Thursday, March 20, 2014

Boys, Be Ambitious! by Saburo Nagai

Quick Rating: A

Purchase: Sublime Manga

Blurb: When gorgeous transfer student Kazuma moves in to the ramshackle Akeboshi High Boys' Dorm #2, he immediately attracts the interest of resident airhead-with-a-heart-of-gold Masaji. Kazuma relentlessly rebuffs and abuses the other boy, but Masaji refuses to give up! After all, he just wants to be friends. Determined (for some reason?) to keep trying, Masaji chips away at Kazuma's abrasive aura, but could this sweet-and-sour feeling be what he thinks it is?! A super go-get-'em boy and a hot-and-cold beauty in a coming-of-age rom-com that includes a cast of colorful characters!

Review: Boys, Be Ambitious is HILARIOUS. And palate cleansing, after a streak of simpering schoolboy romances. There's a lot of physical comedy and jokes, and I was left wanting MORE. 

You'll see some people comment that the story relies heavily on humor and doesn't have much else going for it, and there's no explicit scenes or sex. And those are valid reasons to not like this comic, okay. Buuut, I have to admit that I liked this comic more than most of the Miki Araya and Sakurai Shushushu comics I've read. Sometimes their comedy went over my head, or I didn't find it very funny, but Saburo Nagai's work really hit the mark for me.

Hope someone licenses Smells Like Teen Spirit. Boys, Be Ambitious is a great introduction to Saburo Nagai, but Smells Like Teen Spirit showcases the real bread and butter of her craft!

Disclaimer: none

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Castle Mango 2 by Narise Konohara and Muku Ogura

Quick Rating: A+

Purchase: Amazon

Blurb: Ever since he spotted Yorozu with a girl at the fireworks display, Togame has put distance between Yorozu and himself. Yorozu is already anxious because of Togame’s abrupt curtness when his mother suddenly collapses. Yorozu secretly manages the love hotel, worried about his family’s finances. And as if that wasn't enough... his precious hotel burns down?! 

It’s the moving conclusion to the story of two reluctant lovers who won't face their feelings for each other.

Review: Hope you're wearing waterproof mascara when you read this one ladies and gents, it's a tearjerker. It's no secret, if you've read many of Konohara Narise's novels, that she likes to give her characters shitty lives. Fortunately for this book, the characters' painful pasts are redeemed through the power of love. (Or are they?) Ogura Muku's illustrations were emotionally compelling yet still cute and beautifully drawn. 

Yorozu wasn't my favorite character in the first volume, but his actions to help his family and come clean about why he started dating Togame in the second forced me to like and become invested in him. Togame brings out his emotionally stunted schtick in volume two, but who could blame him once you hear his whole ugly background. Especially his reasoning that he should give Yorozu the chance to grow up and be a conventional salaryman or whatnot. Tsundere boys, two please.

And the way Yorozu can't take a hint when Togame begins to distance himself, wow. Cue the waterworks. Despite Togame trying hard to enforce the distance, he can't help but step in and help Yorozu when he's making bad choices and/or when tragedy strikes.

Even the bits between Togame and Yorozu's brother got to me. The little guy is drawn with such cute facial expressions, and their scenes together are very touching. At the same time I was crying a little inside for Togame's little brother. 

My only nitpicks would be that we don't get to see much of a HEA for these characters. It's a shame that they couldn't squeeze a third volume out of Castle Mango. :(

Crossing my fingers for River's End novel to be licensed and released! It'd be wonderful to read more of Togame's sob story tbh.

Disclaimer: none

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Shock & Awe by Abigail Roux

Quick Rating: B

Purchase: Amazon

Blurb: After barely surviving a shootout in New Orleans, Sidewinder medic Kelly Abbott has to suffer through a month of recovery before he can return home to Colorado. He’s not surprised when fellow Sidewinder Nick O’Flaherty stays with him in New Orleans. Nor is he surprised when Nick travels home with him to help him get back on his feet—after all, years on the same Marine Force Recon team bonded the men in ways that only bleeding for a brother can. He’s very surprised, though, when Nick humors his moment of curiosity and kisses him.

