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Amber Quill Publishing

REVIEW: Ex Equals by L.A. Witt

REVIEW: Ex Equals by L.A. Witt

Jane’s Note: We are posting this review in celebration of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Repeal that is occurring today. We’ll have a lovely post by Maili listing romances featuring deaf characters on Thursday.

Dear Ms. Witt.

I like your books. Your writing’s solid, the characters are great, the sex is usually hot. So I was excited to see that you had another m/m romance coming out. I also very much liked that the story was military set, because I know you know what you’re talking about when it comes to the military, and I was interested to see how you would deal with the pending repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (Today! I’m SO excited and have my rainbow “Veteran” shirt all ready to go!).

ExEqualsChris is a brand-new community-college math professor who finds out that one of his students is his ex-boyfriend Justin. Justin signed up for the class knowing Chris was the teacher, in an attempt to see if they could reconcile. The book is told in alternating flashbacks of the beginning, middle, and end of their first relationship when they were in the Navy together, and their attempt at a new relationship now that Chris is out of the Navy. The power imbalances between them — now as teacher and student, and previously in the Navy — are a huge issue — in fact, almost THE issue — between them.

Your habit of writing in alternating first person perspective is…not my favorite thing in the world. I think your stories would be much better served by alternating deep third person POV, but maybe that’s just because that’s what I’m used to. Anyway, just a warning to readers if that kind of thing bothers them. I find it worth dealing the lingering weirdness I feel every time you switch, because then I get to read the book and enjoy your characters. But there’s still that lingering weirdness every time.

That aside, however, I *love* books that have relationships in which one character really and truly and honestly screws up and betrays their partner. The screw-up has to own up to it, has to say they’re sorry, and has to accept that the partner has the absolute right to refuse to forgive, and that the relationship would therefore be over. The partner then really and truly has to forgive the screw-up and make the conscious decision that the relationship and their feelings for each other are more important than holding a grudge or being hurt. Matthew Haldeman-Time’s Off the Record┬áis like that, and Courtney Milan’s self-published Unlocked, and this book is too. Justin seriously screwed up by treating Chris like crap at the end of their first relationship. Most of the tension of the first half of the book actually comes from figuring out exactly HOW Justin treated Chris like crap. And Justin has to apologize — and mean it — and Chris has to forgive and mean it before they can get back together in the present.

The slight problem I had with this, however, was that I didn’t 100% think Justin deserved his HEA. He had been a first class asshole, no matter his reasons. And he was a selfish prick to take Chris’s class without thinking of the ramifications for Chris, rather than for himself. So although I was cheering for Chris to forgive, I had to take Chris at face value that Justin’s apology was all he needed. Because I needed Justin to suffer just a bit more.

While (I think) you get the military stuff right (I was Army, not Navy, so I’m not sure on the details. And WHY are some people on the ships called airmen? Surely they’re sailors? But I’m probably missing something), I don’t think you the college stuff 100% right. I’m pretty sure community college professors don’t have to do student teaching to teach at a community college. They pretty much need a Masters and then need to get hired. Maybe I was nitpicking because I’m a college professor, and then getting it wrong because I’m not actually a community college professor, but it all just felt…slightly off. It was like Chris was given a job just so he could be in a teacher/student relationship with Justin, reversing their previous power dynamic, rather than because it grew organically from his personality. Because, honestly, I don’t know how many people get a Masters in Math in order to teach at a community college. But what do I know? I’m probably wrong (and would love to hear about it if I am!).

However, now I’m just being picky because I can. This story was great. I loved Chris and Justin. The sex was totally vanilla and hot anyway. I loved them fumbling toward figuring out if the other is gay at the beginning of the relationship while on the ship. I loved the frank look at the horrendousness of the day to day grinding down of living under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but now with bonus optimistic ending because of repeal (and go you for the full-on, optimistic, spectacularly-out-of-the-closet-and-still-in-the-Navy ending). I totally closed this book (on my phone) with a Happy Book Sigh (TM SB Sarah). And really, what more can you want than that?

Grade: B+

Best regards,
-Sarah

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REVIEW: Sea Change by Darlene Marshall

REVIEW: Sea Change by Darlene Marshall

Dear Ms. Marshall,

Hello down there in hot, steamy Florida. Lots of authors might choose various contemporary locations in that state for their books but I love that you’ve staked out early 19th century Florida and sea captains, privateers and pirates for yours. Then you smooth on a layer of Yanks vs the Brits to really spice things up. We weren’t quite in the same league with the British yet but with the Baltimore built schooner that Captain David Fletcher sails so successfully, we were on our way.

