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review 2017-10-09 00:45
ARC Review: In Over Our Heads by CJane Elliott
In Over Our Heads (Stories from the Shore Book 2) - CJane Elliott

This is a cute sequel to All The Way To Shore . We met Anthony Vallen in the first book, as Jonathan's quirky, sassy cousin, who didn't do romance or relationships. 

He still doesn't in this book either, for reasons that are explained within. See, many years ago, when Anthony was a wee teenager, he met a boy, a super smart boy, whom he loved, but the boy left him abruptly after a near-drowning for which the boy blamed himself. Ever since then Anthony has given up on love - it's for others, not for him. 

Even if he might be occasionally a bit jealous of what Jonathan found with Marco, but those moments don't last long, because there are just so many other men to have fun with. Who needs love, amirite?

And now Anthony is headed to Key West for a fun vacation with Jonathan and Marco, who've gotten married since the last book, and he's looking forward to sun and fun and possibly some scuba diving. Or maybe not, since putting his head under water is still something Anthony doesn't do all that willingly. 

But who should be the owner of the bar and the scuba diving place but his old boyfriend, Walter Elkins. The boy who broke his heart is now all grown up, but no longer a scientist for reasons. 

Getting a first row view of Anthony's deeper side was fascinating. His sassiness and easy flirting routine is a front, something he hides behind. If you don't open your heart to anyone, you can't get hurt, right? But behind that facade is a person who yearns for someone to call his own, for someone who understands him and takes him as he is, for someone who loves him.

While Anthony can be a little OTT some of the time (or most of the time, at least outwardly), he's actually a really nice and thoughtful person with a huge heart, even if most people don't get close enough to realize it. The things he did for his cousin Jonathan in the first book, standing by him, helping him, supporting him - all that is part of what really makes up Anthony Vallen. Sure, he's flamboyant and in your face, and he talks and talks and talks, but I liked him quite a bit. 

Walter, on the other hand, pissed me off for most of the book. He suffers from severe Edward Cullen syndrome, and his reason for bailing not only on Anthony but also a lucrative career as a brilliant scientist was ridiculous and felt contrived. I mean, the guy needed some serious therapy. Seriously.

I'm all for "Opposites attract", and I usually love second-chance-at-love books, but I didn't love this one, primarily because of Walter. Yes, sure, Anthony is a super crazy queen, though that's his persona, his protection, and he never tried to crap all over Walter's hesitations, but Walter's constant waffling and one step forward, two steps back, hurting Anthony in the progress, just made me angry. 

If I had been in Anthony's shoes, I would have made Walter grovel a LOT more than he did. Yes, Walter did eventually find the courage to work through his issues, but that was long after he'd broken Anthony's heart again. Though, and this must be said, I did love that Anthony had backbone and said, Look, I'm worth more than what you're begrudgingly giving me, so adios, I'm done trying.

I did believe that the two men loved each other, the first time, and the second time too. I think it is that love that carried them both to their happy ending, even if getting there was fraught with pain and hurt. Walter's brilliant mind is more of a hindrance than an advantage to their road to forever, but he eventually puts his smarts to the right use. In the end, they realize that they have to compromise, and the book ends in a really good spot for them both. 

On the supporting cast, we have Jonathan and Marco, blissfully happy, and Miles, who works for Walter, who flirts with Anthony and who, it turns out, provides them with a catalyst to start getting their act together.

There are sexy times within, and it's clear that Walter and Tony have no issues whatsoever inside the bedroom at all - it's outside of it where they struggle. 

I don't know if this concludes this series, though I'd like to see Miles find the person for him as well. Perhaps that's still to come.


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

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review 2017-10-08 22:46
ARC Review: The Shipwreck (Lavender Shores #4) by Rosalind Abel
The Shipwreck (Lavender Shores Book 4) - Rosalind Abel
"Oh What A Tangled Web We Weave When First We Practise To Deceive..."



Lamont Price, Andrew's older half-brother, is an author of M/F romances under a female pseudonym, attending his first romance book conference and about to come clean to his readers. He's nervous, understandably, not only because he's deceived his fans into thinking he's a woman named Ginger Peach, but also because he doesn't like the spotlight. As soon as he can, he runs from his fans to a bar outside of the conference hotel.

