Blood & Milk by N.R. Walker Pre OrderTour and Giveaway

Title: Blood & Milk
Author: N.R. Walker
Genre: M/M Romance
Release Date: June 23, 2016
Heath Crowley is an Australian man, born with two different coloured eyes and the gift—or curse—of having premonition dreams. He also has nothing left to live for. Twelve months after having his life upended, his dreams tell him where he needs to be. So with nothing―and no one―to keep him in Sydney, he simply boards a plane for Tanzania. Not caring if he lives or dies, Heath walks into a tribe of Maasai and asks to stay. Granted permission, he leaves behind the name and heartbreak of Heath and starts over with the new Maasai name of Alé.

From the day of his birth, Damu has always been an outcast. The son of the chief and brother to the great warrior leader, Damu is reminded constantly that he’s not good enough to be considered a man in the eyes of his people. Ordered to take responsibility for Alé, Damu shares with him the ways of the Maasai, just as Alé shares with Damu the world outside the acacia thorn fence. But it’s more than just a cultural exchange. It’s about trust and acceptance, finding themselves, and a true sense of purpose.

Under the African sky on the plains of the Serengeti, Heath finds more than just a reason to live. He finds a man like no other, and a reason to love.


It was twelve months on. A full year had passed, yet my world had stopped completely. The men who stole my life were charged and would serve time for their crime. No one called it a hate crime, but that’s what it was. If I was expecting some sort of finality to come with the court findings, I didn’t get it. 
I was still hollow. I was still numb to the world, and I was still alone. 
I was also awarded damages, civilian victim and medical.
A nice healthy sum that meant I could pay off my debts after not working for twelve months, and more. Though no amount of money would make this right. No amount of money would bring him back.
My mother came along for the final hearing, though I could only guess why. I had barely spoken two words to her in the last year. Maybe she came so she could vie for the sympathy card with her friends. Or maybe she thought she could have one last twist of the knife…
“Now it’s all over,” she said, nodding her head like her words were wise and final. “You can put all this homosexual nonsense behind you.”
I looked at my mother and smiled. I fucking smiled. I raged inside with a fury to burn the world, and maybe she saw something in my eyes―maybe it was a ferocity she’d never seen before, maybe it was madness―and my words were whisper quiet.
“You are a despicable, bitter human being, and you are a disgrace to mothers everywhere. So, when you go to your church group, instead of praying for my soul, you should be praying for yours. You have only hate and judgement in your heart, and you are doomed to an eternity in hell.” I leaned in close and sneered at her. “And I hope you fucking burn.” I stood up and stared down at her. She was pale and shocked, and I did not care. “If you think my words are cold and cruel,” I added, “I want you to know I learned them from you.”
I walked away, for the final time. I knew I’d never see her again, and I had made my peace with that. 
I didn’t care for the money. I didn’t care for anything. I longed for sleep, because in my dreams, I saw him. And that night, almost one year to the day since he was gone, in our too-big bed, in our too-quiet flat, in my too-alone life, I dreamed of Jarrod.
He sat on our bed and grinned. I longed to hear his voice, just once. It’d been a year and I craved the sound of his voice, his touch. But when I reached out for him, even in my dream, as in my waking nightmares, he was gone. I sat up in our bed, reaching out for nothing but air. He was gone, really gone. 
But in this dream, on the bed were he’d sat, was a plane ticket. Mr Heath Crowley, it said. One way ticket to Tanzania.

N.R. Walker is an Australian author, who loves her genre of gay romance.


She loves writing and spends far too much time doing it, but wouldn’t have it any other way.


She is many things: a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who live in her head, who don’t let her sleep at night unless she gives them life with words.


She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things… but likes it even more when they fall in love.


She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal.


She’s been writing ever since…  

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A Barb the Zany Old Lady Review: Rag and Bone (Rag and Bone #1) by K.J. Charles

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Rag and BoneIt’s amazing what people throw away…

Crispin Tredarloe never meant to become a warlock. Freed from his treacherous master, he’s learning how to use his magical powers the right way. But it’s brutally hard work. Not everyone believes he’s a reformed character, and the strain is putting unbearable pressure on his secret relationship with waste-man Ned Hall.

