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review 2017-10-09 00:45
ARC Review: In Over Our Heads by CJane Elliott
In Over Our Heads (Stories from the Shore Book 2) - CJane Elliott

This is a cute sequel to All The Way To Shore . We met Anthony Vallen in the first book, as Jonathan's quirky, sassy cousin, who didn't do romance or relationships. 

He still doesn't in this book either, for reasons that are explained within. See, many years ago, when Anthony was a wee teenager, he met a boy, a super smart boy, whom he loved, but the boy left him abruptly after a near-drowning for which the boy blamed himself. Ever since then Anthony has given up on love - it's for others, not for him. 

Even if he might be occasionally a bit jealous of what Jonathan found with Marco, but those moments don't last long, because there are just so many other men to have fun with. Who needs love, amirite?

And now Anthony is headed to Key West for a fun vacation with Jonathan and Marco, who've gotten married since the last book, and he's looking forward to sun and fun and possibly some scuba diving. Or maybe not, since putting his head under water is still something Anthony doesn't do all that willingly. 

But who should be the owner of the bar and the scuba diving place but his old boyfriend, Walter Elkins. The boy who broke his heart is now all grown up, but no longer a scientist for reasons. 

Getting a first row view of Anthony's deeper side was fascinating. His sassiness and easy flirting routine is a front, something he hides behind. If you don't open your heart to anyone, you can't get hurt, right? But behind that facade is a person who yearns for someone to call his own, for someone who understands him and takes him as he is, for someone who loves him.

While Anthony can be a little OTT some of the time (or most of the time, at least outwardly), he's actually a really nice and thoughtful person with a huge heart, even if most people don't get close enough to realize it. The things he did for his cousin Jonathan in the first book, standing by him, helping him, supporting him - all that is part of what really makes up Anthony Vallen. Sure, he's flamboyant and in your face, and he talks and talks and talks, but I liked him quite a bit. 

Walter, on the other hand, pissed me off for most of the book. He suffers from severe Edward Cullen syndrome, and his reason for bailing not only on Anthony but also a lucrative career as a brilliant scientist was ridiculous and felt contrived. I mean, the guy needed some serious therapy. Seriously.

I'm all for "Opposites attract", and I usually love second-chance-at-love books, but I didn't love this one, primarily because of Walter. Yes, sure, Anthony is a super crazy queen, though that's his persona, his protection, and he never tried to crap all over Walter's hesitations, but Walter's constant waffling and one step forward, two steps back, hurting Anthony in the progress, just made me angry. 

If I had been in Anthony's shoes, I would have made Walter grovel a LOT more than he did. Yes, Walter did eventually find the courage to work through his issues, but that was long after he'd broken Anthony's heart again. Though, and this must be said, I did love that Anthony had backbone and said, Look, I'm worth more than what you're begrudgingly giving me, so adios, I'm done trying.

I did believe that the two men loved each other, the first time, and the second time too. I think it is that love that carried them both to their happy ending, even if getting there was fraught with pain and hurt. Walter's brilliant mind is more of a hindrance than an advantage to their road to forever, but he eventually puts his smarts to the right use. In the end, they realize that they have to compromise, and the book ends in a really good spot for them both. 

On the supporting cast, we have Jonathan and Marco, blissfully happy, and Miles, who works for Walter, who flirts with Anthony and who, it turns out, provides them with a catalyst to start getting their act together.

There are sexy times within, and it's clear that Walter and Tony have no issues whatsoever inside the bedroom at all - it's outside of it where they struggle. 

I don't know if this concludes this series, though I'd like to see Miles find the person for him as well. Perhaps that's still to come.


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

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review 2017-10-08 22:46
ARC Review: The Shipwreck (Lavender Shores #4) by Rosalind Abel
The Shipwreck (Lavender Shores Book 4) - Rosalind Abel
"Oh What A Tangled Web We Weave When First We Practise To Deceive..."



