Archive for the ‘2.5 Star Reviews’ Category

Reviewed by Carissa

Burning Ashes by H. Lewis-Foster eBookTITLE: Burning Ashes
AUTHOR: H. Lewis-Foster
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
LENGTH: 200 pages
BLURB: Intelligent and confident, Australian cricketer Nat Seddon is one of the world’s best bowlers. He’s openly gay, but keeps his private life to himself, everything under control. But on the last day of his team’s “Ashes” tour of England, he meets Scott Alverley, England’s promising new batsman. Nat tries not to be attracted to Scott, but he can’t help finding the privileged young man handsome and endearing. Nat is tempted by a little end of tour fun, but finds himself playing agony uncle to a virgin. Instead of going home to bask on a beach, he spends a wet week in the north of England with Scott. Try as he might to resist, he can’t help falling hopelessly in love.

The hectic sporting calendar is a persistent obstacle to their growing romance; Nat and Scott are rarely even on the same continent. They make the most of the time when they can be together, but the months apart take a toll on Scott, professionally and personally. The possible solutions are nearly unthinkable, but if they are willing to make sacrifices that will change their lives forever, they might hold on to the love they found in the Ashes.

REVIEW:

“Cricket is a strange and beautiful game.  A match can last for five hours or five days, and the rules are near incomprehensible to those who have never played the game.  This sport of gentlemen evokes heated passions around the world and none more so than when England play Australia.  One of the oldest and keenest rivalries in sport, when the two countries do battle, the contest is known as the Ashes.”

When Scott and Nat meet over the cricket pitch, both men are struck by an attraction that is both worrisome and unexpected.  Not that it would stop Nat from bowling out Scott, whose first time at bat for the English national team ends with crash of Nat’s ball colliding with his wicket.  Attraction turns to quite a bit more when, over a friendly drink and rather botched attempt at seduction, Scott invites Nat to spend a week with him at his family’s house near the Lake District.  But with several oceans–and a longtime sporting rivalry–between them, can the love they’ve come to share stand the test of time and trials, or will it all turn to burning ashes?

Before I read this book I knew three things about the game of cricket.  The first is that it’s called cricket. Second, that the little sticky things that the bowler is trying to hit is called a wicket. And thirdly, that it is the most incomprehensible game I have ever tried to watch.  My anglophile obsession has carried me into many a deep dark corner of English life, but not even a nice cup of tea or my love of England was able to make that game watchable.  But like the anglo-addict I am, I was drawn into reading this book by the lovely cover and the idea of a sporting Romeo/Juliet style love story.

What I found within the story, though, led me to believe that the cover was probably the best part of the whole book.

I just had a very hard time believing that these two, who have only known each other less than a week, fall hopelessly and madly in love–and stay in almost constant loving bliss for the entire book.  I am no stranger to the idea of insta-love, and while sometimes annoying in its unreality, it can be executed in such a way as to make the reader feel the heat, the connection between the two main characters.  Not here.  There was about as much chemistry between them as a cup of table salt in a jug of warm water.  Handy for clearing out slugs or soothing a cough, but not a lot to inspire the more intense of feelings.  It had the potential–in so many different scenes, in so many different ways–but like table salt, something was preventing the full-on flash, bang, pow of chemical combustion.  It wasn’t till almost two-thirds through the book that I even began to feel anything between the two, and by then, I just couldn’t bring myself to care.  Too much was skipped over in the first section of the book.  Not enough time trying to build them up as a couple, and the lack of on-the-page romantic interaction–and yes, sex is part of that–just killed any hope for a believable romance.

This was not helped by the near teenage-level of angst and emotion that these two exhibited.  I was thrown, quite a bit, by how the stoic Nat–who at the beginning would not wince, less he show weakness–spent a good portion of the book near tears.  I’m all for being in touch with your emotions, but I prefer that they are your emotions that you’re in touch with–not a hormonal teenager’s.  Almost every twist, problem, or disaster was met by almost uncontrollable emotional-overload.  And when they finally do start to act like adults, there doesn’t seem to be much of a catalyst for it.  So either they were capable of it the whole time, or they just woke up one day and decided that almost breaking down in tears at the slightest provocation was not helping anyone.

