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review 2016-04-18 19:05
Book, Line and Sinker by LJ Labarthe
Book, Line, and Sinker - L.J. LaBarthe

“Coming home seemed to have started the healing process. No longer vivid and garish, the memories seemed to be covered in gossamer, fading behind a curtain of time and forgiveness.” ~ Karen Fowler

Ash has had enough of war and goes home to rest and find some peace of mind. He's been away for many years, but he's kept in touch with his family during that time. Ash is surprised at all the changes that have taken place in Quorn, but is comforted by how some things never seem to change. He's ready to settle down; boring seems like it would feel really good after the chaos his life has been in the service. Another change Ash appreciates is the new librarian in town, named Jaxon, who is about the most perfect person Ash has ever met.

Jaxton and Ash are instantly attracted to each other and, since Ash's sister, Evie, has told him so much about her brother, Jaxton thinks he knows Ash already. One of the things that brings them together, besides both being gay, is their love of books. Jaxton's entire den has wall-to-wall built-in book cases and Jaxton tells Ash that he can borrow them any time he wants. Ash lights up like a candle at that offer and spends a long time picking out a whole stack of them. That amuses Jaxton to no end. They admit the attraction, but decide to take it slow. This becomes more difficult than they anticipated and doesn't last very long. When they do get together, the sex is electric, convincing them that they were meant to be together.

Talking about their love for reading leads to a discussion about the lack of access to books in the remote areas around them. It gives Ash an idea. He wants to find a way to remedy that problem and runs it past Jaxton. Ash tells him if he can get a surplus Army vehicle, refurbish the inside, and make a book mobile out of it he could start a business called Book, Line, and Sinker. Jaxton thinks it's a marvelous idea and is instantly on board. They tell Evie who is so enthusiastic about it that she insists going with them to second-hand stores to buy books, toys, DVDs, and other forms of entertainment. Their venture is very successful. All would be well except that Ash is having nightmares and flashbacks that harass him and frighten Jaxton.  Although he is there for support, Jaxton realizes Ash is the only one who can conquer them. Ash promises to get help, realizing his quality of life and relationship with Jaxton is in jeopardy if he can't get these terrors under control.

This is a pleasant story, highlighting the beauty for the countryside and admiration for the folks who live there. It's a snapshot of life in the town of Quorn. Ash is a good guy who has served his country but who is now ready to come home, where, to his surprise, he finds what he was looking for all along. Jaxton is almost perfect in looks, positive attitude, and personality. If you are in the mood to settle back with a “cuppa” for a day of relaxation, this book offers a great escape. Thanks, L.J., for introducing me to Jaxton and Ash along with helping me add a few more Aussie words to my vocabulary.




Source: www.rainbowbookreviews.com/book-reviews/book-line-and-sinker-by-lj-labarthe-at-dreamspinner-press
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review 2016-04-16 01:04
ARC Review: Book, Line, and Sinker by LJ LaBarthe
Book, Line, and Sinker - L.J. LaBarthe

This was... nice, for lack of a better word. I liked the characters, I liked the plot, I especially liked the idea of a mobile library in the Australian Outback, and I liked Ash's family. I liked the whole book.

It's light, it's sweet. The romance develops believably. The book just never delved deeply enough for me into the issues it tried to raise. The PTSD was handled almost superficially. While it affected Ash, and we got to see how quite nicely, his therapy was glossed over. The homophobia Ash and Jaxon encounter was also handled a bit too easily for my taste, especially considering the real life stories that seem to come from that country with an almost daily occurrence, people getting bashed and beaten up simply for whom they love. Just today I read a news story about a gay man in Sydney, who left a party to go home, and got beat up because he wore a dress.

I loved the vivid descriptions of the Outback though, telling me about the vast distances the two men travel, the gorgeous landscape - the author did a great job making me feel as if I were right there with Ash and Jaxon.

It's a nice book, one I'm sure others would enjoy as much as I did, if not more. It's a feel-good story to be enjoyed on a nice summer's day at the beach. Nice.

** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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review 2016-04-10 00:00
Book, Line, and Sinker
Book, Line, and Sinker - L.J. LaBarthe Book – Book, Line, and Sinker
Author – L.J. LaBarthe
Star rating - ★★★★☆
No. of Pages – 200

Cover – Very nice (though, FYI, the bus doesn't fit)
POV – 3rd person
Would I read it again – Probably not.

Genre – LGBT, Military, Academic, PTSD, Recovery, Romance

Reviewed for Divine Magazine

This was a really hard one to review. This is actually my second try. My first review was written as I was reading, while everything was still fresh. This one is after some thinking and percolating.

To start with, the story has so much potential. It could have been a really fantastic 4 or 5 star read, if it wasn't for all the over-description. That was the only real thing that put me off. More emphasis was often put on the description (flora, fauna, locations, rooms, weather) than on the relationship. There was some minor flirting, some cute, funny conversations and a lot of teasing between Jaxon and Ash, but it just didn't extend far enough for me. We were told, rather than shown, the chemistry between them. And the relationship was rushed beyond what felt comfortable. Within the space of one week they were calling each other 'babe' and settled as boyfriends. A week later, they were sleeping together. But the growth wasn't really there.

I could rhyme off all the problems in detail, but I won't do that. I'm going to bullet point it, to keep things simple and get to the point.

It was slow going. The relationship took a backseat to the Book, Line, and Sinker project.
Some of the Australian slang was difficult to navigate. The glossary at the back was helpful, but it didn't really help while reading the story. Only a few things were obvious, from the way they were spoken about. The rest was a mystery until the glossary. 'Damper' and a few others are still a mystery.
Ash was in no way ready – emotionally or physically – for a relationship. Especially one that progressed as far and as fast as his relationship with Jaxon. Yet, it's one of the first things he does when he gets back home after 17 years away, in the army.
Most of the book is told day-by-day, even when not much is happening. It feels dragged out and really laborious to read.
There are repeat descriptions (scenery and details of the town)
Information dumps on everything. It would have been nicer to have it dropped in where appropriate, when appropriate. Some information is nearly a page long, for a simple description of weather or a particular area or plant.
Ash isn't a complainer, but he really focused too much on whining about how much his home town had changed. He's been away nearly two decades, so it's silly that he thought nothing could change.
There's a disconnect of descriptions. At one moment, everything surrounded Ash is told in a mass of detail that borders on overkill, but Ash can't tell who Jaxon is, on first sight, despite having been given a very vivid description of him. Yet, at the same moment, he can tell he's wearing a watch with a black leather band and Buddhist beads. We're also not told that they exchange numbers at dinner (a dinner we get to read about), until later, when Ash goes to call Jaxon.
There are issues with the time line. Sometimes people talk about doing things one day, then end up doing it another. It's also difficult to keep track of what day it is, at the start of each chapter/scene, until halfway through when we're finally told. Inconsistencies between action and conversations (claiming one thing, but doing another etc)
Bloody and Brat were over used. The first few times were endearing and cute, but then it became almost every other sentence and it got a bit much.
Ash drives after drinking, a lot, and while on medication. He also drives for extended periods, while knowing that he suffers from flashbacks. It's highly dangerous, but never once mentioned that he's a liability behind the wheel. He could have killed himself or someone else, if he'd had a flashback.
The 'I love you's' are exchanged way, way too early, for my liking.
It's a shame that we see them wimping out over spiders in a nearly 3 page scene, but those pages weren't put to better use by showing the friendship that could/should have preceded Ash and Jaxton's relationship.
Multiple spelling/grammar issues
Incomplete or divided sentences that are cut off in ways that make it necessary to re-read, to gain an understanding of what is meant.


Okay, with the negatives over with, let's look at the rest of the story.

I actually really liked and approved of the multiple flashbacks Ash suffered, told in detail. I just think that his 'reluctance' felt too contrived, due to it only taking a few days to make up his mind. True reluctance could take months or years. Ash basically resolves his problem in less than a month.

