Memorizing You by Dan Skinner





GENRE: Gay literary fiction


From acclaimed m/m romance photographer, Dan Skinner, a coming of age tale unfolds against the colorful, stylish, and turbulent backdrop of free love, revolution, and The Beatles.

Two high school boys from different walks of life: Ryan, a handsome athlete, and David, an average joe from a blue collar family, discover their desires, stealing their kisses under the cover of an old oak at night. Their love begins a secret life, hidden from their families, friends, and classmates. As their passion grows, so does the danger of their discovery. Their only hope is to create a separate world where every kiss is a treasure and every moment… memorable.

First love. Secret love. Unforgettable love.


I waited an interminable amount of time before tackling this review, mostly because Memorizing You had prompted ugly crying, that uncontrolled, near-hysteria when something so touches you where you live that it folds itself into your own memories and perceptions, your dreams and your idealized notions of how it was, how you meant it to be. And it wasn’t.

Blending fiction with memoir, Dan Skinner pulls off a masterful feat of storytelling, turning the lens of recall inward as he explores the seminal moments in a young man’s life that redefined how he thought about himself and set him on a path of discovery that will eventually lead to first love, forever love.

The year is 1967, the year of David’s awakening, the year when he realizes he’s not like everyone else. Dan Skinner has an uncanny ability to recreate the essence of a time and place, to capture moments of clarity, and to place his characters solidly within an organic matrix. Back then, it was the small incidentals that mattered: family, friendships, a certain pace to life that made it all seem simple and simplistic, though it was anything but.

David’s family is working class and supportive, Ryan comes from privilege with a father intent on controlling and living through his son’s achievements. Their futures are mapped differently, but not their dreams. As these two young men flourish and grow, they come to terms with their emotions and their sexuality, and it is the tender moments that rise to the forefront. The special times when being together makes them more than the sum of their parts.

The pace to the storytelling is languid, the main characters familiar and endearing, the conflicts minimized yet ever present. Forty years later, what David remembers is how it felt to love. We feel it, too. We bask in that radiance, yet as time passes so does the sense of rightness, to be replaced with the inevitability of impending doom.

The shock of violence, its consequences and the turmoil it unleashes, tear their idyllic lives asunder, and for the remainder of David’s life he will carry the raw wounds of that moment, existing in a world no longer simple, no longer filled with promise. It left me shaken to my core.

David’s memoir takes us on a journey of joy and despair, of longing and fulfillment, and in the end there is hope.

Memorizing You is beautifully written, courageous and gut-wrenchingly authentic to the time and place, and filled with those small moments that will resonate in your heart. This is a book to savor and re-read, with a box of tissues at hand.

Memorizing You is a highly recommended read, FIVE STARS.

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Kjartan the Gentle by Catherine L. Byrne

KJARTAN THE GENTLE (Tales of Forbidden Love from the Danelaw Book 3)


Catherine L. Byrne



GENRE: Historical fiction, gay romance


916 A.D. East Anglia under the Danelaw.

In Dark Age Britain, you knew your place and if you didn’t keep to it, you faced the consequences…

Hot-blooded Kjartan, accidental hero, has settled down into married life, with a baby on the way. But when he meets handsome glass maker Lini, their unlawful relationship provokes angry and passionate reactions from their kinfolk.

They have to fight back against the prejudice of Norse culture, and find out who their real friends—and enemies—are. And this conflict leads to murder.

But who is the victim, and who the killer?


Kjartan the Gentle is a fascinating look at early Britain when Norse and the native cultures have finally come to a tentative accommodation. The story picks up after Kjartan’s grudging welcome back into his community after saving the village from being ransacked by invaders. He’s settled with a new wife and a child on the way, but his place in the social order is anything but clear. He is admired and feared, and given his past history of violence there’s a level of mistrust that’s hard to overcome.

One man who is unafraid of Kjartan is the glass-maker, Lini, who forms a bond of friendship first, keeping his feelings for the warrior secret as best he can. As their friendship blossoms into more, it is the slow stutter steps borne of curiosity and mutual regard that leads Kjartan into accepting, and finally acting on, his own confused attraction.

Both men take great pains to avoid overstepping the letter of Danelaw which has very specific conditions under which the act itself may and may not be permissible. Both men have much to risk—wives, children, their place in the social order—yet they find it impossible to set aside their feelings and need for each other.

