All posts by Jayne Lockwood

01Aug/17

Shax’s War (Brimstone Book 3) by Angel Martinez (Audiobook)

REVIEW

For the purpose of review, this is the second series I’ve started in the middle, and as such, I have to make the assumption that most readers will have already read the first books.

I’m reviewing this because it is the audio version, narrated by Vance Bastian. It doesn’t take long to realise that I have to give this audiobook my full attention. NB: It isn’t a book to be listening to with your kids. The voices of Shax and Ness are immediately captivating, so much so that even driving is probably inadvisable, especially during the love scenes which, though infrequent, are S-T-E-A-M-Y.

Martinez writes good sex, that’s for sure, but she also creates memorable characters, cracking dialogue and fantastic story-telling, bought to life by Vance’s narration. A cocktail of caramel, cream and tequila, garnished with jalapeño is probably the nearest you will get to tasting the audio delight of this book. As a novella, it is a fairly quick read, but as an audiobook it is a fat n’ juicy 3 hours plus.

The story is basically a rescue. Shax the demon and Ness the angel are an established, loving couple, despite their obvious differences. When Shax plays dirty during a Trauma Ball game, it sets in motion a chain of events that leads Ness into danger and Shax on a desperate mission to rescue him from bad humans who want to harvest various angelic parts for their own purposes (eternal youth, etc.) Meanwhile, Ness is getting through his ordeal with the aid of a friend called Leopold, a sweet, pink hedgehog….

Anyone who loves Vance Bastian’s voice may find it hard to concentrate on what he’s saying, as opposed to how he is saying it. The audio quality is excellent and his narration first class, but because his voice is like a duvet made of honey and gossamer, seducing your ears, it almost upstages the book.

Almost, but not quite, because Martinez’s observations and comedic timing are pin-sharp and brilliant, as well as hilarious. I loved curmudgeonly Shax, angelic Ness and queenly Ivana, as well as Leopold, who may or may not be a figment of Ness’s vivid imagination. There are a few too many characters for me to follow properly, making the plot a little more convoluted than it probably needed to be. The problem with an audiobook is, it isn’t as easy to re-read if there is confusion, as you can with an e-reader or novel. But it’s a small quibble, because there is so much to enjoy here, it is almost an embarrassment of riches.

I recommend you listen at least twice, because you’ll find a lot to enjoy, not only from the sci-fi-tastic plot, action, adventure and colourful characters, but to wallow in the audial delights of the US’s male answer to the Cadbury’s Caramel Bunny. When a dream-weaver meets a cunning linguist, the result will always be a smorgesbord for the ears.

BLURB

Brimstone Series: Book 3
Next Book: Beside a Black Tarn
Preceded by: Fear of Frogs

The boys desperately need a vacation. With the not-quite-ill-gotten gains from the Frog incident, Shax takes the Brimstone’s crew to the exclusive resort planet, Opal, for some much needed rest and relaxation. The resort has everything a demon prince and his crew could want, but an incident on the Trauma Ball court sends Ness stalking off in anger and sends events swiftly spiraling out of control.

Shax will need every bit of his cunning and his legendary luck to save his Ness as he’s drawn into a web of criminal experiments and…pink hedgehogs?

Novella: 40,500 words/178 pages

THE BRIMSTONE SERIES
Potato Surprise: A Brimstone Prequel
Hell for the Company
Fear of Frogs
Shax’s War
Beside a Black Tarn

01Aug/17

Town & Train by James K. Moran

Speculative realist writer, James K. Moran, has been chatting to Vance on our show! To learn more about him and get links to his work, give Episode 122: Horror Is My First Love a listen.

REVIEW

A slice of small-town Americana, spliced with horror, is always going to be a satisfying mix. The two seem to compliment each other, as they do here when various characters who want to escape their hum-drum existence, accidentally summon a snorting demon from the gates of Hell.

