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review 2018-09-17 01:59
Book Review: Truth & Betrayal by K.C. Wells
Truth & Betrayal - K.C. Wells
This was a tearjerker, for sure, but also a book that tackled some big issues.

Jacob is a young man living in a small town in Eastern Tennessee (close to Knoxville) and working for his daddy's construction company. His older brother Caleb left for Atlanta a few years ago and only returns home sporadically, having forged a life for himself in the big city. Jacob knows he's gay, but has no desire to come out to his parents, because he's sure of their negative reaction. He's been taking a few steps to distance himself from their church, but he knows that coming out in such a small town isn't going to go over well. His group of friends are more like acquaintances at this point, since he no longer has anything much in common with them, and the secret he's keeping isn't conducive to a close friendship anyway. Small-town bigots don't make for good friends. 

Then Jacob and his parents get word that Caleb has died in a car accident, while riding in a car with another man who was also injured. And Jacob's whole world crashes down around him.

The author does a fine job describing his grief and his anger at losing Caleb, while slowly coming to the realization that he lost his big brother long before his death. 

Liam is the friend who was driving the car at the time of the accident. Injured himself in the crash, he nonetheless shows up at Caleb's funeral, fully realizing that he's probably not welcome, but needing a bit of closure for himself. The reader is at this point likely aware that Caleb and Liam were more than friends, even if Jake and his parents are not. The scene at the grave - gah, that felt as if plucked from real life, and my thoughts were drawn to Shane Bitney Crone (if you don't know who that is, google his name), and how he must have felt visiting Tom's grave all alone after the fact because he wasn't welcome at the funeral either. 

Going to his late brother's apartment to clean out his belongings brings Jake face to face with the secret Caleb has been keeping. And slowly Jake comes to terms with what he finds out. 

This could have been icky, obviously - one MC feeling attraction to his late boyfriend's little brother, who also happens to be gay, would usually make me feel really squicked out, but the author did a fine job laying out how the relationship between Liam and Caleb wasn't one of true and lasting love, so Liam slowly falling for Jake and vice versa didn't feel weird to me. The fact that it's a super slow burn also helped with this. At first, Liam takes the place of a friend, giving Jake a glimpse into Caleb's life, meeting his friends, visiting his favorite places, and such. He becomes a confidante of sorts as Jake gets more comfortable with who he is, and who he's attracted to. It didn't feel as if falling in love with Jake was what Liam had planned for - it simply happened.

Both Jake and Liam are really likable characters, and the author drew them with complexity and flaws. Their actions and reactions made sense within the overall plot, and the dialogue felt authentic for the most part. What grated after a while was Jake's accent - he often sounded a bit too much like a country bumpkin for my taste, but that's on me, I'm sure. Jake has quite a few hurdles to clear, before he can ride off into the sunset, his mama's machinations being the least of his worries. Jake finds his backbone - and that was a wondrous sight to behold when he told off the bigot preacher. Liam's family is made from a different cloth - fully supportive, warm and welcoming, and embracing Jake for who he is. 

KC Wells always delivers with the emotions in her writing, and this book is no different than what I'm used to from this author. There are heart-wrenching moments of grief and pain that made me cry, but there are also moments full of love and light, and those made me cry also. There is passion between two young men who finally found what they've been looking for, there is courage and strength in the face of adversity, and there are surprise reactions you didn't expect. 

I couldn't stop reading until the very end, and this is no surprise to me at all, really - It's a KC Wells book, after all.

Recommended.


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

 

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review 2018-08-08 02:52
Release Day ARC Review: The Missing Ingredient by Brian Lancaster
The Missing Ingredient - Brian Lancaster

About a year ago, Marcus, a busy chef in London, lost his best friend Raine in a car accident, and in one fell swoop, Raine's husband and their children as well, due to being asked to "give them time to grieve".

Marcus respected Tom's wishes, though he misses his two "nieces", never mind the grief of losing his friend and ersatz family. 

But then he runs into them by chance and realizes that Tom doesn't look like's holding it together at all, and it's obvious that Marcus is needed. He immediately steps up despite Tom's feeble protests, and soon, he's caring for the girls and taking care of Tom as well. Obviously Tom is straight, and any resurrected attraction Marcus may be feeling mustn't be acted upon. Because Tom is straight.

Or is he?

This is by design a slow burn romance, covering almost a year's worth of time, and the relationship between the two men develops realistically and organically, as Marcus and Tom and the girls start to mesh their lives together, with Tom relying on Marcus, and Marcus giving more and more of himself to prop up his late friend's family. 

There's also a bit of a side plot with the mystery of why Raine was in the location of the accident, with someone not her husband in the car. This side plot's resolution also serves as a point of conflict between Marcus and Tom, as Marcus relays to Tom what he found out, and as Tom has a hissy fit when he does. 

Tom struggles with his feelings for Marcus, and even goes so far as to attempt to deny that part of himself by showing apparent interest in dating a woman. This leads to him using Marcus' revelation of the mystery behind Raine's travel that fateful day to break off their budding romance, and mostly cut off communication. I really, really didn't like this Tom at all. I felt for him while he was coming to terms with his feelings for Marcus, but he then treated Marcus abysmally, and the man didn't deserve that at all. 

Despite the slowly developing romance, the book is actually quite fast-paced, and the pages just flew by. Marcus forgives Tom's behavior time and again, the fact that Tom is hiding him, until Tom does a really hurtful thing and Marcus has had enough. 

And then Tom comes to his senses, finally, realizes what's he lost, and makes the "grand gesture" to regain the man he loves. That scene had me a wee bit choked up. 

The epilogue - OMG! For a few moments there, I was in utter shock, not quite believing what I was reading, because seriously the epilogue is supposed to be where we get their HEA, and it just didn't seem to start out that way at all. I was all like "WTF?" and "WHY?" and then I turned the page and about died laughing. Clever, Brian Lancaster, real clever. 

The supporting cast was well-rounded, with Tom's parents, Moira and John, Tom's two daughters who were front and center but never overshadowed the relationship building, Tina, who's Marcus assistant... even some of the more minor characters who all played a role in moving the plot forward.

The book is told entirely from Marcus' third person POV, and we thus don't get a whole lot of insight into what makes Tom act the way he does, but we do see them both grow, retreat, and grow some more. In many cases, due to the circumstances, Marcus felt like the more mature of the two, even though he's 10 years Tom's junior. 

I enjoyed reading this book, and I think this would be a good choice for anyone who loves the hurt/comfort stories. Incidentally, while Tom's wife dies at the beginning of this book, it never feels as if this is simply a plot device to clear the way for Marcus and Tom - it's more that Raine's death leaves them both adrift, and they honor her memory in a myriad of ways, always mindful that they are in each other's lives because of what she meant to both of them - a wife to Tom, and Marcus' best friend, the person who's stood by him since their school days. 

Recommended.


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

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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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