Sea Change by Darlene MarshallCharlotte “Charley” Alcott has been trained by her doctor father since she was a child but after his death, she has no relations in England to gladly take her in and the ones she does have would probably want her to give up what she loves best – trying to heal people. So with her square face, tall build, and blunt features helping to hide her gender, she works out a deal to act as a ship’s doctor for passage to her godfather in Jamaica. There she hopes to be able to continue her studies with him. And everything was going just fine until the “Fancy” shows up. Her masked captain and crew steal everything not nailed down including one young Dr. Alcott.

David Fletcher badly needs a doctor to help his injured younger brother. Alcott looks young but he seems competent and David gives him no choice in the matter. Once Alcott proves himself, David is also not inclined to take the man to any port where he might leave the company of the “Fancy.” The crew like him and David finds Charley to be an intelligent person with whom, as the ship’s Captain, he can relax, play chess and enjoy a good evenings conversation.

Henry Fletcher, who cleverly figures out early on exactly what Charley is up to, warns her that when David discovers her secret there’ll be hell to pay. But Charley is enjoying the respect she’s getting as a doctor and relishes the opportunities to improve her knowledge. She’s also falling dangerously in love with this man who is as handsome as she is plain. Will he ever see her as a desirable woman. Could they possibly have a future together? And where will the enemy British Navy strike next during this War of 1812?

Thank you, thank you for having Charley practice state of 1814 medicine. She bleeds people, she realizes when amputations are the only way to save someone’s life and if she’d had them, I’ll bet she’d have applied leeches left and right. She’s also a natural doctor whose first concern is always her patients and who lives for new and interesting things to study and learn about. She has a fantastic bedside manner and knows the importance of having a ship’s cat to keep down the rat population. Can you tell I love the kitties? Her confidence in what she knows also gives her the strength to stand up to Captain Fletcher’s initial overbearing manner and earns her his respect as well as that of the crew. I smiled with her to learn that the crew enjoys not only showing up for sick call but then rehashing in exquisite detail every aspect of their illnesses, injuries and what “their” doctor did to cure them.

David begins the book as an arrogant ass but quickly learns he can’t boss the stripling Charley around. And that’s when he starts to relax and enjoy Charley’s company as a way to de stress from the pressures of being in total control of his ship and responsible for the crews’ lives. He even begins to worry about young Charley who has obviously never,… um, …you know! The scene where he force marches Charley to the finest little whorehouse on the island with orders not to leave before he’s sampled the best is a scream. Never let it be said he doesn’t have the best interests of his “men” at heart. Yet Charley manages to turn the night into another wonderful learning opportunity by quizzing the ladies about their work, thoughts on men and the best way to deal with the creatures. David’s amazement at Charley’s supposed prowess – based on the way the smiling whores wave “him” off – caps the whole episode.

The Big Reveal is done in a dramatic yet funny way with Charley almost pulling David under with her after she falls overboard and he tries to rescue her. His outrage at her deception is almost as great as the delusion the crew happily indulges in when David tries to “out” Charley to them. They know a good doctor when they’ve got one. David finally realizing the truth also allows him to explore those feelings he’s been feeling for Charley and which he was almost ready to give into regardless of her gender. And the sexing is hawt! Though I wonder – just how far does sound carry through a ship? I’m glad that Charley is realistic about their relationship- if this is all she might ever have, by God she’s going to enjoy it – and willing to take it for what it is. That is until the separation then final reunion. Then I’m glad she knocks David’s block off both physically – I do also agree with Charley’s anger at David’s delay – and with her newfound feminine confidence in her improved clothes and better styled hair. Thank you also for not simply removing some spectacles and revealing a swan.

David’s ultimate plans dovetail nicely into the situation you’ve set up. Sailing is his life and one that Charley has discovered is for her too. It will also allow her to continue to heal people though hopefully not from the effects of war anymore. David and Charley are now matched perfectly with strength meeting strength as well as making up for weaknesses. I’m sure there will continue to be fireworks aboard their new ship the “Harpy,” which BTW I love the name of, but they seem to be off to a good start. But where’s Pirate? I hope they’re sailing with their First Cat on their new adventures. B+

~Jayne

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