In such an insular community, it is inevitable that this relationship be discovered, and the consequences for the men is harsh and immediate. How the village responds to the discovery, the ways in which shaming and disapproval are expressed, how the two cultures (Norse and British) respond, is an intriguing exploration of how the legal and the social interact to inform each person’s place in the social structure. That it culminates in an act of violence is not unexpected, and the final denouement rests on Danelaw and its interpretation.

Kjartan the Gentle is a tale delicately woven, told with honesty and attention to detail, and transforming a time and place few of us are familiar with into a landscape populated with compelling characters and the richness of everyday life during a time when survival meant fitting in and conforming to the community’s needs.

The one quibble I had was the resolution to the mystery (no spoilers here) and how the final act played out. Other than that, this is quite a good read, one I can heartily recommend to history buffs and lovers of a romance told with respect and restraint.

Kjartan the Gentle is a solid Four Star read.




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Crisis at Validor by Greta van der Rol

CRISIS AT VALIDOR (Ptorix Empire Book 4)


Greta van der Rol



GENRE: Science Fiction, Romance, Space Opera


Newly-promoted Captain Brett Butcher is about to achieve his life-long ambition to command a battle cruiser. But before he takes up his new posting, he goes home on leave, hoping to perhaps catch a glimpse of his first love, the unattainable Lady Tarlyn.

When the queen is assassinated in a terrorist attack, Tarlyn’s life is thrown into turmoil when she, too, becomes a target. The last person she expects to rescue her is her childhood sweetheart, Brett Butcher.

As Validor’s Ptorix and human populations face off over a group of islands neither owns, the calls for war grow louder. Torn between love, duty and ambition, Butcher and Tarlyn struggle to prevent an inter-species conflict, while the ember of love that has smouldered for so long bursts into flame. But with planetary peace at stake, both will be forced to choose; love or duty.



Crisis at Validor returns us to the world of the Ptorix Empire, this time on Validor where humans and Ptorix share a planet in a cautious state of détente, until all hell breaks loose with a series of assassinations that decimate the human Ruling Clan.

The author does what she does best: hits the ground running with intense action and a high stakes game of political maneuvering that threatens not just the peace but carries the ugly taste of interspecies war and extinction. Caught in the middle is a neutral zone, nominally Ptorix but cloaked in myth and rumor: Berzhan Island, home to a dragon species thought to embody the spirituality and mythology of the Ptorix culture. Not all believe, however, which makes for a complicated relationship with the two ruling powers on the planet and a convenient means to fuel the fires of hostility and misunderstandings between species.

Brett Butcher, just promoted to Captain, is a Validor native, taking leave to visit his home world before assuming the helm of Defender in Admiral Hudson’s fleet. He witnesses the beginning of the attacks on the Ruling Clan, and when he attempts to assist, he is in the right place at the right time to rescue Lady Tarlyn, his boyhood love. This is a different kind of Captain—he is lowborn, not nearly as arrogant and haughty as others of his rank, and he is recovering from a failed marriage in which he had little invested other than his daughter.

Lady Tarlyn is a member of the Ruling Clan, trained as is everyone in the line of succession, but uninterested in the machinations of the court. A widow, Tarlyn has come to terms with the loss of a man who was an acceptable partner in a marriage of convenience dictated by the Ruling Clan. Tarlyn has been indoctrinated to do her duty without dwelling overmuch on the costs to herself. She too has a daughter, Lena, a bright ten-year-old gifted with the opportunity to embrace and explore Ptorix culture.

When Tarlyn and Brett are thrown together during the horrific terrorist attack, those old flames quickly rekindle. In a race to see to her daughter’s safety, they must first evade their unknown pursuers, then find a way to make sense of the escalating conflict and to halt the slide into a holocaust.

This is a heart-stopping ride with new alien species, new kinds of danger, and a web of deceit and lies and unbridled ambition that will keep you turning the page/clicking through to see what happens next. Tarlyn makes it clear: she is not interested in replacing the murdered Queen, but as the plots and counter-plots unfold she finds herself caught between a rock and a very hard place. The safety of her daughter, the demands of fulfilling her Clan’s mandate, and the consequences of not doing so make for a compelling read. And at the core is the bittersweet knowledge that Brett is still the man she loved so many years ago, but can she really choose love over duty?

