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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 2015-10-26 00:00
Vespertine
Vespertine - Indra Vaughn,Leta Blake

4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 because I'm so sorry for being so overly sceptical in the beginning


Oh my god, I can't believe I actually thought about putting this on my "never-going-to-read-shelf" and be done with it. But this was such a tough sell for me. Leta Blake is - I'm sorry to say it - not my most favorite author. Mainly because I had some issues with parts of Training Season, and started one other book that didn't make it on my kindle after I finished the sample and wasn't thrilled. Also, a gay priest and a rock star? I was so sceptical when I started, I almost expected to dnf this.

But holy f-ing Christ on a stick - pun intended. Was I ever WRONG. Jasper, an out but celibate priest, and Nicky, singer and songwriter hitting rock bottom too damn early in his life, drew me in so fast, I didn't even realize it until it was three in the morning and I still coulnd't stop reading.

I admit it freely, I'm a sucker for the hurt-feelings-in-the-past-theme. I love a well written story where two people who hurt and abandoned each other somehow find their way back through all the molasses that is hurt pride, broken hearts and destroyed trust, to something so new and so deep, that they can't help but explore all of it. I fell especially hard for Nicky. In some ways he could have been the absolute rock star cliché, but he really wasn't. His childhood was not desolate and lonely, even though he had a very bad start in life (to put it mildly). Jaz was not exactly my most favorite person in the world, and he too, had the potential to be the walking cartoon image of a closeted clergy man.

In the end, they both weren't what I thought they would be, which was not only refreshing, but grabbed me and didn't let me go until the last page was turned. The writing was beautiful, the journey of the two not too fast and not too slow.

The only wish I had, that wasn't fullsilled, was the sex problem. I was really hoping for a different outcome after their make-out session on their island. In a way, it was nice to not have Jaz being destroyed by his anxieties and guilt after the deed was done. But on the other hand it would have been nice to have him figure his life out, especially him leaving the priesthood, before he gave his heart and body to Nicky completely. I felt a little bit akward reading their sensual, hot sex scene, when I had the same issues Nicky had. Namely, my absolute conviction that everything would go to shit once Jaz was done thinking with his dick. In the end, it didn't, bless the authors. But it was still not what I was hoping for.

Additionally, Jaz' lack of gut-wrenching confusion, his guilt, the severe conflict between his heart and his faith, fell somewhat flat here. Not even after he broke his vows, threw a life-long commitment to his church and his faith out of the window, did some of the crushing feelings and/or guilt come. In a way, I was ecstatic, because I am a big opponent of the abstinence of catholic priests and nuns - because I'm sorry, but this is not only against everything evolution and biology tells your body to do, it's also unhealthy, outdated and in my opinion, unnecessary and cruel. But that's a story for another day. What I wanted to say was, it was nice not to have Jaz going completely bonkers after sleeping with Nicky for the first time. On the other hand I would have liked to see at least a little bit more struggle with his beliefs. Since they were the most important thing in his life for years.

Oh well, you can't have your caker and eat it, too. And in the end, there were really enough problems and struggles to last a lifetime or three. Didn't change the fact that I enjoyed the hell out of this story and would recommend it to every fan of the hurt-comfort theme. It's beautifully done here.

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review 2015-09-26 00:00
Into Deep Waters
Into Deep Waters - Kaje Harper

5 beautiful stars for an all-time favorite

Thank you, Kaje Harper, for this wonderful story!. I was so hestitant to read this. Mostly because I'm always reluctant when it comes to historical romances. More often than not the history is only used as a setting and everything else is ignored in order to make the romance possible. Which annoys me to no end. Because when you decide to write a story in a different time period, to me that means, you also have to do extensive research in order to make it at least a tiny little bit authentic.

If you ask me, Kaje did a formidable job here. Of course my "histotrical perspective" is somewhat different, since my country was the enemy in the war she described. But still, it felt right to me. The way she told the story of two young men deeply influenced and scarred by living and fighting during WW2 was impressive and felt unbelievably real. The anger, the depression, the naked fear, the love, the secrecy - all of it went directly under my skin and made me feel so much for the MCs.

I especially liked how she didn't end the story after they found each other again after the war was over. We were able to see this couple grow together, get even more close, fall even more deeply, grow old together and break free together. It took decades, and so many sticks and stones, before they could finally get married and even though I am not the type to cry easily over a story, I had to pick up a tissue or three at the end. Really, truly beautiful.

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