The author has an interesting style, letting the reader get to know each character in short, sharp well-observed snippets, so you care about them before he starts killing them off. There is David, new-to-the-area cop and closeted bisexual, who is tasked with solving the mystery of the train and the disappearance of various townspeople. He’s seen it, but no-one seems inclined to believe him. And there is teenage dirtbag John, a bullied, wannabe metalhead who refuses to be a victim, courting his chief tormentor’s girlfriend. That tormentor is Cutter, soon-to-be undead metal freak responsible for most of John’s miseries. John wakes up by the rail tracks to see Cutter and his pals being whisked away to undoubtedly certain death.

The real villain of the piece is the titular demonic chuff that turns up at seemingly random times, after the sultry conductor “hears the townspeople’s call.” This was a bit tenuous, to be honest. I didn’t get a sense of rhythm or a build-up to when this would happen. The reason for it to turn up in the first place is also a little thin. After all, surely wanting economic wealth and growth for a town isn’t a bad thing? But doing anything to get it, including protecting odious individuals from just punishment IS a bad thing, which made sense. When people start disappearing, it is obvious that something strange is going on. When one person seems to be alive and normal, but isn’t, that is an idea that could have been expanded further before the confusing finale.  Yet the train is genuinely menacing, and there are some great atmospheric scenes that make up for hiccups in the plot.

Which was a little hit and miss. The subplot of Grant and his mistress ended somewhat unsatisfactorily, as most affairs do, and I couldn’t see the tie-in with the main plot. It was all a little too neat. The town pedo also didn’t seem to get the reward he was no doubt entitled to. Interesting that there was some attempt to make him sympathetic, but we make our choices, and for me, that didn’t work. In places, I found the denouement to be a little incoherent, especially towards the end, necessitating a couple of reads to make sure I understood it – I’m still not sure I do. Some major characters just seemed to disappear, without the neat ending. This seems a contradiction, but there are times when tying everything up is okay, and times when it isn’t. In this book, the lines are blurred.

Having said that, I loved the inventiveness of the plot, the building of atmosphere, the genuinely scary moments a la James Herbert or Stephen King. There are Koontz-esque scenes of banal normality set against an increasingly glowering backdrop, and a sense of impending doom as both David and John independently try to figure out how to prove that the town is being haunted by a ghost train from hell. And the characters, apart from the nasty ones, are genuinely likeable. Although David drinks WAY too much and still seems to function perfectly well.

So, a little uneven in places, but with characters to care about, and a genuinely frightening antagonist, set against the backdrop of a dying town overshadowed by  a stinking paper mill, this has atmosphere by the bucketload and enough scares to give a late-night shiver.

BLURB

In a small Ontario town, seventeen-year-old John Daniel wakes by the railroad tracks with no recollection of how he got there. Something called him from his bed. Officer David Forester, a recent transfer from Toronto, struggles to fit into the local police force, despite resistance from established circles. Both soon suspect a more pervasive and menacing collusion occurring in town when an antique steam train arrives late in the night. At the phantasmal engine, a conductor promises the desperate locals escape from their town dying with so many closed stores and shattered dreams–but there is no denying what the stranger really brings is the stuff of nightmares.

 

25Jul/17

Remains by J. Warren

Scholastic author J. Warren has recently been on our show! To find out more about what makes him tick, and get links to his work, listen to Episode 121: So That’s a Thing!

REVIEW

Told in the first person, this is a deep, dark and compelling book. Mike Kendall is a troubled man, on meds and having therapy to untangle the torments of his past, when he is told to go home to his folks for Thanksgiving. At the same time, bones have been found, which might belong to a boy he was friendly with in his teens.

The author has been very clever, as the whole way through the book, I wasn’t sure whether Mike was a good guy, or a bad guy trying to cover up past crimes (no spoilers.) For a while, I didn’t actually like him very much. He didn’t seem that caring towards his girlfriend, forever waiting for him to call her, or particularly sympathetic towards his sister, whose lesbian affair was alienating her from their parents. But I know that people with mental health issues can sometimes come across as unlikeable, so the author had hit the mark with Mike dead on. When we find out the reason for all his past torments, it seemed a little too easy, but there was enough to keep the mind ticking over with everything else going on around him.

