Angel Martinez - Writer, Reader, Woman about town

I write both kinds of gay romance - Science Fiction and Fantasy :) But I also read as part of my daily diet. The brain needs a balanced diet, too.

The Only Gold

The Only Gold - Tamara Allen I'm so ashamed that it took me so long to post a review - I finished this month's ago but have been buried... okay, no excuses *hangs head* Another wonderful story from Ms. Allen - this comes in at a 4.62 (I know, odd number, but I rate on a 100 percentile on my other review spot.)

One of the most compelling reasons to read Tamara Allen is her obvious and obsessive love of history. From the smallest article of clothing, to the food, to the very watch Jonah consults so diligently, every piece of material culture has been lovingly researched. The attitudes, the social norms, the specifics of the workplace, the language choices in dialogue - there simply are no anachronisms, not a stitch out of place.

These are things the fan of the historical truly appreciates, this immersion in the time period, this ability to lose oneself in another era without the jarring moments of "wait, did he really just say that?" one often runs into in less serious historical offerings.

That would be enough for me to devour it, a nice jaunt through another time period, but Ms. Allen doesn't stop there. We have the too-tightly-laced Jonah, not a character one would think of as sympathetic, but he's presented in such a way that our hearts immediately go out to him. Then we're given the jaunty and initially annoying Reid, who wastes no time getting under the reader's skin as well. Jonah's dedication and loyalty, Reid's passion for life and his kind patience - these are the traits that stand out in these two endearing characters, and we're allowed into their lives slowly as they evolve into complex and wounded men. There's resentment, suspicion, and anguish aplenty. The plot moves at a steady, ever-increasing velocity and one feels entirely caught up in what becomes a heart-in-mouth finale.

If there are any flaws at all to this book, they do, unfortunately, come toward the end. There are two events which I had a difficult time swallowing - one because there was no good explanation for it and the other? Well, having grown up as a competitive swimmer and knowing the drain of cold water on even the strongest, there is a scene that I find rather implausible at the end. Dramatic, but not physically possible.

However, this didn't diminish the overall enjoyment of the work. A stunning piece, beautifully written, both of a time period and the clash of two very different, equally dedicated personalities.

My final analysis - a highly recommended 92%.

Even if you're not usually a fan of historical fiction, put your preconceptions aside and read this book.

The Alpha Lambda House

The Alpha Lambda House - S.L. Danielson,  M. J. MacGregor For fans of M/M romance who might be a little weary of the traditional Alpha/Beta dynamic, ALH is a refreshing change. These characters are young adults, not really confident in who or what they are yet, still struggling to define themselves, so you won't find the traditional uber hero in one of the main roles. Rick, especially, won me over - fighting with his weight and dealing with diabetes, he's a gentle giant of a man who knows what he wants but isn't always sure how to go about getting it.

A complex family dynamic as well as complications caused by emotional instability create the backdrop for a tale filled with angst and anguish, though the central romantic story progresses with plenty of sweet moments as well. Make sure you have your tissue box handy for this one :)

The Dark Tide (Adrien English Mystery, #5)

The Dark Tide - Josh Lanyon Ah, well. All good things must come to an end. As always, I loved visiting with Adrien and Jake for a snippet of their lives.

You'd think that a decades old mystery, one where most of the principles should be dead or geriatrics by now, would be safe for Adrien to go poking into. Not so, of course, with a motley crew of old rivalries and love affairs gone wrong attached to his bookstore's skeleton under the floorboards.

I thoroughly enjoyed the set up of what, at first, appears to be a hopeless cold case that Adrien goes after in his stubborn, terrier fashion, despite his convalescence and the multiple complications in his love life. He and Jake still have a lot to work through. Jake's former closeted life has left a trail of trust issues and old hurt, so I understood why Adrien couldn't simply fling himself into the big lug's arms.

Josh has been adamant about the fact that this is the last of the Adrien English mysteries, though, and it leaves me feeling a bit cheated. Sure, I see that the romantic tension is resolved, but the mystery aspect remains, especially with Jake living and working so closely with him now. *sigh* They worked so hard to get here, I'm disappointed that we won't share in their happiness or their adventures as a couple.

