Cephalopod Coffeehouse March 2015–MY BEST EVERYTHING

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Hi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

As part of the Coffeehouse I’m obligated to share the best book I read this month. And this time it’s a YA adventure/romance newly released from Sarah Tomp.

My Best EverythingAbout the book:
“You say it was all meant to be. You and me. The way we met. Our secrets in the woods. Even the way it all exploded. It was simply a matter of fate.

Maybe if you were here to tell me again, to explain it one more time, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so uncertain. But I’m going back to the beginning on my own. To see what happened and why.”

Luisa “Lulu” Mendez has just finished her final year of high school in a small Virginia town, determined to move on and leave her job at the local junkyard behind. So when her father loses her college tuition money, Lulu needs a new ticket out.

Desperate for funds, she cooks up the (definitely illegal) plan to make and sell moonshine with her friends, Roni and Bucky. Quickly realizing they’re out of their depth, Lulu turns to Mason: a local boy who’s always seemed like a dead end. As Mason guides Lulu through the secret world of moonshine, it looks like her plan might actually work. But can she leave town before she loses everything – including her heart?

The summer walks the line between toxic and intoxicating. My Best Everything is Lulu’s letter to Mason – though is it an apology, a good-bye, or a love letter?

My Review:
This is an excellent coming-of-age YA story that is light on the romance and heavy on the message.

At first I was struck by the narration. The MC, Lulu Mendez, addresses a “you” in her constant speech. At first I wasn’t sure if I’d fallen into that elusive “2nd Person” narrative, but I quickly recognized the book is written as if it’s a letter, or communication, to another character in the book, Mason Malone. This immediately upped the tension for me, because it was clear that here was a separation between Lulu and Mason, but I didn’t know if that separation was distance or death. I will say that this question is raised on the first page and answered on the last page, and it boiled in my brain for all the pages between.

Lulu is a smart girl, living in Dale, a tiny town in the rural mountainous area of southwest Virginia. Dale is a place of hillbillies, hicks and moonshiners and Lulu cannot wait to escape it. It has long been her plan, and she has just the summer to endure before she moves to sunny San Diego for college. Lulu has always been the straight-laced good girl, avoiding drugs, drinking and boys, but she intends to cut loose a bit with her BFF, Roni, and Bucky–Roni’s boyfriend and Lulu’s good friend, too. Lulu has far bigger dreams than Roni (who wants to get married to Bucky) and Bucky (who wants to stay in Dale despite his college scholarship, he’s not ready for marriage like Roni however). Trouble is, college costs money, and Lulu’s dad has just dropped the bomb that his business is struggling and he can’t afford her tuition. She is outraged and sullen and desperate, as a result.

Lulu and Roni work at a local junkyard, and when a confiscated still turns up, it sparks an idea that is just crazy enough to work. Moonshining is a lucrative, yet dangerous and illegal, activity. Lulu, Roni and Bucky could all use money, but they can’t work a still–they have no experience of these things. Mason Malone, however, does.

Mason is the youngest of the Malone boys–and his family is known for its moonshine. Thing is, at 21, Mason is out of the family business. He’s a recovering alcoholic and can’t even bear to be around alcohol, let alone make it. Lulu is persuasive, and not in a bad way. She proposes that Mason help them set everything up, and that she, Roni and Bucky will manage the rest. Thing is, Mason’s been moonshining his whole life but for the past two years of his sobriety. His family, a collection of serious and functional alcoholics, no longer trust him, and pretty much have shunned him. He is rebuilding his lif, taking odd jobs and attending AA meetings. He makes furniture and does carpentry on the side. He does not associate with drunks–including his own family–ever.

He agrees to assist, knowing that it will be more than he can bear, also knowing he will do anything to help Lulu escape Dale, VA. As one can imagine, three teens and Mason making moonshine in the backwoods of VA, this goes more than haywire. Moonshine is made, sold, stolen, exploded and destroyed. Money is made, and plans resurrected and blown to kingdom come. The relationships that were so central at the beginning of the story become strained and reformed. Lulu and Mason have a precarious romance that can’t even cross the border to West Virginia on account of Lulu being 17 and Mason knowing he can’t take a minor over state lines. Mason’s very much aware of the legalities of life, and the moonshine business. With all his family connections, Mason is able set up buyers for their product, but this is a very slippery business–it brings out the ire of his scorned family, for one.

