Linda78

Running Blind

Running Blind - Venona Keyes, Kim Fielding

4 stars for the first half, 3 stars for the second half.

 

I was really enjoying this book and didn't even mind that the romance didn't kick in until near the halfway point. I liked Kyle and liked seeing how he adapted to his blindness and how he didn't let it slow him down for too long. He had moments of anger and self-pity, but they were just moments. This is very much a story of recovery. I do wish we'd been shown more of his time in rehab, but I liked what we did get.

 

Then Seth shows up and it was just too late in the book to really develop the romance in a satisfying way. There was no doubt that the two clicked right away, and that they both had their reasons for not wanting to jump into a relationship. But I didn't really feel like the "I love you"s were earned when they showed up. Maybe if the authors hadn't felt the need to give Seth some baggage (in the form of a previous relationship, not his aging mom, who is delightful) that took up time that could have been used to better establish Kyle and Seth as a couple, that might be different. Instead, time is spent on this side story that really could take up a whole book on its own but barely gets the attention it deserves. It felt like it was thrown in there to give the relationship some unneeded angst, or make Seth a little less perfect. Then milestones are jumped right over or referred to in passing.

 

What saved the second half was again Kyle's continued recovery and learning to not just live with being blind but also rediscovering his sense of adventure that he'd had when he was younger. And I like that the struggles he encounters with other, well-meaning people weren't over the top - except Derek. What a tool that guy was. Kyle had to figure out what he could still do in his job as a narrator and voice actor, and how to navigate the world and convention circuits on his own.

 

Oh, yeah, and the pushy, meddling sister is in full force in this book. *sigh* Can we please stop including this character in romance books? Don't get me wrong, I love how supportive Lily was for her baby bro and how much they clearly love each other. But there's a way to be supportive without being obnoxious.

Red Dirt Heart (Red Dirt Heart #1)

Red Dirt Heart - N.R. Walker

I like this! It was standard, as far as M/M goes, but has the distinction of being set in the Outback. Charlie and Travis were fun, and it was nice to see Travis pull Charles out of his shell and self-loathing. I really liked Ma and George, too. (Though I did get a little annoyed with the chapter headers, gotta be honest.)

 

This is a short read though, barely longer than novella length, so we don't get to see much of the other workers on the ranch, who are basically just there as set dressing. A lot of the relationship development between Charlie and Travis was set in the bedroom too, and after one-and-a-half standard sex scenes, I just started skipping them altogether. There was still enough development outside the bedroom for me to appreciate why they're clearly good together, so that was good.

 

The next one looks longer, so hopefully it'll have more meat on its bones. And be better formatted. The formatting for this book was all over the place. It though Ch 6 was Ch 8, for instance, and thought the book was complete when I was still at 70%. 

Wingmen (Audiobook)

Wingmen - Ensan Case

First thing's first: this is NOT a romance, so anyone reading this as a romance is going to be very disappointed. This is a war story with some romantic elements, but those elements make up a very small percentage of page time. Really, it's more  a story of a squadron of pilots, focusing on three of the men, two of whom just happen to be gay and start a relationship with each other, but for the most part that relationship is between the lines. 

 

HOWEVER, all that said, I still really enjoyed the story. I could tell that a lot of research went into this. The lingo, the fight scenes, the war diary, the protocols - I can't attest to how accurate anything is but it sure sounds legit. (Though the military lingo was a little too much at times. I even had to go back and relisten to the first few chapters because I was losing the thread of the story. Once I got used to it though, the story flowed well.) I thought many times while watching that this would make a great war movie, perhaps directed by Ron Howard, and I would've liked for the story to keep going after

Fred gets hurt and discharged

(show spoiler)

since I wasn't invested in the relationship as much as I was the squadron as a whole. So the ending felt a little anti-climatic. The epilogue covered about twenty-five years after the war's end, highlighting the major events in Fred and Jack's lives together. But even though this isn't a romance,

I was still disappointed this wasn't an HEA for them, since it ends with Jack's death by heart attack.

(show spoiler)

 

Keeping in mind this was originally written in 1979, it's no surprise then that this is not the gay-ok revisionist history that you get in too many m/m romances today. I get why people want their protags to be happy, but I always feel like it disrespects the men (and women) who had to live through those times. I really did like that aspect of it, and just the fact that this was published when it was is an example of all those little steps over the decades that brought us to where we are today. 

