04 June 2009

Review: M.L. Rhodes - Under My Skin

~click on the cover to buy a copy~
Paperback: 174 pages
Publisher: Amber Quill Press, LLC (August 14, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602729247
ISBN-13: 978-1602729247

In Under My Skin...
Sebastian Keller’s been called “the smart guy” most of his life. Though he hasn’t always appreciated the label, and it hasn’t exactly made him a man magnet, he’s put his intelligence to work building his store, Great Escapes Travel Book Shop, to the point it’s now the favorite recommendation of travel agents in the St. Louis area. His customers love him for his extensive knowledge and his amiable personality.

He doesn’t feel very amiable, however, when Rad Tattoos moves in next door to Great Escapes. Its owner, Dylan Radamacher, rubs Sebastian the wrong way from the get-go. The man’s insufferable, stubborn, and worse, a bad boy. Everything Sebastian loathes! And yet, much to his annoyance, the teasing sparkle in Dylan’s eyes, his hot, inked body, and come-hither voice set Sebastian’s libido on fire. Sebastian’s been there, done that with the bad-boy type before, though, and almost lost everything because of it. There’s no way he’s going down that road again. Yet when Dylan sets his sights on Sebastian and is determined to take him for a walk on the wild side, Sebastian knows he’s in big trouble. It’s going to take all his smarts and a whole lot of willpower to resist the sexy tattoo artist before the man finds a way to burrow deeper under his skin...

And the story continues in Under My Skin II...
For two months things between Sebastian and Dylan have been sinfully spectacular, and Sebastian hates to rock the boat. But the truth is, in spite of his own commitment issues, he’s fallen in love with the sexy tattooist. Dylan, on the other hand, seems determined to avoid the “L” word at all costs.

As their relationship shifts toward the serious side, can the guys overcome their fears and take the steps that will bring them the kind of love that lasts a lifetime? Or will their old baggage come back to haunt them and tear them apart for good?

When I was on the road of investigating the m/m erotica scene I encountered three names on a frequent bases and M.L. Rhodes was one of those authors. So when I was over @ Erotic Horizon I read a quote from an M.L. Rhodes review and it got me faster to an amazon store than I could say: “I needs me this book NOW!” I bought two books: Under My Skin and Always, both 2-1 novella’s pertaining the same couple. In the case of Under My Skin it concerned the bookseller Sebastian Keller and the tattoo artist Dylan Radamacher.

From the start M.L. Rhodes has quite a pace in storytelling and I was quickly submerged in the aggravating mood Sebastian was in regarding his new neighbor in Green Meadows strip mall. Sebastian is all American handsome and forthcoming but with his intelligence is often regarded as "the smart guy. With his shop of traveling books he makes a steady income while in his personal life he is getting back on track again”

Dylan Radamacher is a talented tattoo artist, he is charismatic, has a bit of bad boy looks but is very focused on his new set up of his tattoo shop. The new kid on the block, or this case the mall, he notices Sebastian from the get-go. It is when Sebastian enters his shop to complain about the loud music again that Dylan gives Sebastian a clue. With an answering look he tells Sebastian he appreciated his hot once over.
From that moment erotic romance commences…

The author trimmed down her story to create a set of novella’s that revolves around Dylan and Sebastian. No lengthy descriptions of surroundings nor an extensive cast of supporting characters were present in Under My Skin. It is very one on one and in this case it created page space for character and relationship development. Such things matter to me the most in a story, an author allowing me to relate to a couple in their journey through a specific period in their life’s.

I loved the duality of character traits in Sebastian and Dylan, the “opposites attract” phenomenon was there at the surface. Sebastian is tormented by inner demons while Dylan turns out to be a caring man. Fear isn’t the wisest advisory when falling in love and conflicting feelings war inside as they both feel an intense attraction. The emotional conflict deepens these romantic novella’s and puts some proverbial meat on the bones.