Ned’s sick of magic. Sick of the trouble it brings, sick of its dangerous grip on Crispin and the miserable look it puts in his eyes, and sick of being afraid that a gentleman magician won’t want a street paper-seller forever—or even for much longer.

But something is stirring among London’s forgotten discards. An ancient evil is waking up and seeking its freedom. And when wild magic hits the rag-and-bottle shop where Ned lives, a panicking Crispin falls back onto bad habits. The embattled lovers must find a way to work together—or London could go up in flames.

Set in the world of A Charm of Magpies, this is the story of Crispin Tredarloe and Ned Hall, who according to the author’s note, were featured in her short story “A Queer Trade” within the Charmed and Dangerous: Ten Tales of Gay Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy anthology. Though I didn’t read this short prequel, I was easily able to follow this story as a standalone.

Crispin is a graphomancer, a practitioner of blood writing, a rare talent. Graphomancers use writing and drawing to practice their magic and can draw an injury or death for those they wish to harm. But Crispin doesn’t have good control over his skill, and after having been used by the infamous warlock Mr. Marleigh to assist him in his evil mission, he’s more than happy to take the advice of the justiciars and study with Dr. Sweet, a visiting professor who is well-versed in graphomancy. Crispin needs to learn how to use his talent without relying on the pen Marleigh directed him to create, a pen which uses his own blood to write. And he’s trying to do all this under the watchful eye of the justiciars, many of whom believe he’s a warlock and unable to learn a non-threatening way to use his gift.

Ned is a waste man, collecting paper from all over town to sell for a penny a pound. His quarters—a small corner of his part of a store he shares with a rag-and-bottle shop—are filled to the brim with paper and the accompanying paper dust. But he has a little corner in which his bed is squeezed, and it’s there that he and Crispin find their moments of happiness in the deep of night. And on one of those nights, they discover a burning heap in the middle of the rag-and-bottle shop next door, and the heap turns out to be Mr. Voake, the owner. The other mystery surrounding the burning corpse is the presence of a jug from which the song Scarborough Fair seems to be originating. The only one who can hear it is Ned, a man who is not born to the world of magic. But it appears he has a rare talent for hearing things related to magic that others cannot.

Ned sets off alone to discover if any other rag-and-bottle shops have reported a death and is dismayed to find that there were indeed more. In fact, Ned’s discoveries lead him to the conclusion that evil magic caused the deaths. When Ned disappears, he’s able to connect with Crispin through Crispin’s magic and, together, the two have to fight off a very ancient and very malevolent spirit that has managed to come to life. The story is very exciting, complex, and intriguing from that point on, not only due to the frightening discovery they make, but also due to the consequences the men face when a justiciary investigation, led by Stephen Day, uncovers the magical power unleashed by Crispin as he and Ned fought for their lives.

Though I enjoy this author’s work, it took me awhile to get into this story. I believe it’s due to the fact that I didn’t enjoy this couple, as a couple, as much as others in the Magpies world. Tristan was very unassuming, with low self-esteem and a high quotient for misunderstanding the comments others made about him. Ned was smart, but very defensive about being a person of color in the world of magic, including the dreaded justiciars. Possibly due to the circumstances and time period of the story, neither man was overly demonstrative with the other, and I just didn’t feel the loving bond of a strong connection as I did with Stephen and Crane, or with Jonah and Ben (Jackdaw).

If you are a fan of KJ Charles’s work, by all means pick this up. The history and feel of the era, the complexity of the mystery and magic, and the chance for a quick revisit with Stephen Day and Mrs. Gold, all make this one well worthwhile. Though I personally didn’t connect with the MCs, I still enjoyed the story, and I’m looking forward to more tales from this world.


Cover Art by Angela Waters clearly depicts both MCs in period attire. Though it’s in color, it gives the impression of having been done in daguerreotype, thereby making the photo appear authentic.

Sales Links eBooks:  Samhain Publishing | ARe | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 146 pages
Published March 1st 2016 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
Original Title:Rag and Bone
Edition LanguageEnglish

Review: Loving Hector by John Inman

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Loving HectorDillard “Dill” Brown is not sure what to say about his life.  Dill is tall, gay and writes m/m romance novels.  He has published 3 books, none very successful. At the age of 30, he has a closet full of fast food uniforms due to the fact that his writing barely pays his rent, and a mother in denial that her son is gay.  Then everything changes.  He gets drunk, meets a man he swears he won’t forget but does in his stupor, finds a dog he will call Chester, and puts his feet firmly on the path to true love and happily ever after.