Lamont is an interesting character. In his mid-forties, he is plagued primarily by what he considers his failures (no boyfriend, no long-term relationship prospect, no books in his own name, no sex for years), and largely avoids getting together with his family, because they keep trying to set him up with someone he could add to the family. Lamont hasn't had sex in years because he doesn't do hook-ups and prefers to have sex within a relationship only. Not a bad attitude, of course, but obviously, that can lead to loneliness. And he is lonely. He sees all the happy couples in Lavender Shores and feels left out, like he's on the outside looking in.

While he's at the bar, hiding from his fans, he meets Tate Dallas, who's the prolific cover model for another romance author and whose real name is Tyler Dixon. 

Tyler/Tate is what may be considered a rentboy. He's not only a cover model, but can also be hired as an escort, including providing bedroom attention, and some other jobs within that industry. He does all his to fund his photography and showing his work in galleries, while waiting for his "big break". He makes no secret of having a lot of sex, but he omits telling Lamont outright that he gets paid for doing so. He also omits another major thing, one that... nah, you read this for yourself.

So Lamont, having the baby shower for Andrew and Joel's soon-to-be-born baby coming up, asks Tyler if he would consider posing as his boyfriend for a long weekend in Lavender Shores, no strings attached, and no hanky-panky included. Of course, Lamont thinking that Tyler is the most beautiful man he's ever seen definitely helps in overcoming a smidgen of his shyness to even propose this arrangement. But surely, someone as gorgeous as Tyler has no interest in someone as boring as Lamont.

Except Tyler is struck pretty much just the same, but doesn't feel that he has anything to offer the older and more successful man. And thus expects nothing except the part he's agreed to play. It's a one-time thing, and then they'll go their separate ways. 

But the best-laid plans and all that...

I quite liked the two main characters here, and the author did a darn good job exploring them in depth. It was clear that the Tate Dallas persona was a front, and that there is a real person hiding behind that pseudonym, a person who gets scared of what might be and a person who doesn't believe in love everlasting. Tyler is not ashamed of what he does to support himself, but he also keeps Tyler and Tate very separate. As Tyler, the fact that he's pretty straight-forward in what he says and does helped to draw Lamont out of his shell too.

It was also clear that Lamont, while shy and introverted, faltered more often than not under the pressure his parents put on him, whether it was intentional or not. Many people in town looked at him as if he was this fragile person and failed to realize that Lamont is in fact quite strong. His strength is in his convictions and his unwillingness to settle for anything but the real thing.

The two men have a strong connection from the start, and once Tyler gets to Lavender Shores for the baby shower weekend, they both struggle to stick with the original plan. I really liked that this was a slow burn romance for a good chunk of it, and that they had a chance to get to know each other a little bit before jumping into the sheets. 

I really liked the imagery of the Shipwreck that the author used here, and the many parallels that could be drawn from it. It was also quite lovely how the author used the actual shipwreck as a background for Lamont and Tyler to get closer and soon allows them to realize that neither of them is ready to say good-bye quite yet. 

Obviously, the omissions I mentioned at the beginning of my review play a huge role in the progression of their relationship and end up to be a chasm Lamont and Tyler cannot bridge once the truth comes out. 

Or can they?

This is a romance, after all, so you know that a HEA is guaranteed, and the author doesn't let the reader down. Still, both men need to first find themselves, find who they really are, and figure out that what they had, what they built, no matter how short their time together, may be worth fighting for. 

How they find their way back to each other - well, you read this yourself. There's some angst, some self-discovery, and there's a fabulous epilogue that you don't want to miss.

And plenty of holy hot boysecks, Batman, to boot!!

Recommended.


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

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review 2017-10-03 02:31
ARC Review: Facing West by Lucy Lennox
Facing West: A Forever Wilde Novel (Volume 1) - Lucy Lennox

I flew through this book. Didn't even take the time to post a single status update, because I was riveted to the pages and could. Not. Stop. Reading. until I had finished the whole thing.

 

Nico is a tattoo artist with his own shop in California, having run away from his family in small town Texas when he was only 15, for reasons that are elaborated upon in this book. He had zero plans to ever return, but then he gets a call from an attorney that his sister has passed away and declared him her baby's guardian. So Nico goes back to Hobie, TX, to take care of things, find a suitable couple to adopt his little niece, and hightail it back to Cali.

 

West(on) is the town's doctor, and Nico's late sister was his best friend, and there's no way in hell that West will allow Nico to take custody of the baby. He's initially a judgmental jerk who never even thinks to ask why someone so young (15, for the love of Christ) would run away. Never mind the purple hair and multiple tattoos, clearly Nico can't be trusted anyway.