Death of a Pirate King

Death of a Pirate King - Josh Lanyon Thank goodness. After The Hell You Say I was concerned, but with this book both Josh and Adrien hit their rhythm once again.

The mystery in this one isn't the real mystery. If you take an Occam's razor approach, there's really only one solution. But it's a matter of motivations - the why's and how's that matter more than the who.

It's also about coming to grips with some hard realities. Both Jake and Adrien have some tough issues to face. Jake has to finally come to grips with how being a closeted cop affects not only his personal life but also his job. It's a hard slap in the face before the end, but it's one he needs. He's always known that being a gay cop could be disastrous, in an intellectual sense, but he's never had to face it before. I've been told by many cops that anyone who thinks a cop can come out without consequences has never been a cop.

Events force Adrien to face issues regarding his health, (which he largely ignores) his love life (about which he'd rather remain in denial) and his mother's new fiance and family (whom he'd rather not have to deal with.)

With the expected cast of engaging and/or fascinating secondary characters and a bad guy who is all the more chilling for his charm, this is a marvelous addition to the series and one that leaves the reader on a more hopeful note than the last one.

The Hell You Say: The Third Adrien English Mystery

The Hell You Say - Josh Lanyon This has to be the low point of the series for me. It's well-written and well-researched, as always, hence saving the book from a 2 rating, but...but...

I've read a lot of Lanyon by now and though I sometimes grouse about abrupt endings and the occasional one-note character, I always come away feeling satisfied in every sense that matters. Not this time. This book left me drained. By the end, I was weary and angry. Only the fact that I knew there would be more and that this bleak episode had to pass kept me going.

My initial concerns were with the introduction of witchcraft. (Oh, no, I thought, not another book that paints all pagans as Satanists, please.) But in that respect, I should have had more faith. Josh explores a number of branches and possibilities of earth-based faiths and satanic philosophy in a relatively even-handed way. OK, the ladies from Dragonwyck were perhaps a bit caricaturized, but I was willing to forgive that. Adrien's exploration of the stereotypes and misconceptions was one of the most interesting parts of the story.

But this is a dark story. The nature of the crimes, the people involved, the swift and horrible dissolution of Adrien's love life, the rather cliche evil character, the rather absurd final confrontation...the threads didn't fall together well, the plot fell into a too-well-worn Illuminati conspiracy like miasma and Jake...

I wanted to kick the man. Hard. Where it hurts. The last scene between him and Adrien is just...awful. And while I understand that everything can't always be sunshine and chocolates in these series arcs, it seemed out of character for him to lose control in such a spectacular fashion.

The advantage I have over readers who read this some time ago, is that I can take a deep breath and move on to the next book immediately, because I have faith in the author. Because I know this isn't the end.

A Dangerous Thing

A Dangerous Thing - Josh Lanyon I've made my way through all the Adrien (that's Adrien with an e) novels and have to say this remains at the top of the list for several reasons.

First, there's a darn good mystery here - a murder that seems to have a simple explanation slowly evolves into something much more complex. Stir in hostile local law enforcement, a great cast of secondary characters with their own agendas, our man Jake riding to the rescue, and Adrien refusing to listen to his good advice, and you have the perfect recipe for a mystery worth chewing over. Some folks might claim to have had it all figured out, but I sure as heck didn't. The answer stayed tantalizingly out of reach until the dramatic climax.

Second, the interaction between our two heroes expands into something nearing an actual relationship. We see Jake as himself rather than the man behind the fortress he's built for himself. Away from the city, more relaxed and open, he shows a practical side and even a tender, playful side we wish would last. Despite the murders and the physical danger, there's a hopeful quality to the story, a feeling that, somehow, our boys will figure things out and everything will be fine.

