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review 2016-01-17 13:41
Hurts in all the Right Places
Sutphin Boulevard - Santino Hassell

“I wish I didn’t love your stupid ass so much.”

 

 

Dear lord, this book slayed me. I didn't expect to love this as much as I did. And I didn't expect it to hurt so good, even though I had been warned. 

 

So let me tell you why the pain is so worth it. 

 

Firstly, we get to meet Michael. Puerto-Rican New Yorker, escaped from his messed up family life in South Jamaica, teaching in one of the most LGBTQ friendly schools in Brooklyn, is struggling with... Everything. His family is broken. His mother is dead, his brother can't motivate himself to even keep the house clean, let alone find a job, and ever since MIchael moved back into his childhood home, his feelings are all over the place. Add his low-life father, who not surprisingly is dying because of the cirrhosis of his liver, and the mix is getting toxic pretty damn fast. You can practically taste Michael's guilt, anger and desperation right from the start. 

 

The only light in his life is Nunzio. Best friends for twenty years, the two men know each other inside out - even literally ever since picking up drunk David in a bar. But toxic stays toxic, no matter how much sugar you add to it. So, even though Michael still has his rock, Nunzio, things start to change. At work, they're put on two different teams, there is the new supervisor who looks awfully familiar with all the green stuff behind his ears, and at home the atmosphere is so full of rage and desperation, that not even his escapes to Nunzio can really make a dent in Michael's ever-growing pile of dark feelings. Liquor is his crutch, a sharp tongue his only weapon, flight his only instinct remaining intact. 

 

And that's only the beginning, because as soon as things start to crumble left and right, Michael looses his footing for real, more so with each day that doesn't get better. And it's so painful to read, it's insane. 

 

Santino Hassell has an eerie talent to transport me right into the middle of his tale without warning. I started reading and I was just right there with Michael. There was no way out of his head, and even when I stopped reading, I had him on my mind the whole time. I realize that for some readers that was too much. Which is totally understandable, but made the book all the better for me. I wasn't able to get away from the darkness lurking behind the pages, and didn't want to. Not once. Even after the hollow feeling in my gut got worse and worse, even when I felt like I was watching a train wreck and would probably crumble as soon as shit hit the fan for real, I kept on reading. And reading. And reading. Despite my fear that nothing would get better in the end, I kept going. Which is not how I usually operate. 

 

I also understand that some readers felt Nunzio to be too pale, or too vague, his thoughts not illustrated enough. That they would have needed his POV in order to really enjoy him as an MC. That was so not the case for me. Because even though we never get a chance to be in his head, Nunzio is one of the most expressive and clearly portrayed MCs I've read in a long time. Even though his POV is not given, I understood him perfectly. Granted, you had to read between the lines, watch him carefully, empathize a lot, but in the end that made it all the more worth it. Nunzio just felt real to me. As deeply flawed as Michael, but more self-less, more empathetic and as a reader you had to do what Nunzio was doing with Michael. Not listen to his words, but watch his reactions, analyze his actions and get your clues from what he was NOT saying.

 

Needless to say, I loved both of these men. Despite Michael's depression and very own darkness, he was an inherently good guy. Self-centred more often than not, oblivious to a fault, descending into his very own hell faster and faster, but never selfish or evil. His own fears, guilt and desperation led him to some questionable decisions, his caring nature brought him to his knees when it came to his family, his despreate clutch on the status quo almost destroyed the good things he still had. I loved him. He was flawed, he didn't always do the right thing, he didn't react to things the way I would have or did in the past. But he still got under my skin and made me hurt in all the right places. As for his family drama: If there is one thing I understand it's the predicament of "I know, it ttears me apart, but it's still my FAMILY." Resounded with me on every possible level. Same goes for Nunzio. He grabbed me by my heart and my "balls" and queezed until I wanted to hug him for days.

 

One word for the smut: Delicious! Or maybe three: Dirty, gritty, RAW. No sweet fluffy love-making, at least not in the traditional sense. There was tenderness, there were real feelings, heart-breaking moments - but it came in a package that fit the story so damn perfectly, it was unreal.

 

And special kudos go to Raymond, Michael's brother. Another flawed, real character with many facets, layers and a complex personality. One thing this book aced were the three-dimensional characters. Perfectly done. Plus, I loved Raymond's tendency to call 'em as he saw 'em.   