Lamont Price, Andrew's older half-brother, is an author of M/F romances under a female pseudonym, attending his first romance book conference and about to come clean to his readers. He's nervous, understandably, not only because he's deceived his fans into thinking he's a woman named Ginger Peach, but also because he doesn't like the spotlight. As soon as he can, he runs from his fans to a bar outside of the conference hotel.

Lamont is an interesting character. In his mid-forties, he is plagued primarily by what he considers his failures (no boyfriend, no long-term relationship prospect, no books in his own name, no sex for years), and largely avoids getting together with his family, because they keep trying to set him up with someone he could add to the family. Lamont hasn't had sex in years because he doesn't do hook-ups and prefers to have sex within a relationship only. Not a bad attitude, of course, but obviously, that can lead to loneliness. And he is lonely. He sees all the happy couples in Lavender Shores and feels left out, like he's on the outside looking in.

While he's at the bar, hiding from his fans, he meets Tate Dallas, who's the prolific cover model for another romance author and whose real name is Tyler Dixon. 

Tyler/Tate is what may be considered a rentboy. He's not only a cover model, but can also be hired as an escort, including providing bedroom attention, and some other jobs within that industry. He does all his to fund his photography and showing his work in galleries, while waiting for his "big break". He makes no secret of having a lot of sex, but he omits telling Lamont outright that he gets paid for doing so. He also omits another major thing, one that... nah, you read this for yourself.

So Lamont, having the baby shower for Andrew and Joel's soon-to-be-born baby coming up, asks Tyler if he would consider posing as his boyfriend for a long weekend in Lavender Shores, no strings attached, and no hanky-panky included. Of course, Lamont thinking that Tyler is the most beautiful man he's ever seen definitely helps in overcoming a smidgen of his shyness to even propose this arrangement. But surely, someone as gorgeous as Tyler has no interest in someone as boring as Lamont.

Except Tyler is struck pretty much just the same, but doesn't feel that he has anything to offer the older and more successful man. And thus expects nothing except the part he's agreed to play. It's a one-time thing, and then they'll go their separate ways. 

But the best-laid plans and all that...

I quite liked the two main characters here, and the author did a darn good job exploring them in depth. It was clear that the Tate Dallas persona was a front, and that there is a real person hiding behind that pseudonym, a person who gets scared of what might be and a person who doesn't believe in love everlasting. Tyler is not ashamed of what he does to support himself, but he also keeps Tyler and Tate very separate. As Tyler, the fact that he's pretty straight-forward in what he says and does helped to draw Lamont out of his shell too.

It was also clear that Lamont, while shy and introverted, faltered more often than not under the pressure his parents put on him, whether it was intentional or not. Many people in town looked at him as if he was this fragile person and failed to realize that Lamont is in fact quite strong. His strength is in his convictions and his unwillingness to settle for anything but the real thing.

The two men have a strong connection from the start, and once Tyler gets to Lavender Shores for the baby shower weekend, they both struggle to stick with the original plan. I really liked that this was a slow burn romance for a good chunk of it, and that they had a chance to get to know each other a little bit before jumping into the sheets. 

I really liked the imagery of the Shipwreck that the author used here, and the many parallels that could be drawn from it. It was also quite lovely how the author used the actual shipwreck as a background for Lamont and Tyler to get closer and soon allows them to realize that neither of them is ready to say good-bye quite yet. 

Obviously, the omissions I mentioned at the beginning of my review play a huge role in the progression of their relationship and end up to be a chasm Lamont and Tyler cannot bridge once the truth comes out. 

Or can they?

This is a romance, after all, so you know that a HEA is guaranteed, and the author doesn't let the reader down. Still, both men need to first find themselves, find who they really are, and figure out that what they had, what they built, no matter how short their time together, may be worth fighting for. 

How they find their way back to each other - well, you read this yourself. There's some angst, some self-discovery, and there's a fabulous epilogue that you don't want to miss.