Under My Skin bk 1 & 2 are about two average business men in the prime of their life’s with feelings and issues to work out. The writing style of this author is natural and very straight forward which makes their story feel very true-to-life and among so much on my shelves it is a welcome change. Both Sebastian and Dylan are flawed but they both try to learn from their mistakes and with that M.L. Rhodes puts a lifelike face to her gay erotica. One of the things that intrigues me so in the gay erotica is that two men can have passionate arguments. They can be haunted by doubts and insecurities, followed by fierce get-together’s that physically voices the emotion and is usually joined by condoms and a bottle of lube. But all in all there is no real difference from a m/f romance at the core. In the end it is about trust, acceptance and loving that one person that matters the most. This author voiced it twice in a mere 79 pages, not intrinsically but enough to give an emotional conclusion and a satisfactory ending.

Eroticism is found in these two novella’s but the accent lies with the building relationship and trust issues. In two stories of a mere 79 pages the author builds up a working romance with a few scorching moments. A male couple, whom at first seem to be two opposites, find something worthy of exploring. They both have a push-pull between wanting more and feeling they should back off. I am glad I chose the 2-1 TPB since the ending of book one is nice, but I wanted more. I wanted the I love you’s exchanged, I wanted the light bulb moment when they realized they were a good fit for each other. So with the flick of my wrist I flipped the page and re-entered the world of Sebastian and Dylan.

With book 2 I found two secondary characters who also gotten a bit more attention; Joanie from the Sugar Plum Bakery and the mother of Dylan. Both mirror certain actions of Sebastian and Dylan that leads to that 'aha' moment and demands action on their part. I most definitely advise people to have book 2 in the house for a full bodied reading experience. It takes it all a step further and deeper. While I am pondering on what to tell you more about these novella’s I also want to say this;

I truly cared for both Sebastian and Dylan, and they are very much the epicenter of Under My Skin, only I just have one complaint… And it is something I often have when reading novella’s and has nothing to do with the writing style or talent of M.L. Rhodes. But I needed more background and character development to create an oomph. It is not that the erotic romance wasn’t balanced or rounded for novella size stories. It was only that I felt I just got to know this wonderful couple and had to leave them so soon, it missed pages to lead up to that incredible high where you feel you lived it all with them. I experienced the displayed emotions of Sebastian and Dylan mind you and I was moved by the ending yet I would say Under My Skin fits my description of an entertaining three star read to a tee.

I was dubious how I could relay my sentiment without sounding overly negative because I do believe M.L. Rhodes has written up lovely novella’s that gives you a romantica value for your money. For all is said and done Sebastian and Dylan were real, raw, driven and created a sizzle that I often find in Gay erotica and why I will return over and over asking for more. It is an x-factor that gives me a Brokeback Mountain feel and in the essence I found it in Under My Skin!

For two strong connected novella’s they provided a nice interlude from my full length reads. When all is said and done Sebastian and Dylan fully entertained me and Under My Skin proved to be a wonderful chocolate covered appetizer! I am looking forward to cracking the spine of Always.

Quote bk 2 Joanie:“Fine, you want the unvarnished truth? You’re not the only one who’s allowed to find one of our resident tattoo artist hot as hell and sexy as sin.”

Quote Sebastian:“Dylan…” Once again, moisture burned behind Sebastian’s eyelids. His hand worked harder, with desperation, as if all the emotion and desire had pooled inside him like magma, needing to be drawn at the surface for release.

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  1. Love the review - and you have hit quite a bit of what is right with M/M romance and what is also wrong in the genre..

    I love this book, however I must admit - a bit of background would have been nice - I probably have gone easy - and justify it by the novella type book that have to scrap few necessity to keep it within a certain word count...

    I would like to think that i know when a gem hits me but still have the tact enough not to put any book down base on one downfall...

    I love how you wrapped it up, you liked it, but it had it's flaw - nicely done..


  2. Hi E.H.,
    I'm following your messages around my blog LOL And I'm still glad to have bought M.L. Rhodes after reading your review! For novella's they create a lovely romance and the guys are scrumptious to read about. I just need more background and overall story to create that incredible ending that makes me go: WOW ;D Always is on my immediate TRP, M.L. Rhodes' Under My Skin whetted my appetite for sure!


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