A MelanieM Review: The Lies That Bind (Boystown #8) by Marshall Thornton

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

 

The eighth book of the best-selling Boystown Mystery Series begins with a phone call in the middle of the night. Private investigator Nick Nowak is pulled into the troubled world of freelance journalist, and all around pain-in-the-ass, Christian Baylor.

When Christian can’t stop lying about the corpse in his bathroom things slip slowly out of control. Meanwhile, Nick’s relationship with former priest Joseph Biernecki takes an unexpected turn and the Federal case against Jimmy English proceeds toward trial.

Here we are, into the eighth book in the Boystown series, and  as a result of all the events he has had to go through,the character of Nick Nowak is showing some real growth and changes in his life.

He’s running (when the unrelenting heat of the Chicago summer permits), he’s turned his new lakefront apartment into a home, has established routines with Mrs Harker on Sundays, Brian and his boyfriend. He’s even  deepening his own relationship with the ex priest Joseph, which is different than all the others he’s had before.  Yes, Nick Nowak has become monogamous, a circumstance that has surprised him and happened without him realizing it. Or talking about it with  Joseph.  Even Nick’s bank account is flush with money…an even rarer oddity.

So of course, things get snarled and messy for Nick just as he thinks he may have some things in his life figured out.

I think that if you haven’t especially emphasized with Nick before, perhaps because of his infidelities and outlook on sex, this is the story, that brings you over to Nick’s side.  It will be in Nick’s relationship with Joseph, their dynamics, their  new relationship fraught with surprises for them both.  How the dynamics in the relationship is handled by both men over the course of the story is important because, not only does it feel real, grounded in the reality of the way people handle changes in their romances and perceptions, but because it marks a maturity and growth not seen before.

All the while that is happening between Nick and Joseph, Nick is heavily involved in two cases. One that is a carry over from the previous stories involving Jimmy English and Owen’s law firm.  The other is new involving an old acquaintance…Christian Baylor.  A pain in Nick’s proverbial ass, former friend of sorts of Harker’s, and somewhat yellow journalist looking to up his game.

Both mysteries are creative and complex.  Jimmy English’s keeps evolving over the series of stories.  Everytime you think Nick and the reader has a handle on where it’s going, Marshall Thornton changes direction and victim/culprits.  Its compelling, dark, and a puzzle you can’t turn away from.  And its not  over here.  The end is not is sight yet which makes me happy.  Jimmy English himself is a character that I’ve come to be addicted to as well (not a healthy thing in these novels with their high body count).

So is the one with Christian and the body in the hallway.  With Nick and his cases, nothing is ever straightfordward.  There are layers of deceit, links to Nick or people he knows to deal with, and emotions dredged up that Nick somehow must learn to deal with.  Also physical danger and tons of suspense.

How I love these stories.  So many outstanding elements and all handled expertly!

One last note on one of those elements.  That would be the 80’s factor here.  Marshall Thornton’s use of topics and elements from that era to bring the fact that these stories and Nick live in the 1980’s vividly alive is done so well.  Here AIDS has progressed throughout the US as has the research into how it is spread.  People are starting to talk a little more knowledgeably about it but the fear about blood contamination is rising as well (how well I remember that phase). AIDS, its growth, has been a common factor throughout the series.  You can chart the first whispers of it beginning with book 1, the chills making those early books all the more memorable because you know where it will lead you.

Other 80’s elements are mind boggling.  The double floppy disk Wang computer system that’s long disappeared from memory, COMPAQs, the appearance of IMB systems and a huge brick like mobile phone costing $4,000.  Amazing.  There’s more of course, but those made honorable mention in my mind for this review.  Thornton handles all the aspects of that era, big and small with equal respect and importance.  From sports scores, to newspapers, tech equipments down to music and clothes wear….the research is impeccable.  And folded into the narrative just as it should, matter of factly and not as an historic statement.

Yes, I love this, yes, I  recommend it and all the others that go before and should be read in the order written.  One of my top books/series of the year.