 

The narrator does a good job, though I wished he'd made the voices a little more distinctive. My issues with the audiobook isn't because of him though. The editing was less than stellar. I lost track of how many times sentences were repeated, but it was easily over a dozen. This should've been caught before it was released and since I've had experience with this from Audible before, I doubt it's going to be fixed any time soon.

 

I do recommend this one if you're a WWII buff and enjoy action/adventure stories, but readers wanting Romance (™) should look elsewhere.

A Lucky Child (A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy)

A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy - Thomas Buergenthal, Elie Wiesel

For being about the horrors of Nazi occupation of Europe and the Holocaust, this wasn't a difficult  read. The author, Thomas Buergenthal, writes about his childhood in an approachable manner. It probably helps that he's writing it several decades after the fact - the pain and anger he would have felt during and immediately after the events have had time to heal. It's light on details of the day-to-day activities of those years, as he and his family were first on the run from Germans, then living in the Jewish ghetto in Poland, then the various concentration camps he was imprisoned in. As a result, it glosses over a lot of the horrors, focusing instead on events that stick out to him most - but those events are rather harrowing in themselves. He doesn't linger on them though. Some might find this lack of detail frustrating, others may be relieved. I've read other accounts of the Holocaust, most memorably Elie Wiesel's Night, so I was able to fill in what wasn't there. 

 

This felt like a very honest and intimate account of his days surviving WWII and the Holocaust. His writing here is flowing and stark, and he doesn't get bogged down with unnecessary repetition like last few autobiographies I've read. He was indeed a "lucky" child to survive Dr. Mengele and Auschwitz. Speaking of Night, they were both clearly in Auschwitz at the same time, as they both describe the Death March with the same sort of dreadful resignation. He was lucky many other times in order to survive, and that continues even after his liberation as he details how he was eventually reunited with his mother.

 

One cannot stress enough how important this time period was to the shaping of the world as it is today and why it's necessary that it continue to be taught in our schools. Buergenthal's work in international humanitarian law is inspirational and reminds us that, no matter how bleak things can still appear, there is hope for improvement and that things already have improved in many places. We can make the world a better place, but we can only do that by remembering the atrocities that came before and striving not to repeat them.

A Reason to Believe (Audiobook)

A Reason To Believe - Jack LeFleur, Diana Copland

Still just as good as the first time I read it way back when I was first getting into M/M. I always worry that those "older" reads won't live up to my initial impressions of them, but this one does. It's even been long enough that even though I remembered the gist of mystery (the motive mostly) I didn't remember the whodunit, so it was fun to try to figure it out all over again. 

 

Kiernan is fun and full of energy, and he's such a great balance to Matt, who is more even-tempered and still grieving the loss of his last boyfriend. It was a bit on the insta-love side, the story takes place in barely a week, but they go through enough and actually talk to each other about things instead of just lusting after each other (which they really don't do much of, actually). It makes their connection feel more real, instead of the shallow "he's so hot I MUST have him" nonsense you get in a lot of other romances. 

 

Sheila and Aiden weren't as annoying as I remembered them being, even if they are a little too gushy over the guys finding love. 

 

The narrator is pretty good. He did sound a little "the number you have called is not in service" at times, but when he was reading dialogue, he really got into all the characters and shined.

Shelter the Sea (The Roosevelt #2) (Audiobook)

Shelter the Sea - Heidi Cullinan

I was worried at first when I realized this book was going to get political. Not because of the focus of the politics - America's dismal record with mental health illness - but because the last time Ms. Cullinan went political with her story Enjoy the Dance she forgot she was writing a story. The characters took a back seat to the politics, and the story suffered for it. I'm glad to say that was not the case here. She remembered to tell an engaging story this time, she kept Emmett and Jeremey front and center, and we got to see how their relationship continued to progress.

 

It's been a couple of years since the end of Carry the Ocean, and Emmett and Jeremey are still living in the Roosevelt. Emmett's working now and doing well. Jeremey however is still struggling with his anxiety and depression and has entered a dark period that he tries to hide from Emmett. Emmett wants to help him and also wants to take their relationship to the next level. On top of that, the Roosevelt is facing funding problems, that exacerbates everything and highlights how easily law makers overlook the mental ill and physically limited when it suits them. 

