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review 2018-07-08 23:54
ARC Review: Life Of Bliss by Erin McLellan
Life Of Bliss - Erin McLellan

I read this without realizing it was book 2 of a series, but that didn't really hurt my enjoyment of it. 

Frenemies-to-lovers is a fabulous trope, and the author made fine use of it in here. However, that's not the only trope in here, because frenemies lead to fake boyfriends to oops, we got drunk married. 

Victor and Todd hate each other, but love to hate-fuck each other when their friends/couple Rusty and Niles aren't looking, except they really don't, because Victor hides a massive crush on Todd behind his snarky sarcasm, and Todd only sort of hates Victor because of guilt and shame over almost screwing with Dusty and Niles' HEA (which apparently happened in book 1).

At the beginning of this book, Todd, Rusty, and Niles are coming back from vacation and stop over in OK City, before going home to small town Oklahoma. Victor lives in OK City, so they meet him for dinner. Todd is already counting the minutes until the end of dinner so he and Victor can sneak off for sexy times. 

While coming down from the orgasmic high, and noticing a strange shift that seemed to have happened during sex, Victor tells Todd about attending his sister's upcoming wedding solo, and hating that, and somehow Todd agrees to be Victor's fake boyfriend at the wedding.

Alcohol comes into play, and they wake up the morning after the wedding married. 

From there, the book turns into a bit of an angst-fest, with both men keeping the marriage secret while agreeing to see if they can make it work, Todd making up stories (lies) when Rusty and Niles inquire of his whereabouts, Victor wondering if this marriage will last the summer, and whether it should, Todd and Victor NOT talking about how they really feel, feelings getting hurt, Todd coming clean to his family, which is a bit... shall we say... rough, Victor feeling like giving up, and two men who love each other being almost too damn proud to confess their true feelings.

The writing is fabulous. There are one-line zinger that had me giggling, and some humorous moments, such as Victor's box of sex toys being labeled "important documents". 

What I also really appreciated is that the author went beyond what could have become simply a rom-com and actually dug deeper into both characters. Todd especially suffers from a lack of confidence in his relationship skills, considering that he blew it with Rusty, and doesn't quite know how to navigate the waters between his feelings for Victor, his desire for something permanent, and his fears of screwing up again. Victor too isn't just all snark and sass, and there are worries keeping him up at night, specifically how to make enough money to keep paying rent, and whether his job will still exist after the summer. 

So while there are giggles and snickers to be had, and while the sexy times are hawt, there is more to this story than just those. Add a sweet HEA, and you have yourself a fine romance. I had a grand time reading this book, even without knowing anything about these folks from the first book, and I think you would too. 


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

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review 2018-01-11 03:09
ARC Review: Only You by Kay Doherty
Only You - Kay Doherty

Holy Insta-Love, Batman! And holy magic dick, Batman!

I took a chance on a new-to-me author, because the blurb of this book was intriguing. Rich party-boy/man-whore seeks new life away from the six maybe-boyfriends who'd only use him for his money and runs to his aunt's house in small-town Clover City, where he meets older, grumpy, closeted sheriff, who's still nursing a broken heart and carrying some massive guilt after his PD partner/secret lover died, back in Denver, during a domestic disturbance call gone very wrong.

I liked Case(y) initially - I could see that he was tired of being used and adrift, not sure of his way, and I hoped that he would find what he was looking for. He was immature to some extent (breaking up with his many boyfriends via text is just one example) and in desperate need of some direction in his life, something that would make it meaningful. But then, one of Case's ex-BFs tracks him down and instead of sending the guy back to where he came from, he puts him up in a hotel and pays the bill? Where was his spine? It's not like this happened shortly after Case's arrival - no, ex-BF shows up when he's already deeply involved with the sheriff. What gives?