Then there are the glimpses into Adrien himself, his childhood, his family, and his growing feelings for Jake. He's the terrier to Jake's mastiff, always wanting to hare off after the next quarry, energetic and tenacious in his search for the truth. He can't walk away from these mysteries because once he has the end of the thread, he feels responsible. I love him for that, even if it drives Jake nuts.

A completely satisfying, fast-paced read, for mystery and suspense buffs alike.

Fatal Shadows

Fatal Shadows - Josh Lanyon A couple of months ago on a loop chat, I asked Josh if the Adrien English mysteries were on Kindle. Josh responded in a sort of delighted surprise that, yes, they were, and he was always pleased when he found someone who hadn't read them yet.

I have to confess, it took me awhile to dive into Josh's work, and I came in sort of backwards, starting with A Vintage Affair rather than one of the more popular titles. Why did it take so long? A niggling intimidation factor, maybe. Josh is what every other indie author aspires to: successful, writing as a career, award winning, with an army of supportive fans and a lovely garden. (OK, so that last one's probably just me.)

Having begun, though, I am now officially hooked and continuing to avoid Adrien simply because everyone else talked about him began to be...silly. The nice thing about waiting to read a series, though, is not having to wait. Instead of chewing my nails over what came next, they were all there for me to snap up. Hooray!

This mystery isn't one of Josh's best, but then Josh has grown as a mystery writer since these novels. The reveal wasn't much of a surprise, the red herrings perhaps placed a bit too carefully to be taken seriously. But that's not the charm of this book. That would be Adrien himself, a strong character in so many ways despite and because of his physical limitations, Adrien is stubborn, impulsive and real. He has moments of abject fear, moments of crippling doubt, moments where the reader wants to scream at him "Adrien, no! Don't do that!" All these things, along with his quirks and his wit, weave a lastingly endearing character.

Jake, tough, overbearing, often arrogant, was a fascinating study as well. Right from the start, we know there's more to him than he reveals. It only leaves the reader wanting more.

While the romance doesn't have time to blossom before the end of the story, we know there's more, and with a Josh series, we expect that the romantic issues might not be resolved until the last book.

A thoroughly enjoyable read - I certainly understand now why this is one of the Fanyons' favorite series.

A Troubled Range

A Troubled Range - Andrew  Grey I don't ever want to hear, ever again, that male romance writers can't write emotional stories. Andrew's stories, every one of them, packs an emotional punch, sometimes several of them, and A Troubled Range is no exception.

While the troubled father-son relationship is a familiar theme in his books, this one takes it to a completely different level. My first reaction to what happens to the father was, oh, that's a little too convenient, but it's only the beginning. Nothing comes easily for Haven, poor thing.

My only nits in the story are ones where my editor's hat got in the way, the overuse of passives, the sometimes unnecessary cliched phrases, the adverbs that could have used rephrasing. But these are minor against the backdrop of the story, and I found myself seriously pulled out of the story only twice. Once when Wally said something was "killing two birds with one stone" which just didn't sound right coming from Wally, and the issue of the lion purring. Er, lions don't purr. They don't have the right anatomy. Other pleased sounds, yes, but not purring as a house cat would.

Lovely to see Phillip again and to see his character grow. And, of course, lovely to see everyone from the last Range book again. Haven, I'll warn you, is a heart stealer, just the right mix of strength and vulnerability, a young man just growing into his skin and understanding who he really is.

(And, yes, I did tear up, but I won't tell you when. You'll just have to read for yourself.)

Hot Head

Hot Head - Damon Suede 4.656 with one of those little lines over the last 6 so it repeats into infinity - so we'll round up.

Although certainly not new to writing, this is Damon Suede's debut novel, I might even go so far as to say his first assault, a full-tilt charge of crackling energy. More on the debut later.

If I had to describe the author's writing style in three words or less, I'd have to say exuberant deliberation. Not deliberation in the sense of plodding or studied pretension, but in the sense that if you listen, you can feel an almost manic need to get every piece, every scene just so. This is a writer who clearly loves words, who enjoys their taste and texture, and isn't merely schlepping sentences into place to get to the sex.

