Review: Indelible Ink (Boys Will Do Boys) by Marie Lark

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

indelibleink_msr_1Tattoo artist Jon Park has just left Seattle for a new start on the East Coast.  Jon fled a bad breakup with his ex boyfriend who also happened to own the tat shop that Jon worked as a tattoo artist.  Now he has opened his own place, a tattoo and piercing parlor,  with his college best friend in her hometown. But deciding to open Park Ink in the middle of winter  in a small town in Upper New York might not have made the most sense.  Business is scarce and the bills are barely getting paid, not a position Jon thought he would be in his thirties.

Then Jon runs into a group of guys beating up on a young homeless man outside a bar and everything changes.  Arthur is a young 22 year old  and homeless.  A product of the foster system since the age of 8, Arthur soon learned that lying and stealing were the quickest way to  get what he needed to survive and applied them often, gaining a dubious reputation in the bargain.  But when Jon saves him from a beating, everything changes for him.  Arthur sees the potential for change for himself and help for Jon, assistance that Jon is not even aware he needs.

Despite all objections and arguments from those around them, Jon and Arthur find themselves falling into love and a relationship.  But both mens pasts come forward to threaten their fragile relationship and Park Ink’s success.  Jon and Arthur will have to summon  their courage and face their opponents together or everything they have worked for and want will be lost.

Here is a story that charmed me utterly while introducing me to new aspects of the tattooing process.  I was unfamiliar with Marie Lark but Indelible Ink will have me seeking out more of her stories because I enjoyed this story on many different levels from plot to unusual characterizations.

Let’s start with her characters of Indelible Ink.  Jon Park is unusual in so many ways.  A 6’4″, long-legged and rangy, Jon is part Korean, part Hawaiian and on the cusp of 30 years old.  Jon is a much softer individual than his size would indicate, preferring floral and more delicate tattoo designs to the more hard line and popular artwork such as skulls and bones.  I think artistic and gentle are the words I would use to best describe this unassuming man.  Lark pulls us into the story on the strength of Jon Park alone because he is such a lovely and unexpected human being.  Then the author adds Arthur, a troubled 22 year old homeless young man with concealed strengths and artistry of his own.  Arthur’s true character is slowly revealed over the length of the story as he learns to trust Jon and  start to believe in a different future for himself.  Arthur will grow on you at the same pace that Jon accepts him, a terrific strategy by Lark to help connect the reader with this struggling man with a pile of problems behind him.  Lark also throws in several strong women characters to support Jon and Park Ink, from his best friend and business partner, piercing artist Val to another local bar owner and her husband who welcome him to the neighborhood.  Lark just fills her story with great characters, people you could see yourself spending the afternoon with, chatting about neighborhood politics while sipping coffee or getting a tattoo.

And that brings us to the tattoo element of this story.  I have read quite a few stories that revolve around tattoo artists and their shops and in each one I learn something new.  In Indelible Ink, Lark is able to bring the sensations of being tattooed alive by her intimate and detail oriented scenes within Park Ink, including the high you feel under the needle and the almost out of body sensation towards the end.  Here is an excerpt from the scene where Jon is starting to work on a tat he created for Arthur:

Arthur huffed a laugh and rolled his head to look over at his arm. “It looks great,” he said. “Yeah?”

Jon smiled down at his work and wiped away ink and a little blood with a damp paper towel. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” Arthur said quickly. “Good—great, actually. I forgot how good it could feel when you don’t have a rank amateur digging into your flesh.”

“It’s definitely addicting,” Jon agreed, pressing on the foot pedal and starting the machine again. “Do you have any questions about what I’m doing? This is supposed to be a tattoo lesson.”

Arthur closed his eyes and slowly rocked his head back and forth against the chair. “Nah. I’m—curious about tension in your hand and how hard to press down but I probably just need to practice that myself.”

“Yeah, we’ll get you working on grapefruits and oranges this week if you want.”

“Awesome. We still get to eat them after though, right? Shit is expensive.”

Jon could hear the smile in Arthur’s voice even though he’d redirected his attention to Arthur’s arm.

“Definitely. The needle never goes below the dermis—if you go the whole way through a grapefruit rind, we need to seriously reevaluate your career choice.” Pausing to glance up at him, he saw Arthur’s mouth fall gently open and his eyes flutter behind closed lids. If he hadn’t suspected already, that expression confirmed it—Arthur was a tattoo junkie.

There was something about the kind of pain that came from a tattoo machine—the way it fired along nerve endings, the way it vibrated down to the bone and in the brain—that had people just like Arthur and just like Jon coming back for more whenever they had the itch and the cash. It’d been well over a year since Jon had gotten his last tattoo and knowing what the sensations were doing to Arthur brought the itch back in a rush.

