WOW!!! We have a special guest with us today, with something super exciting. Exclusive to SSBR we have a Video Author Reading from the lovely, and might I say very handsome… Mr Lloyd Meeker. We were delighted when he agreed to pop in and read a passage from his latest novel The Companion… just for you!
That’s not all… you can also check out our Macky’s review and Lloyd will also be gifting one lucky reader an e-copy of The Companion, so don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter below.
The Companion by Lloyd A. Meeker
Title ~ The Companion
Author ~ Lloyd A. Meeker
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 23rd July 2014
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Shepherd Bucknam hasn’t had a lover in more than a decade and doesn’t need one. As a Daka, he coaches men in the sacred art and mystery of sexual ecstasy all the time, and he loves his work. It’s his calling. In fact, he’s perfectly content—except for the terrors of his recurring nightmare and the ominous blood-red birthmarks on his neck. He’s convinced that together they foretell his early and violent death.
When Shepherd’s young protégé is murdered, LAPD Detective Marco Fidanza gets the case. The two men are worlds apart: Marco has fought hard for everything he’s accomplished, in sharp contrast to the apparent ease of Shepherd’s inherited wealth—but their mutual attraction is too hot for either of them to ignore.
Shepherd swears he’ll help find his protégé’s killer, but Marco warns him to stay out of it. When an influential politician is implicated, the police investigation grinds to a halt. Shepherd hires his own investigator. Marco calls it dangerous meddling. As their volatile relationship deepens, Shepherd discovers his nightmares might not relate to the future, but to the deadly legacy of a past life—a life he may have to revisit before he can fully live and love in this one.
This has probably been one of the hardest reviews that I've written and one rating I've dithered about more than any other and I hope when I've finished you feel you've read an honest, balanced review that as discerning readers you'll be able to make your own decisions and choices about without making too much of a drama out of it. I want to address why later but first I'm just going to give you an idea of the book and my feelings prior to the 'moment' that had me rethinking my opinions of the story up to that point.
So let's do the 'reviewy' bits first.....
I can't deny, The Companion started really strong for me as I got sucked into this intriguing story about Shepherd who is a Daka, a type of spiritual sexual surrogate who uses tantric, erotic energy...in his case full on sex, to "evaluate, counsel and address a clients deeply personal issues regarding sexuality, intimacy and relationship—fostering healing and integration thereof" (that's the google explanation)
Put less formally, in Shepherds own words;
"...real sex is a mystical journey that few men explore, let alone become skilled at—probably because they never learned what sex is, never had anyone that lead them into the real wonder. That's what I do. I'm a Daka. I coach men in sexual ecstasy."
Shepherd Bucknam is trust fund rich...extremely so, and like most rich kids has had issues with his (now deceased) parents, especially his alcoholic, self absorbed mother. He's beautiful, highly desirable sexually, and has no trouble giving himself physically to any man; it's his calling, but he isn't without issues. There are things from his past that have shaped his outlook on life (more of that to come later) and recurring nightmares that he feels are warnings about his future. He's convinced that these violent dreams, in which he thinks he sees himself being beaten to death are prophetic and along with a set of strange red spots like a birthmark on his neck, that arrived during puberty...the same time the nightmares began, is convinced that he's foreseeing his own death. Because of this, witnessing anything violent provokes a very strong reaction in him, similar to people who can't stand the sight of blood! Sex is his gift to give, he never discriminates about his clients. He loves that he can give enlightenment and pleasure to each and everyone of them, regardless of age, body type or looks. He teaches their bodies " to sing their sexual intimacy like Hvorostovsky sings opera" but giving his actual love is something he holds back and detaches himself from. Shepherd Bucknam is a very complex man!
