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REVIEW: Spin Out by James Buchanan

REVIEW: Spin Out by James Buchanan

Dear Ms. Buchanan.

It’s no secret that I love your books, your writing style, your voice. I especially loved Hard Fall, the first book in the series that has become The Deputy Joe Series (with another one in the works, apparently). And there are moments of absolutely sublimity in this book that just left me looking at my iPhone screen in awe, trying to figure out how writing could be so perfectly evocative. But there’s also a saggy middle, some repetition, and…well, I don’t particularly like police procedurals, so the book dragged a bit for me in places. But the emotional punch of the relationship is up to your usual brilliance, and that’s what really counted for me.

Spin Out by James BuchananDeputy Joe Paterson is in a relationship with Kabe Varghese — how they got that way is covered in Hard Fall. When the relationship comes out, he is excommunicated from the Mormon church, loses most of his community support, and is suspended from his job as a Deputy Sheriff, because Kabe is on probation and was a person of interest in a murder investigation.

What we learn in Spin Out is that it’s the probation part that is really the issue, not the person of interest part, because it’s an illegal abuse of power for a LEO to be involved in a sexual relationship with anyone in “custody” of the law, including anyone on probation. Kabe is seen as the “victim” in that situation, possibly coerced or blackmailed into the sexual relationship by Joe. And Joe’s on the hook for this, big time: he’s been called to a hearing that will decide whether to suspend or revoke his license to be a cop. Kabe has been subpoenaed as a witness to the hearing, but Joe convinces him that it’s not a big deal. He’s equally trying to protect Kabe from any worry, trying to minimize the situation for himself, and also truly believes that it’s his shit to deal with, not Kabe’s.

Which is how the relationship blows up, because Kabe is called to testify, and is blindsided by the intimate and intrusive nature of the questions he’s asked, and comes out of it believing that Joe doesn’t trust him enough to tell him about what’s going on in their life together. And he’s right, of course. The heart of the story is Joe coming to recognize how badly he’s wronged Kabe by NOT telling him stuff and how much he needs to open up and start communicating if he wants the relationship to survive. The emotional power of the break between Joe and Kabe is huge, and watching Joe move his fool self from utterly oblivious to fully committed to fixing his idiocy is wonderful.

But the narrative as a whole is also frustratingly repetitive and could have used some tightening in the middle a bit. There were parts during which Joe almost literally repeats when he said/thought a few pages previously and while I understand that he’s a stubborn son-of-a-bitch and the point is that he keeps repeating himself, I still think some tighter edits would have been helpful without losing the strength of Joe’s character or the power of his emotional arc. Most egregiously, on page 46, Joe talks over the phone with a friend of his, the only friend he really has: “Don’t know how long I was out there. Long enough that I sketched out the basics for Dev…and I didn’t need to fill in a lot of blanks.” And although Joe says “I probably left a lot of it out,” when he meets with Dev 100 pages later, I didn’t expect that Dev wouldn’t know that Joe had been excommunicated, that Kabe had received the subpoena. It was like the hour-long phone conversation hadn’t happened at ALL and that Dev was talking with Joe for the first time. I kept wondering if I was crazy. VERY frustrating as a reader.

This is all told against the backdrop of a police procedural murder mystery that’s got a lot more witness interrogation than I’m usually willing to read. I don’t LIKE police procedurals. I find them generally boring because they have little to do with the themes or plot of the emotional heart of the novel. And this one is, yes, a bit much for me. I mean, I like that the “mystery” is just hunting down the witnesses and not any super-skull-duggery, but watching Joe interview witnesses one-on-one, without those interviews having much to do with the emotional heart of the story, except at the very end, is…boring *to me*. Thinking about it, the themes of the mystery could match the themes of the romance part, but only if you squint.

However, I was more than compensated for my impatience with the police procedural part in a few important ways: 1. by the strength of the characters, by the realism of the situations — Kabe and Joe have a HUGE fight and nothing is magically fixed; they get back together but still have to discuss things…in their own way; and 2. by the sheer and utter beauty of your prose sometimes:

I knew—exactly—the moment I fell for him. “When we’re up on the mountain getting ready to go down for that woman’s body, you remember, you smiled at me.” It was like the sun had touched the earth and been born in his body. “That’s when I think I really lost my reason.”

