Review: “Sand and Ruin and Gold” by Alexis Hall

  • Title: Sand and Ruin and Gold
  • Author: Alexis Hall
  • Publisher: Riptide Publishing
  • Format: Galley/ARC
  • Rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ / ✰

Note: A copy of this book was given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks.


My first Alexis Hall experience, and it was a memorable one. While I didn’t realize “Sand and Ruin and Gold” was a short story when I requested it on NetGalley (probably my own fault, I read the premise and thought it sounded interesting and didn’t pay attention to any word counts), it worked. The word count was just enough to get through what needed to be said without using all kinds of purple prose and unnecessary scenes. It just . . . worked. Really, really well.

In “Sand and Ruin and Gold,” the main character – whose name I never caught, if it’s ever given, which I don’t think it is – is a young man who was genetically engineered to be perfect. He defies his perfection by running away to join the cirque. In the cirque, he eventually establishes himself enough to work with the mermaids, who perform shows for audiences. For the most part, he sees them as others do – as animals – until the arrival of Nerites, a merman who captivates our main character in ways that no other man ever has.

Nerites is too human not to.

“Sand and Ruin and Gold” might be a story about a prince and a merman, but it has a lot of themes that I could entirely relate to. Love. The need of belonging. It’s something everyone can relate to, really. Everyone has loved. Everyone has gone through loss, which is another prevalent theme. Everyone has needed to belong.

I can’t really say much about this book without spoiling it, and I can’t really say much about this book because it was just really, really good. Not the level of perfection that I save my five-star ratings for, granted, but almost. So close, in fact, that I did consider a five star rating. I really did.

Because it made me feel something.

It made me feel sad.

It made me feel happy.

It made me feel outraged.

It made me feel sour.

It made me feel sweet.

It made me feel like my world was collapsing as surely as the prince and merman’s worlds were.

So 4/5 stars, and I think I’m going to start looking into Alexis Hall’s other stories now, because if he can write like this, I’ve really been missing out.

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So I just finished “King of Dublin” by Lisa Henry and Heidi Belleau . . .

And while I admittedly skimmed about 60% of the book because I felt so stinkin’ bored with all the rape and torture, the last 30% was actually really good? I’m not used to a dramatic turnaround in the last quarter of a novel, at least not in a good sense, so heyyyy. Good stuff I guess.

But I’m not thinking I’m going to write a review for this one because I did skim so much of it. My grasp on the story is strong and all, but I just, I dunno. Wasn’t invested enough in it to read it like I have to for a review.

That being said, not the worst Lisa Henry book I’ve read (that goes to her other collaboration with Heidi Belleau, “Bliss”, which I’ll post my review of soon), but definitely not the best by a long shot. So 3/5 stars. Might try to re-read it in the future and see if my attention span lets me reread it the way I need to for reviewing.

I love NetGalley

For people who don’t know:

NetGalley is a site where publishers give reviewers books for free! Usually they’re Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) or books with new re-releases or new campaigns for publicity. All you have to do is request the book from the publisher with a simple click of a button, and if the publisher likes your NetGalley profile and associated links (I recommend linking your review blog and/or personal blog, Twitter, and Goodreads) they’ll approve you! Then you just give an honest review through NetGalley and your blog.

It’s very simple and straight-forward, and it’s books for free!

(on a related note, I got approved for my first book by Riptide Publishing through NetGalley today, so that’s exciting!)

Review: “Another Man’s Treasure” by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock

  • Title: Another Man’s Treasure
  • Authors: Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock
  • Publisher: Self-Published
  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ (ALL THE STARS!)

Jesus Christ on a cracker.

This. Book.

It’s been several days – about four? I don’t know – since I finished “Another Man’s Treasure” and I am still totally floored by the writing, the plot, the characters, everything. I don’t know if I’ll ever recover from it. My family will end up suing the authors for my rehab bills.

This book is that good.

“Another Man’s Treasure” is about Ilia, a young man who is the lover of Mikhail, a Chechen crime boss. When Mikhail is killed by Ilia’s father in a police raid, Mikhail’s younger brother, Nick, comes to pick up everything that belonged to his older brother – including Ilia. He takes Ilia captive in his own apartment and begins to groom him for his own uses. Ilia doesn’t fight for a long time, until Nick takes another captive, a shy young man named Patrick. Together, Ilia and Patrick have to resist Nick’s attempts to break them, and keep each other whole even in their captivity.

I’ve read a lot of books by Lisa Henry, and have looked into J.A. Rock’s books, but nothing prepared me for this to be so fucking brutal. The warnings on this book are very serious – there is super graphic rape in this novel, of both Ilia and Patrick, and other kinds of violence. It’s not for the faint of heart by any stretch and it doesn’t gloss over the terror and horror Ilia and Patrick go through.

It’s so brutal.

And I love it.

I love that Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock don’t pretend that what happens to them is okay. Ilia and Patrick go through trauma and it is shown as traumatic; it’s not arousing to read. I mean, it’s classified as erotica just because of the amount of sex in it, but it’s like a rape fiction where the rape isn’t glamorized. I appreciate that.

I also loved the whole angle of the Chechen mob, and the flash backs now and then to shed light on Ilia’s relationship with Mikhail. Since Ilia spends the entire novel hung up on Mikhail and grieving for him, it’s important to see what kind of relationship they had, and in the ~20 pages he was in the novel, there wasn’t enough of a glimpse of their relationship to really judge. The flashbacks give more character to what Ilia is mourning. I loved that.