There are some unfamiliar terms, to me. I'm from the UK, so thankfully most of the speak is familiar. However, I have to assume that some of the problem is that I (and Google) am unfamiliar with Australian terms. Neither Google nor the glossary could help me with:
“holding it up” - I assumed it was some sort of 'welcome home' salute with a beer/drink, since Ash was walking in at the time. But then Jeff (his brother) seemed really surprised to see him, which threw off that theory. And he got up to hug Ash without having to put down a drink/beer, so I got really confused. I still am, to be honest.
“get along with yourself” - It may be an Aussie thing, but the saying that came to mind was “get a hold of yourself”. However, it's a small thing and may just be getting lost in translation. I knew what it meant, but it still felt odd and out of place.

Ash and Jaxon are great characters, everyone is an individual and there's no clones or laziness in the writing. Ash's reluctance to talk about Army life and what he went through is also spot on, as are the symptoms of PTSD. They're all well handled, sympathetically, but without making Ash seem abnormal or unhinged.

I love the idea of Book, Line, and Sinker. The way that it motivates Ash to get back into life, routine and open up. Although I think his relationship with Jaxon is far too fast, I do like that it's simple and uncomplicated. I love that Jaxon is understanding, calm and reassuring to Ash, whether he wants that or not.

The sex comes in around the 70% mark and is sizzling. There are some really intense scenes between here and the end of the book. However, their first time together was kind of painful – there was a total lack of prep work or lube for Jaxon. It was all about Ash lubing himself and getting in there, without even any touching or anything else in that area. Ouch! The rest was better, but still lacking on that kind of detail.


I really struggled to decide on what to rate this. I'm going with a 3.5, rounded up to a 4. I really see the potential of this story, but the over-kill description took away the brilliance to quite a large extent. I believe the story could have been a novella length and still had impact, if the descriptions were cut down by at least half. We don't need all that weather, travel, flora/fauna, location descriptions. That's not important. What IS important is connection, the growing friendship and the relationship between Jaxon and Ash that we don't really get to see to its full potential.

Although I won't be reading this again, I do want to say that it is a good story. The bones are really great and the emotion portrayed made an impact. The overall idea of the story came through and the characters held their own against the over-flowing description. They managed to shine enough that I went from a purely negative review, for a 2.5-3 star rating, to a 3.5-4 star rating and a more positive review. That's important. I also like what the author tried to do with Ash's PTSD. It's just a shame that it was overshadowed by so much unnecessary description.

Overall, it's a good book, with strong characters and a good plot. It might not be in the big leagues yet (it could be, with some more editing) but it's memorable and sweet. A nice romance with two nice guys who have some hurdles to overcome, to be together without drama. It works.


Favourite Quote

““You okay? Jaxon asked. He'd come up beside Ash.
“Yeah, I'm fine. Just a bit stiff.”
With an absolute straight face, Jaxon said, “In public, no less? Gracious goodness, I thought you liked me, but this is quite a compliment.””
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review 2015-07-30 01:14
Brick by Brick by Cate Ashwood and L.J. LaBarthe
Brick by Brick - Cate Ashwood,L.J. LaBarthe



“This house was everything we knew. It’s where we kept our love and every single memory of me and you...everything that's left is telling us the worst of it is through. Home has never felt so right, there's nothing in the way. There's nothing in between us...If we hold on to each other, we'll be better than before. And brick by brick, we'll get back to yesterday.” ~ Train (Brick by Brick)

You never forget your first love, the one who caused the first flutterings of desire in your heart; there's no way of recapturing the experience with anyone else. For Zach and Parley, of 'Brick by Brick' by Cate Ashwood and L.J. LaBarthe, this is especially true. Zach and Parley are fortunate enough to find each other, become friends, and fall in love at a young age. They are impetuous enough to think that running away from home, to be on their own, would be an exciting adventure. Their road trip costs them dearly when they are cruelly ripped apart, not to see each other again for many years. The one thing no one can take away from them is their endearing love for each other and the hope that they will be reunited some day.