 

Emmett though doesn't give up easily. He and the other Roosevelt Blues Brothers come up with a plan to try to defeat the legislation to privatize mental health care and along the way he figures out how to help Jeremey too. It was great to spend time with these characters again, and to see David and Darren again. We meet some great new characters, and Mai is especially a sweetie. 

 

Iggy Toma was, as always, perfect. He's four for four in the audiobooks I've listened to so far. He really brings Emmett and Jeremey and the rest of the characters to life, and lets their humanity shine through. 

SPOILER ALERT!

Running the Tides

Running the Tides - Amanda Kayhart

This started out so promising and then it just meandered around until I lost all interest and skimmed the last quarter just to get through it and see just how the inevitable Big Misunderstanding would shake out. On the good side, the Big Misunderstanding wasn't the one I was expecting it to be. On the bad side, the Big Misunderstanding was completely contrived and out of left field and was even more unnecessary than Big Misunderstandings tend to be.

 

I liked Avery and Olivia and they were pretty cute while they were crushing on each other. There's a nice slow burn to their relationship too, so they didn't just fall into lust and actually spent time with each other and got to know each other. The whole thing with Avery's grandmother was pretty predictable, but it didn't quite play out the way I expected (see above re: Big Misunderstanding). 

 

But...

 

The writing was wordy, and there were many incorrect word usages throughout. Most of them I was able to figure out, but I'm still trying to figure out what "edit my jeans" is supposed to mean. 

 

Avery drives from upstate New York to North Carolina without apparently taking a break, and she somehow manages to get to NC in time for Val to tell her that the owner will be back "in the afternoon". ... It's at least a twelve hour drive. Avery left after breakfast, and she's driving a pickup truck not a black '67 Chevy Impala, so I know her truck doesn't have wormhole technology. ;) There's no way she got there before nighttime.

 

Olivia asks Avery to stay on an extra month to fix the roof at the B&B. Permits and rental equipment are mentioned, but nothing at all is said about Avery not having a contractor's license in NC. Pretty sure a NY state contractor license isn't going to cut it in NC. Hell, you can't even cut hair in another state without a proper license.

 

Avery's about to fess up at one point about her grandma, but it starts raining so she's interrupted. (Timely interruptions happen a lot in this book.) Once inside, Olivia goes about getting them dried and settled and tells Avery she can continue with her confession. Then the chapter ends and the next chapter starts up three weeks later and we don't find out for another 150-something pages if she told Olivia anything or not, and if not, what she did tell Olivia instead. 

 

And there's more, but that's the point where my interest started to wane and by about 65% I just really couldn't take it anymore. By 75% I was skimming and looking for relevant parts. The Big Misunderstanding was shortly after that and so completely stupid that it was hardly worth the time it took to skim it.

 

*sigh* I want to find good F/F books to read but everyone I pick up is either just okay or less than stellar. Why is it so hard?

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable - Patrick Lencioni

Of the books I've had to read for work over the last year, this is easily the best. I liked the "fable" story that presented the ideas and concepts the author wanted to address and how it made the material more approachable and easy to digest. And as such, it was a quick read, which I always like as it gives me more time to read fun things. :D There's also a nice, concise wrap up at the end so you don't have to read the whole story again to get to the meat of the lesson.

Honestly, Ben (Openly Straight #2) (Audiobook)

Honestly Ben - Bill Konigsberg

I liked so much about this book. I liked Ben in the first book and was happy to get his POV and get to know him more intimately. He's an introvert, and has a lot of hang ups because of his fun sucker dad who is king of repression. This book really focuses on why Ben feels the need to please everyone and why he's got so many issues speaking up and taking a stand for what he believes in - or even just figuring out what those beliefs are. So all of that was good, and while some things were left open ended, it didn't feel like a cliffhanger.

 

What I didn't like as much was Ben going GFY for Rafe. I can't even really say that this improves on the GFY trope since there is extensive talk about bisexuality, but Ben is very adamant about not being bi, which would be fine if that was all that was going on here. People are free to pick their own labels. But Rafe makes jokes several times about bi just being a transition phase to gay. Even though he says at one point that he doesn't really believe that, he still mentions it again several times, and Ben's understanding of bisexuality is rather lacking as well since it doesn't address those who would fall under the twos or fives under the Kinsey scale. So yeah, still not good bi representation, and Rafe came across as kind of a jerk when he couldn't give Ben the space and time he needed to figure things out on his own.

