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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 02:23
ARC Review: Mascara & Bandages (Mary's Boys #3) by Brandon Witt
Mascara & Bandages (Mary's Boys Book 3) - Brandon Witt

This is the 3rd book in the Mary's Boys series, all set in and around a Hamburger Mary's in Denver, CO.

On his way home from Hamburger Mary's after a performance as his drag queen alter ego Ariel Merman, while still dressed as Ariel, Zachary Cooper becomes the victim of a gay bashing. 

I was already crying when he comes to in the hospital, in pain and worried that the homophobic assholes who attacked him messed up his face and that he won't be able to perform anymore. 

In walks Teegan Chau, his doctor, and things suddenly look up.

Teegan has only recently come out as gay, and while he's divorced from his wife, they share a little girl and have a great friendly, supportive relationship. Teegan has had some hook-ups with other men, but has never been on an actual date with a man. Instantly smitten with the younger, somewhat femme guy in the hospital bed, Teegan and Zachary agree on a date. 

While the story had the potential to be really angsty, it actually wasn't, and there's a lot of inner strength to Zachary. He has a steely interior, and while he struggles a little with the trauma from the attack, he doesn't allow it to destroy him. 

I loved that the author didn't rush the developing relationship. Teegan's adorkable awkwardness on their first date was super cute, but neither he nor Zachary jumped into a commitment - they took their time to test the waters and really build a foundation.

As Ariel, Zachary is free to be himself, instead of worrying about meeting expectations other men might have of him. I loved that the author wrote about a femme man and the misconceptions that come with that. 

This book is the most heart-breaking and also most heart-warming of the series so far, as Zachary and Teegan, and the whole Mary's chosen family, deal with societal expectations, homophobia, the bashing, immediate family issues, and how to forge their own way.

There isn't a lot of steam here, and I for one don't need that in a romance novel to believe the relationship. Zachary grows into himself here, and Teegan finds exactly what he never knew he always wanted. 

So well done. 


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

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review 2017-07-19 01:35
Book Review: Not Safe For Work by L.A. Witt
Not Safe For Work - L.A. Witt
I snagged this when the author offered it for free a little while back, and devoured it as soon as I got a chance.

It exceeded my expectations!!

Now, I know LA Witt can write the sexy times, and I know that she will always, always, always make sure that her BDSM novels make it very clear indeed that while the Dom is in charge, the sub holds all the power. She takes the time to weave explanations about the lifestyle seamlessly into her books, and I cannot thank her enough for continuing to educate me and others what BDSM is really all about.

What pushed this book into 5 star territory though was the romance. Never mind the holy hot boysecks, what really impressed me here was the author's ability to convey how her characters felt, through their words and actions. She showed me their emotions, their fears, their joy - she didn't tell me. Told entirely from Jon's POV, we don't hear from Rick directly, but his character was well fleshed out just the same, and I felt a connection to him just as much as I connected with Jon.

Jon and Rick both have struggles to overcome, and Jon often carried a lot of weight on his shoulders (work issues, and paying for his kids' college education), but Rick was always supportive and understanding.

I loved every single minute I spend reading this book, cursing when work interfered, because I needed to keep reading, dammit, and follow Rick and Jon through their first realization that their kinks match up, through growing closer, through realizing that what they have is, while unexpected, exactly what they both need, and through the rough parts where they falter and stumble and nearly crash and burn.

This book is everything I could hope for in a romance novel. The conflict was exterior to the relationship, and I ranted out loud when Jon's employer did that thing they did, and I was enraged when Jon... no, you read this for yourself. 

Extra kudos for not having an evil ex-wife (Jon's ex-wife lives with him for financial reasons, and they are good friends, supportive of each other), and for having a wonderful supporting cast in Jon's co-workers that often made me laugh out loud. 

If you like your romance a bit on the kinky side (it's not overwhelmingly kinky, to be honest, and Rick is not a pain slut or a slave, and Jon isn't a sadist), then I would highly recommend you give this book a try. 

I loved it.
 
 

 

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review 2017-07-14 17:01
Review Request: All The Way To Shore by CJane Elliott
All the Way to Shore - C. Jane Elliott

When the author approached me with a request to read and review this book, I took a look at the blurb and happily agreed.

This book has all the elements I look for in a romance novel - well-fleshed out, complex main characters with imperfections, a believable romantic relationship, a realistic stumbling block derailing the romance for a little while, and a wonderful supporting cast. Add to that the underlying theme of figuring out who you really are, and what you really want out of life, and I was hooked.

Jonathan's love is classical music and his piano, and he wanted to attend college pursuing his passion, but was roped into a business job by his domineering and rather cold father to come work for the family business, Vallen Industries. Jonathan loathes the job, but doesn't feel that he has a choice - his older brother James who was supposed to follow in their father's footsteps passed away in a tragic accident, and Jonathan feels he owes it to his father to take James' spot. 

But he hates it, and it shows. He's not business material, and while he's good with numbers and charts, he feels stifled. From the start, I felt that Jonathan was depressed and unhappy, especially in light of having to hide his sexuality from his disapproving father, and having thus no personal life to speak of.

Since the business isn't doing so well, the older Vallen hires a new temporary CEO, a young hot-shot of Italian heritage, studly and smart and ambitious Marco Pellegrini. Marco sees pretty quickly that the younger Vallen has no sense for or interest in the business, but tries to train the younger man anyway, all while planning to increase business profits by at least the margin for which he was hired.