Brett suffers from the same conundrum. All his training, all his ambitions, all his hard work to overcome his humble beginnings are not easily traded away. When he must decide on a course of action, will his feelings of unworth collide with his need to see to Tarlyn and Lena’s future?

This is an excellent addition to the Ptorix Empire series. The author continues to dazzle with an intimate exploration of the cultural and political differences between species struggling to maintain a balance within their own spheres of influence and with each other. This time, we take a good look at human and Ptorix at the local level. Their insularity and peculiar histories have created splinter groups within each that make this particular slice of the galactic ‘Verse intriguingly complex.

Crisis at Validor is also a romance at its core, truly the best of both worlds, adding the element of sensuality to raise the stakes and to humanize the players acting on a planetary stage in a Universe of colliding cultures and species. And when it comes to choosing, the admonition to choose wisely doesn’t always pertain when that choice is between duty and love.

This is a highly recommended SFR (science fiction romance), another 5 Star read from the pen of Greta van der Rol.




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The Value of Rain (Brandon Shire)







GENRE: Literary fiction, contemporary


Charles is 14, and after being discovered with his first love he is forced into a mental hospital to cure his sexuality. For the next ten years he endures mental and physical torture as part of that treatment and when he is finally free, he begins a relentless quest for vengeance against the woman who abetted his commitment, his mother Charlotte.

The Value of Rain chronicles Charles’ journey from hate to the unexpected beginning of redemption, and reveals the destructive nature of families, secrets and revenge.


The Value of Rain is one of those novels that will speak to you on many levels. It chronicles the madness and dysfunction of families bent on placing blame, on redirecting self-loathing onto the innocent, and touching the raw nerves of emotional attachments that often have nothing to do with love and everything to do with proximity and the accidents of birth.

Told through the eyes of a fourteen year old boy caught with his best friend, Charles is sent off to a mental institution to be cured of his homosexuality. Ten years of unimaginable cruelty, of torture both mental and physical, should have broken the boy, yet somehow Charles finds strengths within himself to survive, and unexpected friends and lovers who share a journey no one should ever be forced to take.

When Charles is finally released, through the good offices of a man who recognizes the inherent worth of the young man and who believes he is within reach of redemption, the convoluted path toward vengeance and retribution begins. The damaged boy inside the broken man faces off against a dying woman, Charlotte, his mother – the woman who condemned him to hell without remorse.

Charlotte had her reasons. Charles will know them before she dies. Revenge, to be effective, is best served upon the living.

This tale of retribution and the kind of hate that informs each and every choice—that contaminates and scours the heart and soul and keeps a person from engaging, truly engaging with life—spans a twenty year period. We meet Charles at Charlotte’s deathbed. We meet, as well, many of the actors on a stage partitioned into segments, some we see, some revealed as the set design changes with time and opportunity.

The skill of the author is considerable in how the weft and weave of the story reveal themselves through the sieve of Charles’ stunted emotional growth, through his savant gift for mathematics, and his skill at taking leaps of perception and cognition, of absorbing and re-aligning his experiences into a web of self-deceit and blind adherence to the singularity of hate.

The sheer complexity of the inter-relationships among all the characters is at first daunting, confusing, and frustrating—you feel much like a stranger who wandered into a hornet’s nest of a family gathering, each person holding open and hidden grudges, each with an agenda, each with unique histories and threads tying him to the central core of this contemporary passion play of suffering amidst an inexhaustible well of resentment.

Toggling from past-to-present and back, the author guides you through this maze with such a deft hand that the unraveling becomes seamless. You absorb the inner turmoil of Charles, you ache as he dissembles and clings to the madness and kindness and the emotional frailties of all who come to matter to him. Yet for Charles, those experiences are merely tangential, imbued with a gut wrenching impermanence and enforced through a core of righteous hatred.

The denouement—settling old scores, coming to understand the intricacies of history and the inbred dysfunctions of family—offers both hope and a measure of disquietude, a sense of incompleteness and a wish for something more concrete. But nothing about this story has hard edges or rigid boundaries, and it is in poking at those limits that compassion can emerge, albeit one filtered through a lifetime of ruination and despair. It is less about coming to understand and more about learning to let go just enough that the door opens a crack to other possibilities … and responsibilities.

