Review of Brook Street: Thief by Ava March

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Rating: 4 stars

Lord Benjamin Parker has always thought that he might be gay but never put it to a test.  Until now.  One evening at a gambling hell known to be frequented by men who discretely prefer the company of other men, he sits at a card table next to one of the most attractive men he has ever seen.  That man turns out to be Cavin Fox. Cavin Fox has come, not to gamble, but to pick up a wealthy mark to take home and fleece, leaving the mark’s pockets empty come morn.  But he is enjoying their flirting and conversation and the even drags on more than it should.

When the men do leave the establishment together, the night turns into a evening of sexual exploration that neither man will forget.  And Cavin leaves, taking nothing from Benjamin as being with Benjamin has affected him deeply.  Benjamin feels the same and wants nothing more than to see Cavin again.  When events conspire to bring them together  again, Benjamin vows to keep Cavin with him just as much as Cavin feels he cannot stay and take advantage of Benjamin’s feelings.  It takes a dramatic rescue and confrontation to bring about a solution they both can accept in order for a thief and a lord to live happily ever after.

Brook Street: Thief is the first of a trilogy by Ava March that captures the historical feel of the times and still delivers an emotionally rewarding romantic story of love found among the gutters.  Both main characters are easy to love.  Lord Benjamin comes across as an affable fellow, good natured, and generous hearted.  His story of how he determines he actually may be gay will bring smiles to your face as it did to Cavin’s.  The youngest of five children of a Marquis, he doesn’t stand to inherit the title or lands so he is free to be a “confirmed bachelor” all his life, a quaint way of saying he prefers the company of men.  But it is with Cavin Fox that my sympathy and love were quickly seated.  A guttersnipe who was plucked out of the streets by a man named Hale who prostituted him out as well as trained him to be a thief, Cavin still retains a gentle soul and good heart.  When in his anquish he determines not to see Benjamin again, the reader hurts as badly as he does.  Ava March does such a terrific job with them both, that I never felt they were anything less than real.  A young man named Sam also figures into the story as a young brother figure for Cavin.  I hope to see more of him  in the latter stories.

And there is the setting here.  It is 1822, London, England.  March’s descriptions of the hellish nature of the place where Hale, Cavin and the boys live gave me the shivers.  From her vivid descriptions, I could see the rats and urchins vying for garbage scraps as the consumptive whores with their dirty feet watched from their doorways.  Never was I go glad to be living in 2012 America.  March did a beautiful job of conveying time, place and atmosphere and all in a mere 112 pages.  Quite a feat.

If I have a quibble it is that the ending came about a little too fast and the solution Benjamin and Cavin found seemed too pat an answer for the times they live in.  But considering the happy ending and the promise of more to come, I will leave my quibbling there.  I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

Cover.  What a gorgeous cover! Stunning in its emotional appeal and  coloring.  Fantastic job.

Review of Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Brad just had an epiphany, several actuality.  Too bad it happens when his teammate bends over to expose his hairy ass in the communal shower. It’s not just his obvious physical reaction to the moment but all the moments leading up to this one that tells Brad that yes, he really is gay no matter how hard he has denied it. Now what is he going to do about it?

All his life Brad Feller has done what people expected of him.  Huge physique? Athletics all through school into university, while a little voice in his head whispers he would be happier in home economics and cooking classes.  Join a frat full of jocks because of a family legacy and expectations? Yeah, and because he needs to the money for school.  Date girl after girl even after he starts to realize he is using them as a front? The answer is yes to his growing shame. And then there is Sebastian, his TA in the History classes he took for graduation.  Sebastian is gorgeous, cool, hot and oh so out.  Sebastian is also the star performer in all of Brad’s dreams and hopes. Brad wants to come out but doesn’t know how.  His whole world is about to change.

Sebastian is aware of the hot jock watching him in class.  A straight guy , the Frat Boy, right? But a meeting over a paper and Brad himself tells Sebastian a different story.  Brad wants him and Sebastian is only too happy to oblige, take a teacher roll as it were.  But the sex between them is more than hot, it is mind blowing, and perhaps  something more than Sebastian wants to admit.  Can Frat Boy and Toppy admit to the changing relationship between them and grasp the love within their reach?