Hector Pena is also on that road with Dill, but he just didn’t realize it at first.  There are a couple of misunderstandings to  get over before they really start to connect but the biggest obstacle?  That would be Hector’s exboyfriend, Valdemaro.  Valdemaro is not ready to let Hector go, to the point of beating and physically restraining him.  Only one thing is keeping Hector from calling the cops.  And that would be the fact that Valdemaro is a cop.  Dill  will  do whatever it takes to keep Hector safe, put Valdemaro in his place and make sure Dill, Hector, and Chester the dog reach their HEA, including gathering together some of the craziest, zaniest group of people to do it.

Loving Hector is the first book I have read by John Inman and it has me reaching for the rest of his titles immediately.  Dill, Hector, and the crazy group of characters that enrich, support and drive them batty had me laughing for hours.  John Inman rests the story in the somewhat capable hands of Dill Brown, 30 year old gay m/m romance novelist and collector of fast food jobs.  It is told from Dill’s off kilter and very funny rambling POV.  Now I am aware that this type of stream of consciousness, scattered narrative is not everyone’s cup of tea and that it can depend on exactly who and what type of character’s thoughts are constantly flowing over the page.  But I happened to find Dill hysterical, his view of the world compassionate and openhearted, so I enjoyed spending time  inside his very creative and observant mind (thank you, John Inman).

For an example, here is Dill eyeing his Gramps, a crazy old coot who just happens to love his gay grandson:

When Dill was finally able to step out onto the sidewalk, the two men eyed each other up and down like a couple of Sumo wrestlers getting ready to rumble.

The top of Gramps’s work pants were tucked up under his armpits so that his belt buckle was directly under his chin. Dill could see several inches of pale, shiny shinbone gleaming between the man’s pant legs and the top of his socks. One of the socks was white with little red and blue stripes around the top, and the other was white with little yellow and green stripes around the top. The second sock drooped down around the ankle because the elastic was shot. The first sock looked like it was three sizes too small and by the way it was strangling his grandpa’s leg, Dill figured it would probably create an embolism sometime in the next seven or eight minutes that would kill the old man dead. The shoes were brown-and-white saddle shoes, the sort you usually see in old pictures poking out from under a poodle skirt. The laces were missing. The trousers were brown and shiny, and the lumberjack shirt the man wore was a horrendous green and orange plaid and big enough to hold three grandfathers. It was without a doubt the ugliest plaid Dill had ever seen in his life. If it was a tartan emblem for a particular clan of Scottish Highlanders, then they must have been a clan of color-blind, troglodytic morons.

There was a fat pocket watch in one of the shirt pockets which dragged the left side of the shirt down lopsided from the way it was supposed to hang, making his grandfather look as if half of him was doubly affected by gravity, and the other half wasn’t affected by gravity at all. He wore a woman’s wristwatch on one arm and a man’s wristwatch on the other. Even with three clocks, Dill would have bet his life if you asked Grandpa what time it was, he wouldn’t know. To top it all off, the man’s fly was wide open. Dill kept expecting a moth to fly out. Better that than a hundred-and-fifty-year-old dick.

Wrap a feather boa around Gramps’s neck and slap a derby on his head and he would look like the poster boy for cognitive dysfunction. Dementia’s Hunk of the Month.

Ignoring the persistent throbbing of his poor hung-over head, Dill scooped his grandfather, or what was left of him, into his arms. “Hey, Gramps. It’s great to see you.”