The prose is fluidly elegant, a symphony of phrasing that will stop you dead in your tracks with its sheer audacity and style. Mr. Shire brings to the literary landscape a unique and compelling voice and a storytelling style that grabs you by those inelegant short hairs and refuses to let go. It is sensual and distancing, allowing emotional respite without permitting release. It is literary, intelligent, and quite simply the best book I have read in years.

The Value of Rain will ask questions for which there are no clear nor simple answers. It will enrage you and command your complete attention. It will take you on a journey for which there are no guideposts and no waystations and only the vaguest of destinations. This is Tennessee Williams territory, make no mistake about it. The Value of Rain will stay with you long after you finish the last sentence.

This is a highly recommended read, one you will want in print for your permanent collection, and a stunning debut novel for an author who has rocketed to my auto-buy list.

Bravo, Mr. Shire, bravo.



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SAVING KANE (Michele M. Rakes)






Genre: Contemporary gay romance, romantic suspense

The Blurb:

A twenty-something paramedic suffering from PTSD and a failing relationship with his high school sweetheart becomes embroiled in the tragic life of a young, gay man brutally beaten, raped, and left for dead.

Kane Abel can’t help falling for his caregiver, the handsome paramedic who saves his life, but he’s resistant. The one time Kane threw caution to the wind, he was left with a wired jaw and a tracheostomy. He can’t take much more hurt. But with his attacker’s promise to return, Kane lives in a constant state of fear, and with the ever-present paramedic, arousal.

Garrett Young struggles with the question of his sexuality, unable to get Kane out of his mind even as he fights against the demise of his long-time engagement with his girlfriend Amanda. Every day is complicated by his ongoing battle with PTSD and alcoholism, compounded by his fear for Kane’s life.


The Review:

This is one of those books that is very difficult to review, primarily because the suspense embedded in this story operates at several different levels, and to explain one thing invariably gives away details best left for the ritual of discovery and the joy and despair of living life vicariously through two damaged men who did nothing to deserve their fates.

And damaged, abused, destroyed … none of these terms can even come close to the physical and psychological wounds each man carries with him.

For Garrett Young, the wounds fester from experiences suffered as a child, then much later from when his job as firefighter puts him in harm’s way. As with all heroes who run into the danger zone, there are times when the ending isn’t so rosy, the outcomes not so bright. The trauma from being caught in the burning building leaves lasting issues with PTSD and alcoholism, along with a slow, downhill slide in his relationship with his high school sweetheart.

Kane Abel is a dancer—an attractive man content with his sexuality, a man who makes a poor choice in accepting an invitation that results in a horrific beating that nearly kills him, breaking his body and nearly breaking his spirit. But there is more at work than a simple episode of homophobic baiting and rage. Unlike other situations similar to Kane’s experience, his is different. He survived and survival of the victim is not the perpetrator’s MO.

Garret is the EMT who tends to Kane as first responder, then later he gives the younger man shelter in order to tend to his injuries, and thus begins an attraction that changes everything.

What is so extraordinary about this story and the characters is the level of authenticity, the honesty and no-holds-barred treatment of what it means to be so damaged that redefining normal for either man requires us to empathize completely with them, to crawl inside their skulls, to see, hear, feel, imagine everything they do. And even then, it barely scratches the surface.

How Garret and Kane handle their wounded hearts and spirits, especially Garret who has the added dysfunction of not fully grasping his sexuality, makes up a multilayered exploration of how each man comes to terms with his fears and disabilities. They are not necessarily stronger together, not at first, but that journey, that subtle dance of emotional bonding, is key to each man’s survival.

The overarching plot is also suspense laden, with Kane’s attacker on the loose, tormenting him, then others he cares for. The minor characters—an FBI agent whose husband suffered the same fate as Kane but didn’t live to tell about it, a transgender friend who provides muscle and mothering in equal measure, Garret’s sister—all round out the story, ground the main characters and give them a much-needed anchor and reason to continue to face each day.

I had some quibbles with the plot toward the end, in particular how the FBI agent handled certain elements of his investigation that were unorthodox to the point of unprofessional. In addition, Garret embraces his newfound sexuality with an ease that didn’t ring true, especially when compared with the other, brutal, deep-core examinations of his motivation and past history. To elevate the plot and to really up the level of conflict, the antagonist really needed more than the shallow treatment accorded him. And as fleshed out as the main characters were, the denouement felt rushed and incomplete.

