Title: The Adorned
Author: John Tristan
Length: 101k words
Genre: m/m Fantasy Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Indentured Slavery, Sexual Slavery, Tattoos, Art/Artists, Magic, Major Class Distinctions, Alternate World Historical, Slow Burn, Revolution, Netgalley
Rating: LOVED it!!!!
My name is Etan, and I am Adorned.
A living piece of art, I exist to please the divine rulers of Kered. With nowhere to turn after my father died, I tried my luck in the capital city. Little did I know how quickly I would be robbed, beaten and forced to sell myself into servitude. But I was lucky enough to gain the attention of Roberd Tallisk, an irascible but intriguing tattoo artist who offered to mark me with enchanted ink for the enjoyment of the nobles. I was given a chance to better my station in life, and I could not refuse.
But the divine rulers want not only the art but the body that bears it. In their company I can rise above the dregs of society and experience a life most only dream of, at the cost of suffering their every desire as a pawn in games of lavish intrigue. Their attention is flattering, but I find I’d rather have Tallisk’s.
Caught between factions, I learn that a revolution is brewing, one that could ruin Kered–and Roberd and myself along with it…
I got this book for review on a whim, and I am so happy that I did because it completely took over my life yesterday. I started reading it in the early morning and I couldn’t put it down — I read all day. And to be honest I was a little worried after I requested it because I had previously read a book by John Tristan that I DNF’ed and I think it might have been his first book. I just couldn’t get into the writing and I kinda liked it but also didn’t. So I couldn’t believe that I had none of the same issues with this book that I did with that earlier book. And if this author keeps writing books like this then I’ll definitely stick around and keep reading!
When his father dies with a multitude of debts, Etan is forced to sell his home and all his belongings and travel to the capital city of Kered to look for work. His only skills are his ability to read and write, and while those are rare abilities for a country boy, with no money to garner an apprenticeship, his only choice is manual labor, something he’s unable to do because of a sickness as a child that stunted his growth. He’s pale and petite, and saved by a man in a rickshaw when beaten in the street. The man offers to send him to a place to stay, where he learns after a few days is a home for indentured servants. His only option thereafter is to sign away his rights and work for this man in trade for a place to stay and food to eat.
When the man sees Etan without bruises and washes he almost doesn’t recognize him, but he has an even better idea of work for him. Etan is introduced to Roberd Tallisk, a tattoo artist whose patron is the head of the Council, run by the Blooded, the ruling class of Kered society who possess magic believed descended from the gods themselves. There, Etan’s slave bond is bartered between the two men when Tallisk agrees to take Etan on as his new work of art, an Adorned. The Adorned have always mystified those of the lower classes. They’re those of beauty who are tattooed by master tattoo artists with enchanted ink to become living works of art for the pleasure of the Blooded. Their art is not allowed to be seen by those who aren’t Blooded or the artist. And no one else but the tattoo artists are allowed to wear ink.
Etan’s new life seems wonderful and exciting. He’s protected now for life with gifts of riches from patrons and by the ink he wears on his skin. But there is also an aspect of being Adorned that he never expected. He soon learns the hard price to pay when he starts to mingle with the elite of Keren society and exactly what they expect from him. And he finds himself a pawn, a sort of Mata Hari in the political play between two warring factions for the future of the Keren society.
There are two things that I love most about this story and they go behind the tattoo art (which is super cool) and a lot of the other little details that made this story come alive for me. First is the epic quality of the story. We really get to see Etan’s life played out over a lot of major changes in his life that also herald major changes for the whole world. We meet Etan when he’s young, still living at home with his father and before he’s had to completely depend on himself and we get to see how he changes over time. I typically prefer characters who are alive, present and very decisive about their lives in fiction, especially in fantasy worlds. Etan is alive and present, certainly, but he’s also like a piece of detritus in a massive current once he makes it to the city. He’s buffered on all sides by those making choices for him. I can’t see him acting any other way certainly, as someone who has very little choices, but he’s also very internal and cautious. I didn’t see those parts of his personality changing until much later because it was such a slow change, but Etan grows as the world changes around him and as he needs to take more of his own care for himself.
