Book Review

Oleander House by Ally Blue

D+

Title: Oleander House
Author: Ally Blue
Publication Info: Samhain Publishing 2007
ISBN: 1599983559
Genre: Paranormal

Book Cover I downloaded this book as a free Kindle offer from Sam Hain and read it while commuting. Even on the bus at 6am I was creeped out at the start of the novel. It was creepy, bizarre and in the beginning it gave me goosebumps. By the end, my eyebrows were permanently raised.

Oleander House has a terrible history. The current owner is sure something is haunting the place (no shit Sherlock) after an unseen creature bites a young child touring the house as a local historic property, and the bite becomes infected with an unknown substance, killing the child a few days later. Prior to that, several violent deaths spot the house’s history, coupled with catatonic survivors who die shortly after they are discovered surrounded by ripped body parts and covered with blood. Haunted much? Sure. I’m surprised the CDC hasn’t blown the place up.

Enter Sam Raintree. He’s a new hire at Bay City Paranormal Investigations, a small business specializing in ghost hunting owned by Bo Broussard. Bo’s team is hired to live in the house, figure out what’s haunting it, and potentially get rid of it, whatever it is.

Things are all kinds of fucked up from the get-go. Sam has vivid dreams involving fucking some sort of creature. Barbed wangs, claws, violence, the whole ass-bang. The psychic in the group also dreams of violence, and one of the other team members dreams of the same scenario. The dreams and the tension escalate as the group stumbles closer to whatever it is.

Meanwhile, Sam is instantly and boner-hard attracted to Bo. Sam keeps his sexuality a secret, presuming that the others will dislike him because he’s gay, but otherwise seems fully accepting of the fact that he’s homosexual. He is fascinated by and drawn to Bo, and tells himself repeatedly to stop misinterpreting Bo’s actions as a reciprocated attraction. Bo is married and has children. Bo insists he is not at all homosexual.

The dreams escalate, the looming violence coalesces into a malevolent presence, and Sam has a boner for Bo that won’t go away.

The two major points of ire I have with this book deal with Sam’s Bo-ner and Bo’s reaction, and with the paranormal bad guy. Sam figures out that Bo is indeed attracted to him, but Bo will not admit it or act on it, because of his wife and children. And this is where I became disgusted.

I’m well aware that there are people in heterosexual marriages are denying their homosexuality, or bisexuality, and that they are convinced that it is impossible and unacceptable for them to Be Gay. But in this context, I felt terrible empathy for Bo’s unseen wife and children, because while he was the leader of the group, the owner of the business, and introduced as something of a big alpha-like male, Bo is a truly Not Noble hero.

Sam is young and inexperienced but much more of a hero than Bo. Bo is a cowardly douche. His actions were a retread of tired stereotypes blaming the object of the attraction for the attraction itself, only instead of the alpha male hero blaming the dipshit virgin, we have severely closeted longhaired man blaming his gay boner on a man who is comfortable with his own homosexuality. Bo is attracted to Sam, but even when Sam reacts to Bo’s struggle with compassion and gentleness, Bo blames Sam for the attraction in the first place, coming close but ultimately pushing Sam away when the power of his feelings are too much to handle. Bo would not man up long after he should have. It was not the makings of an admirable hero.

Bo’s leadership and somewhat alpha status are established early in the narration, but they erode as his struggles with his sexuality are revealed, and I thought Sam could do better. Bo seems to want to bone Sam with no repercussions or consequences, with almost no regard for Sam or his absent wife and children, and I lost respect for him because he was a fucking coward.

Herein lie spoilers, because I can’t describe my other problem with this book without discussing the ending. Be ye warned. No, really. Highlight the text to read it.

SPOILER:

The creature killing people over the years and biting children and making a violent mess of an an otherwise beautiful house? It’s a creature from a parallel dimension. I was totally not expecting that. Ghost, maybe, or something of this world, given the ages and ages of house history in the narrative itself. I kept reading because I really wanted to know what the fuck it was that had poisoned the history of the house, but when I found out, I was giggling at the utter insanity of it.

