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review 2018-05-17 00:36
ARC Review: Fourteen Summers by Quinn Anderson
Fourteen Summers - Quinn Anderson

The book opens with a wedding ceremony. Yes, you read that right.

Okay, so, fine, it's a pretend wedding ceremony, and the boys are but 10 years old or so, but it establishes from the start what dynamics may be at play.

Max and Aiden are identical twins, with Max being the older brother by a few minutes, which has shaped their relationship for a long time. Max was always the more outgoing, and Aiden, much more introverted, was happy to stand in his brother's shadow while they were younger. Now, with both of them at college, Aiden wants to be more than just Max's brother.

Oliver was their childhood friend until divorce meant leaving with his mother, and his father moving away as well. But now his father has moved back to their old town, and Oliver has come home for the summer. The family dynamics, with loud, overbearing uncles and with parents that still can't seem to stand being in the same room together, has Oliver not wanting to spend much time at his father's house, so he's real happy to run into Max and Aiden again. Introverted like Aiden, Oliver is perfectly content to let Max plan their get-togethers, especially since that allows him to moon over Aiden, his childhood crush.

For the most part, this read like a YA/NA novel, with lots of mooning and crushing and blushing, and not a whole lot of on page action, and characters who on occasion sounded younger than their purported years, but maturity is a sliding scale so I was mostly fine with their portrayals.

What I really liked is that the author primarily explored the dynamics at play between two twin brothers who have been joined at the hip most of their lives, and a boy coming between them when Aiden and Oliver get romantically involved. I loved how Max's jealousy was explored, how it realistically became a roadblock, and how it forced honesty and open conversation between Aiden and Max and allowed them to experience real growth in their relationship. In fact, the book, told from the POVs of all three of the young man, really focuses more so on the relationship struggles between the twins than the developing romance between Oliver and Aiden. While the crush/romance serves as a catalyst to the struggles Max and Aiden go through, it's not the the only focus of this book.

The characters, their portrayals, felt realistic to me for the most part, other than their maturity levels, and that's probably more so on me than the author - I guess I expected a bit more from 20 year olds even if they're twins. Out of the three of them, I would say that Oliver is probably the most mature, which is potentially due to him being a child of divorce, which tends to make you grow up a little faster, and also because he's an only child.

There are some interesting supporting characters as well. The twins' parents welcome Oliver back with open arms, and make him feel like he's part of the family again. They were perhaps slightly too perfect, but meh, I didn't care. I liked them. Oliver's parents are supportive of him, but also don't necessarily create an environment for him in which he feels free, on either side. His uncles and extended family on his father's side are a loud bunch, which introverted Oliver doesn't like so much, and his mother, while supportive, seemed to struggle somewhat with wanting her child have a relationship with his father, and also not realizing that the divorce affected Oliver much more than she thought.

The book ends with a super sweet epilogue, and that's all I'm going to say about that.

Quinn Anderson has proven once again that she can write fully fleshed out characters, with realistic, convincing characterizations, and a believable plot and timeline.

Highly recommended.


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

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review 2018-02-09 01:34
ARC Review: Autumn Fire by Cameron D. James
Autumn Fire - Cameron D. James

Dustin, our narrator, doesn't believe in love. Definitely not lasting gay love. He's young, full of cum, and enjoys anonymous hook-ups since they allow him to remain in the closet. Of course, fate has other ideas, and Dustin's latest blow-and-go, in the university library men's room of all places, leaves him questioning whether his current choices are the right ones. He cannot get this particular hook-up out of his mind, and when he meets him again in the form of his algebra tutor, Dustin is pulled in further.

He tries and tries to get Kyle out of his system by having more meaningless sex with others, which only confirms the feeling of missing something in his life. Namely Kyle. Who is not gay, no, sirree, nope.

There's also Jason, his straight roommate, and Jason's girlfriend (she's actually really sweet). Jason calls Dustin "buddy" all. The. Damn. Time. That quickly grated on my nerves. Props to Jason though for being supportive after Dustin comes out to him and generally trying to be a good friend. 

About 1/2 of the book is taken up by explicit sex scenes, most of which are Dustin with other people. Not exactly what I'm looking for in a romance, but I dealt, since this is billed as erotica more so than a general M/M romance. It surely wasn't cheating since Dustin and Kyle aren't together at the time, considering that Kyle has made it clear he's not willing to do that again, and each subsequent hook-up does drive home the change in Dustin - he now realizes how empty hook-ups are and wants to be in a relationship, and he's possibly in love with Kyle. 

