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review 2018-04-21 03:17
ARC Review: Somewhere Over Lorain Road by Bud Gundy
Somewhere Over Lorain Road - Bud Gundy
Please don't let the cover confuse you into thinking this is purely an M/M romance. It's not. While there is a love story inside, this book is at its core a mystery with gay characters. It's a book about secrets, and unsolved murders, and old wounds, and family pain. It's about coming home to help your aging mother take care of your father in his last days, it's about giving an old man his dying wish. It's about terrible, horrible secrets kept for 40 years, and confronting the ghosts of your past.

Don Esker has come home to North Homestead, Ohio, where his father lies dying, and his mother and older brothers need help with the palliative care. Don has done well for himself in San Francisco, working in marketing, and is in a position where he can work from anywhere. Coming home isn't easy, as the family name is still talked about in hushed voices in connection to an unsolved crime that happened 40 years ago in 1975, when a little boy, the neighbor's and Sheriff's son, mysteriously disappeared, and two other little boys were found brutally murdered. Don's father was a suspect in the disappearance of the first boy, if only for one evening, and while he was never charged with anything, his good name has never been fully cleared. The suspicion alone shattered Don's family, and when he came out as gay, staying in town became impossible for him. Small towns and small-minded people will not forgive and not forget, and the townsfolk certainly wouldn't accept a gay man. 

In a lucid moment, Don's father asks for just one thing before he dies - to have his name cleared once and for all. Don, obliging son, begins a journey that not only brings him to Bruce, the love interest, but also face to face with his childhood friend, the brother of the missing boy, who still lives with his father, the ex-Sheriff across the street from the Esker home. It forces him to confront things of his past. Thick as thieves when they were young, Don and his friend haven't spoken in many years, longer than Don has been gone from North Homestead. There is history there. And hurt, anger, and hate. 

As the story unfolds, we are given pieces of the past, set in the 70s and 80s. There's an incident with an old fridge. There's the moment in which Mr. Esker is hauled from his home to answer questions about the disappearance of the neighbor's son. There's the moment in which Don's brother... no, I won't spoil this for you. Just do yourself a favor and read this book.

There is a moment when I knew, just KNEW, who the culprit was, thought I knew who had committed these crimes. 

And there is a moment when the truth comes out, and I was proven wrong. Except, not entirely. 

The romance between Don and Bruce doesn't really begin until the 2nd half of this book, and it's never in the forefront of the tale. There are no explicit scenes, and there didn't need to be any. It unfolds quietly, organically, and peacefully, just as it should have. These are grown, mature men, and there are no games to be played. No contrived misunderstandings. A love story. Simple. Quiet. 

Obviously, Don is not a skilled investigator, and it's often just sheer luck that he is able to find a piece he needs to solve the decades-old crime. He fumbles more often than not, which is to be expected, but he does persevere. 

The mystery is eventually solved. The truth comes out, as it always will, no matter how much time passes. I wasn't prepared for this truth. I wasn't expecting this truth. Though, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to go that route, and I must applaud the author for taking this road. It humanized the perpetrator, and though it doesn't offer forgiveness, it offers a believable motive. It does also shine a bright light on deep dysfunction within a family, on emotional and psychological and physical abuse. Facades crumble under such light. Cracks appear. Truth will out.

This book, with its tight narration and unexpected turn of events, kept me glued to its pages until the very last one. It's riveting - a page turner, and masterfully written. 

Give this a try, I beg you. This isn't a romance. It's a mystery with a gay MC. It's a story about family. But it is also a love story. Absolutely worth your time.


** 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 2018-03-19 23:48
Release Day ARC Review: Staggered Cove Station by Elle Brownlee
Staggered Cove Station - Elle Brownlee

I enjoyed this. It had a nice quiet romance developing, and a big suspense plot that while not super mysterious kept me glued to the pages until its conclusion. I also really loved the many descriptions of the small remote town on the coast of Alaska, the rugged wilderness, the many dangers that come with the unpredictable weather, the rough seas, the tension-filled rescues - it was all vividly depicted within the pages of this book, and I felt as if I was right there with Karl and Dan, the two coasties stationed at Staggered Cove, where one misstep could cost your life or limb. 

Dan arrives at the Coast Guard station as the new rescue swimmer, fresh out of California, with the intent to find out what happened to his older brother Neal/Axe who disappeared in the ocean during a rescue mission and is presumed dead. Karl, his roommate and fellow coastie, is quickly suspicious of Dan's odd behavior early on. They become more than colleagues as Dan confesses to what made him sign up for the Coast Guard station in Alaska, and the two begin to try to unravel the mystery. 