That gives you a very good taste of the sort of thing you can expect from Loving Hector.  Over the top descriptions that leave you with a very clear picture of who and what is going on with Dill at any given moment.  I love the characters John Inman has created for this story.  Yes, some come very close to stock characters or caricatures we have seen before, the horny grandpa, the loony mom, the overly patient dad, etc. But the author puts his own spin on them, endows them with plenty of heart and soul, bringing them to life on each page they inhabit.  This goes for two of my personal favorites, Miss Lily  the Vietnamese owner of Yum Yum Donuts and her German baker husband, Thorolf.  I loved these two immensely, and not just because of their interaction with Gramps.  Here is Dill’s description of Miss Lily’s hair:

She had hair enough for six Vietnamese immigrants, and she wore it piled high on top of her head in a celestial arrangement of blue-black curls and swirls and flips and dips and interwoven ribbons and fluttering metal butterflies and a chop stick or two, and what looked like a windshield wiper from a ’53 Buick sticking out the back. Dill figured the blueprint for that hairdo was so intricately complex that Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan, working in tandem with fourteen Cray computers at their disposal, couldn’t have figured it out. Hell, I. M. Pei must have been her hairdresser. Maybe he just designed weirdass buildings on the side. This was his true masterpiece.

No, Miss Lily is a masterpiece, and so is Thorolf, and the rest of the gang.  Inman manages to make this gang zany while still keeping them human, a lovely feat.  But at the heart of this story is Dill and his love for Hector. Hector has his own story to tell and his recent past is not pretty.

And this is where we arrive at my one real qualm with these story.  Hector is a victim of domestic violence, a very real and underreported crime in the gay community.  His ex boyfriend is not only physically abusive but a police officer which is every victim’s worst nightmare, no matter their sexuality or gender.  To see how real and combustive a threat this combination is, just pick up any current headline.  I can think of two offhand in The Washington Post over the last several weeks and neither of them involved comedy or ended well for the victim.  I really wish that Inman had chosen another avenue to demonstrate Valdemaro’s unsuitability as an ex boyfriend.  He could have chewed tobacco, smacked mimes or hated dogs, anything but be someone who doled out beatings in the same manner he gave out parking tickets.  It makes me uneasy to see such a real problem a part of a story with a comedic romantic bent.  Had that element been missing, this rating would have been substantially higher, as it was it almost pushed this rating into 3 stars.

Still I loved Dill and his gang.  How can you not love someone who looks at all the fast food uniforms in his closet and calls them The Closet of Humble Beginnings, not looking at them as a line up of failure but as a means to make money and still have the energy left over to write.  I like that man, and his family (related and otherwise).  I liked his lover too.  So off I go to see what else I can find that Inman has written.  Pick this one up, there is a scene where flying donuts come to the rescue….you won’t want to miss that or any of the other hijinks that ensue.

Cover art by Paul Richmond is perfect for the story and the couple within.

Review: Daddy’s Money by Alan Chin

Rating: 3.75 stars

Daddy's MoneyMuslim Sayen Homet has had a long journey to get to the United States.  His mother fled from his abusive father and brother back in the Middle East.  Now Sayen is working his way through Stanford University’s Medical School, a place where he can be out as both gay and a Muslim.  But the bills are overwhelming him, so he has become the companion of a wealthy older married man who hides his sexuality and pays Sayen’s bills. Sayen likes his older companion but is getting tired of the secrecy involved in their relationship, When a fellow student, Campbell Reardon, starts showering Sayen with attention and gifts at the same time, Sayen begins considering ending his relationship with his older benefactor and taking up with Campbell instead.   Campbell Reardon is gorgeous, wealthy and says he is in love with Sayen.  No longer would Sayen have to hide a relationship and he would have all the benefits of a wealthy, single suitor as well.

Sayen breaks off with his older lover and breaks the man’s heart as well. Then Sayen takes up with Campbell, who not only comes out to his parents but takes Sayen home to meet them as well. This innocent introduction of Sayen to Campbell’s parents spells destruction on all involved as Campbell’s father is none other than Blake, the married man who was involved with and loved Sayen for two years.  As the shock of betrayal reverberates through the family, Blake discovers he wants Sayen back and Campbell flounders in the face of his father and lover’s past relationship. Whose love will hold the key to Sayen’s heart?

I have admired the writings of Alan Chin since I first discovered his book Matchmaker, which remains a favorite of mine.  I can always count on a complex plotline and multilayered characters that behave as realistically and humanly possible with Chin’s characterizations.  And as with Island Song or Simple Treasures, a mystical thread can be found running like an etherial current throughout the story.  All of that comes into play here and something more, an active voice for the main character versus the passive voice Alan Chin normally applies to his books.