Cover art by Marshall Thornton

Sales Link: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 244 pages
Published February 21st 2016 by Kenmore Books
ASINB019ZS0SHM
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesBoystown #8

Series:

Boystown Bundle 1 – 3 – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #4 A Time For Secrets – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #5 Murder Book – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #6 From The Ashes – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #7 Bloodlines – Amazon US | Amazon UK (ON SALE for 99c)
Book #8 The Lies That Bind – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #9 Lucky Days – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #10 Gifts Given – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #11 Hearts Desire – Amazon US | Amazon UK (PREORDER

A MelanieM Review: Masc (Femme #2) by Marshall Thornton

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Lionel and Dog are back in this follow-up to the Lambda finalist, Femme. Almost six months have passed and, after taking an online quiz, Lionel believes their relationship is doomed because they have nothing in common. To save their future together, the pair joins a gay bowling league and discovers that Lionel is an excellent, if somewhat eccentric, bowler.

Meanwhile, Dog gets profiled in a work newsletter. He’s excited that he’s out at work, but doesn’t immediately realize that by fawning over Dog’s masculine nature the writer was also putting down all femme guys. Lionel takes it personally, which leads the to a crisis in their relationship. Attempting to make it up to Lionel, Dog makes a grand gesture—which backfires spectacularly.

Will the two manage to put things right? And will a night in jail, a morning of drag bingo, an afternoon of day drinking, and a month of moping make things better or worse?

I just loved Femme, the first story that introduced us to Lionel and Dog, and their road to love and a relationship.  I wish I just had this one to sail right into.  If Lionel is the femme of Femme, than Dog is the masc of MASC.  It’s so fitting that we now get Dog’s perspective in Masc (Femme #2) by Marshall Thornton as we pick up the timeline where Femme left off.

Well, we still get Lionel’s too.  Happily, Marshall Thornton gives his readers this story from both Lionel and Dog’s points of view.  But the focus is on Dog, the idea of a masculine “gay”,  how that definition impacts Dog and others around him, including his relationship with the femme Lionel.

There are so many things about not only MASC but this series that stay with me.

Thornton has created a cast of characters, starting with Lionel and Dog that I have taken to heart.  I fell in love with Lionel first, then Dog.  Here Dog’s vulnerability really stands out.  I keep thinking about Dog/Doug the person…yes, he seems somewhat naive in some respects, but I know people like that.  That earnestness, need to want to help or fix things is “real” and believable.  Which makes what comes later in the story even more heartbreaking.   Because the author uses something that occurs in real life and applies it to Dog.  And it’s not only extremely timely, it’s also upsetting and disturbing because the reactions are ones I’m sure others in his circumstances are receiving as well.

Trust this author to take this series and story and include such serious elements such as child abandonment (Lionel), parental loss, male gender roles, physical abuse, and sexual harassment into a story that includes sparkling dialog, glittering humor, heartwarming romance and love.  That includes Dog’s entire family and Lionel’s family of friends…both of which collide when Lionel joins Dog’s bowling team with surprising results.

The only thing that keeps this from a five star rating (which it will get anyway because I will round up) is that it’s not a standalone story.  MASC needs Femme to lean on just as Dog needs Lionel as his support.  Not that their communication issues get resolved until later in the story. That also feels very real in a new couple.   No,  much of who these two are and how they came together rests in the first story (a must read anyway in my eyes).

I intend to go back and read them one right after the other for my pure enjoyment.  Hopefully, this is not the last of Lionel and Dog.  But even if it is, I’m so thrilled to have made their acquaintance.  I want to go bowling with them, play bingo with them, and just spend more time with them.  It’s time well spent in laughter, love, and maybe a few sniffles too.  That’s life and this story is full of it.  And characters  who you will never want to let go.

Yes, I highly recommend them both.

Cover art: Marshall Thornton.  Love the bowling shoes!  Yes, they also make me think of the other pair not pictured!

Sales Links: Universal Buy Link

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 217 pages
Published April 28th 2018 by Kenmore Books
ASINB07BWWB5PW
Edition Language English
Series Femme #2

Femme 

Masc

A MelanieM Review: Femme (Femme #1) by Marshall Thornton

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Queeny cocktail waiter, Lionel, wakes up to find himself in bed with Dog, a straight-acting softball player and the two embark on a rocky road to romance. A journey that requires coming out of the closet, going into the closet, a pair of red high heels, many pairs of red high heels, a failed intervention, a couple of aborted dates, and homemade pom-poms. Mostly, Lionel and Dog learn what it means to be a man.

