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review 2017-07-24 03:04
ARC Review: The Garden (Lavender Shores #2) by Rosalind Abel
The Garden - Rosalind Abel

I may have asked the author for an early copy. Possibly.

Oh, who am I kidding - I shamelessly begged as soon as I saw CrabbyPatty reading it. 

And I would beg again, if given the choice, because this book was fabulous. Gorgeous. Rapturous. Captivating. Brilliant. If my 15 status updates didn't convince you to pick up a copy of this as soon as you can, hopefully my review will.

Where book 1 was a mostly easy love story between Andrew and Joel, book 2 isn't like that at all. In this 2nd book, the author created a much more emotional and pain-filled plot, giving both of the MCs past hurts and some big issues they must overcome.

Gilbert Bryant (Andrew's cousin who sold him the cabin), a member of one of the founding families of Lavender Shores, has escaped his hometown as soon as he could. He designs one of a kind jewelry for the rich and famous, and he's perfectly happy in his cabin above Lake Tahoe, having no illusions that he'll ever be as happy as his cousin. Not that he thinks he deserves to be. Except he's having to go back for family get-togethers every so often, one of which is Andrew and Joel's engagement party.

Walden Thompson has recently moved to Lavender Shores, a place he visited once as a kid and dreamed of making his home ever since. He's a teacher and running from a past he's not proud of. It's clear early on that Walden keeps mostly to himself, and also doesn't have any aspirations of finding someone to love. 

The two meet at the gym, where Gilbert is on a treadmill behind Walden on a Stairmaster. Lusting for the well-formed ass in front of him, Gilbert thinks Walden is a tourist. Attraction is immediate, and after some steamy times in the steam room, they spend a hot night together. Their specific kinks line up pretty well, and that first bedroom scene was .... uh, well... let's call it rough and rowdy. I don't think I've ever read a scene like that in an M/M romance novel... not even in one that I knew would be kinky. 

I might have fanned myself.

Moving on.

Then Gilbert and Walden meet again at the engagement party, and Gilbert finds out Walden is a teacher. Immediate recoil by Gilbert makes things a bit awkward for Walden. I was scratching my head as to why that would be an issue for Gilbert, since no reason is given at that time.

Still licking his wounds, Walden ends up in a resort kind of place on a short vacation near Lake Tahoe, unaware that Gilbert lives in the area. While being propositioned by a Gilbert-lookalike, the real deal shows up, and the attraction still burns brightly. Also, Gilbert might be a little jealous. Possibly. Even if he tells himself that he shouldn't be, because he's no good for Walden.

And Walden fears being hurt again, and possibly falling down that rabbit hole of pain and shame once more if he lets himself get close to Gilbert. Sex is easy (and super hawt) - feelings are not welcome here. 

I really liked that the author didn't make things easy for them. There's a lot of angst here, and both men have pasts that still haunt them. No, I'm not going to tell you what those pasts are, but let it suffice that they both struggle, in their own ways. They're both still hurting, and while they don't immediately share their deepest and darkest secrets, they are both honest about being troubled, and how those troubles are impacting their views and actions. 

Of course, true love will not be thwarted, no matter how hard they both fight it. This is a romance, after all. 

What I really loved is how Gilbert and Walden help each other come to terms with their pasts. Even as Gilbert believes he doesn't deserve Walden, believes the things hateful people have told him in the past, even as he confesses his fears, his depression, his attempts at ending things when the pain got too much, all of his darkness, it is clear that Walden doesn't judge Gilbert for his past. And when Walden comes clean about his own past, he realizes that Gilbert isn't judging him either. 

The author created two complex, flawed, and yet strong characters, with histories that still shape their actions, but also allowed them to grow, to realize things, and to forge a new path - together. Their story isn't without pitfalls, and for some time, it's two steps forward, one step back, but as the plot progresses, their relationship goes from hot animalistic sexy times to real intimacy. Their fears don't disappear overnight, there's no magical healing here, but they face their fears, they move forward, they learn, they grow. 

This is hurt/comfort/healing at its finest, and I didn't want to put this book down until I had finished their story, only stopping for such pesky reasons as work and sleep. Absolutely heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. A fantastic supporting cast rounded out this novel, with many of the characters making repeat appearances in this book and its predecessor. 

While this book could easily be read as a standalone, I would personally recommend you read the first one too, because a lot of the history of the town, as well as the intermingled family history, is explained in that first one.

 

What I also want to mention are the titles. The Palisade and The Garden are both places that are important to the stories and to the characters. I thought that this was rather clever on the author's part, since both places play a huge role in the plot lines of their respective stories. I imagine that a veranda will be prominent in the third book, which is Donovan's story.

That's next. I'll be begging for a copy, for sure. 

This is one series you do not want to miss. Read it!


** I received a free copy of this book from its author. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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review 2017-07-19 23:52
Are You Sleeping/Kathleen Barber
Are You Sleeping - Kathleen L. Barber

Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father's murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidant, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay.

