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REVIEW:  Understatement of the Year by Sarina Bowen

REVIEW: Understatement of the Year by Sarina Bowen

The Understatement of the Year: (Ivy Years #3) by Sarina Bowen

Dear Ms. Bowen:

I’m not a big m/m reader but after devouring The Year We Hid Away and the The Year We Fell Down, I had to read the third book in the series. This is the story of John Rikker, the only “out” Division 1 hockey player, and the first love of his life, Michael Graham. 

Rikker gets outed at his private Catholic college and is kicked off his team. Harkness College offers him a scholarship and Rikker accepts. He’s completely unprepared for the rush of feelings he has when he sees Graham. 

Graham is also taken aback. Just the sound of Rikker’s voice affects Graham.

The sound of him was like being scraped raw. The rough quality of his voice turned me inside out with memories. Both good and bad.

Graham and Rikker are both intriguing characters but Graham carries the emotional notes of the book. His agony with his sexual identity is keen. He sleeps around, a lot, but particularly with his friend Becca. He wants to not be attracted to men but he is. I said on a podcast that he’s so far in the closet he’s in Narnia. (Then John, our former blogger who was on the podcast, said that it was a good name for a gay club but it would be called The Wardrobe instead).

Graham is miserable. He’s ashamed of his desires. He’s eaten up with guilt over how he ran away from an injured Rikker when they were attacked as teens. His self loathing is part of what makes it easier to forgive him for the sometimes shitty behavior he exhibits toward Rikker.

It’s not like Rikker’s life is all roses. His parents have shunned him so he went to live with his grandmother who is now ailing. He’s at a new college and a new team and not everyone there is okay with his sexual identity. He deals with his unwanted celebrity status, locker room pettiness, but is often surprised at the level of support he encounters. His complete acceptance of his own sexuality is in direct contrast with that of Graham’s. I particularly enjoyed seeing Rikker return home, meet up with his ex-boyfriend and basically enjoy being a college student without the added pressure of being a symbol for others.

Everything I love about New Adult is in this book. The college experience, the parties, the furtive dorm room sex, and the discovery of self. Rikker understands and accepts himself whereas Graham does not. Because of that Graham’s in near constant emotional turmoil. For Rikker, his emotional angst comes from being near Graham and not being able to have him.

They were friends as teens and then lovers, discovering sex for the first time together. While Rikker has had at least one other boyfriend, Graham really does it for him and Graham’s hot and cold behavior is confusing, arousing, and maddening.

There’s enough hockey to please the sports fan but not so much that it will turn off those who don’t have the first clue about hockey. It’s just a heartfelt, emotional romance that happens to center around two young men that, as a reader, I found it impossible not to care about.

Characters from previous books appear but are not intrusive. There’s a solid cast of secondary characters including one of my favorite– Bella. She plays the beard but doesn’t even know it. She has her own problems and worse, she’s half in love with Graham who sleeps with her but is in love with a man. She needs her own book stat. B+

Best regards,



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REVIEW:  Nice Tie by Jules Jones

REVIEW: Nice Tie by Jules Jones

tieDear Ms. Jones:

I was intrigued by the premise of this novella because I often find reading about kinks fascinating — the intense excitement they create, and how seemingly random yet intricately developed they are. Who would have thought that a story about someone with a unusual fetish could turn out to be so dull?

It begins promisingly, with Alex noticing a fellow frequent bus rider who often does up his tie during the ride:

Eye Candy pulled the tie looser so that it hung slack around his neck. But rather than pulling it over his head, he undid the knot and slid the tie free of his collar, giving it a quick snap in front of him to shake out any wrinkles. Alex approved of this sartorial thoughtfulness. The tie looked as if it was silk, smooth and lustrous. It was a deep red silk that suited the man’s skin tone. It deserved to be shown off at its best.

So far so good — the level of detail is believable, and put me into the head space of someone who finds this exciting. Unfortunately, it didn’t even try to keep me there.

“Eye Candy” turns out to be Robin Woods, Alex’s new client, and he recognizes Alex almost immediately: “You’re the guy on the bus who gets a hard-on watching me do my tie up!” This seemed startlingly quick and unsubtle in light of the book’s beginning, but in fact the pacing of the entire novella is off. When they have sex for the first time, Robin’s tie is disposed of in five terse paragraphs — one fewer paragraph than is devoted to Alex making Robin a cup of tea. And that’s pretty much it for the tie, but it’s only the first of many times he makes Robin a warm drink. We get to read about every single one of them.

“Prosaic reality,” thinks Alex when Robin suggests he drink his tea before it’s cold, and sadly it’s also dry, prosaic writing. I think the intent is to create a mood of growing friendship and warmth, but there’s no spark or wit to keep it interesting. Just detail after minute detail:

Robin pulled himself out of bed, took the mug with him, and headed for the bathroom. A few minutes later he was back, bearing a rinsed mug, which he set on the the tray before coming back to bed.

Alex went to clean his own mug and teeth. He got back to the bed and put out the light.

The second half of the story gets a bit of conflict with the arrival of Robin’s controlling ex, but much of it is spent reiterating and dissecting information the reader already knows. Although I appreciate the inclusion of a monogamous bi character (Robin) and the attempt to write an m/m story about more everyday, realistic issues facing “almost middle-aged” men, such as potential conflicts of interest at work, domestic violence, and navigating fidelity, this often has more of the feel of a how-to manual than fiction.

I’m not sure who the audience for this story is. I don’t think it meets the minimum definition for a romance — the relationship never progresses beyond friends with benefits — and as erotica, it was largely unerotic. Unless, perhaps, you have a comforting warm drink fetish. D



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