Further, the creature is violent, and it feeds on anger and tension. And given the glimpses in Sam’s dream and the way in which it manifests, it comes across (hur) like a paranormal homophobic version of the Predator. It doesn’t like gays and it wants to slice and dice them! Rah! Every time Bo and Sam get close and attracted and steamy hot, Sam feels the furious presence of the mystery thing. While it doesn’t seem to actually BE homophobic when it shows up – it’s just violent – the scenes and manner in which the creature was introduced led me to write the following in my notes: dream fuck buddy ghost hates the gheys! Oh noes!

Sam sees Bo, Sam gets a Bo-ner, Alien Fuck Buddy begins to materialize in a black haze of evil. No buttsecks for you, Sam!

In addition, Sam frequently dreams that he is the one committing the violence, killing everyone around him in his dreams after anally brutalizing and killing his bed partner. Bo is the one in a self-flagellating closet, but Sam, who otherwise seems very at ease with his sexuality, is the bringer of gay violence in the landscape of his unconscious, and the juxtaposition seems to indicate a brutal but latent self-hatred on Sam’s part that doesn’t fit at all with his character.

Plus, when the baddy bad shows up, Sam instinctively knows how to battle it, and after pages and pages of a slow build of some seriously creepy tension, both Sam and Bo’s attraction and the mysterious presence come to a head (ha ha) and whoosh! It’s over.

Ultimately I thought the reason for the violence and the cruel parallel between the sexuality and that violence was too imbued with ridiculousness to be believed. It was too easy to partially solve the mystery, with too little explanation as to how Sam actually figured out how to fight the source of the evil, and though this book was the first of a series, it left far too many threads unfinished for me to desire the next edition. Nothing was actually solved or contained or even sufficiently addressed. It wasn’t so much a contained narrative as it was a pilot for a three-season long drama that asked more questions than it answered. Only I didn’t want to watch any more. I don’t want Sam to end up with Bo. I don’t want him anywhere near Oleander House or near that troublesome Bo-ner.

I want Sam to end up with a marvelous man who is comfortable with himself and his sexuality, who isn’t a cowardly weenus. I liked Sam, both as a young inexperienced man and as a protagonist. Sam deserves better. Bo needs a swift kick in the ass.

 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    ms bookjunkie says:

    After reading this review I’m a whole lot less bummed about not being able to utilize the free Kindle reads.

    Aw, hell, who am I kidding? I lust after any electronic reader like a . . . bookjunkie lusting after an electronic reader to read ebooks on?

  2. 2
    Emmy says:

    Barbed wangs and ass bangs? Sure you didn’t mix this up with a Lora Leigh book?

    I read a story or two from Ally before I gave up altogether, but you had one up on me…at least you got your slice o’ craptastic for free!

  3. 3
    Ashwinder says:

    So this was nearly a case of I’m not in ur ass savin ur life?

  4. 4
    Sparky says:

    Now, I’m as likely to read this book as I am to poke my eyes out with a lemon zester (the whole bad guy and resolve is enough to make me gag) and the LAST thing i want to read is yet another tale of the cloested homosexual with a family going through the whole tortured routine (seen it in RL, it isn’t fun there, it can stay out of my escapism).

    But it does sound quite REALISTIC and even sympathetic.  Maybe I’m just too sympathetic, but I even feel for the Ted Haggard’s for this world. Being closeted and stuck in a fake life you’re not happy with is going to be hell on anyone’s psyche. And I can see how it leads to anger/rejection towards gays who get to be out and happy without tying their brains into self-hating knots.

