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REVIEW:  Killing time by Jane Davitt and Alexa Snow

REVIEW: Killing time by Jane Davitt and Alexa Snow


Max and Kaelan, best friends and business partners for five years, are powerful casters with a tendency to get themselves into and out of all kinds of trouble. Pretty much the only thing they’ve been able to avoid is getting romantically involved – until now. Their sexual attraction hits them like a runaway fireball and they can’t keep their hands off each other.

While their sexual attraction burns out of control, they’ve attracted the attention of a dark caster named Jannes who’s planning a spell so potent that it could end the world. To keep them off balance, he’s targeting Max and Kaelan through those they love, and there’s no one they love more than each other.

With friends and family to protect and their only allies a group of casters who find it easier to fight than cooperate, the odds are stacked against them. So can Max and Kaelan keep it together and stop Jannes before he ends the world, or is the best they can do just killing time?

Dear Jane Davitt and Alexa Snow,

I enjoy your writing a lot. I think your books are well written, but I will not deny that part of the attraction for me is that every single story that I have read by both of you has the antagonistic chemistry between the leads. I am not saying that you keep writing the same story over and over, quite the contrary, I thought that in every book you manage to keep the antagonism and change “from enemies (or kind of sort of enemies) to lovers” believable and different.

Having said that, even such a goner for this trope as I am, I was eager to see if you could do a different type of chemistry and this book certainly is different. As the blurb tells us, what we have here are friends and partners who may be attracted to each other, but who fight this attraction till they cannot fight it anymore. Unfortunately, the way it was done kind of irritated me almost from the beginning.

Max and Kaelan meet in the prologue of the book – when Kaelan saves Max from a tough spot during a dark magic casting which he accidentally (or so he thinks) gets to witness. So far so good – I was looking forward to see where the urban fantasy setting would take me, because I love when a story deals with magic, any kind of magic.

In the first chapter, however, we learn that five years had passed and during that time Max and Kaelan have become best friends and partners in their magical business. They are trying to help people in many different magical ways, such as saving them from their own stupidity if they can (like a young idiot who summons a demon to bring her fiancé back to her). Sometimes they are successful, sometimes they are not, but they certainly try hard. Max is very good with shields and Kaelan is good with creating portals. They try to learn from each other, they know each other strengths and weaknesses; sometimes one walks in on the other having sex with the occasional guy here and there. In other words they are really close. They are so close that if Kaelan has nightmares, he has no problems with sleeping in the same bed as Max and having Max comfort him, and Max is fine with this too.

If one asks me what is wrong with this picture, with two friends being so close, I would say normally nothing. The only problem I had is that these guys are really really attracted to each other in a romantic way. I was not quite sure when they realized that they were attracted to each other as more than friends, but it certainly happened some time during the five years, somewhere between the prologue and Chapter One. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when it happened. Instead the source for tension is that both of them are trying to squash the attraction and not to act on it. Why? Apparently it will make them more vulnerable/uncomfortable/ and it will stop them from being friends.

And I keep thinking no. It feels like an artificial construct created by the authors in order to make the guys put their romantic attraction on hold till the story really takes off. I want to be very clear – I am not saying that I would love to see them being attracted and act on it the first time they met (or second, or third, really). I understand that the writers tried to do something better than Insta!Love, but in this specific set-up it did not work for me. I felt that they acted like romance novel heroes instead of real people, because apparently as the events of our story unfold, while they still think a little about weird obstacles which they create in their minds in order not to act on their attraction, they surely do act on their attraction and time- wise in the story it happens pretty fast. The story doesn’t contain gratuitous sex scenes, I thought whatever was there moved the story and their relationship forward, but I was rolling my eyes and thinking, why are you so convinced that you cannot be friends and partners if you also want to have sex with each other and maybe have a relationship too?

But I digress – I’m spending a lot of time explaining what irritated me and why I lowered the grade as much as I did, but in spite of these criticisms I really enjoyed Kaelan and Max as a couple and the urban fantasy plot of the story. I thought that when they allowed themselves to be together, they had great chemistry. I thought that because they became such good friends, their romantic attachment actually had more chance to stand the test of time, not less. I even thought that there was some character development taking place for both of them.

I thought the Big Bad Evil whom Kaelan and Max found themselves against was scary, and his motivations made sense to me. He was evil through and through, but he did not feel like a caricature, maybe because of his origins. I thought that the reason for his actions had a nice twist (not too big, but I did not see it) and I enjoyed how it was done. The magic system and how it worked in the world the writers created was very well explained, even if sometimes it was a bit overwritten (but it was not a huge problem for me – I enjoy different set ups for magic to work in different worlds). The only things which for me were too much explanation- wise were the excerpts from different imaginary magical literature which were put in front of every chapter. Sometimes they illuminated something important in the chapter in a nice way, but sometimes I was annoyed because the excerpt was trying to explain a magical definition, or spell, which was happening in the chapter already. I felt that it was too much “tell” sometimes, especially if the chapter went on to show me how the thing worked. I do sympathize with the need to explain the complicated magical stuff, but as I said sometimes it was a bit much even for me.
I also thought that at times the book was really funny.

“The creature must have thought they were dentists, because it opened wide, and the resulting blast of fetid breath came close to making Kaelan puke his guts out right there.
“I never knew halitosis was a lethal weapon,” Max said. “God, that is rank. And if you like the gel that much, buy some of your own.”
“Where is the fun in that?”
“We’re discussing this later,” Max said.
“If we have a later.”
The sea monster – Kaelan was referring to it as Nessie in his head since Max had labeled it female – decided now was a good time to try to eat them again. The shield had it back but compressed under the attack, bringing Max down to his knees next to Kaelan.”