It’s difficult to say much more without letting slip some of the many secrets the small town of Placeville holds, but I can say that there are many, and they are very dark indeed. I genuinely did not see the denouement coming, and I wasn’t expecting the satisfaction I felt at the very end. In fact, I read it twice to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

Anyone fascinated by the “small-town America seething with murky skeletons in the closet” genre, will love this. It is a Salinger-esque character study of one man, but also one place, the town, and the lengths it will go to, to remain normal on the outside. Again, I’m choosing words carefully, so as not to spoil anything. There are elements of horror, of murder/mystery, of sex (and one extremely well-written intimate scene, blooming into a fledgling relationship) and social commentary, as well as the complicated dynamics within a fragmenting family. Half-way through Remains I realised I didn’t want to put the book down until I’d finished it. It was a slow burn, to be sure, but well-worth the effort.

BLURB

J. Warren’s Remains is an insular story, almost claustrophobic as we first join Mike Kendall where he lives: walled up in his own mind. As the book progresses, Kendall is drawn back to his hometown of Placerville, when the remains of a long-missing boy are finally found, a boy Kendall had shared a complicated history. No matter how much Kendall tries to resist the underside of the mystery behind Randy McPherson’s disappearance, he must confront the lies that he has built his life upon.

24Jul/17

Oliver & Jack at Lodgings In Lyme by Christina E. Pilz

REVIEW

I was gifted an ARC of this book in return for an honest and fair review.

I don’t usually start a series in the middle, but I wanted to read Lodgings in Lyme as I know the area reasonably well. Also, I would be reading the book at the very time I would be staying there.

I had no idea what to expect, going into the series completely cold. This is the continuing saga of two young men who love each other, but haven’t acknowledged it physically yet, an audacious, yet not terribly serious, tale of what it was like to be young, gay, and the wrong side of the law in the 1880’s. Jack and Oliver (Jack “Artful Dodger” Dawkins and Oliver Twist – all grown up) are on the run and have to get out of London after a crime that would see Oliver hanged if he was found out. Jack has some nebulous plan to head to Lyme Regis to find out more about his long lost family, but before that, they have to stay one step ahead of the law. Jack is also injured and getting more unwell by the moment, and spending hours in a creaky, leaky coach isn’t doing his health any good at all.

First off, one minor niggle to point out and put aside. The cover, stunning as it is, but the picture is not of Lyme Regis! Call me petty, but it did make me question the quality of the book before I had even opened it. Some readers might then start picking holes in the fabric of the book on this point alone, but that would be a shame, because aside from the artistic licence given to the photograph, the author has obviously researched her subject with forensic detail. The historical setting and language is convincing. She hasn’t tried to ape Dickens; not at all, but put her own spin on two well-loved characters and in doing so, made them her own.

Oliver is still the golden boy, possibly able to get away with murder, and Jack is the wild card, still not able to let go of his thieving ways, missing the “craft” of what he does best. He is ill-mannered, even to those who want to help him, which doesn’t make him that sympathetic. It seems as if Oliver’s charms aren’t rubbing off on him yet. I hope they do, because at the moment, I don’t care for him very much at all. Considering the precarious position they are in, relying on the charity of strangers, his behaviour seems self-destructive at best. His only redeeming feature is his obvious love for Oliver, and the lengths he will go to, to protect him. Oliver, on the other hand, seems very capable of looking after himself, and his doe-eyed innocence does not seem very convincing after a while. They are an odd couple but somehow, it works.

I loved the authentic voices, the descriptive scenes and historical detail, all given a lightness of touch which saves this series from being weighty and full of its own importance. Instead, there is a mischievousness to the dialogue and tenderness during the intimate scenes. The sex, when it happens, is not lengthy or lurid, but is well-written and cleverly dealt with. Sexy, yes, but not gratuitously so.

In the end, I would be very intrigued to discover the fate of these two men. History shows us that a HEA isn’t really feasible, but this is MM historical fiction, and anything can happen. It will be interesting to find out. I just hope that Jack relinquishes his uncouth ways before they lead both him and Oliver to the gallows.

 

BLURB

An ex-apprentice and his street thief companion flee the dangers of Victorian London and the threat of the hangman’s noose in search of family and the promise of a better life.

