Guest Review: Slam by J.L. Merrow

Slam by J.L. MerrowFormats available: ebook
Genre: Contemporary
Length: 275 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Date Released: April 9, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Limericks, lies, and puppy-dog eyes…

Jude Biggerstaff is all the way out and loving it—mostly. The Anglo-Japanese university graduate is a carnivore working in a vegan café, an amateur poet with only one man in his life. His dog, Bubbles.

Then there’s “Karate Crumpet”, a man who regularly runs past the café with a martial arts class. Jude can only yearn from afar, until the object of his affection rescues him from muggers. And he learns that not only does this calm, competent hunk of muscle have a name—David—but that he’s gay.

Jude should have known the universe wouldn’t simply let love fall into place. First, David has only one foot out of the closet. Then there’s Jude’s mother, who lies about her age to the point Jude could be mistaken for jailbait.

With a maze of stories to keep straight, a potential stepfather in the picture, ex-boyfriends who keep spoiling his dates with David, and a friend with a dangerous secret, Jude is beginning to wonder if his and David’s lives will ever start to rhyme.

Warnings: Contains a tangled web of little white lies, a smorgasbord of cheesy limericks, a violin called Vanessa, some boots that mean business, and the most adorable little dog ever. Poetry, it’s not…

Guest Review by Cryselle

After that blurb, the question isn’t what happens, it’s how. And it’s fun.

Stream of consciousness barely contained, that’s Jude. He’s flamboyant, funny, and when he bleeds internally, he bandages it with another joke. He’s head over heels for David, but what doesn’t go strange in one way goes strange in another. JL Merrow has “frequently been accused of humor” and this story earns her the shaky finger again, in the best way.

Opposites—Jude looks like Gok Wan, only prettier and gayer, and David’s so butch Jude’s not sure he’s gay—the man hasn’t seen a musical in years, and likes watching football. David’s got reason—he works construction in the management end of the business, but he’s not out at work and doesn’t plan to be any time soon. We don’t have any scenes from his POV, but that’s okay, Jude can rattle along for three.

Emitting limericks at irregular intervals to express his anxiety or frustration, Jude keeps us smiling, even when we’d like to whap him for withholding pertinent information from David. Granted, it seems rational at the time, but it does create a sequence of Big Misunderstandings. I can’t summarize better than this brief sequence, where Jude and David have gone on their first real date. Rescuing Jude from some gay-bashers isn’t exactly social life after all.

He shrugged. “I’ve never really been into gay bars. I’d rather go to a normal pub. Uh, does that come off as a bit homophobic?”

I swallowed my last mouthful of saltimbocca. “Yeah, but I’ll let you off because (a) you’re gorgeous and (b) I think my mouth just had an orgasm.” Dreamily, I put down my fork. “Although on second thoughts, that’s not a great mental picture when you’ve just eaten. We have got to come here again.”

“If you like. I’m still hoping to persuade you to try the raw fish at TTY.”

Oops. That again. I bit my lip. Should I come clean and tell him it was all to do with Stinky Cheese Guy? He’d understand, and then we could have a laugh about it…

I grimaced. Yeah, right. Because it’s always so attractive, finding the guy you’re out with is still hung up on his Evil Ex.

David laughed. “Why do I get the impression I just missed a whole conversation taking place in your head?”

That last sentence—really important.

The supporting characters shore everything up nicely: best gal pal Keisha keeps Jude grounded and provides a sharp foil for his wit, and Mom is a hoot. Mom has a younger boyfriend and a couple of secrets, which slop onto Jude and incidentally demonstrate that he comes by his talent for complications honestly.

In fact, everyone seems to have some way to affect everyone else, and it’s to the author’s credit that this crazy quilt of plot points winds up so neatly. Secrets and confessions fall out of the closet like improperly stored skeletons, and it all winds up as a big AW! in several directions, in spite of the epidemic of foot-in-mouth disease.

The title applies to Jude’s participation in slam poetry fests, where poets recite their work as performance art and are graded by how they affect their audiences. It’s not a huge plot aspect unless it’s needed—this story is more character driven than plot driven, aside from the eventual boy-gets-boy. The limericks are spice rather than meal. I’m very partial to external plot, of which this is rather short: the external elements are subservient to the relationship, and the title theme is nearly invisible for most of the book.

All in all, this is a sweet feel-good-eventually of a story. The Brit flavor is undiluted, not impenetrable to American readers, and is a wonderful antidote to stories where the English charm has been genericized away. If you’re in the mood for flamboyant, funny, British characters and situations, this is the story for you.

Escape rating: B+

Cryselle can regularly be found blogging and reviewing at Cryselle’s Bookshelf.

Ebook Review Central, Samhain Publishing, May 2012

Happy Monday! That means that Ebook Review Central is back. And we’re featuring Samhain Publishing’s May 2012 titles. And what a diverse group of titles they are!

Samhain covers everything imaginable, and this month is no exception. On one side, they have the nostalgic days of yesteryear, with their Retro Romances. And as far on the opposite corners from Retro sweetness as it could possibly get, Samhain has both a Horror imprint on one hand and this month two Science Fiction Romance series; Joely Skye’s Minders series for those who prefer their SFR to be Male/Male Romance, and the anthology series Midnight Justice, for those who prefer Male/Female SFR romantic action. With 35 titles in the list, there was bound to be something for everyone.

Also a few titles that may not have been for anyone. Some things didn’t garner any reviews this month, even on Goodreads and Amazon.

