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review 2017-07-24 03:04
ARC Review: The Garden (Lavender Shores #2) by Rosalind Abel
The Garden - Rosalind Abel

I may have asked the author for an early copy. Possibly.

Oh, who am I kidding - I shamelessly begged as soon as I saw CrabbyPatty reading it. 

And I would beg again, if given the choice, because this book was fabulous. Gorgeous. Rapturous. Captivating. Brilliant. If my 15 status updates didn't convince you to pick up a copy of this as soon as you can, hopefully my review will.

Where book 1 was a mostly easy love story between Andrew and Joel, book 2 isn't like that at all. In this 2nd book, the author created a much more emotional and pain-filled plot, giving both of the MCs past hurts and some big issues they must overcome.

Gilbert Bryant (Andrew's cousin who sold him the cabin), a member of one of the founding families of Lavender Shores, has escaped his hometown as soon as he could. He designs one of a kind jewelry for the rich and famous, and he's perfectly happy in his cabin above Lake Tahoe, having no illusions that he'll ever be as happy as his cousin. Not that he thinks he deserves to be. Except he's having to go back for family get-togethers every so often, one of which is Andrew and Joel's engagement party.

Walden Thompson has recently moved to Lavender Shores, a place he visited once as a kid and dreamed of making his home ever since. He's a teacher and running from a past he's not proud of. It's clear early on that Walden keeps mostly to himself, and also doesn't have any aspirations of finding someone to love. 

The two meet at the gym, where Gilbert is on a treadmill behind Walden on a Stairmaster. Lusting for the well-formed ass in front of him, Gilbert thinks Walden is a tourist. Attraction is immediate, and after some steamy times in the steam room, they spend a hot night together. Their specific kinks line up pretty well, and that first bedroom scene was .... uh, well... let's call it rough and rowdy. I don't think I've ever read a scene like that in an M/M romance novel... not even in one that I knew would be kinky. 

I might have fanned myself.

Moving on.

Then Gilbert and Walden meet again at the engagement party, and Gilbert finds out Walden is a teacher. Immediate recoil by Gilbert makes things a bit awkward for Walden. I was scratching my head as to why that would be an issue for Gilbert, since no reason is given at that time.

Still licking his wounds, Walden ends up in a resort kind of place on a short vacation near Lake Tahoe, unaware that Gilbert lives in the area. While being propositioned by a Gilbert-lookalike, the real deal shows up, and the attraction still burns brightly. Also, Gilbert might be a little jealous. Possibly. Even if he tells himself that he shouldn't be, because he's no good for Walden.

And Walden fears being hurt again, and possibly falling down that rabbit hole of pain and shame once more if he lets himself get close to Gilbert. Sex is easy (and super hawt) - feelings are not welcome here. 

I really liked that the author didn't make things easy for them. There's a lot of angst here, and both men have pasts that still haunt them. No, I'm not going to tell you what those pasts are, but let it suffice that they both struggle, in their own ways. They're both still hurting, and while they don't immediately share their deepest and darkest secrets, they are both honest about being troubled, and how those troubles are impacting their views and actions. 

Of course, true love will not be thwarted, no matter how hard they both fight it. This is a romance, after all. 

What I really loved is how Gilbert and Walden help each other come to terms with their pasts. Even as Gilbert believes he doesn't deserve Walden, believes the things hateful people have told him in the past, even as he confesses his fears, his depression, his attempts at ending things when the pain got too much, all of his darkness, it is clear that Walden doesn't judge Gilbert for his past. And when Walden comes clean about his own past, he realizes that Gilbert isn't judging him either. 

The author created two complex, flawed, and yet strong characters, with histories that still shape their actions, but also allowed them to grow, to realize things, and to forge a new path - together. Their story isn't without pitfalls, and for some time, it's two steps forward, one step back, but as the plot progresses, their relationship goes from hot animalistic sexy times to real intimacy. Their fears don't disappear overnight, there's no magical healing here, but they face their fears, they move forward, they learn, they grow. 

This is hurt/comfort/healing at its finest, and I didn't want to put this book down until I had finished their story, only stopping for such pesky reasons as work and sleep. Absolutely heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. A fantastic supporting cast rounded out this novel, with many of the characters making repeat appearances in this book and its predecessor. 

While this book could easily be read as a standalone, I would personally recommend you read the first one too, because a lot of the history of the town, as well as the intermingled family history, is explained in that first one.

 

What I also want to mention are the titles. The Palisade and The Garden are both places that are important to the stories and to the characters. I thought that this was rather clever on the author's part, since both places play a huge role in the plot lines of their respective stories. I imagine that a veranda will be prominent in the third book, which is Donovan's story.

That's next. I'll be begging for a copy, for sure. 