The language in this book is outstanding. I truly felt as if I was coasting down the Bottoms on a raft, and hiking through a midge-filled forest to stir the mash in Aunt Jezebel, the still. The characters leap off the page, from Mason’s quiet grace, to Lulu’s agoraphobic mother, to sassy Roni who finds a path she never fathomed in her high school imaginings. Lulu is a faithful narrator, and her insight is slightly self-deprecating. She acknowledges her faults and tries to atone for them, with explosive results.

And, as I mentioned at the beginning, the final page reveals the whereabouts of Mason, recipient of Lulu’s love and apologies and musings. It all ends on a high note, though this not a typical Happily Ever After. It is a mostly innocent book (expect an off the page issue with contraception) with nothing more than making out between our characters for the readers to see. There are lots of moral questions posed, and answered, and a whole lot of growing up being done. A solid teen read.

Interested? You can find MY BEST EVERYTHING on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Thanks for popping in, and don’t hesitate to check out my fellow bloggers on the Coffeehouse. I find lots of new reads this way!

1. With Every Letter 2. mainewords
3. Stephanie Faris, Author 4. Two Square Dogs
5. WOMEN: WE SHALL OVERCOME 6. The Armchair Squid
7. Trisha @ WORD STUFF 8. StrangePegs — The Scarlet Plague
9. V’s Reads 10. StrangePegs — Assholes (a theory)
11. A Creative Exercise 12. StrangePegs — Living with a Wild God
13. Wishbone Soup Cures Everything 14. StrangePegs — the curious incident of the dog…
15. StrangePegs — Lyon’s Legacy 16. Life Before the Hereafter

Love Amidst the SEX, LIES, AND WEDDING BELLS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for what one might call a Throwback Thursday book… SEX, LIES & WEDDING BELLS is the first book published by EM Lynley way back in 2009. Well, it’s just got a facelift–revised and re-released I had a good time learning all about a snarky columnist and a (potentially) ‘to be jilted’ groom.
This is an adult read.

Sex, Lies & Wedding BellsAbout the Book:
Of all the tiny towns, in all the world, he walks into mine.

Texas native Kieran Quinn has hit the big time, working in Manhattan as a columnist for Gloss, a national literary magazine. He’s well-known for his snarky, sardonic columns, but deep down he’s more interested in exploring what makes people tick than his editor would like. He keeps his desire to find his own Mr. Right hidden under a sexy, carefree persona that favors champagne and underwear models of the male variety.

Jaxon Lang loves being the high school principal in tiny Buckwheat Springs, Texas after relocating from Austin to pursue his relationship with Danetta Archer, despite her reputation for leaving grooms at the altar. So far, he’s avoided examining the questions he has about himself, certain that marriage will put them to rest. Then Kieran arrives in town. Kieran’s charm and unique attitudes about sex and attraction soon challenge Jaxon’s concept of what—and who—he wants.

While covering the latest wedding of a real-life “runaway bride,” Kieran falls hard for the gorgeous—and supposedly straight—groom, Jaxon Lang, despite that ridiculous X. Then Kieran discovers the bride’s hiding a shocking secret.

How about a little taste?

