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review 2017-05-15 02:37
ARC Review: Summer Stock by Vanessa North
Summer Stock - Vanessa North

Vanessa North has gone and done it again. With Summer Stock, she's back with a lovely romance between a rumored bad boy Hollywood actor and a North Carolina low country handyman who meet each other during a summer of building stage sets and acting for a local Shakespeare company owned by the former's cousin and the latter's friend.

Ryan Hertzog, Hollywood star, has returned to North Caroline for the summer, told to lay low by his publicist and avoid any further scandals. His rumored relationship with his friend Ali and her boyfriend West has sent him fleeing for the opposite coast to hide from the glare of the Hollywood lights.

Trey Donovan, handyman and owner of a renovation business, has had his own reasons for laying low - an abusive ex has made him distrustful and scared to get into another relationship.

They meet, they get it on, and then Ryan runs into Trey's dog Ferdinand (Ferdy), a 200 lbs mastiff with a heart of gold and an affinity for chewing on underwear, and ends up butt naked outside of Trey's house, with the paparazzi all too ready to take his picture.

Clearly, the relationship isn't off to a good start, even if it's only meant to be a summer fling.

But Ryan and Trey meet time and again and just cannot keep their hands off each other - the flames burn brightly. But it's only for the summer, right?

The book is really all about the relationship between the two men, and how a summer fling develops into more. Of course, it's not smooth sailing, what with Ryan being bisexual and Trey being a bit bi-phobic and suffering from foot-in-mouth disease on occasion, but they talk, apologies are made and accepted, and sheets are burned up. Holy hot boysecks, Batman!

This author continues to impress me with her writing. She's not afraid to defy the tropes, she unflinchingly speaks her mind through her characters, she points out how assumptions tend to be wrong, and she doesn't use stereotypes. Her characters are fully fleshed out, complex and imperfect, which makes them more likable and relatable. Vanessa North makes you question your own prejudice, especially when it comes to expectations of the Hollywood actors in this book.

Trey has some demons to slay, and he still suffers on occasion from a need to sabotage the good things in his life, because he was made to feel worthless by his ex and doesn't believe that he deserves a good thing like Ryan.

Ryan is not perfect either, but he's not a stereotypical Hollywood star. He loves acting, and he is committed to the small theater where he's performing for the summer, happily giving acting advice to his fellow players and wanting to do what's best for his cousin Caro and her friend Mason (the owners). He is sometimes exasperated by Trey's stupid comments about bisexuality, and at times hides his hurt.

There was a moment around 80% or so when I thought this book was taking a direction not to my liking, but of course I should have trusted the author who didn't let me down. In the end, both men grow throughout this book, and they journey they took was, while not smooth, definitely worth taking.

Kudos to this author for writing bisexual characters, stereotype-defying characters, and complex, flawed characters, not only for the main pairing but also for the supporting cast. And extra kudos for Ferdy, the most lovable, slobbering, and loving beast there ever was.

There's a HEA, of course, and a lovely epilogue, and all's well that ends well, as The Bard himself would tell you.

Highly recommended.

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

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review 2017-05-06 00:00
Riptide (A Renegades Novel)
Riptide (A Renegades Novel) - Skye Jordan,Joan Swan Sensitivity is sexy. Skye Jordan takes that mantra to heart with her alphanators. The hard shells are difficult to crack, but the marshmallow center makes for a gooey, tempting and hard to walk away from brand of seduction. Riptide is the journey of how a boy learns to become a man. How a woman finally takes a stand. Why life never goes according to plan. Through self - discovery and a much needed helping hand Zach and Tessa end up finding that they need and want each other in the end. Riptide proves that brainy can be sexy and life is sometimes messy, but if something is meant to be, love can and will find a way.
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review 2017-04-18 01:58
ARC Review: Wake Up Call by JL Merrow
Wake Up Call - J.L. Merrow

I can always count on this author to write a really British book. Wake Up Call is no exception in that. What is different in this book is that while I'm used to JL Merrow writing humorous and thus lighter fare, this book has a melancholy and painful undertone throughout.

First, there's Devan Thompson, a car mechanic, who's come to Porthkennack on the Cornwall coast to find someone he's wanted to meet all his life -

the mother who gave him up for adoption at birth

(spoiler show)

. He's decided that he's going to

track her down and ask her why she did what she did. Basically, he's planning to force the woman to give him a reason, without any thought to what may have led her to the decision

(spoiler show)

, so I wasn't really on his side from the start.

