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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 2018-04-16 02:08
Book Review: No More Hiding by Renee Stevens
No More Hiding - Renee Stevens

If my husband came out to me and told me he was gay, the one thing I would NEVER do is deprive him of our kids. Parents - don't do that shit. Kids are not bargaining tools. If your relationship with your spouse ends, they don't stop being a parent. Don't kidnap your kids. Don't withhold your kids from your ex-spouse. If you're like Phillip's ex-wife from this here book - FUCK YOU!

Now that we have that out of the way - this was only my 2nd book by this author, and I enjoyed reading it, when I wasn't ranting at Phil's ex-wife, that horrible woman. 

Phillip (and by extension, his twin brother) has been desperately looking for his two kids ever since his ex-wife didn't turn up for visitation and ran away with them. It's been six long years, and Phillip is barely living. His despair and heartache, his fears and guilt just poured off the pages as soon as we met him. When his brother Robert tells him to join the new gym, Phillip meets Vance. 

Vance is immediately enamored with Phillip, and their relationship takes off relatively fast, considering that we don't really see a whole lot of their interactions other than at the gym and a weekend they spend together. Phillip seems a bit more reticent at first, plagued by guilt over having feelings for Vance when he should be looking for his children. Then Vance and Phillip are in a serious accident that ends up with Vance breaking his leg and ending up in the hospital, which clarifies Phillip's feelings for Vance, even more so when he takes Vance home to look after him.

And then Phillip gets a long-awaited phone call.

I had some doubts about Samantha and Jacob adjusting so quickly to living with their father and Vance, and re-forging the relationships. I would have liked to find out a bit more about what happened to them in the past six years, and also about the man who helped their mother kidnap them and hide them from their father. Even with the relative ease with which Sam and Jacob adjust, this is the point of the book where it all becomes a roller coaster ride, and you can only hope you're strapped in tightly. I experienced a myriad of emotions, sitting on the edge of my seat, hoping that all the ups and downs would end up in a happy ever after.

Which, of course, it did.

The author created a well-rounded supporting cast, including Phillip's twin and his wife, who were supportive and helped Sam and Jacob find their stride again. 

This is definitely an emotional read, which is totally my thing, so it really worked for me. Phillip and Vance aren't perfect, but they're perfect for each other, and it was a joy to watch them both grow into their relationship, as well as become a family. 

Well done, Ms. Stevens. 


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

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review 2018-04-03 23:46
Release Day ARC Review: Sweet Nothings by T. Neilson
Sweet Nothings - T. Neilson

At first glance, this seems like a sweet and cute romance, with an MC who's starting over in his smallish home town of Lake Balmoral, and the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks being the love interest. Throw in some freshly baked goods, like tarts and muffins and such, and you might think you'd be able to settle in for a nice, easy ride to happy ever after.

You'd be right. But you'd also be wrong.

Sweet Nothings is a sweet and cute romance, no doubt, but it's also a lot more than that. It's about starting over, about family ties, about older brothers, about finding your own way, about not judging a book by its cover, about forgiveness, about trust, and about love. 

When Tristan flees his current life and his fiance in NYC to return home to Lake Balmoral, we don't know much about his reasons, other than that Christopher, the ex, is controlling and manipulative, and that Tristan felt stifled and smothered and needed to get out of the relationship. He buys the old bakery with his savings and works toward the reopening. 

He meets Jake, a car mechanic, on his first day home while shopping for groceries. It's a real meet-cute, even though Tristan's flirting techniques are rusty and even though he's warned off Jake by the store clerk and everyone else. Tristan doesn't care what others say - there's immediate attraction between him and Jake, and he's all too willing to find out where this might take them.

Meddling family notwithstanding, Tristan works hard to get the bakery business off the ground, taking wholesale orders from his oldest brother Simon and the nice couple who owns the coffee shop next door, while cleaning and sprucing up the place. And getting closer to Jake.

Jake has a history, a bad one, and the reader finds out fairly quickly that Jake's been to prison, but is now released and working for his sister's garage, living in an old travel trailer behind her house, to get back on his feet. The reason for his prison stint isn't immediately clear, but nothing about Jake screams criminal, and his whole persona was one of kindness and consideration, and keeping his nose to the grindstone. He knew, of course, how people looked at him in town, but he wasn't willing to prove their assumptions right - he kept on working and doing the right thing. Good guy, Jake is. 

The further I got into the book, the clearer it became that Tristan was afraid of his ex, and for good reason. When he finally tells the truth about what pushed him to leave NYC, to end the relationship, I might have sniffled a bit, and I might have wanted to reach into the book and wring Christopher's neck. What also upset me was Simon's behavior toward his little brother - Tristan didn't need a father; he needed his brother to be on his side and stand by him. Sure, Simon changed his whole attitude once the truth came out, but his grumpy ass should've known better. 

As you can see in the blurb, the bakery falls victim to a fire. I'm not going to tell you here why there's a fire, or who's responsible for it, because that's pretty clear once you get into the book, but I was struck by how the author chose to use that moment, and how it really made it clear that Tristan believed Jake, and that he stood up for him. I truly loved that scene!

As for Jake, his truth also comes out, and we are told why he went to prison, why he made that choice, and what it has cost him. I might have sniffled a bit once more, but thankfully the author didn't delve too deeply into his experiences in prison. 

So... while this is superficially a sweet and cute romance, it's actually much more. The 3rd person narration, switching between Tristan's and Jake's POV worked well for me, and the writing isn't overly flowery. I enjoyed this quite a lot. 

