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review 2017-06-25 03:19
Book Review: Shadows On My Soul by Leigh Jarrett
Shadows On My Soul - Leigh Jarrett

First off, trigger warning - there's is on-page male on male rape in this book. Be aware. The blurb hints, but doesn't spell it out. It's thankfully not drawn out, and done with sensitivity toward the subject matter.

This was my first book by this author. I liked the complexity of the characters in this book, but they exasperated me as well.

Supposedly best friends as well as business partners, Justin has kept a huge secret from Derek, and Derek has a secret of his own. Neither of them has the emotional maturity to discuss things honestly and openly, and their relationship was highly dysfunctional. Even at the end, which is supposedly a HFN/HEA, I didn't believe they will make it. There was a ton of unnecessary drama that could have been avoided if Derek wasn't so emotionally stunted and hadn't make such stupid assumptions, and if Justin hadn't lied for so long. Both of them needed therapy after the trauma (Justin for being violated, and Derek for having seen the violation first hand) to help them cope, but neither got that.

Their inability to read each other's facial expressions and emotions also threw a big wrench into their relationship, so much so that it made no sense considering that they had been best friends since their high school days. They just didn't really seem to know each other at all.

In addition to this, the two of them are also apparently completely oblivious to how their friends perceive them - Justin pretends to be straight and not in love with Derek, and Derek has one-night-stands to distract himself from being in love with his supposedly straight, supposedly best friend, but to everyone around them, they appear to be a couple.

The writing itself was perfectly fine, but the characterizations and the constant back and forth drama between the two main characters who have lied to each other, by omission or directly, for years, in a story that was billed as a romance, didn't work for me.

YMMV.


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

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review 2017-06-17 02:50
ARC Review: The Palisade by Rosalind Abel
The Palisade (Lavender Shores) - Rosalind Abel

Lavender Shores is a new series by Rosalind Abel (aka Brandon Witt), and it's certainly off to a great start.

In this first book, we meet Andrew Kelly, whose family was one of the founders of Lavender Shores, a small tourist town/LGBTQ haven north of San Francisco, bordered by the Point Reyes National Seaboard. I've never been in that area, but the descriptions of the landscape in the book paint a gorgeous picture.

Joel Rhodes has come to Lavender Shores at the behest of his father and boss to scope out the town for a new flagship store for his father's coffee empire, and close a deal for the store. He knows this is likely a test, one he's willing to take, but also realizes that he likely will never please his father despite his best efforts. It was fairly easy to feel kind of sorry for Joel from the start.

They first meet at a local restaurant where Andrew's family is celebrating his older brother's birthday and Joel just happens to be in the same restaurant the evening he arrives in town. Attraction is immediate and fiery, and Joel and Andrew spend a hot night together.

The very next day Joel is both delighted and dismayed to discover that Andrew is a real estate agent, handling the commercial properties. As they thus meet again, and as their night of passion still lingers, the two men spend more time getting to know each other. An extra day leads to a week, and falling in love happens quicker than either of them thought.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Like I said in my final update, there's hot sex, a ton of emotion, a tight narrative, and a well-chosen location, with excellent use of romance tropes - what's not to love?

There's a bit of angst, of course, because there has to be. Falling in love in a week, developing such a strong bond in such a short amount of time - there's got to be some angst to level out that playing field. Joel's in a terrible position, what with his father's expectations and his own desires at complete opposites, and Andrew is unable and unwilling to leave Lavender Shores behind, happy and content to stay in the small town he calls home - thus theirs is not a smooth ride to everlasting happiness.

But love will find a way, and there's the most amazing and teary-eye-causing happy ending, and I was overjoyed to see them so in love. Joel finds in Andrew what he's been missing most his life. And Andrew gets exactly what he's dreamed of for so long.

A sweeping romance, excellent pacing, and a cast of fantastic characters (Andrew's dad is a hoot), except perhaps Joel's father, who was a bit of a caricature horrible man, made this book a fabulous read and a real page-turner. There are quite a few sexy times inside but none of them felt superfluous and all of them helped move the relationship and thus the plot forward. I also want to point out that this being the first in a series, the author did a fantastic job introducing the town and its people without it distracting from the main couple's romance.

