Dark and Gritty: BROKEN SOLDIER–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a dark contemporary M/M spy story from Jamie Lynn Miller. BROKEN SOLDIER features a covert couple taking down an arms dealer–if they don’t get destroyed first…

broken-soldierAbout the book:
Sergeant Connor Finley and Sergeant Shawn Weller are dedicated soldiers working covert ops for Shadow Unit — a joint UK/US anti-terrorism task force.

Partners in the field and out, they had been through hell together for the last four years and made it through standing side by side. But when their latest undercover op to bring down an arms dealer plunges them into a world of drugs, sex and violence, Shawn must literally get in bed with the enemy in order to complete the mission. And Connor is forced to watch, helpless, as his partner is broken into pieces.

Will love be enough to put them both back together or will this be their final mission?

WARNING: Contains scenes of drug use, graphic sex and realistic situations.

My Review:
This is a dark contemporary spy novel that features a M/M love story, hard drug use, deep cover, dubious consent, death, and destruction with a happy ending.

Connor Finley and Shawn Weller are operatives in Shadow Unit, a inter-national cadre of soldiers and infiltration specialists (think ex-CIA/MI5) that go in and “get the job done” against mega-badguys. They are also covert lovers, having built a friendship over the course of years, and now being a committed couple for the past five months. The current mark is Jae Chan, an arms dealer operating out of Kuala Lumpur. Jae likes his men drugged out and biddable, as Shawn discovers as soon as he’s able to catch Jae’s roving eye in a gay entertainment club run by Jae. Connor’s hired on as club security, but Shawn’s the one who’s in the most danger.

If you take a gander at the cover, you’ll see cut lines of drugs. Expect Shawn to be pushed into taking both cocaine and heroin in order to maintain his cover, and get close enough to Jae to get the necessary evidence. Also, Jae’s going to use Shawn rather horribly, and Shawn’s guilt over both betraying his lover, and getting dependent upon the drugs, is a tough journey to experience. You may also notice the title is: BROKEN SOLDIER, because Shawn gets REALLY messed up in the process of maintaining this covert-op. I’ve never read a book with so much hard drug use, and it wasn’t pleasant, from a voyeuristic standpoint. I’m a gal who got raised in the “Just Say No” era, so I’m not fascinated by drug-culture. I did feel as if the experiences were described with an eye to reality, and nothing about this situation with Shawn is positive. He’s trying to romance a scumbag drug-dealing arm-dealing bully, and he knows his life is constantly on the line.

Connor has to watch from afar, and provide as much back-up as he can to Shawn without tipping off Jae’s many bodyguards. Meanwhile, seeing Shawn be used and abused make him furious–and he’s really worried about the seemingly constant drug use he witnesses. Will Shawn make it through this mission intact? Will Connor blow their cover to save Shawn?

I’ll tell you, it was a bit harrowing. There’s a good build-up of suspense, with death on the menu. The climax wasn’t nearly the end of the book–because we still needed to see Shawn get off the junk. If anything, this book obliterated any hint of desire I may have ever harbored for heroin. Ugh. Yuck! That said, the walk-back from the edge that Shawn experiences in Connor’s loving embrace was very tender.

This is a work of fiction, and I know that reality is likely not as convenient as the set-up in this book, but the situations felt authentic, and interesting. The emotional dilemmas and hard choices within reflect a seedy subculture that I’m sure exists, to some degree, somewhere. I liked the strong love between Connor and Shawn, and I’m looking forward to following their dangerous adventures.

Interested? You can find BROKEN SOLDIER on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
Jamie Lynn Miller has been writing male/male fanfiction stories for nearly fifteen years and decided to take the plunge and go pro in 2008. She’s a romantic at heart, and her stories reflect the desire we all have to find “the one”, persevering through trials and heartache for that happy ending.

Jamie has a degree in Fine Arts and has spent the last thirteen years working as a Graphic Designer. She was born in Chicago and still lives there today, with her husband and their furry, four-footed “children”.

