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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 2017-05-02 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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review 2017-03-29 17:08
ARC Review: Olive Juice by Tj Klune
Olive Juice - T.J. Klune

Sorry, Tj. I love you, I do, but you should already know why I'm struggling with the words while writing this review. I'm not even sure you should expect anyone to review this book coherently. You know this, don't you? Don't you? I'm almost certain you're reading this review and others like mine, maniacally laughing at us. You are, aren't you?

For all you folks out there, thinking about possibly buying this book - yeah... you want to. You do. Because you need to read this.

Please don't read any spoilerish reviews before reading this book. It's best to go in fully blind, just like I did, with only the blurb as a hint, for maximum impact.

Read this, I BEG YOU!

This is Tj Klune's best work yet. The emotional depth, the realism of it all - I haven't got words to describe it.

Read this. Don't even hesitate.


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

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review 2017-03-14 22:57
ARC Review: Step By Step by K.C. Wells
Step by Step - K.C. Wells

Imagine sitting by yourself in a library, wracking your brain to figure out to come up with money for rent, for tuition, and that pesky food you need, all while being just 20 years old and working three jobs, because your parents have blown your college fund on their acrimonious divorce, when suddenly, the older, good-looking and seemingly wealthy man sitting at a table across from you makes you an offer that sounds too good to be true - come live at his house (it's big enough), save money on rent, keep going to college to become a lawyer like you want, and I'll even teach you how to cook.

You'd be running out the door as fast as your feet can carry you, amirite? Because nobody is that generous without wanting a little something in return. Right?

Well, in the case of Step By Step, you'd be wrong.

Jamie is 20, broke as fuck, and doesn't know how to come up with the next month's rent. He's approached by Guy, 38, who was once in a similar situation and who was saved from the poorhouse by someone making the same offer he's now making to Jamie. He's genuine, nice, and wanting to pay it forward.

Oh, and he's gay. With an ex-wife, grown kids, and still mourning the loss of his lover/benefactor a few years ago.

So Jamie, once he's gotten over the shock and disbelief, moves in with Guy. Has use of a car. Drops one, then another of his three jobs. And learns to cook. And makes Guy laugh and smile more than Guy can remember.

And falls in love. When Jamie turns 21, he musters his courage and asks Guy for a kiss. At this point, Guy is already head over heels, but still thinks that Jamie is straight. Surprise!!

There's very little drama here between Guy and Jamie, and I loved that. The age gap is mentioned, but doesn't cause any friction between the two men, as Guy realizes that Jamie is an adult and makes his own decision, and if falling in love with Guy is what he wants, then Guy is only to happy to return the sentiments.

The drama in this book is primarily caused by people outside of their relationship, primarily Guy's spoiled brat of a son, and his petty ex-wife. Guy's daughter is cut from a different cloth, and since they're close in age, she and Jamie become fast friends quickly.

Time and again Jamie surprises Guy with his maturity level, and there were moments when I wanted to smack Guy just a little bit, because he shouldn't have been so surprised, dammit. Though I forgave him when he introduced Jamie to some of his friends and thus provides a leg up for the young man, consistent in supporting his aspirations, just like he promised he would.

Also, sexy times. HOLY SMOKING SHEETS, BATMAN!! Jamie goes after what he wants, he doesn't care about labels and only sees the person - cue "let's get it on". This author can really, really write the sexy times and bring across ALL the feelz. *fans self*

The ending - gah. Beautiful. Might have sniffled just a little.

This book was lovely and I enjoyed every moment I spent reading it, HEA and all. Definitely recommended!


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

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