The second thing I really loved was the cast of characters. We meet a multitude of secondary characters, most of whom are a good sort, and a faction of those who are good people who make some bad choices. As the world in the story changes, it reveals the best and worst of the characters and each of them are made to understand their regrets, in particular Isadel and Lord Haqan Loren. All of them, however, are well rounded characters that we get to know rather well. And this was done sometimes in a rather subtle fashion. The writing requires the reader to be present and active in piecing the world together and in drawing connections, and I can’t tell you how often I find myself wishing for writing like that.
You might not find this story to be perfect, or it might not impact you as much as it did me. Part of how you feel about it, in the end, will depend on what you like most in your romance books. The relationship between Etan and Tallisk is very slow to build and it takes almost the full length of the novel for the two to really come together. The bulk of the story is rather Etan’s journey and finding himself, someone who still feels like a country boy, realizing that he’s a good person with heart amid vultures who would pick at him until there’s nothing left. He has to realize what he really wants out of life, if it is security or love and if those things are separate.
I finished the book wanting more, sad that the story ended and hoping there was a way a sequel could be written, lol. I don’t think that’s really possible. But I know now that I’ll definitely keep my eye on book by John Tristan and I hope that it isn’t too long from now that I find another book that I get so lost in.
Posted by Cole in 101-125k, 6 LOVE IT!, Authors S-U, Fantasy, Heat 2 - Romantic & Tame, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Alternate World Historical, Art, Artists, Carina, Class Distinctions, Indentured Slavery, John Tristan, Magic, Netgalley, Revolution, Sexual Slavery, Slow Burn, Tattoos
Author: Will Parkinson
Publisher: Dreamspinner (Harmony Ink)
Length: 53,637 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary YA Romance
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: Debut Novel, High School, Unrequited Love, Closeted, Best Friends, Straight/Gay Male Friendships, Coming Out, Coming of Age, Art/Artists, Sports, Baseball, Athletes, Abuse, Machiavellian Bad Guy, Evil Teenaged Girls!, Secrets & Lies
Rating: Not Feelin’ It
The day Jackson Kern walks into Taylor Andrews’s classroom is a momentous day in Taylor’s life. He’s had crushes before, sure, but as time goes on, this is starting to look a whole lot more serious. Still, Jackson doesn’t return Taylor’s feelings.
Taylor has his own admirers, though. Kevin Richards is used to getting what he wants, and what he wants right now is Taylor, so when Taylor rejects him, Kevin retaliates. At first Taylor’s entourage rallies around him, but then Kevin takes his deception one step further and Taylor sees his support dwindle, teaching him the valuable lesson about who he can truly consider a friend.
I’m always eager to pick up a baseball book and even though I’ve been interested in several and still plan to review a few of them, it has been a while since I’ve picked up a book from DSP’s young adult imprint. From what I gather in the acknowledgements, this is Will Parkinson’s debut novel. Sometimes it’s a gamble picking books to read by a new author or an author I’ve never read, but that’s another part of reviewing that I like. Reviewing gives me the opportunity to read new authors and it feels like I get to enjoy more of the perks, like finding a surprise that’s worth it. Often, it’s different though and while I like some of those books I also don’t like some of them. I’m afraid to say that this book fell into the latter camp for me. While it wasn’t a total disappointment, I just didn’t connect with the book.
Taylor is a gay sophomore in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin high school. His best friend Benny is straight and the only person alive who knows his secret. They’re best friends and always have been and Benny is a rather special guy that is wise beyond his years, intelligent and loyal. Pitch opens on the day that a new student starts at Taylor’s school. Jackson walks into Taylor’s homeroom, looking nervous and totally sexy and Taylor immediately wants to draw him. What follows over the next year is an intense unrequited love that just doesn’t seem to go away, no matter how hard Taylor tries and Benny cautions. No matter how much Taylor is told that Jackson is disgusted by his little boy crush from Jackson’s cheerleader girlfriend, Taylor just can’t seem to stay away.
