Gabriel, book 2 in the Legacy Ranch series by this author, was a difficult book to read, primarily because of the abuse Gabriel suffers and has suffered. If you saw my status updates while I was reading this book, you know that I wished a painful and horrific death upon Stefan, the pimp who picked up Gabriel after the trial and who exploited Gabriel's low self-esteem, his weakness and pain, to make him hurt even more.
I'm not sorry for wanting that slimeball dead.
Gabriel is trapped. While he has escaped the abuse he suffered at the ranch, he's still not free of it. He honestly believes that all he's good for is sex, a lie fed to him repeatedly, constantly, by his pimp, and on those few occasions that Gabriel dares reach for just a little more, like Kyle's letters inviting him to Legacy Ranch, Stefan knows how to keep him down. With fists and dub-con sex, telling him that he's good for nothing else, reinforcing what Gabriel already believes himself to be.
Cameron Stafford, hotel owner, nearly blind from a degenerative disease, just wants his awful, cruel family off his back. His last boyfriend was a no-good thief who stole from him, and Cam has no delusions of finding someone permanent, and he relies heavily on Six, his bodyguard/friend, who's been with him for many years.
Gabe's latest client has booked a room in Cam's hotel, which is how Cam finds out about Gabe and then decides to hire him as a fake boyfriend.
It's not as cute as that may sound. Cam's family is ridiculously nasty to him, over the top nasty, to be honest, and Cam's father is trying to take running the hotel away from him, because clearly, someone who's blind cannot possibly run a hotel. Right. Sit down, you jerk.
And Gabe - OMG, he broke my heart. There are a few outs that present themselves to Gabe, ways out of the hell he lives in, but he's too broken, too afraid, to trust and take them, instead returning time and again to his abusive pimp. I cried and cried, and wanted Stefan dead. I don't usually react with such violence to a fictional character, so my reaction to Stefan should tell you how abhorrent his character truly is. There is nothing redeeming about him, and when he meets his demise, I cheered.
I would have liked to see a bit more development of Cam's and Gabe's romantic relationship - unfortunately, we are mostly told that they develop feelings for each other. Cam tries hard to show Gabe that there is another way, that he doesn't have to stay with Stefan, and I liked that he didn't give up. Sure, he had help from Six, even if it was reluctantly given, but I could see that Six only wanted what was best for Cam, and didn't at first believe that Gabe fit the bill.
Both characters have experienced pain and hurt, though Gabe's abuse was obviously much more horrific. I felt for both of them, cried at the damage inflicted on them by others, and I wanted them to have their happy ending.
Which, of course, they get. This is a romance, after all. I would have liked that to have been expanded on a bit more, and I felt that the ending wrapped up a bit too quickly. Most of the book also takes place away from Legacy Ranch, and we get only a few scenes there.
Overall, this book had a very different feel than the first one in this spin-off series. It's a lot heavier, I believe, and on more than one occasion, I wanted to reach into the pages and alternately strangle Stefan, and grab Gabriel and Cameron and shield them both from the people who wanted to hurt them.
Not an easy book to read, but, I would say, worth your time.
** I received a free copy of this book from its author via Signal Boost Promotions. A positive review was not promised in return. **
I picked up this book when it was offered for free by the author a little while back. I liked the blurb, and the trope used here (man hires escort and they fall in love) is one I enjoy. Plus, having the story set at a GRL-like convention - heck, yeah, that clinched it.
In his foreword, the author explains that the characters within aren't necessarily real people, but are an amalgam of certain types of characters that have attended these conferences in the past.
As have I, and I can certainly say that the author evoked quite a few giggles and quite a few cringes in me while I was reading this book, because many of the characters are just spot-on showcasing behaviors I have seen myself.
It often seems that the events and behaviors woven into the plot of the book are tongue-in-cheek reminders of things that might have happened in slightly similar fashion, and have scandalously blown up in this genre on Facebook and Twitter. There are subtle read-between-the-lines moments that had me wonder just from whom the author drew inspiration for certain characters.
The plot is rather straight-forward - popular author DJ Torrent (Darren), in his mid-forties, hires a male escort (Travis) to accompany him to the GRR (Gay Romance Retreat) conference being held in St. Louis, MO. It's Darren's first time attending a conference, and since his husband Dan left him, he's become a bit of a recluse, but feels that after the success of his latest novel, he owes it to his readers to make an appearance. Knowing he won't be able to do so on his own, he hires Travis to pose as his husband at the conference.
