Monday, 28 July 2014

PRECOG IN PERIL

PRECOG IN PERIL by Theo Fenraven

Pages: 342
Date: 28/07/2014
Grade: 5+
Details: Previously published as three books
Own / Kindle

The blurb:

Gray Vecello meets Cooper Key, and the adventure of a lifetime begins as they explore the river on the houseboat Gray’s grandfather left him in his will. Along the way, they will meet new friends and dangerous enemies. 

Three of Swords: An old houseboat, a hot young guy, a couple of murders, and more mysterious keys than you can shake a stick at: it's an adventure Gray Vecello and Cooper Key will never forget. Gray has the sight, just as Graham had, but will it be enough to save them both? 

Knight of Wands: Gray Vecello and Cooper Key are back in the exciting sequel to Three of Swords. Graham's treasure is only the tip of the iceberg as a thief helps himself to a hidden stash of cash, Jolly Roger makes another appearance, and the guys finally meet others with special abilities when an emergency meeting of the group is called. 

Accompanying them on this new adventure is Gray's cousin, Harper, who's having problems of her own. Peace and quiet will have to wait as they take another trip downriver on their houseboat, The Constant Companion, before flying to New York City to beard a lion in his den and unexpectedly meet the SOS. 

The Lightning Struck Tower: Gray Vecello and Cooper Key are back in the last book in the Precog in Peril series. Snatched by PsiOps, a covert arm of the government, they’re offered training in exchange for their psionic help. Will they take the deal, and if they don't, what will PsiOps do to them? 

Gray and Cooper meet new friends and enemies in this final chapter in the trilogy. The story takes the reader from New York City to Ely, Minnesota, and back to Gray and Cooper's marina in Red Wing, where they will face the ultimate test of their powers. Someone will live... and someone will die.

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My thoughts:

“The cards had shown me my future. Time to grab it around the throat and strangle it into submission.”

People following my reviews will know that I’m in love with Theo Fenraven’s words. I fell hard and fast when I read Blue River, the love grew when I devoured Transgression and solidified while I enjoyed Wolf Bound and Lavender Rose.

I love an author who can lift me out of my daily life and drop me in another world. It is even better when that other world becomes my reality while I’m reading, even when the subject matter is otherworldly. This author manages that trick every single time.

Each book by Mr. Fenraven I’ve read so far has been unique. He doesn’t write according to a formula. Every story is a completely new adventure of discovery for the reader, as I imagine it must have been for the author too.

Each and every book by this author has also left me impressed with and envious of his ability to use words to their best advantage. Where others need a paragraph he can convey the message in a sentence or two. Not a single word is superfluous, and most of them are exquisitely beautiful. The dialogue sounds true and sparkles and descriptions leave the reader with a clear picture of what they are looking at.

“Watching him, I felt longing bloom in my belly... or maybe it was flowering lower down.”

There is a lot going on in this book. This is one of the sweetest love stories I’ve ever read. Cooper and Gray are beyond beautiful together. Their love for each other, the way the worry about the others health and happiness and the interaction between them kept an almost constant smile on my face.

But there is so much more. The paranormal angle is thrilling yet plausible. Gray initial reluctance to accept his abilities and his slow journey towards learning more about and eventually embracing them, made it feel like something that could happen to any of us.

And finally there are the mysteries. Who killed Graham and the Crystal Lady? Who is after Gray and Cooper and why? And most vitally, how far do Gray’s powers really reach and will he be able to fully embrace and utilise them when it is literally a matter of life and death?

There isn’t a boring moment in this book. The sweet, tender and on several occasions scorching hot love between the two main characters will have you smiling.

“That night I found out how ticklish he was.”

The tension, resulting from the mysteries and dangers the characters face as much as Gray’s fear of and reluctance to use his ability keeps you on the edge of your seat.

“My nerves were stretched so tight, Cooper could have played an adagio in D flat on me with his violin bow.”

Cooper has to be one of the sweetest characters I’ve ever read. And before you think that makes him sound boring, let me reassure you. Cooper was also one of the most fascinating characters ever. Because we see him through Gray’s eyes we get a real opportunity to appreciate his kindness. While his role is to protect Gray from psychic attacks, the younger man is protective of his older lover in every possible way. For personal reasons I loved how we changed their diet in the hope of helping Gray’s IBS.

The cliffhangers at the end of the first two parts of this story would have killed me if it hadn’t been for the fact I had the sequels ready and waiting. If I’d had to wait months for the revelations I would have uttered one or two obscenities.