“Because I smiled?” Kabe just sounded confused at that. “That made it all worth it—risking getting kicked off the force?”

“Because,” I tried to tame that whole whirlwind into a sentence, “when you smiled at me right then, I saw something.” I’d seen more than just something, I’d seen a possibility of everything. “See, there’s this light I feel inside of me whenever I look at taking on a mountain and pitting my soul against the rock. It’s like a passion, like I sometimes get for you.” Rubbed my face against his and just breathe in his smell. “And that light, that I feel down in here,” I pushed my fingers against his sternum, “there it was, all up in your face. And I’m thinking, he understands.” Oh, Lord, did he ever. “He feels the same thing I feel. When we went back up on the mountain the next day, I really wasn’t planning anything other than to actually go find that camera, but also just kinda be with you.”

Joe eventually figures things out and does it in a way that’s connected with the BDSM play they engage in. And there’s a LOT of that, btw, as hot as always:

Followed him on up into my bedroom. Watched him strip off his shirt and jeans. That boy was right fine. All lean, honed and hard. There were a hundred things I wanted to do to that body. It kinda hit me then, I’d been thinking on Kabe as being mine. Not like boyfriend mine, but like he belonged to me. That I could do what I wanted, because I wanted. And it weren’t like that. I could do things to him because he suffered me to do them to him. It got him off. And in getting him off, well I got to go along on that ride. Even if I controlled the when, where and what of it, it was ’cause he wanted me to. He trusted me to. That…it kinda went both ways, and I hadn’t been playing fair. I expected to know everything about him and didn’t give him nothing back. Even when it might mean he’d have to go through the wringer with me.

And that’s what makes this book so worthwhile. I could just wish that the middle had been tightened quite a bit. But the emotional payoff kept me reading this book long after my bed time and what more do we want from a book anyway?

Grade: B-

Best regards,
-Sarah

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REVIEW: All or Nothing by James Buchanan

REVIEW: All or Nothing by James Buchanan

All or Nothing by James Buchanan***WARNING: There will be spoilers in this review for the two previous books in the series. I will also discuss (with author’s permission) a plot point in this book that may or may not be considered a spoiler. I will mark the potential spoiler for THIS book more clearly.***

Dear James.

I immersed myself in All or Nothing the past two days and wow, was that an intense experience. This is a very dark book, very emotional, almost depressing — although you reward that emotional intensity with the closest I’ve ever seen you get to a real HEA (as opposed to your normal HFNs).

We’ve met Brandon and Nick before, in Cheating Chance (CC), where they get together, and in Inland Empire (IE), where they try to figure out how to make their relationship work. At the end of CC, Brandon is out to his partner but hasn’t actually said those three big words to Nicky (your trademark HFN). By the end of IE, he’s said the words *and* freaked out over Nick’s safety in public in the way only a romantic partner could, so that closet door is open a little bit wider than ever before.

This was one issue I had with All or Nothing (AON): NOT coming out, staying in that closet, is such a huge freaking deal to Brandon in IE that it’s the cause of all the relationship tension in the book. He then outs himself to at least five other cops at the end of IE, but the repercussions of that are barely mentioned in AON. This might be a lesson, right? Brandon had built it into such a huge deal but then it…just wasn’t. But that’s not made explicit in AON — it’s mentioned, but not explored. And while AON is on Nicky’s turf in Vegas, rather than Brandon’s turf in Riverside, I still expected more than just a few mentions of the effects of Brandon’s inadvertent outing.

Anyway…Brandon comes to Las Vegas from Riverside to visit Nicky for Christmas and New Year, but this time he brings his daughter with him. This increased contact with his daughter is partly Nick’s doing — he’s been pushing Brandon to man up and be a real father. Shayna is nine (boy, is she ever), she calls Brandon by his name rather than “Daddy” because that’s her step-father, she’s annoying and very much a tween (is 9yo a tween?), and I found it difficult to relate to her beyond the basic human compassion one has for most kids. Don’t get me wrong, she was REAL — I know kids like this — but I don’t deal well with other people’s kids (which has an acronym, Twitter has told me: OPK), especially not the bratty ones. Although I love that she’s bratty about keeping kosher.

So Brandon and Nick and Shayna struggle to both untangle and strengthen their relationships, while Brandon and Nick find time to get busy every now and then (hot, well-written bondage sex). And then Shayna is taken. She disappears and it’s obviously foul play and everyone falls apart. This is, obviously, where things get dark and intense.