After Oliver Twist commits murder to protect Jack Dawkins (The Artful Dodger), both must flee London’s familiar but dangerous environs for safety elsewhere. Together they travel to Lyme Regis in the hopes of finding Oliver’s family. Along the way, Jack becomes gravely ill and Oliver is forced to perform manual labor to pay for the doctor’s bills.

While Oliver struggles to balance his need for respectability with his growing love for Jack, Jack becomes disenchanted with the staid nature of village life and his inability to practice his trade. But in spite of their personal struggles, and in the face of dire circumstances, they discover the depth of their love for each other.

07Jul/17

Review of Daimonion by J. P. Jackson

The dark n’ sweet J.P. Jackson visited our show just last week! To hear his interview with Vance and find out more about his debut horror fantasy novel, Daimonion (The Apocalypse Book 1), published on July 10 2017, follow this link! Episode 119: I Like Flirting With The Darkness

REVIEW

I was gifted an ARC for an honest and fair review.

Daimonion is many things. The first book in The Apocalypse trilogy, a debut novel, and a blood-spattered, gory quest for one demon who struggles with the whole “killing kids” thing. The book is told in the first person, and has more than one protagonist, but it works because they are each given a chapter, clearly marked. This can go horribly wrong, but not in this case.

Dati is the main character, a demon who is a bit hapless, to be honest. Despite his his job description, he seems to have a human side, which gets him into all sorts of trouble, especially when he tries to save one special person who eventually ends up in a cocoon. He just seems to have the kiss of death about him, but I liked him because he was obviously struggling with unfamiliar feelings. Obsession, rather than love, but for a demon, it’s a start….

I couldn’t fault the writing at all. There were no faltering mis-steps at any stage, so I felt I was in good hands, which was essential as urban fantasy horror is not a genre I’m familiar with. I usually like my horror to to have a human heart, allbeit one that has been dragged across a gravel road, still beating. This was unfamiliar and it took me a few pages to really get into it. But I did because the author has obviously had a huge amount of fun, throwing in satyrs, vampyres (not sparkly ones), shape-shifters and blood-thirsty demons, and a succubus so sexy I almost fancied her myself.

At first, I thought I was going to miss the human set-up before realising that it was there, but told from the demon’s side, something I’ve never experienced before. The most memorable human was the girl, untrained witch, Jenae, also a stroppy teenager, which I loved. Her voice was en pointe, a thoroughly modern witch, without resorting to stereotype. The dialogue was sharp and there was a lot of humour, but not in a slapstick way. The book didn’t take itself too seriously, as some of these books about an imminent Apocalypse can be. The bombastic horror is inescapable, but balanced with a lightness of touch. It’s an interesting concept and a risky one, but it works.

One quibble would be that the plot was slightly confusing, as books with lots of characters and unfamiliar names always are (to me.) With first books, there is a tendency to throw in the kitchen sink, just in case you never write another one, and I sensed an element of that, even though the book is part of a trilogy. Now that everyone has been introduced, it will be really interesting to see how the plot develops. With a less frantic pace, the reader will have more breathing space to sit back, relax and enjoy.

As well as the icky parts, the descriptions were fantastic, steeping the reader in a post-modern, urban world with utter conviction. Monster dogs, magic, creatures of fantasy move around an indeterminate city, scenes of torture are gut-twisting but never seem gratuitous. The characters all had some element which kept them from being unsympathetic, apart from Master, who is badass (but then, he has to be…) Alyx, Dati’s potential/possible love interest, did get more interesting as the book unfolded, as well as Dati’s inner conflict over unfamiliar feelings for him.

To round up, this is a steaming, visceral debut novel for those who like their urban fantasy steeped in blood and gore, and demons wrestling with human dilemmas.

BLURB

Dati Amon wants to be free from his satyr master and he hates his job—hunting human children who display demon balefire. Every hunt has been successful, except one. A thwarted attempt ended up as a promise to spare the child of a white witch, an indiscretion Dati hopes Master never discovers.

But Master has devilish machinations of his own. He needs human-demon hybrids, the Daimonion, to raise the Dark Lord to the earthly realm. If Master succeeds, he will be immortal and far more powerful.

