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REVIEW:  Conduct Unbecoming by L.A. Witt

REVIEW: Conduct Unbecoming by L.A. Witt

Dear Ms. Witt,

You’ve been reviewed at DA a lot but never by me so when I saw you had a new book out, I grabbed the chance to check out your writing. DADT is history now so what else is there to keep two men in love apart when they’re both in the military? The age old separation of officers and enlisted personnel, that’s what. Here it doesn’t matter if it’s heterosexual, homosexual, or lesbian – an officer and an enlisted person simply can’t mix it up. You hammer this risk home for most of the book but in the end I thought the payoff didn’t match the hype.

“As long as no one asks and they don’t tell…

First class petty officer Eric Randall is less than thrilled about taking orders to Okinawa. Three long, lonely years on a crappy island that’s thousands of miles from his daughter? Oh. Yeah. Sign him up. But as long as he’s stuck here, he might as well make the best of it, so he discreetly checks out the local gay scene.

Shane nearly drops his drink when the gorgeous, cocky-looking guy strolls into Palace Habu. He buys him a drink, and before long, they’re making out in a booth. Eric is a straight-to-the-point kind of guy and doesn’t want to play games. Since Eric’s idea of not playing games is getting the hell out of there and going back to one of their apartments, Shane is more than happy to go along with it.

What starts as a scorching-hot one-night stand leaves both of them wanting more…until Eric finds out Shane doesn’t just outrank him, he’s an officer. DADT may be repealed, but an officer getting involved with an enlisted man falls under conduct unbecoming.

Still, they can’t resist their mutual desire. There’s no reason anyone has to find out. But secrets have a way of outing themselves.”

Alternating first person storytelling means that some things are going to be rehashed. It didn’t end up being as much as I was afraid it might but it was still slightly awkward. SarahF called it lingering weirdness and I agree.

I know a teensy bit about the military having had several friends either in it or related to someone in it but still the details about their military careers and day to day job stuff is interesting in a “foreign culture to me” kind of way. But in a romance, I’m used to the main characters being around each other more. Here, Shane and Eric think a bit about the other after their initial meeting but then it’s on to their daily grind. This separation could be problematic for some readers who want more together time. Looking back on SarahF’s review of your last book, in your comments you mentioned this one would be on Okinawa and from the details, it seems like you’re describing places you know well. Still, some scenes tend to drag a bit, veering into travelogue territory and I found myself skimming to get past them. I did learn enough that I will never try Habu sake.

Eric and Shane are two very aggressive and straight to the point lovers. They’re both out – to themselves and as much as possible when they go out to gay bars near military bases. Neither wants to waste much time blah, blah, blahing. Interest? Check. Compatibility? Check. Place to go? Check. So let’s get the hell there and get this going. Once they get to Shane’s apartment, it’s Katie-bar-the-door and get out lots of lube because they hurl themselves into vanilla sex that sizzles.

DADT is dead but it’s still not easy being gay in uniform is what I’m taking from this story. No one can be thrown out but others can still be assholes and it can make life a lot harder, opening you up to all kinds of shitwadery that it’s better to avoid if you have the option. Thus there’s still caution and hesitation about being openly gay. Add to that the issue of the difference in rank with Shane being the officer and Eric the enlisted man (MA = master at arms, I love that this still sounds slightly swashbuckly!) and there’s the conflict going on here.

Fraternization is still abso-fucking-lutely one of the best ways to kiss your career goodbye. Eric and Shane both have lots of years already under their belts and want to stay in long enough to retire. Getting caught will shit can two long careers. So this looks like it’s going to be the main conflict as they are sexually compatible and compatible out of bed as well. But…when will the fit hit the shan? After a carrier sized load of angsting by these two about the danger they face in being out in public…we get one near miss. I gotta say I finished the book feeling a bit let down.

The plot sounds realistic, the characterization is solid, the detail about the place is knowledgeable, if exhausting at times, but with no personal compatibility problems the only thing left was the military issue and after an entire book spent building that up all we get is “whew, that was a close one.” I guess given the plot set-up there really was no other way things could play out and still have a HFN with a potential HEA and eventual Honorable Discharge for all involved but I still felt a bit cheated. C+



REVIEW: Once a Marine by Cat Grant

REVIEW: Once a Marine by Cat Grant

Dear Ms. Grant.

This book is one of Riptide Publishing’s initial releases as it opens its doors for business. I had high hopes for it: contemporary m/m about a member of our Armed Forces kicked out under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and his hero, a writer of m/m romance. Unfortunately, this is one of the most boring books I’ve ever read. Not actively infuriating — I never yelled at the book, I never rolled my eyes — but just unutterably boring, with cardboard characters, speedbump conflicts, ordinary sex, and no tension whatsoever.

Once_A_MarineCole is a former Marine major kicked out under DADT. He has (relatively mild?) PTSD and the first semester of law school is very very hard (cue tiny violins.) Marc is a waiter at a local diner who writes m/m romance on the side. He’s hoping eventually to be able to earn enough from his writing to make it a full-time job, so he’s very committed to it. Cole has breakfast at the diner, Marc’s hot for Cole because he has a fetish for military men,  Cole leaves his cheap pay-as-you-go cell phone in the diner, Marc takes it back to him, Cole invites him in, Marc gives Cole a blowjob, Cole throws Marc out.