All Jonathan sees is that he'll never compare and uses this opportunity to escape. His late mother left him a cottage on Cape Cod, and Jonathan quits the company and runs, hoping to find himself and his music again.

A year later, after having got a dog and losing quite a few pounds, after trading his glasses for contacts and his old sweats for more fashionable clothing, Jonathan is convinced by his cousin Anthony to go on an LGBT cruise in the Caribbean. 

Marco Pellegrini is also on the same cruise with his younger sister Sophia, taking his first vacation in a year, but doesn't recognize Jonathan due to his rather different appearance. 

And Jonathan, with help from Anthony, pretends his name is Jonah Rutledge, secretly happy that Marco doesn't recognize him. 

I loved both Jonathan and Marco. They were very different in many ways, but also alike in others. Jonathan felt unlovable, and didn't think he deserved someone like Marco, where Marco was rather driven, having worked his way up from poverty to being a sought-after CEO, while not making time to find someone with whom to share his life. Both are very lonely deep down.

The romance begins on the cruise ship, with lots of UST, trips to shore and having fun in the sun, but it's clear that both Jonathan and Marco long for more than just a quick roll in the hay. They have a connection, they have similar interests and likes, and they get along fabulously. All the while, Jonathan knows he has to come clean about the lie, even if the only lie was his name and all the other things he's told Marco are true.

Even though the bulk of the book is told from Jonathan's POV, the author utilizes an interesting method to give also insights into Marco's mind by giving us diary entries. I especially liked that Marco included a section of gratitude in each entry - just things he was thankful for - and how those changed over time. 

As you can glean from the blurb, things don't go smoothly all the way, and Jonathan's lie is abruptly exposed when his overbearing father shows up at the last stop of the cruise to bring Marco back to work, sees his wayward son with his CEO, and nearly ruins everything Jonathan and Marco hoped to build.

Marco initially cannot forgive Jonathan for pretending to be someone else, but as they both return to their respective homes, they both realize that if you really want something, you have to fight for it. And Marco understands Jonathan well enough by then to also realize that he has to wait for the other man to come to him, even if he's normally a go-getter and not very patient at all.

The way they work things out to get back together was ever so romantic and sweet, and it was very clear that they did want to be together. Jonathan especially had to find his backbone to go after what he really wants, and boy, does he ever. 

The climactic high-point of this book takes place in a boardroom, and it was a joy to behold how Jonathan stands up for himself and for Marco, and thus finds himself to be the person he was meant to be, and the person I knew had been simmering underneath the surface all along. Fabulous! 

With a satisfying HEA ending, this book is truly a grand romance, and I would definitely recommend you give it a try. I enjoyed this author's writing style, I loved the characters, including the supporting cast in Anthony/Andrew and Sophia, I would have loved to clock the older Vallen a few times, and I had a fantastic time reading this book. 


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

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review 2017-07-10 01:36
ARC Review: Straight From The Heart by Sam Burns
Straight from the Heart (Wilde Love Book 1) - Sam Burns

Very impressive debut novel! 

We are first introduced to Alex, 23 and a little naive, who has just defied his mother and dropped out of college, after which she has kicked him out to couch-surf with his friends from his band and cut off his cash-flow. Undeterred, Alex takes his box of things and his guitar and his last bit of cash to celebrate his freedom in the local bar. While there, a little drunk, he's almost mugged but saved by a hot hunk named Liam, and Alex has an epiphany while being pressed against Liam - yep, he's gay. 

As his Liam. Alex wastes no time wallowing in angst, embraces what he's feeling, and goes home with Liam. Who's a perfect gentleman and doesn't take advantage of the slightly younger and much drunker man. 

And that's basically the first couple of chapters. From there, the story takes off, and the author does a great job mixing the suspense with the budding romance between Alex and Liam. Except Liam isn't exactly who he says he is, but he's mostly honest with Alex about all the things he can be honest about.

The relationship between Alex and Liam develops quickly, and love is rather insta, but I didn't care, because the two characters just made me want them to succeed. And the drama/intrigue plot is action-packed and had me more often than not on the edge of my seat. 

I suspended disbelief on occasion, but the unrealistic moments didn't bother me all that much. What felt real are the complex characters. Not only in Alex and Liam, but also the supporting cast. Alex's bandmates (one of whom will also get a book, I'm told), the crime-boss Liam works for, and his son were fully fleshed out and not just cardboard characters. The villain was perhaps slightly over the top, but that was to be expected. 

Alex as a baby-gay was well done, and I suppose I chalked it off to his age and lack of romancing girls before that there was little angst for him when his body reacted to Liam's hot bod saving the day. He just accepted it, though I would think he had to have had some inklings before. Jumping feet first into exploring his sexuality, with Liam as a willing subject, burning up the sheets - oh yeah, that was fun to read.

Alex's best friend and bandmate Jake has a confession too, and there's a little bit of drama when they come out to each other, but Jake definitely has Alex's back, and is a bit suspicious of Liam at first. 

I don't want to give away the plot itself, and don't want to spoil the experience for anyone, but I will say this: If you like romance mixed with suspense and action, and you like when two men just completely fall for each other and make it work against the odds, this book is for you.

I cannot wait for Keegan's story - that's coming next. Sign me up!!


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

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