*Click the covers to be taken to the story/purchase info. Further info at the bottom of the post.
**”On the Stoop”, the DSP Halloween Howl story, is currently unavailable.
When I decided to review Kate McMurray’s backlist, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget any shorts. And while there aren’t many, when I did start making my list of the books I needed to read and to re-read, I decided that I’d go ahead and just do all of them. There are a very short list of short stories, most of them free. So, at the very least this is a good place for someone unfamiliar with this author to decide if they like her style and writing.
Also, I find it interesting to read short stories written by this author, who is definitely more well known for her novels. Both Kindling Fire for Snow and her newest, Save the Date, are shorter than most (the first at around 20k and the latter at around 33k words), but they aren’t really short stories either, which is a completely different style of writing in some ways. Some authors are terrible at writing shorts but write completely incredible novels, and vice versa. Of course, that’s mostly in the literary genre because short stories are much more valued there, but I always find it interesting to see how an m/m author I like transitions to writing shorts. And even though I’d read quite a few of Kate’s books, I had surprisingly read none of her short stories.
I started with the two that I already had: A Walk in the Dark (part of the 2011 Dreamspinner Advent Calendar) and Lead Us Not (one of the M/M Romance Group’s 2012 Love is Always Write stories). And… I can’t believe it but I loved them both. In fact, I think that this might be where Kate’s background in literature and literary fiction (mostly as a reader, as she said in her interview with me two days ago).
A Walk in the Dark tells the story of Jared’s unrequited love for his best friend and roommate’s boyfriend Brandon. Rex, Jared’s roommate, is a bit of a player, but in the way only best friends can still loves him and sees his good qualities no matter how much he hates seeing the guy he loves being dicked around and very possibly cheated on. I thought that the story did what it really needed to without giving us too much more, which is one of my biggest problems with short stories — when they try to be novels in disguise. The characters came through for me in a real way because of the awkward position they’re in and the story is good for the season, a sweet HEA for Christmas. I give it a Pretty Good.
Lead Us Not was really the surprise for me. I remember seeing the prompt that Kate chose and looking forward to reading the story, but somewhere in there I missed it and haven’t thought much about it since then. The prompt asks for a story about two actors and boyfriends who’ve moved to NYC to pursue their dreams and the temptations they face in order to get to their HEA. The story Kate gave us was simply beautiful, in emotion and in craft. Written in alternating first person between Sam and Jess, they each tell us about their own lives in NYC and how they’ve grown and moved from the naive boyfriends who moved there several years ago, two of them against the world. They recount how their lives have started to diverge and how no matter how much each still loves the other, how much doubt can harm a relationship. The temptations offered are in the form of two other guys, catalysts who seem to be a sounding board for all of their doubts about themselves, each other and their careers, which for both are going in directions they never really expected. The beauty of the story is how Kate shows us such a sweet love story without pulling punches. It’s a much more true to real life story than many sugarcoated fantasies in the romance genre and that gave it a real ring of authenticity that makes their hard-won HEA really worth it. I’ve only given Kate one 5-star review in the past, for Out in the Field, but this is my second. I Loved It. And it’s free!
The remaining two stories are both free stories. “In December My Heart’s Full of Spring” is currently available for download and read here, on Kate’s website. “On the Stoop”, the story that was released in October as part of the Dreamspinner Halloween Howls, is currently unavailable from their website, but is also up for download at Kate’s website.
Both stories are much shorter than the previous two. “On the Stoop” is the story of a recent transplant to NYC from St. Louis, a man who seeing the differences between Halloween celebrations in New York are different from his childhood in the suburbs in the midwest feels that they only reflect how out of place he feels. When he meets a cute guy sitting on his stoop in his neighborhood handing out candy to passing kids, he sits and talks and finally feels like he’s made a friend, or something more that could give him hope that he could call the city home. This was a cute, no-sex story. It’s quite short and doesn’t have a whole lot going on, but I still felt like Adrian was developed well for a story of this length. Because there isn’t a whole lot going on, I couldn’t really love it, though it was a nice read. So this one gets a cute So So 😉
And lastly, “In December My Heart’s Full of Spring” is the story of two men who meet at the top of the Empire State building on a lonely Christmas Eve. Both are at low points in their lives and seeing an old friend who they hadn’t seen in years gives them the energy to get through the night together when they thought they’d have to spend it alone and depressed. That night leads to a bonding between the two of them and eventually, more… I felt similarly about this story as I felt about “On the Stoop”, though where that story had less actual plot, I felt like this story actually had quite a bit going on. If Goodreads is right and this was made available (in whatever form) in 2009, that makes this one of Kate’s first public stories. I could see some of that in the writing. Perhaps the meeting atop the Empire State Building is a bit cliché, but the story quickly moves on and developed two really good characters, which showed me that Kate has a natural talent for writing realistic characters, even if her writing might have improved some over the intervening years. This one gets a So So as well.