It isn’t until he and Benny gain some perspective on their problems during the next summer, camp counseling for abused kids, that Taylor starts to grow up. He still has feelings for Jackson, but he’s less likely now to follow him around like a lost puppy. So when a kid from a neighboring school asks him out during their Halloween dance, Taylor decides to take him up on it. He really starts to like Kevin, but he is prey unknowingly walking into Kevin’s trap. It takes some extremely tough decisions and way too much heartbreak and drama to realize that much of what he thought before wasn’t true, about most of the people he knew.
There are two aspects of this novella that I had a difficult time with. The first are the characters. This, especially, is subjective. Part of what oftentimes makes a young adult novel good are the bad choices of the characters. More often than not young adult stories have a moral and it can walk a fine line in the hands of the author between preachy and poignant. The style of this story went a bit over the top and that just wasn’t something that I was really looking for. For high school students, who I freely admit can be some of the cruelest humans on Earth, many of the actions of these characters went beyond immature and foolhardy. I would have appreciated the characters and their decisions (even the bad ones) more if their actions had been more subtle and less ascribed to their particular archetype. Kevin’s actions in particular required me to suspend disbelief a few times.
As I said before, those decisions and your own feelings about them are more subjective than usual. My other problem with this story was in the writing. I applaud this author for writing and writing and sharing their work. But like many new authors I think that there were some fundamental writing problems that this author needs to work on. Mostly it will just take continued writing, so even though this book wasn’t for me, I sincerely hope that this author keeps up with it. Part of the novice prose problems were dialogue and restraint. In a way, the second has quite a bit to do with the first. This book didn’t fall into too bad of a habit of telling rather than showing, but there is importance in letting the characters express themselves in their own ways instead of being a vehicle to express the author’s view. I’m not talking about preaching about issues or anything like that here. I simply mean the difference between the characters’ observations and personality and the author’s. Almost continually there were times while reading this that I stopped and thought that a character wouldn’t say or think that. The dialogue, in a similar way, oftentimes sounded familiar for all the characters and didn’t seem to represent the individual characters. Restraint is important because readers don’t need all the information. It’s a partnership, you know? The readers picks up on the clues the author leaves and pieces them together and in that way one small action tells you more about the character than a whole page of narration.
Ultimately, this book just wasn’t for me because of the more dramatic plot twists. I have seen a couple of 5-star reviews around so I’ll be interested to see if any other readers/reviewers feel the way I do, or if this turns out to be a reader favorite. I’ve been a part of the more unpopular opinion before!
Posted by Cole in 2 Not Feelin' It, 41-75k, Authors P-R, Contemporary, Heat 1 - Sweet/None, Romance, Sex Freq 1 - None, YA Tags: Abuse, Art, Artists, Athletes, Baseball, Best Friends, Closeted, Coming of Age, Coming Out, Debut Novel, Evil Teenaged Girls!, Harmony Ink Press, High School, Machiavellian Bad Guy, Secrets & Lies, Sports, Straight/Gay Male Friendships, Unrequited Love, Will Parkinson
For our last stop on the Art Appreciation mini-tour, we thought we’d ask and answer some random art-related questions. So here goes….
Does anyone have memories of an interesting art opening they’ve been to?
Clare: I remember the opening of the Tate Britain and taking the Sons to see this prestigious exhibition of modern art. We spent several minutes in front of a large canvas painted solely in one shade and texture of blue. I’ll remember the bemused look on Son#1’s face for the rest of my life.
Dev: I haven’t been to an art opening since I moved to the country but my main memories of openings are free cheap Chablis. Yes, I’m THAT much of a philistine.