There was one title that seems to have been for just about everyone. At least, a lot of people read it, liked it, and said so. This week’s number one title was easy to pick! Joely Sue Burkhart’s Yours To Take stood out from the very large crowd in the list with 16 reviews, including top ratings on several blogs. Why was Yours To Take so well received? It looks like several factors. This is book three in Burkhart’s Connaghers series, and series books have built-in, or pent-up, demand. Added to that, Yours To Take taps into the ongoing interest in BDSM/Kink stories stirred up by 50 Shades. The Connaghers series should be on a lot of lists for readers interested in stories to read after that, and the whole series (Dear Sir, I’m Yours #1, Take Me #1.5, Hurt Me So Good #2)  gets high marks from reviewers.

The second featured title for this week is Hard Tail by JL Merrow. This Male/Male contemporary romance is a sweet love story that deals with some very hard issues. Tim gets laid off and divorced, at just about the same time. That kind of cosmic kick in the pants makes you re-examine which way your life is going. While his brother recovers from some injuries, Tim steps up and manages his bike shop for him. After all, he has the time. Time to discover that he’s a lot happier managing the bike shop than he ever was in the corporate world. And that part of the reason his marriage died is because he’s never let himself think about how far in the closet he’s been. But Matt, the repair tech at the bike shop, reminds him of why. But Matt has some problems of his own. An abusive boyfriend that he needs to free himself from before he can be ready to be involved with someone new. Reviewers loved the humor and discovery in this story. And also Tim’s cat clearly owns the bike shop and everyone in it.

The third and final featured title is the Midnight Justice anthology. This is a superhero romance containing three separate books, Blade of Moonlight by Kimberly Dean (#1), Superlovin’ by Vivi Andrews (#2) and Breaking Bad by Jodi Redford (#3). What you have here is a universe of good versus evil, with secret identities and crime fighters with super powers who fight in masks. Except that unlike the caped crusaders on TV, there’s also a lot of kinky sex involved. There’s also mind-controlling soda. Just in case you ever wondered about the “Secret Formula” for your favorite soft drink. These just read like sexy comic-book style fun to most reviewers.

So there you have this week’s features for Samhain Publishing. Kinky, bike-riding superheroes. Wait a minute, that’s not all in the same book. Maybe someone will have to write that one.

After looking at the Midnight Justice superhero stories, I simply can’t resist the Batman thing. So, we’ll be back next Monday with another exciting episode of Ebook Review Central. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!

Ebook Review Central, Amber Quill, Astraea Press, Liquid Silver Books, Riptide Publishing, March 2012

It’s time for the March four-in-one feature at Ebook Review Central. This is the point in the cycle where ERC covers Amber Quill Press, Astraea Press, Liquid Silver Books and Riptide Publishing, and usually wraps up whatever the month is that we’ve been covering.

Well, this is still the four-in-one, but it’s not wrapping the month. Next week ERC will be doing a “leap week” post and adding in some new publishers. It’s both a way of bringing some new titles into this wrap-up, and, pushing out the calendar a bit. I started ERC three weeks after the end of the covered months. Now I’ve caught up to it. I have to push back, and the best way is to add in some fresh material.

All the publishers in ERC are going to stay in.

Meanwhile, back to the March titles for our current four publishing contenders…March was not an all-Riptide month the way February was. Almost, but not quite.

In reverse order this time, just to keep you guessing until the end…

The third place finisher this month was Dark Soul Vol. 5 by Aleksandr Voinov, published, of course, by Riptide. I’ll admit I was expecting this one to make the list, the only question in my mind as I looked at the review sheets for this month was how it would stack up. The built-in audience for this final volume of Voinov’s tale of mafiosi, their enemies and their even more dangerous secret lovers had a lot of pent-up emotion just waiting for this. As one reviewer said, “just beautiful”. These are stories about dark characters who make all their choices in shades of grey, but the ending is very satisfying for those who love watching their heroes struggle with the darkness inside.

From characters who hold their secrets inside, we switch to a character who is forced by circumstance to display at least some of his difficulties where everyone can see them. Permanently Legless by J.L. Merrow (Amber Quill) easily rolled into second place in this week’s tally. Being “legless” usually means drunk, but in this case, it refers to the wounds Chris sustained fighting in Afghanistan. He’s adjusted to the loss of both legs, with his love of life and confidence intact, but when he meets Josh again, the guy he had a one-night stand with just before he left on that last tour of duty, he’s uncertain again. Josh isn’t. Readers loved this story of a wounded warrior finding his HEA with a guy who doesn’t care about his disability.

The number one book this week by an absolute landslide was Frat Boy and Toppy, written by Anne Tenino. From the reviews, it looks like everyone loved it because it made them laugh. The “frat boy” in the title is Brad, and he starts the story as a typical frat boy jock with a lot of frat boy friends. But there’s something different about Brad. In spite of appearances and outward behavior, Brad has a crush on the Teaching Assistant for his History Class. The male Teaching Assistant. Brad’s pretty sure he’s gay. The book is the story of Brad figuring out what to do about it. Especially since that TA doesn’t do relationships. Which is what Brad wants, once he starts figuring out what he wants in general. The one thing the reviews have in common is the phrase “laugh out loud”. Actually, there are two things, the other one seems to be “love Brad”. Romantic comedy fans, take note of this one.

So this week’s features can be summed up as light-hearted (Frat Boy and Toppy), heart-warming (Permanently Legless), and soul-searing (Dark Soul Vol. 5), but not all in the same book!

It’s also notable that, looking back, the last time the featured books in this four-in-one post were not all male/male romances was the December 2011 feature. Will this trend continue? We’ll see in the coming months!

That’s it for this issue. Come back next week to see which publishers will be added to Ebook Review Central in “Leap Week”.