For anyone interested, Dreamspinner recently published a free sequel short about Four Corner characters Jake and Adam’s anniversary on the DSP Blog, called “Shortstop.” I talked a bit about it (it’s cute!) in my review of Four Corners the other day. Here’s the link for anyone interested in read it.
Well, sadly that ends Kate McMurray Week 😦 I hope all of you enjoyed taking a tour through her books with me and also enjoyed our interview on Thursday. Remember, comment on the interview before Midnight, Tuesday June 11th for a chance to win a copy of her book, Save the Date!
Next Up: I do the same with Lou Harper the last week of June. I’ll be reviewing her entire backlist and interviewing her as well as talking about her upcoming book, Dead Man and the Restless Spirits, about Denton from Spirit Sanguine, available on June 25th. I hope you’ll join me for that!
Posted by Cole in 3 So So, 4 Pretty Good, 6 LOVE IT!, Authors M-O, Contemporary, Heat 1 - Sweet/None, Heat 2 - Romantic & Tame, Romance, Sex Freq 1 - None, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between, up to 15k Tags: 2012 - Love is Always Write, Actor, Best Friends, Christmas, Dreamspinner Press, DSP Halloween Howl, Existing Relationship, Free Reads, Grief, Halloween, Kate McMurray, Kate McMurray Week!, M/M GoodReads Group, Models, NYC, Previously Online Fic, Self Published, Short Story, Unrequited Love
Title: Houseboat on the Nile, Not My Spook!, Forever (Spy vs. Spook #1-3)
Length: 126,649 words, 106,283 words, & 128,971 words (respectively)
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty (Overall)
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex (Overall)
Keywords/Tags: Series, Spy vs. Spook, Spies/Agents, Enemies to Lovers, Previously Online Fic
Rating: Pretty Good
Houseboat on the Nile
Mark Vincent is WBIS—Washington Bureau of Intelligence and Security. Quinton Mann is staunchly CIA. Mark thinks the CIA is full of dilettantes who leave him and the rest of the WBIS to clean up their messes. Quinn thinks most WBIS agents are sociopathic loose cannons. So they don’t exactly get along.
Of course, just because they don’t like each other doesn’t mean they can’t play mind games on each other. Or sleep together. But when an explosion at Mark’s apartment sends Quinn to the morgue to ID a body, he has to reevaluate his position on denial.
Not My Spook!
Highly ranked CIA officer Quinton Mann finds himself in a relationship with Mark Vincent—for exactly five days. At that point, Mark uses the excuse of going to Massachusetts for his mother’s funeral to end it. But Quinn’s a spook, and you can’t fake a faker. Mark fears he’s getting in too deep with Quinn, hence the disappearing act. Then Quinn does something unexpected, something nobody has ever done before: he comes after Mark. Maybe being in a relationship with Quinn isn’t such a bad idea. In the meantime, something strange is going on in the intelligence community worldwide. When Quinn disappears while investigating a rogue antiterrorist organization, Mark makes up his mind. Quinn might be a spook, but he’s Mark’s spook, damn it—and once he gets Quinn home, he intends to keep him. He just has to find him first.
Lately, life is both sweet and sour for intelligence operatives Mark Vincent and Quinton Mann. The sweet is they’re settling into a relationship; Mark has found a condo in Alexandria with the help of Quinn’s mother, Portia; and Mark and Quinn are looking forward to spending the holidays in the Caribbean. As for the sour, something shadier than usual is going on at Langley. Useless missions and sleepless nights are leaving Quinn exhausted, and then Portia’s life is threatened. When Quinn discovers the accident was no accident and the egomaniacal Senator Wexler is involved, he’s out for blood. To this point, Mark has stayed out of Quinn’s CIA business. But hurting Quinn and those he loves isn’t on the table, so at Mark’s instigation, they set out together to deal with Wexler. The only catch: it’s the first time Quinn will see Mark at his deadly best, and Mark isn’t sure how his lover will react.