Strangely enough, I think quite a few of the problems could have been solved if the author had stuck to a shorter timeline for the plot.  With a story that covers almost six years it felt like you would barely get comfortable in a scene before you were jerked out and thrown three months in the future.  If we had been given a novel that stayed with the characters long enough, in one setting, I don’t think it would have felt like we were being shown a highlights reel–instead of the real story.  Also, the amount of time spent in info-dumping, be it back-story or important conversations, may have been needed to move along the plot by giving large bursts of information, but it was too much.  It felt like I was reading a briefing on the characters, and not learning about who they actually were.

About two-thirds of the way through, it did pick up.  I was starting to get a feel for the real people that these characters were playing for the majority of the story, but by then it was too late to save the book, for me.  I really did want to like this book, and there were moments–when catching a bit of banter between Nat and Scott, or some of the players–that I felt it was on the cusp of something, but it could never quite push itself over the line.

Carissa rates it – 2_5

BUY LINKS:  Dreamspinner Press

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Carissa is one of the official reviewers on The Blog of Sid Love.

To read all her reviews, click the link: CARISSA’S REVIEWS
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Reviewed by Taylor

18346689TITLE: The List
AUTHOR: Sandra Bard
PUBLISHER: Less Than Three Press
LENGTH: 33,000 words
BLURB: Gavin Summers’ quiet, academic life is shattered when he is attacked by a mugger and rescued by Dillon, a member of the Night Watch. Soon Gavin finds himself embroiled in anti-vampire propaganda, vampire politics, and the dangers of associating with vampires in a city where vampires are being killed daily, forcing him to make a choice: remain neutral or stand with the vampires.

REVIEW:

Gavin is a post-graduate student walking alone one night two blocks from his house when a would-be mugger confronts him.  Dillon, a member of the vampire Night Watch rescues him, and the story unfolds with politics, a war on vampires, and many other dangers.

I was kind of surprised by this book.  The subject matter is pretty dark moving from staking and burning helpful vampires, kidnapping, and a mini-war between some anti-vampire humans and members of the Night Watch.  However, the relationship aspect of the book was very light in tone.  I could almost imagine this as a romantic comedy titled: “I’m Dating a Vampire” or something.  They go to the movies, Dillon walks Gavin home and carries his books, they cook dinner and relax on the couch, and the intimate scenes are sweet.  The difference between the plot and the relationship didn’t really bother me because I prefer one tone over the other, but it became difficult for me to completely submerge myself in the book.  I kept wishing that the author had stuck with one vibe and ran with it, rather than keep giving me whiplash with how I was supposed to feel.

I did think the biting scene was hot, though, and I kept thinking: Ohhhhh, MORE of this!! I wanted this dirty, raw, and violent, but the book never really veered in that direction.

Also, the plot and the components of the plot have something going for it, but the novella didn’t have room to grow, so that all of the different parts could develop.  I loved that there was anti-vampire propaganda, and that there were two different groups supporting or against vampires.  I thought the little facts Gavin discovered about vampires felt familiar enough to seem vampire-ish, but unique enough to make it the author’s own. But it all felt too crammed in, and the suspects and villain were painfully obvious, and the climax felt like a letdown.

Really cute, with a lot of potential, but really needed developing.

Taylor rates it – 2_5

BUY LINKS: Less Than Three Press

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Taylor is one of the official reviewers on The Blog of Sid Love.

To read all her reviews, click the link: TAYLOR’S REVIEWS
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Reviewed by Jenn Taylor

The Tin BoxTITLE: The Tin Box
AUTHOR: Kim Fielding
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
LENGTH: 210 pages
BLURB: William Lyon’s past forced him to become someone he isn’t. Conflicted and unable to maintain the charade, he separates from his wife and takes a job as caretaker at a former mental hospital. Jelley’s Valley State Insane Asylum was the largest mental hospital in California for well over a century, but it now stands empty. William thinks the decrepit institution is the perfect place to finish his dissertation and wait for his divorce to become final. In town, William meets Colby Anderson, who minds the local store and post office. Unlike William, Colby is cute, upbeat, and flamboyantly out. Although initially put off by Colby’s mannerisms, William comes to value their new friendship, and even accepts Colby’s offer to ease him into the world of gay sex.