This is one series you do not want to miss. Read it!


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

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review 2017-07-19 01:12
ARC Review: Satin by KC Wells
Satin (A Material World Book 2) - K.C. Wells,Meredith Russell

The 2nd in this fabulous series, Satin can be read as a standalone. 

Joel Hunter is a DC (Detective Constable) on a surveillance job with his partner Trish, in a bar/lounge, hoping that the owner comes by so he can be arrested.

The stakeout is going fine, but then Joel is rather distracted when Satin takes the stage - a beautiful singer whose sultry voice nearly puts Joel under a spell. 

Shortly thereafter, with the bar owner locked up and the stakeout over, but unable to get Satin out of his mind, the smitten DC goes back to the bar to listen to Satin again. 

And Satin makes her move.

Except, Satin is really Ross Dauntry, a female impersonator and aspiring ballet dancer. Joel gets over his shock pretty quickly and agrees to meet Ross for coffee, as friends. Joel has until now identified as straight, and any previous attraction to a man has never been acted upon. He is confused at the attraction but also doesn't feel any shame or massive angst. He is willing to explore this thing with Ross, even if they only end up as friends.

Obviously, Joel isn't as straight as he thinks he is. Things get steamy pretty quick, and there's very little angst in this book, other than Ross wondering if Joel is attracted to him or to Satin, and Joel taking a bit of time to make peace with his attraction to Ross. The sexy times are not only steamy but seriously sensuous, and I contemplated taking a cold shower after each scene. There's one in the ballet studio where Ross trains... holy hot boysecks, Batman!

Of course, there's a bit of a conflict there too, and Ross' roommate didn't do him any favors with her interrogation of Joel, but I understood where she was coming from. Joel struggles with how to be in a relationship and his feelings for Ross, while Ross falls quickly but also realizes that he might set himself up for heartbreak. 

Trish was a great character - supportive and not afraid to call Joel on his bullshit when he needed it.

There's a scene towards the end - gah! Nope, not gonna tell you what happens. You should read this for yourself and experience the same kind of swooning I did. 

KC Wells' personal brand of magic shines through in every word in this book. This was fabulous, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I'm pretty damn sure you will too.

Recommended.


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

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review 2017-06-25 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 2017-06-06 02:33
Release Day ARC Review: Action by Quinn Anderson
Action (Murmur, Inc. Book 2) - Quinn Anderson

When I first read the blurb, I was a wee bit worried that we'd see the two MCs perform with others, based on their line of business.

But I jumped right into this book, and then by chapter 4, the plot and fabulous writing kept me glued to the pages until the very end.

I should have left my assumptions at the front page.

Pete aka Jaden is in porn, working for Murmur Inc., to help pay for his college tuition. He enjoys it to some extent, and it pays the bills. But he's also sort of not loving it, and that comes across in his performance. His other job at a coffee shop isn't enough to cover tuition, and Pete needs this job. He also hoped when he first started that being a porn star would make him more outgoing and exciting, but that hasn't come to fruition. He's not out as a porn actor, and keeps that part of his life very much hidden from the coffee shop people and everyone else.

His boss at Murmur Inc. tells him about a feature film that she wants him to star in, with Evan/Kyle Darko as the star of the movie. And if he can't pull off his part in the movie, Pete may have to look for a new job.

Kyle is Pete's opposite in many ways - loves being a porn star, loves strutting his stuff in front of the camera, and, according to Pete, is way more daring and so not boring or gawky like Pete.

They meet as one does prior to starting the shoot, and oh boy, the UST just leaps off the pages. The scenes are super tame early on, because that's part of the movie, but I was already fanning myself from the sexual tension between the two men.

The book is told entirely from Pete's POV, so we don't really get Evan/Kyle's inner thoughts, but despite Pete's disbelief, Kyle falls for Pete. Hard.

I totally believed their romance, quick as it may be coming about, and I loved how sweet and humble Pete is, and I loved Kyle the same, even though he was a bit (okay, a lot) on the cocky side. But he knew what he wanted, namely Pete, and went for it, no hesitation.

Pete of course has trouble believing that a hot guy like Kyle could really want him, which is more or less the only angst found in this book. There is one moment where I was a little concerned that it might derail their relationship, but all's well that ends well, and it was but a blip on the radar, really.

I giggled a lot. A whole lot. The narrative in Pete's POV, and the dialogue are often snarky and hilarious, and there are quite a few one-liners that made me laugh out loud. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I think you will too.

Pete's mom was fabulous, and so was Kyle's family. They rounded out a fantastic cast.

Highly recommended. Also, while this is the 2nd in a series, it's no problem at all to read this as a standalone, though I would suggest that you read the first one, Hotline, as well, just to get the whole experience.


** 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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