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REVIEW:  Hearsay (Bylaws book 1) by Taylor V. Donovan

REVIEW: Hearsay (Bylaws book 1) by Taylor V. Donovan

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Senior associate attorney Derrick Swain wants it all: a loving husband, a fulfilling career, and a couple of kids. After years of hard work he’s on the fast track to a promotion. He’s also met the man of his dreams. A week of daily lunch meetings in Central Park provides the perfect setting to get to know him better, and Derrick thinks it won’t be long before they take the next step and go on a date. But instead of asking him out, the object of his affection stops showing up without explanation, leaving him to wonder what went wrong.

As part owner of one of the most prestigious law firms in New York City, Roman Bradford knows that professional success isn’t the be all end all. Although he’s been lucky in life, true love has eluded him for the most part. One too many failed relationships have caused him to be leery of trying again, until he meets a man that can only be described as temptation personified. A few conversations are all it takes for Roman to start believing things will be different this time around. It doesn’t matter that they are boss and employee, or that he’s feeling too much, too fast. Not when he can see the same emotions in Derrick’s eyes. Then life turns on a dime, and Roman has no option but to let his chance at happiness go.

A battle of wills ensues when a life-altering case brings them together a year later. Roman wants to do the right thing by not letting anything happen between them, and Derrick is determined to prove they’re meant to be together. Evidence will be presented and final arguments will be made. Will they be able to come to an agreement, or will they opt to have their potential relationship dismissed?

Review:

Dear Taylor Donovan, I have wanted to read your new book ever since you announced that it was forthcoming. I stalked your blog and the minute I saw that the book was released I purchased it. Unfortunately some of my book buddies, who were waiting for the book with as much impatience as I was, read it faster than me and warned me of the cliffhanger. That decreased my desire to read it because I hate cliffhangers. I was determined to wait till the second part was released but as you c see I could not stay away. And I am not even sure whether the ending could be called a real cliffhanger (even though the possible danger lies ahead for one of the main characters).

I really liked the settings in the book – the author clearly knows what work in a law firm looks like. I never worked in the huge firm, so I cannot attest to each and every detail, but I work in the profession in a smaller firm, and the details of legal work that are the same or similar for many lawyers, are spot on without any doubt. Whatever legal terms were used were correct, and the things lawyers do were described correctly. I really appreciated that, because I do not see it too often.

I also think that Derrick and Roman had an *explosive* chemistry when they were interacting and for me this is always a plus in romance – there is not much sex, but plenty of chemistry in this story. Unfortunately I really disliked the reason for unresolved sexual tension between main characters – I thought it should have been resolved much earlier than it was, because for me it made one of the characters look like a drama queen, and I had very little patience for that.

As the blurb states, after admiring one of his associates from a distance Roman made a very conscious decision to pursue Derrick, which is where the story begins. He considers the possibility that he may be sued for sexual harassment if Derrick is not interested or, if anything goes wrong, and because it is more than I get in some other romances, I was okay with it. Derrick is also interested in Roman, and later in the story he also considers the possibility that he may get fired if Roman is not receptive to his advances, and he makes a conscious choice to proceed anyway. What I am trying to say is, surprisingly enough for the purposes of this story, the romance between one of the Big Bosses and an Employee (Roman is one of the three senior partners of the firm, Derrick is one of the senior associates and on the partnership track) did not bother me. I was convinced enough to suspend disbelief which is no small feat to achieve, since usually this bothers me a lot.

In the prologue we learn that Roman started to court Derrick by inviting him to have lunch together for a week and a half or so, but at the end of that time he suddenly backed off. The present story starts about a year later and Roman is still very much in love with Derrick. Derrick still really wants Roman, and cannot figure out why his Boss and his Prince Charming (Derrick wants to have a Disney fairy tale and surprisingly that part worked for me very well too) suddenly put on the brakes. Take note, please, they are both dying to see what their courtship may bring, they want to have sex with each other and just plain be with each other, but for a year Roman does nothing. He does nothing, that is, except admire the object of his affection from a distance. He does nothing, despite his partners, friends, and family telling him to stop being an Idiot and go after Derrick if he wants him that much, especially since Derrick is obviously that interested. Derrick, by the way, was crushing and falling in love with his Boss for at least four years – no wonder he is confused.