Saving Kane is a thrill ride, a character-driven story of coming to terms with oneself when you’ve been to hell and back. The author writes with a sure hand despite the deeply disturbing, dark and brutal subject matter. It is definitely a page turner and worth having a spot on your permanent shelf.

Saving Kane is a solid 4.0 Star read.

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BOYSTOWN, Season Two (Jake Biondi)







GENRE: Erotic fiction, contemporary gay lit, gay romance


“As the others scrambled, two more gunshots were fired, echoing throughout the room. Blood splattered on the wall and floor as three bodies fell to the ground.” –BOYSTOWN Season One

In the aftermath of the warehouse shootings, lives are forever changed and relationships are forever altered. As the families of the victims work to put the horrific event behind them, they find themselves at the center of an even larger plan for revenge.

Ciancio twins Marco and Gino are as handsome as they are powerful — and they arrive in Boystown with a scheme rooted in the bad history between the Ciancio and Mancini families.

At the same time, Keith Colgan seems hell-bent on getting back the boyfriend he believes was stolen from him, Ben Donovan continues with his plan for Jacqueline Morgan and her son Jesse, and a stranger from the past threatens the future.

It all leads up to a spectacular New Year’s Eve engagement party that no one will ever forget.

Welcome back to BOYSTOWN!


BOYSTOWN, Season Two picks up after the horrific events/cliffhanger in the grandest mini-series/season finale fashion with ambulances rushing to the hospital, as gradually we learn the full extent of the tragedy.

The author continues to shake this ‘Verse, turning it upside down and inside out, and unfortunately for this reviewer, it’s to the point where anything I say would be a monumental spoiler and if you want to find out what happens… Well, you know what to do.

Meanwhile, back at the editing desk, let’s talk about a few quibbles: scenes of affection (always my favorites and about which I tend to be quite picky) head the list. There are plenty, oddles, but but but…

They’ve become mechanized, rote, linear, repetitive and so devoid of emotional context that this reviewer could easily have done without them—and in fact I skimmed most of them because, well… been there, done that. Script-wise that’s fine. The director gets to position the cameras, he choreographs the shot, optimizing, slicing and dicing edit-wise, to either push the FCC envelop or stay within cable TV protocols.

This is nominally a novel—that pared down, strictly-by-the-numbers treatment does not float my boat when it comes to this type of scene.

With some characters there’s more tell than show (Jesse comes to mind) and that leaves questions about motivations and how/why this character is doing this and not that.

There are also some new players on the scene (Marco and Gino) with links to Justin. They ramp up the stakes considerably although at points their backstory threatened to derail the narrative arc.

With a cast this large, it is quite difficult to avoid whiplash, confusing voices and motivations, and burying the plot which now includes the addition of a substantial element of mystery and suspense.

That said, this author had me clicking pages, staying up all night, shouting No, Wait, Are you effing kidding me! My cat was not amused. The thematic elements established at the beginning of each scene conclude with a wry observation, sometimes served with a side of snark and often poetic.

No relationship is safe, nothing is set in stone, and the season finale, which takes place at a celebration, ends explosively… Beyond that, dear readers, there be spoilers.

Be prepared to hate the one you loved, love the one you hate and wonder about the rest. Dagnabbit, this stuff is addicting.

BOYSTOWN is officially a guilty pleasure and as with all such beasts, the need for instant gratification implores Mr. Biondi to write faster.

Five Stars.




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BOYSTOWN, Season One (Jake Biondi)

BOYSTOWN, Season One





GENRE: Erotic fiction, contemporary gay lit, gay romance


One of the most diverse and lively neighborhoods in the country, Chicago’s BOYSTOWN has something for everyone. So it’s no wonder that Jesse Morgan and Cole O’Brien chose to live there upon graduating from college. Ready to begin the next phase of their lives in an exciting new city, Jesse and Cole quickly find themselves at the center of a new group of friends.

Joyelle and Derek Mancini have been happily married for years, but Derek is harboring a secret that could tear them apart. Derek’s brother Emmett is about to discover that his boyfriend Keith Colgan has a past that will haunt them both. Long time couple Logan Pryce and Max Taylor must face a crisis that neither of them expected. And, before they realize it, Jesse and Cole find themselves at the center of it all in the adult playground known as BOYSTOWN.