I fell deeply in love with Lionel, the femme of the novel Femme right from the opening paragraphs when he is grapheling with waking up to the morning after realities in the most delightful of Lionel ways.  The conversation he’s having with himself over the man in his bed, the probabilities over what he thinks his name is, whether or not the sex was as delightful as he remembers it was or great dream sex….the rambling goes on and my love affair just solidified itself.  I loved Lionel.

He was effervescence itself while having been through more than a few of life’s harder realities.  Trust me, Lionel is someone who has accepted himself, knows who he is and isn’t going to back down for anyone. He’s fabulous without being a cliche or if he is, Lionel is going to grab that cliche, glam it up, and make it his own.   I totally forgot that Marshall Thornton had created him.  For me, Lionel became real in just a few pages and has stayed that way, even now.

Then Dog woke up.

Dog aka Doug, well, he’s got a different path to  walk, including that to my heart.  It takes a while with Dog.  He’s unsure of everything in his life, including how to stand up for himself, how to come out to his family, how he feels about femmes, just about every important question in life is one that Doug needs to answer in this book.  Loyalty, love, and relationship questions….all are looming large here.

Dog  (the reason for his name will be explained towards the end of the story…perfect really) undergoes realistic character growth.  A much needed ones.  Because, like Lionel, Doug comes across as so real he is also so disappointing in his actions at crucial times in the story.  You’ll see it coming and start flinching at the approach because Marshall Thornton knows human behavior.  I can see readers having issues here.  But it is also what makes Dog/Doug’s growth and the steps he finally takes so rewarding.  He becomes the man who Lionel deserves to have in his life.  They deserve each other, pom poms and all.

Marshall Thornton really knows how to write characters that have staying power.

This is the first in a series.  It has me wondering if the author will pull from the pool of amazing characters he created for this novel or if he’s going to do something  entirely   different but same subject matter.  I don’t care. Ok, yes, I do.  I love all these characters and want to see them all again, except one.  Boo hiss to him.  So I’ll be waiting for my next Marshall Thornton story to arrive (he’s become an automatic read for me).  Meanwhile, I’m highly recommending Femme (Femme #1) by Marshall Thornton to all of you.  It’s two person narrative is highly addictive as are its characters,  the story flows smoothly and quickly, and the ending is one to leave you happy and wanting more of  this couple.

Cover art by Marshall Thornton.  I like the red shoes.  So Lionel but the font seems to harsh.  Maybe that’s what’s jarring me.

Sales Link:  Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 222 pages
Published July 28th 2016 by Kenmore Books
ASINB01FT7CVKU
Edition Language English
Series Femme
Literary AwardsLambda Literary Award Nominee for Gay Romance (2017), Rainbow Award for Gay Romantic Comedy (2nd) (2016)

A MelanieM Review: Hidden Treasures (A Pinx Video Mystery #2) by Marshall Thornton

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

It’s about a dress. A valuable blue sequined dress worn by a famed actress in a film from the 1940s. For some reason everyone thinks video storeowner Noah Valentine has it. Which might not be a big deal except that it’s connected to the murder of a prominent Hollywood costumer.

In the second of the Pinx Video Mysteries, Noah attempts to solve the mystery of the dress. To do so, he must confront a legendary film icon Wilma Wanderly, hunky police Detective Javier O’Shea, the dowager Queen of Watts and a couple of bitter ex-friends.

I am wild about Hidden Treasures and the Pinx Video Mystery series by Marshall Thornton.  Extremely well written, evocative of an era still so close to ours that we can remember all the telling details that makes this book and series ring with familiarity and yet far enough removed that it feels nostalgic. Ah video tapes cartridges…VHS…some may remember from Blockbuster if you didn’t have the smaller privately owned stores like this nearby?  Clunky black rectangles that you rushed to return?  No?