Travis is in his mid-twenties and a high-end escort. Initially he's taken aback when Darren doesn't want sex and instead offers him an all-expenses-paid trip to a book conference, by pretending to be his husband. Travis has known heartbreak in his past, and has basically come to the conclusion that he'll never find real love, and certainly not in his current profession. He's an interesting and complex character, and there's much more to him than meets the eye(-candy). He realizes that his escorting days will eventually come to an end, but also doesn't think himself worthy to become anything more than what he is. He's still charming, smart, and kind, and his personality comes across very well.
The book covers five days of the conference, from arrival on Wednesday to departure after the Sunday morning breakfast, and quite a nice epilogue. There's drama, of course, what with someone basically assaulting Travis during the Cock Walk (yeah, this is a real thing, people), and then publishing a nasty blog post, exposing the truth about Darren and Travis, which thankfully backfires spectacularly on the blogger, but there's also a lot of love, not only between Travis and Darren, but also from certain conference attendees, who are supportive and kind. There's a line in which Travis describes the people at the conference as his "tribe" - and that's exactly what it feels like. I've attended three so far, and it is truly like a massive family reunion, with love of the genre being what we all have in common. You get to hang with like-minded people for four days, gush over books and authors, dance and drink, have a ton of fun, and create strong friendships that often carry over into real life.
It's fascinating, really, to read this book having attended these conferences and seen, to some extent, the individual behaviors described within. It made me think, too, actually, and remind me that the authors who attend GRL are real people, with real emotions, and while I too have fangirled over certain authors, I try to be mindful of the fact that they are real people with real emotions and real lives outside of writing the books we so enjoy, and thus I try to keep not my distance but be respectful of their personal space. Hugs are great when offered, but not expected.
I did have some niggles, specifically with the proofreading efforts. I can't say whether the author employed someone to proof-read this book, and while there weren't many spelling or punctuation issues, there were many times when Travis became Darren and Darren became Travis. While their voices are distinct, the narrative often mixed up their names, something a good proof-reader or proof-editor should have caught. Each time it happened, I was pulled out of the story, trying to decipher what name should go where.
My other niggle is the characterization of Zach, someone from Travis' past, someone who owes money to Travis, who decides to blackmail him to keep quiet about the ruse, but then blabs anyway. I couldn't understand his motives, to be honest, and it didn't make sense for him to talk to Micah, the aforementioned blogger/assaulter, and expose Travis' secret. What was the point, unless this plot point was needed to make sure that Micah got the scoop he was after?
The book takes a rather unflinching look at what might go on at the conference, and I thought that publishing this might raise some eyebrows with some people. The romance is mostly believable, though there are instances where their actions are a little inconsistent. Darren keeping a massive secret from Travis felt realistic in light of the length of their acquaintance, but Jan knowing about it wasn't explained.
Despite these inconsistencies, I rather enjoyed reading this book. If you've never attended a GRL conference, don't believe everything you read within, as a lot of is is exaggerated, and if you have attended in the past - well, then, you might have a similar reaction as I did.
In this sequel to The Angel Of 13th Street, we catch up with Noah and Jeremy shortly after the ending of the first book.
Jeremy is trying to help a meth addict off the streets, Noah is struggling with memories and haunted still by whom he couldn't save while he's trying to save another teenager, and Doc is making plans to turn the mission over to Noah, formalize it more, and get more volunteers.
And Jeremy is about to graduate from high school with plans to attend college on a scholarship, which will likely take him away from Noah.
In this book, Noah stumbles hard and nearly falls, and it's the Angel himself who needs saving this time around. Stuck in the memories from his former life on the streets, Noah lets his anger and his grief nearly consume him, full of doubt that he's doing any good at all, because he couldn't save Billy, not realizing that he's approaching an emotional meltdown.
This book is primarily Noah's story, whereas the first one was primarily about Jeremy finding his feet. We see flashback after flashback to Noah's life with Billy, his time as a rentboy, a drug addict, and the fall that nearly killed him but ended up saving him. We watch Noah fight his demons, and struggle with depression and hopelessness when he can't save Chip from the clutches of his pimp.
Eden Winters doesn't mince words here, and there's no fluff inside either. This is raw and gritty, showing the seedy underbelly of society that most of us don't want to see.
But there's love and hope too, and there are successes, such as Lark, who finds the strength to leave Tina behind and pull himself out of the mess his life has become.