Jordan: The last time I showed was in a gallery called Hook Torture that was in a friend’s loft. For the opening, as a performance piece, there was a nude woman wearing frosting, lying on a table of fruit, and theoretically people were supposed to dip the frosting off her. In reality, though, it turned out to be more awkward than any of us expected.
Art noticed in an unlikely spot?
Clare: A perfect example are the Banksy graffiti pictures across London. I believe he uses stencils and spray can paint, and they’re fast and striking and bold. Now they’ve become part of the artistic heritage of London. One was recently peeled away from its wall, and someone tried to sell it! (it was returned in the end *g*)
Dev: I’ve always loved the troll under the Freemont Bridge in Seattle.
Jordan: The film Exit Through the Gift Shop made a lot of Americans more aware of Banksy. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in street art.
In the loft above the cafeteria in art school, someone drew a hand in pencil on one of the tables. There was something about the fit of the hand into the wrist that was so utterly right that I can see it in my mind’s eye to this day.
Your character’s favorite album cover art.
Clare: For Charles it would be David Bowie / Heroes
Dev: Gabe’s favorite album cover is Walkmen/Everyone Who Pretended to Like me is Gone
Jordan: David would’ve been a kid when Sticky Fingers by the Stones came out, but I think he’d appreciate the simplicity, the shock value, and the unexpected inclusion of the real zipper. I could see him flipping through a record collection as a pre-teen, pausing, taking it in, and thinking, “Hey, now.”
Your character’s favorite famous artist and how it differs from yours.
Clare: Charles’ would be Caravaggio / Amor Vincit Omnia.
I think that personally I tend to an easier on the eye, more fussy and romantic style like the pre-Raphaelites. But I like art to be striking, to make an emotional impact, to keep the eyes fascinated.
Dev: Gabe is very drawn to Andy Goldsworthy, the British nature artist. Goldsworthy makes beautiful, ephemeral art out of natural objects and Gabe is fascinated by the beauty and the transience of his work. I love his work, too, although I like things that last a little longer than a season.
Jordan: I think David prefers high-concept work that’s disturbing. Robert Rauschenberg would be one of his favorites. His tastes and mine are probably closely aligned since he’s one of the more autobiographical characters I’ve written.
Is it easier to make a living as a writer than an artist? (I imagine we’d all say yes since we’re all making money writing.)
Clare: I imagine so. All my art characters struggle with making a living at some stage or another. It’s either an external struggle, in that their art isn’t fashionable, or internal, in that they’ve lost their Muse.
Dev: Hmm. I know only a few artists OR writers who are making an actual living with their work. I have some close artist friends who threw themselves on the universe after their youngest got out of school and have been scraping by ever since. Along with Jordan, they’re my follow-your-bliss heros. In general, there’s simply not enough support for the arts so most of us need to keep our day job.
Jordan: My guess is that the nature of the end product determines how many potential customers you can have. If it takes me a year to write and publish a book, potentially thousands of people could buy it and I’d receive a few dollars from each of them. But if an artist creates twenty paintings as a year’s worth of work, they can only sell to twenty people, likely for a few hundred dollars apiece, if that…so it’s a matter of scale, I guess. Technically a visual artist could sell their images on stock photography sites to have a business model that’s closer to the way it works with authorship (larger audience/smaller cost) but the artists I suggested it to pooh poohed the idea.
I can’t think of anyone I know who supports themselves solely by making visual art. That’s a shame. Worse yet, most of the people I went to school with don’t make art at all anymore. The natural selection process can be brutal.
What’s your favorite color and what does it remind you of?
Clare: Purple. It feels richer than red, bolder than blue. It means sensuality to me.
Dev: Red, like fresh blood, vibrant and alive. Perhaps I’m more of a vampire than I’d like to believe.
Jordan: Black. It makes everything else pop. It reminds me of decisiveness.