Do I even have to talk about the writing? Lisa Henry is a phenomenal writer. This is the first time I read something by J.A. Rock, but apparently she’s amazing too! The writing was just gorgeous. Heartbreaking and so so sad, but gorgeous.

I didn’t have much of a handle on the setting, but I didn’t have to to have a good experience.

And don’t even get me started on the characters. While I despised Nick and his cronies and didn’t like Mikhail (thought he was creepy, I don’t know), I absolutely fell in love with Patrick and Ilia. It tore me apart to watch them be tortured. It really did. I can’t remember the last time I felt so much for characters.

Overall? An amazing success.

5/5 stars all the way.

Review: “Bad Slave” by Kay Berrisford

  • Title: Bad Slave
  • Author: Kay Berrisford
  • Publisher: Loose ID
  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ / ✰ ✰

I found “Bad Slave” – and Kay Berrisford – on total accident. I was browsing through the LGBTQ titles on the Loose ID website because I was bored and in the mood for a good gay romance, and the premise jumped out at me right away. It sounded very promising, kind of fresh for a slave fiction story and kind of cool for an M/M romance as a whole.

It wasn’t quite what I expected, and not always in bad ways.

The premise of “Bad Slave” is summed up pretty well in its blurb, though not without its inaccuracies. Jay, a former captain in his country’s military, is summoned by his king with the purpose of finding a new royal sex slave; one with fire, one with spirit, because the king’s complacent boys have bored him. He finds this slave in Alix, a young miner and inventor who, after an experiment goes wrong, is almost lynched by one of his neighbors. Rather than go to the dungeons and take the risks of execution, Alix agrees to be the King’s bedwarmer willingly. He fits the bill of what the king is looking for well-enough – he has fire, he has spirit, he is brunet with a toned body. So Jay takes him back. And the very first meeting with the king, it all goes to hell.

This book had a lot of content typical to the slave fiction genre. There was a lot of public humiliation (at one point, Jay and Alix are even forced to have sex in front of the court), use of toys/gags/etc., “forbidden” love, tyrannical kings, etc. So as someone who enjoys the slave fiction genre as a whole, I enjoyed a lot of aspects of this little novel. I found it to be an overall enjoyable reading experience – nothing pushed my boundaries and made me feel uncomfortable, even if I do like to feel uncomfortable sometimes. I don’t think it’s exactly a hot-hot-hot story, either, but I enjoy sweet stories too. So it worked for me.

In most ways.

Alix becomes the King’s sex slave, but they never even have sex. I found this to be incredibly unrealistic, and the explanation in the novel didn’t strike me as very plausible, considering Lyam’s sheer level of cruelty.

I also found it cheesy to have Jay’s old enemy from the battlefield return in Jay’s final battle. In general, the ending itself just didn’t do it for me. The most exciting part was cut out because Alix fainted.

The writing, while strong for the most part, was again something that overall didn’t work for me. It swung between feeling contemporary and feeling historical too much. And in a fantasy/steampunk novel, it should always feel historical, unless you purposefully try for a more contemporary feel to your writing.

But, stuff that did work for me?

The setting. The court intrigue. The characters and the romance. I loved that Alix and Jay were unique and beautiful in their own ways and individual of each other despite their feelings for one another. You don’t see that all the time. I loved both Alix and Jay individually and together and that’s rare in a lot of M/M romances I read. I usually end up hating one or the other of the love interests.

In the end, my rating is an “I liked it” instead of a “really liked it” because of the issues I had with the writing and the issues I had with the holes in the plot (like Lyam never having sex with Alix despite the fact that Alix was his sex slave; yes, yes, I know the book “explains” it, but I don’t find that explanation realistic in the least). Still, I did like it. I would recommend this book easily to fellow fantasy and slave fiction readers, so long as they don’t mind what I’ve pointed out in this review. I know some people have issues with public humiliation and the like.

So, 3/5 stars, and I may or may not check out more of Kay Berrisford’s books in the future. Right now though, I have a big enough reading list to get to already. So it’ll probably be a while. But I might.

A Little Introduction

Even though there’s an “About” page, I feel like I should introduce myself a little further to start this blog off right.

My name is Aisling; no, unfortunately, that is not my real name, but I figured that since I’m Irish-American, it’s a fitting-enough pseudonym. I am currently 20 years old and I live in western Pennsylvania, not far from Pittsburgh but not necessarily close, either. Aside from Day Job, I knit hats to sell on Etsy and bake dog cookies for people at the local dog park for extra cash, which I absolutely love doing. My dog hates it though. Mostly because I’ve cut her off.

Aside from being an avid reader of M/M fiction, I’m also an aspiring author. I’m currently planning my own M/M novel for the 2014 NaNoWriMo event, and I’m hoping to contract that novel as well as a few other manuscripts next year, if things go well. Other random facts about me:

  • I’m right-handed.
  • I’m non-binary trans.
  • My dog is actually a service dog in training.
  • I like audiobooks a lot.
  • I believe everything can be made better by dragons and faerie boys.

In terms of this blog, you can expect reviews of M/M novels, rants about the M/M “genre” and its tropes, personal stuff . . . just a little bit of everything. It’s an all-around blog that, while focused on M/M stuff, will occasionally act as a more personal website. Any questions, just ask!