 

I'm not going to elaborate on the plot in this review, because I think you should read this book and find out for yourself how and why West changes his initial mindset, and how Nico isn't the bad guy for abandoning his mom and sister, and how two rather adorable old fogies (Doc and Grandpa) in love might help them along to their HEA.

 

There's a good amount of steam inside, and it's some holy hot boysecks, Batman, because both West and Nico get along fabulously in the bedroom. Outside of it, well, that's another matter entirely, as neither trusts the other completely for quite some time.

The running theme in the book is one of family - the one you're born into and the one you make for yourself, and the author does a fabulous job exploring that theme in a variety of ways, including the sacrifices a young boy might make to give his family what he thinks they need, and how family isn't necessarily determined by blood alone, but also but what you'll do for the ones you love.

 

The other theme is that not all is what it seems, and that's a lesson West in particular has to learn. He does, fortunately, but it's a hard-won lesson, and one in humility to boot.

 

As I said, I flew through this book. The characterizations were spot-on, and having a dual POV gives the reader a lot of insight into what makes each man tick. Nico especially is distrustful of other people, based on his experiences, and comes across as skittish. He wants to run when things get tough, but also wants to stay with West. He falls in love with his niece at first sight, but also doesn't believe that he has anything good to offer her. West is happy living in the small town, but also realizes that homophobia is a thing, even if his own family is cool with it and wants to see him settle down. He's mostly calm and clear-headed in his actions and reactions, where Nico tends to shoot from the hip and react more impulsively.

 

This was a great start to a new series, and I'm definitely interested in reading the next book as well. The author's writing style worked well for me, and the story flowed easily, without any massive time jump or long drags. Well done!

 


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

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review 2017-09-19 02:01
ARC Review: Saved (Breaking Free #1) by A.M. Arthur
Saved: Breaking Free #1: An Omegaverse Story - A.M. Arthur

I've never read an A/B/O book such as this one. My only exposure to Alpha/Beta/Omega is in shifter books, but this isn't a shifter book.

In this A/B/O universe, there are no shifters. There are no females. There are Alphas who are in charge, Betas who are barren but are allowed to hold jobs and adopt children (usually Beta and Omega children), and Omegas who are the lowest of the low and whose sole purpose, it seems, is to be mated to Alphas and be good little breeders.

Hmmm... that sounds familiar.

In this dystopian future of the United States, the Federal Government is no more, constitutional rights are a thing of the past, and the country is broken up into small provinces which all have their own rules and laws. 

We first meet Braun, an Omega, 20 and close to his first heat, upon his father's death. Now a ward of the state, since omegas are third-class citizens at best, unable to inherit, unable to make any personal choices, Braun is sent to a group home for orphaned omegas. Beaten regularly by his father, abused not just physically but mentally as well, told all his life that his sole purpose is to become some alpha-hole's breeding bitch, Braun is certain that alphas cannot be trusted and that happiness is not something he can expect at all. His own brother Kell is mated to a horrible Alpha, and Braun knows that Kell's lot in life is his future as well.

This was a difficult book to read, and it's just as difficult to write a coherent review without spoilers. I would advise any potential reader to heed the warnings in the blurb. Be prepared to RAGE at the injustices within. There were numerous times when I sat in my chair, my Nook gripped in my hands, and my eyes blinded with tears caused by helpless rage. 

Consent isn't required between an Alpha and his Omega. Domestic discipline is within the law. Omegas have no rights to speak of, and little protection from abuse. 

Yeah, I raged. A lot. 

The themes in this book are rather comparable to our current political climate, and there are many parallels that can be drawn between what happens in the book and what's happening in this world today. 

I liked that Braun, despite his circumstances, still had fight left in him. I liked that Tarek (the Alpha who helps Braun) was considerate and kind and patient. He took the time to win Braun's trust, something Braun didn't give easily, and he helped Braun as much as he could. He wasn't perfect, far from it, but he tried and tried to do the right thing by the young man in his care, no matter how hard Braun fought believing that an Alpha could be kind. 

I also quite liked the two Betas who take Braun in and conceal him, and who help him through his first heat. It wasn't easy reading to watch Braun go through that.

None of this book was easy reading, though there is reason for hope that things may start to change to make the lives of omegas a little easier. 