Speaking of the mystery, it was well done and stayed suspenseful, even though I figured out about halfway through where it was headed. Still, the author surprised me once again when the... no, sorry, you should read this for yourself.

This being a Dreamspun Desires title, I expected the book to have but a couple of explicit scenes, and thus wasn't disappointed. However, the choice of location for the first one - perhaps not the most suitable.

The relationship developed quickly, though considering the stress and strain these men were under, this did not surprise me. There was an obvious attraction early on that kept growing realistically under the circumstances, and I thought that the author did a fine job showing me how these two men grew closer. Intimacy doesn't always mean bare skin, you know. Desperate, frantic kisses and embraces, fueled by adrenaline can also be intimate, as can lying in bed cuddling, talking about nothing. 

I have no real experience with Coast Guard processes and procedures, but would say that the descriptions of the same inside this book felt realistic to me, and it appeared as if the author had gone a good deal of research to get it right. 

The supporting cast, made up of fellow coasties, the Postmaster/shop-owner in the nearby town, and Dan's old friend Ridge, worked well here - they were sufficiently fleshed out to not be cardboard characters and fit well within the overall story arc. 

I definitely liked the two MCs. They were well-suited to each other, with Dan's easy-going nature bringing a bit of light to Karl's somewhat darker mindset, and Karl seemed more mature which in turn calmed Dan. 

I would recommend this book, for sure. 


** I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. **

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review 2018-03-07 01:38
Release Day ARC Review: Cowboy In The Crosshairs by B.A. Tortuga
Cowboy in the Crosshairs - B.A. Tortuga

Once upon a time, i.e. 10 years or so prior, Wacey, oldest son of the local rodeo company owners, and TJ were a couple in secret. TJ wasn't ready to come out as gay in their small town and also wanted what everyone else had - a wife and a couple of kids. They broke up and Wacey left town right after, hurt and angry, and they haven't spoken since. TJ married, had two kids, and then came clean to his now ex-wife about how he likes men more so than women.

That's the backstory of their relationship. I just love the second chance at love stories, so this one was right up my alley. I also love when the romance isn't all dramatic and full of angst, and I got that here too.

The story begins with TJ, sitting in the diner, doing his Chief of Police thing with the locals, including calming down some old biddie complaining about some art work on the side of house, when he's told that Wacey got hurt real bad and is coming home to the ranch to recuperate. TJ is still mad at Wacey for not coming home for so long, and Wacey wants nothing to do with his old boyfriend.

Obviously that doesn't last for long, as weird things happening at the Bene ranch keep throwing them into each other's path.

Someone apparently has it out for Wacey.

I just love me some good cowboy loving, and this author always delivers the goods. This was such a charming romance, and I adored both MCs. Their relationship was easy-peasy, and once TJ made up his mind to woo Wacey into his bed again, he was relentless in his pursuit.

The mystery/suspense was also really well done, with the incidents getting worse and worse and the suspense building, and nobody having any idea who might be behind it all. I had an inkling about halfway through about the villain, and though I thought that the reason for the villainy might have been a wee bit far-fetched, it's hard to say what might go on in such a mind.

The author's writing style also really worked for this story, and the dialogue felt organic for the setting and the characters.

This is a feel-good second-chance-at-love story with two likable main characters and a great supporting cast. Though, naming your kids Wacey, Lacey, Macey, and Kacey - I feel I must either question your sanity or applaud your sick sense of humor.

Give this a try, y'all. Definitely worth your time.


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher in exchange for an honest review. **

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review 2018-02-20 01:16
Release Day ARC Review: Teaching Ben by Shae Connor
Teaching Ben (Dreamspun Desires Book 52) - Shae Connor

Ben Cooper put in his time with the military, but at 24 is now looking for a fresh start, using his GI bill to attend college in Savannah, GA. And finally step out of the closet. 

David Powell is a TA in Ben's class, same age as Ben, but obviously off-limits due to his status. David also had some struggles in his past, but has tried hard to stay away from temptation and stay the course. 

The attraction is immediate, but neither can act on it, thus there is lots of UST in this book, and the romance is super slow burn. David and Ben become friends, and as they learn more about each other, and secrets are revealed, their friendship, while platonic, becomes even stronger. 

I liked how the author gave Ben room to expand his horizons, how she let him spread his wings, away from his commandeering father, away from the rigors and structure of the Air Force, building the life he wants to live. 