Her vivid descriptions just bring alive that moment in the chair where you commit to a design and the reality of a tattoo.  It’s sensational, emotional, and almost as addictive as getting a tattoo itself.

My only quibble with the story is that I felt the resolution and the ending arrived almost at the same time.  It would have been nice to have shared in Jon and Arthur’s happiness for a moment before the book ends.  But it just felt a bit rushed and not as satisfactory as the rest of the book.  The other thing I wish to point out is that Indelible Ink is listed as part of the Boys Will Do Boys series but that is a loosely connected group of stories with different authors and not a continuation of the characters and situations found inside Indelible Ink. So be warned if you are looking to purchase the others because you liked this story.

Small quibbles with the ending aside, I really recommend this story to all lovers of m/m romance and contemporary fiction.  This is not a case of instant love but a realistic, halting climb to trust and love with characters you will adore.  I enjoyed Indelible Ink and think you will too.  It will be released by Ellora’s Cave Publishing on December 6th, 2013.  Put it on your calendar!

Book To be Released on December 6, 2013.

Amazon Buy Link Kindle

Book Details:

Indelible Ink [Ebook] By: Marie Lark
ISBN 9781419948114
Book Length Novel
Publisher Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc.
Imprint: Romantica®Line: Spectrum
Series: Boys Will Do Boys

Review: Model Love by S.J. Frost

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Rating: 4.25  stars out of 5

Model Love coverIan Eldridge and his twin brother Aiden were once the world’s top models.  Courted by famous photographers and designers alike, the brothers had the fashion world at their feet and life was spectacular. Then a drunken driver crashed into their limo taking the life of Aiden and Ian was shattered. Now three years later Ian continues to grieve, turning his back on fashion and his career. When his close friends Rodney and Mitch plan a getaway to Bora Bora, they convince Ian to come along hoping a change in setting will alter his outlook on life.

Temaru Marceau, half French half Polynesian, has returned home from France to Bora Bora and now owns and runs a dive shop catering to tourists and local dive enthusiasts.  Experience has taught Temaru to stay away from tourist flings that leave him heartsick and alone after the vacation is over.  Then he spots Ian alone on the beach and everything changes for both of them.

As attraction deepens to love, Ian starts to heal and look to the future and resuming his career again.  But will that future include Temaru or will he be left behind once more.

When I think of S.J. Frost I think of her ancient vampires of her Instinct series, or her edgy rocker boys of Conquest, so I was unprepared for the gentle sweetness of Ian and Temaru of Model Love.  I have to admit I  was charmed by this story.  Every element appealed to me from the Bora Bora location to the Project Runway world of models and fashion.  And to give this story more depth, Frost added an element of loss and grief on both character’s part that gives Model Love a sense of realness that it might otherwise been lacking.

I loved both main characters.  The grieving Ian Eldridge, unable to get past the survivor guilt and crushing loss of his best friend and twin, is especially touching.  Anyone who has lost someone close to them will recognize the pain and depression that envelope this man.  Ian is stuck, unable to move  past this traumatic loss and the world, with the exception of two friends, has moved on without him. These two men, former business associates, are a married gay couple who were also a part of his brother’s life and career. They are instrumental in getting Ian away from his present and into a location so opposite of where he is emotionally and physically living that a change might be possible.   Rodney and Mitch are wonderful creations of Frost’s, and I took them to heart as easily as I did the main characters.

And then there is Temaru with a loss of his own that will help Ian move past his grief and accept the love that is offered.  Temaru is a beautifully layered character with an interesting history of his own.  He is Ian’s equal in intelligence, education and beauty. And its that equality that makes our belief and connection to their romance one that is easy to make and be invested in.  I don’t know if I could have believed in such an instantaneous love if Temaru had been just “an  island diver” instead of the college educated man he is.  For this relationship to work  and for the reader to believe it had a future, both Temaru and Ian needed to have the requisite character and inner compatibility that would resonate with each other and Frost gave them that essence.  And then made us believe in it.

For me this was a story that got better after I finished it. The more I thought about it, the more I connected to the men and their love for each other.  I could easily see a return to these characters and their universe should Frost decide to do so.  I would love to see more of Temaru and Ian, Mitch and Rodney and even a designer Seggio Fabbri who deserves his own happy ending.  Pick up Model Love and be prepared to fall in love yourself with Bora Bora and the men who fall in love on its beaches.

Cover design by Fiona Jayde Cover photography by S Photos.  The choice of models was not in keeping with, well the choice of models.  That one man looks more like a weightlifter than the svelte male models of today’s runways.  A  definite miss of a cover.

