Thursday, 12 April 2018

Reviews of my Favourites

I am terrible at writing reviews. I hold up my hands and admit it. I've been writing reviews for Sinfully for a while but apart from that my reviews are rarer than hen's teeth. Added to that, I would like more contact on my blog and I have decided to post some reviews of my favourite books past and present.

I'll start with one of my favourite series of all the mm stories I have read. The main character might have been written just for me (and I'm pretty sure I know who he's based on - the same person who was the inspiration for my book The Runaway)

The series is the "Haven Investigation" series by Lissa Kasey

Model Citizen

I don’t know if the idea of a genderfluid, androgynous model pairing up with a scarred veteran is wholly unique, but I haven’t come across it anywhere else. I loved the premise and I absolutely adored the book.

Ollie is no wilting flower, and whilst he does have a penchant for getting into trouble and needing rescuing, he’s definitely no damsel in distress. I love his sassy, independent attitude which covers a lot of broken bits. I also loved Kade, former marine invalided out after a serious injury, who was best friends with Ollie’s deceased brother, Nathan. 

Through Nathan, Kade watched Ollie grow and blossom, and fell in love with him a long time ago, through Nathan’s letters and photographs. He hasn’t approached because Nathan didn’t feel he was good enough for Ollie, but when Nathan finally gave the green light, just before he died, Kade is ready to sweep Ollie off his high-heels.

Neither character is low maintenance. Ollie's high heels and short shorts are only part of a character that is extremely complex and extremely damaged. He is neurotic, anorexic and highly defensive but, oh my Gods, he's amazing. I wish I had a friend just like him to take care of. Kade does his best but, at least in book one he doesn't know what he's let himself in for.

Trying to stop Ollie falling out of trees, Kade babies him too much and holds him to close. that doesn't go down well and there are sparks. The book ended with a cliffhanger that had me grinding my teeth. Clearly, this has to stand as a warning to some who don't like cliffhangers, but all four books are available that they are so worthwhile. If you enjoy the first book the series just gets better and better from there.

Model Bodyguard

I came into this book with a lot of expectations, and overall, I wasn’t disappointed. However, there were some flaws, which I will expand on later, once I’ve told you why you should definitely read this book, and this series. Most are minor and some would probably only be noticed by a grammar purist (with no clue as to punctuation) like me – the incorrect use of awhile is one of my bugbears.

The core stories are fairly generic. First is the rock star being stalked and needing a bodyguard who investigates and solves the mystery, and second the new boyfriend dealing with the ex being back on the scene bearing dark secrets from the past. However, the way these core stories are interwoven with each other and other story arcs that raise their tantalizing heads is anything but generic and are handled beautifully. I found the book, and the series so far, fresh and exciting in the way they re-seed old ground. Many characters skate close to stereotypes but all have definite twists toward the extraordinary.

There are elements of BDSM that weren’t there in the first book, but they’re very subtle and, for the most part, in the background. There’s a nice comparison between fairly hardcore BDSM done badly (and very much in the background) and elements brought thoughtfully and creatively in, to spice up a fairly vanilla relationship.

This leads nicely on to the sex scenes. I’m not one for reading sex very much and I often skim over it. However, I have to say that the sex in this book was integral to story, bringing out subtleties that make the overall experience richer, and I skimmed very little, if at all. There are only so many ways you can describe sex which is why I value all the little details around the act itself that gives it texture and flavour.

The book is not perfect, none are, because it’s impossible to please all the people all the time and reading is so subjective there will always be something someone doesn’t like. For me, the flaws are relatively small and did not detract from the pleasure of reading the story. They do, however, need to be mentioned.

The first book ended on a slight cliff-hanger, and this one on a bigger one. I don’t have problems with that per se, especially as it’s a series but – and this is not going to be an issue for those who read this as a standalone – I was slightly peeved that as far as the first cliff-hanger is concerned we’re a whole book on and still dangling in exactly the same position. In fact, the situation was barely mentioned. I would have liked just a little more discussion about that particular issue as it felt odd and wrong that it had just been completely ignored, especially as it made such an impact on everyone involved.

Another thing that irked me slightly was that the author seemed intent on bringing in as many different LGBT+ characters as she could – trans, bi, asexual, aromantic, genderqueer, genderfluid, gay – and it got to a point when it seemed forced.

This book is in no way froth. It is an easy read, but it deals sensitively with some weighty issues, such as mental health problems, suicide, eating disorders, trauma and PTSD. Some things I initially thought might be flaws later made perfect sense. For example, I thought initially that there was a little too much focus on Ollie being so beautiful. It was mentioned all the time and I didn’t think it was needed – until I came to realise what was going on inside. Then, it made perfect sense. There was one very touching scene

He didn’t see what I saw. I knew that. Both his therapist and his nutritionist reminded me of that often. Always when I complimented his beauty, I was to talk about things in a more abstract or general view than anything solid. A focussed comment like loving the way his ass was so round and firm could send him into a compulsion over the body part. Even small bits like his lashes or lips would have him searching out the nearest mirror, looking for flaws that were all in his head.

There were some places in the plot where I thought things were blown out of proportion and others where they were a little too underplayed. That being said, this is the case with most books because they are generally matters of personal taste.

On the whole, I couldn’t find much to complain about in a book that was fresh and complex but not to the point of confusion. I was able to keep the cast and plot clear in my mind from the start and there were enough surprises to keep me on the edge of my seat. Others might see the ending coming, but to me it was a big shock and very well done.