 

I can't speak one way or another if Toby being gender fluid was handled well or not. It's not a concept I understand much at all, and I can't say that this helped educate me in any way. I guess I don't see how wearing makeup and skirts can make a male character female. Because I never wear makeup or skirts, but I'm still a woman. I don't do anything particularly feminine at all but that doesn't make me not female. So gender fluidity doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, sorry. I understand wanting to buck gender *roles* but I don't think that's quite what gender fluidity is about, but perhaps I'm wrong. I admit complete ignorance about this concept, but I'm more than open to learning or trying to learn. I did try looking for reviews on GR, hoping to find some written by gender fluid reviewers talking about that aspect, but I didn't find much of anything.

 

Oh, and there's a throwaway line by someone else saying they think Albie is ace. That's not ace representation, sorry. Zero points for that.

The Pirate's Booty (The Plundered Chronicles #1) - DNF @ 19%.

The Pirate's Booty (The Plundered Chronicles Book 1) - Alex Westmore,  Designed by Rock Mallory, Rachel Stanfield-Porter

I was promised swashbuckling and crossdressing shenanigans, and there certainly was that. Like, a lot. Almost nonstop really. As soon as any hint of a plot started to take shape, more swashbuckling came along to nip it in the bud. Quinn was fun, even if I couldn't figure out how she could possibly keep her true identity a secret whilst on a pirate ship. Even if you assume pirates don't bathe that often, at some point, someone's got to notice something, right?

 

If all you're looking for is swashbuckling and shenanigans, this is the book for you. I just needed something more.

Openly, Honestly (Openly Straight #1.5)

Openly, Honestly - Bill Konigsberg

Cute little post-holiday holiday short story. It doesn't really add anything to the series as a whole, but it was fun to spend a little time with Claire Olivia as she tries to cheer up Rafe, and we get to meet Ben's family which was nice.

Carry the Ocean (The Roosevelt #1) (Audiobook)

Carry the Ocean - Heidi Cullinan

This was amazing and I'm kicking myself for taking so long to get to it. Except by waiting, I got to listen to Iggy Toma's brilliant narration which made the book that much more special. He really studied and got lots of advice from people with autism on how to portray Emmitt and it really shows. He voices Emmitt and Jeremey perfectly. Toma and Cullinan are proving to be a match made in audiobook heaven.

 

Emmitt has autism and Jeremy has major depressive disorder with extreme anxiety disorder. This isn't a book about "love cures all" because there are no cures. Instead, this is a book that respects both the struggles and the accomplishments of these two amazing young men, and how they have learned to manage the world around them and navigate a new relationship with each other at the same time. They're oddly perfect for each other, because Emmitt is calm and controlled when Jeremey is not, and Jeremey can understand the emotions that Emmitt has a hard time expressing. But their disabilities can also aggravate each other as well, so they have to learn how to talk to each other and when to give each other space. 

 

I really liked Emmitt's family. His parents and aunt were a great support system for Emmitt and later for Jeremey. Jeremey's family were not understanding about his issues at all, but they're allowed their time to be humanized as well. They're not bad parents because they don't love their son. It's clear they want the best for him. But they're misinformed, sometimes purposely so, but there's more to it than just that.

 

Then there's Derek, who we meet later in the book and really shines instantly as a great friend to Jeremey, even if he's something of a foil for Emmitt, at least at first. 

 

I can tell that an amazing amount of research went into this book, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

Stories Beneath Our Skin

Stories Beneath Our Skin - Veronica Sloane

This is a simple story with some great characters, and the various relationships are generally well done. I did feel like the some of the side stories, in particular the one of Joy and Cole, were lost in the shuffle, which is strange since it's needing to help take care of Cole while Joy's in rehab that acts as the catalyst for Liam and Ace to take the next step. I really liked the friendship between Liam and Ace, though I didn't really feel the romantic relationship between them. Thankfully, there was enough else going on that it didn't bother me. (Frankie and Goose had more chemistry going on, and they were just the subplot.)