From my description so far you may have gotten the impression that this is a sweet romance come paranormal tale of suspense. And you’d be right. However it is so much more. Theo Fenraven manages to open our eyes to things we know but prefer not to think about in the most gentle of ways regardless of the shocking nature of the revelations. These tales aren’t told for their shock value – although they do shock – they are here to make the reader aware of what’s happening in this world to kids who are different from ‘the norm’. It is a wake-up call delivered in the most beautiful of words.

Your heart gets broken early on in the book when you learn about Cooper’s past and the way his parents treated him when he came out. You think it can’t possibly get any worse and then you meet Wade, and hear the ordeal this character had to go through at the hands of their father and find yourself in the middle of a battle between despair and pure hate. Knowing this is fiction doesn’t make it any easier. The author may have invented this character, he didn’t invent the situation. It happens. Kids are living those nightmares and the world looks away, not wanting to know.

I started this review by confessing to my love affair with Theo Fenraven’s words. This book deepened that love. I know this author has found a fan for life in me. It’s about time the rest of the world woke up to the beauty they’re missing out on.

While something tells me it’s unlikely, I can’t help hoping these characters will start talking to their creator again one day soon. I would love to spend more time with Cooper and Gray.

I’ll end this review with a quote that states what has been my motto for the past 15 years or so. Cooper and my reasons for adopting the attitude may have been different; the result is the same; a better and less stressful life.

“I decided I would be as positive about life as possible. It made things easier for me.”




Saturday, 26 July 2014

VEGAS HUSTLE

VEGAS HUSTLE by Ethan Stone

Pages: 42
Date: 26/07/2014
Grade: 3.5
Details: Received from Totally Bound
            Through Love Romances and More
Kindle

The blurb:

“A business trip to Las Vegas becomes a life or death situation for a comic book fan.

Comic book geek Adam Brand is young, good-looking and wealthy. He’s also a virgin because he’s not skilled at picking up guys. While in Vegas with his friend Dean to finalize a real estate deal, he throws caution to the wind and hires a professional. Hustler Javier Campos is just Adam’s type and his first time is perfect.

Things go very wrong when Dean and Adam have a run-in with two corrupt cops and Dean ends up dead. Adam must go into hiding with Javier where they realise their attraction is more than just a business arrangement.”

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My thoughts:

This has been one of the harder books to review. I gave it sometime after finishing the book but still find myself very much in two minds.

On the one hand this is a sweet and thrilling story. I loved Adam and Javier together. Their backgrounds and life experiences are completely different and yet the hustler Javier is exactly what Adam needs when he decides to lose his virginity. When Javier later turns into Adam’s safe-haven and rescuer the differences between them, while still there, don’t appear so big anymore. And the optimistic ending made me smile. Writing a happily ever after for two eighteen year olds would have been over the top. Giving them the opportunity to discover if they could work as a couple was just what the story needed.

But then there is the other side of the coin, which can basically be summarized as: this book was too short for all the story elements it contained.

First allow me to make clear that I do not have an issue with short stories or novellas in general. In fact, shorter pieces of fiction are often exactly what I’m looking for. I do however want those shorter books to give me the full story. In Vegas Shuffle I had the feeling a lot of story had been left out to keep it short. This issue becomes very clear when Adam more or less forgets about Dean dying once he is with Javier. He tells his story and then just gets on with life and his sexual awakening. I didn’t need him to wallow in grief but one or two references to a pang of pain when he remembers his friend would not have gone amiss.

A lot of the story felt rushed and could have done with more detail. In fact, the timing only seemed right in the sex scenes. They gave all the detail you’d expect, were well written, beautiful and at times touching. Almost every other story element – the encounter with the two men who rob Adam and Dean, the situation with the cops when Dean dies and the final confrontation with those cops - deserved to have more story dedicated to it in my opinion. I would also have loved a better insight into Javier’s motivation, especially when it comes to his final decision.


Overall, and despite my reservations, this was an easy and quick read. In a roundabout way my wishing there had been more to this story is a compliment to the author. This is a decent story that could have been very good if it had been given about twice the number of pages. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

ELECTROCHEMISTRY

ELECTROCHEMISTRY by Andrew Grey

Pages: 128
Date: 23/07/2014
Grade: 4
Details:  Chemistry book three
              Received from Dreamspinner Press
              Through Love Romances and More
Kindle

The blurb:

“Science major Brad Jergens notices Jordy Fleming at school and at the grocery store where he works, but with the heat Jordy’s boyfriend emits, Brad doesn’t think he stands a chance.

When Brad’s parents drag him along on a cruise, he and Jordy literally crash into each other, and the chemistry between them sends sparks flying.

Unfortunately, as the weeklong cruise nears an end too quickly, Brad’s left to wonder if their mutual attraction will dissipate on a Caribbean breeze as soon as they return to dry land.”

