Review: Reviewing Life (A Review Story) by Lara Brukz

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Reviewing Life coverAfter a life spent as an alcoholic,  Marshall Ellerbee finds a himself at an AA meeting and on the path to sobriety.  Finally sober, Marshall find a new outlook and the strength to change his life in every aspect.  He starts a new job at the Wellness Center that houses his sponsor and starts making amends.  Then his sponsor suffers a heart attack and dies.  His replacement is none other than Kyle Young, Marshall’s ex-lover’s best friend.  Kyle was no friend to Marshall even when Marshall and Eric were just dating.  But after the drunk driving accident that cost Eric the use of his legs, Kyle’s distain turned to hate.  And now Marshall is expected to work with the man who hates him.  Marshall wants to show Kyle that he has changed, but will Kyle accept that fact and Marshall?

Kyle Young is floored when he finds out that the athletic manager for the Wellness Center where he was just hired is none other than the drunk that almost killed his best friend, Eric.  But Marshall appears sober and when Marshall saves Eric’s life, then Kyle must finally accept the fact that Marshall has turned his life around and become a better person, not just a sober one.

When the men find themselves attracted to each other, and not just physically, it upsets the fragile state of their budding friendship.  Is a romance even possible between two men who shared  a past such as Marshall’s?

I thoroughly enjoyed Lara Brukz’s first story in the series, Five-Star Review.  That novel was Eric Carillo (a reviewer of M/M Romances) and Cade Montgomery’s (author of M/M Romances) story.  But Marshall Ellerbee figured largely in that tale as the ex-lover who, driving drunk, put Eric in the wheelchair and the lifestyle that isolated him in his loft.  His attempts to re-enter Eric’s life after the accident only caused more pain and heartache through a scheme hatched by a drunken Marshall.  In another story, it would have been easy to write  Marshall off as the villain he certainly was but in Brukz’s hands, Marshall was also a person in great pain, drowning in alcohol, destroying his life and others in the process.  Eric could never bring himself to hate Marshall although he hated what the man had done and who he became under the influence of alcohol.     Brukz created a character who could be redeemed but not in that story.  I think many of us who read Five-Star Review wanted to see what happened to Marshall and now we have our answer in Reviewing Life.

As the story opens we find Marshall sitting in at his first AA meeting, listening to people relate the traumatic events that finally made them get sober.  It is a bleak picture and Marshall sits there shaking wondering if he has the courage to go to the podium and acknowledge that he is an alcoholic.  It is a powerful scene and handled with the  painful realism it deserves by Lara Brukz.  Alcoholism and the path to sobriety is a topic of much larger and detailed stories.  But Brukz’s treatment rings with sincerity and the need to make Marshall Ellerbee’s recovering alcoholic as authentic as possible.  We get glimpses into Marshall’s upbringing and his use of booze as a bandaid for the problems he encountered.  And Brukz makes Marshall work for his acceptance, asking for forgiveness and trying the make amends for his past actions.

Kyle Young also has a past that includes alcoholism, although not his own.  So Kyle’s approach to the disease and those afflicted is colored by his own experiences, again a realistic handling of the subject matter.  I liked Kyle and the sober Marshall found in this story.  Their romance was slow to build, as it should be with two characters and their past issues.

At 124 pages, it would be a challenge for any author to bring in the full range of issues and milestones in an alcoholic’s road to recovery.  There are several mentions of the temptation to drink again, including one scene at a bar.  The need for support for a alcoholic is there throughout Reviewing Life, a necessity for someone to remain sober.  Lara Brukz introduces a few secondary characters at the Wellness Center, including a young man called Toby.  I loved the scenes that took place there and can only hope the next novel is located at the Center and brings  back not only Toby but the other children and adults as well.

Of course Eric and Cade are strong secondary characters in this tale, so those readers as fond of them as I am will be overjoyed  to see them again.  This is a strong romance which could have benefited by additional length to add some more layers to  Marshall’s recovery and Kyle’s background.  However, I enjoyed Marshall and Kyle’s romance and think most readers will too.  Consider this definitely recommended for both the story and the author. More please.

This is how Reviewing Life starts…

“I LOVED vodka. Vodka martinis; Bloody Marys; screwdrivers. Oh, and I loved green apple vodka. Simply an amazing drink. It was what I went to when I was happy, when I was sad, when I was frustrated. I used any excuse as a reason to practically drink myself into a coma.”

Cover art by Catt Ford.  Just a terrific cover, love the artwork.

Books in this series include:

Five-Star Review (A Review Story #1)
Reviewing Life (A Review Story #2)

Book Details:

ebook, 134 pages
Published November 20th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press (first published November 19th 2013)
ISBN 1627982752 (ISBN13: 9781627982757)
edition language English

The Sochi Olympics Have Arrived and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Google Gay Doodle for Olympics

So one of the most strained and contentious Olympics has begun, that of Putin’s Sochi Olympics.    Eyes are on NBC to see how they report on the many issues that abound at Sochi as well as on the athletic contests and the olympians that compete.