    Will it make Bo look like a prat? Well, yeah, but a lot of guys caught in that situation ARE prats. Some of them are the most disgusting homophobes you’d ever have the displeasure to meet. It sounds like a fairly realistic (or even toned down) representation

    So, I can identify with and feel sympathy for Bo. And it is a side of the closet that I think needs to be told. Personally, I wouldn’t want to read his story though, it makes for poor escapism.

  5. 5
    Lorelie says:

    I’m in ur ass, chomping ur life?

    *g*

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    So, I can identify with and feel sympathy for Bo. And it is a side of the closet that I think needs to be told. Personally, I wouldn’t want to read his story though, it makes for poor escapism.

    I don’t disagree with you there, and I have been constantly asking myself if I’m reading Bo’s situation with too much of a heterosexist perspective in place. Being in the closet is an experience that in some narratives could lead to a tremendous amount of tension, though I can understand your reluctance to read books for escapism that are so grounded in a painful reality.

    What really, really pissed me the hell off is the way Bo would toy with Sam’s interest, then freak out at Sam, even when Sam treated Bo with respect and understanding. For the narrative to depict Bo as the leader and subject of admiration of the group, he didn’t act like he deserved any of it.

  7. 7
    Lori says:

    Thank you for reinforcing my decision to give up reading Ally Blue’s work.  I’ve enjoyed aspects of a couple of her books but there was always so much OTT melodrama.  Not my cuppa tea at all.

    I have been constantly asking myself if I’m reading Bo’s situation with too much of a heterosexist perspective in place.

    FWIW the gay men that I know don’t feel much differently about this type of situation that you do.  They certainly understand how difficult it can be to come out.  However, they’re not crazy about the fact that this sort of hurtful asshat behavior is bad PR.  And of course they tend to find themselves in Sam’s position of having closet cases playing mind games with them.

  8. 8
    Aunt Lynn says:

    *sigh*  This is in my TBR pile for reviewing on another blog.  My problem is that I am not a fan of paranormals in the first place, and Ally’s work is hit or miss with me, so now I may just move on to the next.

    I am also not a fan of the closeted protag, though if you’re going to read about it, try Josh Lanyon’s amazing Adrien English gay mystery series.  Jake is such a closeted, self-loathing, and desperate-to-have-a-“normal”-life tortured hero, but damn, he can’t keep his hands off Adrien.  That being said, there’s something about him that makes you (read me) want to care for him.  Makes you want to hug him, tell him it’s going to be okay, then smack him upside the head.  *g*  There are three camps: you either love him, hate him, or both (as I do).  But regardless, it’s a series definitely worth reading.

  9. 9
    Madd says:

    dream fuck buddy ghost hates the gheys! Oh noes!

    Don’t they all?

    Being closeted and stuck in a fake life you’re not happy with is going to be hell on anyone’s psyche.

    But he’s doing it to himself and putting other people through hell for it. My sympathy for him is minor.

    Also, I’m sorry, I have no respect for a hero who cheats, whether they are gay, straight, or bi, if you cheat, you have lost me. I am no longer in your corner. Man up and get your shit together!

  10. 10
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    From Sarah’s description, this sounds as though it could have worked better as straight-up urban fantasy/horror, without the complication of a gay romance with a guy who’s a complete douchebag.  Creature from a parallel dimension that feeds on strong human emotions such as sexual excitement?  Very interesting idea, and one with enormous potential in the right hands.

  11. 11
    Ciar Cullen says:

    Huh. I got kinda hooked on Ally’s writing first by reading a free story (I found it through her site but I believe it was hosted elsewhere). I haven’t read this one, but I’ve really enjoyed the books of hers I’ve read. I think I’m going to give this one a try. I tend to like angsty m/m tales. Not a fan of infidelity in romances, but we’ll see.