My thoughts:

This was a charming story and a wonderful read. There was so much to like in this book. Brad is a charming character although very insecure about himself and shy. He is convinced he’s not really attractive and can’t imagine why anyone would be interested in him. When Jordi, the boy he’s been admiring from afar for months, finally shows an interest in him, it takes Brad some time to believe it is actually happening, to him.

Jordi was a fascinating character. On the surface very secure in himself he struggles with doubts about the relationship he’s in, which is going nowhere fast. I liked that he took his time to make up his mind, both about the old relationship and about Brad. And I liked how he made Brad feel better about himself.

I loved Helen, Brad’s best friend and co-worker. I adored the way she supported and encouraged Brad. She’s the sort of friend all of us should have; loyal to a fault as well as great fun.

Brad’s mother was another great character. I liked the way her ambivalence towards his homosexuality was treated. It wasn’t that she had a hard time with her son being gay. She just didn’t want to give up on her dream of a big wedding and grandchildren. It was good to see mother and son work out this really not very big issue in a warm and loving conversation rather than a big fight.

I did get a bit bogged down in all the detail of Brad’s day at times. I wasn’t convinced I needed the almost minute by minute and step by step descriptions of what he did and where he went. Having said that, it didn’t distract me from the story or stop me from enjoying it. I really liked the quiet and calm pace of this book. This story didn’t need shocks to be interesting and didn’t require major angst to keep the reader rooting for Brad and Jordy. Their romance was sweet and yet realistic while their issues were recognisable and appropriate to their age and circumstances. And when the two young men do get together they make a very hot couple without the book ever getting overly descriptive.


Overall this was a sweet romance and an ideal read for a lazy summer’s afternoon. Reading a book about a romantic cruise while sitting in the sun, really does make for a wonderful experience.


Friday, 18 July 2014

MILE HIGH SERVICE

MILE HIGH SERVICE by Nikka Michaels

Length: Short Story
Date: 18/07/2014
Grade: 4.5
Details: No. 3 ‘Service’
Own / Kindle

The blurb:

“In this prequel to Room Service and Lip Service, Dr. Seth Coleman is bored and restless while he waits for his flight to leave. While waiting, he muses on how he met his husband, Carson Randall.

Seth Coleman is a talented surgeon who has the career he’s worked toward his whole life but is still missing something. As he’s standing in an airport store contemplating buying a tie, he meets handsome stranger, Carson Randall. After sparks fly they both realize they want the same thing. They want more than just a passing meeting in an airport; they want a relationship.”

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My thoughts:

Occasionally you read a book or story and fall in love with one or more characters. That is exactly what happened when I read ‘Room Service’. I met Dr. Seth Coleman and Carson Randall and was mesmerized. These two men were hot together and perfectly suited for each other. The only thing I regretted when I finished the story was that I hadn’t been able to spend more time in their company.

When ‘Lip Service’ came out a short while later I was delighted to meet Set and Carson again and enjoyed the opportunity to watch another of their very heated encounters.

I fear ‘Mile High Service’ may well be our last encounter with these two men and that makes me a little bit sad. Having said that spending more time in their company and, what is more, finding out how they met was very satisfying.

Who knew buying a new tie in an airport shop could be this hot?

“He moved close as he reached around my body, fingers deftly flipping up the stiff collar of my shirt. The heat from his body warmed my back, and the scent of spicy aftershave and clean male flooded my senses.”

I loved the idea of two, otherwise sensible and practical, men giving in to their impulses, following their feelings and going for broke.

“I was kissing a stranger who’d seen me clearer than anyone else."

And since I am a firm believer that it is possible to see somebody and instantly know you’ve laid eyes on the person you’ll spend the rest of your life with, I rejoiced at Carson Randall’s words, spoken only a few hours after first setting eyes on Seth Coleman.


“I’m all in with you if you’ll have me. First dates, tie shopping, plane sex, and all.”

I should add, without going into details, that the service mile high is very good indeed.

As in the previous two titles, Nikka Michaels has managed to tell a full and detailed story with a limited amount of words. I feel I know these men better than I did before and have a rather clear picture of who they are, what they look like and how they are together. ‘Mile High Service’ brought me pure reading enjoyment just as the two previous titles as had. What more can you ask for from a story?


Finally I would like extent my gratitude to Jaycee. I know she expressed many readers’ hopes when she asked for the story of Carson and Seth’s first meeting. I’m just glad that, unlike the rest of us, she decided to open her mouth. If it wasn’t for her we might not have this wonderful treat available to us.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

BRIDEGROOM THE MOVIE IN THE LIBERTIES



I'm not entirely sure when I first heard about Bridegroom, the Movie. I do remember that I became more curious and intrigued with every reference I came across. Friends on Facebook filled me in on details of the story and even without having seen a minute of coverage my heart was breaking a little. 