 

“Wow, son. You’re mad retarded.”
David whipped his head around and pinned my brother with a lethal glare. “Don’t say that word.”
“Sorry.” Raymond kept staring at me. “You’re mad special ed.”
David scoffed, and I burst out laughing.”

 

 

I'll stop now, because enough said. But just so you know, I could go on for hours about this book! All the love, because this definitely is one of my favorites of 2016. 

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review 2015-10-21 00:00
Complementary Colors
Complementary Colors - Adrienne Wilder

And another intense, beautiful read by Adrienne Wilder


"I stared at all the broken fragments of color that where once me, lying scattered around my feet."


Alright, folks, this is one intense read. On the one hand you get Roy. Simple, relaxed, calm, maybe a little mysterious himself in the beginning. He has his own demons, his own skeletons and his very own closet, albeit one with wide open doors.

Then there is Paris.

And Paris is what makes this book so colorful, but painful at the same time. He is beautiful, talented in a twisted way, caged and abused, and even though I don't like the expression much, he is the Victim with a capital "V" here. What he lived/lives through, how he suffers, is a main part of his art, of his story, of his personality. And it hurts to read it all.

Because one thing is for sure: When Adrienne Wilder writes villains, she writes them EVIL. Pure, unredeemable, ruthless, heartless Evil. Which is not something I fall for usually, but somehow she just makes it work. At least I don't feel like I'm in the middle of a Disney-inspired bad cartoon. I'm saying that just to warn potential readers. The bad guys here aren't just bad, they're despicable, disgusting, and they'll rip your heart out with a bright fake smile on their faces. You've got to have the stomach for this ind of thing if you want to read this book. Even I struggled with some of the scenes. Partly because of some violence and cruelty that was just that side of painful to read, but also partly because of a somewhat (overbearing) sense of dread I was carrying around while reading this.

Another thing I would warn potential readers about is the pace. Even though the very first scene is hot and steamy, the actual development of intimacy and love takes time. Quite some time, actually. Paris has issues. Not the (dare I say usual?) problems and baggage of a young man, but very, very serious mental health problems. And there is no magic cock here, no "love is all you need", no fast solution for everything. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of love, devotion, help and happily ever after in here. But it isn't instant, or easy. It's a gut-wrenching, desperate journey, so you should go in prepared.

And don't ecpect change to happen over night, because as in real life, the fight against abuse, self-hate and mental illness takes time and, in most cases, never really ends. I saw some readers getting frustrated with this, with Paris and his inner struggles. Which goes to show that some people not only have no idea about mental illnesses, but that for some readers, this is just the wrong topic. Because fact of the matter is, mental problems, like borderline disorder, depression or OCD, never leave you completely. They're not "curable" or of one's own making. If you feel like all of these things are weaknesses, that people struggling with this are not strong enough, not determined enough to be well, just plain not good enough to life a "healthy" life like you, than please put this book aside and never touch it again. You are absolutely not going to like this book, I guarantee it! Because - hate me all you want for that comment - you are not made for it and you won't be able to appreciate it. It takes a (special?) kind of patience, empathy and compassion to appreciate the hard path Paris takes, and how far he comes until the end of the book. Obviously, it's not for everyone.

Also, if you can't stomach a lot of angst, cruelty or violence, you might want to pass this up. It's really not for highly sensitive readers. But for everyone else: Read it! It's absolutely worth it.


I had one issue, though. The sex. While I don't have a problem with frequent sex scenes, some of them felt kind of wrong here. Mainly because of the timing. Having a nice, hard fuck while your homicidal monster of a sister is looking for you? While you have to fear for your own life and the life of your partner? How about NO? I couldn't enjoy this particular scenes at all. I was too anxious, too tense to even appreciate the love shared between the two MCs, because all I could think was: "What the fuck are you doing?! You. Are. In. Mortal. Danger. Get your freakking bags and get the fuck out of there! She'll be there in no time at all!"

Of course they didn't, and She fucking did. I knew it, so this part frustrated me. It didn't only make me angry, but it also "provoked" and forced an ending that wasn't strictly necessary and somewhat over the top, IMHO.

Like I said, hot sex is fine and dandy, but even I need a little more "good timing" for it to not feel too forced or uncomfortable.

All in all, I enjoyed this book. I struggled with some scenes, I would definitely issue a trigger warning, and parts of the ending were a little too forced for my taste, but I'd still recommend it, just not necessarily for everyone.

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