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review 2018-08-17 02:41
ARC Review: Sky Full Of Mysteries by Rick R. Reed
Sky Full Of Mysteries - Rick R. Reed

This isn't a romance novel as much as it is an exploration of love and loss, and the difference between young love and mature love. It's also a bit of a character study for the MC Cole and explores how a traumatic loss can influence the rest of your life.

Cole and Rory are young and in love, having just moved into their first apartment together, in Chicago in the late 90s. They are somewhat opposites, but perfect for each other, and oh so in love. On a night when Cole has to work late, Rory decides to have dinner in a small restaurant close to the nearby college campus. A couple of beers and a burger later, Rory is on his way home, when a mass appears in the sky above him, a white light blinds him, and he finds himself leaving the ground. While this strongly hints at alien abduction, we're left to fill in many blanks, and it doesn't actually matter for the plot of this book how Rory disappears for so many years - it really only matters that he does.

Cole returns after work to an empty apartment. The author vividly describes his fear, his panic, his search for Rory, as hours turn into days into weeks into months, without a trace of Rory to be found. Cole's despair is palpable, and we see him slowly fall into a black hole of grief and pain. Most of the first half or so of the book deals with Cole searching for Rory, wondering what happened to him, and his reactions felt absolutely realistic. I watched a young, happy, carefree man become withdrawn and a shell of his former self. It is only through an almost accidental connection with Tommy, a law student and friend of the waitress who served Rory his last meal and comes forward with that information, that Cole doesn't fully drown in his grief. 

I felt that Tommy was a clutch for Cole, even as we find them dating and then together, eventually married, for 20 years. They're comfortable in their large apartment, with Tommy being a prolific author, and Cole taking care of the house, neither of them leaving their four walls much. While I believed that Cole loved Tommy and that their relationship was a happy one, it so very obviously lacked the exuberance of Cole's first love for Rory. He hides himself away from the world, something that suits Tommy just fine, but I felt as if Cole didn't really live at all after losing Rory. That he had lost his spark, that piece that made him uniquely Cole. 

Tommy is a nice guy, and he understands that Cole never got over losing Rory. He tolerates it, and he hides his hurt from Cole, loving the other man so much that he's willing to deal with being second place. I wondered if loving someone like Tommy loved Cole would explain why he was such a doormat and put up with Cole's eccentricities around Rory's memory.

At its core, the book pits young, passionate love with endless possibilities against the kind of love that grows over time, the kind that's as comfortable as a well-worn pair of jeans, the kind that has matured over the years, the kind that's familiar and deep and lasting. 

And then out of the blue Rory returns. And Cole has to make a choice. 

The ending - I am grateful that the author chose to go that route, because if Cole had made a different choice, I would have been really angry. I still have some questions, but I also understand that the author chose to be intentionally vague on some of the details, leaving some things to the reader's imagination. Truly, the ending as written here is the only one that made sense, the only one that was palatable to me. 

When I closed the book, I sat for a while wondering - what choice would I make if faced with the same decision Cole had to make? I examined my own feelings, comparing my first love to the love I share with the man I married, and how different my life might have turned out if I had made different choices at different times in my life. Which then spawned the question - how different would Cole's life have turned out if Rory hadn't left the apartment that night to eat dinner elsewhere? How would their young, exuberant love have fared through the years to come? Would they have made it? Would it have ended in tears and heartache as they grew up, matured, and potentially grew apart? Or would they have stayed together and grown old together? 

This is a masterfully crafted story, with an unusual plot, and utterly riveting. I could hardly put it down for any length of time. And any book that makes me think like this one did is surely deserving of the five stars it got. 

Recommended.


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

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review 2018-08-15 02:03
ARC Review: Camwolf by JL Merrow
Camwolf - J.L. Merrow

This was an interesting take on the shapeshifter sub-genre, and a much darker tale than what I'm used to from this author.

