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REVIEW:  Mark of Cain by Kate Sherwood

REVIEW: Mark of Cain by Kate Sherwood

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When a man is consumed by hatred, is there anything left to love?

After a tough day of counseling sessions, Anglican priest Mark Webber is looking forward to a relaxing dinner at a local restaurant. When he sees who’s bellied up to the bar, though, he reaches for his cell phone to call the police.

It’s Lucas Cain, the man who killed Mark’s brother three years ago. Apparently he’s out of jail and hanging out with his old crowd, which has to be a breach of parole, right?

Pulled over upon leaving the bar, Lucas blows a clean breathalyzer and hopes this isn’t a harbinger of things to come. He’s ready to build a sober, peaceful life. His friends aren’t ready to let him move on, though, and he ends up taking refuge in an Anglican half-way house.

Thrown together, Mark and Lucas find common ground in the struggle to help a young gay man come to terms with his sexuality—and the fight against homophobic townsfolk. As attraction grows, the past is the last stumbling block between them and a future filled with hope.

Warning: Bad boys being good, good boys being bad.

Review:

Dear Kate Sherwood,

I had been hunting for good redemption story for what feels like months by now and yours certainly delivered what I was looking for and more. Talk about seemingly impossible to overcome and at the same time very realistic conflict between the main characters. I could not imagine how you would believably bring them together, because I could not really relate to such situation – meaning that personally I cannot see myself ever falling in love with somebody who killed my loved one. But you convinced me, you convinced me despite what I said about not being able to ever imagine myself being in these characters’ shoes. I was convinced that what happened made sense for Lucas and Mark, and I was very satisfied when I finished the book.

The book also delivered a lot of social commentary, which in my opinion was integrated with the romance really well. This is no small feat, because too often I think that social commentary in romance gets chopped in favor of the happy ending, or it gets so preachy that I start to wonder where the romance went. It is understandable on the one hand, but on the other I too often find myself wishing that the writer had never attempted the social commentary in the first place. For this reader at least, this story achieved a pretty good balance, and I never felt that the social commentary was too heavy or preachy.

As the blurb tells you Lucas comes back to his hometown, having been released early for good behavior. Three years ago he killed Mark’s brother in a drunken bar fight. You can imagine that not everybody is happy to see him back and Mark is one of those unhappy people. I was not going to blame him for that, even though slowly but surely Mark sees just how much Lucas has changed and how he has taken complete responsibility for what he did. I can imagine that some readers may find Lucas’ unequivocal responsibility to be a little too much and a little too close to martyrdom, but for me it was just perfect. Because a killing was involved, nothing less than what Lucas felt would have satisfied me. I mean, eventually I was perfectly okay with Lucas’ moving on to realizing that he deserves to live a happy life too and that he should not throw away his own life at 22, but I was glad to never hear a single justification from him. If anything, I was a little cynical and skeptical that he was able to experience such profound change while in prison, but I went with the flow because as I said, nothing less would have satisfied me.

“I did my time? Some of it, yeah. But Sean, the guy’s still dead. It’s permanent. His family, his friends, all the shit he wanted to do with his life? He’s gone, forever.” Lucas stared at his friend’s uncomprehending face. Sean was almost innocent sometimes. Like he refused to accept any of the harder truths of the world. Mortality. Responsibility. Guilt. “I can’t just go on with things like it never happened. Three years and then it’s all over? It’s never over, not for the people who miss him. So it should never be over for me.”

When Lucas comes back home a changed person, he notes that none of his friends have actually changed.
I thought that the author did a very good job in portraying how so many young men waste their lives in spending times in bars, drinking, doing nothing and seeking useless fights, feeding their anger.

“And there it was. Sean was actually angry, not at his friends but at this imaginary woman with her imaginary baby who’d had the nerve to imaginary tell him she wanted them to get their own apartment. It felt familiar but it did not feel natural. Not anymore”

I thought the subplot with Lucas’ friend Sean mirrored Lucas’ past situation to a certain degree and when life hit Sean just as hard as Lucas (although in a different way) I could not help but hope that it would be a rude awakening for Sean.

Lucas never completely abandons this mindset, even though he learns to believe that he can deserve a happy life, and I liked that the writer tried to portray complex human beings. Surely if we feel one thing, we can feel and believe in something else too, even if that other thing seemingly contradicts the first one?

The romance in the story is a very slow burn one, which is of course extremely understandable. Mark has to see in Lucas somebody worthy of the friendship and respect first and that takes a significant chunk of the book. Basically if you want a book high on erotic content, this one is absolutely not for you. There are some kisses in the last quarter of the book and one sex scene, but for me this was perfect for this story.

Mark is not portrayed as somebody who is perfect either. He did not always behave kindly towards Lucas, but then again Lucas killed his brother, so I cut him some slack. I thought that Mark’s being a priest played a significant role in helping him change his feelings for Lucas and at first I wondered whether this would have happened if Mark held a different profession. At the same time his faith is part of Mark’s personality, not just his vocation, so somehow it all worked well for me eventually.

Neither Mark nor Lucas struggle with being gay – they know who they are, they are not ashamed of it and they seem to be at peace with their sexual identities. However, as the blurb states, homophobia is still an issue for them in one way or another. It is an issue for a teenager they end up helping, it is somewhat of an issue for some folks in their hometown (and it does take an ugly turn at one point), and even though it was less of an issue for Mark’s job as priest than it usually is in romance stories, I wish the church people had had more guts than they did. I mean, I know it reflects a sad reality, but I cannot help but wish for something better for talented, dedicated people like Mark who want to help people and serve God as priests.