Book Details:

ebook, 141 pages
Published October 23rd 2013 by Ellora’s Cave
ISBN13 9781419948534
setting Bora Bora, C

Review: Aching For It (Dominican Heat, Book 1) by Stanley Bennett Clay

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Rating: 1 star out of 5

Aching For ItHollywood photographer Jesse Lee Templeton III needs to put his ex boyfriend’s betrayal behind him.  So a  “sexcursion” to the Dominican Republic with a friend is just what Jesse feels he needs.  But a chance meeting at a bodega with worker Étienne Saldano changes their lives forever.  Etie is Jesse’s forever love just as Jesse is the person Etienne has always dreamed of.  When Jesse’s vacation comes to an end, neither man wants to part from the other.  With immigration laws standing in their way, can Jesse and Etie find their way to happiness and a life together?

Where to start, where to start?  Never has such a short book flummoxed me on so many areas.  This includes a schizophrenic writing style that alternates between Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest florid and common man/broken spanglish style.  Add to that unflattering and unappealing characters,  confused plot, immigration fraud, and a story that just stops cold.  The whole things just overwhelms me.

But let’s just start with the writing.  Here is a sample of one style found within the narrative:

Back in our room we attempted to wean ourselves from the blistering and bliss-filled heat of our passion in the shower, but even the tepid-to-cool water that rained upon us couldn’t put out the fire we ignited over and over with our kissing and soaping and sucking and cleansing and licking and f*&^g. We grew dangerously close to the scorch of unbearable pleasure, but our hearts gave us no choice. Our carnal expressions of love new and immortal were commands from our rapture we gladly obeyed.

Each night we fell asleep in each other’s arms. Each morning we awoke, still embraced. That all too brief time together couldn’t quench the thirst we had for each other. Our moments on the beach; during candlelight dinners when knowing mariachi underscored our telling glances; in each other’s arms, minds, bodies, souls and hearts created a pact of eternalness that we knew not even death could tear apart, though time loomed as a too strict overseer.

And there are pages containing  even more florid expressions of love.  Then as if someone flicked a switch, we get this:

“She come to my room, baby,” Étie tried to explain as calmly as possible, but he was obviously very upset. “And she drunk. I invite her in. We talk. I go to pee. Come back and she naked! I say to her, ‘What you doing, Francesca?’

I don’t know about Francesca, but I am giggling away.  And back and forth we go, from the supposedly profound and florid to the profane and in your face dialog.  From run on sentences that last a paragraph to short bursts of  “I am so sorry, Junie,” she boohooed softly.”  Boohooed?

Here is a more typical example:

Still, the paper-cut battles that lay ahead, the fight against the subtle tyranny of the heterosexual majority, and the trudging through the maze of that pejorative ignorance and polite dispassion, wearied me.

Rare black butterflies are we, our exoticness admired under glass, on the carnival stage, for the love we share. Our love is a love that speaks its name in tongues too foreign to be understood by those well-meaning, condescending heterosexist admirers, yet with a lilt that intrigues them enough to indulge in things they wouldn’t dare try within the civilized civility of their pristine opposite-sex existences. The very thought of a man lusting after his brother’s wife is a universal abhorrence. Fucking your gay brother’s partner? No problem.

Disturbing writing style aside, there is also the fact that Jesse is down in the Dominican Republic visiting The House of John, a brothel specializing in “young male sex workers, known as bugarrones, were readily available for as little as twenty American dollars” The younger the better.  Even the author has Jesse acknowledging that

“I was just another john at House of John, the notorious whorehouse gay Americanos frequented for the purpose of sexually exploiting Étie’s fellow countrymen.”

So the problem here is not exploitation of the poor young Dominican men but that it almost cost him Etie? I think you can see why Jesse is not the most endearing of characters.  There is a sex addicted, alcoholic sister involved, plus an acquaintance/friend turned enemy who acts as a foil for, well, everything.  We also have an occasional changing of POV from first person to third and back again.  And after plodding through 74 pages, the story just ends.  The author has indicated that Aching For It is just the first in a series, another fact that has me dumbfounded.

Still,  flip flops in the narrative such as these did make this story memorable, although not in a good way. From

Our carnal expressions of love new and immortal were commands from our rapture we gladly obeyed.

to

 “Ahhh!” Étie shrieked, “Ahhh! Ahhh! Ahhh! Papi, Ahhh!”

Well, finish it I did, further no more I go.  Even Yoda would not have the patience for this story, let alone a series.  I could keep quoting.  I could even keep mentioning further issues I had with plot and characterization.  But I won’t bother.  I won’t be recommending this book to anyone other than as an example of how not to write a story. Or even a sentence.  Just give Aching For It the pass it deserves.

 The  cover is lush and gorgeous, so undeserving of the story within. Cover design by Dar Albert Cover photography by Simedrol68, Allen Penton, Lunamarina/Fotolia.com

Book Details:
ebook, 74 pages
Published April 19th 2013 by Ellora’s Cave Publishers Inc.
ISBN1419942867 (ISBN13: 9781419942860)
edition language