The child who was spared is now a man, and for the first time in three hundred years, Dati has a reason to escape Master’s chains. To do that, Dati makes some unlikely alliances with an untrained soulless witch, a self-destructive shape shifter, and a deceitful clairvoyant. However, deals with demons rarely go as planned, and the cost is always high

06Jul/17

Review of Spinning The Record: Stories by Robert Hyers

I was gifted a copy for an honest and fair review. The book is available in ebook, paperback and as an audiobook. We will have the pleasure of interviewing Robert Hyers later in the summer!

Don’t let the rather lofty blurb put you off. Robert Hyers’ anthology of short stories is a pleasure to read. Amidst the pin-sharp observations and savage wit, there are also gripping, staggeringly-detailed and well-written tales, all set amidst the gay club scene.

And a what a scene it is; dripping with drag queens, twinks, muscle-boys, and ordinary, newly-out men stumbling around as they try to find their feet in a vivid, complicated new world. The fashion, the music, the threat of homophobic violence at every turn. And the drugs…

There are a LOT of drugs, with some graphic details of their use and aftermath, enough to make a middle-aged lady clutch her pearls. Nothing is really glamorised. Instead, it is searingly honest, telling of the dark side of all the seemingly carefree, hedonistic fun. There’s nothing in the way of balls-to-the-wall sex, but it is implied, and that makes it all the more potent. It’s a heady, painful mix that will ring true for many men, whatever their age, race and financial circumstances.

It is all here, an oozing, sticky melting-pot that you will want to stick your finger into again and again, even though sometimes, the ingredients are hard to digest. I read this all in one gulp, as once I had read the first story, I couldn’t actually put the book down. This is a world I’m unfamiliar with; a frightening, colourful, dangerous world. It is hard to choose a standout, but the stories that stick in my mind the most are Bosom Buddies and Bacchae. The first is the stage performance of two drag queens, one reaching for the stars, the other falling from them. Any story that features RuPaul’s Drag Race will immediately have my attention, and the result is savage but hilarious. It is one of the shortest stories, but packs a powerful punch.

The second, Bacchae, concerns two men out with their “fag hag” female friend, ostensibly to pull her out of postpartum depression. I hate, hate, hate the term “fag hag” but it fits in this book, and anyway, the story isn’t about her. It’s about a kiss, a misunderstanding, dreams dashed and a spark of hope. Bittersweet and beautiful.

BLURB

Spinning The Record documents the search of its impoverished queer white and Latino protagonists for individuality inside the spectrum of the gay identity. Within the primary settings of gay clubs and raves in Manhattan and urban areas of New Jersey, these protagonists search for meaning and identity through illicit drugs, sex, pop culture, Greek mythology, and Christian iconography.

 

 

 

 

25Jun/17

Review of Ardulum: First Don by J.S. Fields

Out-of-this-world guest J.S. Fields joined us very recently on our show! To hear more about her and get links to her work, click on Episode 117: And She Really Liked Ladies!

REVIEW

I’m a bit of a lightweight when it comes to science fiction. I like familiarity, something to grasp at like a life buoy when the science becomes a little too … sciency. I like names I can pronounce, characters with Earth-like problems, and a setting I can almost identify with. Not quite, but almost.

Ardulum has none of these things, and as a result, I struggled with it. Names like Ggllyll and Mmnnuggl kept cropping up, as well as the occasional use of non-binary pronouns (zir/ze) and this made it a challenging read, especially for a novice science-fiction reader.

Having said that, the quality of the writing shines through. The author’s ability to keep the reigns of a complex plot, packed full of technical detail and vulnerable, believable characters, is testament to how much skill she has. Neek is an (other-)worldly wise, legally paid pirate, travelling through space, delivering goods across the galaxies. Exiled from her people by daring to voice her scepticism over the existence of the Ardulum, ancient people who enriched the lives of her ancestors before vanishing into legend, she is destined to roam the star-systems as a disgraced non-believer. Enter slave child Emn, who could be the one person to bring her peace, or is she?