I have mixed feelings about how all these ingredients faired in Daddy’s Money, a complicated, ambitious story on so many levels.  I was intrigued to see how Alan Chin handled a father and son competing for the same lover storyline, which is a compelling idea fraught with father-son issues such as paternal love versus romantic love. And in the father’s case, a man with repressed sexuality who has fallen in love for the first time.  Along with the elements of multiple love interests, the story is told from Sayen’s Muslim view point as well, one of the more challenging elements of this story.  I know that Alan Chin travels frequently throughout the world and assume that the Middle East has been the destination of many trips.  But I did wonder how a non-Muslim could accurately project what a Muslim would feel or do in any given circumstance, including the rape by an older brother.  This abuse figures largely in Sayen’s emotional makeup and factors enormously into his past and his outlook on love.

I think my biggest issue with this story comes down to the character of Sayen Homit.  I felt absolutely no connection to this man whatsoever.  The man is a taker, something Sayen himself admits to.  We are given to understand he feels that living in the United States has separated him from his religion as well as his ethnicity but it comes across more as his own selfish, goal oriented views that have done that than anything else.  He is ruthless in using whoever or whatever it takes to get his degree, pay his bills, accomplish his goals.  If someone gets hurt, then what small guilt he feels is momentary and soon passes. Sayen will take about seeing an inner glow in others while demonstrating none of his own.  In fact, the callous disregard Sayen feels towards his older benefactor just deepens the disconnect between the reader and the character once we meet Blake.  Blake truly is the character that draws out our empathy, our pain.  Blake is the one character, other than Campbell’s sister, that I connected with.  But with Sayen showing no real warmth towards any of the other characters, remaining remote and full of distain, how can the reader be expected to show Sayen anything other than the same.  Even when Sayen finally acknowledges that he loves Campbell, it is too late for both Campbell and the reader to believe it.

I honestly feel that had this story been told from Blake’s pov, not only would it have been a richer, more vibrant book in keeping with the man as he is portrayed, but a completely different review.  Blake is a marvelous character, so complex, so emotionally hurt, not only by his years of lying to his wife and himself over who he really is but in pain from the loss of the only man he has ever loved, Sayen.  A pain that is multiplied when Blake finds out that he has lost the man he loves to his son who is to be used as the “golden goose”.  Campbell is too golden, too superficial, at least at the beginning to engage the reader’s emotions on his behalf.  And those emotions, if not captured at the beginning, are hard to recapture later on.  For me, it never happened with Campbell.  Other than Blake, it is Campbell’s antagonistic pregnant teen sister that will interest the reader on the same level as Blake.  And it is how she ended up that cost Sayen what little grace he had gained with me at the conclusion of the book.  I don’t want to completely spoil the ending but just consider what a small village in Muslim Tunisia would do and think about an unwed nonbeliever, a bastard child, and a gay man in their midst.  I think recent headlines give us that answer and quickly.  So Sayen’s belief that his way is the only right way continues to the end and continued to further my distance from any fondness for this man and his fate.

It took me a while to hash over this book in my mind, days in fact.  I went back and forth over a rating because there is so much here to admire, including a new approach in Alan Chin’s narrative as well as telling a story from a Muslim’s point of view, something I rarely see in this genre.  But in the end my antipathy towards Sayen could not be overcome, no matter how I looked at this story.  But I hope that Blake comes back for his own tale.  He deserves it as much as he does some happiness.  I want to know more about Blake’s future and new romantic love interest.

So I am going to recommend this, even with all my issues with it.  You might feel differently about Sayen than I do.  I look forward to hearing from  those of you who read it.  Tell me what you think.  I can see this book generating much discussions in the near future.

Cover: LC Chase’s Bentley figures large in the story.  Well done.

Review of Gilbert (Leopard’s Spots #5) by Bailey Bradford

Rating: 4 stars

Amur Leopard shifter Jihu Warren was imprisoned by the leader of his lepe, forced into Chung Hee’s rigidly controlled breeding program by the use of drugs and beatings. But even in his cell, Jihu heard of his half brother’s Bai’s freedom and escape from the lepe life that is all Jihu has known.  And that fact gave Jihu hope.  When Chul, father of Bai and Jihu, comes to the compound and confronts Chung Hee, a fight breaks out that allows Jihu to escape with the help of another half brother.   With only an address and dilapidated vehicle, Jihu takes off, intent on finding Bai and a safe place to hide.