And really, the emotional depth of the actions are just about reflected in that summary.

Okay, so Cole gets mad at himself for being an asshole, goes back to the diner to apologize, Marc agrees to go out with him again, and they both agree to take things slowly. But then Cole gets spooked when they touch in public, so Marc gets mad at the closet case. But then Cole realizes he’s being an asshole and it’s all solved! And then they quickly get together to the point that they’re almost living together. Then they ARE living together. Then Cole’s asshole father calls to say his mother fell down, can he come visit, so Cole goes home to North Carolina, and is shocked at what he finds, because his mother has early-onset Alzheimers that no one told him about. So he stays and casually asks Marc to join him. Marc refuses, Cole breaks up with him. Marc changes his mind, goes out to NC to be with Cole, who tells him maybe not. Cole still wants them to be together, but he can’t ask Marc to give up his life. He sends Marc home, eventually goes back himself, and…oh who cares?

Honestly, every barrier is treated like a speedbump. Cole has PTSD! Marc whines him into going to see a psychologist, so that’s all taken care of. ::dusts hands:: Cole’s parents are falling apart and Cole has to be with them, even though his father hates that he’s gay and refuses to get help for his wife. Cole asks Marc to move to NC because he has no idea how long he’ll be there, Marc says no, Cole breaks up with him, Marc changes his mind, Cole changes his mind. Each one of these steps is maybe a conversation. That’s it. Seriously! For example: Marc chucks it all, goes to NC, meets Cole’s father, who throws him out, which Marc just accepts. Marc tells Cole his dad will just have to get used to him:

“Marc, you don’t get it,” Cole said slowly. “He’s an old-school Marine with a very set way of looking at the world. Everything’s either black or white to him. Right or wrong. If he won’t even accept his own son, what makes you think he’ll accept you?” [Oh, okay, so rolling over and letting him live with his own hate is the way to go? Check!]

Marc stared at him, swallowing another sip of wine. He couldn’t have looked more stunned if Cole had hauled off and slapped him. [Yeah, no shit.]

“Look, as much as I appreciate your offer, I think moving here would be a big mistake.” Scratch that — now Marc couldn’t have looked more stunned. [Uh, yeah, me too. What the hell happened to getting so mad he wouldn't come out that you broke up with him. Over the phone?!] Cole scooped up his hand, cradling it between both of his. “Sooner or later you’ll start resenting me for making you leave your friends and your job and your mom behind. [You couldn't have thought of this BEFORE asking him to move? And then breaking up with him because he said no for all of these perfectly valid reasons you're now quoting back to him as if you thought of them first?] I love you, Marc, and I want you to be happy. But believe me, you’ll be miserable here. I don’t even want to be here. I’d give my left nut to get on a plane back to California with you tomorrow.” [So...why'd you ask in the first place? Why no apology for asking?]

“Why don’t we leave your left nut where it is, okay?” [Oh, har har. Humor!] There was that crooked smile he loved so much, and Marc’s comforting arms wrapped around him, pulling him back down beside him. “I like knowing where I can find it. And all your other parts, too.”

He carded his fingers through Marc’s dark curls [wow, I got REALLY tired of this image -- find another way to say "ran his fingers through his hair" please], inhaling the faint piney scent of his shampoo. “Go home and take care of Thomas. I’ll be back to see you when I can.”

“Still think it’ll be a few months?”

“Honestly, I have no idea. But I’ve got a feeling we should get ready for the long haul.”

“All right.” Marc sighed.

They lay there in silence for a while.

And that’s it! That’s the sum total of their conversation. REALLY? Marc came all the way across the country because Cole asked on a whim and then broke up with him when Marc said no, and then Cole completely changes his mind, and Marc says “all right” and that’s it! Can we have a little more emotional affect between these two men?

No, apparently not.

This book could have been amazing. Cole could have been deep and fascinating. He’s never had a boyfriend before, doesn’t know how to treat one, doesn’t know how to believe that he himself deserves a relationship. He misses the Marines, hates law school. Except…nothing’s dealt with beyond mentioning it, let alone examining it. Marc actually writes a story that matches their story, as they’re living it, but again, it’s just mentioned. There’s no THERE there, nothing insightful, nothing interesting, nothing beyond, “ooh, a writer and a Marine! Nifty!” Nothing about a writer having insights about what’s happening to him, or meta-commentary about his own story, or…anything.

(And that’s leaving aside the ridiculousness about how Cole’s parents could not have been living in the same house in Raleigh NC his whole life if his father had actually spent 30 years in the Marines, because there are no Marine bases in Raleigh and they would have moved around more than that anyway. But whatever…)

Anyway, it didn’t take long to read this story because plot points was all it was. But I can’t imagine myself ever reading anything else you write if this is the level of your story-telling ability.

Grade: D

Best regards,


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