And plenty of holy hot boysecks, Batman, to boot!!

Recommended.


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

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review 2017-10-03 23:31
ARC Review: Deeds & Confetti (Mary's Boys #4) by Brandon Witt
Deeds & Confetti (Mary's Boys Book 4) - Brandon Witt

This is the final book in the Mary's Boys series, and it rounded out the series quite nicely. 

Steven Conley, in his 40s, is the owner of the Hamburger Mary's restaurant where three couples so far have found love, but he's been mostly in the background, having created a safe place for lost souls and built a strong chosen family for his employees and friends. Before purchasing the Mary's franchise, Steven had a successful corporate career, but left it, much to his father's dismay. When we first meet Steven in this book, he's in the hospital at his father's deathbed, with his sister Pat. Cruel words from his father send Steven reeling and questioning the choices he's made.

Ryan Fuller is 27 and also made choices, leaving behind success as a painter to own a small party planning business, while working part-time at a funeral home to make a bit of extra income. His relationship with his family is strained as his parents don't understand why he would choose to leave wealth and success behind. 

The two meet at the funeral home after Steven's father dies. Yeah, I know that sounds weird and sort of eww, but hear me out - first you have to understand the headspace Steven is in at the time. For which you need to read this book, obviously. Secondly, you need to know that Ryan knows Steven even before they meet at the mortuary. 

Grief makes one do seemingly strange things. So does desire.

For most of the book, Steven grapples with the choices he's made. He's adrift and doesn't know which way to move forward. He also thinks that Ryan, being so much younger, doesn't really see the real him, but some ideal he's built up in his mind, and thus Ryan's feelings cannot be trusted.

This is a heavy story, and not one you can read quickly. There's a ton of emotional upheaval inside, and it would behoove the reader to proceed carefully through each chapter so as not to miss the poignant writing within. 

I'm partly sad that this is the last book, and partly happy with how the author has chosen to end this series. It's not that everything is wrapped up in neat little bows, and the way to Steven and Ryan's HEA is tumultuous and winded, but it ends on a really positive note, with all our previous couples still going strong, and Steven and Ryan embarking on their forever journey. 

It's a really good book. And while it could theoretically be read as a standalone, you don't want to miss the books that came before it. Read the whole series - it's worth your time.


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

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review 2017-09-01 03:11
ARC Review: The Veranda by Rosalind Abel
The Veranda (Lavender Shores Book 3) - Rosalind Abel

Donovan Carlisle, descendant of one of the founding families of Lavender Shores, is the town therapist and knows everyone's secrets. Well, at least everyone who's come to his practice and unburdened themselves. He's had a few unsuccessful relationships and has for many years denied his attraction to his sister's husband, burying that deep inside, knowing that it can never be more. 

Spencer Epstein is the ex-husband of Erica Epstein, Donovan's sister (there are families trees available on the author's website that explain all this, and Spencer actually took Erica's name upon marriage). Spencer is a high-powered, successful attorney. He's known he's gay but his religious preacher parents sent him to "pray-the-gay-away" therapy for years, and he still struggles with the guilt his formative years have instilled in him. He initially came to Lavender Shores to be himself, but then met Erica, and for some reason that isn't clear to me decided to marry her. Meeting Donovan at the engagement party and falling in love at first sight wasn't in his plans, but Spencer denied and buried the attraction and desire for an entire decade, during which he was faithful to his wife and produced two children.

The book starts at a masquerade party being held by one of Donovan's friends in San Fran, which Spencer also attends. Spencer recognizes Donovan immediately and grabs the chance to take what he's wanted for so long, thinking that Donovan will not know who he is, since the mask and costume hides his identity. 

But Donovan does, right after the end of the impromptu blow-job. 

