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review 2017-05-16 02:25
Release Day ARC Review: Two For Trust by Elle Brownlee
Two for Trust (Dreamspun Desires Book 34) - Elle Brownlee

Well, that was mostly lovely. No steam but a few hot kisses and a lot of longing, and a super slow burn romance between an American nurse/tourist in England and the well-off owner of a manor. Finch is utterly adorable and exactly what the somewhat stuffy Benedict needed in his life.

Finch Mason, young, single, and a nurse, is on the trip of a lifetime - two weeks in jolly olde England, armed with a National Trust pass, that turns out to be a pass for two for one week, instead of a pass for one for two weeks. No matter, because why not offer the 2nd entry to the old mill he's visiting to the handsome Brit who shows up ever so fortuitously. And then Finch and Benedict meet time and again, and share a week of visiting historical sites in that particular area of Britain.

Over the course of the week, Finch rescues a puppy from a hole in the ground, has tea and crumpets with Benedict, and starts to have feelings for the handsome older man. He's quit his job in the States because they wouldn't grant him the vacation time, and he is not looking forward to returning stateside because of that pesky job search he'll have to undertake.

His funds are limited, but he's optimistic and a bit of a history geek, and admires Benedict and his charms.

I could see how Finch would look to the older Benedict as someone to admire, but I just didn't really buy the developing relationship. More often than not, Benedict comes across as a cold fish - I'm not sure whether that was his personality or if he acted this way because he thought it was expected.

After the first week, Benedict plans to move on to the next hostel, but his plans are dashed when he returns to his room and discovers someone has ransacked it and stolen nearly everything. And Benedict rushes to the rescue.

I had already figured at their first meeting that Benedict wasn't quite who Finch assumed him to be, so the reveal wasn't a big surprise to me. I also at that point became a little bit uncomfortable with the manner in which Benedict takes over control, and starts telling Finch what to do. It could be said that he was doing this only because he too had started to look at the young man with something like desire and longing, and possibly even love, but it wasn't well explained and not really shown.

At about 2/3 in, Benedict asks Finch to take his grandmother across the Channel to visit her sister in The Netherlands, for payment, and Finch agrees to play nursemaid for the trip across and a few days in the Dutch countryside, and then catching a flight to London and get there in time for his return to the US. There's an unexpected kiss at the dock. Except things don't exactly go as planned once they've made it across, and Grandma gets herself into a spot of trouble, and then Finch... well, you read this for yourself.

Finch ends up staying longer than initially planned - not that he has a job to go home to - and then there's a bit of a misunderstanding, and an impetuous Finch runs off, thinking he's unwanted.

As this is a romance, we get a happy ending, of course.

I quite adored Finch. He had a really bad relationship experience prior to getting to England, and I don't think he saw himself as someone who was worthy of Benedict, or anyone else, for that matter. He's unfailingly polite, gracious, and always very grateful to everyone who helps him, but also not a complete doormat. He loves animals, he's kind and optimistic, and he doesn't let life get him down. I do believe he was good for Benedict, and helped to loosen the chap up a bit, and maybe pull the stick out of his arse.

Benedict - well, I guess he grew on me by the end, but I didn't like it when he said things that sounded a bit too much like scolding Finch for my taste, or giving me the impression that he was bothered by the young man's presence in his home. Sure, we're told that he doesn't feel that way at all, but it doesn't really come across that way in his actions. I guess I was missing the chemistry here - there just didn't seem to be much passion at all - and while I don't need steam in my romance books, I found it strange that the two men would share nothing but a few hot kisses before the grandiose ending, not even off-page.

YMMV.


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

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review 2017-05-15 02:37
ARC Review: Summer Stock by Vanessa North
Summer Stock - Vanessa North

Vanessa North has gone and done it again. With Summer Stock, she's back with a lovely romance between a rumored bad boy Hollywood actor and a North Carolina low country handyman who meet each other during a summer of building stage sets and acting for a local Shakespeare company owned by the former's cousin and the latter's friend.

Ryan Hertzog, Hollywood star, has returned to North Caroline for the summer, told to lay low by his publicist and avoid any further scandals. His rumored relationship with his friend Ali and her boyfriend West has sent him fleeing for the opposite coast to hide from the glare of the Hollywood lights.

Trey Donovan, handyman and owner of a renovation business, has had his own reasons for laying low - an abusive ex has made him distrustful and scared to get into another relationship.