Highly recommended. I can hardly wait for the next installment.


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

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review 2017-06-13 00:03
ARC Review: Arrows Through Archer by Nash Summers
Arrows Through Archer - Nash Summers
"One morning I woke, but the two halves of my heart did not."



I don't have adequate words to review this book, or tell you how it slayed me, or how hard I cried and grieved and wailed for Archer and for Mallory, or how impressed I am with this author's writing skills.

I'm sorry, Nash Summers. I'll buy a copy when it comes out because I just cannot write you a review - I don't have the words.

"Leaving me there in a million broken pieces, Archer walked out the door."



If you're reading this review, dear people of Booklikes, just do yourself a favor and buy a copy of this book on June 14, when it comes out, hide yourself away in a comfortable corner and read it. Have tissues, wine and chocolate ready. Yes, there is a HEA, if that's something that worries you, but their journey there is what makes this book so outstanding, so raw, and so real.

That is all.


** I received a free copy of this book from its author. A review was not promised in return. Good thing too, seeing how I can't adequately review this brilliant book. **

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review 2017-06-12 09:00
ARC Review: Back To You by Chris Scully
Back to You - Chris Scully

There's a melancholy undertone to this book, and it permeates everything that happens within. Set in a small town along the Canadian Highway of Tears, a stretch of road where women and young girl mysteriously disappeared over a period of about 40 years, there's a certain kind of dread that sits in the pit of your stomach from the get-go.

 

Alex/Alexander/Sandy Buchanan, a journalist, returns to the town where he grew up after leaving with his mother 20 years earlier upon his parents divorce. He returns, reluctantly, because his estranged father's drinking has finally caught up with him and the old man is expected to die soon. Alex has no expectations of a happy reunion as he still resents his father, but hopes to get a story out of his visit.

 

The story is told entirely from Alex's first-person POV, which naturally lets the reader see only what Alex chooses to see. We don't get a whole lot of insight to Ben or what makes him tick, except of what we're allowed to see through Alex somewhat self-absorbed eyes. There's a moment when Ben lays it all out, and Alex finally... well, you read this for yourself.

 

Alex's older sister Janet lives close by, having returned to be closer to their father some years ago, and their relationship is equally strained, with Janet blaming Alex for never even trying to have a relationship with his father after the divorce, and Alex resenting Janet for continuing to ask him to. Their relationship is complex, and it was clear from the start that Janet was troubled.

 

The only thing that Alex looks forward to as he drives up to the small town is seeing his childhood friend Ben/Benji Morning, who's now an artist. Back when they were in their early teens, Alex had strong feelings for Benji that confused and scared him, and when Alex and his mom moved away, he quickly forgot all about Benji. In the years since, he's never been able to recapture the feelings from their one innocent kiss, not in the one-night-stands, the failed relationships, or even his relatively short marriage.

 

Additionally, shortly before Alex's mother left with him and his sister, Benji's older sister Misty mysteriously vanished one day. Alex's father was the last one to talk to her, and Alex and Benji observed her car driving down the highway the day she disappeared. She's never been found, and her and Benji's mother has never stopped looking, obsessed with finding out what happened to her daughter. In all those years, she's never had any emotional energy left for Ben, and he basically had to raise himself after his sister's disappearance. Now living in a small studio above the garage, Benji has worked hard to find a bit of peace while still keeping an eye on his mother, a peace that is threatened by Alex showing up on his doorstep. He's teaching free art classes to special needs kids and others, and has carved out a quiet albeit lonely existence for himself. He longs to move on, but realizes that his mother will continue to stagnate in her quest for finding his sister.

 

Just about the time Alex arrives in town, Misty's car is found in a nearby lake on the outskirts of town, and the investigation is given a second wind.

 

The mystery about what happened to Misty is deeply intertwined with Alex's relationship with his father and sister, and basically drives the story. The romance and rekindled feelings between Alex and Ben take second place, really, and theirs is not an easy road.