I heartily recommend this book, and this series to anyone who likes quirky characters, a lot of emotional depth and an intriguing story with only a smattering of extremely well written sex.

Model Investigator

This is the third instalment in the series and I would say it’s the best so far. I’m a bit skewed because I’ve read and enjoyed all the books, but I still think it might be readable as a standalone. The characters are clear enough to carry themselves, and although some past history is helpful, I don’t think it’s essential to keep everything straight and enjoy the book.

I’m so glad Jacob, the nutty pop star has stayed around. He has some things in common with a bad smell, but he’s very entertaining. I think the book would have lost some of its richness without him.
If there’s one thing this author can do, it’s to write unusual characters. Just about everyone is flawed in one way or another, some more than others. There have been more than one certifiably insane one, and this book has a doozy. No spoilers but, oh man that was some kind of crazy.

The plot in this book is easily as complex and twisting (twisted too) as the others, if not more so and I was at the edge of my seat more than once. There were one or two real nail-biting moments and the tension was high for more of the time than in the last two books, which I particularly enjoyed. Ollie took more control in this book and it added a lot to his appeal. He’s a great character and I love the way he’s developed. I particularly enjoy, in this book, that his motivations are being clarified, although it’s often a case of “just when I think I know where he’s coming from the direction shifts”.

Kade is, as always, a massive stabilizing influence, although he was almost too good, too calm, given all that was happening to him and those around him. I would have been a complete mess in his place and although I can understand his background is very different to mine, he comes over as a bit too resilient. He gets one blow after another – and they’re big blows – but doesn’t seem to have much trouble picking himself up. I would have liked to see him struggle a bit more (but that might be me because I like to see people suffer in books).

Each book has introduced new characters, but in a way that has enabled them to grow and develop naturally, and they’ve stuck around – like Jacob. I hope the new characters introduced in this one – even the ones that are not necessarily on the right side – stick around because I loved them on sight, so to speak. I would dearly like to get to know Kade’s screwed up family more.

If this book was going to be the last in the series I would have bitched about the ending. It’s not a cliffhanger by any means, but questions have been raised (and re raised) and not answered. As there is going to be one more book, that’s okay.

As with the others, I can highly recommend this book. It’s a fairly easy read and packed full of quirky characters, intricate mysteries, surprises and humour.

Model Exposure

I have loved every book in this series, and this one is no exception. With each of the others, I’ve assessed they might be read as standalones, although my judgement has become more skewed after each because of the background I’ve amassed, consciously and subconsciously, by reading them. This time, I’m not sure if it could be read as a standalone, and in any event why would you want to read it at a standalone when there are three amazing books to read before it? The author has done such a great job of building these characters through the books that I don’t think anyone stepping in at this point would have a chance of really understanding them and where they’re coming from.

Characterization is definitely one of this author’s greatest strengths. I love the way that all the characters, including peripherals (even villains), are built up layer by layer and always multi-faceted. One of my favourite “walk ons” in this book is Gabriel, and I know absolutely nothing about him, except that he’s a nurse. Even so, there’s a richness to the character – his words and actions, that round him out well enough to make him come alive for me.

In my last review, I mentioned that I was a little disappointed by how well Kade stood up to all the knocks. HAH! Be careful what you wish for with this author, her deliciously twisted mind will deliver and then some. Dammit, the man was tortured masterfully without anyone laying a finger on him. I have watched characters descend into madness before, but this was done so well I didn’t realize what was going on until it exploded in my face. For this alone the book gets .5*

As Kade went down, my delicious, darling Ollie rose up. Even though he had his own enormous knock-downs he continued to grow and although he ended up more battered and broken than ever he was even more perfect, despite the scars. I have to confess that I have been in love with Ollie since the first book. Back then, he was a neurotic, playful, funny, crazy, frustrating kitten. Over the course of four books he’s changed quite a lot. He’s still playful and funny. He still has a lot of issues. However, he’s far more stable than he has been before. In fact, in this book I would say he goes so far as to become the stabilizing factor for Kade. Ollie pulls a lot of wisdom and guidance from that pretty head of his and boy does Kade need it.

I’m happy to say, the rest of the gang, including Jacob, are still around, although by the end of this book some of the will be seen in a very different light. Be prepared for some super-shocks.

I have to admit, there were some niggles in this one. There were one or two occasions, mainly at the beginning when we were given the same information over and over and it became frustrating. It was valid, in so far as it came out of Kade’s head and was in line with his thought processes but I think from a reader’s viewpoint it got strained and I had one or two o.f.f.s moments.

Another niggle was that there were a couple of points where a character’s voice dipped into preacher mode (I forgive Sophie because hers was supposed to).  [spoiler alert: The big one for me was at the wedding, when Kade had already said he hadn’t even thought about preparing vows then says “Even should my heart ever stop beating, my soul will continue to yearn for you.” I really don’t think that’s something a hardened vet. would think let alone say.]

Finally, I feel there were still a few loose ends left dangling. Nothing that can’t be overlooked but I’m still puzzling over one or two things. Other than those niggles, the book was as good as ever, with a superb story, lots of twists and turns and surprises. There were some fantastic moments – good and bad – little snapshots or assides that absolutely blew me away. I LOVED the Alice in Wonderland party. Whether deliberate or not (and I suspect it was) there is definitely a strong “Wonderland” theme going on throughout the book.

I’m sad that the series has ended, but boy did it go out in style. Apart from the niggle I mentioned above about the characters slipping out of character, the last scene is utterly breath-taking, and I closed the book with a happy, if melancholic, sigh. 

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