The writing isn't terrible overall, but the dialogue often felt contrived and stilted. However, there were definitely moments when I thought that the author did a fine job bringing Dustin's confusion and longing across. 

The only character that felt sufficiently fleshed out for me was Dustin himself, which makes sense as he's the one telling the story, so we don't get a whole lot of real info on Kyle, other than what Kyle shares in dialogue. Some scenes felt rushed and lacking depth, and some were drawn out to the point that I started skimming. 

I guess I wanted a more meaty story than what I got here. It had so much potential - peer pressure, fear of coming out, first love, figuring out who you are and what you want, risking your heart... all those things sounded promising in the blurb, but sadly, the story didn't delve deep enough for me. I was on board with Kyle's fears and as he hems and haws his way out of the closet, but then the sudden switch at the end was too rapid for me to be believable. 

YMMV. There is definitely an audience for this book, so don't let my personal hang-ups scare you off giving this a try.


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

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review 2018-01-09 02:37
ARC Review: An Unlocked Mind by K.C. Wells and Parker Williams
An Unlocked Mind - Parker Williams,K.C. Wells

This 2nd book in the spin-off series deals with Rob Daniels, Alex's brother, who had a hand in Alex and Leo almost not having a happy ever after, and whose actions, to some extent, caused Alex to remove himself from his judgmental family.

Rob is such a lost boy. He blames himself for Alex's leaving, and yet he's determined to prove that Alex has it all wrong - BDSM is not love. Therefore, Rob goes to Secrets to once again prove that point, sneering and judging everyone he sees in the club. Rob has issues. Massive issues.

Then he meets a brick wall named Vic Prentiss, a Dom who used to be a member at the club prior to it becoming Secrets and who might be looking for a new sub. Vic takes one look at Rob and realizes that the young man has built up massive walls and locked away his heart. He offers the young man a night on the couch, with a promise not to touch him but take him to the train station in the morning. After some fussing and insults, Rob agrees. 

Rob returns to his shitty job and his shitty apartment in Manchester, only to blow money on a train ticket back to London to show up at Vic's house, time and again. And slowly, oh so slowly, Rob starts to open up. 

This story really tugged on my heart strings. Rob is so lost, so lonely, and so scared. He's afraid of his mother, and he's regretful of the events he set in motion that resulted in Alex leaving and hating Rob for what he did. He wants nothing more than a chance to make things right with his brother, but is afraid to take that first step, and too stubborn to entertain the possibility that Alex found exactly what he needed in Leo, and that their relationship is built on love, even if there's kinky stuff going on. He doesn't understand how anyone could want to be "smacked around", as if BDSM only consists of whippings, and he doesn't understand why anyone would choose to submit to the will of another. He doesn't understand that the sub holds all the power in a BDSM relationship, and that everything stops with a safe word. He doesn't understand the draw, and the release, and the trust that has to be established. He doesn't understand much at all.

And then Vic starts to show him. And Rob opens his eyes, and I cried. Because once Rob lets go, once Rob tears down those walls - the lost boy grows up and becomes a man. Rob finally lets go of pretending to be straight, lets go of lashing out whenever someone suggests he might be gay, lets go of the guilt and the anger and the pain. I cried and cried. As Rob unshackles himself from his past, as Rob reaches out and claims a bit of happiness, as Rob finds what he's been seeking, in Vic's arms, in his brother's embrace, in his father's support - Rob becomes a man. And I cried.

I adored Vic. He was so patient, so careful, and so intent on finding the key to unlock what Rob kept hidden in his mind, so strong and calm to soothe away the pain and grief and to make Rob see that love and trust are at the root of true BDSM relationships. 

And Rob, the lost boy, becomes a man.

With gorgeous writing and a ton of emotion, this was a fitting continuation of the brilliant collaboration between these two authors. 


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

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review 2018-01-02 00:15
ARC Review: Bad Company by K.A. Mitchell
Bad Company (Bad in Baltimore Book 1) - K.A. Mitchell

I read the 2nd edition of this book, upon its re-release via Dreamspinner Press.

This is a well-done enemies-to-lovers romance between two men who were as thick as thieves as kids, but had a huge falling out when one of them (Nate) came out as gay to the other one (Kellan), and then suffered a betrayal of such magnitude that their friendship abruptly ended. 

