Guest Review: The Dream Alchemist by Joanna Chambers

Work kept me from finishing my TBR Challenge book today (a Sarah Maclean), but like manna from heaven, into my email popped a fabulous review of the first book in Joanna Chambers’ paranormal m/m series written by Janet Webb, aka @JanetNorCal, long time romance reader and Heroes and Heartbreakers contributor. Enjoy!

Dream Alchemist

My TBR book for March is The Dream Alchemist. I struggled with how best to present this unusual and fascinating entry into an absorbing new world, then decided the best fallback is to let the author’s words draw you in.

Book description (from the publisher):

When the sun goes down, their passion awakens…and so do their nightmares.

Centuries ago, a man with Bryn Llewelyn’s dreamwalking ability would have been a shaman or a priest. In this time, he’s merely exhausted, strung out on too much caffeine and too little sleep.

Sleep means descent into Somnus—an alternate reality constructed of the combined dreaming consciousness of ordinary humans. A place he’d rather avoid. Trouble is, his powers don’t include the ability to go without sleep indefinitely. At some point his eyes close…and his nightmare begins.

As a teen, the treatment that cured Laszlo Grimm’s sleep disorder stole his dreams—and his ability to feel emotion. Petrified of needing more “treatment”, he clings to familiar rituals and habits. But lately his nightly terror has returned, and when he meets Bryn in the real world, the man seems hauntingly familiar. Not only that, Bryn awakens feelings in Laszlo for the first time in years…

Slowly Bryn and Laszlo realize they are both unknowing pawns in a plan of unspeakable evil. And that their powerful attraction could release the destinies locked within them—or be the instrument of their doom.

Tom’s Midnight Garden, P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins books, the Over Sea, Under Stone series by Susan Cooper—I read all of these books and many more like them growing up. What they have in common is the elasticity of time, space, and history. In its simplest form, for example, Mary Poppins had the power to take the Banks children, albeit briefly, to another world. In more complex worlds, events involving the “same” people happen seemingly concurrently, in different centuries and/or universes. These are time slip books. Which is, says Wikipedia: “… a paranormal phenomenon in which a person, or group of people, seem to either travel through time via unknown means, or appear to briefly enter an alternate version of present reality via unknown means.”

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Review: Promises, by Marie Sexton

Promises is an m/m romance published in January 2010 by Dreamspinner Press. Many m/m authors seem a bit mysterious, so I was delighted to visit the author’s website and see an actual photo, with a bio, not to mention a handy book list, which indicates that Promises is the first of several m/m romances set in Coda, CO (and, it seems, her first book). You can find an excerpt of this short novel (about 228 pages) here.

The blurb:

Jared Thomas has lived his whole life in the small mountain town of Coda, Colorado. He can’t imagine living anywhere else. Unfortunately, the only other gay man in town is twice his age and used to be his teacher, so Jared is resigned to spending his life alone.

Until Matt Richards walks into his life, that is. Matt has just been hired by the Coda Police Department, and he and Jared immediately become friends. Matt claims he is straight, but for Jared, having a sexy friend like Matt is way too tempting. Facing Matt’s affair with a local woman, his disapproving family, and harassment from Matt’s co-workers, Jared fears they’ll never find a way to be together-if he can even convince Matt to try.

I enjoyed Promises very much. Matt walks into the store where Jared works to inquire about a Jeep for sale, they end up taking it for a spin. Jared is immediately attracted to Matt, and thinks:

Getting out of the store for a few minutes, especially to head into the mountains, was enough to brighten my day considerably. Doing it in the company of the best-looking guy I had seen in a hell of a long time sure didn’t hurt either.

This kind of plain delight in seeing an attractive person and spending a few minutes in his company, regardless of whether anything sexual or romantic happens, is very rare in m/f romance. It’s written from Jared’s first person point of view, something else I find to be more common in m/m contemporaries than in het romances.

This is a small town romance, with a hero, Matt, who is not only closeted but unaware of his own sexuality. Jared is open with Matt about his sexuality, and they bond over mountain bike rides, dining out, and watching movies at home. Matt has to deal with a homophobic, alcoholic father, fellow cops who question his masculinity and make fun of Jared, and his own conflicted feelings.