Grade: B-

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REVIEW:  Relief Valve by JL Merrow

REVIEW: Relief Valve by JL Merrow

ReliefValve72lgDear JL Merrow,

I’m a fan of your books (although I haven’t read them all), I enjoy your humour and writing style and I liked Pressure Head very much.  So I expected to like Relief Valve.  Unfortunately, the romance felt underrepresented in the story and I didn’t get to know Phil better as I’d been hoping to do.  While I still enjoyed it overall, it wasn’t a book which compelled me to keep reading.  That said, the back half of the story was better for me – mainly because it contained more meaningful interaction between Tom and Phil.

While I think Relief Valve could be read as a stand-alone (in theory) I recommend readers start at the beginning.  There isn’t a lot of revision in this book and even though I’d read Pressure Head, I found myself a little lost at times, trying to remember what had happened in the earlier book.

**mild spoilers for Pressure Head follow**

Tom Paretski is a plumber who lives in St. Albans in Hertfordshire, to the  north of London. He was the younger “surprise” child of his parents; his brother and sister quite a bit older than he.  When he was 17, Tom was hit by a car when he was running away from some high school bullies. He spent a lot of time in hospital being put back together and didn’t end up going back to school. He is mostly okay now but his hip, with its pins and screws still gives him grief from time to time.

Phil Morrison is a private detective and he was also one of the bullies that chased Tom that day so they have history.  How they move from mistrust and dislike to attraction, forgiveness and a relationship is covered in the first book.

Tom has a “talent” for finding hidden things.  It makes him a very good plumber because he can find a leak in a pipe behind a wall in no time at all with pinpoint accuracy.  It also means that his friend Detective Dave Southgate sometimes asks him to help out in cases regarding missing people and property.   As Relief Valve starts, Tom and Phil have begun to settle into a relationship.  Tom is still a bit uncertain and he finds Phil hard to read.  This made it a little difficult for me as reader, because the story is told from Tom’s first person point of view.  In the first half of the book in particular, Phil doesn’t talk much (not that he gets garrulous by the end, he just talks more later) and, if anything, I found Phil more opaque than he was in the first book.  I had hoped to get more insight into his character in this book but in some ways I felt I knew him less well at the end.

Tom gets a call from his older sister Cherry, with whom he hasn’t spoken in a while.  She is a lawyer and is the executor of the will of a former neighbour who has left an odd bequest to Tom.  He has to use his “talent” to find the codicil to his “Auntie Lol’s” will.  When he meets with Cherry, she also tells him she’s getting engaged and invites Tom and Phil to her engagement party.  Gregory Titmus, Cherry’s fiance,  is a canon of the Church of England and a rather… unusual character.    Cherry collapses at the party and only emergency treatment saves her life.  When it becomes clear that Cherry has been poisoned, Tom and Phil (and the police, via Detective Southgate)  investigate to find out whodunnit.

In the meantime, Tom’s best mate, Gary (who is a gay man of the more flaming variety) is planning his wedding to the love of his life Darren (who is an ex-porn star dwarf).  Darren is not merely a prop or a caricature played for laughs.  He is a vibrant character who kind of takes over whenever he’s on page.  He’s pugnacious and kind of in-your-face  (he’s 4’6″ but always calls Tom – who is not tall – “shortarse” or names in that vein) and he is also deeply in love with Gary and very protective of him.  (Also, Darren’s former porn antics come in handy for Tom later in the book when he’s put on the spot at a meeting of the local literary society.)

Tom has a self-deprecating and dry wit which makes him an entertaining narrator.

Gregory guffawed. Seriously. I’d always wondered what a guffaw would sound like, and now I felt a gentle pang of nostalgia for my lost ignorance.

I mostly enjoyed the humour but there were times I felt it palled because I was longing for some further depth/insight into the relationship between Tom and Phil.  In some ways I felt the story manufactured conflict between them in the way that seemed incongruous to what I remembered of their status at the end of the first book.  At the start of Relief Valve, things seem uncertain between them but nothing untoward has actually happened.  I think it was a deliberate decision to save the sex scenes for later in the book and merely mention in suggestive phrases that they were getting it on regularly, but that added to the sense that all was not well – I didn’t see intimacy and I missed it.  Intimacy is what I’m after in a romance.  It often is displayed in sex scenes but it doesn’t have to be. Some of the most romantic books I have read have been closed-bedroom-door books.  But in the first part of Relief Valve in particular, that intimacy was lacking (perhaps deliberately?) and I was doubting the relationship.  In the second half, things picked up and I got some of that intimacy I was after (and sex scenes too) but it still wasn’t enough to really satisfy.

The mystery has a few red herrings, some of which I felt were a little clumsy and strange and generally, I found this aspect a little less engrossing than the first book.  That said, I’m not a big mystery reader (I’m hopeless at solving the puzzles and I’m suspicious of everything and everyone in a vain attempt to work out the guilty party before the big reveal.)  I think if a reader were to approach the book as a mystery with some comedic aspects and a slow building romantic arc too, it might be more successful than it was for me, who read it mainly for the romance.

I do still plan to read the next book in the series – revelations about Tom’s history made late in the book will tempt me back, and, when I get it, I love Tom’s and Phil’s dynamic.  I enjoy the secondary cast very much.  They are quirky and individual and well developed (which makes Phil’s character all the more frustrating for me). But, I’m really hoping that in the next instalment we find out more about Phil and get further insight into him.  I liked Relief Valve but I wish I’d loved it.  Grade: C+



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