Nick knows all of Kelly’s quirks and caprices, so the kiss was a low-risk move on his part . . . or so he thought. But what should’ve been a simple moment unleashes a flood of confusing emotions and urges that neither man is prepared to address.

Now, Kelly and Nick must figure out what they mean to each other—friends and brothers in arms, or something even deeper?—before the past can come back to ruin their tenuous future.

Review: This little Sidewinder story. There's plenty 'will they, won't they' tension following an incendiary first kiss between Kelly and Nick. But things go downhill swiftly. There's a lot of implied background we readers aren't privy to, and without that context to understand their actions, motivations, reactions, I found myself disengaged. It was sorely lacking in the um, for lack of better description, sparkly shit that makes the Cut & Run series so great to me. Without that connection- understanding, passion, what have you- it read cheesy. Like a bow chika wow wow porno.

Disclaimer: none

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Skin Lane by Neil Bartlett

Quick Rating: B

Purchase: Amazon

Blurb: At forty-seven, Mr. F’s working life on London’s Skin Lane is one governed by calm, precision, and routine. So when he starts to have recurring nightmares, he does his best to ignore them. The images that appear in his dreams are disturbing—Mr. F can’t think of where they have come from. After all, he’s an ordinary middle-aged man.
As London’s backstreets begin to swelter in the long, hot summer of 1967, Mr. F’s nightmares become an obsession. A chance encounter adds a face to the body that nightly haunts him, and the torments of his restless nights lead him—and the reader—deeper into a terrifying labyrinth of rage, desire, and shame.
Part fairy-tale, part compelling evocation of a now-lost London, this is Neil Bartlett’s fiercest piece of writing yet: cruel, erotic, and tender.
Review: This is the third book I've read that features London and its trains... probably the most haunting of them all.

A study of isolation and obsession, and love (or the absence of it). With a powerfully satisfying ending. Nothing turned out as I'd assumed it would. Thankfully. 

The narrator was pervasive, without the book would have lost its eerie atmosphere. Can't say I'd change anything about the novel, but the narration was incredibly intrusive and that level of self awareness made it difficult for me to fully immerse myself in the story.

Disclaimer: none

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Map of the Harbor Islands by J.G. Hayes

Quick Rating: A+

Purchase: Amazon

Blurb: "A Map of the Harbor Islands" is the long-awaited novel from J G Hayes. This book charts the turbulent life courses of two South Boston friends, Danny O'Connor and Petey Harding, from their childhoods through their adult lives. 'Golden Boy' Petey has it all going for him - grains, charisma and his close friendship with Danny. Then, an accident on the baseball field changes everything. Petey wake from a coma a different person, completely different from the boy Danny knew and loved. When Peter confesses that he is gay, it sends Danny on an odyssey he never dreamed could happen.

Review: This book calls to mind a loving mixture of A Prayer for Owen Meany and the gay classic At Swim, Two Boys. It's a work of real literary merit with its beautiful, luscious prose that meanders slowly through one of the most heartrending tales of friendship and love I have ever read. Danny and Petey's friendship develops through the book in hand-picked events from grade school to their early thirties. Their love story is slowly strengthened through the discovery of Petey's "otherness" and seemingly forever unrequited love of Danny. As Danny struggles to come to terms with Petey's sexuality, Danny begins to question his own. From there the book's all close misses at mutual love and happiness. Only at the end of the book, when the narration finally reaches a present-time setting, do the two arrive at the same place. 

[Spoiler: Unfortunately the book never explicitly states that Petey and Danny ride off into the sunset together, but the book leaves the reader with such abiding hope that you could paint their lives after the book ends as vividly as if the story continued.]

Disclaimer: none

Monday, March 10, 2014

Endless Game by Gengoroh Tagame

Quick Rating: B

Purchase: Amazon

Blurb: Gengoroh Tagame is one of the stars of manga. His stories are among the best in this genre and until recently have only been published in Japanese. Bruno Gmunder is pleased to publish two of them in English for audiences around the globe. - Gengoroh Tagame is one of most succesful artists of bara-manga. - In May 2013, a compilation of his work was published successfully in English for the first time. - His work explores the issues of men's sexuality, domination, and submission. Trend: Adult comics.