I really appreciated that the book often tried to acknowledge that some situations cannot be resolved neatly to everybody’s satisfaction and no matter how hard we try, somebody may still get hurt.

There is a strong happy ending for two main characters; however there are no neat endings for several side storylines. There are no neat resolutions about how some family members and some friends view and interact with the main characters, but again all of it made perfect sense for me.

Highly recommended.

Grade: B+

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REVIEW:  Drawn together by Z.A.Maxfield

REVIEW: Drawn together by Z.A.Maxfield

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Genre: LGBT Multicultural Erotic Contemporary

Rory might just be a simple southern boy from St. Antoine’s Parish Louisiana, but he knows what he wants. He’s been in love with the girl of his dreams, reclusive and mysterious artist Ran Yamane, since junior high school. And now he has the chance to meet her. He’s going to chuck everything and travel 1,500 miles to Anime Expo in Long Beach to tell her, and no one and nothing is going to stand in his way.
Ran Yamane is not a girl, but he gets that a lot. People come to him with teddy bears and chocolates and disappointment by the truckload. He’s trusted fans in the past and been tragically wrong. So when he meets Rory he’s understandably wary, but resigned. What he’s not prepared for is his magnetic attraction to the young man, Rory’s apparent willingness to overlook his gender, and the fact that their lives are both thrown into chaos when his number one fan (and psycho stalker) shows up to get revenge.

Review:

Dear Z.A.Maxfield,

I read this book of yours shortly after it was released in 2009 after almost losing faith that I would be able to find a m/m book which had some semblance of a story in it. When I started reading m/m year or so before, I first read three very good books and then a lot of very bad books. Your book helped a lot to convince me not to abandon m/m, but I have not reread it in years and wanted to see if the good memories I had would stand up to a reread. Well, they did and they did not.

As the blurb states, Rory and Yamane meet because Rory decides to temporarily forget everything else and go on a crazy adventure to meet the famous comic artist whose works he loves. He also thinks he has a crush on this woman.

“Why did you really come here?” Yamane asked. “I want the unvarnished truth.”
“To find someone I thought…” Rory remained silent for a minute. “Someone I thought I loved.”
“Give me your arm, please.” Yamane uncapped his marker.
“Why?” Rory did as he was told.
“Blind faith should be rewarded and outright stupidity should be eradicated. I haven’t decided which we have here, yet” He wrote something on the interior of Rory’s forearm”

Rory is due for a surprise – Yamane is not a woman, and Rory is due for a double surprise because he is attracted to Yamane. After a hilarious meeting and briefly getting to know each other, Rory is due for a triple surprise – a psycho stalker is after Yamane and they end up running across the country to get away from her.

First and foremost I think that if you want to increase your chances of enjoying this book, you need to keep in mind that it plays with a lot of things from yaoi/manga. I think the cover by P.L. Nunn puts you in the right mood. No, Yamane and Rory are not the exact representation of uke/seme because the writer made them more complicated characters with at least some real world characteristics, but there was *a lot* of uke and seme in each of them in my opinion. Rory may initially start out as a devoted, starry- eyed fan, but we see very clear that he is a “compulsive hero”, a “knight in shining armor” who would do anything to protect Yamane. Rory is also big and strong. Rory has been on rescue missions, does volunteering, helps kids in need, etc. I still loved him, his perfections notwithstanding. Rory is the one who is supposedly straight -but gets to discover his inner Gay For You in this story. It was not the worst variation of GFY (again, remember how often it happens in yaoi), at least Rory struggled for a few days, and he mentions that he had some repressed memories of having feelings for other men. For the purposes of this story I was able to swallow it.

Yamane often needs to be rescued during the story, he is much smaller than Rory, he wears his hair in a long braid (but gets upset when he is being compared to a woman), and he is half Japanese. And of course him being a manga/comic artist himself signifies an extra connection with yaoi storytelling. I liked ,though, that Yamane does not *always* need rescuing and when he is in real danger he is calm, cool, and collected, “but when he is imagining that something may scare him, he overreacts big time.” (This is a close paraphrase I believe, but it could be a quote which I could not find so I put quotes just in case). I appreciated the author tried to make Yamane more than your typical uke, but as I said before, there was enough of uke in him for me to keep saying to myself – remember this is heavily yaoi influenced and try not to roll eyes too often.

I partially succeeded – I found their developing relationship to be a nice fairy tale and was able to suspend disbelief and buy it. However on this reread I could not stop wanting to smack something with this book repeatedly when I was reading the suspense parts of the story. The men are running from a crazy stalker of Yamane (of course she is a woman) who hurt him in the past, and the actions of this stalker just made very little sense to me. Amelia is crazy; there is no other word for her. When I read the book for the first time I was not bothered by it because at that point I had not read so many other m/m books with over the top female villains, so I had not yet developed strong allergy to them. I kept saying magic word “yaoi” when I was doing a reread and I was happy that Amelia’s portrayal did not make me angry. There were also normal women in the story; no matter how small their parts were, so I don’t have a reason to complain that Amelia could be viewed as the representation of all women in the story.

What really made no sense to me was Amelia’s diabolical cleverness in finding Rory and Yamane several times, because, well, it just was not well explained. I was also trying to understand why her minions paid any attention to her considering how over the top she behaved in the first place.

As an aside – the detective in the story would give our heroes advice to run, which made me want to shake this detective repeatedly and ask him whether he had any other reasons to suggest that they should run besides author needing that in order for the plot to play out. I realize that I am not being very consistent, but there is nothing I can do with it – in some instances I could suspend my disbelief and in some instances absolutely not. The final showdown should be put in the “Absolutely not” column.

Grade: C-

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