Gilbert Trujillo is puppy sitting for his brother, Isaac and his mate, Bai while they are conducting animal rescue from the Colorado wildfires.  Home from a run to the  store, he finds a strange truck in the garage and a very frightened Jihu hiding in the house.  Gilbert realizes immediately that Jihu is his mate but Jihu’s senses are impaired, a result of the injections he received at the compound.  Not only can Jihu not smell that Gilbert is his mate, but he unable to shift, causing physical pain and leaving him unable to tell who to trust as his senses are impaired. Gilbert must win Jihu’s confidence and trust, and quickly.  Because Jihu has brought with him something that will change everyones life around them and Chung Kee is intent on capturing Jihu and returning him  and his package to the compound.  Together the men and the family will have to band together to fight against an insane man bent on continuing his rule.

Gilbert is the fifth in the Leopard’s Spots series by Bailey Bradford and it deepens the mystery concerning shifters being drugged, encarcerated, and experimented on that started with Timothy (Leopard’s Spots #3).  We met lepe lord Chung Hee in Isaac’s book, but the true measure of his rigid rule is made apparent here, very similar to North Korea’s Kim Jong il. Under the guise of furthering Amur Leopards population growth, Chung Hee has kept his people confined to a rigid lifestyle in which men and women are used as breeders only with no affection shown to each other.  Or to the babies who are quickly removed from mothers who never wanted them to begin with.  Kept in fear and ignorance, those who rebel are imprisoned and experimented on with drugs, to what end is never made clear.  But Bradford is clearly setting the stages for momentus events coming in future books.  I anticipate the answer will find us returning to the Himalayas and the Russian Far East, the Amur Leopards original territory.  I love where this series is going and continue to be frustrated by the book length, here only 138 pages.  This has all the aspects of a rich plot and I would love to see it given the space and attention it deserves.

Once again this brings me back to the amount of pages spent on sexual activity.  In Isaac’s book, it balanced out with the plot.  Here not so much. We tip the scales back to so many sexual descriptions of Jihu and Gilbert’s mating that the increasingly complicated plot and wonderful characters are almost lost among it.  Why the author continues to do this when she has so much to offer in characters and storyline baffles me.  I can only hope that as the series moves forward, she finds a balance between the two that both promotes the bonding she obviously feels is necessary to the story and the story itself.

The reason for the higher rating is that the characters are wonderful to go with a rich plot.  Jihu captures our sympathy from the start. Jihu is a young man desperate to escape from the compound he has lived in his entire life, the lepe run much like the cults that end up in the news today, its members so brainwashed that to live otherwise is almost unthinkable. The reason he is so determined to escape is one of the book’s great joys, a spoiler I won’t giveaway here.  Gilbert Trujillo is another remarkable member of his family, fully realized as a kind and gentle  person, awkward outside his family, he finds his strength in coming to Jihu’s rescue and the events that  follow.  I loved Gilbert almost as much as Isaac who is back along with Bai Allen Warren, his mate and other Trujillo family members from previous books.

Gilbert ends with much up in the air, family members are harmed and we are not assured of their status, the villains points the way to a deeper conspiracy, and Esau, the subject of the next book, is missing.  With a lesser author, I might have abandoned this series long ago, but there are so many strengths here, from plot to characterizations, that I gobble up each story as soon as they come out.  Do I get frustrated by the same quibbles over and over, yes.  But the pull to find out what happens next overpowers whatever faults I find in the writing.  So it’s on to Esau (Leopard’s Spots #6) coming out in October.  I will be first in line to get it.

Cover by Posh Gosh is gorgeous,  the models are  perfect for Jihu and Gilbert, the leopards stunning. what more could you want.

Here are the Leopard’s Spots series in the order they should be read to fully understand the plots and the characters within:

Levi (Leopard’s Spots #1)- read my review here.

Oscar (Leopard’s Spots #2) – read my review here.

Timothy (Leopard’s Spots #3) – read my review here.