David made a huge mistake once and it cost him dearly. He's making up for it, but he also knows that he cannot step a single foot out of line, no matter how attracted he is to Ben. The author did a fine job fleshing out his character and giving him a background story that felt realistic and believable in how much it still impacted his life. 

Told alternatively from Ben's and David's point-of-view, we get a well-rounded story with a believable plot that even had a bit of suspense, though the villain of the story was rather clear from the get-go and the suspense was more in how this particular piece of the plot would unfold and impact their budding relationship. 

As with all the books in this series, there is little explicit steam on page, which is fine as far as I'm concerned. I much rather read about the relationship development, and how the two MCs get to their HEA than about what they do in the bedroom. I much rather see an emotional connection develop more so that a romp in the sheets, and I got that here. Ben and David really clicked, like they were meant to find each other, with both of them having had to struggle to get to this point in their lives, which meant that they were more aware of what they found and thus more protective of it. 

I enjoyed reading this. 


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher in exchange for an honest review. **

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review 2018-02-16 01:49
ARC Review: Wolf And The Holly (Rowan Harbor Circle #2) by Sam Burns
Wolf and the Holly (The Rowan Harbor Cycle Book 2) - Sam Burns

In this 2nd book in her new series, Sam Burns gives us Jesse Hunter, brother to Wade, childhood friend to Devon, reluctant would-be Alpha wolf, who came back to Rowan Harbor five years ago after dropping out of college for reasons not entirely clear and has been sort of drifting along aimlessly ever since. He's the accountant for many of the business owners in town, still lives with his parents and doesn't want to take his mother's place on the town council.

The night before his 30th birthday, which is where the book opens, we find Jesse in the bar with friends, trying out one of Cassidy's new concoctions and generally feeling a little sorry for himself. The evening is interrupted when a rogue vampire named Sol enters the bar. He's known to both Cassidy and Max and warned immediately to not feed from humans, but register with the bloodbank. 

Jesse has a bad feeling about the new vamp - he smells wrong, and Jesse's wolfy nose is still perfectly functional, no matter how much he tries to deny the wolf inside. 

As Jesse leaves the bar and walks home, he smells blood in an alley way. Thinking the rogue vamp may have struck, he investigates and find his childhood friend Isla slumped at the end of the alley, unconscious and bleeding from a head wound. 

Thus the author has set the scene for what follows, and Jesse can no longer deny his instincts - the wolf wants free to protect his family and friends. 

This is billed as a paranormal romance, and there is a romance inside as Jesse finds his mate in Sean Anderson, who recently returned to take over the flower shop in town (a unique place, you'll see). The romance however takes a backseat as the paranormal and suspense parts of the plot unfold. 

The whole story is told from Jesse's POV. Sinister forces may be at work, and Jesse must use his wits and overcome his reluctance to figure out what is going on and how to stop it and who's behind it all. I still had questions at the end, and can barely contain my excitement at the prospect of book 3.

Most of the world-building was taken care of in the first book, and these cannot be read as standalones - don't even try. A lot of the background information provided in book 1 is needed to understand the dynamics and the events in this book, and I expect that the subsequent books will be no different. The author calls this a trilogy of trilogies so these must be read in order as well. There is also no HEA for Jesse and Sean in this book, only a HFN, which made sense to me because they have only JUST found each other. I also like very much that while there is a mating pull at work, the couples aren't automatically in love - they still need to learn about each other and forge a relationship. 

This book is alternatively edge of your seat intense and giggly fun (such as when Jesse gets zapped by Sean, as I knew he would), but there are also parts that really showcased the author's talent in creating fully fleshed-out characters, who are flawed and complex and don't always have their act together. Jesse's self-doubts, his fears, and the reason he's denied his wolf for so long - there were moments when I wanted to either shake him to pull his head out of his rear end or hug him and tell him that yes, he could become what he was meant to be. 

None of these characters are perfect, not Devon whose anger can make buildings shake, nor Wade who can be a bit grumpy, nor Isla who has been running for years for reasons explained within, nor Jesse, the wolf who left to find his place in the world, only to realize that his rightful place is home in Rowan Harbor, doing what he was born to do. 

The townsfolk have interesting dynamics. Some made me laugh and some made me think - especially since not all is as it seems at first. So well done.

At the very end, the author cleverly sets up the events to come in book 3 - I cannot wait. Is it March yet?



** I received a free copy of this book as part of a review tour, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. **

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