They meet, they get it on, and then Ryan runs into Trey's dog Ferdinand (Ferdy), a 200 lbs mastiff with a heart of gold and an affinity for chewing on underwear, and ends up butt naked outside of Trey's house, with the paparazzi all too ready to take his picture.

Clearly, the relationship isn't off to a good start, even if it's only meant to be a summer fling.

But Ryan and Trey meet time and again and just cannot keep their hands off each other - the flames burn brightly. But it's only for the summer, right?

The book is really all about the relationship between the two men, and how a summer fling develops into more. Of course, it's not smooth sailing, what with Ryan being bisexual and Trey being a bit bi-phobic and suffering from foot-in-mouth disease on occasion, but they talk, apologies are made and accepted, and sheets are burned up. Holy hot boysecks, Batman!

This author continues to impress me with her writing. She's not afraid to defy the tropes, she unflinchingly speaks her mind through her characters, she points out how assumptions tend to be wrong, and she doesn't use stereotypes. Her characters are fully fleshed out, complex and imperfect, which makes them more likable and relatable. Vanessa North makes you question your own prejudice, especially when it comes to expectations of the Hollywood actors in this book.

Trey has some demons to slay, and he still suffers on occasion from a need to sabotage the good things in his life, because he was made to feel worthless by his ex and doesn't believe that he deserves a good thing like Ryan.

Ryan is not perfect either, but he's not a stereotypical Hollywood star. He loves acting, and he is committed to the small theater where he's performing for the summer, happily giving acting advice to his fellow players and wanting to do what's best for his cousin Caro and her friend Mason (the owners). He is sometimes exasperated by Trey's stupid comments about bisexuality, and at times hides his hurt.

There was a moment around 80% or so when I thought this book was taking a direction not to my liking, but of course I should have trusted the author who didn't let me down. In the end, both men grow throughout this book, and they journey they took was, while not smooth, definitely worth taking.

Kudos to this author for writing bisexual characters, stereotype-defying characters, and complex, flawed characters, not only for the main pairing but also for the supporting cast. And extra kudos for Ferdy, the most lovable, slobbering, and loving beast there ever was.

There's a HEA, of course, and a lovely epilogue, and all's well that ends well, as The Bard himself would tell you.

Highly recommended.


** 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 2017-05-05 02:46
ARC Review: Blue by B.G. Thomas
Blue - B.G. Thomas

I first encountered Blue McCoy in book 2 of the Seasons Of Love series by this author, when he was unwittingly and unwillingly involved in a terrible act committed by Howard, who was Wyatt's "husband" at the time.

I've been waiting for some time for Blue to tell me his own story and delighted when it was finally available.

There may be some slight spoilers below...
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review 2017-05-02 00:18
Release Day ARC Review: The Perils Of Intimacy by Rick R. Reed
The Perils of Intimacy - Rick R. Reed

"I'm Jimmy, and I'm an addict." 

Two years ago, Jimmy and Mark met for a night of sex. Jimmy was high on crystal meth and hoped to steal whatever he could find in Mark's home to feed his addiction, and Mark was feeding a different addiction, one he doesn't admit to himself until toward the end of this book.

That night changed both of them - it set Jimmy onto his path to beat his relationship with "Tina", and it destroyed Mark's trust in people.

They've both been alone since.

Now two years later, Jimmy works in a small restaurant, and Mark works a job he's good at but doesn't like. Both have a close friend, someone they can go to for advice or just to listen. In Jimmy's case, it's his roommate Kevin. For Mark, it's his co-worker Don.

And Jimmy also has Miriam, his sponsor for N.A. She's but a phone call away, whenever he needs her. There's a point in the book where... actually, no. I'm not going to tell. Read this for yourself.

Seriously, read this book. It's written in the first person present tense, switching between Jimmy's and Mark's POV, over the course of about a week, as the two men meet (again), and embark on a real relationship, with real intimacy. Which requires Jimmy to come clean to Mark about who he is and who he was two years prior. And you hope that he does before Mark figures it out himself. You hope, and you watch, and you sit there, all tense, because you know, you just know, that would be too easy, and OMG, Jimmy, tell him, TELL HIM, and then...