Rawley, the closeted sheriff, is still mourning the loss of his partner, a death for which he blames himself, though he has built himself a quiet and mostly content life in Clover City. He's lonely, of course, even though he'd deny that if asked. Rawley takes one look at Case and wants. Grumpy sheriff wants the younger man, and after dragging him away from a barbeque to his house and sexy times, the sheriff is completely in lurve with the younger man, wants to keep him always, but also wonders if Case's man-whore past is not entirely a thing of the past. Jealousy is an ugly thing. 

There were some sweet moments too, and this book is entertaining. The plot flows well, I liked Case's aunt Sylvia (she was a sweetheart), and the townsfolks were nice too. 

Rawley just came on too strong sometimes, and I thought that the age gap was actually hindering them. Many times, Case acted like a doormat, and I wondered if he saw Rawley as a father figure too, instead of only a lover and an equal. Rawley had some hang-ups about Case's age as well and a bit of a dominant personality that, while it suited Case's character, was for me a bit too much. I like equality in the relationship, equal standing from a maturity perspective as much as possible, and I didn't get that here so much. 

Some of the plot points had me scratching my head, such as the rapidity with which Rawley stops grieving his ex-lover after meeting Case and their first bedroom encounter. Not only that, he also quickly gets over his guilt, a guilt that he's carried with him for two years and that he's worn like a shield to keep everyone out. Similarly, Case has one encounter with our grumpy sheriff, gets fucked through the mattress, and suddenly swears off anyone else's dick - never again will he have sex with anyone else, because... well, I guess because Rawley's dick is magic too. It's so magic, actually, that Case willingly puts up with Rawley's jealousy and distrust in his statement that he's done being a party-boy/man-whore and came to Clover City for that reason - to be done with that life. 

The ending felt a little too abrupt to me. I still had questions. What is the punishment Deputy Ted promised at the end? Is Jordan, the ex-BF, going to get that talk Case wants to have with him, and why, oh why is he still in town when the book ends? 

So, this wasn't a great read, but it did keep me entertained. Case and Rawley had some good banter going on, and while the relationship smacked of insta-love, they do get a rather nice HFN that will likely lead to a HEA, even if that must happen off-page. I could see Rawley open himself up to new beginnings and a second chance at love, and I could see Case find what has eluded him so far - someone who cares for him not because of what he can do for them, but for who he is. And don't we all want that, too?


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

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review 2018-01-10 11:00
ARC Review: Forever With You by Londra Laine
Forever With You - Londra Laine

First off, trigger warning - there is a detailed flashback to sexual assault in this book that happened when Kelly was a teenager. Proceed accordingly if this might be a trigger for you.

I'm of two minds about this novel. On one hand, I liked the characters and most of the plot, and the romance between the two men progressed at a reasonable pace, once Drew pulled his head out of his ass. There was good, believable chemistry between them, and the relationship had little angst - other than Kelly's traumatic experience, which he still grapples with, and Drew keeping a secret he shouldn't have. On the other hand, some of the plot felt a little OTT - there was a homophobic father and blackmail and attempted coercion and a marriage pact that all seemed a bit too much for my taste. In addition, during the first 15% or so, I felt that a lot of the writing was info dump and superfluous. For example, I didn't need to be told multiple times that Kelly's little brother Jaylen has asthma and required breathing treatments, which are expensive. I didn't need to be told multiple times that Kelly has chosen to be an admin assistant at this company because it comes with medical benefits for his brother. Most readers, including myself, will remember if being told information once. Twice is okay. More than that, I get irritated. 

Drew is Kelly's boss, and because Drew has a crush on the younger man, he's been treating him coldly and rudely, which - what? Considering that Drew is supposedly in his 30s, I would assume that someone of his age had a better grip on his emotions than that, and could act in a professional manner - which he didn't. Kelly doesn't understand why his boss is nice to everyone else, but cold with him, especially since Kelly has a bit of a crush on the older man too. I wouldn't have understood either, and Drew's behavior pissed me off.

After Kelly's office birthday celebration, Drew's tenuous hold on his self-control snaps, and the two men share a hot and heavy kiss in his office. Something triggers Kelly, and he freaks out and runs. Confused and worried, Drew attempts to find out what happened. He comes on super strong at first, but when Kelly has a another freak-out due to his trauma, Drew reins it in, thankfully so. He was actually a very caring guy, and I appreciated that.