I thought the author did a wonderful job of portraying Matt’s journey. Rather than have him getting a boner around Jared, feeling confused, and then savagely resolving it in a bathroom (yes, I have read those stories), it’s the emotional tug that feels strongest:

I turned to look at [Matt], to see if he felt it, too, and found that he wasn’t seeing it at all. He was looking at me. His head was cocked a little to the side, like something was puzzling him, and he was smiling a little. But the thing that really startled me was his eyes. If I had ever imagined him looking at me like that, it had only been in my sweetest dreams.

He reached up, over my shoulder to my hair. Was the whole world in slow motion? I felt like I couldn’t even breathe. There was a tug, and I realized he had pulled the rubber band free. Then his fingers were pushing up against my scalp and into my hair. My breath caught in my throat, and my eyes closed. I don’t know how long we stood like that. It felt like forever. It felt like only a heartbeat.

I did have to put on my “reality blinkers” to accept that someone so opposed initially to homosexuality as Matt is, a cop, a “guy’s guy” raised a conservative Christian, would really fall so quickly into such an exclusive and close friendship with one of the only gay men in town, the minute he arrives there for a new job in the precinct. On the other hand, having never read a “gay for you” romance, I instantly saw the appeal, in terms of the sexual tension: when Matt finally gives in to his attraction, it’s similar to a deflowering scene in a regency (although the word “cock” appears in the text more often). Still, this is not an m/m romance with many sex scenes, something I appreciated as a reader who thinks this sort of thing is often overdone in both m/m and het romance.

While Matt’s significant issues take up most of the energy in the relationship, Sexton leaves room for some character growth for Jared, too. Although he seems out and proud, we learn he trained as a teacher but feels more comfortable working in his sister’s store. Is this contentment or fear? Jared’s conflicts about the relationship may not be as obvious as Matt’s but he, too, has to come to terms with living openly as a gay man, in a relationship, in a small community that has been his home all his life.

This was a very readable book, with well developed main characters and a touching relationship. I especially liked Jared, an open, straightforward, intuitive, and nurturing character. The secondary characters and portrayal of the “small town folk” were somewhat stock (the Marine-drunkard-homophobic father, the cowering mother, the concerned parent, etc.), yet Sexton managed to wring genuine tension during a catastrophic dinner scene between Matt and Jared’s families, and I appreciated that at the end of the book, there were still issues to resolve and people who would not accept them, just as in life.

Friday Links: Whither f/f, the BDB, Sensitive Porno Guy, Author Advice to reviewers

1. Over at All About Romance, Sandy is bored bored bored:

I just can’t get excited about yet another Regency featuring yet another Miss and yet another wallpaper duke.

Ditto paranormal  and those fated mates.

And spare me from all those small towns are the bestest places in the whole wide world brand of contemporaries.

And, for anyone who might suggest that category romances might fit the bill, as someone posted on an AAR message board a few months ago, when did millionaires get replaced by billionaires?  Greek (b)millionaires, Spanish and Italian aristos, it’s all just the same old.

I have to admit, I need a good long break from Regency London.

2. Another day, another set of Tips on Writing Reviews … from an author:

A friend of mine recently finished reading the advanced copy of Nickels.  She wanted to write a review for it on Amazon, but wasn’t really sure where to begin or what to include.

Just as I felt a few weeks ago that it was unlikely that a reader would read an author’s blog, yet not know how to write an Amazon review, I find the scenario that a reader savvy enough to get ARCs doesn’t. There’s nothing objectionable in the advice given here, but I really have to wonder, when as consumers we are inundated with requests to rate and review everything we purchase, why authors think readers need special help. Posting a review for a book on Amazon is really not different for most people than posting a review of a waffle iron, something obvious to anyone who has clicked a book reviewer’s name only to see all the nonbook items they review.

3. Porn That Women Like: Why Does It Make Men So Uncomfortable? from Slate (via @JessicaScott). This essay on “sensitive” porn star James Deen is so full of fail, I don’t know where to begin, but I did want to point out the Jewish stereotyping: the figure of the sensitive Jewish lover sounds nice, but it’s a bit too close a cousin to the stereotype of Jewish men as unmanly for my comfort. Anyway, it turns out Deen stars in porn films featuring rape scenarios and really rough play. check out the comment thread for arguments for and against the idea that this kind of porn is “porn women like”.

