Coin Tricks by Willow Scarlett (review)

Tagline: Big, bad bouncer and the waifish twink encounter life, family, and each other

Coin Tricks Book Cover

Title: Coin Tricks

Genre:  Contemporary M/M Romance
Format:  Novel (71k words)

Sites:  Goodreads | Amazon

Publisher: Self-published (Feb. 2016)
ISBN: 9781311339621

Retail: $4.99

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
Sweet, slowly developing but truly heartfelt friendship between opposites in a complicated, economically struggling, life-loving, and a bit exotic setting
Synopsis: Wiremu is a very large bouncer and security guard who catches Sid when the skinny, young gay man attempts to shoplift from his superstore.  The oversized Maori draws upon the support of his extended (but also a bit divided) family when he discovers just what desperate straights face the small, freckled red-head. Sid is too proud to accept much charity for himself and the little girl in his charge, but the big man persists in trying to befriend the library assistant. Can two young gay men who appear to be opposites in almost every way find trust, friendship, and possibly more?  It might take a trick or two, or perhaps a bit of magic, too overcome their differences.
Review: This is a story of a developing relationship between very different men – a huge, native Maori, rugby-playing tough guy versus a quiet, effeminate library assistant who loves magic.  The strength of the writing explores Wiremu’s careful concern for a vulnerable young guy along with his internal struggle to provide help, friendship, and more without scaring the vulnerable man away. I appreciated the struggle of a very strong guy with uber-tough,  homophobic, and hyper-masculine role models coming to grips with his own sweet and gentle center.  His care for a sometimes swishy, troubled, and earnest “twink-like” waif of a man made for a compelling if sometimes a little slow moving read.
The story is set in Auckland, New Zealand and significantly incorporates the protagonist’s native/indigenous family culture, and the dialog is sprinkled with Maori terms. The cross-cultural aspect was very significant but just one of many interesting themes explored, including abandonment, isolated nuclear versus extended family environments, gender issues, homophobia, and difficulties in trusting due to a history of abuse. This jumble of (sometimes conflicting) ideas and feelings creates multi-dimensional and imperfect characters working their way through their coming-of-age, shouldering of adult responsibility, and budding relationships. The role of magic is sometimes subtle but almost always present, from mundane coin tricks and slight of hand diversions to the enchantments cast by true friendship, family, and love. Overall, the author explores a nice array of emotions and hesitancies in this short, sweet, and caring story about two young gay men trying to make it in a sometimes hostile world.
Recommended for:  readers who like a very gentle and sweet, personal story of friendship and possible romance between two young but very different gay men; those looking for “comfort” read with a theme of rescue from abuse; fans of family settings for LGBT stories.


Heat:  fire fire  (some explicit sizzle) – This book is centered on building trust and friendship, with romantic feelings definitely present but almost secondary.  There are two scenes of appropriate but explicit intimacy, just crossing the line to “Adult Romance” for me.

Passion – heart heart heart heart  (passionate friendship turning into something more) – More about friendship and trust, the chemistry between the two seemed real, the magic between them slowly building.  (I found the sexual tension to be underplayed.  I would have expected the long, celibate delay – between young men at their hormonal peak who sometimes shared a room and a bed – would have kept both of them much more on edge than seemed to be described.  However, this was a story more about the magic of trust and friendship and love than the passion between the sheets.)

Other Comments (with a minor spoiler):

Although it was touched on fairly briefly, I greatly appreciated Sid’s “admission” of his gender fluid identity.   His fear of rejection for sometimes acting effeminate and also embracing the feminine side of himself struck me as incredibly genuine and authentic to the real world.  The acceptance from a large, tough man like Wiremu, especially given his masculine role models, was touching and comforting.

The dialog includes a smattering of interesting Maori terms, hyperlinked to definitions in an appendix. The linking mostly worked in my epub copy using the iBooks reader on an iPad. Other reviewers have indicated the linking may be problematic using other formats/applications/platforms.

