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: Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Christmas Kitsch coverOn the outside Rusty Baker might look like just another stereotypical football player, just one of many in his high school that looked as though they were popped out of a mold for tall, big, blond rich boys.  But on the inside Rusty is different, a difference that remains hidden until Oliver Campbell, small, dark and out Oliver Campbell, enrolls in his high school and sits next to Rusty in class. When one of the more brutish football players starts in on Oliver in class, Rusty is there to cut him off, making his protection of Oliver clear to all.  A close friendship is started, one Rusty doesn’t understand.  Because Rusty suffers from poor self esteem and thinks he is stupid. Rusty can’t understand why the cute and highly intelligent Oliver would want to be his friend.  Then the day before Rusty is to leave for Berkeley, Oliver kisses him and everything changes for them both.

The hardest thing Rusty ever had to do was leave Oliver behind going to a community college while Rusty left town for a school he knew he wasn’t ready for and couldn’t survive in.  Rusty is under a mountain of stress over everything, from grades to his sexuality and the pressure almost does him in. When Rusty returns home for Thanksgiving, it all explodes when his parents catch him kissing Oliver in the driveway and they kick him out, homeless at the holidays.

While Oliver and his dad may not have material wealth, they are rich in acceptance and love.  And with their support and Oliver’s love, Rusty just might make it through not only the holidays but the rest of his life.

In Rusty Baker Amy Lane has created one of the most luminous, heartbreaking characters I have ever read.  Ten pages into the story I started weeping over this glorious man child who has been made to feel stupid and inadequate for all his years, promptly forgetting that Rusty exists only in the pages of Christmas Kitsch and the fertile imagination of Amy Lane.  Told from Rusty’s point of view, his thoughts and feelings (as well as the manner in which Rusty voices his views that shows just how deep his lack of self esteem is) engage the reader so throughly that you forget about everything around you except for Rusty and his halting path through life.

Trust me when I say that just when you think that Rusty can’t break your heart anymore, then he says something  that seems innocuous on the surface but is so shattering in the truth that it reveals that you find yourself breaking down yet again, grabbing for that second box of tissues while realizing that you are only on page 60 or so of a 256 page story.  Rusty Baker is so incandescent in his innocence and beauty that I almost expected the pages to glow.  He is textured, and glorious and unforgettable in every way.

But Rusty can’t make it alone, either in life or in the story.  So the author has created a group of characters every bit as remarkable and amazing as Rusty himself, starting with Oliver Campbell.  Oliver really is Rusty’s polar opposite from quick intelligence to his physical exterior.  Oliver’s mixed race parentage is evident not only in his name but in his small stature, dark eyes and skin. Equally rich is the latin culture which overlays everything at home from his family’s food to their family rituals.  Oliver is highly intelligent, generous of spirit and out about his sexuality.  This is our and Rusty’s first introduction to Oliver:

Oliver showed up in early September of my senior year, slender, brown on brown on brown. Dark brown hair cut with long bangs around his narrow face, dark brown eyes with thick, thick lashes, and light brown skin. He slouched quietly in the back of Mr. Rochester’s English Literature class and eyed the rest of us with sort of a gentle amusement.

It’s that “gentle amusement” that draws Rusty in as well as Oliver’s acceptance of him no matter what  Rusty might say or the way he struggles with everything in his life.  Oliver is there to quietly shore Rusty up, giving him a look at families who love and support each other with a generosity Rusty has never had in his life.  There is a quiet glow to Oliver that is never outshown by Rusty, they complement each other perfectly. I love Oliver and Oliver’s amazing dad, Arturo, both so alive that I absolutely believed in them as a family.  And that goes for Estrella, Rusty’s housekeeper and surrogate mom, as well as Nicole, Rusty’s young sister just as starved for love and family as Rusty is.  Nicole’s fragility is slowly revealed to Rusty and the reader as she becomes more of a presence in Rusty’s life.  I know that sounds odd but when you read the story you realize just how compartmentalized Rusty’s family is and the impact of that structure upon the children.

OK, I realize I am doing it again, treating these characters as real people.   Amy Lane is a superb storyteller.  She creates worlds, situations and yes, characters that seem as real as any you might meet outside your door.  They are flawed, they bleed as well as breathe.  And when they hurt, you will hurt and bleed along with them.  And that’s because somewhere those characters crossed the line from paper personas to people we love and care for as though they are family.  I have the empty tissues boxes to prove it.

What characters seemed removed, incomplete and insubstantial?  Well, that would be Rusty’s mother and father.  And with  good reason, because they feel that way to Rusty.  His parents are cold, detached from family warmth and familial love, driven by their own ambition and control.  By the author creating characters so coldly ephemeral and disengaged from their children, it helps to establish Rusty’s viewpoint as ours and it helps to understand his upbringing as well as Nicole’s.

There is laughter to be found among the pages to go with the river of tears you will shed for this amazing boy crying out for love and understanding.  And the reader will celebrate the happiness that Rusty (and Oliver) find together after all the obstacles have been surmounted.  I found myself, exhausted, red faced and snotty, surrounded happily by empty boxes of tissues at 3am and promptly wanted to do it all over again.

If I had a minuscule quibble with this story, it would be with the title.  I would have loved it if the title would have been free of holiday references.  Why?  Because I am afraid that at any other time of the year readers unfamiliar with either Amy Lane or this story might relegate it to the Christmas story genre instead of “the must read at any time of year’ category it so deserves.  But that is a wispy sort of quibble, lacking any substance and disappearing as we speak.

I loved, loved Christmas Kitsch.  It is heartwarming as well as heartrending. It is as joyous as it is poignant! And I will read it again and again because that’s what I  do with comfort reads with characters who are real to me and dear to my heart.  I am sure you will feel the same, so grab it up and start reading.  Have that tissue box handy, you will need it.  And as a extra bonus you will be helping LGBT youth in need as well.  This is a Highly Recommended, Best of 2013 or any year.  Don’t pass it by!

Cover art by LC Chase is soft and lovely.

Special Note:

20% of all proceeds from this title are donated to the Ali Forney Center in New York, whose mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.” To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visithttp://www.aliforneycenter.org

Book Details:

256 pages
Expected publication: December 9th 2013 by Riptide Publishing (first published December 7th 2013)
ISBN13 9781626490864
edition language English
Riptide Publishing’s Home for the Holiday Series