There is a lot to take in, from the complicated relationships between the protagonists to the large cast of secondary characters. The author knows what she is doing. That much is obvious. The plot is sure-footed, lifted up by confident writing with sure knowledge of the science involved. As I said, I’m a novice, and this book scares me to death and makes me feel just a bit stupid for not fully grasping it. This isn’t intentional on part of the author. Her intellectual approach to the story is just way above my pay grade. The hardened sci-fi readers will lap it up. It has everything they need, from slick gadgetry to crunchy violence, a strong main character and enough tech-talk for buffs to argue over for years. I said before that I struggled with the occasional appearance of non-binary pronouns, but that’s a personal thing. If they work anywhere, they should work best in a sci-fi setting. It shouldn’t put readers off, but it’s worth mentioning.

So I wish I was able to “get” this more. The time, love and craftwork put into constructing the book is obvious and I appreciate it. I hope seasoned sci-fi readers give it the attention and praise it no doubt deserves.

 

BLURB

Ardulum. The planet that vanishes. The planet that sleeps.

Neek makes a living piloting the dilapidated tramp transport, Mercy’s Pledge, and smuggling questionable goods across systems blessed with peace and prosperity. She gets by—but only just. In her dreams, she is still haunted by thoughts of Ardulum, the traveling planet that, long ago, visited her homeworld. The Ardulans brought with them agriculture, art, interstellar technology…and then disappeared without a trace, leaving Neek’s people to worship them as gods.

Neek does not believe—and has paid dearly for it with an exile from her home for her heretical views.

Yet, when the crew stumbles into an armed confrontation between the sheriffs of the Charted Systems and an unknown species, fate deals Neek an unexpected hand in the form of a slave girl—a child whose ability to telepathically manipulate cellulose is reminiscent of that of an Ardulan god. Forced to reconcile her beliefs, Neek chooses to protect her, but is the child the key to her salvation, or will she lead them all to their deaths?

 

24May/17

Review of Their Plane From Nowhere by Princess. S. O.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. The author is a memorable presence on social media, with outspoken views and unafraid to stand up for strongly-held values, but can they actually write?

The short answer is …. hell yes! This is a massively entertaining, angsty yet tender, hot in places, story of two guys in their fifties (how refreshing…) who ain’t pretty to anyone apart from each other (their own words,) who have already found true, lasting love after a lifetime of tragedy, regrets and missed opportunities. There’s no “will they/won’t they” moments, as these guys have already found a happiness of sorts, even though their family lives and friendships are complicated to say the least, especially when the truth comes out about their relationship.

This novella is the whole package for me, an extremely professional self-published novella which shows how self-publishing should be done, from the two adorable bears on the front cover to the neat blurb telling you what you get in this story, to the crisp editing. This book packs a whole lotta punch for its weight. We have the story of widower Hank and unhappily married Earl, told in their distinctive Poconos Mountain drawl, and their love for each other whilst dealing with family bigotry, a poisonous wife and what happens when they accidentally out themselves in their small community. The answer: Not what you’d expect, including the arrival of a mysterious plane on the lake outside Hank’s home. It comes, it goes, and no-one knows why. This is the paranormal element of the story, with two normal humans trying to figure out why it is there.

I read this story honestly not knowing what to expect. Sometimes you can see the ending a mile off, with an HEA glowing in the distance. With this book, you’re never quite sure what is going to happen next. I loved the way the book was told, with a backwaters Pennsylvanian rhythm that felt completely unaffected, and the love between Hank and Earl, culminating in several tender yet scorching sex scenes. The way that Earl treated his kids, and Hank dealing with the grief of losing his was sublime. I really invested in these characters, even though the book was fairly short, and felt as if I was gaining a privileged insight into their personal lives.

Okay, possibly the denouement felt a little too neat, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book, and the mystery of the plane was heartbreaking. I’m not insulting it by saying it felt like a particularly bittersweet episode of Little House On The Prairie, only set in the 21st century, and with beefy guys having hot, honest sex as a bonus. And a neat addition is their favourite recipe for cheesy popcorn included at the back!

A great, standalone mystery romance for those who don’t necessarily want to read about pretty boys. And there are more in the Teddy Bear collection. I’ll definitely read more by this author.