We learn early enough in the book that the reason Roman backed off was because he learned he was in danger of becoming sick and he did not want to inflict that on Derrick, because Derrick, during the week and a half they had lunch together and talked for hours, said that he basically was not keen on seeing his loved one die, because he had watched his mother die from lupus when he was a kid.

I doubt that you will have trouble figuring out what Roman’s potential illness is, but just in case ( he only says it when the story passed the 70% mark on my kindle), here is the Spoiler cut:

Spoiler (spoiler): Show

Roman has HIV, his ex of six years gave it to him. I want to be very clear here – I do not begrudge Roman for being upset. HIV is a huge deal, and I am not living with it and as far as I know I do not have any loved ones, who are living with it. I cannot make any comments based on personal experience. Of course he has a right to be upset. However, no matter what the reason was, I do not buy that a 44 year old accomplished, brilliant, rich criminal law trial attorney (somebody who should have very few communication problems even about such a serious personal issue) would not have guts to ask the object of his affection to ask for clarification of what his comments (about seeing a loved one die) actually meant. I am sorry, but it threw me out of the story and badly.

My other problem related to that issue was how the portrayal of living with HIV comes off in the story. I again want to be very clear – the author is not saying that in these days HIV is a death sentence, of course it is not, it is mentioned that people who take medications live long and fulfilling lives, even the experimental drug Truvalda to protect the partner is mentioned as one of the ideas Derrick considers. The author is not saying it, HOWEVER Roman’s over the top dramatic reactions give a different impression, if that makes sense. It feels as if he is saying by his actions and reactions that it *is* in fact a death sentence, even though there words on the page which state the opposite. I just felt it was off for me, it felt weird.

For example, this is what Roman is thinking a few hours before he decided he would have a talk with Derrick:
“Roman felt like a death row prisoner in his last day on Earth. He’d made his confessions earlier, and now he was enjoying a special meal. The drive to Derrick’s place would probably feel to Roman like he was walking the last mile to the electric chair. He was praying Derrick would not kill their new relationship at the end of the night, but he wanted to enjoy himself for the time being.”

I guess maybe I felt that the story did not state strongly enough that Roman was being a little irrational in my opinion?

And then when Derrick finally learns about it, we have something like this:
“HIV wasn’t the end of the world. Not anymore. Some people lived decades without getting seriously ill after being diagnosed. But being positive was a game changer, and Roman was detectable, which translated into highly contagious. They’d have to be so careful all the time, and the virus would always be in the back of their minds.”

On the other hand at least it is mentioned that Roman knew he was overreacting when he gave Derrick separate toiletries (and thank God Derrick says that he knows he is not going to get HIV from Roman’s soap).

“Rationally speaking, he knew he was overreacting. But this was the first time Derrick was seeing tangible proof Roman was harboring a killer in his body, and he couldn’t help feeling like a fucking monster”.

In any event, the handling of all of this bothered me. I know that the way Roman behaved towards Derrick by staying away for a year bothered me a lot, no matter what the reason was for him staying away. However the handling of HIV issue also bothered me;, unfortunately I cannot quite put my finger on what bothered me, except that Roman’s reactions just felt too over the top even for such serious thing.

So this conflict between them which I discuss under the spoiler cut seems to be mostly resolved in this book (this is the first part in a trilogy, I believe, at least a second book is definitely mentioned at the end). The second, more external conflict arises from a high- profile, horrible case which involves one of Derrick’s friends, who is also a client of the firm, and eventually Derrick himself. This issue is very far from being resolved when the book ends, in fact it heats up a couple of chapters before the end and the book stops on some sort of cliffhanger. I say some sort of cliffhanger because despite the danger that Derrick will lose his freedom, somehow I did not quite buy the possibility and I cannot say more without spoiling it. I will be very happy if the second book roves me wrong.