Besides writing, Jamie enjoys traveling, softball, reading, science fiction, hanging out with friends, and just being creative. She is eternally thankful for all of the love and support her husband has given her over the years with her writing and other endeavors.

Catch up with Jamie online on her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Coming CLEAN to Live–Review and Giveaway

CLEAN-BANNER
Hi there! I’m so excited to share my review for CLEAN, Mia Kerick’s new edgy YA M/M coming of age story. This book is a very tough read, not because it’s written poorly, but because it portrays unflinching stories of sexual abuse, neglect and substance abuse in teens. As with all Ms. Kerick’s books, (THE RED SHEET, HARD DAY’S NIGHT), the characters are well-written and the story is filled with inconvenient truths.

Be sure to check out my review and enter to win a $10 GC.

CLEAN cover
About the book:
High school senior Lanny Keating has it all. A three-sport athlete at Lauserville High School looking at a college football scholarship, with a supportive family, stellar grades, boy band good looks… until the fateful day when it all falls apart.

Seventeen-year-old Trevor Ladd has always been a publicly declared zero and the high school bad-boy. Abandoned by his mother and sexually abused by his legal guardian, Trevor sets his sights on mere survival.

Lanny seeks out Trevor’s companionship to avoid his shattered home life. Unwilling to share their personal experiences of pain, the boys explore ways to escape, leading them into sexual experimentation, and the abuse of illegal drugs and alcohol. Their mutual suffering creates a lasting bond of friendship and love.

When the time finally comes to get clean and sober, or flunk out of high school, only one of the boys will graduate, while the other spirals downward into addiction.

Will Lanny and Trevor find the strength to battle their demons of mind-altering substances as well as emotional vulnerability?

Clean takes the reader on a gritty trip into the real and raw world of teenage substance abuse.

A little taste (from the Prologue):
Lanny

Trevor wouldn’t even look at me when I walked over to the gas station this morning to say hi. And Jimmy’s Fuel Stop is like three miles from my house so it took a major effort to walk there, especially since I’ve been feeling like total crap lately. Another one of my shaky human bonds bites the dust. I need to go out and get myself a cat.

“Can’t you see I’m working, Keating?” That was all he said. But I’ve always been good at reading between the lines. I could tell what he was thinking as he stood beside the gas pumps, totally caught up in not looking at me. “Take a hike before you get me fired, loser. Some of us got goals in life….” So I took off before he had a chance to make me feel like I shouldn’t have ever made an appearance on the planet earth. But I still know it would have been better had I never been born…maybe Joelle would still be okay.

It’s Saturday afternoon and nobody’s home. Mom and Dad are probably off at the park with Joelle, sloshing through the wet snow together so she gets her daily exercise. Or maybe they took her to the make- your-own-sundae-place to improve her fine motor skills by sprinkling sweet toppings on big scoops of ice cream. I’m in Mom and Dad’s bathroom, bent in half with my head stuck in the closet, searching the cluttered shelves for anything that will get me high enough to escape. And I mean anything.

That’s when I see the cough syrup. The bottle in front is almost new, and there’s an older bottle of a different brand right behind it, little more than halfway full. Seeing these medicine bottles reminds me of something Chad suggested about a week or two ago— that we should try robo-tripping. He told me that if we drink enough cough syrup, the DXM in it would get us high in a “super blissful, tingling-body-parts way,” which sounded pretty decent to me then and still does now. Not completely surprised I remembered Chad’s exact description of a DXM high, I thank God for this dextromethorphan stuff that suppresses nasty coughs, because it looks like I’m going to find my much-needed buzz after all.

Pleased that I don’t have to resort to sniffing glue from the tube on my father’s basement workbench or huffing my mother’s hairspray—and believe me I came close—I snatch the bottles with a shaky hand. They’re both sticky with the syrup that dripped down the side last time one of the Keating’s had a major head cold accompanied by a hacking cough. Licking my fingers provides me with a hint of the cherry flavor I’m probably going to be barfing up later tonight. But I don’t care. I can’t get through a single day without some help, and by that I don’t mean help from my human friends, seeing as I have none left.