The book is full of poignant moments, but it's more suspenseful mystery than romance. Alex learns that what he believes to be the truth might not be after all, and that the dying man in the hospital bed has perhaps similar trouble in expressing his feelings, and that Alex is his father's son after all.

 

The truth about Misty's disappearance does eventually come out, though it wasn't a huge surprise to me. There were hints along the way, in what people said, hints that Alex either didn't understand or was too busy avoiding. Truth is a double-edged sword, as Alex surely finds out.

 

This isn't an easy read, and with the focus not on the second-chance romance but the mystery and suspense, it's not a book that would appeal to readers who look for fluffy M/M romances. They'd miss out, of course, as this book showcases this author's exquisite ability to set the stage and draw images with her words, transporting the reader into the story and giving him or her a unique experience. The writing is exceptional in creating the perfect atmosphere and evoking just the right emotions while reading. As with Until September, the author also doesn't shy away from making statements about the social issues behind the Highway of Tears. 

 

I was fascinated from the start, and couldn't stop reading. A true page-turner, this book delivered on everything it promised and more.

 

 
** 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 2017-06-03 01:39
ARC Review: Symbols by Mario Kai Lipinski
Symbols - Mario Kai Lipinski

Gosh, I wanted to love this book. I mean, read the blurb - the bullied kid who's spent his days hiding from everyone slowly falls for the gentle giant at the high school they both attend, until an act of violence threatens to tear them both apart... yeah, I signed up immediately for the ARC.

And for the first half or so, this book held me in its grip, as the story between Matt, the bullied kid, and Shane, the gentle giant, unfolds, as Matt begins to trust Shane, as they fall in love and forge a path together.

Yes, sure, there were some issues with the dialogue, which I attributed to the author not being a native speaker and not living in the US so research into how teens talk these days would have been tricky. And yes, sure, the principal pontificates to Shane when he first starts about there being a zero-tolerance policy at the school, and yet she has no idea that Matt has been bullied for years, hiding in corners, shaking and utterly miserable, terrified, in tears, something that even the cafeteria cashier has noticed, yet the principal has no clue - how's that possible? And why wouldn't the cafeteria cashier talk to an adult at the school? Many of the bullying incidents happen in hallways or inside the cafeteria, and yet nobody addresses it.

Still, it was engaging, and was invested.

However, right about the time, Matt is beaten up and ends up in a coma in the hospital, this book took a massive nose-dive. The asshole detective that arrests Shane for allegedly causing Matt's injuries (he didn't), the subplot with Shane engaging Matt's long-time nemesis to find the real perpetrator, the court date, the dramatic last minute rescue by Shane's former friend, the drama with Matt's mother's reaction to Shane's size, the nasty old woman on the bus, and, and, and - it was just all too much and too over the top and too unrealistic in how much was piled on Matt and Shane's shoulders.

Look, I got that the author tried to make the point that one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, i.e. a teenager by his size and tattoos, but good grief, that point wasn't just made so much as hammered home time and again. And Shane, whom I adored, just took the judgments time and again, making all kinds of excuses for people's reactions to him. I hated that he did that. I hated that people would judge him just based on his looks and not his actions. For Matt's mother to think that Shane had hurt Matt, for anyone to think that Shane would hurt a fucking fly just because he's super tall, just pissed me off.

And yeah, I knew who the villain was going to be, but the reasoning behind the violent attack was pathetic. The perpetrator's characterization up to that point didn't indicate anything like what was given as a reason - I didn't buy it at all, and thought that it was just too convenient.

I loved both Matt and Shane, and I loved how gentle Shane was with Matt, and how Matt came out of his shell over time, and became the stronger one of the two. Their relationship was well done, and the author did a fantastic job bringing across the emotional bond between the two young men. What I didn't like so much were the multiple incidents of miscommunication and false assumptions that both of them make, but I chalked that off to them being young.

I think it can be very difficult for a non-native speaker to successfully write authentic dialogue as language continually evolves, especially in this day and age, and that the manner in which teens talk cannot be gleaned from, say, books, TV shows, or movies.

The premise was fantastic - the execution not so much. Still, three stars is nothing to scoff at. I did enjoy reading this book for the most part, and I did love Matt and Shane.


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

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