This book more than met my expectations.  I had expected a cute, somewhat fluffy enjoyable book about coming out and opposites attracting.  This was so much more.  Let’s start with characterization, which for me is always the driving force behind terrific books.  Brad Feller is such a surprising character.  Yes, his exterior is that of a intimidating jock but his interior? Inside he is an almost excruciatingly vulnerable young man trying to understand his sexuality along with his need to be safe and loved.  That his inner voice is also honest and humorous is a huge plus as well. Brad is well aware of the dichotomies he represents, the brooding jock exterior versus the uncertain, insecure, shy young man he really is. Years of hiding his real self has also isolated him as he keeps even his so called friends at arms length.  Tenino has done such an excellent job in creating Brad that from the first inner mumblings of Brad’s thoughts on his life and sexuality, I was hooked.  Not only hooked but in love.  How could you not fall in love with a compassionate, funny, gay chef in jocks clothing who first gets in touch with his inner sub by interacting with his   hair brush in a way not sanctioned by its manufacturer.  Trust me, I was choking in laughter over that one and you will too.

And then there is Sebastian.  In other hands, I am sure he could come across as a complete jerk, a player with a revolving door in his bedroom.  But again Anne Tenino gives us a complicated, totally real person who is more than a match for our Brad.  Sebastian appreciates Brad and truly sees the real person Brad is while totally appreciating the gorgeous body toned through constant workouts and athletics.  Sebastian too must work through his own issues before he can accept the fact that what he is feeling is love for Brad and not just an appreciation of their great sex life.  Sebastian is deserving  of Brad’s love, it just takes him some time to realize it.

There is wonderful humor throughout the entire story.  This includes one of the most memorably funny coming out scenes I have read recently.  I laughed until I cried, trust me it’s hilarious.  This story has it all.  Pitch perfect dialog, outstanding characters, very hot sex scenes (waving fan) and a heart warming tale of coming out and coming to terms with who you really are. I wanted more, much more of Brad and Sebastian, that was my only complaint.  So will you. You really don’t want to miss this story.  It’s that great.  Trust me.

Cover:  What a great cover.  Cover artist is LC Chase and I think they did a wonderful job. Loved it.

Review of Pricks and Pragmatism by JL Merrow

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Luke Corbin is home studying when his lover and owner of the apartment comes home to tell Luke to pack and leave as he’s found someone new. And once more Luke finds himself homeless again, a circumstance that happens often as Luke trades his sexual favors for a place to live and food to eat while he is going to college.  His lifestyle was necessitated by his father throwing him out of the house when faced with a gay son, and Luke’s drive to finish college no matter what it takes to accomplish his goal.  It’s not like Luke has cared about any of the men who took him in, they were just a means to an end.

Then a former lover introduces Luke to his friend,Russell, a chemical  engineer who just might be able to help Luke out.  Russell is definitely not the type of man Luke would hook up with. For starters, he has a pudgy round face surrounded by a scraggy beard and too long mousy brown hair. Russell is wearing clothes that would have been castoffs in the 80’s and is about as socially inept as they come.  But when Russell offers Luke a place to live, Luke is prepared to handle it in his normal way.  But Russell refuses Luke’s seductive attempts. For Russell, sex is about more than casual hookups and all he wants to do is help Luke out.

As Luke slowly adjusts to just being a roommate instead of bed partner, he starts noticing all the things about Russell that make him special and unique in Luke’s experience.  Russell is kind, smart, and funny. And all of a sudden Luke is looking at Russell very differently than any else before.  What will happen when Luke throws out his pragmatic ways in hopes of catching the one man who doesn’t appear to want him?

I am a fan of JL Merrow’s books and this little story just adds to my admiration.  Merrow packs a lot of emotion and plot into 60 pages. In Luke, you have a totally understandable young man.  While you may not like his actions, when you learn the foundation for his behavior, his attitude towards his lovers as well as his outlook on the methods he chooses to get by become acceptable as well as understandable.  To Luke, he is not whoring himself out but merely exchanging services to get what he wants.  Luke is all too human, he has been hurt by his family and by his first lover and it shows.