Even the names are carefully chosen. Griffin Muir. Honestly, what could be more evocative? Scottish highlands and the big, beefy men they breed, Muir woods with its giant redwoods - the images outline the man. Griff is huge, a man grown too large for the confining world he's built for himself, a hero whose heart and genitals match his enormous build, but one who treads through life, often with tentative care, afraid he might break someone. Dante Anastagio, whose first name holds the obvious literary reference and whose last name could be translated as "rebirth" or even, if you like, "resurrected", carries his name for reasons which become clear as the story unfolds. A more problematic character, I really didn't want to like him at first sighting. Arrogant, cocky bastard, I thought. But quickly we see hints of a terrible vulnerability under the bravado - and I guarantee you'll soon fall in love with Dante as well.

The single perspective third person works well here - we remain in deep POV throughout, with Griff assigning thoughts and motivations to the people around him that an inexperienced editor might have labeled head-hopping. It is not, and Griff's perceptions are always telling, saying so much more than he's able to in his laconic conversations.

All in all, it feels as if the editors kept a light hand on the manuscript, letting the voice and rhythm of the piece remain intact. Thank goodness. The few nits I have are not ones that seriously interfered with my enjoyment of the story. But there were a couple. The onomatopoeia was making me a little crazy towards the end. Pow Bam. Click. Did he really just write "gulp"? Yep. I alternated between seeing little cartoon balloons, Adam-West-as-Batman style or hearing stage direction. Either way, there were places where, while it was often funny, it pulled me too far out of the scene to be entirely successful. There are also some spots where the internal agonizing becomes a bit repetitive. I found myself thinking "Yes, Griff, you just said that two paragraphs ago."

For the most past, though, this is an astounding story, a serious drama told with humor and heart, sometimes with nods to Noir fiction phrases, sometimes with overtones of more literary fiction. The 9/11 flashback is poignant and brittle - I dare you not to cry. The plot, and oh, yes, there is plot, moves along well and isn't subsumed by the sex as it is in some M/M contemporaries. While the sex is hot, don't get me wrong, every instance is integral to the story arc.

I predict that in the next few months there will be a lot of comparisons made. "Damon Suede is the next X, Y or Z". I'll make my protestation now - Damon is not the next anything. He is himself, unabashedly unique and un-apologetically himself. In the next few years, young writers will be saying they want to be the next Damon Suede. Mark my words.

Finished this morning with a happy sigh and a goofy smile on my face, but Dante and Griff will stay with me. I'll go back and visit often. This hungry reader wants more and can't wait to see what Damon has for us next.

Eternal Rider (Lords of Deliverance, Book 1)

Eternal Rider - Larissa Ione OK -the three. It was a close thing - nearly gave it a two. I should probably explain myself.

The good stuff first. The strongest element in Ms. Ione's books is her world building. I'm a sucker for it, whether it's Dark, High, or Urban, the fantasy fan in me is rabid for good, solid mythos, which is why I was drawn to her books in the first place. The whole concept of a demon hospital was just too delicious to pass up. The world building has not, for the most part, suffered in the translation to the Riders books. Lots of new things to learn, lots of already known things kept consistent.

I tend to like her heroes, though I get tired of the unrelieved Alpha males. There doesn't seem to be any other male worth writing about, apparently, at least in this universe, and so it was a little tiresome to have, yet again, one more tortured, strong, I'd rather fight than love, Alpha to root for. Yes, I did like Ares and he had his vulnerable moments, but I do wish for something different once in a while.

The heroine, on the other hand, was much more satisfying than some of the previous ones. Neither kick-ass nor melt the moment the hero touches her, Cara felt real. Real issues, real hesitations, real strengths - someone who does what she has to but doesn't lose her heart, her compassion, her humanity, in the process. Her, I liked.

Now for the bad part. In such a carefully built world, we should have had a carefully crafted ending. What we got was Deus ex machina in the extreme, a solution that materialized, quite literally, out of thin air, and had to be explained afterward because the reader had no freaking clue that such a thing was possible. Too many sudden rule changes thrown at us all at once - it really soured what should have been an exciting, fun read.