When I discovered that Shane Bitney Crone would be bringing the movie to Dublin, Ireland for a once off viewing I knew I had to attend. I applied for two tickets and was delighted when we received confirmation that the husband and I would be able to be part of the event.

Yesterday afternoon we drove the one and a half hours it takes us to get to the centre of Dublin. It was a wonderful warm afternoon and as luck would have it we managed to find parking not too far from the venue; an amazing evening foreshadowed in small details.

I have to be honest and say that the venue in the offices of Dublin Corporation were much smaller than I expected. In my mind this was going to be an event with hundreds if not thousands of participants. As it was I wouldn't be surprised if there were only about a hundred of us there. One hundred extremely privileged individuals who were treated to an evening they're unlikely to forget any time soon, if ever.

I could try to tell the story behind the movie / documentary in my own words but have decided there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The following has been copied from Wikipedia:

"Bridegroom chronicles the story of Shane Bitney Crone and his same-sex partner Thomas Lee "Tom" Bridegroom, who died in a tragic accident. After Bridegroom's death, Crone found himself cut off and deprived of any legal protection. The film tells the story of their 6-year-long relationship, and the struggles Crone faced after Bridegroom's death, including the family not allowing Crone to attend the funeral of his life partner."

Maybe the viewing went off to a bit of an unfortunate start when the audience burst out laughing at the mention of Garth Brooks early on in the movie. I was grateful when one member of the audience took the time during the question and answer session afterwards to explain no disrespect had been meant. It was just an unfortunate coincidence that the country singer has been in Ireland's headlines for all the wrong and rather obscure reasons for the past three weeks or so. 

During the rest of the movie the only sound in the room was provided by the sound track. The audience was collectively mesmerized by the unfolding story. It turned out to be impossible to watch this and not get emotionally involved. Any story in which two lovers so clearly meant for each other are cruelly torn apart by faith would be enough to break even the toughest heart. For Shane, losing his partner and the love of his life was of course only the start of the nightmare. It is impossible to imagine what it might be like to be robbed of the opportunity to properly pay your last respects to the person you've loved. To have that person cut out of your life as if he'd been a figment of your imagination, to be left with little besides the memories you built together.


Picture property of Liberties Festival
Once the movie was over it was time for a question and answer session with Shane Bitney Crone. The standing ovation he received was much deserved although I couldn't help feeling it made him slightly uncomfortable. I'm so grateful this part of the evening wasn't rushed. I'm fairly sure every single person who wanted to ask a question or make a statement got an opportunity to do so. Unfortunately my memory isn't good enough to share those questions and Shane's answers here. Two however stood out.

Shane was invited to visit Ireland again, next year when we are due to have our referendum on marriage equality. While no promises were made it was encouraging to hear him say he would love to come back. At the moment polls seem to indicate the referendum will pass by a comfortable enough margin. Polls are no guarantee though and I am convinced the cause can only be strengthened by his return to Ireland and, if at all possible, a broadcast of the movie on national television.

I both cringed and held my breath when one audience member asked Shane if he thought he'd ever love like that again. My heart lifted when Shane said that while he wasn't looking for love he didn't rule it out either. 


Once all questions had been asked and answered the audience had the opportunity to meet with Shane one on one for a moment. I'm still not sure where I found the courage. Walking up to someone I don't know, talking to them never mind giving them a hug is so counter intuitive for me. I'm sure I wouldn't have done it if it hadn't been for my husband more or less forcing me. I'm grateful he made me do it though. 

The admiration I felt for him after watching the movie and Q & A got even stronger. I'm not sure where he finds the strength to do what he does because he is for all intents and purposes breaking his heart open, in public, time and again. And yet there doesn't seem to be any bitterness, no hate towards Tom Bridegroom's family. He has found meaning in Tom's death as well as a reason to keep on going. He is doing what he can to change the world into a place where no one will have to go through his ordeal. 

I can't thank Liberties Festival Dublin enough for hosting this event. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to meet a man who is a shining light in a sometimes dark and depressing world as well as an inspiration for all who meet him. 

Being me I couldn't help myself and had to share my personal hopes and beliefs with Shane once I'd gotten over my shyness. I am convinced we are heading towards the day when being gay will be the same as being a red-head; people may still make fun of you occasionally but in the grander scheme of things it won't make a difference.

