Thursday, December 16, 2010

Review: The Path to Forever

The Path to ForeverThe Path to Forever by Etienne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was enticed by the blurb to read this book by a new-to-me author, but sadly, I ended up unable to really get into the story for a number of reasons.

For one, the writing style was quite unusual. Although it is told in Dani’s and Marco’s alternating first person POV, we don’t get much of the actual narrator’s thoughts or feelings since almost everything is handled through conversation. Emotions, plans, descriptions, history – everything is speech, except for the occasionally thrown – in austere report on locations or actions, and then it’s speech again.
It took me a while to realize why this bothered me so. Aside from the missing internal view – which is not necessarily a bad thing in itself – it was mostly the fact that those guys don’t talk to each other, they are holding stage-worthy dialogues. The overall effect to me was like attending a show or a play with my eyes closed, with someone describing the stage scenery to me. The writing style made it hard for me to take to the characters.

However, the mostly – dialogue writing style makes for a fast-paced reading. Others may love this book just for that.

For another thing, the story flowed along like a calm river despite all the obstacles the two heroes had to master. Marco’s mother gets kidnapped? There’s an almost impossible treaty to negotiate? There was an attempt on Marco’s and Dani’s life? For the most part, those problems are solved like, well that’s what lawyers/private investigators/investment bankers are for. When there’s no handy contractor available, the Duca’s money takes care of next to anything. Well, this is fantasy, after all, but after a while, it felt as if things just fell into Marco’s and Dani’s lap and they didn’t have to work for anything, including their relationship.

There is no on-page sex in this book, at least not between the main characters (although there is a description of Marco getting a hand-job from another gay man they become acquainted with in Aragoni). There are lots of hints at Marco and Dani having sex, but those scenes are not even fade to black, but waved aside with half sentences. It makes sense, in a way, since Marco and Dani have been together for ten years. On the other hand, the lack of physical nearness between the main characters added to my inability to connect with them. Although other characters in the book often refer to noticing Marco’s and Dani’s deep love, I couldn’t. Again, though, this is just me, and my opinion is but one. Others may very well be able to understand their relationship just from the words.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Review: Transit

TransitTransit by Raev Gray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Several times over, here and on other sites, readers have been asked what they wish for in books. Often, the answers were along the lines of more realistic tales, real people, people who deal with their problems like adult persons and not like kindergarteners who run pouting into the Big Misunderstanding. As it turns out, these two authors actually listened and subsequently created this beautiful little gem of genuineness together.

Andrew Young is an account director with the same advertising company where Javier Castillo has been working as an art director for fifteen years now. When a flighty dissatisfied customer threatens to take her business elsewhere, the two men are sent to Singapore together in order to smoothen the waves.

About the only thing Andrew and Javier have in common is that both are gay, but previous to this shared business trip they only knew each other through the company rumor mill. Thus both are not overly comfortable when a freak snowstorm strands them in Malpensa, Northern Italy, and a scarcity of accomodations throws them together in one hotel room. Over Christmas, of all times. Wagging tongues have branded Andrew as a slut since he’s said to have slept with a customer for an account, while Javier is considered a solitary workaholic who -

“only pretends that he’s gay so he doesn’t have to go home to his wife and children”

However, the forced closeness and growing mutual attraction soon lead to the inevitable, and they have sex. It’s almost by accident that Javier, the more reserved of the pair, initiates it. Andrew, who’s had a silent crush on Javier for a while, responds with an enthusiasm that soon works its way beneath and behind Javier’s inhibitions.

Javier is a romantic who has almost exclusively had long – term relationships. He’s also someone who dislikes unpredictability and prefers to be in control of everything, starting with his career right through to his physical reactions when he has an orgasm. When he realizes how fast and how far his feelings for Andrew exceed sexual attraction, he’s scared almost to the point of bolting. Andrew, on the other hand, is just recovering from breaking up with an unfaithful, selfish boyfriend. He has been burned over and over like this in the past since he seems to have a talent for always picking the wrong men, and he’s fed up . In Javier, he sees the solidity and reliability he secretly craves, if Javier would just come around and make up his mind.

And here comes the best part, people: those guys TALK to each other. They talk things through, they work things out, and they talk in order to make things work. They even talk during sex, not your usual dirty remarks and demands (although those occur, too), but about ordinary things, and important things, and their wishes and dreams in bed and beyond

“…as if the sex were only an incidental part of the conversation. Oddly enough, maybe it was. They were connecting, and not just physically.”

Considering they both work in the advertising business, where words are everything, and considering how much they both enjoy what they do and live through their work, I could totally buy this as their way of building a relationship. It fits both their personalities and rounds them. It’s simply wonderful to watch how Javier opens up to Andrew, how his artist’s habit of drawing, scribbling and sketching all the time actually helps him sort things out for himself. Later, when Javier’s fears and Andrew’s misplaced secrecy threaten to drive them apart, they don’t retire sulkily into their mutual shells, either. Javier seeks a friend’s advice to get his head on straight, and Andrew opens his door for Javier and listens to him. They each give a little, take a little, and in the end, both agree that life doesn’t give guarantees, but some things are just worth taking a risk.