I did have some concerns about the realism of their office demeanor - nobody seems to have questioned their changed behavior, really, and nobody seems to have any suspicions. Additionally, there were some occasions early on where Drew is a complete ass in making himself sound as if Kelly's job may be on the line if he doesn't comply - which, hello, harassment.

Kelly has a great support system in his friends, and dances at a gay bar on weekends. He also has custody of his much younger brother after his mother and step-father died when Kelly was but 19. Having put himself through college and looking after his baby brother is quite a feat. He had a lot of backbone, which I appreciated, and he didn't let Drew push him around. Much.

Once Drew finds out more about Kelly's background and really takes the time to get to know the other man, lending support when the little brother ends up in the hospital with asthma attacks, and generally being there for Kelly, their romance truly started to flourish, and I could see that Kelly started to trust Drew.

There were many emotional scenes that were either heart-breaking or heart-warming, and plenty of sexy times that thankfully didn't feel gratuitous, and I enjoyed reading this story for the most part. I could have done without the explicit flashback - I didn't feel that was necessary to bring Kelly's trauma across, and it felt somewhat exploitative. Again, heed the trigger warning.

Overall, for a debut novel, this was a good read, and I would be inclined to read more of this author's books as they are published.


** I received a free copy of this book from Gay Book Promotions as part of a review tour 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 2018-01-09 02:12
ARC Review: Before You Break by K.C. Wells and Parker Williams
Before You Break - Parker Williams,K.C. Wells

I'm ridiculously overdue with this review - my apologies to the authors. 

This book is the first in the series called Secrets, which is a spin-off from Collars & Cuffs, which I loved. At the end of book 8 of C&C, Eli and Jarod (from book 7) have decided to move to London to purchase and revamp an existing BDSM club, which they rename Secrets. 

I was excited to see Eli and Jarod again, and how the authors would set this new series apart from their first one. 

Wayne and Ellis are both members of London's Specialist Firearms unit and best friends. In recent months, Wayne has noticed Ellis behaving erratically, angering quickly, and being generally sleep-deprived. So far, Wayne has covered for Ellis and prevented any fuck-ups, but he realizes that this cannot go on. Thus, Wayne, a member of the club Eli and Jarod bought, invites Ellis to the Grand Reopening, in hopes that Ellis will see what goes on in Wayne's world for himself, and perhaps be more agreeable to a proposition Wayne has for him.

As I expected, Ellis has a freak-out. 

I had a difficult time understanding how Wayne thought that his straight best friend would be amenable to what Wayne was proposing, and that he thought this would be best for Ellis. At no time had Ellis ever given Wayne any kind of indication that he was a) not straight, and b) interested at all in the lifestyle. That whole situation felt forced to me early on, even if Ellis eventually agrees. I also was a little exasperated with Wayne's constant BDSM lectures, even though they made sense within the plot, since Ellis has zero experience in the lifestyle and possibly some preconceived false notions. 

The angst in this book comes mainly from Ellis and the messy relationships he has with his family, primarily his sister. It was clear to me that she was emotionally manipulating Ellis at all times, and that he bent over backwards to keep her happy. For someone in such a high stress job, I was wondering if there weren't psychological evaluations required at certain intervals, and whether an experienced therapist wouldn't have figured out that Ellis was at breaking point. Not even Wayne, his supposed best friend, really had any idea what Ellis was dealing with.

Once Wayne and Ellis set off on their BDSM journey though, I could see the relationship flourish, and there were many emotionally charged moments between them as Ellis learns more about Wayne's proclivities, and opens himself to being not so straight after all. These emotional moments are what keeps me coming back to these authors - they really have a knack for writing hardcore explicit kink with hardcore emotional impact. 

The ending was well done, even though there are some edge-of-your-seat moments that had me with my heart in my throat. Still, all's well that ends well, and this was a good start to this new series. I can't wait to see what else they have in store. 


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

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