Still, Devan is a good chap, and this becomes clear when he runs into Kyle Anthony, who's lived in Porthkennack for a few months and already has a reputation as the town drunk, as he tends to pass out in inappropriate places. There's a reason for this - Kyle has been diagnosed with narcolepsy, but refuses to seek treatment, and hasn't even told his parents about the diagnosis. The condition has so far cost him his job as a barrister (that's English for attorney), his boyfriend, and he's built a bunch of walls around himself, needing nobody and no one. Or so he tells himself.

Devan makes no assumptions, even when told not to bother, with a sneer to boot, and merely stands guard over a passed out Kyle until the other man wakes up again. Attraction is immediate, and they begin spending time together. Devan's personality comes out in droves, and his compassion and easy-going manner have Kyle second-guessing his decision to keep everyone at bay and living life as a recluse in his house on the cliffs.

I'm not going to tell you the whole plot here - you should read this book and have the full experience - but I will tell you that there's humor and banter and very British English throughout the book, with interesting, complex, fully realized characters who both struggle with their lot in life and have serious doubts about what they might have to offer a partner - what with Kyle's narcolepsy and Devan's being a simple car mechanic. Their budding relationship is not smooth sailing, and there are instances when they both walk away in anger, with slamming doors and hurt feelings. Kyle came across as a bit whiny on occasion - while I understood his frustration with his condition, I didn't quite understand why a grown man would choose to hide himself away, instead of facing the issue head-on. I also lacked sympathy for Devan on occasion, especially when it came to his quest for answers, because it felt supremely selfish to me. It was only when he was given the true reason that he got some clarity on his motivations, and almost grew up before my very eyes.

There are supporting characters too, the most prominent being Ceri, a waitress in the local cafe, to whom Devan takes a liking and with whom he also starts spending time. She's an interesting character, cynical and blunt, but has her reasons for being that way. I liked her a lot - she didn't take crap from anyone, and she made Devan think. There's no romantic interest here for either - but they do become friends. Sort of.

The plot flows easily, and while the romance between Devan and Kyle is rather quiet and languid, there are passionate moments within as well. For the most part, the melancholy undertones persist, as Devan finds out more about

his mother

(spoiler show)

, and Ceri's backstory, and Kyle faces a decision on what to do about the narcolepsy.

The pace picks up a bit toward the ending of the book as Devan's little sister gets herself into a tight spot, and both Devan and Kyle rush to London to help out. This leads to Devan's doubts raising their ugly heads again which... well, you read this for yourself.

The primary location of this book was chosen really well - an old fishing village, with possibly pirates and smugglers in its history, with rocky cliffs and hidden tunnels, which now depends primarily on tourism to support its residents.

The ending felt a little rushed, especially since the subplot with Devan's sister was resolved so quickly, but we did get a fabulous epilogue, so I was happy with that.

Overall, this was a great first book in this series, and I'm keen to check out the others.

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

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review 2017-03-13 23:12
ARC Review: Insight (The Community #1) by Santino Hassell
Insight (The Community Book 1) - Santino Hassell

Well, folks - I'm no longer a Santino Hassell virgin. This is the book for which I traded in my v-card, and now I sit here, wondering what on earth is wrong with me for holding out for so long.

Insight is the first book in a new series called The Community. I'm not going to explain to you what The Community in question is or what its purpose is - I'm just going to let you read this book (I encourage you to read this book. I demand you read this book, OMG) and let Nate take you inside what can only be described as an intriguing, intense, slightly creepy and twisted mindfuck.

I'm sure we've all at one point or another idly wished for a super-human power, like being able to read people's minds or feel their emotions or manipulate them into doing our bidding without them realizing their being manipulated or predict what the future holds or... well, you get my drift. Now imagine, really imagine, being able to do just one of those things.

Nate Black, for example, is an empath. He can feel people's emotions, as well as emotions attached to an every day object, such as a necklace. Imagine for a minute what that might do to a person, to always feel every emotion someone else has, just because you're touching them. Imagine greeting someone with a handshake, or someone just bumping into you while you're walking down the street or in a crowded train, and you feel. every. thing. Just as if they were your own feelings. Imagine wondering if what the other person feels are their true feelings or the ones you pushed on them with your empath ability.

Ask Nate how that feels, when you're an empath but cannot control this supposed "gift", and you feel it all, all the time. Ask Nate how it feels when your mama just up one day and leaves you, and you're stuck with your aunt, who doesn't even like you much. Ask Nate what it's like to be bullied in high school because he's gay, and the one boy he liked turned on him, because possibly, your uncontrolled powers pushed your own feelings unto this boy, and you just can't be sure whether the feelings were yours or his. And also, your brother was an asshole. You too might be cynical and lonely and depressed, avoiding people whenever you can.