Photo Gallery for Bridegroom the Movie

“IT’S A PITCHED BATTLE, BUT LOVE BLINDINGLY OUTSHINES HATE IN BRIDEGROOM.” – CHARLES MCNULTY, LOS ANGELES TIMES

RETURN ON INVESTMENT

RETURN ON INVESTMENT by Aleksandr Voinov

Pages: 336
Date: 17/06/2014
Grade: 5
Details: Copy received from author
Kindle

The blurb:

“Martin David, an eager but inexperienced financial analyst, is the newest member of the investment team at Skeiron Capital Partners in London. His boss is an avowed financial genius, but he’s also overbearing and intense. Despite his erratic behaviour, Martin can’t help being drawn to him both professionally and personally. 

Too bad his boss doesn’t seem to feel the same. In a firm where pedigree and connections mean far more than Martin’s newly-minted business degree, Martin feels desperately inadequate—at least until he meets the enigmatic investment manager Alec Berger, who promises to help Martin establish himself in the financial community. Martin is so charmed by Alec’s sophistication and wit that he gives him data that should have stayed confidential. 

Then the financial crisis hits. Banks burn, companies teeter on the brink, and Skeiron’s survival is at stake. Martin is pushed into the middle of the fight for Skeiron—against both the tanking economy and a ruthless enemy who’s stepped out of the shadows to collect the spoils.” 

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My thoughts:

“With his less-than-conservative long hair he looked leonine – a predator in the boardroom, the feline equivalent of the shark prowling the seas for blood.”

‘Return On Investment’ starts with a bang. In fact, to say the prologue pulls you right into the story would be an understatement. I’m not going to say anything else about it except that I defy you to read those first few pages and not feel the urge to read on.

If I’m perfectly honest I have to admit that the words ‘financial thriller’ would under most circumstances be enough to turn me away from a book. In fact, the only reason I did not only want to read this book, but also all but begged the author for a review copy is my complete and utter trust in Aleksandr Voinov’s abilities to bring me a story I will lose myself in.


You have to admire an author who is able to completely captivate you with a thriller set in an environment you know little to nothing about and haven’t really been interested in either. But, Mr. Voinov managed exactly that. Martin’s journey gripped me from the first page and I only got more entranced as the story progressed.

In fact, most characters in this book intrigued me because none of them were what they at first appeared to be. I found myself changing my mind about characters as the story progressed. There were moments when I surprised myself by rooting for somebody I had previously despised and hating someone who had come across as a good guy only chapters before. In most thrillers the distinction between the good and bad guys is obvious from the start. In this book the reader has to wait and see. We learn as Martin learns and just like him we have are eyes opened to unpleasant truths as well as happy surprises.

Return On Investment is not be a typical Aleksandr Voinov romance. In fact I wouldn’t call this book a typical anything. ‘Return On Investment’ is basically a good story spanning various genres and more than lives up to the standard I’ve come to expect from this author. We meet characters who are far from perfect and all the more realistic and recognisable for it. And while the whole financial wheeling and dealing may be a bit more technical than I and other uninformed readers can properly follow, it is done with such skill and ease the reader can almost believe they understand it all. Besides, the whole ‘real-world’ financial debacle is fresh enough in our memories to allow us to understand the atmosphere even if we are a bit vague on the details.


Martin David may be a bit old for the concept but in many ways this is a coming of age story. Martin learns his way around life both professionally and emotionally, and it is a beautiful journey to observe. It was fascinating to watch Martin grow from rather innocent but eager to please into far more secure, balanced and fair.

First and foremost this book is testament to Aleksandr Voinov’s amazing ability to tell a terrific story. I am by now convinced I would read a fictionalised version of the telephone directory provided he had written it. His smooth writing combined with sparkling and realistic dialogue, fascinating characters and an intriguing plot never fails to captivate me. If you’ve enjoyed earlier titles by this author I would advise you not to be deterred by the ‘not a standard romance’ label this book comes with. Read the book; I would be surprised if you didn’t end up enjoying it far more than you thought you might. And you never know, you may learn something about financial shenanigans in the process.


Why the fuck had he agreed to sex? Because his body like arrogant assholes far more than his rational mind did.”

Sunday, 13 July 2014

EQUALS

EQUALS by Brigham Vaughn

Pages: 138
Date: 13/07/2014
Grade: 4.5
Details: Book one
            Copy gratefully received from author
Kindle

The blurb:

“Too busy to date while he worked to put himself through school, Russell Bishop's dedication finally pays off; he has a great job with Vantage Marketing.

Stephen Parker, CFO of the marketing firm, has resigned himself to a life without a partner.

For six months, they wanted each other but it isn’t until Russ slips on spilled coffee, and Stephen rushes to his rescue that they discover their attraction is mutual. However, the twenty year age gap between them proves difficult when they begin dating.

Fiercely independent, Russ isn't sure he's ready for long-term commitment. Scarred from a previous relationship, Stephen is afraid history is repeating itself. Is there any way for them to meet in the middle and become equals?”