Dr. Nick Sewell is a professor at Cambridge university. He's also a werewolf, bitten and turned by an ex-boyfriend, and still struggling a bit with the wolfy parts of him.

Julian, a new student from Germany, causes an immediate reaction in Nick, even more so when Nick realizes the younger man is also a wolf. Nick is all alpha-wolf, which works well since Julian is more submissive in nature. 

Nick is still angry with the ex-boyfriend - he didn't ask to be bitten and turned, and the ex disappeared on him, more or less, so Nick has had to figure out pretty much on his own how to deal with the pull of the moon and the change. And now he's all growly and jealous and finds that he has this urge to be near the new student as much as possible, even though that creeps him out and he knows he sticks out like a sore thumb. 

Julian's backstory comes out slowly, and there were moments when what I found out made me so. fucking. mad! 

The author did a fine job with her characters - both are complex and flawed, polar opposites at first glance, but in many instances more alike deep down than they realize. The book is told from Nick's POV, switching with Julian's friend Tiffany's POV, which I found unusual and somewhat unfitting, since I really didn't have much interest in Tiffany, but the more I thought about her narrative, the more I realized that she actually brought some depth to Julian's character that may not have been as clear if we'd only heard from Nick. 

The thing that bothered me the most was how the situation with Julian's father's Beta turned out - and how his father seemed unapologetic for what he put his child through. Julian's mother seemed very weak, but we only saw her through Nick's eyes, and those were a bit biased. What didn't help was that there was a distinct lack of world-building - the werewolf lore used wasn't really explained, for one, and while Nick learns a bit more about changing into a wolf, he didn't really delve any deeper than what Julian told him. 

And it raised additional questions - like, is Crack fully human? And will he get his own book?

It's a rather dark novel, much darker than I expected, but I enjoyed reading it. I am German by birth, and most of the German used in this book was accurate. A few things were, while spelled properly, not exactly how a German would express themselves (at least not one from where I grew up).


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

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review 2018-08-11 02:24
ARC Review: Drumbeat (Notes From Boston #3) by A.M. Leibowitz
Drumbeat - A. M. Leibowitz

This is Jamie's book. If you've read the other two books in this series (Anthem and Nightsong), you may remember Jamie as one of the roommates who shared a house with Trevor and Nate before both of them got their happy ending. He currently shares the space with Mack, but they're looking for a roommate since Trevor is all moved out and Nate spends most of his time at his fiance's place. 

Both Jamie and Mack are in a band (Jamie playing drums, evocative of the title of this book, though drumbeat has another connotation, but we'll get to that in a bit), but Jamie also works in a restaurant to make ends meet. Oh, and he's still working on coping after years of living with an abusive ex-boyfriend. Who's still contacting him all the time, and harassing him, and trying to convince him to come back. Sage, the ex, is a real piece of work, and I would have liked to wring his neck. Repeatedly. 

Jamie struggles with his past, Jamie struggles with food, and Jamie struggles to not get caught up in Sage's web again. Years of abuse have taken a toll on him, and there were moments when he's still getting caught up in expecting the worst of others, expecting others to act the same way Sage did. It's probably a form of PTSD that manifests itself in what's stored in the box underneath his bed. Vague? Yep, I know - just read the book! 

The other MC in this book is Cian, a dance instructor/teacher, who works with deaf and hearing children, one of whom is his little sister, using ASL to communicate and his cane to tap out the drumbeat (the other connotation of the title). He's an outlying part of a triad (two women, one man) who live outside of town, and while they've invited Cian to join them permanently, he's not ready to take that step. He's torn between wanting to stay in town for Jamie to see where their relationship may go, but also conscious that with the dance studio closing, he may not have a choice but to move. 

The author weaves telling us about the characters into the storyline seamlessly, and as we learn more about Jamie's and Cian's situations, the two of them meet again, as their paths cross occasionally. There's also some history between them, and their initial stance toward each other is a bit antagonistic. They have a mutual friend, Brandon, who's trying to play a bit of matchmaker, but that doesn't initially work.