The walk to the shed seems longer than ever. It’s an effort to so much as put one foot in front of the other. I haven’t eaten anything for a full day; I’m sure that’s why I feel like such crap. And it’s not like I want to think about this stuff, but I can’t stop myself. The “stuff” I don’t want to think about is really people. The people I have hurt so much lately because of my bad habits.

This list starts with my little sister Joelle, who I told to “stuff a sock in it” when she asked me to read that goddamned book about a kid going to school—for the zillionth time! “School’s not all it’s cracked up to be, Jo. Stop being so damned excited about it! Those kids are gonna tear you to pieces and won’t even wait until you turn your back to do it!” It hurts too much to remember the expression on her face right after I told her that, so instead I stare beyond the leafless trees into the gray sky and think about my parents.

I’ve hurt Mom and Dad a lot too, because they know I’m sick, they just don’t know exactly what’s wrong with me. And I’m not sure how much they care. Their plates are too full already with Joelle’s problems, I guess.

I glance down at the two bottles of cough medicine dangling from between my fingers and remember Chrissy and Robyn, who I use like toilet paper. They can do way better than me in the study-buddy department.

I trip over a root that crosses my path and fall to my knees, but just as quickly drag myself back to my feet. A stray root isn’t enough to stop me from getting to where I’m going.

I’m almost at the shed now, and I can’t avoid thinking about him any longer. Trevor hates me. He never calls anymore, never asks me to go to the shed to drink some beer and fool around. He just looks at me in the hallway at school with angry disgusted eyes, and tells me every chance he gets “you’re fucking up your life and I’m not gonna let you fuck up mine.”

Trevor Ladd…the ultimate untouchable. If I could’ve made somebody like him want to be with me, I would’ve surely been able to win my parents back. Well, no such luck. I’m more of a zero to Trevor than I ever was…and Mom and Dad still don’t care.

Blew my entire life sky high. Which is where I’ll be soon, if all goes according to plan. I lift each bottle of sticky sweet cough medicine to my lips and kiss them, one by one.

Just the sight of the tiny, beat-up brown shed fills me with an indescribable sense of relief, probably like the feeling of coming home after years at sea. As soon as I push open the door, I see that Trevor isn’t here and I’m illogically disappointed. But Trevor can’t save me from myself. He did his duty; he tried to get me clean, and he got clean in the process.

Way to go, Trevor.

Alone in a frigid shed in the middle of the woods, I’m more than eager to suck down a couple bottles of cough medicine so I can be somewhere else…someone else. A vision of Landon Keating forms in my mind—not Lanny, the student, or Lanny, the athlete, or Lanny, the son and brother—but the near-future version of me when I’m “simultaneously mellow and stimulated,” if the online experiences I’ve read about taking DXM are accurate. Sad truth is, I’ll take just plain disoriented. Any effect will be fine if it whisks me away.

I drop down to the cold floor and without ceremony open one of the small bottles. The cough medicine goes down more easily than I thought.

Cherry-berry-sweet-thick-burning-soothing- pleasure-pain. It doesn’t take too long.

Itchy as hell…belly’s on fire….

“Read to me, Lanny…read it again!

”Can’t feel my legs at all….

“Wishes don’t wash dishes, son.”

Can’t stop barfing…. So sick….

“Take a hike, Keating—you filthy, no-good, loser boozer-druggie!”

Blew it with Trevor…blew it with everybody.

Can’t breathe…need a breath….

Gonna die here alone.

My Review:
Landon was a great student and star athlete with everything going for him until his young sister was hit by a car. She survived, but with severe handicaps, and Lanny’s family has become all about Joelle and her care. His overwhelmed and overwrought parents are angry and hostile, and don’t even bother to acknowledge Lanny most days. Lanny and his parents share guilt and blame for the tragedy of Joelle’s accident, and Lanny takes it super hard. He turns to alcohol to hide his pain, and he gets his alcohol from the school bad-boy, Trevor.