William’s self-image begins to change when he discovers a tin box, hidden in an asylum wall since the 1940s. It contains letters secretly written by Bill, a patient who was sent to the asylum for being homosexual. The letters hit close to home, and William comes to care about Bill and his fate. With Colby’s help, he hopes the words written seventy years ago will give him courage to be his true self.

REVIEW:

William Lyon is a 32 year old facing a divorce from his wife of six years, and looking forward to moving on, starting over, and finishing his dissertation in peace.  The opportunity arises for him to become a caretaker for the abandoned Jelley’s Valley State Insane Asylum in a very small town in California where everyone seems to be related to each other or at the very least knows everyone’s business.  William takes the chance, and settles into the quiet asylum that holds tales of so many people’s lives over the years.  In town, he meets the vibrant, ever cheerful Colby Anderson, who manages to have William confront things about himself he’s long tried to bury.  During his stay, William also finds a tiny tin box hidden within the asylum since the 1940s that contains numerous love letters and journals from a man scared, determined, wishful, and desperate to be himself and with who he loves.

This book was really frustrating to me, and I realize that much of my problems are my issues, and not necessarily the book.  However, it felt at times like the writing came from two entirely different writers, and the two styles didn’t mesh well for me.  I realize people spoke and wrote differently many decades ago and that there needed to feel a difference between the Bill from 1938 to William in present day, but William’s voice felt very amateurish to me.  He didn’t really feel like a mature adult, his thoughts felt jilted, and I felt like we got almost like a play script with stage left-type sentences.  Page after page the reader got lengthy descriptions of every single item he prepared and ate, every pace he took throughout the asylum, how many hours he worked on his dissertation, and what he was thinking about Colby or anything else.  His parts dragged for me, immensely.  Also, I can’t place exactly what felt off about his coming to terms with his sexuality, family, and religion, but it was lacking depth for me regardless.  I couldn’t feel any sort of sympathy for him, didn’t relate to him, and I felt very distanced from him as a character.

While I liked Colby fine, again, everything about him seemed very surface aspects.  I know he smiles a lot, I know he frowns rarely, I know he dresses in too tight clothing, everyone knows he’s gay, and he’s a bit scared of getting hurt.  But other than that??  Ehhhh…  If you combine what I know about him and the distance I was already feeling towards William, I’m left with a couple I don’t really care about at all.  Also, I’m not a prude, and I’ve been in all kinds of different situations with people and partners, but the porn watching scene that turned naughty in real life felt so clichéd, so awkward, so unsexy that I literally scooted back from my laptop and cringed.

But then there were the great parts in this book.  The letters from Bill in the late 1930’s till the 1940s to his love, Johnny.  Those broke my heart.  Those letters held so much desperate hope, such strong determination weakening little by little (but not without a fight), such sadness that he tried to bring humor to, and so much love.  I wanted the ENTIRE book to be about them.  I wanted a happy ending for them both.  I wanted to read their backstory, and to read what happened in that asylum during that time period.  To read about the soldiers, the others suffering from a form of mental illness, and those perfectly sane, but judged because of who they loved.  All of it.  Every bit of it read beautifully.  Those parts and the character Bill made this likable, but otherwise this was just an OK read for me.

Recommended for the beautiful prose in the letters, the discrimination and pain discussed even just a few short decades ago, how that in many ways hasn’t diminished for some people, how people still struggle with who they are, and for some light-hearted moments.  I wish the rest of the book and characters lived up to those moments.

Taylor rates it – 2_5

BUY LINK: Dreamspinner Press

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Jenn Taylor is one of the official reviewers on The Blog of Sid Love.

To read all her reviews, click the link: TAYLOR’S REVIEWS
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