  12. 12
    maygirl7 says:

    Bo IS a total douche and continues to be a total douche for several more books before deciding to open the closet door and walk out.  And I still think he’s a douche after that. Can’t stand him.  A later book in the series introduced Dean – bi-guy – who Sam had some fuck-buddy sex with during one of his I’m-not-going-to-keep-hanging-around-for-in-the-closet-Bo moments.  Dean is a cool guy and treated Sam well and yet he still went back to in-the-closet Bo.  It really made me want to throw my Palm across the room except for while the book annoyed me I still love my Palm and didn’t want to hurt it.  (THAT I think is the biggest argument against ebooks in my hyperbolic opinion—if you read a crap book you can’t throw it across the room in disgust without destroying your beloved.)  Anyway, I really have a problem with this series by Ally Blue.  However, there a few other things by her that I liked—“Catching a Buzz” mainly which is about two young guys hawt for each other in a hot and sweet way.  In general, I have not written her off as someone whose books I won’t buy, but I think hard and long before I do.

    spamword: quality69.  I wonder how many quality 69 moments Bo and Sam had.

  13. 13
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    A later book in the series introduced Dean – bi-guy – who Sam had some fuck-buddy sex with during one of his I’m-not-going-to-keep-hanging-around-for-in-the-closet-Bo moments.

    WTF?  Is this a frustrated Supernatural slash fic writer or what?

  14. 14
    ev says:

    At least there were no haunted vaginas in it.

  15. 15
    Alisha Rai says:

    —“Catching a Buzz”

    I liked that one, too. I like Ally Blue. Haven’t read this series yet, but I’ve enjoyed the other books of hers I’ve come across. I wouldn’t write her off as an author, either.

  16. 16
    Debra says:

    I guess Ghostbusters weren’t available?

    Besides the already mentioned nice Sam, douchebag Bo, I really, really don’t like children dying in books.  It’s a turnoff, no matter the genre.  I know there have been successful books with children dying (Bonnie in Gone With the Wind comes to mind), but it just breaks my heart and then there goes my escapism mood and I’m online sending money to Ethiopia.

  17. 17
    Ally Blue says:

    Ouch!
    **wipes off blood**
    LOL. I’m sorry the book didn’t work for you, Sarah, but thank you for giving it a shot :)

    Just fyi in case anyone’s worried, while there is reference to a child’s death off-screen in Oleander House, no children actually die in the book or any of the books in the series. Children dying = wallbanger for me too. Literally. I remember throwing a book across the room once for a child torture scene. I didn’t sleep for a week.

    Er. What’s Supernatural? Seriously. No, I don’t get out much O_O

  18. 18
    JenB says:

    Wow. I think I gave this book 4.75 or 5 stars when I read it, which was unusual for me since I read tonnes* of m/m books but little to no horror.

    So…if you’ve got it in your TBR pile, go ahead and give it a shot. Just expect a lot more horror than romance. And don’t expect a stand-alone story. Seems fair, no? I thought it kicked ass, and it was nice to read something that didn’t feel like the blah cookie cutter junk flooding the m/m market these days.

    Ally, you’re the coolest chick evah. I love you long time. *muah*

    *Metric. They’re bigger.

  19. 19
    Ally Blue says:

    Thank you, JenB!

  20. 20
    SonomaLass says:

    Thanks for the warning, SB Sarah.  This definitely wouldn’t be my cuppa—the married dad questioning his sexuality is very hard to pull off as a romantic hero, and I think this sounds like a version I wouldn’t enjoy.  Personal preference, certainly—having been in the wife’s shoes, I know that there are more and less “heroic” ways for a man to face up to his real sexual orientation.  The truly heroic ones, IMO, do not involve ongoing infidelity, which is the impression I’m getting here.

    I agree with ev—I’m glad to know there were no haunted vaginas!

  21. 21
    Viorica says:

    It was very gracious of you to reply like that, Ally. A lot of authors aren’t that humble. *coughAnneRicecough*

    Supernatural is a TV show that centers around two brothers- Sam and Dean- who hunt demons and the like. A good chunk of the fandom is wants to see them hook up, hence the question. ;)

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