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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 2018-08-02 02:30
ARC Review: No Regrets by Alex Jane
No Regrets - Alex Jane

This is a really short book, but it definitely packs a punch. 

Ryan is an ex-soldier, working in a diner in a small town, keeping to himself. He stays mostly in the kitchen, and when he's not working, he's in his camper behind the diner, keeping the nightmares at bay with alcohol.

Lucas is barely twenty, quiet and shy, a regular at the diner who's caught Ryan's eye - mostly because Ryan recognizes something in the young man, primarily in the haunted eyes and the bruises on his skin.

Both men are damaged, though not beyond repair. Their relationship builds slowly, so slowly, and trust doesn't come easy, but it comes. 

The story is dark, by design, and rather angsty. The author cleverly peels back Ryan's layers one at a time, and it's not immediately clear why Ryan reacts so strongly to Lucas' plight.

The diner's owner knows of Ryan's back story, and she realizes that Lucas is in some danger, but both she and Ryan also know that they cannot step in unless Lucas asks for help. Which is why boss lady encourages Ryan to befriend Lucas to build a level of trust. She has another motive which is clear to both Ryan and this reader.

Initially, this book reads as a regular hurt/comfort kind of story, but then it takes a really dark turn with an unexpected twist. I was a bit surprised at Lucas' reaction, but I also understood that he might react that way. Yeah, I know this is vague. Deal with it by reading the book. 

I didn't like the ending. Well, let me rephrase that - I liked that Ryan and Lucas got their HEA. What I didn't like is that Ryan thinks this thing (which I'm not going to spoil here), and it sounded as if that was his reason for proposing, and if that's the case, WTF?

I enjoyed this overall, even if the ending left me scratching my head a bit and definitely sort of ruined their HEA for me. YMMV.


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

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review 2018-07-15 01:54
ARC Review: Falling Awake II: Revenant by Kristoffer Gair
Falling Awake II: Revenant - Kristoffer Gair

I sat on this review for a few days, hoping I would have the words.

I don't have the words. Sorry, Kristoffer.

But I promised a review, so I'll do my best to somewhat coherently tell you about this book. First off, this is not a romance. This is a thriller/mystery/paranormal/horror kind of book, and a prequel of sorts to the first book, Falling Awake. If you've read that first one, this second book will give you the background information that you wanted but didn't need for the first book. 

When Andrew O'Connell was ten years old, he went to the fair with his friend Thomas, also ten. The night after they went, Thomas was abducted from his house in the middle of night, his parents slain in their bed. Thomas was found dead a few days later in an abandoned house. And for fourteen years, Andrew has felt unimaginably guilty, because he believes that what happened to Thomas was his fault. He has nightmares nearly every night, and he will not stop until he can figure out what really happened to Thomas, and find the men who so brutally killed his friend. 

Andrew now works for OSHA, tasked with travelling to areas where an accident has occurred to find out what really happened, to smoke out the truth, always one step behind the elusive person responsible. At the same time, Andrew tries to gather more information on the incident that took his childhood friend, and he's not afraid to use whatever means he has to just to get the answers he needs. Andrew is not always a good man, he's not always a nice guy - he uses people even though he feels guilty doing so - because what matters is that he finds the perpetrators of that heinous crime and stops them before they can kill again. 

The book is set in the early 1970s, when Andrew is 24, which means the original crime took place in 1958. The author did a fine job on the research to ensure the references to historical facts are accurate. There was but one inaccuracy, which I'm not going to tell you about - let's see if you can spot it yourself. 

The writing is vivid, drawing you in from the get-go. Andrew's nightmares are visualized, and I was more often than not on the edge of my seat while reading this book. The author doesn't spare us the horrors perpetrated upon Thomas, though they are doled out in smaller doses so as to not overwhelm the reader. It's difficult on occasion to read about the violence that little boy endured, and there were tears in my eyes plenty of times as well. 

Evil is real, and it will corrupt and claim a person's soul. But there is goodness too, there is light, and we have to believe that the light will prevail if only you have heart. The book is aptly named "Revenant" - one that returns. 

There is no happy ending - there really couldn't be. And the ending was unexpected and also not - there actually was no other imaginable way of ending the book. 

It is a prequel, of sorts. Keep that in mind when you read this. And read this, you should. Because it's different and it's fantastic, and it will haunt you and make you think. 

I'm told the author is currently working on the third book, which I would assume will pick up where the first book ended. 

I can hardly wait to read it.



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

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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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