The summary for this story on various book sites call Sid a librarian, but within the book the description of his position (and his economic hardship) seem to indicate he’s a library assistant (I.e., he works in a library, but doesn’t have the full, advanced degree need to be a professional librarian). Overall, it’s not a big deal, but it’s similar to calling anyone who works in a medical office a doctor or a nurse, even when there are plenty of medical assistants, orderlies, office attendants, etc., who provide some level of service. I expect and don’t particularly mind when the general public lumps everybody together (e.g. anyone who works in a library must be a librarian, just like anyone who provides assistance in a medical office must be a nurse, etc.). I do appreciate it and generally expect authors (or in this case, perhaps a publicist) to be accurate about these types of details. (From what I can tell, New Zealand has advanced qualifications for someone to be a professional librarian like the U.S., U.K., and Australia do.)

Themes include homophobia, friends to lovers, gender fluidity, effeminate gay men, magic and magicians, family, siblings.


Be My Queen by RayeAnn Carter (review)

Be My Queen Book Cover

Title: Be My Queen
Author: RayeAnn Carter
Genre:  Transgender Romance
Format:  Novella (38k words /114 pages)
Sites: Publisher | Goodreads | Amazon

Publisher: Less Than Three Press  (April 2015)
ISBN: 978162045268

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Tagline:  Handsome bi guy slings into town and sweeps transgendered heroine off her feet

This was a relatively simple, short, and extremely sweet novella regarding a handsome bisexual guy sliding into town and sweeping a young transgendered woman off her feet. It was a quick, nicely escapist, and rather straightforward contemporary romance.  Lavender, the heroine, displayed a nice combination of nervousness, excitement, and pragmatic (if perhaps a bit jaundiced) expectations.  Her struggles with issues related to her physical and mental health, including the safety of living with supportive friends which also exposed her to their tribulations, injected both some obstacles to overcome and at least a little bit of “realism” in the otherwise fairy tale feel of the romance. Diego was a bit of an over-the-top hero, but his “love at first sight” ridiculousness worked just fine in a nicely saccharine story.

Overall, I enjoyed this as a wonderful little “feel good” romance that has protagonists who could use more love and representation in fiction (as well as in non-fiction and real life visibility). It’s fantastic to have a transgendered heroine, which is clearly the draw of this piece, but I was also pleased to read a fun story with a fully realized (i.e. not confused or experimenting) bisexual character.


Caught! (The Shamwell Tales #1)


Title:  Caught!
Author: J.L. Merrow
Genre:  Male/male romance
Book info: Publisher | Goodreads | Author
Format: eBook Novel (276 pages)
Publisher: Samhain (August 2014)
ISBN: 9781619222250

Overall rating:   5 stars (out of five)

Tagline: The working bloke and the semi-posh academic – an English village romance (with bow ties!)

I connected with this story so much I’m going to diverge from my normally objective(ish), prose-only, semi-analytical reviews and range to something more personal…

O.k., I will start with my typical, objective(ish) review:

JL Merrow gives us a another simple, semi-geeky, English romance, this one focused on a recently-arrived educated, “semi-posh” teacher who falls for a sexy, working-class bloke. At its core, this is a mostly sweet and tender story that will have appeal to Anglophiles, cross-class romance enthusiasts, Doctor Who aficionados, and, most especially, bow tie lovers. That being said, the narration centers on the attraction, vulnerabilities, and insecurities of “Emsy” (Rob), and readers who find his yearnings and fears to be compelling should find this to be an entertaining and endearing romance. However, those who find a geeky character’s self-sabotage because of his insecurities and past betrayals to be annoying may not be as appreciative.

There was a fair amount of erotic tension built, although overall there was relatively little sex (and most of it was off-book), but…

My totally subjective, over-the-top, personal “oh-my-god-yes!” for this story:

…but several “missed” opportunities that built the sexual tension led to an erotic scene that eventually blew me away.