Let’s skip the synopsis for a moment and talk about BOYSTOWN from the perspective of a television producer looking for a hot new vehicle for a budding Gay Cable Channel. And let’s say that producer is moi. I scan through the first couple of chapters, and I’m immediately gripped by a potential cast of characters who bring eroticism, angst, brio, èlan, attitude, insecurity, infidelity and over-the-top hotness that on a good day would rival mainstream Dallas, Brothers and Sisters, Revenge, etc. And today is a very good day.

I think you can see what’s coming. BOYSTOWN has a unique narrative form: a cross between a traditional screenplay with 95% dialog and minimalist set design and direction, and a sparse narrative flow that has a distinct linear quality, but again, heavy on dialog and with just enough detail that set directors could easily re-imagine the few locations where the bulk of the action occurs (condos, coffee shop, office, etc).

Another clue that you, the reader, might have wandered into uncharted territory is how the author labels each “chapter” as an episode. And each “episode” carries a theme set up by the first paragraph or two, then reiterated in the last couple of sentences, bookending a series of acts within a miniplay. The bridges between acts are of the “meanwhile, back at the condo” variety, and it turns out it’s a very effective way to redirect the reader from one scene to the next (or sometimes one cliffie to the next).

Beginning with a scene of infidelity, you will recognize this might not be a typical romance, and that the stable—or in most cases, pseudo-stable—relationships walk a knife-edge of unresolved conflict, self-absorption, narcissism, and all those other delightful character traits that make for jaw-dropping drama and shouts of “you’ve got to be kidding me!” (no Kindle was harmed in the reading of BOYSTOWN).

The cast of characters is a dream-come-true for my favorite game: Casting Couch. The pairings of note are Derek and wife Joyelle, Cole and Jess (college roomies), Emmett and Keith (boyfriends), Logan and Max (partners), loose cannons Ben and Nick and honorable mentions to family members (mostly moms). Whew, hope I didn’t forget anyone. And yes, at chapter/episode one I was scratching my head, wondering if maybe there were too many characters, introduced too soon, but never fear, it gets sorted.

The overarching plot is simple: put every character in a drum and shake violently, then tip over and see what falls out. Yes, sounds random. Trust me, it’s not, and you can and will keep up. Subplots effectively add to and drive the basic relationship dramas played out on small, intimate sets.

You’ll take sides, you’ll see some things coming from a mile away, others will have your eyeballs bulging at the sheer audacity… And then there’s the final scene and all hell literally breaks loose and you go to click the page and… And… Wait, no, yo!

You have GOT to be kidding me! No matter how many swipes, that was it, finis, get your tush to Amazon and download Season 2, like… right now. (And I lied about the Kindle, it required a towel-down after that frantic bit of finger flicking.)

Points said finger upwards: those are all the woohoo bits that make this a loved-it-five-stars worth.

But there were a few things I think could have been done better if we look at this from a standard narrative treatment, aka a novel. First and foremost, the characters needed fleshing out: descriptions of physical characteristics, a clear idea of the ages of cast members (other than the college guys), occupations (as is common with these drama-driven vehicles, everybody has way too much time to obsess over themselves and their love lives), social status, etc.

A director and the producers will have a clear idea of who will fill which part based on a variety of factors, none of which really pertain to the novel reader. In a word, I wanted more. Derek did not act in an age-appropriate manner most times, Cole and Jesse were suitably naïve at some points, but not at others, some characters seemed to flip-flop in character traits which made keeping track a bit of a challenge. Motivations got muddied (yes, I watch True Blood but Vampire Bill and Eric in the novels are different from their counterparts on the small screen).

A quick note about the dialog: there were quite a few spots where a parsimonious treatment (less is more) would have been better. Not everyone needs to say hello, how are you, can I take your coat… In a “real” screenplay, you might see that, but in a novel, it causes the action to slow down.

Now, let’s look at scenes of affection. This is erotic romance, make no mistake. It’s graphic M/M and M/F, something for everyone. It’s frequent, sometimes recurring in scenes one after the other (meanwhile back against the wall with his tongue down…), and after a while it turned repetitive. One excellent way to discriminate one gay character from another is how and why they do what they do on the couch, over the kitchen counter, in bed, in the shower… When the act becomes so linear that it goes from throat to chest with a stopover, a quick one, at the nips, then thighs, suck a toe, maybe run back up and do an armpit, then a condom and let the fun begin—it’s hard, it’s deep, it’s … well, it’s pretty much the same thing, scene after scene. (Where is Alan Ball when you need him?).