In the past, NBC has been almost too reverential towards the IOC and the hosts of the Olympics.  Think Beijing and civil rights.  Now comes their chance to report fairly on all the issues as well as with the athletes participating in the Olympics themselves.  As gay rights or the lack of at Sochi and in Russia are such a large issue, I would hope that when interviewing the athletes and their families, including partners, NBC will be inclusive, interviewing gay participants and their partners and families instead of just the straight athletes as they have done in the past.   I don’t want the athletes to get lost in all the controversy, they have worked too hard for that.  But some of those athletes are gay.  And their identity should be on equal status as everyone elses.  Putin and Russia don’t recognize that.  It is too late to talk about whether or not Russia should have been awarded the 2014 Olympics.  That’s done.  And the IOC continues to be as spineless as they always have been.  But I have hopes for this Olympics that go beyond sporting events into a larger global discussion.  As Google, Chevrolet and even more sponsors show their support for the LGBTQ community through commercials, Google doodles, and PAs, the discussion and support for equality grows.swan-lake-dancer

So today I am including some of the best blogs/segments reporting not on the contests themselves but extraneous issues that have come out of Sochi to date.  The links are below.  I did watch the opening last night.  Wow.  Builders and construction again.  Red baby buggies for an expanding population, hopefully for Putin. Lots of flying Red scythes and what seemed to be floating Stalinistic heads.  There were some lovely moments too. The singing policemen were wonderful. I liked the floating islands and volcano. That segment with Swan Lake as its accompaniment as ballet dancers swirled under amazing contructs that lifted and floated as they danced was my favorite.  So was the Olympic Gods portion with the heavens full of constellations that looked like the various athletes.  The lighting of the torch was memorable too.  And those wonderful athletes from all the countries marching in under their flags, with joy and exuberance, happy to be a part of such a great community.  Nothing Putin does can take that away from them.  What was your favorite moment from the Opening Ceremonies?

Now here are the books being reviewed this week.  Don’t forget to check in with me on Thursday and enter the Riptide/JL Merrow contest for It’s All Geek To Me. I also have a terrific story just in time for Valentine’s Day.  Don’t miss out on Geoffrey Knight’s Be My Valentine, Bobby Bryson and bring a tissue or two. I will be glued to the tv, with my Kindle, popcorn and of course, my terriers!

Monday, Feb. 10:     Reviewing Life by Lara Brukz

Tuesday, Feb. 11:      Of Last Resort by Megan Derr

Wed., Feb. 12:           It’s Only Make Believe by Havan Fellows

Thurs., Feb. 13:        J.L. Merrow’s It’s All Geek To Me Book Tour & Contest

Friday, Feb. 14:         It’s All Geek To Me by J.L. Merrow

Sat., Feb. 15:              Be My Valentine, Bobby Bryson by Geoffrey Knight

Scattered Thoughts on the Super Bowl Team Names, Animals Cute and Fierce and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Osprey head VSwild mustangs fighting

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Its Super Bowl Sunday and for many of you  that means a day spent in front of a screen watching two teams play for the ultimate title in American football, the Superbowl Trophy and bragging rights (to say nothing of the ring and tons of  money).  This year, Super Bowl XLVIII (48) the battle is between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, ostensibly two teams named after animals.  I say that because are those animals the real deal?  Or are they fictional?  What if all NFL teams had to have real animal names?  Would the Seahawks and Broncos still be around?

If we look at last year’s Super Bowl winners, the Baltimore Ravens, the answer is clear.  Yep, Ravens exist and are forever associated with Bal’mer and Edger Allen Poe.  Ditto the Cincinnati Bengals, another animal that walks the planet, although in far fewer numbers each year.  Is the Cincinnati Extinct Bengals inconceivable?  Not really. Here are all the other  NFL Teams with animals in their names.  Can you fit the name to the city they are from (answers listed at the end, some may surprise you)?

Bears, Cardinals, Colts, Dolphins, Eagles, Falcons,Jaguars, Lions, Panthers, Rams.

But back to the Seahawks and Broncos.  There really is no such thing as a Seahawk.  There are Sea Eagles, of which our Bald Headed Eagle can be considered a member.  There is a Osprey, a raptor that is not exactly a hawk but its own genus within the Raptor order Acciptriformes. But an actual Seahawk?  No, not really, not outside a nickname. Now an Osprey is a pretty cool raptor, common here in Maryland (and in fact all of the U.S.).  I have watched Bald Eagles steal the fish right away from an Osprey pair on the Bay and had a tough time doing it. With that mask on their face and that fierce attitude, they are a force to be reckoned with.  So why not call themselves the Ospreys?  That would certainly make more sense to me and be accurate as well.