Additionally, Kellan's father allegedly stole the formula for an energy drink from Nate's father, which then caused Nate's father to lose his job, and the family to lose everything they had, whereas Kellan's father, and thus Kellan, became rich. 

Nate has not forgiven Kellan, even though it's been many years, and he hasn't spoke to his ex-friend ever since. 

What made this book stand out for me is that both Nate and Kellan are anti-heroes, meaning they're both unlikable, in that they're selfish and self-absorbed for a good chunk of this book. Kellan's plan to "stick it" to his overbearing and controlling father by coming out as gay, even though he isn't really (or at least, he thinks so), by pretending that Nate is his boyfriend, thereby sticking it to his father even more, is really selfish, and for a long while Kellan doesn't really think things through. He's perfectly willing to use Nate to anger his father, without any concerns really how that might make Nate feel, which only cemented my initial assessment of him as an arrogant and selfish rich prick.

Nate, on the other hand, is so angry with Kellan still that he's almost unable to pull his head out of his own ass, even as Kellan softens toward him and slowly tries to rebuild their friendship. He's curt, abrupt, rude, and condescending, and treats Kellan badly - out of anger, and then out of fear. There was a scene relatively early on that had me shake my head at Nate, even though I understood to some extent where he was coming from. Hate is just another side of the same coin - the opposite of love is not really hate, but indifference, and it was clear that Nate wasn't, despite his internal protests, indifferent to Kellan. His righteous anger is just a cover for the pain Kellan caused him, for how he broke his heart when he left him to the wolves. 

The book also features Eli, Nate's employee/subordinate, who gets his own book in Bad Boyfriend (the only book of the series I read before this one), and who provided some comedic relief on occasion that thawed the tension between Nate and Kellan. I suppose one could say that Eli also acted as a catalyst of sorts for both Nate and Kellan to confront their feelings and become used to the idea that their fake relationship might have turned real. 

Kellan struggles with his attraction to Nate and spends a lot of time in this book confused, trying to figure out whether he's straight, or not so straight after all, and that his actions in their teenage years, those suppressed memories, were born out of fear. His personal growth throughout the book was my favorite part. 

So fake-boyfriend plus enemies-to-lovers = excellent read, with flawed and complex, yet mostly realistic characters who needed to work on themselves to overcome the pain of their pasts to find lasting love. Worth your time. 


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

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review 2017-12-14 02:01
Book Review: Barbed Wire Cowboy by Renee Stevens
Barbed Wire Cowboy - Renee Stevens

Barbed Wire Cowboy is at once a gritty tale of living and working on a cattle ranch and a love story between two men who suck at communicating honestly and openly.

After coming out to his rancher father, Marc Poulson found himself kicked out, stripped of his family and alone, but in the years since found a place as foreman of the Double R Ranch. If it weren't for his feud with his ex-friend Casey, foreman at the neighboring Del Rio Ranch, life would be nearly perfect. 

Marc doesn't understand why Casey would rather punch him than continue to be his friend - the reason for this change in status is not immediately clear to the reader, as neither Marc nor Casey provide any insight - but their continued fighting has now landed both of them in a jail cell.

Bailed out by their respective bosses, Marc and Casey are given an ultimatum - shape up or ship out. And learn to work together again. 

Marc is happy to call a truce between them, but Casey isn't on board. When Marc saves Casey's ass from a rampant bull, the event proves to be somewhat of a turning point. 

Except Casey continues to blow hot and cold, and refuses to tell Marc what demons are still haunting him. He makes mistake after mistake, driven by the terror of his past, until Marc has enough, and when provided with an unforeseen option, Marc is done with Casey's bullshit and leaves.

The author really brought the grittiness, long hours and hard work of the cattle ranches across, and the huge amount of physical labor that's involved. She also did a fine job with the characters - they are complex and complicated, and rough around the edges, like you'd expect cowboys to be - but also gave them individual pasts that continue to shape their actions and derail what might be. Neither knows how to really talk about their feelings, and Casey hiding a huge secret from his past that he refuses to address and would rather forget has a lot to do with his behavior - their actions and reactions made sense to me. 

This is a rollercoaster ride as Marc and Casey go from enemies to lovers to heartbreak, full of anger and fear and hiding, with an overriding sense that love may not always be enough to keep a couple together unless they're willing to confront their differences and their pasts head-on to have a future.

Whether Casey and Marc overcome the odds - well, find out by reading this for yourself. 


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

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