 

I know this is a reissue and this was previously released by a publisher that I'm not familiar with. I'm going to assume that the various technical issues are due to the reissue. There were missing paragraph breaks, especially when dialogue was involved, and it made it difficult at times to figure out who was speaking when. However, there were various grammar issues too: words split in the middle, incorrect punctuation (again, usually around dialogue), missing words and even incorrect words (then instead of than, duel instead of dual, etc) and just weird word choices that I couldn't tell if the author was just trying to reinvent the wheel or really didn't know how those words were supposed to be used.

 

I was also expecting more detail on the tattooing, since that was a big part of the plot, but that left a lot to be desired. Oh, and how did no one correct poor Cole when he thought Mars was closer to the sun than Earth? Sure, he's four, but that's no reason not to correct him. Bad parenting, guys. Bad!

 

So 3 stars overall for the story, but half a star off for bad editing/formatting.

Who We Are

Who We Are - Nicola Haken, Jay Aheer, E Adams

This was such a great read! I wished it were longer - but kind of not, because my eyeballs couldn't have withstood leaking any more than they already were, but since some things were more summarized nearing the end, I didn't feel quite completely satisfied with some aspects of the story. Thankfully, those were minor aspects involving minor characters, so it wasn't too big of a deal.

 

Anyway, I loved Ollie and Sebastian. This is one of the few instances I found the insta believable, because it wasn't insta-lust but insta-like and we've all been through that, whether romantic or platonic. They actually go on dates, and get to know each other, and the relationship is built up believably enough that when things take a sudden turn for the worse, I actually found the emotions and struggles to be realistic. I also liked Ollie's brother Tyler, even though he constantly abused "init" and acted like a typical moody teen at times, but he really showed how much he cared for and adored his unorthodox big bro.

 

Plus, Sebastian is bisexual. He said it. He explains the internal biphobia, the problems he faces when datings straight women or gay men. I am so, so glad that more authors are embracing bisexual characters in their books and getting away from the GFY trope.

 

I do wish we'd gotten to see more of Sebastian's family - even his uncle cuz I want to take that moment at the dining table and frame it on my wall - you'll know that moment if you read the book. And there was this other thing between the besties that happens at the end too, that I'm not sure why it was included at all unless perhaps Ms. Haken is thinking of a potential sequel, which I would definitely read if so.

Half Moon Chambers (Audiobook) - DNF

Half Moon Chambers - Harper Fox

I should've read the blurb. And I should've followed my gut when this started with a sex scene. But it's Harper Fox, right? Nope. Unprofessional professional. Cop sleeps with a witness. DNF. :(

 

Narrator was okay.

Pure Bred (Shelter #4)

Pure Bred: Book Four of the Shelter Series - Kate Sherwood

This series has been kind of a mixed bag. I really liked that the focus was on those living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet, and that it was more people of color than your average M/M. However, I also felt that too often the couple got together way too quickly. That happens again here, with Trey and Seb. Trey's been kind of a mystery for the series since he's been mostly on the fringes of the other books. Seb is completely new. He's supposedly a law student but not particularly well-spoken in tense situations. Hopefully, he stays away from trial law. ;)

 

Mostly, I liked Seb and how he was able to self-assess and realize how easy his life has been once he has his eyes opened by Trey and the others. Seb grew up in a well-to-do family, with supportive parents and sister, a cousin who's also his best friend, and never having to worry about where his next meal will come from. He took it all for granted until he realizes how much harder life is without any of that stuff. And then he stands by his newfound convictions despite everyone else being worried about his safety and future.

 

What was kind of weird was the extremely weak sauce D/s dynamic between Seb and Trey. On the one hand, I extremely dislike D/s so I was glad that it wasn't a big part of the story and that it was pretty mild, because the little bit that was there left me cold. On the other hand, I'm not sure why it was there at all. There was already a lot going on to examine power dynamics with the class difference between Seb and Trey, so adding this wasn't really needed. So yeah, weird.

 

The conflict between Seb and Trey was predictable as hell and was resolved rather predictably also. But I liked that the main conflict that carried over from the previous book was handled realistically in terms of the fallout for the neighborhood. And the epilogue from Dodger's POV was cute!

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