When Nate's twin brother Theo turns up dead in New York from an apparent suicide, and the story doesn't gel with a vision Nate has in a dream, Nate decides that maybe it's time to hitch a ride to NYC himself and ask some questions about what really happened to his more powerful brother.

Fortuitously, Nate manages to hitch a ride with Trent, a normal human, who's also one of the few from whom Nate gets positive feelings. Warmth. Kindness. Someone who makes him feel that he's not just a fuck-up, someone who floods him with good emotions upon first touch.

The author takes his readers on a wild ride from Texas to New Orleans to NYC, and that's not even half the book. Once Trent and Nate arrive in NYC, the creepiness factor only increases. I'll refer you to the intense and twisted mindfuck comment above.

There's a romance here, yes, but it does not take center stage, and instead provides the basis for the plot. It's like the wrapper around the whole thing, really, like a rubber band that holds Nate together so he can focus on finding out the truth. Like a beacon in the darkness, Trent is all that is good and true, and possibly the only person Nate trusts.

Be prepared for unexpected twists and turns, and more than one "holy shit, what just happened?". I won't tell you anymore than that.

It's a wild ride, but I couldn't put this book down for any length of time until I had finished. If this is the kind of book this author produces, I may need my sanity checked for holding out this long.

Run, don't walk, to get yourself a copy. It's available now.

Highly recommended.

Also, where's the next installment, Mr. Hassell? I needs it. I needs it bad!!

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

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review 2017-02-22 01:19
ARC Review: Dating Ryan Alback by J.E. Birk
Dating Ryan Alback - J.E. Birk

Well... this was different.

We all know the trope - rich actor meets regular guy and romance ensues. And this book has that trope, except the way the rich actor meets the regular guy is unusual.

Ryan Alback, the actor in question, is a very private person and hates the limelight. He loves his job, but doesn't like being in the public eye. He's more or less a recluse, after a bad Hollywood relationship turned very sour and Ryan felt used.

During an interview shortly before Valentine's Day, the talk show host launches a Dating Game - people can write in to the show to possibly win a basically blind date with the hot actor. Reluctantly, Ryan agrees.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Jason Santos, a somewhat shy teacher who only allowed his friend to enter him if she would then leave him alone about his love life (or lack thereof), has been chosen as Ryan's perfect date, and the talk show is paying for a long weekend at a nice romantic hotel.

Both men have been burned in the past, and neither expects anything good to come from this weekend date, but they find that they do have some major things in common, and actually enjoy themselves. I really liked how the author didn't make things easy for them - their early interactions are rather awkward, like you'd expect two men to behave after having been put in the same location as nothing more than a publicity stunt.

Ryan had a very difficult time trusting Jason, and Jason seemed to be still very hung up on his ex-boyfriend (the guy who refused his marriage proposal and broke his heart), and I didn't really feel that there was any kind of spark at first between the two men.

Both of them were also really nice guys - Ryan being super normal and not blinded by his success, and Jason intent on starting a non-profit to help kids whose parents were undocumented immigrants.

Over the long weekend in Vermont, as they spend time together, both men realize that there might be something there after all, despite their somewhat unconventional way of meeting.

Of course, smooth sailing is out of the question, and Ryan's distrust for most people rears its ugly head when a tabloid posts pictures of them together, with what seems to be a quote from Jason.

I understood how Ryan could have misjudged this situation, and how angry he was, so angry that he wouldn't even listen to Jason defend himself and deny the accusation.

Obviously, at that point, the weekend is over and Jason flees the hotel at once, heading home and moving on.

I liked this a lot, and I was engaged from start to finish. Their story just easily flows, with ups and downs, and at no time was I bored. There aren't any major lulls, nor are there any rapid time jumps, and the development of their relationship seemed natural in the time frame in which it takes place.

Both Ryan and Jason must learn to trust each other, and this obviously takes time, especially considering how they both have been hurt before. I liked that Jason didn't look at Ryan as some famous movie star, but took the time to get to know the person behind the famous face. He also had some backbone, and didn't easily let Ryan off the hook.

What bothered me a bit, because I wanted them to have a HEA, is that at the end of the story it's not quite clear how they'll actually plan to be together - is Ryan going to move? Is Jason? Still, that didn't distract me from my enjoyment.

Extra points for including a sweet dog (Alby) who's afraid of her own shadow but who warms up to Jason eventually just the same as her owner. The rest of the supporting cast (Ryan's actor friend who gives him some long-overdue advice, Jason's teacher friend who meddles) was well done.

There is but little steam in this book, and while there are a few bedroom scenes, they're not super explicit. This story didn't need it - it's a sweet and adorable romance, and it should be read as such.


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

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