Kell's book is next. That will likely be even more difficult to get through.

Despite the dark themes inside, I would recommend this series. 



** I received a free copy of this book from Indigo Marketing & Design. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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review 2017-09-15 11:00
ARC Review: Be My Best Man by Con Riley
Be My Best Man - Con Riley

Con Riley never disappoints, and this author just keeps getting better and better.

 

In Be My Best Man, Con not only gives us a beautiful romance, but also head-on tackles one of the big current social issues.

 

Vanya, early 20s, has fled his home country of Russia nearly eight months ago when he was found out as being gay and violently beaten because of his sexuality. Now in Britain, still traumatized and scared, his dreams of becoming a teacher dashed, he is waiting to get this asylum request approved so he can be granted the ability to have a job and earn an income. In his current limbo, though finally safe from persecution for his sexuality, he lives in a run-down hostel where he has befriended a young man and woman from Estonia, who are both in Britain legally as EU citizens but whose status under Brexit is also uncertain. The hostel is not really safe either, though Vanya shares a room with his friend Kaspar. Theft is rampant. Rooms are broken into. Women fear being assaulted.

The author created a character that I immediately connected with. Vanya struggles to learn English, practicing whenever and wherever he can, and his struggles were authentic and realistic. His loneliness was evident, and I felt for him right away.

 

Jason is a man in his early forties, who's recently had a falling out with his foster brother Andrew over the brother's recent engagement and wedding plans. See, it's the 3rd wedding, and Jason, without even meeting the girl in question, has already decided that this is just another mistake. He too felt lonely to me, when he was first introduced, despite being rather successful in his business, and it was fairly clear to me that he was shaped by his childhood experiences and didn't really trust anyone, other than his late foster mother and foster brother.

 

The meet-cute happens in the department store where Kaspar works and Vanya is visiting after his latest asylum appointment and Jason is hiding to wait for a call or text from Andrew. Jason thinks Vanya works in the store, and Vanya wants to practice his English. And get to know the hunky older man.

 

Jason's wrong assumption leads to him hiring Vanya as his personal shopper, and the two begin spending time together. This is where the story really begins to take shape.


Con Riley combined the sweet yet complicated romance that develops between these two men with the social issue of asylum seekers who have no legal standing, are usually running from persecution, scared to death, having to learn the customs of a country so foreign to them, and being generally looked down upon by many people. Vanya's plight, his uncertain status before asylum is granted, his internalized shame, was heart-breaking, and I wanted to reach into the book and hug him and protect him. He keeps a huge secret from Jason, and this secret nearly breaks them.

 

Jason on the other hand is oblivious to Vanya's struggles for a long time, not intentionally of course, but he doesn't realize how traumatized the young man is. He also doesn't realize for a long time how much he's hurting Andrew and his future wife, and how his distrust of Andrew knowing his own heart is jeopardizing the remaining piece of family he has. But he learns. Under Vanya's attention, Jason begins to question decisions he's made, and how wrong he might have been. With Vanya in his life, Jason starts to believe that love might be real after all. He goes to finally meet Andrew's lovely young fiancee, and he begins to see how much they are truly in love, to the point where he even steps in to... well, no, you read this yourself.

 

The author has an extraordinary talent in giving life to the characters and making them feel real. Vanya's skittishness, Jason's irrational anger (born out of heartache), the social circumstances, Vanya making huge mistakes born out of fear - everything in this book was absolutely realistic and relatable.

 

This book (and the romance) flows slowly, and it needs to. Trauma such as Vanya's takes time to overcome. Jason's disbelief in lasting love can't just suddenly disappear. They are both shaped by their experiences, and since neither feels safe to talk freely and openly about their fears, they don't have an easy path to their HEA.

 

Writing their story in the third person present tense was also a stroke of genius, because this reader felt even more connected to the characters this way. Read every word carefully - this isn't a book you can speed-read. You must savor every carefully crafted sentence, every brilliant paragraph, and let the story unfold in real time to get the full impact. Vanya's English is heavily accented, and it's written in such a way, that I could easily "hear" him speaking the words.

 

I cried a few times. I wanted Jason to pull his head out of his ass. I wanted to shield Vanya from the big, bad world and give him shelter. I loved these characters, I loved this story, and I absolutely highly recommend that you read it.

 

Get to it.

 


** I received a free copy of this book from Signal Boost Promotions as part of the review tour for an honest and fair review. **

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