4. LEGO, once the last bastion of gender neutral toys, has come out with a gender coded pink set for the girl this holiday season. check out this post for an analysis of how far Lego has fallen, and tell me that comparing the old Lego ad from the 1970s to today’s doesn’t break your heart a little. Oh, and for everyone who says LEGO is a “boy toy”… I have two boys and a basement full of LEGOs that they never so much as sniffed at (via @vassilikiveros).

5. The Fancy Reader has some excellent suggestions for what would make good steampunk romance, for example:

different perspective of social construction, e.g. race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Remember: if you can change the history of a country, then you can change its laws and attitudes. Surprisingly, a very high percentage of authors failed to take advantage of this very best thing about steampunk. Most seem to show that the best they could do is associate women with traditionally male-dominant professions (professor, pilot, engineer, scientist, pirate, etc.) while keeping all major characters white and straight. If you set a story in Britain, consider the possibility of taking advantage of Britain’s neglected/ignored history: black, Indian and East Asians Britons; many were certainly born and raised in Britain before 1880s.

6. If you aren’t yet tired of feminist rants against the portrayal of women in J. R Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood, here’s one from Fangs For the Fantasy.

7. Here’s a post from a blog intriguingly titled Requires Only That You Hate on lesbians, where are the lesbians.

Lesbian visibility is pretty bloody terrible in the fiction I enjoy, or even fiction I don’t. So the schtick of those graduated-from-HP-fanfic YA writers, who are ever so lauded for their beautiful wonderful inclusivity? It’s nine times out of ten about hot, hot gay boys. Hot, hot gay boy angst. You’d be lucky if one of the girls in the background… somewhere… likes other girls… somewhere… honest.

We still really don’t see much f/f written, reviewed or talked about in the romance world. And, I hasten to add, I don’t read it and have no interest in it, despite that fact that I do occasionally read m/m. Carina Press, Harlequin’s digital first imprint, is publishing some m/m but not, as far as I know, f/f. Does it not sell? Or is this one of those self-fulfilling prophesies (“if you don’t publish it, they won’t come.”)

8. I’ve been reading a lot of m/m this week as I do annually for Ham/mukah, and I got so sick of first person point of view, I actually sought out third person, and had a hard time finding it. On Twitter, someone said first person is easier than third because of the “pronoun problem” in m/m, and I can see that, but I suspect there is something else going on, although I have not read enough m/m to say what exactly. I will say that anecdotal evidence suggests that the first person narrator is usually the thinner, smaller, and more introspective of the couple. I’ll stop there before I get into trouble.

9. Last day of grading today, I hope.

10. This blog — the first real hobby I have ever had  —  hit half a million page views this morning. Thanks so much for reading.


Review: Bad Case of Loving You, by Laney Cairo

Bad Case of Loving You is an erotic m/m romance by Laney Cairo. You can purchase it from Torquere Press or read a sample here. I read it on the recommendation of several romance readers whose opinions I trust, and I’m glad I did, but I have some reservations about the actions of one of the heroes. Here’s the blurb:

Matthew is a medical student, trying to ignore his various roommates’ wild parties and get through his classes. Andrew is his instructor, a doctor at a prestigious British hospital. They’re not supposed to be attracted to each other, but they can’t deny their undeniable chemistry.

They come together with a heat that surprises them both, and through doctor’s strikes, dealing with Andrew’s teenaged son, and hospital red tape, Andrew and Matthew learn to live, and love together. Is their relationship just what the doctor ordered?

Mature readers continue after the jump…
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Help! Read Any Good M/M Romance Lately? Know of any Hanukkah romance? Seeking Recs!

Hey folks,

Last year, I had the ambitious idea to read and post 8 reviews of m/m romance during Hanukkah. Alas, it hit me on about day 3 that I read at a snail’s pace and could not finish all 8 books. Still, two of the books I had chosen for that week were two of my favorite reads in the past year.

Hanukkah begins on December 1 (at sundown, of course), and both my sons’ birthdays fall during that week, so it promises to be incredibly busy. In a rare and likely doomed attempt to plan ahead (I am an inveterate procrastinator), I am seeking your recommendations., so I can begin reading them now.

I already have a few books on my Kindle: False Colors by Alex Beecroft, Phyllidia and the Brotherhood of Philander by Ann Herendeen, and Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville. Any other ideas?

Also, I am seeking Hanukkah reads, m/m or otherwise. I found a few last year, which I have to say I considered my personal Hanukkah miracle. Romance is not known as a genre that features Jews. Any ideas?

Thanks for your help!

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