We also get a full glimpse into Noah's and Jeremy's domesticity, and it was lovely to see Jeremy maturity level increase even more. I really enjoyed seeing him be so patient with Noah, not pushing, but also not allowing Noah to completely self-destruct either. I think that Noah's burned out emotionally, and he's not yet fully realized that Jeremy is an equal partner in the relationship, and not just the kid he saved and who's now running the Tub Of Suds next to the bar. The fact that Noah keeps things to himself and, even worse, keeps things from Jeremy is super not cool, but also understandable within Noah's frame of mind.
There are some intimate scenes, and these further the plot, showcasing how Jeremy catches Noah when he stumbles, which really drives home the point how much Jeremy has grown into himself.
Again, this is not a fluffy book, but it feels real, it's superbly crafted, it has fully fleshed out, three-dimensional characters, and the author is never afraid to call a spade a spade. I, for one, appreciate that.
I look forward to Lark's story.
** I received a free copy of this book via Indigo Marketing and Design. A positive review was not promised in return. **
I am reviewing a DTB version.
Wow! That was the longest prologue I've ever read!
Now I can go back to page 1 and start enjoying the book.
Many reviews that mention re-reads make sense now.
Few thoughts on the book, the writing, the characters, the shenanigans. No spoilers, just want to keep my outrage contained in the spoiler tags.
Tho I like it when authors dump you right in the middle of things and you have to start running the moment you hit the ground, this was not the case. I sure did do some legwork, but it was mostly bouncing up and down on the same spot, trying to get hold on my bearings. What? Who? Where? How? but most often than not WTF? were the questions popping into my head every other paragraph.
None of the places, politics, history and even characters, including one of the MCs, are explored enough for readers to fully comprehend the magnitude of events that the author is bestowing upon us until it's almost into the second half.
* Felix doesn't get to shine in the beginning of the book; hell, Felix doesn't get to be or do anything before all hell brakes loose. He doesn't get. to. be. Although SM keeps showering us with "Felix is This" and "Felix is That", all we see is a mad, wounded, bleeding dog instead of a shiny pretty thing, and its running, whimpering, to his abuser after being called "a whore". That one word and an unsubstantiated implication to go along does not justify Felix's violent overreaction. I am sure it's all perfect in MS's head, but she clearly prefers not to share any additional bits with us (and there are more to come).
Where is this person who thinks quick on his legs? SM's shiny version of Felix should handle it in no time flat, instead he is seeking out his uber abusive master he hasn't seen in years and loading on drugs like there is no tomorrow.
Felix the magnificent, "whose deadly wit is the terror of the court” my ass. Whiny little pup!
* The book is packed with too many elaborate names that mean nothing, people who never show up and have no impact on the events, places we never go to.
Not sure why French rev. calendar was used. To give an instant historical setting? Sorry, it didn't work. You can't use a calendar and a bunch of French sounding names to instantly set the stage, unless its real France and the time is set roughly during the very end of 18th/beginning of 19th centuries. Same goes for Troia/Greece. These tricks confuse, not clarify events or describe places or historical periods in fantasy fiction.
I jam fond of French history and literature, but even then it took me a few minutes to zoom in on Pluviôse, I simply did not expect it. It was one of my first in the long line of WTF moments. I am sure many of us remember the calendar, but then there are many who do not.
*Please, translate for the overwhelming majority of your non-russian speaking audience, what the hell Morskaiakrov means. Would it kill you to make a footnote: *Morskayakrov (russian) - Sea Blood. In current setting it implies that the family who operates the boat has sea in their blood. They were born into the trade and sea is their home and their life.
Please, quit making people feel inadequate and leaving them tongue-twisted and cross-eyed.
* Too many side stories. For what purpose? Ah.... of course. Page count. But they slow down the flow of the main story and leave loose ends all over the place.
What was the deal with the hidden attic at St. Crellifer's? Great escape route. Great way in. But was it utilized? I really hope it will come handy later, because as of right now it's an opportunity and reader's time wasted.
*POV switching. Two paragraphs here. Half a page there. Past Tense, Present Tense... I am looking forward (not!) to colons in The Virtu, that's on top of Italics and Mildmay's bad and inconstant speech antics.
*Would it greatly burden you to have a glossary of terms and names in the beginning of the book? If anything it will expand your page count.
*Please, mention your septads in the glossary of your quirks. Two septads and six is an amusing take on 20 questions, but - really? Really? Invent your own question game and leave decimals out.
OK, shutting up now. There is more in my updates if anyone cares.
This book made me angry. Felix, too, at the very end, with his lack of gratitude and common sense made me angry. BUT. The story held my interest. I am starting The Virtue today. That counts for something, I guess.
PS Shannon. I feel bad for him. Felix is one ungrateful piece of ...work.