The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past—starting with her last name.

When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future.

 

This was fine. This was solid. This was unexceptional, but enjoyable.

 

If there had been more backstory to this, it might have been more captivating. I felt like the characters were pretty bland and needed some salt. Josie especially. She's gone and changed her name, completely reinvented herself. I want to know how this went about. I want to see her changing and know if that was hard for her. But we're kind of just thrown in the middle of things. I never quite understood why she couldn't forgive or at least talk to her sister.

 

I also felt like the women were angsty all the time and completely fell into a trope of being unstable. Her boyfriend, Caleb, could have made them angsty and could have caused a lot of conflict, but he and Josie just travel places and sometimes raise their voices a little but for the most part, skate by without the realistic drama I wanted to read about.

 

However, despite my issues with characterization, this was a pretty easy read and I enjoyed it all the way through. The podcasts were a lot of fun--I understand why so many people across the nation were captivated by them and drawn in.

 

There was a lot of telling to this story and I never quite felt very actively involved, which is a shame, because the plot was interesting enough and there was a pretty big mystery that should have had me flipping pages furiously.

 

If you're looking for a solid okay, this has a cool premise. If you want extraordinary characters, go somewhere else.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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review 2017-07-19 01:12
ARC Review: Satin by KC Wells
Satin (A Material World Book 2) - K.C. Wells,Meredith Russell

The 2nd in this fabulous series, Satin can be read as a standalone. 

Joel Hunter is a DC (Detective Constable) on a surveillance job with his partner Trish, in a bar/lounge, hoping that the owner comes by so he can be arrested.

The stakeout is going fine, but then Joel is rather distracted when Satin takes the stage - a beautiful singer whose sultry voice nearly puts Joel under a spell. 

Shortly thereafter, with the bar owner locked up and the stakeout over, but unable to get Satin out of his mind, the smitten DC goes back to the bar to listen to Satin again. 

And Satin makes her move.

Except, Satin is really Ross Dauntry, a female impersonator and aspiring ballet dancer. Joel gets over his shock pretty quickly and agrees to meet Ross for coffee, as friends. Joel has until now identified as straight, and any previous attraction to a man has never been acted upon. He is confused at the attraction but also doesn't feel any shame or massive angst. He is willing to explore this thing with Ross, even if they only end up as friends.

Obviously, Joel isn't as straight as he thinks he is. Things get steamy pretty quick, and there's very little angst in this book, other than Ross wondering if Joel is attracted to him or to Satin, and Joel taking a bit of time to make peace with his attraction to Ross. The sexy times are not only steamy but seriously sensuous, and I contemplated taking a cold shower after each scene. There's one in the ballet studio where Ross trains... holy hot boysecks, Batman!

Of course, there's a bit of a conflict there too, and Ross' roommate didn't do him any favors with her interrogation of Joel, but I understood where she was coming from. Joel struggles with how to be in a relationship and his feelings for Ross, while Ross falls quickly but also realizes that he might set himself up for heartbreak. 

Trish was a great character - supportive and not afraid to call Joel on his bullshit when he needed it.

There's a scene towards the end - gah! Nope, not gonna tell you what happens. You should read this for yourself and experience the same kind of swooning I did. 

KC Wells' personal brand of magic shines through in every word in this book. This was fabulous, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I'm pretty damn sure you will too.

Recommended.


** I received a free copy of this book from its author. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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review 2017-07-17 18:35
Reservation Blues, by Sherman Alexie
Reservation Blues - Sherman Alexie

This is my first Alexie and not my last. I'm struggling with what to say about it and how because somehow this not-huge novel feels like it's packed in everything about Indian (as they refer to themselves) culture with its focus on a particular reservation and a rock band's steep rise and fall. It does so with deadpan humor and a mix of the fantastic and real that calls to mind magical realism but is distinctive. It's necessarily sad yet not depressing--there's the humor, and there's wonder and hope. There's not an insignificant or uncharismatic character in the book. I feel like I've taken a long, strange trip with them and wish them well.

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review 2017-07-17 16:04
Kept me guessing
We Are Always Watching - Hunter Shea

I got this out of the Horror section but until late in the story I didn't know if it was going to turn out to be supernatural or human monsters. That would be telling though. Part of the fun is trying to work out that point.

 

The story had a lot of action once it got going. The first half is basically character development before things heat up. There was some foreshadowing that never really went anywhere and a few things didn't quite fit together, but I enjoyed the read. The only real niggle was one of the explanations near the end that was the reverse of known science. Let's just say that inbreeding tends to produce mutations and that's one of those everybody knows that facts.

 

There was also too little explanation of how the guardians managed to get close to the family without ever being seen. I was a little disappointed by the ending, but at least it tied everything up. The writing itself was good and made it hard to stop in the later chapters. I guess sometimes you just have to enjoy a read for what it is and not worry about realism.

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