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review 2016-05-10 14:16
Family Unit by Z.A. Maxfield
Family Unit - Z.A. Maxfield

Can you call it a classic when it was published in 2009 by a bestselling author in the genre?



I don't know, but I'm going to go ahead and call it that anyway. It's a standard MM classic in so far that the story isn't something terribly new or unique. A parenting MC takes care of a young child while trying to navigate a growing attraction to another MC. Also, the neglecting parent of the young kid tries some stunt for personal reasons, so drama isn't far off where the family is concerned.


What is different is the age of the MCs. Logan, a retired Marine, is finding his footing in the civilian world, sexual attraction to another man included. The one who caught his eye is Richard, a relatively young grandfather trying to do right by his son and grandson, passionate pacifist, liberal at heart, with a healthy dose of fear of guns. While the whole plot concerning Richard's family didn't surprise me or sweep me off my feet, I was happy with how Maxfield handled the conflicts between a conservative military man and a liberal pacifist.


The arguments and the conflicts were on point. Some very valid concerns made a realtionship between Richard and Logan tricky. Keeping a gun in the bedside table, attack as the best defense, keeping the peace with everyone without loosing one's self in the process, how to raise a kid when you're basically an outsider looking in, the kid always coming first no matter what the personal costs - all very important stepstones in their every-day life as a potential couple. I especially enjoyed how basic beliefs and the navigation of real problems made up the main part of the struggle the two MCs faced while getting together. Sure, the attraction was very insta, the development of the relationship however, was not. And it was good that it wasn't because that's what I expect and like about a good story featuring two mature MCs. No miscommunication, white lies or unnecessary misunderstandings. Just two honest guys over 40, somewhat set in their ways and very sure of their priorities and desires, finding their way as a couple.


That's problably also the main reason why the drama surrounding Richards grandson and his mother didn't grab me the way it was intended to. It was... maybe a little too much for me after all the "real" things happening. I'm not saying it's unrealistic - in fact I'm pretty sure it happens more often than anyone wants to admit in custody battles with parents deemed unfit to raise a child. But in this story, I was not 100% convinced by the turn of events. I guess, I was just hpoing too much for something different.


But all in all, still a very nice story about two very different, mature men falling in love and making a family. Definitely recommended for sunny days and readers tired of the "childish-miscommunication" trope.

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review 2016-01-13 23:20
Snapshots Through the Years
Through The Years - Z.A. Maxfield

This one surprised me a little bit. 



To be honest, I was never part of the hype surrounding ZAM. Simply because I haven't read that many books by this author and I don't think any of them rocked my world very hard. But this little one here was very well written. And I'm a sucker for good stories that are written episodical. 


I know that enough readers have their problems with this style. It's not easy to pull off, and when done right, the reader always has to read between the lines a lot. Imagination on both sides plays a huge part in making this work, as well as a good memory and a lot of empathic skills from time to time. It can be time-consuming, or at the very least laborious. Like I said, I'm a sucker for it, but it's most definitely not for everyone. 


Through the Years offers us bits of pieces of the life of Ethan and Barry, starting from the wildness of their teenage years and ending with... Nah, I'm not telling. But I liked it very much. In between we get to meet these two every ten years, going through life and hardship together. And struggle they did. With openness, with substance abuse, with hate and tragedy, family drama, loosing the right way and finding each other even in darkness. This book covers a lot of time and many themes in a very little space and time. But despite my reservations concerning length and believability, I enjoyed it thoroughly. There were just two regular guys dealing with every-day problems, unique conflicts and unusual character traits. It just felt real - always a plus in my book. Even though both guys might not have been the easiest MCs to like, they somehow got to me and I rooted for them until the very end. 

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review 2015-12-19 18:38
Burning Up by Z.A. Maxfield
Burning Up - Z.A. Maxfield

Robin, a fire knife dancer, gets burned when his act is disrupted by a drunken heckler. The drunken heckler's ex-boyfriend, Kelly, makes sure Robin gets home okay and then helps him treat his burns.

This story would have been a heck of a lot sweeter if 1) Robin hadn't been burned and 2) if Robin and Kelly had actually known each other for more than a few hours. It wasn't so much that Maxfield forgot Robin's burn as it was that it seemed like his burn should have interfered with the sexytimes portion of the story more. As for the “they only just met” aspect...

Kelly confessed that he used to be a porn star, one half of a supposedly committed couple (the drunken heckler was the other half), except his boyfriend turned out not to be nearly as committed as he was. Robin is gay but previously lived somewhere where, as far as he knew, he was the only gay guy around. He'd never been with another man before, and he was nervous about how he'd measure up, considering that Kelly had more experience. There were some awkward moments as Kelly got upset and hurt because it seemed like Robin was looking at him more as an ex-porn star than as a guy he was attracted to and who was attracted to him in turn.

Kelly's hurt reaction seemed a bit too intense considering that he and Robin had only just met. I mean, Robin only knew him as a guy with bad taste in men, as someone who had helped him treat his burn, and as a porn star (which Kelly himself brought up shortly after they met). Not a lot of time to process that info and get to know Kelly as a person.

I wasn't really comfortable with the two of them having sex and acting like it was the first step to them being a more committed couple than Kelly and his ex. Again, they just met.

