Review of Something Different by S. A. Reid

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Far superior to the movie, Pretty Woman, it references, Something Different plots the journey of Michael Maguire as he navigates his way out of the constrictive, boring life he has made for himself for years, searching for something to make him feel alive again. Temptation and perhaps his salvation pops up in the form of rent boy James Campbell, who needs saving himself.

I loved this book. It is the first I have read by S. A. Reid but won’t be the last. The author makes you feel how suffocated Michael is by his life, unhappy and repressed in all avenues, work and family. But the characters are certainly not cardboard but fully fleshed out and breathing. Michael’s wife, Frannie, cold, self involved and materialistic could have been a one-dimentional villain but instead you understand, as does Michael, the reasons behind her actions and her words. And by the end of the book, she is likable.

James Campbell is another character who could have become cliched in other hands. But from the beginning, I loved James. He’s snarky, vulnerable, prickly, kind and aware of karma. Each character reveals layers upon layers as the story unfolds. As Michael and James start to score small and then larger victories for each other and themselves, you just want to cheer along with them until you are on your feet at the end of the book, shouting “Bravo, Bravo”. And its for Michael, James and S. A. Reid for delivering such a total delight of a book into your hands.
S. A. Reid’s Blurb for Something Different:

Tired of his life’s endless grind, family man Michael Maguire allows himself one night of deviation. Desperate for something different, he seeks a prostitute in notorious Brixton Park. But Michael, searching for a girl out of PRETTY WOMAN, instead finds blue-eyed, beautiful James Campbell. Tempted and stirred in ways he never imagined, Michael embarks on a sexual adventure with a rent boy from London’s infamous Bethnal Green. And what begins as a purely sexual exchange gradually transforms into something else, as James finds himself in desperate circumstances and Michael is moved to help. Drawn increasingly to James, Michael finds himself facing up to the iniquities in his daily life. And finally he must deal with a horror that threatens to explode Michael’s safe, conventional existence

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Review of What Can Be by Mary Calmes

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What Can Be by Mary Calmes:From Dreamspinner Press:

“Thirteen years ago, Eli went on a summer trip with his mother and never came back. Now, existing in a new life as Jacob Somerville, he’s again running from fear and memories, only to end up where he started. As Jacob struggles to reconnect with his father and brothers, he realizes that his lover, Craig Zhao, was the only thing filling his empty heart and standing between him and ghosts of the past. It will take the power of love—from his family, from Craig, and from himself—for Jacob to see that his life truly is filled with the promise of what can be.”

I really liked What Can Be. It didn’t immediately strike me as a “Christmas story” until the very end (there isn’t a lot of Christmas trappings here). But it is a story of love, forgiveness, reconnecting and family. And isn’t that what the holiday is all about? This is a true Mary Calmes story in every way. There is angst, gorgeous men and a hard won ending. Mary’s description of Jacob’s fear and the memories he is running from are vivid and made my heart pound, she is that good. And Jacob’s lover, Craig Zhao, is the man of everyone’s dreams. I loved the characters of Jacob’s brothers, Chase and Lucas. Both are fully rounded characters that you would like to get to know in their own right.

And that is probably why this did not get 5 stars.This is a big tale, with loads of back story here waiting to be told. Jacob’s visit to see his Dad and brothers seemed at times to be rushed. Yes, yes, I know…it was a weekend after all. There is an amazing scene here when his memories hit him. This was so beautifully done that to see its effects upon his brothers and father would have been so rewarding. I would have loved to have seen the author spend more time here exploring the family dynamics. Jacob’s father was a successful businessman, sometimes at the expense of family even though he loves his boys. The brothers missed Jacob and their mother. How did the huge hole in their lives (trying not to reveal too much here) influence their growth as people. You get hints that leave you wishing for more. There is so much potential here for a wider exploration of what the loss of a brother (and mother) all those years really does to a family. This also goes for the addition of a stepmother not really liked by the brothers (I am with them here) who wants to protect her husband, turf, status quo.

So yes, I just wish Mary Calmes had made this a longer book. And I didn’t even get to those characters back in Chicago we only got a small glimpse of . Mary’s ability to create characters you want to know better, even marginal ones, is just one of the reasons she is a must read for me. And that includes this latest book of hers. Happy Holidays!