ONCE AGAIN, WE’RE EACH GIVING AWAY A BOOK (CHECK THEM OUT BELOW). ENTER TO WIN BY LEAVING A COMMENT BEFORE MIDNIGHT 7/27. TALK TO US ABOUT ART, OR JUST TELL US YOUR FAVORITE COLOR AND WHAT IT REMINDS YOU OF.
PAINTING IN THE RAIN by Dev Bentham
Helping teenagers is tough. They face so many dangers – peer pressure, drugs, pregnancy, STDs. As a trained social worker, Mike knows all about it. He’s taken a temporary job on the Oregon coast working with at-risk kids. But when he meets Gabe, the father of one of his charges, he finds himself in another type of danger – that of falling in love and getting stuck in a small, conservative town, not to mention living with an angry teenager. And yet, he’s drawn to Gabe in a way he never imagined possible.
Gabe, whose own father left before he was born, stays in a town where he no longer feels welcome. He’s living the life of a lonely artist so that he can be a father to his son, a bond that’s been threatened by divorce and Gabe’s public coming out. When he meets Mike, Gabe is bowled over with a longing so deep that he finds himself willing to risk everything.
There are plenty of dangers in a small town. When a gay kid gets hurt and they refuse to leave him to his fate, Mike and Gabe may be risking more than their hearts.
BLINDED BY OUR EYES by Clare London
London art dealer Charles Garrett has devoted his life to appreciating beauty, both in art & in his companions. His fashionable life is rocked to the core when he discovers the body of a young artist, Paolo Valero, in a pool of blood in his gallery.
As Paolo’s mentor, Charles is haunted by the horror of his violent death. He investigates Paolo’s past & discovers a tangled web of motives & potential suspects, some closer to home than he ever imagined. He’s drawn to Antony Walker, an aggressive, handsome sculptor with unsavory ties to Paolo. Charles is unsettled by Antony’s forceful nature but irresistibly attracted to his passion. When the evidence points toward Antony’s guilt, Charles is thrown into emotional turmoil. Has he lost his heart to a killer?
SYMPATHY by Jordan Castillo Price
Fear takes many forms. As a child, Anthony Potosi was afraid of the Hook House, not because of the cheesy stories his older brothers attempted to terrorize him with, but the startling presence of gravestones he stumbled across in the abandoned Victorian’s overgrown yard.
It’s been ages since Tony has thought about the old place. As an adult, he’s had to deal with more immediate fears. The fear that he’d never recover from the accident that killed his father and shattered his pelvis was at the top of the list. Now that he can walk again, though, the fear that his brothers are edging him out of the family landscaping business seems more pressing…until he’s called to make a drop-off at the Hook House.
While delivering the order, Tony finds ceramicist David Dean living there, along with several dozen eerily expressive clay figures he’s sculpted. David has converted the weedy lot to native prairie, and the dilapidated stone outbuilding to a pottery studio. While he hasn’t worked his alchemy on the family plot, it’s no longer quite as daunting as Tony remembers. It’s nowhere near as frightening as getting physical with someone for the first time since his accident, especially with a body he’d presumed was broken beyond repair, and especially with someone as captivating as David. Tony finds that learning to open up again to trust, desire—and maybe even love—is far scarier than The Hook.
Title: Academic Pursuits
Author: Lou Harper
Publisher: Amber Allure
Length: 29k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: Lou Harper Week!, Hot College Daze collection, College, Playboy/Manslut, Straight Men, Multiple Partners, Awesome Female Characters, Art, Artists, Self-Discovery Focus
Rating: Pretty Good
Jamie Brennan is putting “cad” back into academia!
The son of a well-to-do family and blessed with both dark good looks and buckets of confidence, Jamie lives for the chase. He has a well-deserved reputation around college as a seducer of straight frat boys. No man is off-limits to Jamie—he’s happy to help fellow gay students out of the closet, too. He even has lustful designs on his oblivious English professor, so it’s no surprise that his amorous pursuits often land him in sticky situations.
