Review of Inside the Beltway by Ellen Holiday

Standard

Rating: 4 stars

Senator Davis Hudson’s life is all about politics. Endless committee meetings, Senate hearings, as well as constituents to attend to, all contribute to an almost 24/7 work day.  But Senator Hudson has his eyes on a bigger target these days as several of his senior staff members are urging him to make a run for the Presidency.  Davis decides to test the political waters to see what kind of support he might have and that means he needs more publicity. To that end, Senator Davis ends up sitting in the makeup chair at CNN, under the care and skill of makeup artist Kurt Lamb. Davis finds Kurt’s opinions interesting.  As they spend the time before the interview chatting, Davis Hudson realizes it’s not just Kurt’s viewpoint he likes, but the man himself.

A return trip to CNN means a chance to reunite with the attractive makeup man, Kurt and things start to progress out of the Senator’s control. Kurt is gay, Davis finds Kurt compelling in a sexual way, and his entire self image shifts in a manner he is not really comfortable with. Kurt is interested back and doesn’t try to hide how he feels about the Senator.  As Davis Hudson tries to come to grips with his feelings about Kurt, he realizes he could be jeopardizing everything he has worked for his entire life. Unknown to him, Davis’ ex-wife is watching him being touted as the next presidential candidate and fuming over the fact that she should be standing there with him ready to reap the long denied benefits.  Outside forces are aligning against Davis even as he tries to find a future with Kurt.  Can David Hudson find the courage to be himself before he is forced to leave Kurt behind?

I picked this book up based on the title alone.  OK, I live in the DC metro area and that title is like  catnip to a mouse around here.  We are so steeped in politics,on county to state to federal levels and everything in between, that I am usually very skeptical of any book purporting to have a view of DC from the inside.  Imagine my delight when Ellen Holiday gets it right from almost every aspect.  A quick trip to her bio gave me the answer.  She lives in DC.  No wonder there is not a wrong touch here.  From the various locations, to the inner workings of the Senate, and even the local news, Holiday gets it right, again and again.  How I loved this as nothing is more grating then reading an author’s attempt to tell me that someone made it from Reagan National to the Mall in 10 minutes, via the Red Line no less. No worries on that front here.  She knows DC and depicts it exactly as it should be.  Great job as well as a example in writing what you know.

Then there are the characterizations.  Here comes my first quibble.  Ellen Holiday gave us very believable people to read about.  From the ego centric and arrogance of Davis Hudson, smug in his belief that his smooth manner, a good looking face and physique (but not too goodlooking, mind you) will see him into the President’s seat, Holiday gives us a realistic portrait of a politician at the top of his game.  Kurt Lamb with his interesting background is typical of the types of people drawn to DC.  As for Davis’ staffers, from Matt to Alex, both are such great depiction of the staffers seen every day on the Hill.  My favorite?  That would be Senator Pierce Randolph.  Yes, Senators like him do exist. So if I am all that about Holiday’s characters, why the quibble?  I just didn’t like David Hudson very much.  He is such a smooth politician that I didn’t buy his conversion.  Or the fact that he fell in love with Kurt.  Kurt deserves a much better person than Davis, even a lobbyist and that’s saying something. So I never really invested myself in the love affair, that’s my quibble.  Holiday did a great job making Senator Hudson a believable Senator, the consummate politician.  Those A types don’t throw over their careers, in my opinion unless they are forced to as was Davis.  Our newspapers, news casts and TMZ  contain no small amount of stories such as these. Do the names Jim McGreevey , Anthony Weiner or Eliot Spitzer ring any bells? That doesn’t make them likable, just realistic.

So I had a great book, full of terrific characters, accurate locations and believable drams.  And half a great couple.  I can’t wait to see what Ellen Holiday comes up with next.  Just no lobbyists please.   How about some nice schmo who works for the Smithsonian or a think tank wonk?  All good characters for me.  We have a great city that just legalized Gay Marriage.  I look forward to reading what Ellen Holiday does with that.

Cover by Catt Ford.  Great design but that red font color still doesn’t work for me.

Review of Just What The Truth Is by C. Cardeno

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

Ben Foreman has been in the closet for his entire life, settling for making his parents happy rather than living his own life.  In fact, for a while, Ben’s denial of his homosexuality and his efforts to comply/defend his parents values, that is cost him his best friend, Clark, and his younger out and proud gay brother, Noah who happens to be Clark’s partner.  So yes, his life was complications piled on top of lies, repeat, and the stress was getting to him.

Then Micah Trains, litigator extraordinaire, joins Ben’s firm and all Ben’s carefully built walls come crashing down around him.  Micah happens to be both gorgeous and gay and attracted to Ben.  Ben sees in Micah someone he wants to spend the rest of his life with, no matter what his brain is saying.  As one date leads to another, Ben keeps messing up the relationship until Micah breaks up with him.  Faced with Micah’s loss, Ben must finally choose who he is going to be and how he will live his life, by his parents standards or his.  It’s time Ben decides just what the truth is!

I loved this book!  C. Cardeno kept me frustrated with Ben, laughing with him and sometimes sobbing right along with him on his journey to self awareness and a life worth living in every respect.  C. Cardeno’s characterizations and spot on dialog were so wonderfully executed that the story zipped along and I was finishing the end before I knew it.  Ben is so messed up at the beginning that it would be easy to write him off  as a passive character who has not grown up enough to challenge his parents views and it shows how much he has lived in fear of their disapproval.  It is extremely helpful to the reader’s understanding and ability to empathize with Ben that the story is told from his POV. In fact is almost becomes imperative that we understand where Ben is coming from so we don’t give up on his character.  Just when we are getting a little too frustrated with Ben’s lack of progress with the decisions he needs to make, Ben’s is right there telling us in an aside that he is plenty frustrated with himself too.  While this literary ploy might be considered too “cutsey” in other stories, I find that it worked well here and helped to pull the reader into Ben’s mindset and emotional state.

And the other characters C. Cardeno created to assist/love Ben into making the life adjustments necessary to become a whole man happy with who he is?  They are just so real, so alive that they jumped off the pages at you.  Whether it is Noah, Ben’s sarcastic and embittered gay brother or Micah’s hysterical parents, especially his mother, they all come across as someone you have met in your life or heard about.  Each with their quirks, flaws, and many other human qualities front and center to be fully enjoyed and celebrated.  The scenes with Micah’s mother and sister alone had me spewing across the Kindle and searching for papertowels to clean up the mess.  I still giggle thinking about them. Priceless.  And then there is the very real emotional cost of repressing your true self for so much of your life that no one knows who you really are including yourself.

In fact C. Cardeno has laid out a beautifully realistic book of one’s man’s journey to a happy fulfilled life, and the pitfalls he encountered or put up himself that had to be overcome before he could achieve his goals.  As I said I loved this book and I think you will too. Don’t pass it up.

Cover art by Paul Richmond.  Lovely cover, perfect for the story.

Other Books in the Home Series. It is helpful to read them in order but not necessary to enjoy the books:

Home Again (Home Series #1)

He Completes Me (Home Series #2)

Where He Ends And I Begin (Home Series #3)

Love At First Sight (Home Series #4)

Just What The Truth Is (Home Series #5)