Review: Endless Game is light on story but full of hot, raunchy sex. I felt like I was checking off a list of how many sexual scenarios, positions, and toys could be fit into the pages of one volume. Very steamy, very well drawn. 

Going from memory, here are some things that happen in the comic: rimming, double penetration, backroom sex, sex for money, multiple partners, vibrator wands, anal beads, dildos, nipple clamps... even sexy go-go boy dancing.

There was a surprising amount of colored art. Enjoyed that, and the continuity of this volume much more than The Passion, but at the pricepoint ($25-35) I can't recommend Endless Game to anyone but a diehard fan.

Very minimal complaint: I was annoyed with the way sound effects were handled.

Disclaimer: none

Ball & Chain by Abigail Roux

Quick Rating: A

Purchase: Amazon

Blurb: Home from their unexpected deployment, the former members of Marine Force Recon team Sidewinder rejoin their loved ones and try to pick up the pieces of the lives they were forced to leave behind. Ty Grady comes home to Zane Garrett, only to find that everything around him has changed—even the men he went to war with. He barely has time to adjust before his brother, Deuce, asks Ty to be his best man. But that isn’t all Deuce asks Ty to do, and Ty must call for backup to deal with the business issues of Deuce’s future father-in-law.

Nick O’Flaherty and Kelly Abbott join Ty and Zane at the wedding on an island in Scotland, thinking they’re there to assuage Deuce’s paranoia. But when bodies start dropping and boats start sinking, the four men get more involved with the festivities than they’d ever planned to.

With the clock ticking and the killer just as stuck on the isolated island as they are, Ty and Zane must navigate a veritable minefield of family, friends, and foes to stop the whole island from being destroyed.

Review: Another C&R installment has come and gone. I didn't pay attention to the hype so much this time around on the author's social media sites, and the book was better for it.

There was a huge cast of characters in this book, stuck on an island in Scotland for Deuce's wedding. Spoiler: Did anyone notice that they didn't even get married on the flipping island? GEEZ. 

Zane and Ty's relationship remained solid this time around. Spoiler: Despite the fact that Zane repeatedly said no to Ty's marriage proposals. I cannot tell you how satisfying it was to see Ty get shot down so many times, it almost made up for that shit show in New Orleans. Almost.

Kelly and Nick revealed their relationship, which served a small comedic purpose as Ty struggled to accept the news. Funnily enough, Zane spotted Kelly and Nick's new intimacy first. Spoiler: Nick is struggling with a tremor he developed at some point after his initial discharge from the military, and after the most recent military stint knows he can no longer continue as a police officer either. As if handling that disillusionment isn't enough, his abusive alcoholic father appears and asks Nick for part of his liver. Nick struggles through most of the book between whether he will grant his father's request or not. 

As wedding guests and island staff alike drop dead, and Sidewinder struggles to find the killer, Nick and Ty's foundation of friendship crumbles. That was a majorly satisfying arc to the story, if I'm honest. For the first half of the C&R series we saw Ty portrayed as this wonderful dude who could do anything, was perceived to be honorable, and never wrong. But the compromises and lies by omission he made during his military and black-ops career have truly caught up with him. If you thought this arc was laid to rest in New Orleans, you are mistaken. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It'd be interesting if there were even more repercussions of his past actions, as the series draws to its close. Spoiler: Nick and Ty do fine solid ground once again, but it's clear that Ty has a lot to make up for.

Big shocking spoilers: Drum roll please... Richard Burns is murdered! The reemergence of De la Vega and Liam Bell portend some serious shit in the next C&R book, for sure. In fact, I'm surprised that Zane didn't get all emo at the revelation that Vega was still going after him, and try to disappear at the end of the book. Zane finally accepts Ty's proposal, and it's such a nice tie in to previous books. I cannot wait to see them get hitched!