BLURB

In their small town in the Pocono Mountains, Earl Knox and Hank Grisset have never been considered among the pretty ones to anyone but each other. As lucky as Hank and Earl consider themselves to have found each other, that’s about as far as luck has gone. All those Could’ah— Should’ah— Would’ah— moments a man never sees comin’, but that don’t stop him from regrettin’ them later in life.

When Earl makes a critical decision that ultimately outs him and Hank, a mysterious plane shows up at their lake house. Coming out in a small town can erase friendships in a heartbeat. But when a rift in the family leads to a life-threatening accident, only their love for each other is gonna get them through this—that, and their plane from nowhere.

 

19May/17

Review of Sugar & Spice by Garett Groves

The spicy Garett Groves recently delighted us on our show! To hear more about Garett, listen to his interview and find links to his work, follow this link…. Episode 110:  Bad Pantser: Be A Plotter!

REVIEW

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although part of a series (Spice of Life), it was a standalone, straightforward read, with zingy dialogue and two engaging main characters.

When I first started reading, I thought Max, the young, hot, clueless wannabe model, was a bit of a knob, to be honest (US readers, that isn’t a good thing.) He certainly didn’t endear himself to me when we were first introduced. Yes, he has the body, but he also has a self-destructive streak that I wanted to slap out of him. It was hardly surprising that Lucas, the older man who had been around the block a few times, was wary when Max made play for him in a gay bar. Encounters like that seem rarely destined to last.

But Lucas was a sweetie. I had the feeling that the author was trying for David Gandy, but I read Lucas as Henry from Cucumber. The image was thankfully shaken off when he and Max first hook up for their first pearl-clutching sexual encounter, after which, Lucas has the presence of mind to leave, rather than fall headlong into an improbable “mind-blowing sex all night” scenario.

And it is this restraint which makes the book work. Max does all the running. Lucas is the one holding back. At 45, he has doubts about his viability both as a lover and and photographer, so when Max has eyes for no-one else, he is understandably wary.

Max is also learning a sharp lesson in humility, after being fired from his job and dumped as favoured model for his photographer ex-boyfriend, but he is also wary of Lucas’s motives for wanting to hire him for his own photography purposes.

When they begin to work together, the awkwardness is almost painful, and Lucas’s attempts to make things right between Max and his former crush are excruciating, but in a good, “read it behind my fingers” way. You’re never really sure whether these two will make a successful couple. The odds seem stacked against them, for all Lucas’s wealth and Max’s worldliness, but the pay-off is worth the slow burn. (No spoilers – the author guarantees an HEA on Amazon. Also, no cheating or cliffhangers – good to know for people who hate both, like me.)

The author has paced this book very skilfully, creating an enjoyable, fun read with depth, and characters that feel real and well-rounded. And Lance, Max’s frenemy, is hilarious. I spent most of the book not trusting him, expecting him to stab Max in the back. Will he? Won’t he? Read it and find out.

BLURB

 After getting rejected by the only guy that he’s ever allowed himself to feel something more than lust for, Max Williams has convinced himself that the bachelor’s life is the only way for him to live. At 28, Max has everything he needs for it: a smoking body, just enough money to keep the drinks coming, and an endless supply of guys that are more than happy to keep his bed warm at night. Still, he can’t shake the feeling that something is missing.
When he loses his day job thanks to his partying and the modeling career he’d been trying to build collapses, Max isn’t sure of so sure of himself anymore, but there’s one thing he knows without a doubt: something’s got to give.

Lucas White has a reputation of his own–and he’s tired of it. The security provided by his cushy job as editor-in-chief of a legendary local photography magazine has kept him stagnant for too long both professionally and personally. He never dreamed he’d be able to retire by the age of 45 and start his own passion project, but that’s exactly where he’s found himself and it hasn’t been an easy transition.

While celebrating his last day at the office, Lucas and Max get up close and personal at a new bar and Lucas’s entire world turns into a photo negative. Max is the perfect model that he’s been looking for to bring fresh eyes to his new venture, but he looks so much like someone who once broke his heart–and Lucas isn’t sure that he can look at Max’s beautiful body every day for work without continuing to touch it.

