.

“But I’m already halfway to my car. I can’t get away from them fast enough. I hate them, everything about them, if only for one brief and fleeting moment. I don’t want to be a bitter old son of the bitch, steeped in envy. I’m glad they are happy. I really am. It’s not their fault that I’ll never know how it feels to tell the boy I’ve been waiting for my entire life to step up, shake a leg, get a move on, because my old man is checking his watch as he flips the dogs and burgers, telling everyone the party can’t start until we arrive”
“I know now it wasn’t love. It was fear, an absolute, abject fear, that, without him, I’d be back in the box, snapped shut, sealed tight, labeled HUSBAND, and returned special delivery to WIFE”

What probably surprised me the most is the fact that I did not hate Andy even when I read about him repeatedly cheating on his wife for years – that was very unexpected and definitely not a small feat to achieve, but the book does such a good job of portraying them both as real people, flawed but sympathetic real people. They were two people who would always love each other even though they were not in love with each other anymore. I don’t know why I forgave the cheating. Perhaps it was because his wife did? Or because Andy was so honest telling this story (even if he was not honest for years before that)? I really do not know. I know that the book in my opinion did such a good job portraying the subtleties of the various relationships Andy had that I was sold on him, even though he never tried to justify himself.

“I kept my promise, Alice. I never told you I stopped loving you because I never did. You asked the wrong question. You should have made me promise to tell you if I ever fell in love with someone else”.

Sometimes it felt like everything bad that could happen to a person happened to Andy, including his mother’s illness and what he went through with her because of it. I think his mom’s illness was a big reason why I could relate to him, actually. Andy is also going through therapy during the whole course of the book. He shares quite a few of those sessions with us. It is a very painful process, Andy is not entirely cooperative, and several times I despaired whether he would ever get better, even after he was diagnosed with depression and given different medications to try. I thought this was very well done, because at times I felt his therapist’s frustrations too (he was a psychiatrist so he could prescribe medications).

“Why do you insist on being so hard on yourself?” Matt asks after reading my assignment.
“I think I am letting myself off pretty easily”.

The story ends with hope for Andy, but as much as I wanted it for him after so much darkness that I felt like I was a part of, I think I found the ending to be a little out of nowhere. As the blurb tells you, eventually he ends up helping somebody else and feels better because of it, and in the very last chapter we even see the possibility for a relationship for him opening up. It is not a completely happy ending in a sense that he completely recovered, but there is a lot of hope, especially in comparison to the rest of the book, and Andy experiences a significant improvement of his overall situation.

Here is how Andy described what he felt in a chapter prior to the last two hopeful chapters in the book:.
“Anaphylactic shock didn’t transform me. Maybe it’s just that I’d sunk as low as I could go. Not that my little tale of woe was anything special, nothing for the record books. I’ll never experience the horrors and epiphanies of true addiction. A little heavy drinking and a few sour sexual liaisons and a chance encounter with an antibiotic with a four to five percent cross-reaction with penicillin are the sum and substance of the drama of my life.
I wish I could say that I’m seeking redemption through meditation and prayer. But the reality is I’m lying on the bed burping ground beef and onions and dozing while my Psychic Friends promise Great Revelations on the television screen.
Your loved ones are waiting to speak to you…”

The rationale given seems to be that Andy felt that he had hit bottom and the only way for him to go was up, but I think I would have found slower improvement to be more believable.

Grade B-/B

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