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torture

What Sarah’s been reading, August-ish

What Sarah’s been reading, August-ish

The middle of August is the start of the school year for me, so on the one hand I’ve got way too much to do to find time for reading, but on the other, reading is a stress reliever for me, so I seem to be reading more. Or at least, sampling more and reading more shorts. All but two of these stories are m/m romance.

Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers (Avon): I’m researching the 1970s blockbuster historical romances this semester and presenting on it in November, so I should be reading a lot of these. I’m not quite halfway through this classic yet, but they’ve already had sex (not rape!) in which she came (multiple times!). I’m still waiting for the bodice ripping to start, honestly. It’s very well written, but SO much slower than novels nowadays.

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Dance With Me by Heidi Cullinan (Loose Id): Brilliant but flawed m/m that I will get around to reviewing at some point because of the brilliance. Cullinan’s books are amazing because her characters are so real. Not a perfect book but utterly worth it, just the same, as are all Cullinan’s books.

Goodreads

Muffled Drum by Erastes (Carina): I’ll be doing a review of this soon(ish). The writing’s brilliant, the characters are wonderful — and so TSTL that I end up yelling at the book every time I open it. The entire plot of the book is dependent on not one but TWO Big Misunderstandings, the characters make stupid-ass decisions, and it’s just incredibly frustrating to read, the more so because of the otherwise amazing writing.

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I Just Play One on TV by A.L. Turner (Torquere): I adored this book, so want to write a review of it…and yet I’m not unconvinced it’s not fanfic with the serial numbers filed off and sold as original fic, except I don’t know the fandoms out there well enough to be able to pinpoint which one it is. Which pisses me off. I’m all for fanfic AS fanfic. But I’ve been burned before by “fake” original fic. To my mind,  if the books for sale, it should be original. And yes, I know the Shakespeare argument. I know that many many fabulous authors got their start in fanfic of many different types. I know people can and should be “inspired by” all the time. But if I want to read fanfic, I know where to go, dammit.

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Two Christmases by Anne Brooke (Dreamspinner): I was intrigued by Sunita’s short review of Brooke’s For One Night Only, so I bought that, but liked the look of this one too. And it was really good, actually. Told from first person, Danny cheated on Jake, his boyfriend of 9 months, when he was drunk at a bar. The guy he cheated with, Marty, is an ex-boyfriend and vindictive over their breakup. Jake breaks up with Danny, Danny spends a year getting his act together, and Jake and Danny get together again at the end. It’s short — 30 pages — but there’s a lot of emotion packed into the pages. So much, though, that the ending feels really rushed. I wish Brooke had spent 2-3 pages more on the end. Grade: B-.

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For One Night Only by Anne Brooke (Amber Allure): Short as well, but I didn’t like it nearly as much as Sunita did. Very emotionally powerful, I’ll absolutely admit, but the first sex scene with Andrew was horrible, knowing that he would commit suicide that evening. And then why did Jake get to pull apart Langley’s painful romantic background as his own “penance” for Andrew’s death. Creeped me the fuck out. Grade: C- for me.

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Bad Boyfriend by K.A. Mitchell (Samhain): December release. You guys, it’s SO fucking brilliant, I just can’t tell you. Review on release.

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Seducing Miss Dunaway by Kate Rothwell (Smashwords): Self-pubbed short. Great writing, some plot holes that made me go WTF, but great sex and fun characters. I’m enjoying this a lot. And NOT a m/m romance! :)

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Secret Service by Kim Dare (Total-e-Bound): I’m on a Kim Dare kick and have an epic post planned, but this is a stand alone short about a service sub who just wants to serve anyone because his boyfriend refuses to contemplate any BDSM in their relationship at all. The boyfriend’s refusal comes from a bad BDSM experience, but of course he’s a brilliant dom who is finally convinced to turn their relationship into a power exchange. It was a fun little story, showing who actually has the power in a BDSM relationship. Grade: B

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Anchored by Rachel Haimowitz (Noble): I don’t even know where to start with this story. It’s set in an Alternate Universe of contemporary society that has slavery. It’s not racially-based slavery; it’s just that there’s modern society…with slaves. And no one questions that. While the main character Daniel questions some things he’s told to do, he never questions that he should be punished for not doing them. I sometimes enjoy stories set in slave universes, but that’s when they’re obviously fantasies, and I still prefer for there to be some indication that the narrative disapproves of the slavery. This book was, honestly, an excuse for non-consensual torture porn — Daniel is viciously beaten and gang raped as punishment, two scenes which comprise the bulk of the narrative — with the implicit narrative understanding that readers are supposed to see that this is acceptable and can be overcome emotionally by a caring sexual partner (who was stupid enough in the first place to send you to be gang-raped because he didn’t seem to understand how his own damn world worked). I just…gah. The thing about this book, though, is that the writing itself is incredibly compelling. Brilliant author; awful terrible world-building. Grade: F

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Master Class by Rachel Haimowitz (Riptide): ARC of one of Riptide Publishing‘s first books. Heavy-SM BDSM romance with deep emotional component. I needed something to wash the foul taste of Anchored away. As I said, Haimowitz’s writing is brilliant and when focused on consensual BDSM, it’s incredibly erotic. Will review upon release in November.

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REVIEW: Finding Zach by Rowan Speedwell (with bonus short story)

REVIEW: Finding Zach by Rowan Speedwell (with bonus short story)

Dear Ms. Speedwell.

I considered this book when it first came out in May, but I read the first bit of the excerpt and decided it was just a bit too much, too over the top, so didn’t request it. But, well, flattery will get you at least a reading. Thankfully, what I read, I loved, even if I still think it’s a bit over the top.