Isaiah (Leopard’s Spots #4) – read my review here

Gilbert (Leopard’s Spots #5)

Esau (Leopard’s Spots #6) coming in October 2012

Review of Smooth Like Latte by Rawiya

Rating: 3 stars

Brendan Walsh’s life has been devoted to pleasing his father, Alexander Walsh, head of Walsh Financial Corporation.  Unlike his older brother who defied his father and left to live his life on his own terms, Brendan went to school and got his degrees with one thing in mind, working for his father and taking over the business when Alexander retired.  And to achieve those goals, Brendan has also stayed in the closet, well aware of his father’s homophobia.  Living the closeted life in exchange for money and success had never been a problem for Brendan until he meets Latte, a barista in the coffee shop in the lobby of their company building.  One latte macchiatto later, and an attraction is formed between the two men that will change Brendan’s life forever.

Devori “Latte” Jenkins, artist and part-time barista, is in the groove at Cathy’s Coffee , making his coffee creations and talking to the customers when he sees Brendan Walsh in line waiting to place his order.  Devori is gay and the man in line is not only handsome but setting off his gaydar.  A quick conversation and Brendan leaves his business card with phone number along with his tip.  A phone call, then a date which leads to a weekend. But when Brendan confesses to Devori that he’s hiding the fact that he is gay from his family, Devori must decide if he can accept being the  secret boyfriend of a closeted gay man or will Brendan give up family and fortune for love?

Smooth LIke Latte is a short story of 99 pages and a very sweet tale at that.I could easily see Devori and Brandon as boyfriends struggling to find a way to make things work, given diverse background and disapproving families.  But a sweet story is sometimes just not enough to make a really good story.  To accomplish that, you must have realistic characterizations, dialog consistent with the age of the characters, and a great editor(or one you listen to). While I think the characters of Devori and Brendan are certainly more than superficial creations, their dialog and actions are those of much younger immature man.  I can’t think of any one of their apparent age using the terms “wuss” or “mushy” or making a list of goals that any preteen girl would recognize 1.) I want him to be my boyfriend  2) I want us to move in together in 6 no 3 months 3) I want to marry him and have kids etc.

A lack of uniform characterization continues with Alexander Walsh.  Obssessed with family name, business and a homophobe, he makes his views on gays clear to Brendan and when Brendan comes out to his father, Alexander rants about his son being a sinner, that he will burn in hell, how  could he do this to him, etc.  Homophobic and realistic.  Yet in the epilogue Alexander is so happy that Brendan is not going to be a competitor in the business world that he reinstates Brendan’s trust fund immediately, and happily turns over a hundred million dollars with no hesitation, totally at odds with the characteristics  previously introduced and used as the main reason Brendan has not come out earlier.  Considering his previous stance on gays, especially gays in his family, that seems highly unlikely. Then there is the time frame. Devori and Brendan meet, have sex, declare their love, melt down and breakup and finally reconcile – all in one week’s time.  Again so very Tiger Beat. Perfect for a young hormonal preteen angst yet not for those older.

The other big issue here is the odd use of some terms or in one case, a word is used in a manner that makes no sense.  The sentence is :”The duplicity of submission and domination was exquisite.” I think the author meant combination as duplicity means “deceitfulness: the fact of being deceptive, dishonest, or misleading”.  And there are so many more word choices that are just off or plain odd.  From a “figurative 2000 weight”, a “daylong swelling”, “to culminate a bittersweet moment”, “duration of the late evening”,right up until he “held onto his back muscles” and a “downtrodden look”, which is even worse in context.  And then there is the problem of a degree in publicity which we don’t have here in the US, you can get a degree in Advertising or Marketing but not publicity. The diverse writing styles of the story , which can change by the paragraph, almost seem as if it was written by more than one author, it has a “teen” sound, an odd/misuse of words that sometimes comes with poor translations,florid purple prose,combined with some passages that are very well written with none of the problems I have noted.  All very odd indeed. And then to cap it all off, you have the florid terms of bodice rippers such as “lily white thighs”, “chocolate brown pools”, and “swollen vessel” and “pink jewels”.  All of which are issues that a great editor and concrit partner could have taken care of and turned this sweet short story into a terrific short story.  The elements are there and the author’s bio says it is the author’s first solo work.  I wonder what their next story will bring.  I am very curious given the rollercoaster that is Smooth Like Latte.

Cover: What a delicious cover. Cover by Shane Willis of RAD ACT Photography, great job.