“So, you never… ya know… with a girl?” Jaxon asked, the alcohol probably having lowered his inhibitions. His voice was quiet, and Kieran had to lean in to hear him, their faces only an inch or two apart.
“I didn’t say that.”
“You must not have liked it much, didya?”
“I didn’t say that, either.”
“Well?”
Oh God. Kieran was way too close to those mesmerizing green eyes, the scattering of freckles, and Jaxon’s clean, fresh scent to start talking about sex now. He wasn’t sure he could handle it. He tried not to watch Jaxon’s mouth as he spoke, but Kieran didn’t have that much self-control. He didn’t really have any lately, it seemed.
But Jaxon’s stare forced an answer out.“I never found girls particularly arousing. I figured things out pretty early on.”
“You think that’s easier?”
“Definitely. No hurt feelings or bruised egos trying to make something work that never will.”
Jaxon opened his mouth, then closed it and inhaled slowly before replying. “And you weren’t at all curious, just to make sure you weren’t into girls?”
Kieran paused a moment. This discussion was going to strange places. Was Jaxon asking what Kieran suspected he was, just reversing their situations? Jaxon looked so serious; he wasn’t just making conversation now.
“I never tested it out with a girl because with another guy it felt so right, not like something was missing. That’s me, but it’s different for everyone. I’ve always just said that if you’re into someone—or not— you know. Then having sex with that person is taking it to the next level. I happen to only like men, but plenty of people enjoy sex with both men and women.”
“Well… I think there’s more to it than that.”
“Are you asking me about sex or about love? Because there’s a difference.”
“Yeah, there is a difference. A big difference,” Jaxon said. “I guess sometimes you can confuse them, huh?”
“Are you still talking about me, now?” Kieran asked with a smile.
“Yeah.” Jaxon was quiet for a few moments as he took another sip of tequila. “Did you ever love a woman?”
“Romantically? No.”
“And you didn’t get turned on by them. Is that why you tried guys?”
“I wouldn’t say it’s exactly like I ‘tried guys.’ I never consciously—at least at first—chose men over women. I just knew that I didn’t get that spark with women.” Kieran didn’t want to think about sparks. There were far too many when he was around Jaxon.
“Spark.” Jaxon smiled and nodded, as if he’d just learned something significant. “But that’s about sex again, right? I’m asking about love this time. Have you loved a man?”
Kieran closed his eyes and pressed his lips together. Why was Jaxon getting so damn personal now? Kieran would rather talk about sex than admit he knew fuck-all about love. “No.” He took another breath and shook his head.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Okay, now who’s interviewing whom?”
“You can’t call this an interview, not when you buy me tequila. That’s got to be against some sort of journalistic code of ethics.”
“There is no journalistic code of ethics when it comes to alcohol,” Kieran said, laughing. “But I suddenly feel that the tables have been turned here. No one’s ever asked me this many questions before.”
“Ha, now you’re on the other end of the question, it seems really nosy and personal, doesn’t it?”

My Review:
I received a copy of the re-released, revised, second edition of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Kieran Quinn is an out gay columnist for Gloss magazine. His snarky wit have made his column famous, but he’s starting to tire of the treadmill ride he’s on. He has no lack of gorgeous sexual partners, but he longs for an actual partner.

In search of his next column fodder, essentially the schmucks who’ll be subject to his literary vivisection, Kieran travels to tiny Buckwheat Springs, Texas in search of Danetta Archer and her fourth fiance, Jaxon Lang. Danetta has jilted her last three fiances at the alter, and, with two weeks to her impending nuptials, it seems she’s ready to finally tie the knot. Or, will she?

Kieran is surprised to find that all of Danetta’s former beaux are quite amiable. And, hang out together as if part of some exclusive club. Jaxon is, unfortunately for Kieran, a very attractive man who is (perhaps) questioning his sexuality, if not the prospect of marriage. While Kieran is searching for the secret behind Danetta landing some of Texas’s most eligible bachelors, he learns just how deep her lies run.

Finding out that Jaxon shares his attraction, Kieran is torn between letting Jaxon live his chosen life, and swaying him onto a new path. Kieran has never been in a relationship, and he’s not sure Jaxon is ready–he’s never even been with a man before–but, as the big date closes in, it is more than just coincidence that these men have found each other at this time in their lives. Jaxon is a quality man who has some very serious choices to make, and not only about Danetta.

Expect break-ups, angry fiances, covert gayness, first times, and big mistakes. There’s a bunch of breaking up and a bit of making up, with an HEA that will satisfy. I have not read the first edition of this book, so I can’t comment on the changes between them, but this book read as a complete story with no cliffhanger.

Interested? You can find SEX LIES & WEDDING BELLS on Goodreads, Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

EM LynleyAbout the Author:
EM Lynley writes gay erotic romance. She loves books where the hero gets the guy and the loving is 11 on a scale of 10. Her Precious Gems series is best described as “Indiana Jones meets Romancing the Stone”—only gayer. The Delectable series is Gay Romance with Taste.