I also think that the pacing was a little off, because this second problem was talked about in the beginning and then, while it did not completely go away it was barely mentioned till almost the end of the book. So I was a little irritated about that too, at times I wanted to scream at Roman to *tell Derrick already* and to see more about the case.

There are awesome secondary female characters in this book – especially Derrick’s friend Tashana and also Dani Contreras.

I still want to read the second book, despite the issues I had.

Grade C-/C

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REVIEW:  General Misconduct by L.A. Witt

REVIEW: General Misconduct by L.A. Witt

general-misconduct

Dear L.A. Witt,

When this book came up for review, I was particularly interested in it because of the Japanese setting.  And the descriptions of Okinawa did turn out to be the highlight of the book for me.  The landscape sounds beautiful and stunning.  (This was one of those books where I wouldn’t have minded some photographs to be included in the back matter actually.)  Unfortunately, the story was kind of boring for me and I struggled to finish.  About halfway I was hemming and hawing about whether to continue reading but at that point I felt I had invested too much time so I ploughed on.  You probably won’t thank me for that.

Aiden Lange is a newly minted naval ensign, stationed in Okinawa, Japan.  He has big career plans in the navy and is looking forward to his time in Japan.  It doesn’t start off that well.  He gets beaten (and nearly raped) by a gay Marine in an alley outside a seedy bar and the military police-type person (who I gather featured in a previous book which I have not read) advises him to go hiking in Hiji falls, post some photos on Facebook and tell everyone the story of how he fell on slippery rocks and thus bruised and cut his face and hands, rather than risk damage to his career by admitting the truth.  Even though DADT is over, I gather that being gay in the military is still somewhat problematic in terms of career advancement?  Or, at least, that is how it was presented in the story.

Naturally, Aiden has to actually go to Hiji Falls in order to take the photos for his cover story but things take a turn for the better when he meets Connor Bradshaw swimming in a watering hole at the top of the climb.  Connor and Aiden are both attracted to one another – the story is told in alternating first person POV so readers get to spend time in each character’s head – but are initially a bit shy about making a move.  Connor is a civilian – the son of an officer.  He is going to college as a dependent on his dad’s GI bill and living at home is part of the deal with that.  He is 20 but he seemed very young to me even at that age. Aiden is only 22 and doesn’t feel all that much older actually.

For reasons which are never made clear, Aiden doesn’t push to know who Connor’s dad is.  The guys go to dinner and agree to meet up again to explore the island.  After a couple of days, one of them makes a move and from then on their relationship turns sexual.  As Connor is very inexperienced, they take things slowly but at the point where they start kissing, most of the getting to know you conversation flies out the window and not a lot of time is spent showing how their feelings are growing.   Instead, I was told – and this rarely works well for me. Ultimately, I didn’t understand why they were together, apart from youthful hormones and when it turns out that Aiden works directly with Connor’s dad, and the shit hits the fan, I didn’t quite understand their investment in the relationship which would lead both to take the risk of continuing to see each other.

General Bradshaw is concerned about damage to both Aiden’s and his own career due to the potential conflict of interest and the appearance of being biased due to the relationship between Connor and Aiden.  He has no issue with Connor being gay – which was a plus and I really liked this aspect of the story – but he has forbidden Connor to date any military men (which leaves a very small pool indeed, because Connor doesn’t socialise with the local community because reasons).  The general also warns Aiden that he will do damage to the ensign’s career – including arranging for remote and boring postings – if the relationship with Connor doesn’t end.

This was a bad idea. A stupid one. Just like every time Connor and I had sneaked off to a beach or a restaurant or wherever over the last couple of weeks. We’d seen each other almost every day since we’d agreed to fly below his father’s radar, and I had the same ball of nerves in my gut every single time. The same certainty that we were going to get caught, that we were idiots, that I should really just tell him this was a bad idea and go our separate ways. Just call it quits before General Bradshaw made mincemeat of my career.