I'll wrap this up by talking about the confusing bits. First, there was this part, just before the start of the story:


WTF? When I first read this, I thought it might be a badly-formatted publisher's description. Which I thought was weird, since I had been pretty sure this was a m/m story. Then I read the story and realized it was a m/m story, and that that chunk of text had absolutely nothing to do with anything that happened in it. So what was that chunk of text? Some filler text that someone put in and forgot to take out? I googled it and found out that it came from something called "Deep Cover" by Fancyfigures, which, um, seems like a pretty shady thing for Torquere Press to do. I wonder if that has anything to do with why I can no longer seem to find this story available for sale anywhere.

Second, there was the bizarre dialogue at the end of the story. There were a couple bits I had to read several times, because it seemed like either something had been left out or had been shuffled around. I'm still not sure what was going on there. I wouldn't be surprised if it was some kind of editing error, since that would fit with the weird bit of text at the beginning of the story and the occasionally missing question marks.


(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2015-06-23 18:54
Gasp! by ZA Maxfield - My Thoughts
Gasp! - Z.A. Maxfield

I always finish a book by ZAM with a smile and Gasp! was no exception.  It's the story of Jeff, home from 3 tours of duty in Afghanistan and Nigel the rockstar and their journey to find love and find out what family really is.  


I can't say that there's anything ground-breaking or earth-shatteringly stand-outish about this book, but it was a damned fine read.  I can't say I fell in love with the main characters but I was supremely interested to see how they worked things out.  And as seems to be getting more and more rare, they were mature men, not fresh-faced boys just out of college or even just IN college.  


ZAM writes great dialogue.  It runs the gamut from heart-breaking to laughter-inducing.  And Nigel Gasp has a rapier-sharp wit that could only really belong to a British rockstar.  The back and forth between Nigel and Jeff was very real and each had a totally distinct voice.  


The story maybe meandered a bit, the plot was no more distinct than two men meet, gradually develop feelings for each other and grow as people in the process, but that is quite alright.  It's truly the tale of the romance of Nigel and Jeff and all the more real for its - at times - seemingly wandering paths.  


Nigel brought me near to tears a couple of times, but when he stays in the hospital near the end, the tears overflowed and I was actively crying.  *LOL*  And that's okay too.  


Another winner from ZAM!  

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review 2015-01-12 16:56
Home the Hard Way by Z.A. Maxfield - My Thoughts
Home the Hard Way - Z.A. Maxfield

This book came out in July of 2014 and I've had it in my TBR pile since then.  Why did I leave it unread for so long!  *LOL*  Seriously!  I was up very late last night reading it, wanting to finish, but I just couldn't - my eyes kept closing despite everything, so the first thing I did this morning, before even getting the coffee going, was to pick it up and read the last 4 chapters.  


I don't know why there wasn't more buzz about this last summer, it's really a good read, but I think that some of Z.A. Maxfield's (aka ZAM) titles aren't for everyone because there's an undercurrent of something dark, something broken, something very real that is never completely resolved by the end of the book - and THAT'S OKAY!  It's real and I love it!  In some ways it made me think of Lost and Found which I absolutely adored.  


Both of ZAM's main characters - Dare and Finn - are flawed.  Neither is perfect and at times both can be quite unlikable.  But they're interesting and real and that's what makes me so enthralled by their story.  I wanted to shake Dare so many times while I read because his demons are so recognizable and so ordinary and I guess I found it out of place in the supposed hero and wanted him to rise above them, but even though he tried, he kept slipping and it was so honest and real... well - it worked bigtime for me.  


And Finn, my God, his tightly wound, walls up, protect the inner Finn was so believable, so logical and so well done that I teared up on more than one occasion.  The scenes with his aunt - OMG! - they were so gutting and filled with emotions.  And it seems on the outside that Finn is so together, so cool, so capable, but like so many people, he really isn't.  Stubborn git!  


The mystery.  The suspense.  The WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE???  It was really well done.  There were twists and turns throughout the book, a couple of biggies that had me going... OMG, REALLY?... and the final twist, the end of the mystery caught me totally by surprise.  


Then there were the BDSM elements that were very, very well done.  The power exchange, the discovery, the separation of scenes, sex and love and the way those things can or cannot come together and it's perfectly normal.  The scene with the rope, the shibari   was excellent!  I never really understood the attraction in anything other than an abstract way, but now I feel like I 'get' it.  


And ZAM also does a lovely job of her supporting characters.  They're all unique, have depth and serve to move the story forward all the while being real people.  


I think that one thing I really appreciated about Home the Hard Way was that the ways the characters were challenged or damaged/hurt were, I guess I want to say, normal and run of the mill.  There seems to be a trend today in M/M or maybe all romance, that one or both of the characters has to be afflicted, or suffering from, or dealing with, or conquering, or existing with some form of disability be it mental or physical in order for the story to have some  what, ... deeper meaning?  a roadblock to conquer?  be a symbol of diversity?  show that everyone deserves love and an HEA?   Which is all well and good, I'm all for diversity and I love many of those books, but I like to see stuff I know and recognise as having impacted my own life every once in a while.  (Yes, that's my privilege showing probably, but it's my blog and I can give voice to it.)


So all in all, this was a great read with terrific characters, a good mystery, some hot sex scenes, depths of all kinds of emotions and an ending that didn't solve All The Problems Ever with a hug and a kiss and an I love you.  


Books like this are why I love ZAM.


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