The writing is brilliant, and this may be the best book I've read by this author. It's not meaningless fluff. It's not just a romance - it's so much more. It touches on difficult subjects, and it makes very clear the point that once an addict, always an addict - recovery is an ongoing process, and you're never fully cured. It takes a hard look at the difference between intimacy and sex, and that neither is dependent on the other. Forgiveness is hard - merely saying the words doesn't make it so in your heart, and Mark has to struggle to get to the point where he can look at Jimmy and truly forgive him. And Jimmy has to forgive himself too.

Love will find you when you're ready - but first and foremost, you have to love yourself. And at the beginning of this book, and when they first met, neither Mark nor Jimmy were ready for this truth.

I'd like to quote Miriam here, because she really drives home the point:

 

Love yourself, Jimmy. With all your heart. That’s the only way you’ll ever find real happiness. We all make mistakes. [...] mistakes are the soil we grow from. Every mistake, every bad thing we did shouldn’t be a regret, because everything we do is simply one more step on our journey. Without the mistakes, we’d never grow.


There are quite a few poignant moments in this book (and one that shocked me), and the author takes an unflinching and very realistic look at what addictions will do to good people, and how many of them never get the chance to pull themselves out of the morass. But addictions come in various forms, and Mark has to learn that lesson too.

I LOVED this book. It made me think, it made me feel, and there were quite a few times when my heart was in my throat and my eyes filled with tears. It's a thing of beauty, this book, and I would highly recommend it.


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

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review 2017-05-01 14:35
Release Day ARC Review: Nightsong (Notes From Boston #2) by A.M. Leibowitz
Nightsong (Notes from Boston Book 2) - A. M. Leibowitz

If you've read the first book in this series, you'll remember Nate.

I disliked him intensely in the first book after he cowardly outed Trevor out of jealousy and spite, and I wasn't quite sure that the author would find a way to redeem him.

I should've had more faith.

Nate Kingsley is a rather complex character, someone who has patched his wounds with band-aids, and whose self-esteem issues are rooted in past heartbreak. He's lost, so lost, when this book begins, because he misses Trevor's friendship, and he doesn't know how to apologize and how to make up for what he did. His cowardly actions are haunting him, and he's unhappy but doesn't know how to fix what he broke.

Not even his work can pull him out of the doldrums, and in his loneliness, floundering without the friend he hurt so badly, he again makes a huge mistake that costs him dearly later on in the book.

Izzy Kaplan is an EMT whose drag queen alter ego, TaTa Latke, has caught Nate's eye. Unbeknownst to Nate, Izzy harbors a similar crush for him. Izzy has trust issues, much like Nate, and he keeps parts of himself hidden from view. He has reasons, of course, even if those reasons perhaps only make sense to him. He realizes that something is going on with him, but doesn't want to deal with it, and thus makes like an ostrich - head in the sand.

I really loved how this book showcased the variety of the rainbow, and how non-judgmental the author handles all the different flavors of sexuality and gender identity. While the characters may favor one over the other, it's always very clear that this isn't what the author believes to be true. This was similar to the first book, and we get to visit with Trevor, Andre, and Marte again in this book.

What also stands out is that both MCs hide their true selves from their friends, at least for a long while, and that they both learn to be more open by the end. Both are dealing with some devastating health issues, and trusting each other, and their friends, is a hard-won battle.

There's a ton of angst inside, some of it external to the relationship, and some of it self-induced, but none of it ever felt unreasonable. Both Nate and Izzy have their own personal demons to slay, and they both still have some important lessons to learn. The book touches on some really heavy yet important topics and handles them with sensitivity and honesty, without becoming preachy.

The romance is really subdued here and takes quite some time to develop and then come to fruition, but that also made sense within the overall time line. Neither Nate nor Izzy are ready to confront their demons early on, and a more rapid development would likely have sent them to crash and burn. The author includes intimate scenes, but none of them felt superfluous or gratuitous, and all were furthering the plot. While I would classify this as a romance (because there is a happy ending for Nate and Izzy), it's actually a lot more than that. It's a character study of two rather flawed and often frustrating men, who find exactly what they were looking for when they didn't even realize they were looking for it.

This book could be read as a standalone, but probably shouldn't, as it's built on the events of the first book, and a reader is better served knowing the history between Nate and Trevor, which is one of the main catalysts for Nate changing himself in this book.

By the way, I wanted to junk-punch Rocco. Repeatedly. Once you've read this book, you'll know why.

This isn't your typical M/M romance fare, and I was glad for it.

Highly recommended.


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

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