A Rainbow Award winner and EPPIE finalist, EM has worked in high finance, high tech, and in the wine industry, though she’d rather be writing hot, romantic man-on-man action. She spent 10 years as an economist and financial analyst, including a year as a White House Staff Economist, but only because all the intern positions were filled. Tired of boring herself and others with dry business reports and articles, her creative muse is back and naughtier than ever. She has lived and worked in London, Tokyo and Washington, D.C., but the San Francisco Bay Area is home for now.

She is the author of Sex, Lies & Wedding Bells, the Precious Gems series from Dreamspinner Press, and the Rewriting History series starring a sexy jewel thief, among others. Her books are available in print and e-book from Amazon & other book distributors.

You can find EM Lynley on Goodreads, her website, Facebook, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

They found LOVE: IN THE FAST LANE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for Rie Warren’s contemporary erotic romance, LOVE: IN THE FAST LANE. It’s a story about trust and faith, and plain-out redemption. It’s a sequel in the Carolina Bad Boys series, but can be read as a standalone.

Love: In the Fast Lane (Carolina Bad Boys, #2)About the book:

New York Times bestselling paranormal author, Nicky—Nick—Love is anything but successful in love. For years he’s lost himself in his writing career, but now he’s ready to get back to his rebel-boy roots. While restoring a motorcycle at Stone’s Auto Service, he meets the Wildcat of his dreams. She’s a shock to the system for the romance writer who doesn’t remember a damn thing about wooing a woman.

Cool-as-ice, Catarina “Wildcat” Steele is utterly untouchable until Nicky ignites a spark she can’t control. Their electric attraction explodes as Nicky pursues her, but he comes bearing the baggage of a family tragedy he’s hidden from everyone. He knows love has no guarantees.

Their passionate romance falls apart when Nicky discovers Cat’s secret rivals his own. The truth about her past reopens Nicky’s raw wounds and awakens a ghost he never laid to rest. He doesn’t know how to have Cat, and now he can’t trust her. Will they be torn apart . . . or tamed by love?

My Review:

Romance author Nicky Love isn’t looking for love. He’s used to being mostly on his own. His wealthy parents dumped him on his gram’s doorstep a week after his elder brother OD’ed on heroin and he hasn’t seen to them in the intervening years.

He grew to be fast friends with Josh Stone, and is happily celebrating in Josh’s upcoming wedding to a fellow author and good friend. Nicky’s a little sad to lose his wing man, but that’s nothing compared to seeing Josh so happy. Still, he doesn’t miss the allure of Josh’s new parts supplier–Cat Steele. She’s all kinds of buttoned-up this skirt-chasing bachelor would love to undress.

Thing is, Cat’s not interested. She makes every effort to dismiss Nick from her life. Their close connection through Josh does have some benefits. Nick is able to woo Cat’s body, but not her heart. And, that’s such a frustration that he actually tries to get into her tattooed skin.

There’s a huge secret surrounding Cat’s past, however, and her burly, protective brothers are always on hand to force Nick to turn away. Which, only sets his sights more fiercely on the woman whose cold exterior hides a burning Wildcat.

This is the second book in the series and I liked both of them. Nick has a many “come to Jesus” moments here and has to really overcome his own demons of abandonment in order to see past the problems in Cat’s life. She’s had her own tough road, if the remembrance sleeves permanently inked on her arms are any clue. The story has a got lotta heart, and a good lotta sex. I do love the close bond between Josh and Nick. They have a serious bromance happening, and the whole Stone Service family is a fun experience.

Interested? You can find LOVE: IN THE FAST LANE on Goodreads and Amazon.  (Free for Kindle Unlimited)

Stone: At Your Service (Carolina Bad Boys, #1)You can also check out my review for STONE AT YOUR SERVICE, a sweet romance with a huge dash of humor and heaping helping sexy on the side. (And in the middle! And at the end!!!)

And here are the purchase links in case it tickles your fancy. (Goodreads, and Amazon)

(Note, fancy tickling does occur in the book!)

Rie WarrenAbout the Author:

Badass, sassafras Rie Warren is the author of Sugar Daddy and the Don’t Tell series—a breakthrough trilogy that crosses traditional publishing boundaries beginning with In His Command.