To cut a long story short he meets a young hustler named Stef and seeing something in him encourages the young guy to stop prostituting. Recognizing elements of himself in this young man he offers to teach him the ways of a Daka and so becomes his mentor. They forge a very tight friendship, which granted includes sex but not in a romantic/relationship sense. They are master and apprentice but still extremely close friends, until one night Stef goes to meet a client, who he hints at as being a pretty important person. That same night he's murdered! Enter Detective Marco Fidanza, the homicide cop sent to investigate and pretty much on first meeting there's a palpable, sexually tense attraction that sparks between the two of them, which at the start is made even more tense because Shepherd is a possible suspect, but once that's taken off the cards they jump fairly quickly into what becomes a passionate but, because of Shepherds issues, complicated relationship. When Marco's investigation into Stefs murder goes cold and hits a brick wall, with the help of another ex cop turned investigator, Shepherd begins to look into the murder himself...expressly against the wishes of his tough,Italian policeman! During this time he also encounters a woman who turns the notion he has of his own future completely upside down by introducing him to the idea that the death he's seeing is not his own but is in fact the death of someone from the past, and this opens the book up to more mystical/spiritual interpretations and Shepherds life journey takes a sharp left into territories he never saw coming and an epiphany that will change his future but not in the way he ever envisaged. Obviously there's a lot more meat to the bones of the story than I've given, I've really only outlined the story, but it was completely different to what I was expecting. Not complicated as such, but far more intertwined than I thought because of its spiritual sub plots that actually played a big part in its development, however I really liked that twist on the books general premise. From the blurb I was thinking it would just be another sexy, gritty, heated, cop/victim murder mystery but it's so much more than that and all the way through the first 65% I found myself quite engrossed. There were definite flashes of 5 star brilliance because Lloyd Meeker can write!! No doubts on that count, but there were also a few things that I found myself wanting, perhaps, a bit more from. I thought that the sexual side of Marco and Shepherds relationship felt pushed, slightly, into the background. The passion and emotion was always there between them but strangely, considering the highly sexual nature of Shepherd some of their love scenes (not all I have to add) were at times slightly muted, I suppose I was expecting lots of hot and heavy graphic action in the bedroom but then again that isn't the main focus of the book so isn't an annoyed niggle, just an observation. Also there were moments when I found myself wanting a touch more 'grit' that I thought would have been more apparent in the murder side of the story but again no major issues there, just my thoughts.
And then at around 66% something happens involving him receiving a letter from his dead mother that opens another can of worms, resulting in a conversation between him and Marco about something already hinted earlier at in the story around Shepherds past that triggered a pretty strong reaction in me, one that made me put the book down to try to gather my thoughts about what I'd just read and why I'd had such an 'uncomfortable' response to it. I can't put this in spoiler tags like I could on Goodreads and I don't want to colour anyone's judgement further by pasting chunks of the books dialogue, knowing that by doing that you're only getting to see one instance in the story. So what I'll do is try to explain what bothered me and then tell you how I came to accept that as controversial as it comes over, and I'll be honest it still bothers me now when I think of it, that's not changed, I've been able to approach it with a different insight.
This is about child abuse. A trigger that I know can understandably be a make or break decision for a lot of readers. It isn't tagged in the books blurb, which I think it certainly should have been, but I reckon that lies within the publishers responsibility. It jumped out at me instantly and I think it should have done so with their editorial team but that's a discussion for another day.
Personally I'll tackle anything in a story, I may find the subject distressing and I definitely never condone or make light of whatever that subject may be, but if it's a part of the story I'll read through, knowing its the authors vision and therefore integral to the plot. I know as an adult I always have a choice to say yay or nay to anything I do or don't wish to read. But I have to say my first reaction to how Lloyd portrayed Shepherds abuse as a child of nine did take me aback, to a state of discomfort. That was because in this case, nine year old Shepherd was shown to be almost benevolently accepting of the abuse from his uncle and happy to be giving his abuser pleasure. There were key phrases from the child's POV that kept jumping out at me like "proud-happy-to do it", "grateful to him" "I felt nothing but compassion for him" and I just couldn't get my head around what I was reading. This felt wrong and I seriously considered not carrying on and pulling out of reviewing the book, but I'm not a giver upper and having invested so much time to The Companion which I had been enjoying up to this point, I took a breather, talked to my blog buddy Monique and decided to read through to the end but all the while this one particular section was niggling at the back of my mind. I wanted to know why Mr Meeker would introduce something that I knew could possibly affect his readership negatively...so I contacted him and holding nothing back about how I felt, aired all my unease and worries, not knowing what sort of a reaction I would get from him.