Apart from getting their rocks off, I didn’t see, on the page, the reason Aiden felt Connor was worth such a risk to his career.

Passages like this:

This wasn’t just about the sex we hadn’t had yet, or the fooling around we had done. If what we were doing was just about sex, we’d hide his car somewhere and spend every waking hour in my bed. Or these long drives would be to the resort hotels up near Nago, or the more cosmopolitan ones down in Naha.

But we didn’t hide.

Yeah, we fooled around sometimes, but we spent more time out of bed than in it. And I liked it. I liked the time we spent together, whether we were making out or going out, and that was the part that scared me. Connor may have been uneasy about taking the next step in the bedroom, but I was a nervous wreck over the places this was going that didn’t involve our bodies.

told me there was more going on than just sex but unfortunately, I didn’t see the falling in love occurring on the page and so my investment in them as a couple was pretty low.

There was also a lot of repetition in the book -

“For what it’s worth,” he said, running his hand up and down my chest and abs, “my first time was awkward as hell. And yes, it hurt.”

This was the third time this subject in very similar words came up in the book.  Anal sex might hurt. Aiden will look after him. It will be fine. I get it already.

The sex scenes were hot enough but I admit I was bored by the story and started to skim them because they weren’t showing me the connection I wanted to see. What I saw on page, reiterated my view that these two guys were really young and not terribly mature.

It was in the second half of the book, that two things struck me – one had been burbling along in my brain for a while, but my thoughts became clear in the latter part of the story.

There were almost no Japanese people in the book.  This is despite the entire story being set on the island of Okinawa.   I gathered that the American military kept generally to themselves and perhaps the book was saying something meta about how whacked it is that this was the case, but I don’t know enough about the context to be sure of this.  Basically, the only Japanese people in the story were servants (wait staff), or shown in servile behaviour.  General Bradshaw had a Japanese (second) wife.  Her only role in the book was to show  a character into the house late in the book.  Another officer had a Japanese wife and the sum total of her lines is included in the following:

As soon as I stepped into the kitchen, Noriko turned around and held out both hands. “I take it.”

“Are you sure? It’s—”

She beckoned with her outstretched hand. “I take.”

>.<

Connor had spent a lot of time on the island but had learned very little Japanese.  He didn’t hang with the locals and had no Japanese friends. There were NO Japanese characters in the story of any consequence at all.  In a book set in Japan.

Aiden wanted to explore the beauty of the Japanese landscape but he didn’t appear to be interested in getting to know much about Japanese culture and customs.  He didn’t appear interested in meeting any locals. Neither did Connor, who had been there for years already.  The juxtaposition of the lovingly described natural beauty and the almost complete erasure of the people was baffling and disturbing.

Which brings me to my second bone.  Where were the women?  The most “significant” woman in the story (who was mentioned but had no actual page time) was Connor’s mother who was not only an alcoholic but also an abusive homophobe.  Ding Ding!!  I counted five six women in total (the two wives, a waitress, a grandmotherly neighbour who was barely mentioned, an officer by the name of Gonzales who briefly appeared and Connor’s evil mother). There were no female characters of any depth or substance whatsoever. Gonzales at least was an officer and had a couple of lines which weren’t about taking dinner orders or removing dirty dishes but when that’s the best one can say about a female character in a novel, the barrel is scraped pretty clean.

If I had been more engaged by the story I may not have noticed (or at least, not as much) the absence of Japanese people and women but as it was, I was bored and not very invested in Aiden and Connor getting their HEA and those two things stood out to me as if they were surrounded by neon lights. For those reasons, my grade for General Misconduct is somewhere between a C- and a D. I have read and enjoyed other books by you and I’m sure I will again, but unfortunately, this one was not for me.

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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