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My thoughts:

About two and a half months ago I read ‘TheFrench Toast Emergencies by Brigham Vaughn and fell not only for the story and the characters in it, but also for the author and her writing style. Less than a month later ‘Sunburns and Sunsets secured this author’s place on my ‘must read’ list. So when I discovered she had a new book coming out I was rather excited.

And my excitement was more than justified. Once again this author has brought me captivating characters in a well timed and smoothly written story. Stephen and Russ seemed to jump off the page and into my head the moment I was introduced to them. I enjoyed getting to know them better as the story went on even if I wanted to knock their heads together on several occasions. I guess my violent tendencies prove how invested I got in their developing relationship and the issues they were facing.

The relationship between these two men and the difficulties they face as a result of the twenty year age gap felt natural. While there was quite a bit of conflict between them, none of it seemed contrived. In fact, most if not all of the issues between Stephen and Russ were a result of both of them being typical men. Their failure to communicate with each other, combined with Russ’s pride and Stephen’s insecurities, was as frustrating as it was recognisable and kept me firmly glued to the story.

This story was well paced. Everything is built up gradually, giving the reader a chance to get to know the characters without feeling overwhelmed by information. The fact that it was the similarities between Russ and Stephen causing most of their problems made this story fascinating. I liked that the age difference was really addressed in this book. The characters are aware of it and, eventually, discuss and tackle it. While the issues between Russ and Stephen were there from the start they didn’t really cause problems until they were together for a little while, which made them all the more painful when they did surface.

Picture taken from author's website
This book is hot and I don’t necessarily mean the sex scenes, although I’m not complaining about those. The sexual tension between Russ and Stephen during the two weeks they more or less abstain from acting on their attraction, and the way it grew, was scorching. I found myself getting frustrated for and with them. Which of course only made the release, when it did come, all the more powerful both for the characters and the reader.


I’m delighted there will be a sequel to this book. I’ve gotten quite invested in these two men and their relationship and look forward to the opportunity to see how they grow together in the not too distant future. 

Friday, 11 July 2014

A HEART FOR ROBBIE

A HEART FOR ROBBIE by J.P. Barnaby

Pages: 214
Date: 11/07/2014
Grade: 5
Details: Gratefully received from the author
Kindle

The blurb:

Waiting for someone else's child to die so yours can live is the worst kind of Hell

“Celebrated Young Adult author Julian Holmes pits the heroic characters in his Black Heart series against all different kinds of monsters. But when a critical heart defect threatens his son’s life, he finds he has no champion. No amount of books, classes, or practice can prepare Julian for the fight to save his beautiful son’s life. 

Suddenly there are hospitals, transplant lists, and the nightmare of insurance red tape to navigate. In the midst of his trouble, Julian meets Simon Phelps, the insurance coordinator for Robbie’s case. Simon lives so deep in the closet he might never find his way out, but he dreams of exactly what Julian has. Then one night, drunken need and desperation brings them together, and a new fight begins.”

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My thoughts:

Some books touch me so deeply I find it almost impossible to write a review. ‘A Heart for Robbie’ is such a book. No matter how hard I think about it, no matter how often I start this review I can’t seem to find the words to convey exactly what this book did to me. I don’t seem to have the language to explain everything I thought and felt while reading this story. I’ll try though because I do want to share my love for this book and admiration for the author with as wide an audience as possible.

‘A Heart for Robbie’ is a book with several layers all of which are fully developed and brought to a plausible and satisfactory conclusion. First and foremost this is little Robbie’s story. We watch his father, Julian, as he tries to come to grips with the unimaginable; his much wanted baby boy, born with a heart defect. Because there is no way to understand or accept that the child you love so dearly and wanted so badly may not live to see his first birthday. You don’t come to terms with that. All you can do is deal as best you can; bestow all your love on the child while you hope for a miracle. And that’s where it all gets extra poignant because the miracle you are waiting for means another child has to die. You feel your own heart breaking as your child gets sicker and know exactly how devastated a parent is when they are faced with the loss of a child and yet, that is what you have to pin your hopes on.

Julian’s emotions are described with such clarity the reader can almost feel them – I say almost because I don’t think anyone can really imagine what it is like to (almost) lose a child unless they’ve actually been through that experience. And yet this book isn’t all doom and gloom. Julian lives as normal a life as he can with Robbie. He goes through all the worries and anxieties all new parents face, except that his are amplified because of Robbie’s condition. The fact that the reader does recognise so many of those first-time parent moments, means that it is easier to identify with Julian while it also allows the reader to take a quick breather occasionally.