Russell is a great unexpected character.  This is not your typical cute nerd with glasses who becomes a gorgeous god when he takes them off, Clark Kent style.  No Russell remains Russell, an out of shape, shy, nice guy who everyone overlooks or thinks of as totally forgettable.  I don’t think there is a person out there who can’t come up with someone like a Russell in their own life or memories. Perhaps, like Luke at his first encounter with Russell, we wrote them off or ignored them. But Merrow shows us what happens when circumstances forces both parties to become acquainted with each other to the point of friendship first.  Then the exterior  qualities can somewhat fade in order for the person’s inner character to shine through.

In 60 pages, Merrow gives us a lovely little journey through low expectations into found friendship and the potential that lies ahead if only it can be seen and acknowledged.  It really is a lovely romantic tale full of unexpected realism and some straight truths about people and our perceptions.  Great job.

Cover by Angela Waters

Country Mouse by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov

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Rating: 4.75 stars

Owen Watson is on vacation in London and overseas for the first time.  After his traveling partner and ex-girlfriend ditched him for a hookup, Owen lands in a pub drinking a glass of bad beer by himself.  He’s tired from playing tourist all day and he needs something to eat. Instead of dinner, he gets an offer for another drink and a night of sex from Malcolm Kavanagh, a bonds trader and sexual player.

Malcolm Kavanagh has been waiting for his “one night only sub” to arrive.  The man is late and Malcolm’s patience has run out.  When he spies the Yank at the bar, he decides to honor him with a night of mind boggling sex before kicking the Yank out the door before breakfast.  With 80 hour work weeks, Malcolm doesn’t do relationships.  He doesn’t have time. So introducing a tourist to the joys of BDSM fits into his schedule of sex with no commitments. But moments into his pickup , he realizes that the Yank isn’t falling into line as he should, and Malcolm is more than a little stymied.

Owen is open to a night of casual sex but it will be on his terms and not the arrogant but gorgeous jerk trying to pick him up. One night later and things have changed.  Malcolm is not quite the shallow, heartless top he made  himself out to be and Owen is not the innocent country mouse Malcolm supposed him to be.  The more things change between them, the more Malcolm and Owen admit to themselves how much they want to stay together.

Country Mouse is a delightfully sexy short story from Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov.  Really, can we get them to write another?  Because I loved the result of their combined writing styles and ideas.  The authors took two stock characters, the country mouse visiting the big city for the first time and the big bad city mouse with his experience and sexual prowess, tweaked it and turned the characters on their stereotypical heads.  And made us cheer for them, laugh with them, and hope that they have a happy future together.  Didn’t I say I loved this book?

While Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov have such difference writing styles, you can always expect great characterizations from them.  Owen and Malcolm are two such wonderful creations, beautifully realized in only 79 pages.  Malcolm starts out offensive and quite frankly not terribly likable. Owen Watson is an affable person but only so far and ends up being more than a match for Malcolm’s cocky attitude. As Owen asserts himself, we start to see a shift in Malcolm’s behavior.  This shift carries right into the heart of Malcolm’s character and the unlikable facade dissipates and allows the real Malcolm that Owen sees to shine through.

What was so sexy and hot was that the change in their roles starts to happen during their sexual encounters.  Malcolm is supposed to be this badass Dom teaching this inexperienced Yank how to be his submissive toy for the night only Owen has something or rather someone he intends to be doing before the night is over.  Let’s just say their expectations don’t play out exactly how either of them intended, much to their combined enjoyment and laughter.  That’s right….fun and laughter amid sexual hijinks.  In a story by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov!  Owen and Malcolm enjoy the heck out of each other and you will be laughing along with them.

Their relationship continues to develop as Malcolm takes Owen sightseeing in a nice series of scenes that  take place at different tourist sites throughout London. At each location, Owen and Malcolm learn something about each other as well as historical facts. As they grow on each other, so does the pairing grow on the reader until you take  them both into your heart. If you are expecting a angst filled story, this one is amazingly angst free or is that angst light?  Either way, it doesn’t matter. There is some angsty moments at the end as you would expect but it is satisfactorily dealt with in an ending that will have you cheering.

Grab this one up.  I always find bad boys so appealing but here both the Country  Mouse and the bad boy City Mouse crept into my heart and set up housekeeping.  Never thought I would say that about mice.  Drat it.  Now where’s the cheese?

Cover: Love this cover.  Cover art by Jordan Taylor.  Smart sexy and eye catching.  Just like the men inside.