Against his better judgment, Lucas hires Max. As they start working together, the line between employer and employee quickly blurs, and not even the pact they made to remain strictly professional seems to keep things in focus. Though they know better, neither man can resist their desire for something more–but Max is afraid of commitment, and Lucas can’t stomach the idea of being taken advantage of by another pretty face.

Will their differences bring them down, or will they come together like sugar and spice?

09May/17

Review of The Truth About Goodbye by Russell Ricard

The charming Russell Ricard was recently a guest on our show! To listen to his episode, get links and find out more about his work, click on Episode 109: Russell Ricard – Just Keep Showing Up! After you’ve read this review, of course….

REVIEW

The Truth About Goodbye is the self-assured debut novel from Russell Ricard, handling a tough subject with humour and grace. How does one move on from the grief of losing one’s husband? Of course, everyone is different, but it is Sebastian’s story which is told here. On the face of it, an ageing chorus boy, is dealing with two significant life events. The one year anniversary of the death of his husband, and turning 40 in the midst of an unforgiving and cruel environment; the New York show scene.

Sebastian’s well-meaning friend, Chloe, tries to make him feel better by setting him up with a date, failing miserably as Sebastian is still trying to accept and move on from his husband’s death. (Not surprisingly. A year is not that long when it comes to the loss of a true love.) Sebastian has tried a variety of distractions, including throwing himself into his choreographing work, with limited success. In the end, he has to face his grief alone, with all the requisite elements it throws at him. Anger, both at himself and his husband for leaving him, guilt at what was said or not said on the night he died, and fright at the thought of losing what they had forever, and erasing it with someone new. Through techniques taught by his lifestyle guru and grief counsellor, Sebastian gradually learns to accept his aloneness, and not be afraid of it. It is this journey of acceptance and dealing with loss, on which the novel is founded.

A very self-assured book, yet not an over-confident one.

Sebastian has lost a lot, as we discover through the book. Abandoned at birth, then losing his eccentric but much-loved adoptive parents, followed by the death of his husband, it seems inevitable that Sebastian expects to lose everything he loves. As he gradually learns to accept that loss, and realises that life is for living, not waiting to die, we see him blossom from a fragile, vulnerable man to one who regains his confidence and vitality. The emotional way he finally looks back on the night his husband dies, and eventually accepts it, is accomplished. Like I said at the beginning, this is a very self-assured book, yet not an over-confident one.

I didn’t get the strong feeling this was a “New York” novel, or even one set in the show business arena. There are elements of dance, as Sebastian is shown tutoring a group who are already stealing his thunder as younger, fitter versions of himself, but the main story is about how he deals with a painful event in a life that has been defined by loss. The author has a talent for letting the reader into the lives of his characters from the beginning. Sebastian is flawed but you feel his pain, as he doubts his own sanity and viability as a man alone. Middle-aged wild child, Chloe, is frustrating but ultimately endearing. Greg, Sabastian’s nemesis and rival, could easily be a caricature but somehow manages not to be. And Reid, Sebastian’s potential love interest, is cute as a button and kind with it, but is it too soon for Sebastian to find love?

Due to the central premise of the book, there is a fair amount of navel-gazing, but Sebastian’s friends provide light relief, notably ex-Rockette Chloe. The dialogue between them felt real and convincing. Sebastian comes across as fragile, needy, a little bit tetchy, but ultimately I liked him and wished him well. You get to know about his family, why he is the way he is. It’s a balanced story that pulls you with it, like a seemingly calm river hiding rip currents beneath the surface. I found it to be that rare thing, a fairly light read that leaves an echo long after it has been completed.

BLURB

Sebastian Hart has dealt with a lifetime of goodbyes. And now, a year after his husband Frank’s death, the forty-year-old Broadway chorus boy still blames himself. After all, Sebastian started the argument that night over one of Frank’s former date items, someone younger than Sebastian who still wanted Frank.

Challenged by his best friend, the quirky ex-Rockettes dancer Chloe, Sebastian struggles toward his dream of becoming a choreographer and grapples with romantic feelings for Reid, a new student in his tap class.

Ultimately, Sebastian begins to wonder whether it’s his imagination, or not, that Frank’s ghost is here, warning him that he daren’t move on with another love. He questions the truth: Is death really the final goodbye?