There’s just one flaw in Jamie’s perfect world—Roger Hunt. The hunky grad student, who dresses more like a lumberjack than the talented artist he is, gives Jamie hostile looks every time their paths cross. Jamie tries to ignore Roger, but they can’t seem to stop running into each other, and Jamie’s beginning to wonder if it’s more than chance that continues to steer them down the same halls…
The reviews are coming… slowly! But I’m getting there, slowly but surely 😉 I have to admit that this was one of the books that I read back in May when I decided to review Lou Harper’s backlist that I read immediately because I already had it and then promptly forgot to review it. I had an oopsie moment this week when I started to write the review because I’ve read so many college themed stories in the past few months that I wanted to be sure I completely remembered everything. And that’s kindof a big deal when you think back to how well you remember books that you’ve read because how much you remember the book and how you felt about it says what impact it makes on you. So when I opened the book again for a little refresher read, it immediately came storming back to me.
I wrote a review yesterday for Hanging Loose where I talked quite a bit about my happiness that that book took the plot completely through the romance, instead of stopping early on in their relationship. Of course, there is an exception to every rule — no author or book is the same. But, I’ve read quite a few books that just take the story up to the honeymoon phase and then leave things at that, and my disappointment when at that point the book often feels unfinished. Academic Pursuits is the one major exception to that, in that this book is really about self-discovery over the romance and your feelings about this book will most likely depend entirely on how you like Jamie. We first meet him while he’s initiating Hollins, another straight frat boy, into the joys of gay sex, something he’s grown quite the reputation for. But Jamie isn’t really that great at reading situations or people, which shows in his ignorance of how some people at his college view his promiscuity. And the promiscuity really suits Jamie just fine. He loves sex and he’s rather charming and good looking, and he certainly makes no mistake about what sex with him entails. In fact, he often makes sure that he’s not leading a guy along. He makes no excuses because he’s rather happy with his life and the way he lives it. It isn’t really until he meets Roger that those perceptions start to change. At first, all he knows about Roger is that the man seems to hate him, which is a shame because the artist is really pretty sexy. It isn’t until the two run into each other enough to finally really start getting to know the other, when they can break down the facade they both see in the other.
I really kindof liked Jamie because he’s so at home in his skin. He makes no secret of his sexual liaisons nor his intentions. He isn’t playing anyone. He just likes sex and has no need to settle down. Nor has he met anyone yet that he feels that way about. I totally got that. But that also means that he has sex with multiple partners, even after he’s met Roger. So for those who really like their main characters to stick with each other and to have a pretty pure romance plot, this might not be your book. For most of the book, he and Roger aren’t together. The course of their romance on-page is in the barely getting to know you’s, and then later in the book Jamie’s change in perception about his feelings for Roger, what that means for him, and his understanding about Roger’s perception of him. This really is a book of self-discovery. Jamie is spending his college years having casual sex and it is only with serious feelings for someone that he starts to understand how others might have viewed him, and also how he wants to change. Not really because his behavior was bad, but because it just doesn’t suit him anymore.
I’ll let you discover the details yourself, but there’s a lot else in this book to like, like his cousin/roommate Jo who is totally awesome, and his own matchmaking efforts for her and for some of his conquests. And you know, for a guy in college, his sexual portrayal is pretty spot-on, you know? The whole reputation as a seducer of straight frat boys might put a funny spin on the situation, but I liked that this was a pretty accurate portrayal of college life.
So, don’t miss out on this one folks. It’s pretty short at 29k words and it’s a fun read. And I didn’t even feel like I needed a sequel!
Posted by Cole in 16-40k, 4 Pretty Good, Authors G-I, Contemporary, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Romance, Sex Freq 4 - Very Often Tags: Amber Allure, Art, Artists, Awesome Female Characters, College, Hot College Daze collection, Lou Harper, Lou Harper Week!, Multiple/Other Partners, Playboys, Self-Discovery Focus, Straight Men