Thornton’s tales are supplied with the names of songs, tv series, movies, books, and every day “go to” gadgets and calendars you had to have.  Yet, none of it feels false or as though the author is dumping too much “historical” facts into his novel.  No, it’s all woven into this series with an ease and a  “normalcy” that often hardly ripples the narrative.  Maybe a slight double take, an appreciative nod, a “oh I forgot about those” from me…but often I’m so buried in the story and the characters that a mention bubbled up pages later in my mind and a note to go back later to look it up.

Oh, man, these characters.  Especially the pragmatic yet wounded Noah.  I have a hard time coming up with the right words not only to describe him but also how much I love this character.  And it’s a love that is growing deeper by the book.  He’s admirable, intelligent, courageous, and often kind.  He’s not hopeful, not yet.  I’m not sure he ever will be in these times.  But each book is proving to be a revelation about him and for him.  I won’t say more.  You need to read the first story Night Drop (A Pinx Video Mystery, #1 to understand what’s going on with Noah and his history.   To say anything more spoils that incredible story and this one. And that just won’t do.

Noah is surrounded by friends equally memorable.  You got to know them in Night Drop but here they actually feel like family.  As does a certain Detective.  They feel alive, believable, authentic, and in some cases, haunting.  This was the 80’s after all.

Marshall Thornton has won awards for his writing.  I hope he’s won them for this series.  If not, he should because they are incredible.  The writing is superb, the characters beyond memorable, the mysteries complicated and entertaining, and the stories  themselves have staying power, an emotional heft that carries far beyond those little words The End.

Now to wait and see what’s next in store for Noah and Pinx Video.  I can hardly wait.  If you haven’t discovered Marshall Thornton, pick up his Pinx Video series, both of them.  I highly recommend them both, including Hidden Treasures.

Cover art is amazing.  I just love the covers for this series. Interesting, pertinent, and great for branding.

Buy Links: Amazon |     books2read.com/HiddenTreasures

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 229 pages
Published January 28th 2018 by Kenmore Books
ASINB0773ST2KB
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesA Pinx Video Mystery #2

 

 

A MelanieM Recent Review: Night Drop (A Pinx Video Mystery #1) by Marshall Thornton

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

It’s 1992 and Los Angeles is burning. Noah Valentine, the owner of Pinx Video in Silver Lake, notices the fires have taken their toll on fellow shopkeeper Guy Peterson’s camera shop. After the riots end, he decides to stop by Guy’s to pick up his overdue videos, only to find Guy’s family dividing up his belongings. He died in the camera store fire—or did he? Noah and his charmingly meddlesome downstairs neighbors begin to suspect something else might have happened to Guy Peterson. Something truly sinister.

The first in a new series from Lambda Award-winner Marshall Thornton, Night Drop strikes a lighter tone than the Boystown Mysteries, while bringing Silver Lake of the early 1990s to life.

I remember the Rodney King beating and the riots that followed in Los Angeles.  Here in the Washington, DC metro area we had our own race riots of the 90’s…the Mount Pleasant riots of 1991.  Still both events are in the distant past.  Yet Marshall Thornton brings it vividly to life in his novel Night Drop, the first in his new series Pinx Video Mysteries set in the 1990’s.

Thornton’s main character, Noah Valentine, is the owner of Pinx Video, that relic of the past, consigned to history by new technology.  Ah, VHS tapes, Blockbuster, and late returns!  We meet Noah in his store with his employees wondering if his store will survive the riots currently taking place.  The author seamlessly folds in all the elements and details of the era (old gadgets, movies, topics) into his story without making it a history lesson or info dump.  I lived it and loved the references, noting them yet they never took my attention away from the drama that was Noah’s life and the riots occurring in L.A.  Oh, and the murder too.

Yes, this is a murder mystery and a terrific one wrapped up within the tumultuous emotional times of the 90’s.  Race riots, gay rights, so much more and Thornton captures it all.  Noah starts off as one man who hesitates to get involved because of his own issues and then slowly he inserts himself into the investigation of a murder that no one seems to want solved in a hurry, if at all.  Noah is a man already full of loss and pain, although at first we only are aware of part of the story.  His long term lover, partner at this time in history, has died and they were estranged at the time of his death.  That estrangement has cost Noah his home, their shared friends and more, leaving him with only the video store and his apartment in the Hills.  You are able to emphasize with Noah, seeing a man in stasis, then fall in love with him as he comes back to life the more he investigates.