Trevor is a burn out. He lives each day in fear, and resignation, of the continuing sexual abuse he’s endured since he was twelve and his mother abandoned him with her friend, Carl. When he can, Trevor seeks oblivion via alcohol and pot. And Lanny, the angel-faced “clean” boy that sometimes lurks in Carl’s gardening shed with him. When they are drunk, it’s easy to seek other releases, and Trevor’s easily able to direct some impersonal (non-penetrative) sex between them.

Lanny feels like Trevor’s the only person in his life who sees him. Trevor’s too afraid to love anyone, and doesn’t believe he’s worthy of love, in any case. That said, he sees how far Lanny is slipping–he’s been kicked off the football team, he’s failing classes and he spends every night getting bombed. Soon they move on to pills, supplied by a mutual friend. Trevor knows his only way out of Carl’s lecherous grasp is death, or cleaning up and graduating high school. He tries to get Lanny to clean out, too, but Lanny’s not having it.

Expect things to get worse. Expect there to be real terror on the pages, especially for Trevor when he discovers just how far gone Lanny is.

This story is a story of redemption. It is an honest and harrowing tale of hitting rock bottom, and surviving. The first half is the descent, and the second half is the rise, and it’s not an easy road on either side. Yet, it was told brilliantly, with Lanny rediscovering himself, and his family becoming a strong and supportive unit again. Lanny does what Trevor can’t–forgive himself. And his recovery is well-defined in the general Twelve Step way. This may be a YA tale, but the truth of it applies to people at all ages and stages.

It is also an M/M tale–a dash of romance. Lanny is definitely attracted to Trevor, and acknowledges that he is gay. Trevor was not sure of his orientation–he’s not attracted to Carl in the least–but he does acknowledge that he’s attracted to Lanny, and feels the most love for him that he has of any of the few people who’ve been in his life. There is some sexuality on the page–most consensual, some abuse. Both are told honestly and without glorification.

Part of Lanny’s recovery is making amends for his use and abuse of Trevor, who is dumbstruck that Lanny feels any need to apologize. Trevor’s been mired in guilt over ever giving Lanny any substances to abuse in the first place. Lanny’s steadfast determination to be a real friend to Trevor, not an escape, allows both boys to come to terms with the ills of their past. I adored how very healthy all of this was, and how it engendered a real and beneficial relationship.

At no point did I feel there was any shortcut or glossing over of the tragedy and healing in this story. I think the writing was excellent, if unconventional. Trevor’s POV pages are especially fraught with his fragmented internal narrative. He’s contrary and cagey, and always looking to defend himself and his emotions by denying them. He’s honest with Lanny about being a liar–having hidden so much of himself, never believing that anyone could (or would) want to help him–that he is dirty, filthy, unlovable and unwholesome because of his abuse. It made for a very poignant counterpoint to Lanny’s squeaky-clean, but detached family.

I always struggle to read books that feature abuse of a minor, because I’m a mom, and I hate that this happens IRL. Reading is my escape from MY everyday problems, in many cases, so I prefer the lighter fare. That said, an intense read like CLEAN serves a very important purpose in highlighting the experiences of people who are very different, and often very troubled. CLEAN is fantastic. I hope that it finds readers who have the courage, like Lanny and Trevor, to be present and be counted. To not give up, and to do the hard work necessary to do better than just survive the experience.

Lanny and Trevor discover that life is hard, but very very worth it.

Interested? You can find CLEAN on Goodreads, and Amazon (US, UK, CA and AU).

****GIVEAWAY****

Click the Rafflecopter link below for your chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—all named after saints—and five nonpedigreed cats—all named after the next best thing to saints, Boston Red Sox players. Her husband of twenty-two years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about that, as it is a sensitive subject.

Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled young people and their relationships, and she believes that physical intimacy has a place in a love story, but not until it is firmly established as a love story. As a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with romantic tales of tortured heroes (most of whom happened to strongly resemble lead vocalists of 1980s big-hair bands) and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to Dreamspinner Press, Harmony Ink Press, and CreateSpace for providing her with alternate places to stash her stories.