What I adore about your writing is the emotional honesty of your characters. You let them be REAL. You let them experience all the shit that something like this would bring up: hate and anger and despair. They’re not brave, they’re not stoic, they’re not strong and understanding. They’re furious and despairing and guilty, oh so guilty. Brandon, not the most stable of people to begin with (as a cop says later, he’s a bottler), just implodes with guilt and fear and hate and inactivity. He can’t DO anything: it’s not his turf, he’s the victim, not the cop, but he KNOWS the odds, he knows the statistics on stranger snatches of kids, and he, literally, goes out of his mind trying to deal with it. You show his chaos, his mess, his insanity beautifully.

***SPOILER WARNING***
And when Brandon becomes suicidal, you show that brilliantly too. His suicidal “logic” is beautifully rendered and I felt everything along with him, which is why this book is so intense. And I LOVE how you let Nicky be pissed and scared and hating Brandon after his attempt. Yes, he loves Brandon, and that shows, but he’s got every right to be furious at Brandon too and I love that you don’t sugarcoat anything.
***SPOILER WARNING***

Some of the emotional intensity that I think is non-spoilerific:

Nick gripped the lip of the old wooden workbench at the back of his garage. Everything he knew about the world spun out beyond his grasp. It felt like he stood on a piece of cork floating in the ocean. Nick only moved in reaction to waves created by events he couldn't control. A sea of dark thoughts threatened to drown him, kill him, swamp his emotions under a deep, black abyss.

Bending over, Nick rested his forehead against his toolbox. Cold and tangible, the metal gave him an exterior focus. The past half-hour, the past few days, seeped into his pores like acid. As if someone pulled his nerves like wires, his face, neck and shoulders tightened up until it felt like the tendons might snap. "Stupid, fucking son-of-a-bitch," Nick hissed through clenched teeth. He slammed the butt of his palm against the bench. Almost a release, pain shot up his arm. "Goddamn selfish bastard!"

All the tension and fear he'd suppressed erupted at once, shredding his control. Bellowing an incomprehensible mishmash of expletives, Nick jerked upright. He spun and lashed out with his boot. The blow struck an old bucket full of stripped bolts and cast off car parts. The container slammed against Querida's fender, spewing metal bits as it spun off into a corner. Nick's blood sputtered with the rattles.

"Fucking bastard!" He roared and kicked again. This time his target was the front tire of the hearse. Slamming his fists against the hood, kicking the tires and fender, Nick yelled, "Asshole, fucking asshole," over and over. With each repeat the blows got wilder and his voice broke just a little more.

Fear mixed with anger and poisoned Nick's thoughts. "Why? Why didn't you say something?" Right then and there he hated Brandon. Hated him more than he ever thought possible. And he wasn't certain he could ever go back from that point. "You stupid son-of-a-bitch!" Nick pounded the car, taking his rage out on unyielding metal when he really wanted to slam his fists into Brandon’s face.

The mystery, though, felt a little off to me. The journal insets from the villain were just…strange. I know that was the point — this person is completely deranged — but I’m not sure that it did anything to explain the villain’s motivations.

***SPOILER WARNING***
Also, I guess I don’t understand why the villain would NOT have killed Shayna. While we can’t kill kids in romance, Brandon’s statistics are much more realistic than what actually happened. And after the buildup around the whole situation in which you show the police taking everything seriously, having Brandon and Nick go off half-cocked to check out the villain’s house because Brandon thinks that the police won’t believe him, won’t take the situation seriously, seemed a little unrealistic to me.
***SPOILER WARNING***

However, I bought it all while I read it, because I was so pulled in by the characters. This is stuff I’ve thought of since finishing.

The ending was perfect, a satisfying conclusion to the emotional darkness of the rest of the book. Our boys walking off, almost literally, into the sunset. They deserve their happy ending. And I’m so glad I got to follow them on their journey.

My issues with the mystery would normally knock this grade down to a B at least, but the emotional honesty and intensity of this book is too good for anything other than a B+. That’s the power of this series as a whole, but of this book specifically. Thank you for that honesty.

Grade: B+

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

P.S. For those who can’t get enough of Nicky and Brandon, there are three free shorts at James’ website.

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