Zach has searched for Parley for years, feeling like half a person without him. He buys and restores their “little peace of heaven”, the house where they spent their last two days together. During this project, Zach discovers how much he enjoys working with wood and eventually starts his own business. Even when the house is finished, Zach just doesn't feel right living there without Parly; it is their house. Zach keeps hoping that he will find Parley and they can be together, as they should have in the first place. Like the quote from the movie 'Field of Dreams', when Ray hears a voice while he is walking through the cornfield: “If you build it, he will come.” By restoring the house, Zach creates the opportunity for them to be reunited and have their second chance. When his plan is successful and Parley is standing at his front door, Zach can hardly believe it, but welcomes him and his family back into his life with open arms.

Parley has been through a lot, particularly at the conversion camp where he's tortured in order to “get the gay out of him”. He finally lies to get out of that hell hole, but he's not converted. The effects of his torture follow Parley, haunting his dreams, causing flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms no one should ever have to suffer through. Fortunately Parley finds a friend, Veronica, who helps him heal. Even though Parley, his sister, Veronica, and her two adopted children are his family now, they all know that Parley and Zach belong together. Parley just can't find the words to tell Zach how he feels, so, as a family, they help Parley tell Zach how much Parley still loves and wants to be with him. Veronica trusts that Zach will give Parley the love and care he needs and her trust is not misplaced. Parley doesn't lose his kindred by being with him; Zach simply becomes part of their extended family unit.

At times this was a difficult book to read and I shed more than a few tears, simply from the needlessness of the trauma the guys, particularly Parley, endured. Sixteen years is an ungodly amount of time to be separated, but they do find each other again. I was surprised that Zach and Parley had sex so quickly, especially after what they had gone through. I'd think that Parley would need a lot more time to adjust; to heal, but perhaps the strength of their love and desire to be together overrode all of the negativity and left room for them to grow even closer together. If you're interested in conversion therapy, religious zealots, forgiveness, reunions, soul mates, and unconditional love, you may like this book. Thanks, Cate and L.J., for a story which made me think and for giving Zach and Parley their happy ending.


Source: www.rainbowbookreviews.com/book-reviews/brick-by-brick-by-cate-ashwood-and-lj-labarthe-at-dreamspinner-press
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review 2015-05-18 05:23
Swimming With Elephants (L.J. LaBarthe)
Swimming with Elephants (Piece Us Back Together) - L.J. LaBarthe
3.5 stars

This is my first story from L.J. LaBarthe, although the author has been publishing stories for the past 6 years. I think I have never really been intrigued with the blurb from her other stories. This one though, well, the blurb AND the cover called to me: interracial couple (Australian guy and Indian guy) and look at that elephant!!

It was pretty low angst and the romance low-key. There was no huge drama in terms of Garrett and Jai becoming lovers and involoved in relationship. For me, this story was more about Garrett and how he must adjust to new life choices after his injury. Interestingly, even if Garrett was described as being frustrated with the constant pain, the continuous therapy, and the lost of his job as an arborist (Garrett was quite proud and happy being an arborist!), he never came to me as whiny. Garrett was determined to be better, so he was willing to do what his doctors told him to, including coming to Havelock Island. So yes, there were times when he complained but I thought it was a natural thing to do. I would probably do the same if I was in his position.

The writing, however, was not as emotionally engaged as I would prefer it to be. There were a lot of descriptions that sometimes sounded like a travel book, especially when it was related to Havelock Island. Don't get me wrong, the scene where Garrett swam with the elephants was probably one of the most majestic moments I have ever read in this genre. I could see it in my mind's eye and I want to experience it myself. But in overall, I didn't feel like I was pulled into these characters' lives; it felt like there was a distance between them and I. I still really liked it but I couldn't say that I loved it, you know? Thus my 3.5 stars.

Now, I wish I can swim with elephants -- without having to experience pain/injury first. Maybe I should start googling for places that offer such thing.
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