For weeks, I’ve had a plan to read the first of this series, Houseboat on the Nile with my awesome friend and reading buddy Laddie, and then just that week, I got so sick. That was last week, by the way. I didn’t know if I’d be in the mood to read these at all. I had a fever and a hard time concentrating. But then, it worked out perfectly. I spend several days reading this whole series, back to back. I couldn’t put them down, really. I had to know what happened to Quinn and Mark.
I did have some trouble getting into them. My cold medicine soaked brain was not up to deciphering complicated plots and a whole shitload of characters and their names. That’s how I thought this was going to be, and indeed the first 30k to 40k of the first book was just like that. But, then it all seemed to click for me, and I really got into them. I was almost glad I had the excuse of being sick and didn’t have to do anything more than lay around and read this series to my heart’s content. And the good thing, is that combined, they’re about 360k words — a very good chunk that you can spend time getting into!
The basis of the story is the rivalry between the various government agencies in DC. Set in 2002, the story switches point of view between several characters, but mostly between two men — Mark Vincent and Quinton Mann. Mark is a WBIS senior agent and most think him a loose cannon. Actually, they’re all afraid of him. His bureau is known for their unusual tactics, and Mark Vincent is the best of the best. Quinn is a CIA director and just as well known for his family and all around class as his success in his career. He’s just one in a long line of government operatives, including his mother Portia, who was a code breaker for NSA during the Cold War. They’re both extraordinary men, and by nature of the organizations they work for, hate each other.
When Mann finds out that Vincent has been doing a little snooping into his past, he sets out to up the ante, but the result is that they both find they have an extreme sexual attraction to one another. Is it real? Or is it a game to one up the other? Neither can quite figure it out, but they know they can’t stop.
At it’s heart, this is a really wonderful story. Mostly, that comes from these two characters their their chemistry, which is incredibly hot. The games they play on each other are hilarious, and I loved seeing them slowly come together and realize that they have actual feelings for each other. Watching them maneuver the minefield if their intelligence careers while trying to carry on a clandestine relationship was the best part of this story. I would read their books forever and wished that they went on and on and on.
But, I also can’t deny that these books are riddled with problems. Knowing ahead of time that these were previously one book of original online fiction, helped me to realize where the problem was, or else I might have been really confused. Now, I haven’t read that original book which was called Mann of My Dreams, but it seems to me from reading these released by Dreamspinner that they most likely weren’t changed very much. And that is a problem — they still read like online fiction. And while they’re good, they could have been great, with a really smart and exacting editor to bring them new life. The biggest problem with the published books is the repetition, which I have heard others complain about as well. And it isn’t just the style of the writing, which takes both characters point of view and shows the same events, over and over. While tiring at some points (because this series would have been at least half the length, otherwise), that didn’t bother me too much. I embraced the style and ran with it. But, there is a lot of other repetition within that should have been cut — whole paragraphs reminding us what happened a few chapters ago and whole scenes that are repeated to remind us, but 5 to 6 times over the whole series. It is one thing to remind us in the beginning of a sequel the few key points that happened in the first book, not everyone reads the books back to back like I did, I understand that. But, that is something from the online fiction that should have been cut. We aren’t reading this an online serial, so we don’t need to be reminded of things that happened, which online, we might have read several months or even years ago.
It was fundamental problems like that that really bothered me. Not just mistakes, but glaring problems. I ended up feeling that I might as well have just read them online for free if they had all that. So while I absolutely loved the story and adored the characters, I found the writing fundamentally flawed, which really affected my enjoyment of the story. I had hoped that some of these things might get better with each subsequent book — after all, I read these types of comments on each book page at Goodreads and thought they might influence how the later books were edited, but not. I didn’t see any difference, which made me a little sad.
I wholeheartedly recommend this series, but, I will warn you to brace yourself to be at least a little annoyed. If I were rating these books based solely on how much I loved the plot and characters, it would easily get a Loved It! rating, but since I’m not, especially since I felt there should have been more changes since this was an online book that the author then published, I had to lower the rating for all three books to just Pretty Good.
Have any of you read these books? What did you think?
Posted by Cole in 126k+, 4 Pretty Good, Authors S-U, Contemporary, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Romance, Sex Freq 3 - Average Story to Sex Tags: Agents, Dreamspinner Press, Enemies to Lovers, Previously Online Fic, Series, Spy vs. Spook, Tinnean