It takes a little while but they come clean about a lot of things, and carefully start dating. Donovan has concerns that being with Spencer will be seen as a betrayal of the family, and the ugly voices inside Spencer from years of reparative therapy rear up at inopportune moments. They struggle, not with each other so much, because there is little internal angst in the relationship, but with how to best move their love into the open. There are kids involved, obviously, and some hard conversation need to be had. 

I really like this series. Each book is very different from its predecessor, and we get unique couples with unique situations. In this book, considering that the two men have secretly lusted for each other for a decade, their relationship evolved rather quickly but still felt realistic under the circumstances. The ILYs come early, but not unexpectedly - again, it felt plausible, considering the circumstances. Their easy banter was fun, and I loved how eager Spencer was to explore all the things he's missed out on, once they jump feet first into the relationship. Their bedroom exploits were part fun and part super hawt, and I loved how easy this part was for them. The relationship overall had a more relaxed tone, which also felt realistic, considering they've known each other as brothers-in-law and family/friends for years. 

I had a couple of niggles. While Erica isn't the only female in this series, her initial portrayal was one-dimensional and flat. She was basically (and has been from the start of the series, really) the designated villain in this book, rude to and full of contempt for pretty much anyone she deems beneath her, and her behavior, through Donovan's and Spencer's eyes both, was cruel and mean and unexplained. It was only later in the book that she became a real human, a real person, when she is honest with Spencer for what is possibly the first time in their entire relationship. We see her struggle with Spencer's new relationship, with the fact that her brother took her place, and that made her real. There was a moment when she let loose a horrible slur, which, I think, shook her up quite a bit once she realized what she said, and then she actually apologized. 

My other niggle is that Donovan and Spencer sounded rather alike on occasion, so much so that it was a little difficult to tell who was talking at a given time. This wasn't something that happened throughout the book, but often enough that I noticed it. Their thought processes seemed very similar during those instances. 

While this wasn't my favorite of the three books so far published, it's still a solid 4 star read for me, a book about second chances and being true to yourself and finally going after what you really wanted all along, and I would definitely recommend it. 

Lamont's story is next. I can hardly wait! 


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

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review 2017-08-25 01:43
ARC Review: Barging In by Josephine Myles
Barging In - Josephine Myles

Ah, I just adore Jo Myles' books. They're so very British, and I just love that. 

I'd never heard of Narrowboats before this book. I'd no idea that there are people in Britain who live on these skinny boats, slowly moving up and down the rivers and canals through the country-side. I'd no clue that you can rent such a boat for a holiday. Until I googled that, and wow - there's apparently a ton of these boats, no wider than a few feet, on which you can live and cook and sleep. 

Robin, one of our MCs, owns such a boat, and he's basically hiding himself away after heartache and heartbreak, unwilling to risk his heart ever again. Love? Pshaw - who needs it?

On the other side, we have Dan, a London-based travel writer and self-proclaimed slut (one-night-stand-Dan), whose latest assignment is writing a story about the Narrowboat culture. He knows not a darn thing about boats, including the one he's rented, which is how he meets Robin. 

Boats collide, two very different men collide, and - dare we hope - hearts collide as well.

With her typical British humor, Jo Myles creates a fabulous romance against a background of lazy canals, penniless boaters scraping by, and the ever so beautiful English countryside, where two men, both different and alike in so many ways, literally bump into each other and tentatively, carefully, dare to reach out and learn that what they believed to be true might not be true after all.

With a fabulous supporting cast (other boaters, a land-locked curmudgeon, a randy old geezer, and Robin's errant cat), this book paints a gorgeous picture of what life is like when you live on a boat, and presents you with two imperfect, somewhat damaged MCs who are, beyond their wildest dreams, perfect for each other. Their banter had me in stitches, the sexy times were smoking, and their rather rough road to their love story, no matter how much they might fight their feelings and hurt each other in the process before kissing and making up, made me want to root for them, and in the end left me with a huge smile on my face.

I love Jo Myles' books. Recommended!



** I received a free copy of this book from the author via Signal Boost Promotions. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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