Mia is a social liberal and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of human rights, especially marital equality. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology.

Where to find Mia online: Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

pride

Cover Reveal! CLEAN by Mia Kerick

Clean Banner
Hi there! I’m so excited to reveal the cover for CLEAN, Mia Kerick’s new edgy YA M/M coming out story. So, without further ado…
CLEAN cover
About the book:
High school senior Lanny Keating has it all. A three-sport athlete at Lauserville High School looking at a college football scholarship, with a supportive family, stellar grades, boy band good looks… until the fateful day when it all falls apart.

Seventeen-year-old Trevor Ladd has always been a publicly declared zero and the high school bad-boy. Abandoned by his mother and sexually abused by his legal guardian, Trevor sets his sights on mere survival.

Lanny seeks out Trevor’s companionship to avoid his shattered home life. Unwilling to share their personal experiences of pain, the boys explore ways to escape, leading them into sexual experimentation, and the abuse of illegal drugs and alcohol. Their mutual suffering creates a lasting bond of friendship and love.

When the time finally comes to get clean and sober, or flunk out of high school, only one of the boys will graduate, while the other spirals downward into addiction.

Will Lanny and Trevor find the strength to battle their demons of mind-altering substances as well as emotional vulnerability?

Clean takes the reader on a gritty trip into the real and raw world of teenage substance abuse.

A little taste (from the Prologue):
Lanny

Trevor wouldn’t even look at me when I walked over to the gas station this morning to say hi. And Jimmy’s Fuel Stop is like three miles from my house so it took a major effort to walk there, especially since I’ve been feeling like total crap lately. Another one of my shaky human bonds bites the dust. I need to go out and get myself a cat.

“Can’t you see I’m working, Keating?” That was all he said. But I’ve always been good at reading between the lines. I could tell what he was thinking as he stood beside the gas pumps, totally caught up in not looking at me. “Take a hike before you get me fired, loser. Some of us got goals in life….” So I took off before he had a chance to make me feel like I shouldn’t have ever made an appearance on the planet earth. But I still know it would have been better had I never been born…maybe Joelle would still be okay.

It’s Saturday afternoon and nobody’s home. Mom and Dad are probably off at the park with Joelle, sloshing through the wet snow together so she gets her daily exercise. Or maybe they took her to the make- your-own-sundae-place to improve her fine motor skills by sprinkling sweet toppings on big scoops of ice cream. I’m in Mom and Dad’s bathroom, bent in half with my head stuck in the closet, searching the cluttered shelves for anything that will get me high enough to escape. And I mean anything.

That’s when I see the cough syrup. The bottle in front is almost new, and there’s an older bottle of a different brand right behind it, little more than halfway full. Seeing these medicine bottles reminds me of something Chad suggested about a week or two ago— that we should try robo-tripping. He told me that if we drink enough cough syrup, the DXM in it would get us high in a “super blissful, tingling-body-parts way,” which sounded pretty decent to me then and still does now. Not completely surprised I remembered Chad’s exact description of a DXM high, I thank God for this dextromethorphan stuff that suppresses nasty coughs, because it looks like I’m going to find my much-needed buzz after all.

Pleased that I don’t have to resort to sniffing glue from the tube on my father’s basement workbench or huffing my mother’s hairspray—and believe me I came close—I snatch the bottles with a shaky hand. They’re both sticky with the syrup that dripped down the side last time one of the Keating’s had a major head cold accompanied by a hacking cough. Licking my fingers provides me with a hint of the cherry flavor I’m probably going to be barfing up later tonight. But I don’t care. I can’t get through a single day without some help, and by that I don’t mean help from my human friends, seeing as I have none left.

The walk to the shed seems longer than ever. It’s an effort to so much as put one foot in front of the other. I haven’t eaten anything for a full day; I’m sure that’s why I feel like such crap. And it’s not like I want to think about this stuff, but I can’t stop myself. The “stuff” I don’t want to think about is really people. The people I have hurt so much lately because of my bad habits.