Now, will that stop me from reading the next one? Probably not. Despite my objections, I have a considerable emotional investment in this world now and the itch to see what happens next is too great. In that, the book succeeds quite well.

All She Wrote: Holmes & Moriarity, Book 2

All She Wrote - Josh Lanyon While I wasn't entirely pleased with the first H & M book, it serves as vital groundwork for this second one.

Kit, while he hasn't undergone any revolution in character, is trying. He's trying to put his life back together, he's trying to make sense of things and think of others, and, in this story, he's trying to help an old friend. His motives are a little murky but that's all right with me - he's trying. And the little expenditure of effort goes a long way to make Kit not only a more palatable hero but even an endearing one.

While there are some amusing asides and even somewhat funny moments, this is a dark piece, full of tragic events, dark intent, and misinterpretation of character. All around. J.X,'s instincts about people are better than Kit's, but I think even he couldn't predict the endgame here.

I found myself much more drawn into the mystery in this one and into the continued delicate growth of Kit and J.X.'s prickly relationship.

Darn it, Josh - you kind of left us hanging a bit here. And I need the next one.

Somebody Killed His Editor (Holmes & Moriarity, #1)

Somebody Killed His Editor (Holmes & Moriarity, #1) - Josh Lanyon I know, I know...a 3 for Josh Lanyon? The terrible part is that if it had been anyone else's book, I probably would have viewed it differently, but Josh sets the bar high and I have, perhaps, unrealistic expectations because of it.

It would be wonderful to review this book and the subsequent Holmes and Moriarity together, as a single entity, which also would change the rating for me. I did read them back to back, and taken together, Kit and J. X.'s story gains irresistible pull.

But this one first. By itself. Lanyon characters are flawed, his heroes often exceptionally flawed, which I need in a hero, but they always have redeeming qualities. They're determined or have some noble qualities that render them sympathetic. I struggled to find any noble qualities in Kit, at least in this first book. Yes, he's had a rough time. Yes, he's wounded from the sordid and horrid end to his marriage. But he comes across as self-absorbed, catty, whiny and vain.

The whole book has a rather catty quality to it, and while I'm ashamed to admit that I share many of Kit's views on the chicklets (those women whose lives seem to revolve around shoes and shopping and trying to live out Sex in the City fantasies - God, I hate that show) there's a certain mean-spiritedness to many of his asides, an unwillingness to take people as individuals. I don't mind a bit of snark, but it seemed unrelieved.

J.X. comes across rather better, of course, but he's not our narrator, so we only see him from his attractive outside.

The mystery itself, I'm afraid, was not my favorite either. While I didn't have all the details ironed out before the end, I knew who the murderer was long before the reveal.

However - this is still an exceptionally well-written story with an interesting cast and some tangled personal histories. What was well done here is the re-introduction of Kit and J.X. to each other and the careful, testosterone-laced dance they do around each other, desire mixed up with emotional tar pits.

On its own, not my favorite of Josh's so far. As a set up for what comes next? Absolutely vital.

Cryoburn (Vorkosigan Saga)

Cryoburn - Lois McMaster Bujold OK, it was Miles, darn it, MILES. So, naturally, I did enjoy the story and the writing is marvelous, as always. (Oh, come on, how can you beat that first line Angels were falling all over the place.)

It's a dry, ironic little mystery-esque thriller with barely veiled digs at modern corporations, the inequities of the health care system, corrupt government and incompetent, sound bite media. All well done, and I did find myself chuckling at certain points. As socially-conscious SF, it's quite good. As a story on a personal level, from the perspective of characters we know and love, it keeps the reader at arms' length.

And the ending...oh,Lois, I'm not sure I can forgive you for the end. I suppose it had to happen someday, but what a dreadful way to do it. You couldn't have let us see him one last time? *sigh* The vignettes at the end were excellent, but I felt as if we were being thrown out of the house, so to speak, too soon. We haven't seen enough of Aral in the last few books...and now he's gone.