Jamie also knows ASL, for reasons I won't divulge here, because you should read this book and find out.

This author has a real knack for writing real people with real issues and real problems, looking for real solutions. They are complex and flawed, with a variety of sexuality. While the two main characters are male, only Jamie is gay - Cian isn't. They felt real and relatable, and their relationship developed slowly, over time, over misunderstandings, over misgivings, over realizing that they perhaps have more in common than they initially thought. 

There are trials and tribulations, and both men need to forge paths of their own that then eventually converge and thus allow them to travel the road to their happy ending together. 

This isn't your typical M/M romance, and I knew that going in. While there is on-page sex, it's not limited to happening only between the two MCs - that's another thing you should know. I don't consider those sexual encounters cheating, as Jamie and Cian aren't together for a long while, and those encounters happen primarily before they do. Still, if you don't like your MCs getting into bed with others, this book probably isn't for you. 

Jamie has some serious issues that are far beyond the lingering problems with the abusive ex, and those issues are the cause for what becomes the climax in this book, where all the doors are flung wide open and all his secrets are shared with Cian. 

There is no happily ever after in this book (and there couldn't be) but a strong HFN and a commitment to work through their issues, to be honest and open with each other, and to deserve the trust they put into each other. Considering what this author put their characters through, I couldn't really ask for more than that.


So, recap - not your typical M/M romance, sex outside of the main relationship, realistic, flawed, complex characters, and a well-rounded plot that allows both MCs to grow - yeah, I'd recommend it. 


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher 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 2018-08-07 11:00
Release Day ARC Review: Bad Behavior by K.A. Mitchell
Bad Behavior - K.A. Mitchell

This book starts off with a bang - literally - as Beach, irresponsible, immature, and full of IDGAF, meets a hot guy at a bar (where he's not really supposed to be, what with the ankle bracelet and alcohol monitor, courtesy of his dumbassery) and ends up pushed against the bathroom stall for a pounding.

I snickered a whole lot when hot guy turns out to be his probation officer. Oopsie.

Tai, a Dominant without a sub, dumps Beach off on his co-worker real fast, and tells the other man that there still can't be anything further happening between them, except Beach is used to getting his will, and Tai notices how Beach reacts to when he's given a direct command. 

Isn't that interesting, Tai thinks to himself and continues to test that theory.

I didn't like Beach in Gavin's book, because he was a spoiled brat, but I sure as heck like David Beauchamp, once the author peels back the layers that poor boy has wrapped himself in and explores his full backstory. No wonder that man is so fucked up in the head. 

The D/s aspects of their relationship completely made this novel for me. This wasn't playful kink like we saw in Bad Boyfriend, this was full-time DD/Ds, and I watched David grow into himself as he gives himself over to Tai's direction and discipline. 

Until he fucks up, and badly, and it all comes to a crashing halt. 

Because despite his growth, David still doesn't know his own worth, doesn't realize that he's worthy of being loved, doesn't understand that his fear of abandonment directs his steps until it's almost too late, because when he has to make a choice, he falters for a bit. 

Tai too has to learn here - though not quite as much as David - and he too makes some serious missteps.

I loved what the author did with Beach's character. She not only gave him room to grow (up) but also let him find that inner strength that was there all along, hidden below the layers, hidden behind that mask, hidden so deeply that David almost didn't know it was there. But it is, and I think of all the characters in this series, David grows the most. This one ranks high as one of my two favorites in this series.

As for the supporting characters, Jamie was a massive prick in this book. While I could understand the animosity due to the history there, he didn't have to be such an asshole to David. I also thought that Gavin was portrayed here as a bit more shallow than he was in his own book - again, perhaps of the history there, and how Beach almost cost him Jamie. Eventually Gavin does see the light though, and I appreciated that. 

I think this might be the end of this series, and I'm a little sad about that, but there's always the option to re-read them all. 

As for this one - loved it.


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

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