First of all, Sean the hard-working, council estates guy (American = blue collar guy from the “other side of the tracks” or “housing projects”), and the author’s hints at his accent just makes me melt.

Also, this average bloke really appreciates that Rob (Emsy) resembles Matt Smith as Doctor Who…

Matt Smith as Doctor Who
…which already raises the heat for me (on both ends).

Studly Sean also repeatedly expresses his appreciation for Emsy’s bow ties, even (and especially) when things get hot and heavy, so that’s a definite yes…

Sexy Bow tie

…as I love all types of bow ties on a man.

But what really took me over the edge was a sizzling scene where Sean began leering, lusting and almost panting over…

Matt Smith's Doctor wearing braces

…Emsy’s braces (suspenders).

It was just a few words, but it was hotter than hell for me.

Way too personal reasons why I liked it so much…
Years ago, I wore suspenders most of the time, until I entered a very seriously relationship with a rather dashing and fashionable Cubano. Miguel significantly upgraded my wardrobe and style as we frequented the hottest, most stylish clubs and gay nightspots in Chicago. Years and a relationship or two later, I married my wife who thinks things like suspenders (and plenty of my other nerdy characteristics) are dead sexy. For me, the lesson is true love is so much more likely with a person who appreciates you for being you – like Sean usually does of Emsy.

More personal experiences related to Caught!

So after reading Caught!, I went out and bought my first pair of suspenders in years, as my wife is someone who will really appreciate me wearing them. (Or maybe I’ll ask my wife to wear them and see if I can’t pull off one of those sexy accents – “Oi! ’bout time sum’un likes braces, innit?” )

And more – After being surrounded several times in football-related mini-riots when I lived in Britain, English hooligans intimidate me as much as the rougher edges of the south side of Chicago (which I experienced first hand for many years when growing up). On the one hand, I enjoy “street” or working class accents, as those sounds seem to re-connect me to the “real” life outside of my academic ivory tower. However, when I combine the sound of those accents with gay or geeky ideas running through my mind, I have a visceral, fearful, “run and hide” reaction based on too many years of intimidating and violent incidents.

So the scene in Caught! of a working class bloke panting over braces, well it just takes some of my most ingrained, deep-seated terrors and turns them into something incredibly sexy… how many books do that?

Joey and the Fox by Hollis Shiloh

Joey and the Fox Book Cover

Title: Joey and the Fox
Author: Hollis Shiloh
Genre:  Male/male romance
Format:  Novel (238 pages)
SitesGoodreads | Amazon
Series: Shifters and Partners #3
Publisher: Spare Words Press (Mar. 2015)
ISBN: 9781508596233

Bonus: Kindle Unlimited title

4 stars (out of 5)

Tagline:  Traumatized fox shifter too cute for the gruff, homophobic Cop

While this series would seem to be right up my alley, the first two installments were not well reviewed, so I skipped them.  However, based on recommendations from friends, I took the plunge on this one and I’m glad I did.

For those who like cute shifter animals, this book has this “cuteness” in spades.   The traumatized little fox at the center of the story had such an “awww” factor for me it made the entire book.  The story itself was fine, and the characters interesting enough, with a homophobic cop being a nice foil for the emotionally wounded and very gay fox shifter.  The result is a Gay for You tale wrapped into the “Shifters and Partners” world, neither of which are my favorite themes, but Joey the gruff cop’s protectiveness worked nicely with the adorable, hyperactive fox.  There was just enough conflict to be interesting without overwhelming.

The weakest part of the book for me involved the other characters in the Shifters and Partner’s series.  The couples from the first two books seemed interesting yet contradictory and not always well-written, on the one hand piquing my curiosity a bit but not enough to put them at the top of my “to read” list.  But Dylan the red-head/red fox was an uber-adorable hyper-ness that worked very well for me.