The first half dozen are hot, the rest… not so much. I know, I know… first world problems. But to qualify as truly scorching, this reader wants and demands variety, consequences, and a reasonable recovery period for guys who ain’t twenty and haven’t been for a long time. These scenes needed a healthy dose of affect to make them pop.

Those are my quibbles. Not a deal breaker by any means.

This was a unique, driving, entertaining, annoying, aggravating, scream at the screen kind of read. Whether you want to or not, you will be invested in a character or two or three—hate ’em, love ’em, one thing you won’t do is dismiss them.

An unequivocal FIVE STARS for the best guilty pleasure I’ve come across in a very long time.




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Hot Head (Damon Suede)




hot head

Genre: Contemporary gay lit, M/M romance

The Blurb:

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire…

Since 9/11, Brooklyn firefighter Griff Muir has wrestled with impossible feelings for his best friend and partner at Ladder 181, Dante Anastagio. Unfortunately, Dante is strictly a ladies’ man, and the FDNY isn’t exactly gay-friendly. For ten years, Griff has hidden his heart in a half-life of public heroics and private anguish.

Griff’s caution and Dante’s cockiness make them an unbeatable team. To protect his buddy, there’s nothing Griff wouldn’t do… until a nearly bankrupt Dante proposes the worst possible solution:, a gay porn website where uniformed hunks get down and dirty. And Dante wants them to appear there—together. Griff may have to guard his heart and live out his darkest fantasies on camera. Can he rescue the man he loves without wrecking their careers, their families, or their friendship?

The Review:

Hot Head operates on a multi-level story arc: partly a homage to the courage and sacrifice of first responders on 9-11, partly an action-adventure tale focusing on the terrible risks and bravery of men who choose to run into the bowels of hell to save lives, but mostly it’s a buddy story of friendship and love and loyalty.

And it is most definitely a romance, beginning with unrequited love on the part of Griff Muir for his best friend Dante Anastagio. Griif’s effectively been raised by the Anastagio family. He and Dante are inseparable, sharing danger, sharing women, and even sharing secrets. But there’s one secret Griff cannot and will not share: his feelings for Dante that exceed the boundaries of even deep-seated friendship.

When Dante finds himself in over his head keeping up an old house that’s taking a huge bite out of his resources, he puts his lusty nature to good use by joining up with—a gay porn website. He scores big with the viewers but to earn serious cash he needs to up the ante and provide cutting edge content. For that he solicits Griff to join him—it’s the kind of offer Griff cannot refuse.

When practice and performance raise mixed messages, it’s not just careers and the respect of their fellow firemen on the line. When it gets down and dirty, it’s Griff’s heart that takes the heavy hit.

Damon Suede gives us much to like with Hot Head. Griff is, far and away, the more likeable character (for this reader), but even Dante’s cocky attitude rarely grates for long. This is a mature author, in command of the subject matter, the details well-researched and bringing a measure of authenticity you don’t normally find with a M/M (or any other type) romance.

I especially enjoyed the authentic dialog—it rang true on just about every measure: urban, middle and working class, male Brooklynese. It had that rhythm and cadence that appealed to the inner ear and made each of the characters unique.

With heart stopping action, heart-stopping scenes of affection and a sigh worthy denouement, Hot Head delivers, in spades.

It’s a delight to find such a well-crafted story, a page-turner written with care and attention to detail, well-edited and worthy of a permanent spot on the shelf.

Five stars for an excellent read.

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A Little Too Broken (Brad Vance)





Genre: M/M contemporary gay romance

The Blurb:

When Jamie walks through the door of the Humane Society, it’s not just an animal who needs rescuing that day. Tom is there to adopt another service dog into the Canine Comrade Corps, but it’s Jamie his heart goes out to. But each man turns away, walks away, from the potential pain, the rejection, the knowledge that it’ll all end in tears…

Jamie knows damn well that the HIV he contracted from an unfaithful lover has put him out of the dating game forever in the small town of Santa Vera. Tom lost his legs in Afghanistan, and got new ones, yeah, but with a side order of PTSD to go, he thought grimly. The real problem is that only now does he realize he’s gay, now that the revelation would be just one too many things to put his family through, after everything else they’ve had to deal with.