Fugly - K.Z. Snow I was, in the first few pages of this book, quite prepared not to like it. Oh, great, I said to myself with wrinkled nose, the boys are going to learn their lesson that beauty isn't all on the outside. How predictable.

For my rash jumping to conclusion-ness, I owe K.Z. a sincere apology. On the surface, yes, that's the lesson our three young snark-meisters have to learn, but we aren't left to wallow on the surface. Oh, no. K.Z. creates three complex, damaged characters, whose motives and emotional matrices are far more complex than their shallow actions would have one believe. The spell Jackson throws with rather casual arrogance (I'll admit, he knew what he was doing, but, yes, arrogance) forces Fallon, Jake and Todd to confront their inner demons, to face the why behind the wide moats they've dug between themselves and others. We come to care for these supposedly shallow cruisers, each with his own poignant fears and self-doubts.

I loved the unconventional structure, as well, starting with our "author" in first person, the man ultimately telling the story, and proceeding to our three afflicted heroes in third person until we return, in the end, to David. It had a personal, intimate feel to it, as if David was letting us into a secret piece of his life.

Perhaps the only thing that keeps this story from perfection for me was a bit of a rushed feeling from time to time. I would have liked to have spent a little more time with each heroes own story. It seemed, twice, that we reached a crucial moment...and then were given only summation. In part, of course, this is testament to K. Z.'s lovely writing and wonderful characterization. If I hadn't become so caught up, I certainly wouldn't have wanted more.

I did manage not to cry. Just. Thank you, K. Z., it was a wonderful journey.

The White Road (Nightrunner)

The White Road - Lynn Flewelling Closer to a 3.5 - I need to start by saying I adore Lynn's books. Her writing is lush, her world-building meaty enough for the most jaded fantasy reader to sink fangs into, and her characters are marvelous. I've followed Alec and Seregil from the beginning, and will continue to do so.

The writing remains wonderful - the scenery, the details, the dialogue - but I was left a little flat this time. The story as a whole wasn't quite as satisfying as the previous ones and I had the odd feeling I was being hurried along so we could get to the next one. We'll see certain characters again, good and bad, I have no doubt, and several issues are still lying about on the table that will need to be picked up later. The feeling of truly being there, in the character's head, was missing here at times. Seregil almost keeps us at arms' length, even when we're in his head, and the resolution just seemed a tad too convenient for him. I had the feeling that, once again, Alec has to submerge his life and his needs for Seregil's. I do wonder if he won't resent that as he gets older...

It is, however, an exciting read. Lots of action, lots of interesting cultural bits, lots of new revelations. Definitely worth the time it took to read, and I will admit I blazed through it, glued to the pages. I hope our boys have a bit more time for each other and for some real scheming next time.

Dreaming of You

Dreaming of You - Ethan Day This was a lot of fun, in several veins. The first is the story itself, in the tradition of old Hollywood comedies (though I never saw one with a gay couple, more's the pity.) Plenty of awkward moments and physical comedy, lots of good repartee between characters, and an improbable conflict involving a man who doesn't exist outside of Aden's head. Second is the quirky characters - Aden with his karma points and his inability to find a mean bone in his body, his harridan friend Finn, and even Logan, whose view of life as intrinsically funny is contagious. Third is the growth of the writer himself. This isn't my first Ethan Day, but I started much farther on in his lexicon and find it marvelous to see the difference in how he handles pacing and structure.

There are some issues with this story, partly in the back and forth narrative (I don't need a linear plot, but it didn't seem to be necessary dramatically) and partly in the odd disintegration of Aden's character towards the end. While it was successful from a comedic standpoint, I found it hard to swallow that he would actually go through with, as far as it goes, his bizarre pursuit at the end of the story. Honestly, I wanted to slap him, and it just didn't feel like him suddenly, as if someone else had taken possession of the character.

All that said - I loved the premise and did enjoy the story. I smiled a lot and snickered a bit, too. A read recommended for one of those days that leaves you feeling like you've been run over by a road paver. Without a doubt, a good pick-my-up.