I loved Simon’s part of the story. The poor man is so afraid of losing his parents and ending up all alone that he’d rather live a lie. And yet, the moment his secrecy might make Robbie’s situation even more precarious than it already is, he puts his own concerns behind him and steps up to the plate. In fact all of Julian and Simon’s love story was a joy to read. It was a great way of showing that even during the most tragic of times life does go on. That wonderful things can and do happen even in the midst of nightmares. The relationship gave Julian the strength to keep on putting one foot in front of the other and the reader the opportunity to keep on reading without drowning in a black hole of sadness.

This book could easily have been an unrelenting tear-jerker. The fact that it isn’t is testament to the wonderful craftsmanship of J.P. Barnaby. She introduced exactly the right amount of lighter touches to keep this very poignant story both realistic and bearable. I loved the way Julian could see the characters from his book and have conversations with them, even if it did also show exactly how lonely the man was. I adored the fact that Liam, the main character from Julian’s young adult books wore a Sinner’s Gin T-shirt; a nice wink in the direction of Rhys Ford.

Of course the real heartbreak comes when you realise that this story is based on, and dedicated, to Kaitlyn, the baby daughter J.P. Barnaby lost almost two decades ago. I’ll never know where she found the strength and courage to write this story. I do know the world is a better place because she did. This reader is grateful and feels privileged to have been allowed to read this powerful, beautiful, and life-affirming story.

On a different note, if J.P. Barnaby ever feels inclined to write those Black Heart stories I for one would be delighted to read them.



Sunday, 6 July 2014

KING PERRY

KING PERRY by Edmond Manning

Pages: 343
Date: 06/07/2014
Grade: 6
Details: no. 1 The Lost and Founds
Own / Kindle

The blurb:

“In a trendy San Francisco art gallery, out-of-towner Vin Vanbly witnesses an act of compassion that compels him to make investment banker Perry Mangin a mysterious offer: in exchange for a weekend of complete submission, Vin will restore Perry's "kingship" and transform him into the man he was always meant to be.

 Despite intense reservations, Perry agrees, setting in motion a chain of events that will test the limits of his body, seduce his senses, and fray his every nerve, (perhaps occasionally breaking the law) while Vin guides him toward his destiny as "the one true king."

Even as Perry rediscovers old grief and new joys within himself, Vin and his shadowy motivations remain enigmas: who is this offbeat stranger guiding them from danger to hilarity to danger? To emerge triumphant, Perry must overcome the greatest challenge alone: embracing his devastating past. But can he succeed by Sunday's sunrise deadline? How can he possibly evolve from an ordinary man into King Perry?

A Bittersweet Dreams title: It's an unfortunate truth: love doesn't always conquer all. Regardless of its strength, sometimes fate intervenes, tragedy strikes, or forces conspire against it. These stories of romance do not offer a traditional happy ending, but the strong and enduring love will still touch your heart and maybe move you to tears.”

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My thoughts:

I bought this book on the basis of a quote:

“...have you ever done anything so significantly outrageous, so beautiful and insane, that on days when your life feels dull, these shining moments leap out? Do you have an answer to the question ‘Did I live? Did I touch the world?’”

The quote was posted on Facebook by A.J. Rose an author I adore and who consistently blows me away with his words and stories. If he was quoting and recommending a certain book, I didn’t need any further encouragement. I bought the book, started reading and got lost in a world I didn’t know existed. And, as my rating above shows, it was one of my better decisions – even if it did disrupt every plan I had for my weekend. I do not give a book six out of five very often. When I do it is a sure indication the book has touched me in ways I wasn’t expecting and won’t forget.

Before you read on let me warn you; this is not going to resemble a review. This post won’t be like my usual reflections on books. It’s going to be too long, contain too many quotes and won’t stop gushing.

This is the sort of review where I flounder, find myself lost for words. Not a single one of the words I know (in two languages), no sentence I could string together can convey what this book did to me, or live up to the wonderful beauty and powerful expressiveness of the words in ‘King Perry’. Or, as it says in the book:

“Can anyone articulate the language of the heart?”

I’m not going to say a whole lot about the actual story. You can read what you need to know in the blurb and the rest should be experienced. Yes, experienced; you don’t read this book, you live it. You feel every single emotion, see the sights and get lost and found in the wonder of it all. You may put the book down (always reluctantly) because there is something you really need to do, it won’t mean you’ve put the story down; it will accompany you, pull at you and make you hurry through your task to get back to it.

The image of the Kings and Queens losing their lustre, forgetting their power was as heartbreaking as it was recognisable. It is an inescapable fact of life that all of us encounter the end of innocence sooner or later. At some point all of us find ourselves face to face with the real world, suddenly forced to exchange our dreams for the stark reality of having to make our own way. When the things we considered certainties in our lives are suddenly taken away we all have to reassess who we are and how we live. Some of us might wish we had a Vin to help us along. Regardless of his methods.