So both men grin and bear the loneliness, put their feelings on a shelf, even as Jamie’s volunteer stint at CCC turns into friendship and, despite their resolve, something more…

The Review:

A Little Too Broken chronicles the journeys of two men stutter-starting on the path of social and emotional isolation. Tom is a veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan. He suffers from PTSD, a condition he combats by giving back to similar sufferers through involvement with the Canine Comrade Corps. Jamie is HIV positive, contracted via poor life choices that involved unsafe sex, drugs and an inability to recognize abusive behavior until it was almost too late.

When they meet, there is interest that cannot be sustained because each man only sees rejection and heartbreak, casting themselves as victims that borders on a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The story is told in two parts: each man’s misfortunes, their history, their journey into hell and back, the help they receive along the way, the recovery and the consequences of not committing fully to it.

There is a lot of interesting detail about the CCC, the good it does, how the dogs are chosen, what to look for. Similar detail is presented about being HIV positive, including both social and medical consequences. Unfortunately, this level of detail does little to forward the plot or character development. Rather than helping to integrate our understanding and engage our sympathies, this acts as an info dump pulling us out of the story. We lose focus on who these men are in favor of a political/social statement about how society has failed its most vulnerable. I’m not suggesting this isn’t the case, for clearly it is, but in terms of story-as-romance it does not fulfill that mandate.

There are also problems with shifting point of view, sometimes swapping out within paragraphs. It made the writing choppy, and discerning who was saying/thinking what, when, became frustrating for this reader.

When Jamie and Tom finally do take those tentative first steps, the novel becomes what it should have been all along: a sigh-worthy romance where you cheer them on, want to slap them upside the head at times for being dolts, where you marvel at the level of understanding each has for the other’s disability—turning that mindset into “able”, not “disable.”

The scenes of affection are realistic and include glimpses into the emotional state of each man.

Despite the lack of integration of individual storylines, despite the shifting POV and extended info dumps, despite a slightly unrealistic (too pat, too neat) denouement vis a vis Tom’s family’s acceptance when he comes out to them… Despite all that, I enjoyed the book. When I finished, I wished there’d been more of Jamie and Tom as a couple, working toward that future that looks a lot brighter with them together instead of apart.

A Little Too Broken has enough “aw” moments to satisfy a romance junkie. The characters are sympathetic, especially Tom. It will leave you feeling optimistic, wanting more. This could have been a wonderful book but it fails in execution. This is where a good editor could have made all the difference.

For that reason it’s a 3.5* read, rounding to 4* because I’m still harboring that “aw” feeling of satisfaction.


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The Art of the Heart (Dan Skinner)





GENRE: Gay literature, coming of age, short story


The heartland of America in 1965 feels like the end of the road for seventeen-year-old Zac Weston. After all, there’s nowhere to go when you’re shy, gay, and a virgin. A natural artist, inspiration strikes in the form of neighbor boy Rory, and Zac’s fantasies spill onto the pages of his notebook. When Zac’s secret is discovered, it might take more than wishes to magically make his world right.


This is a book that quite literally had me enthralled from the first sentence. The prose is elegantly simple, straightforward, evocative, sensual and riveting. The story unfolds in omniscient third, which I will admit, after reading genre fiction, was a stretch to readjust my reader perspective.

This story beautifully captures a time and place, tapping directly into my consciousness, awakening memories, touching all my senses.

It is a coming of age tale, a homage to first love—that very first awareness and the consequences when you are a young boy, a virgin in every sense of the word. It is also a tale of small town America, back when acceptance meant overlooking differences to the point where it breached understanding, slipping into blindness to a boy’s inner turmoil.

Zac was that boy who found refuge from those things he did not understand: why he felt the way he did, the narrowness of his milieu that restricted his choices, and the final inspiration to record his journey, his fantasies, using the graphics arts as his medium for living out his inner landscape.

When Zac’s talent, and his recording of his alternate reality, is discovered, it is his object of obsession and affection, Rory, who recognizes but does not judge.  Zac is proud, terrified, ashamed, hopeful… and what he most wants is something he’s dreamt of for years. But wishing and dreaming, when you live your life with pencil and paper, is nothing like the reality. Zac has no frame of reference until, during the height of a storm, he learns how to turn fantasy into hope.

This is the first work by Dan Skinner that I’ve read. It won’t be the last.

Five stars. Highly recommended read.




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