But the Broncos are no better with their name.  Broncos?  Google it and you know what comes up?  The NFL team the Broncos.  Now bucking broncos is a term used with rodeo horses.  But if the team was looking for a real animal (versus a animal sport) then they could have looked no further than the Mustang.  Wild mustangs are all over the  west.  A smaller tough wild horse, scrappy and resilient.  The Denver Mustangs?  That would have been cool, and a chance to help those herds being hunted off park land.  Hmm I wonder if ranchers around the Denver area had something to do with the name choice here?  Just saying…..

So if we were to stick to real animals, this Sunday’s game would be the Seattle Osprey vs the Denver Mustangs, a missed opportunity all around.  For education, for tie-ins with the WWF or some other conservation group.  Ah…well I can always look for the Ravens and Bears to return to glory and a chance at the Super Bowl rings once more….

For those of you who are not football enthusiasts, there are other animal bowls to choose from.  The Animal Planet has its Puppy Bowl and the Hallmark Channel is having its first ever Kitten Bowl.  Both feature puppies and kittens up for adoption and the ultimate in cuteness outside the new Anheuser-Busch Super Bowl Commercial, Puppy Love,  with puppies and Clydesdales.  But for all of you who look at these next four hours and think nap, I have a truly inspired animal bowl for you.  Nat Geo Wild has introduced this year its Fish Bowl.  Yep, a goldfish, in a fish bowl, for 4 hours, starting at 6pm.  See?  Something for everyone this year.

So what you are going to watch today?  Mislabeled Teams with large men? Puppies, Kitten or Fish?  Or something completely different?  Let me know.  I will be watching the Super Bowl commercials, reading and eating popcorn surrounded by snoozing terriers and a dancing African Grey.  Go Naked Mole Rats! I can dream, can’t I?

Now for this week’s reviews:

Monday, Feb. 3:   Second Star to the Right by A.F. Henley

Tuesday, Feb. 4:  Cupcakes by Sean Michael

Wed., Feb. 5:         Ghosts of Bourbon Street by Rowen Speedwell

Thurs., Feb. 6:      The Battle of Will by Sasha L. Miller

Friday, Feb. 7:      Frostbite Collection by Totally Bound Press

Friday, Feb. 8:      Reviewing Life by Lara Brukz

Football team name answers:   Chicago Bears,  Arizona (what no city wants them?) Cardinals,  Indianapolis (don’t even get me started) Colts,  Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars,  Detroit Lions,  Carolina (again what’s with the state? based in Charlotte) Panthers, St. Louis  (they get around) Rams.

Bowls to Watch:   Hallmark Channel’s Kitten Bowl, Animal Planet Puppy Bowl, and Nat Geo Wild’s Fish Bowl (ok the last keeps cracking me up).  Here is the link to the Fish Bowl App.Goldie the Fish Bowl fish

Puppy Kitten Bowl

Review of Five Star Review by Lara Brukz

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Rating: 3.75 stars

Eric Carillo edits textbooks for a living and writes book reviews for his blog mmreviewers on the side.  When m/m fiction author Cade Montgomery sends him a email after Eric had reviewed one of his books, it is the start of a long distance online friendship that both come to treasure.  As the friendship deepens into something that might be called romance, Cade and Eric start thinking about meeting in person.  When a conference brings Cade to Eric’s city, each hopes their meeting will rate a five star review and the beginning of a future together.

Five Star Review is a very sweet short story that has some lovely twists and turns to it.  The romance by email gives us a chance to watch the relationship grow between the two men as they go through their daily lives.  Eric Carillo is a terrific character, nuanced by a surprise waiting for the reader and Cade that neither of us expected.  Well done, Lara Brukz! I didn’t see it coming and it makes Eric stand out from the crowd of similar individuals I have read about.  Cade Montgomery by the same token doesn’t distinguish himself as much from other blond, good looking nice gay men in other stories.  He comes across as a little bland but sweet natured.  Both men are surrounded by loving families I wish we had seen more of during the story.

This is a short story, only 105 pages long and it ran into trouble during the last half of the book.  Instead of concentrating on the  two main characters and deepening their relationship, the author chose to concentrate on Eric’s ex who lives across the hallway.  Marshall Ellerbee is a confusing character, part pathetic rich boy half alcoholic stalker. The author makes him a viable threat and then has Eric treat him in an offhanded manner that belies their past.  The last chapters deal with Marshall and his actions in an unsatisfactory and hurried fashion which culminates in an ending that still has me asking questions, the primary one being why wasn’t the police called.

My review of Five Star Review ends stating that Lara Brukz has much to offer as an author.  Here she has shown that  she  can deliver a character we can connect with, complete with a angst filled backstory combined with a present reality that will surprise us.  And she gave him and us half a great story.  I look forward to seeing the potential she showed us here given full reign in the next story.

Cover: Cover art by Catt Ford.  Just a great cover, perfectly captures the main characters and the story elements.  Beautiful.