The characterizations here are superb.  Layered, believable and in some cases, haunting.  These are people who having staying power, whether it’s Noah’s friends in the apartment units around him (love them) or the Detective on the case that Noah makes a connection with.  I was invested in them all emotionally, needing to know what happened to each and everyone.  The verdict is still out on some and I hope to see many of them in the next story.

Then there’s the murder or should I say murders and the wild, twisty case to the revelation that follows!  It was both believable and grounded in the times, yet the suspense kept me riveted to the story!

Yet the tour de force here for me is the overall picture Marshall Thornton paints.  The bigotry and hate of the era, the closeted vs The Castro, the fear vs the bravery, the search for love vs the bittersweetness of the times.  Oh that ending, that was a punch to the heart.  And yet again the author balanced our hopes for Noah against our knowledge of the times, knowing that this is only the first of the series.  We can always strive for the best for Noah can’t we?

I highly recommend Night Drop (A Pinx Video Mystery #1) by Marshall Thornton.  It’s beautifully written, the story is timely given our current political climate, and the characters memorable and deeply moving.  I can’t wait to see where the author takes this series next.

Cover art is amazing, it all has the elements of the 90’s front and center.  I love it.

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book Details:

ebook, 201 pages
Published September 15th 2017 by Kenmore Books
Original TitleNight Drop
ISBN139781386704850
SeriesA Pinx Video Mystery #1

A BJ Review: Femme by Marshall Thornton

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Rating:    3.75 stars out of 5

FemmeQueeny cocktail waiter, Lionel, wakes up to find himself in bed with Dog, a straight-acting softball player and the two embark on a rocky road to romance. A journey that requires coming out of the closet, going into the closet, a pair of red high heels, many pairs of red high heels, a failed intervention, a couple of aborted dates, and homemade pom-poms. Mostly, Lionel and Dog learn what it means to be a man.

I remember reading a blog post some time back where Marshall Thornton said he didn’t write romance novels. And I had to concede that as truth, as much as I love the Boystown series, there is a lot of sex and there is some love, but not a lot of romance or sexual tension. When I saw that he’d written a book that actually had the word “romance” right up there in the blurb, I had to read it.

As usual, the writing and characterization is superb. There were a few editing errors, but since I don’t remember noting any of those in his other books, I tend to think that is just because the copy I received was an advance copy.

I enjoy reading about flamboyant characters, so I was not surprised that I adored Lionel. Witty, sharp-tongued, ballsy, but with a sweet vulnerability—he had me from the beginning. Can’t really say the same for Dog, well, I take that back. I did like him at the start but after he totally bailed on Lionel in public not once, but twice, I found myself cringing for Lionel and wanting to kick Dog in the nuts.

However, I must admit that he was acting in character… he had a good heart, like Lionel, but Dog didn’t come across as the brightest bulb. And sometimes he didn’t deal with things so well. He did have some terrific insights though when he really sat down and thought about stuff. And so genuinely cared for his family. So, like Lionel, I forgave him. Especially when he came up with the idea for the shoe scene. What a picture. That was great.

While the story begins with the MCs in bed after a drunken one night stand, there isn’t actually that much sex. There is some, although not a lot, sexual tension along the way. In the end, I decided it was just right. There’s a twist near the end that I didn’t see that coming. And I LOVED it.

Lionel loves old black and white movies, and some of this story actually reminded me of the tone set in some of those, which I found pretty cool. The author paints some vivid images, and for the most part the story flowed along well. My biggest complaint was that I’d have preferred more time with Dog and Lionel together and less of Dog interacting with his family. Those bits took up so much page time that a few times I found myself wanting to skim.

Overall, this was a fun and delightfully different M/M read. The cover is simple but it fits the story well.

Sales Links:  Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 222 pages
Expected publication: July 28th 2016 by Kenmore Books
ASINB01FT7CVKU
Edition LanguageEnglish