And I think you should definitely give this book a try. Perhaps you'll love it like I did, and then end up in my position - anxiously awaiting the next installment when grumpy Simon gets hit by the love bug. I can hardly wait!


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

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review 2018-03-30 01:17
ARC Review: One Under by J.L. Merrow
One Under - J.L. Merrow

This book, while part of the overall Porthkennack series, is basically a continuation of the first one, Wake Up Call, which I also loved. It would probably be best to read that first, because while this one doesn't focus on the characters from the first book, they do make an appearance, and there isn't a whole lot of backstory shared here - it's assumed the reader knows who they are.

This book also had a bit of a darker, more melancholy undertone than the first one, and for good reason. 

Mal Thomas has come to Porthkennack to heal from a traumatic experience at work, that isn't fully explained early on. Believe me, though, it's horrid. While I don't have personal experience with this sort of thing, a long-time friend of mine does. He is still, after many years since that incident, struggling with the emotional and psychological aftermath. So once I found out what had happened to Mal, I fully understood where he was coming from.

Jory Roscarrock (yes, the much younger brother of Devan's mother) hasn't had an easy life so far. While he has a doctorate in English Lit from a prestigious university, he also has been living under a dark cloud for some time, partly because of his older siblings, and partly because of a youthful indiscretion that derailed much of his plans. 

Mal and Jory meet. There's attraction, when Mal, after getting a bit of bad news from home while at the town's museum, is in need of comforting and Jory, the museum curator, offers, with much social awkwardness, a cup of tea. Then Mal finds out who Jory is, and the romance nearly dies before it has a chance to blossom. 

As with all of this author's books, I definitely appreciate the very British writing style, the very British choice of words, and the very British setting. JL Merrow just manages to transport me to whatever place they write about, and I could easily visualize the stark cliffs, the dark tunnels, the grey skies, the imposing house Jory calls home, the pub, the town - everything is described in vivid details, and the reader is transported into this fictional place on the rugged coastal setting. 

Both Mal and Jory spend time worrying about the secrets they keep/kept from the other, and both wonder if a relationship between them is even worth pursuing, considering Mal lives in London and Jory cannot leave Porthkennack, for reasons. There is a lot of angst inside, and this isn't a romance that comes easily for either of them. In addition to their personal issues, there's also the issue of Mal being best friends with the aforementioned Devan - who is Jory's nephew, and who's been treated badly by Jory's siblings - which puts additional strain on the budding romance, obviously, as Mal is torn between the attraction to Jory and his loyalty to Dev. 

The plot progresses slowly, and it had to, in my opinion, because the roadblocks in their way are, while not insurmountable, definitely considerable, and this book wouldn't have worked as well for me if the author had rushed through their individual insecurities and issues they had to overcome. 

I think the lesson here is that if you want something badly enough, you have to find the will to fight for it. You have to forge the path that works for you, because ultimately the only person responsible for your own happiness is you. And if you want it, pursue it. 


** 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 2018-03-23 20:07
ARC Review: Fox And Birch by Sam Burns
Fox And Birch - Sam Burns

The third installment of the first trilogy of trilogies in the paranormal Rowan Harbor series focuses on Fletcher Lane, one of the town's deputies, who featured to some extent in the first two books (more so in book 2, actually). He's friends with Devon, works with Wade, and was heavily involved in the events of book 2. 

The story picks up right after the second book ends. Fletcher, instrumental in getting rid of the bad vampire, is now sort of possessed by the spirit that lived inside the magic book Isla has been hiding from Hector MacKenzie. Obviously, having someone whisper to you in Gothic all the time isn't fun.

Additionally, Fletcher has had a traumatic experience when he was younger, one that cost him his mother and has left both him and his father scarred. 

Somewhat timid and lacking a healthy dose of self-confidence, Fletcher finds it rather difficult to make friends, always wondering if he's a bother. In that aspect, his shyness is indicative of his shifted form as a fox. Socially a bit awkward, Fletcher seems never sure of what to say. 

I really loved how the author fleshed out the character, made him real and oh so likable, with all his awkward dorkiness. 

Fletcher is a really nice guy, kind and unassuming, and the people of Rowan Harbor look out for him and his dad. 

We are introduced to the bounty hunters, Frank, Bob, and Conner, who roll into town looking for the bad vamp. Or so they say. Conner is younger than the other two, and also much kinder. He takes a liking to Fletcher, which slowly develops into a romance. 

We get to visit with Wade and Devon from the first book, who are still together, as well as Isla and Oak, and other familiar supporting characters from the preceding books. 

As the story unfolds, we watch Fletcher struggle to control his own magic as well as the uninvited magic he now carries, trying to focus and center himself so the uninvited guest doesn't wipe out who Fletcher is. We get to watch Fletcher come into his own, with a little help, and finding his way to become who he was meant to be. 

I would have liked to have learned a bit more about Conner. We get a bit of his background story, but other than being a likable guy, I really didn't get a good feel for him. Perhaps that will come out in future books. He's nice, don't get me wrong, and I think he really does fall for Fletcher, and of course that thing he does toward the end basically cemented for me that he needs to be in Rowan Harbor long term, but I would like to see more of him and learn what really makes him tick.

As with the two previous books, we get a strong HFN, as their story is not done. I'm good with that and can't wait to read what the author still has in store for them all.

These book cannot be read as standalones and must be read in order, as each builds on the previous one and continues the overall plot. I'm good with that too.

Recommended!


** I received a free copy of this book from Signal Boost Promotions as part of this review tour. A positive review was not promised in return. 

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