First of all I have to say what a gracious, considerate, and clement man Lloyd Meeker is. He took my concerns seriously, was quite accepting of the possibility of me not wanting to even review the book, in fact he told me he understood and if I felt I couldn't review his book not to worry, and from then on we ended up having one of the most honest, open conversations I've ever had with a stranger, because of course that's how we started out. I was humbled because he entrusted me with some very private, personal life experiences that he didn't need to offer up, most of which are his to tell not mine but what I can tell you guys, is that this book is semi autobiographical. Shepherds abuse is based on Lloyd's own personal memories and in a roundabout way, his own unconventional upbringing. Below are some of his answer's from parts of our conversation that made me realise there are aspects of child abuse that unless we've been victims ourselves can be hard to comprehend, therefore never make spot judgements—I could quite easily have got on my high horse and ranted about how I felt that this was irresponsibly written, because as far as I was concerned this upside down view of a child's reasoning was just ridiculous. Surely this portrayal of child abuse couldn't be right?— I would have been so wrong! There's also the fact that each persons reactions to it later in life are obviously not so cut and dried.
He's been very kind in letting me choose and relate publicly, some of his replies relating to himself:
"I also gave Shepherd my own experience of sexual abuse in his attitude. I grew up in a culture where "serving others" and "spiritual service" were priority values. The first time I was sexually engaged, I saw the perpetrator as someone in pain and need, and my spiritual service of him was to let him have use of my body. Perhaps other children wouldn't think of the experience that way, but I was steeped in that cosmology and it was an easy way to distance myself from the crime."
"....the recipient of sexual,abuse has to grow past being a victim in order to heal and get out of the hell of the damage. The miracle is when I stopped being a victim I began to have a completely different experience. It didn't change the nature of the crime, it didn't change the evil of the perpetrator, it didn't change my wounds and scars. It changed my relationship to all that. I began to grow beyond it, into a new life I love. I forgave my violator not because he deserved it , but because I did. It was hard work."
And this was an insight into our conversation about Shepherds 'calm' reaction later in life to what had happened to him...
"....such a detached, service oriented interpretation of those events is a survival mechanism. Shepherd detached to a high-level view of what was happening to his body in order to survive, or at least stay sane. It leaves behind a view of sex in general that allows him to develop,expertise without the usual emotional connections. That's what made it so easy for Shepherd to feel he didn't need a traditional relationship."
There was a lot more from Mr Meeker that I could have expressed but as I stated before that's not for me to tell. In all truthfulness he shouldn't HAVE to defend his reasons but I still think this particular part of the book is going to be 'touch paper' for some readers. I still can't fully understand. How can I, having never lived through something like that? But I can begin to see it in a different light now; and it's part in relation to the story. Enough to make me once again look at rating the book as a whole, balancing the good with the bad, and not just on my own later discomfort and concerns. I was going to rate it lower but in retrospect I don't think that's fair now because I asked my in-depth questions and I got informed answers back, so I'm going to go with my original rating that the book was settling at before my moment of disconnection. So four stars it is!
Sorry for this being a bit longer winded than normal but I hope it gives you enough insight as to whether this will be a good buy for you. I know it's a reading experience that will stay with me for a long time and it put me in touch with a remarkable, very spiritual man, who's attitude to life and his own experiences touched me deeply.
So...do I recommend The Companion? Yes. Absolutely. Lloyd A Meeker is a very stylish writer!
He left me with this thoughtful quote:
"The beauty of life is not found in what happens to us, but in what we do with what happens to us."
Buy it Here
Lloyd A. Meeker reads a passage from The Companion
About Lloyd A. Meeker
Lloyd Meeker can't help what he writes – stories arising from the “between places”, the mystical overlapping between the worlds of matter and spirit, and the eldritch beauty that dwells there. That’s his natural habitat.
He's in love with the adventure and magic of living there, loves plunging into stories full of both, and wants to take you along. Mostly he's in love with love, and believes deeply in the power of love to overcome any challenge. He’s known it in his own life, and seen it in the lives of many others.
In addition to his written work, which includes novels, essays, poetry and short stories, he has served since 2008 as a judge in the Queer Foundation’s annual National High School Seniors Essay Contest. Its goal is to promote effective writing by, about, and/or for queer youth, and to award scholarships to the winners. Finalists are selected from schools across the United States by members of the National Council of Teachers of English.
His fantasy romance Blood Royal won the 2013 Abalone Award, chosen by the Cultural, Interracial and Multicultural special interest chapter of RWA in the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal category.
Happily ensorcelled by music, subtle energy healing, and the wonders of nature, Meeker lives with his very understanding husband in southern Florida, among friends and family, orchids, and giant hibiscus that take his breath away every morning.
Lloyd is gifting to one lucky reader an e-copy of The Companion, all you need to do for your chance to win is enter the Rafflecopter below.