This list starts with my little sister Joelle, who I told to “stuff a sock in it” when she asked me to read that goddamned book about a kid going to school—for the zillionth time! “School’s not all it’s cracked up to be, Jo. Stop being so damned excited about it! Those kids are gonna tear you to pieces and won’t even wait until you turn your back to do it!” It hurts too much to remember the expression on her face right after I told her that, so instead I stare beyond the leafless trees into the gray sky and think about my parents.

I’ve hurt Mom and Dad a lot too, because they know I’m sick, they just don’t know exactly what’s wrong with me. And I’m not sure how much they care. Their plates are too full already with Joelle’s problems, I guess.

I glance down at the two bottles of cough medicine dangling from between my fingers and remember Chrissy and Robyn, who I use like toilet paper. They can do way better than me in the study-buddy department.

I trip over a root that crosses my path and fall to my knees, but just as quickly drag myself back to my feet. A stray root isn’t enough to stop me from getting to where I’m going.

I’m almost at the shed now, and I can’t avoid thinking about him any longer. Trevor hates me. He never calls anymore, never asks me to go to the shed to drink some beer and fool around. He just looks at me in the hallway at school with angry disgusted eyes, and tells me every chance he gets “you’re fucking up your life and I’m not gonna let you fuck up mine.”

Trevor Ladd…the ultimate untouchable. If I could’ve made somebody like him want to be with me, I would’ve surely been able to win my parents back. Well, no such luck. I’m more of a zero to Trevor than I ever was…and Mom and Dad still don’t care.

Blew my entire life sky high. Which is where I’ll be soon, if all goes according to plan. I lift each bottle of sticky sweet cough medicine to my lips and kiss them, one by one.

Just the sight of the tiny, beat-up brown shed fills me with an indescribable sense of relief, probably like the feeling of coming home after years at sea. As soon as I push open the door, I see that Trevor isn’t here and I’m illogically disappointed. But Trevor can’t save me from myself. He did his duty; he tried to get me clean, and he got clean in the process.

Way to go, Trevor.

Alone in a frigid shed in the middle of the woods, I’m more than eager to suck down a couple bottles of cough medicine so I can be somewhere else…someone else. A vision of Landon Keating forms in my mind—not Lanny, the student, or Lanny, the athlete, or Lanny, the son and brother—but the near-future version of me when I’m “simultaneously mellow and stimulated,” if the online experiences I’ve read about taking DXM are accurate. Sad truth is, I’ll take just plain disoriented. Any effect will be fine if it whisks me away.

I drop down to the cold floor and without ceremony open one of the small bottles. The cough medicine goes down more easily than I thought.

Cherry-berry-sweet-thick-burning-soothing- pleasure-pain. It doesn’t take too long.

Itchy as hell…belly’s on fire….

“Read to me, Lanny…read it again!

”Can’t feel my legs at all….

“Wishes don’t wash dishes, son.”

Can’t stop barfing…. So sick….

“Take a hike, Keating—you filthy, no-good, loser boozer-druggie!”

Blew it with Trevor…blew it with everybody.

Can’t breathe…need a breath….

Gonna die here alone.

This one looks intense. As a mother to teen sons, I’m excited (and scared!) to read it.

Interested? You can find CLEAN on Goodreads, and Amazon (US, UK, CA and AU).

****GIVEAWAY****

Click the Rafflecopter link below for your chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—all named after saints—and five nonpedigreed cats—all named after the next best thing to saints, Boston Red Sox players. Her husband of twenty-two years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about that, as it is a sensitive subject.

Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled young people and their relationships, and she believes that physical intimacy has a place in a love story, but not until it is firmly established as a love story. As a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with romantic tales of tortured heroes (most of whom happened to strongly resemble lead vocalists of 1980s big-hair bands) and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to Dreamspinner Press, Harmony Ink Press, and CreateSpace for providing her with alternate places to stash her stories.

Mia is a social liberal and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of human rights, especially marital equality. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology.

Where to find Mia online: Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

pride