So far as Kelly and Nick taking over the C&R franchise through spin-off, I cannot wait. It's clear they have great stories to share. Ball & Chain was a great mix of Ty and Zane, Ty and Nick, and Kelly and Nick. There's a good balance of those relationships and there was never a point in the book where I thought Kelly and Nick had overrun the story. The changing dynamics between all of the relationships are great character and plot arcs.

Ty and Zane had satisfying interactions in this book. Zane has made some big changes while Ty's been gone and he wants to make sure Ty notices them. As always, they are incredibly romantic and that, along with their passion, are big reasons why you should be reading this book.

My negatives mainly have to do with spoilers, so I think I will carry those over into a review of the next volume when it comes out. Well done!

Disclaimer: none

Friday, March 7, 2014

3 by Jacob Z. Flores

Quick Rating: C

Purchase: Amazon

Blurb: Justin Jimenez has loved his partner, Spencer Harrison, for ten years. He'll do anything for him-including bury his feelings for a man he met while he and Spencer were separated last year. Justin never planned to fall in love, and he certainly never planned to tell Spencer about it-but when a phone call wakes them in the middle of the night to inform Justin that his former lover, Dutch Keller, has been in an accident, he doesn't have a choice.
Justin's revelation shatters the fragile relationship he and Spencer were trying to rebuild. The weight of his guilt-both for hurting Spencer and for leaving a heartbroken Dutch to find solace in a bottle-crushes him. But what Justin doesn't know is that Spencer and Dutch guard an explosive secret of their own. All three men are tangled in a communal web of lies, and unless they find the events in their lives that ultimately led them to friendship, passion, and betrayal, they won't see the love at the heart of the pain.

Review: I was officially suckered by the cover art and Kindle sample. 

3 destroys three separate relationships and patches the boys back together as a trio. There's adultery, steaming piles of angst, two car accidents, risky sex, manipulation, etc. Check your drama llama 'cause this book has got it all, and it's a hell of a long ride (320+ pages) to the HFN ending. [Spoiler: The trio is finally together in the last chapter, an epilogue of sorts, but there's NO SEX. Total cop-out.]

Sex is hot but infrequent, and typically between couples. There are two 3P scenes, but none feature the relevant trio. Warning for rimming, unprotected sex, and HIV+ character. Intimate scenes read more like gay erotica than m/m romance (a plus in my book). There was even a bathhouse scene! 

There's a mystical element in 3 that detracted from my enjoyment of the book. Distracting, just like the book's structure: multiple flashbacks hamper the momentum of the real-time story. I did not engage with the writing style. Purple preachy prose. Slow going.

Disclaimer: none

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Cute Crossdresser by Mitohi Matsumoto

Quick Rating: A

Purchase: Amazon

Blurb: What happens when a bunch of nerdy guys (without girlfriends) get together to try to catch a perverted predator on a crowded train - and decide to run a sting operation? But, how would they do that? Who or what would they use for a decoy to catch this predator? Oh, we know! Let's dress up one as a girl! Yes - HE is a SHE! He looks so cute! He's just perfect and anyone would fall for him! Including his classmates!

Review: This was my first Project-H title about crossdressing school-aged boys. As a BL enthusiast I wasn't sure what to expect of the genre, but I'd like to assume this was a very light, very moe introduction. My Cute Crossdresser's stories are very engaging and have lots of lusty crossdresser moe fantasizing and flirting! "Raising Decoy" (crossdresser and school chum team up to entrap train perverts in the name of justice) and "Spilled Milk" (pent-up schoolboys take turns kissing a male classmate asked to wear various girly costumes) are my two favorite stories, and occupy a little more than half of the book. The other stories are good too, just not my kink (cheerleader, actress, and alien bait).

Curious readers should keep in mind that there's no penetration or junk peeking out of panties (though the boys do have nice panty-encased baskets). This book is a flirty, fun read despite its lack of H scenes. I rabidly endorse My Cute Crossdresser as a gateway title for BL readers who want to explore other erotic manga genres!

Disclaimer: none