There was no exaggerated drama and only very little angst in this story, no breathtaking action or dreadful fate, no power play and no unsurmountable obstacles. Andrew and Javier are just two ordinary people with ordinary problems and normal fears and precautions who have something wonderful happen to them, and when they realize how precious it is what they have, they work together to make it last.

This sweet treasure of a story Raev Gray and Aleksandr Voinov came up with together is absolutely worth exploring. Don’t miss it.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Review: Frontier Men

Frontier MenFrontier Men by J.P. Bowie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story opens with Red Hawk returning to his mother’s Shoshone tribe from his exile in the “white man’s” world. He experiences a surprisingly warm welcome there, particularly from the chief’s younger brother, Fighting Bear, with whom he soon falls in love. Their happy yet secret relationship comes to a sad and sudden end when Fighting Bear dies in a fight against white soldiers. Red Hawk takes his lover’s murderer captive, but he is expelled from the Shoshone when he finds himself unable to kill the defenseless man. Now he’s on his own again, with no clothes, shelter, and with only his weapons to rely on for food. After he has lived through his first winter alone, the loneliness gets to him. When he comes across a white fur-hunter, he finds himself intrigued. Red Hawk decides to stalk the white man and, to his delight, discovers the paleface is a lover of men, too. A raging bear just comes in handy for him to make the huntsman’s acquaintance.

Daniel MacLeod left Pennsylvania after he lost the man he loved to tragic circumstances. He still misses his dead lover, but has been silently longing for a companion for a while now. On his way back to the trading post, a strangely attractive young Indian crosses his path, soon followed by a mad grizzly bear. The two men fight the powerful beast together, finally beating it, but the Indian apparently gets severely hurt in the process. Although Daniel wants nothing to do with a “thieving redskin”, he finds himself attracted to that particular one, so much so he can’t help but becoming intimate with him. Before Daniel knows, he has gotten himself a companion, one who makes it very clear he won’t be shaken easily. No one is more surprised than Daniel himself to realize he quite likes the prospect.

Now continuing their journey together, Daniel and Red Hawk have an unpleasant encounter with three rowdies in the trade post’s saloon, forcing them to leave quickly. They decide to head for California and use the money Daniel made to start a horse farm, a dream they both share. But the three rowdies catch up with them. Before robbing them of all their possessions, including their weapons, they truss Daniel up and make him watch as they each take a turn in raping Red Hawk. Afterwards, Daniel wants to seek revenge, but Red Hawk convinces him to let Fate take care of the evildoers’ punishment. Yet, the shared dreadful experience has strengthened their bond and made them realize that what they feel for each other is more than a fleeting attraction. They travel on, overcoming the hardships of being almost weaponless in the wilderness together. However, their struggles aren’t over yet. When they encounter the three rowdies again, it isn’t about humiliation and robbery anymore. This time, their love must stand the test of a fight for life and death.

I liked the characters, particularly Red Hawk. He is sweet and easygoing by nature, and quite naive in a way, and yet makes sure he gets what he wants, resorting to manipulation if he must. Some of his shenanigans made me think of him as an American Indian fairy queen, if there is such a thing. Daniel is equally good-natured, although he has a hot temper, and he puts up with Red Hawk’s games even though he knows that he’s being played, and he stands up for Red Hawk against other white men. The attraction between them is clear and mutual, and the sex is hot. Both complement each other and grow together over the course of the story yet I couldn’t quite get into the tale. Daniel and Red Hawk shared some humorous moments, and they expressed their mutual feelings to each other, but I couldn’t entirely buy it. Perhaps this was partly due to the element of insta-love and the way how Red Hawk was first described as feeling eternally connected to Fighting Bear and a few pages later he’s experiencing the same feelings regarding Daniel. Also, the author chose to make both of them think and act like a rather modern gay couple. They could have been taken out of the 1820′s and placed into some contemporary suburb, and they’d still have worked.

My biggest issue was the last part of the book, though, the entire business with the three rogues. Those scenes felt like taken from “Storytelling 101″. Get the heroes together, check. Create a challenge for them, check. Let them overcome it and grow stronger doing so, check. Technically, it was perfectly done, but it lacked genuineness. Subsequently, the rape scene felt cold and distant where it should have been disturbing, and both Red Hawk and Dan dealt with it like it was almost meaningless – which made me wonder why it had to happen in the first place.

Overall, a quite nice and entertaining story with some funny moments and likeable characters. I’d recommend it to fans of the romantically – transfigured view to the Old West who like Indians pictured as noble savages and their White friends as gruff, golden – hearted bears.

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