The book opens with a rescue. A group of US soldiers stage a rescue of hostages from a camp of a paramilitary group in Venezuela. After the gunfight is over, they discover the leader dead in his office and a filthy, naked, obviously abused man cowering in the corner. The man will only bark or whine like a dog. In a move that was a bit too pat for me, the soldiers figure out who the man is: Zach Taylor, son of the owner of a company that I think is supposed to be a cross between Microsoft and Nintendo. Zach was kidnapped five years previously, when he was 15, when he visited his aunt in Costa Rica, so he’s been physically, mentally, emotionally, and sexually tortured (abuse isn’t strong enough) for five years. (And readers beware: some of the descriptions are pretty graphic and very stomach-turning.)

Ignoring some inaccuracies (Zach would NEVER be taken to the “civilian hospital” by Fort Bragg. Trust me, I had my second child there. There is just no way. He’d be taken to Walter Reed or Bethesda, or to a DC hospital, or to Womack, the hospital on Bragg, or, at a stretch, to the Duke or UNC hospitals), we then skip ahead two years. Zach is back home in Colorado, living with his parents. The wonders of money are indeed wondrous: they all do group therapy every day, while Zach has an extra therapy session each day. At one point Zach says “The last couple of years had made him hyperaware of his emotional state from moment to moment” and this is what makes the book believable. Because these people talk. They talk about every emotion that even thinks of crossing their mind or heart.

I decided not to read this book when it released, because I’m very VERY wary of books in which love magically cures extreme emotional trauma (review of Kersten’s book). Zach had been tortured. For five years. You don’t magically get over that. Ever. And I didn’t want to read a book that implied that one could. This book, however, does not try to imply that you could. This book does a really good job of showing how devastating something like that would be. Zach is moody, temperamental, quick to anger, unable to feel normal or normally, unable to sustain a sexual relationship. You show how hard it would be to try to establish any sort of normal relationship with a man like that. And you do, to my mind, as good a job as one could do in romance fiction, in which the narrative, by its very nature, insists that Zach has to get over it enough to have his HEA.

And he finds his HEA with David, his childhood friend. David is three years older then Zach and the child of Zach’s parents’ housekeeper. They literally grew up together. At 15, Zach kissed David, which started the ball rolling that gets him sent to Costa Rica to visit his aunt, where he is kidnapped. Zach has refused to see David since he returned (for very good reasons that are a part of his emotional recovery), but David has been unable to sustain a relationship with anyone else because his heart has always been Zach’s. David returns to Colorado after another failed relationship because he needs to come back home. He tried to avoid Zach, convinced that Zach doesn’t want to see him. They meet, however and of course, and quickly become a couple.

Quickly, but not easily. No one tries to downplay the difficulties of a relationship with Zach, least of all Zach or David. It is also best to remember that these men are 22 and 25 and that Zach has never had a romantic relationship, has never had consensual sex except for bar pickups. Above and beyond the trauma, David has to teach him how to have a boyfriend. They have many misunderstandings and what I loved about how you wrote this book was that the misunderstandings never lasted longer than them talking with each other. Well, except for the mutual “he only wants to be friends even though I luuuurve him” that makes up the middle of the book that I just ATE UP. I *adore* that particular trope. The lovely lovely angst. Nomnomnom.

Anyway, Zach is much as you’d expect someone to be who suffered that type of trauma but has access to the best shrinks that money can buy. And the fact that he HAS has 24/7/365 access to the best shrinks that money can buy for two whole years makes the constant talking about their feelings realistic. And yet, they’re still guys. They still jump to the wrong conclusions about each other. They still fuck up and misread each other. They still go off half-cocked. But misunderstandings never turn into The Big Misunderstanding. Instead, they’re used as stepping stones to Zach’s self-actualization and recovery and the building blocks of their relationship. And that’s extremely deftly done, especially for a first book.

Every now and then, there are scenes which a more ruthless editor, or a more ruthless focus on the relationship, would have cut: scenes between Zach’s parents, or Zach’s parents and David’s mother, or following the reporter who instigates the final black moment. On the one hand, they were unnecessary and could VERY easily have been trimmed and mentioned instead in passing. On the other hand, it was nice to read a thorough handling of the situation, nice to see everything that happens. But really, I think if this book were NY-pubbed, many of these scenes would have been chopped.

The book is sometimes a little episodic. Everything’s fine, then whoops! Another Black Moment. But you do a good job of having something always be a little off, some secret not told that needs to see the light of day, some fly in the ointment of the HEA that needs to be resolved (to mix my metaphors) before the HEA can be real. And you never lose sight of what Zach needs to heal, even, perhaps, at the expense of the relationship. And that is Good. Zach’s trauma is never dealt with lightly. These guys WORK at this relationship. They work HARD.

So, I’m glad I was flattered into reading this book (this is not always true–I have read books before that I desperately wanted to like…but not so much). I will very much be looking forward to your next one. If it has half the emotional intensity and the deftness of character construction as this one, it should be pretty good.

Grade: B+

Best regards,

-Joan/Sarah F.

P.S. There’s a short story spinoff that improbably pairs Brian, the reporter of Finding Zach, and Jeff, David’s ex-boyfriend, a few years after the end of FZ. They get together and improbably solve all of Brian’s deep-seated psychological problems in less than 24 hours. That improbability aside (and it’s a big aside), it’s a sweet little story, told from Brian’s first person point of view. He’s funny and his character is strong, which I liked a lot. Jeff, on the other hand, is little more than a pop plot psychologist, there to straighten out (harhar)  Brian’s problems. But the black moment of the ending is angsty and delicious (“Please don’t leave. Please don’t leave”) and it was a cute follow on to FZ. Grade: C+

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