“They forgot that they served a higher mission, lived in devotion to a kingdom where all men were necessary and equally blessed. Many became lost.”

“This is what the remaining kings called them, the Lost Kings or the Lost Ones. Men who forgot their gold vanishing into a world that looks much like our own.”

On the surface this is the story of Vin saving Perry from himself, from the darkness he’s allowed himself to get lost in, from the pain that has become so familiar he doesn’t even know he’s carrying it with him anymore.

“When Perry sees his gray-suited grief, he barely recognises that part of himself; it’s just another bank customer making his regular withdrawal.”

“I think long ago, Perry’s heart made unwelcome room for sadness, and then believing that it could handle no more, slammed itself shut, preventing joy’s free roam.”

Dig a little bit deeper and the story is about Vin as much as it is about Perry. Perry isn’t the only one who needs to start looking at himself and his life in a new, brighter, light. While Vin may know he has work to do, I think there are a few things about himself he doesn’t see; things that are obvious to those he helps and easy to spot for the reader.

Can a story be whimsically profound or profoundly whimsical? If there is such a thing, this book is its prime example. I think Edmond Manning may have broken every single rule anybody ever established with regard to writing and created something exquisite in the process. His descriptions spring to life before your eyes.

“Staring at these hills already blanketed in soft mist, a person might believe that the land got jealous of the ocean’s whale population and created these hills in loving imitation.”

“The sun seems fascinated to get closer to this paradise landscape, and keeps dropping half inch by half inch in the west. Tenderly he flies to his lover, the Ocean, who twists in delight with his imminent arrival. ‘Patience, my love,’ the Sun whispers in long golden rays. ‘Soon I am yours.’”

And his insights on subjects such as joy, kissing, forgiveness, and the loss of a loved one are almost overwhelmingly too close to the truth. They hit home, make you sit up and think, examine your own experiences and your reactions to them.

“I think Joy sleeps in strange places. We’re always looking for her in shiny, happy, fun times, assuming that Joy prefers her twin brother, Pleasure, when she often hangs out with her somewhat stoic big sister, Strength. Joy is not always easy to recognize, dirt-smudged and sweating, brambles in her hair. I want to believe she sometimes wears a ski mask.”

“Kissing is such a surreal way to interact. You press your squishiest part to his and read the connection in a dozen ways: the level of affection, the warmth of feeling, the need to dominate, the ability to explore, and various shades of hesitancy. All that communication from such a slender little strip of flesh.”

I want to think this is one of the pictures Vin and Perry took
“I wonder sometimes why we don’t have more words to express forgiveness. The words we use are so trite, so limited. How do you describe that first melting of a friend’s face after a vicious fight, the moment when you suddenly know that eventually, you will survive this. (...) The body expresses forgiveness before the brain agrees. Where are the words for those shifts that later evolve into full forgiveness.”

“But people underestimate how a father’s death impacts a young boy. They don’t understand what it means when the man you assumed would teach you everything suddenly doesn’t exist. He doesn’t die exclusively that one time when everyone wore black and cried. He dies every birthday. He dies at school award presentations when he’s not beaming amid the proud parents, and when that horny teenager has no one to avoid for awkward discussions of wet dreams. His father dies every time Perry says, ‘Don’t worry, that happened back when I was a kid. I’m over it.’”

Oh my God. The ‘forgiveness castle’ took my breath away. That has to be one of the most beautiful and profound tales (fables?) I’ve ever read. Goose bumps, admiration and wonder only begin to describe how I felt when I read those words. I would love to share them here but can’t help feeling that this review is by now more than long enough. Besides, if the quotes above haven’t tempted you yet, one more won’t make a difference.

This is a life affirming story, a fable to make you think about how you approach life, what is holding you back and all the things you’ve allowed to stand between yourself and true happiness. This book asks you to open your eyes to your past, your present and what you want for the future. It forces you to look at yourself and ask if you truly are being your best self, living your best life.

I’m delighted a sequel to this wonderful book is already available. I’ve just bought it and although I’m tempted to read it straight away I won’t. I need some time to allow this story to settle inside me. I also want to be able to read ‘King Mai’ with as few interruptions as possible and that’s the sort of commitment I can’t make for another 13 days.

This may well be the longest review I’ve ever written and yet I feel it doesn’t begin to convey all my feelings about the book. Like I said above, I just don’t have the words to articulate everything I feel. I will say that Edmond Manning has found himself a loyal fan for life, just as I have found an author I need to read and share with the world.

I’ll end this review with one more quote because it is a truth I was brought up on and something I always try to remember.

“It hurts to live with a broken promise.”