She lives in gorgeous Charleston, South Carolina with her small family where she basks in the sunshine during the day, and adjourns to her woman cave at night. A nocturnal creature, she stays up way too late talking to herself, her characters, and anyone who will listen. She’s all about writing with heat, heart, and a hint of the dark, and she doesn’t shy away from the impossible.

Rie’s work has been called “edgy”, “daring”, and “some of the sexiest smut around”.

You can find Rie online Goodreads, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

SPRING FEVER: SHIFTERS IN LOVE–Book Blitz and Giveaway

SF_TourBadgeHi there! Today I’m sharing in the blitz for a collection of stories from five great writers. For readers who love paranormal romance and are ready to kick winter to the curb:  Join NY Times & USA Today Bestseller, Milly Taiden, Lia Davis, Kerry Adrienne, Vella Day & Andie Devaux and celebrate SPRING FEVER: SHIFTERS IN LOVE and kick start the spring season with some sexy shifter action.

Spring Fever Cover400x600 copyAbout the collection:
Match Made in Hell (A BBW paranormal romance) by New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author, Milly Taiden
When quiet Laura Nieves is tossed together with hot as hell warrior Damien Wrath, eternity heats up really fast. Add in the fact they’re living in hell with a crazy mistress, things go from hot to explosive. Their basic urges will take over, or they’ll kill each other.

An Unexpected Diversion by Vella Day
Cheyenne Snow has been given an ultimatum by her father—the pack’s Alpha—find a shifter husband soon, or she’ll be forced to marry. Understanding that the odds of her meeting the deadline are slim, Chey decides to go out with a bang and find a human diversion.

Waking the Bear by Kerry Adrienne
Overprotective bear shifter, Griff Martin, reluctantly rents his mountain cabin to an artist, Amy Francis. He quickly realizes the plucky artist is his mate. But danger is brewing in the forest, and Griff has to be ready to safeguard both his female and his den, at the risk of losing both.

Prime Desire by Andie Devaux
Nicolas can’t stop thinking about the woman whose life he saved, and Evie has never forgotten the weretiger who rescued her from certain death. When apparent serendipity brings them together again, Nicolas is faced with controlling his inner tiger around the woman he desires above all others. But will Evie be able to overcome her fear of his nature to give them a second chance at love?

Bear Essentials (A BBW paranormal romance) by Lia Davis
When bear-shifter Trey meets the curvy, raven-haired goddess, Nichole, he realizes exactly what he wants and knows she’s worth any amount of trouble. All he has to do is seduce all of her insecurities away and claim her as his bonded mate.

Interested? You can find SHIFTERS IN LOVE on Amazon   Barnes & Noble   Kobo iBooks   ARe | Goodreads

****GIVEAWAY****

Click the Rafflecopter link below for your chance to win on of 5 $5 gift cards
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck, and keep reading my friends!

About the Authors:
Lia Davis
Lia Davis is a mother to two young adults and three equally special kitties, a wife to her soul mate, and a lover of romance. She and her family live in Northeast Florida battling hurricanes and very humid summers. But it’s her home and she loves it!

An accounting major, Lia has always been a dreamer with a very active imagination. The wheels in her head never stop. She ventured into the world of writing and publishing in 2008 and loves it more than she imagined. Writing is stress reliever that allows her to go off in her corner of the house and enter into another world that she created, leaving real life where it belongs.

Her favorite things are spending time with family, traveling, reading, writing, chocolate, coffee, nature and hanging out with her kitties.

Connect with Lia on her website, FacebookTwitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Authorgraph.

Milly Taiden
Milly Taiden (also writes as April Angel) was born in the prettiest part of the Caribbean (to her) known as the Dominican Republic. Currently, she resides in New York City with her husband, bossy young son and their little dog Speedy.

When she’s not working full-time, texting with her best friend Heidi in England, chastising her son for pulling the dog’s ears, shopping with her sister Jewel or watching scary movies with her husband, she can be found writing on her laptop.

She’s addicted to shoes, chocolate, Dunkin Donuts coffee and JIMMY THOMAS covers!

Connect with Milly on her website, Facebook, TwitterGoodreads.

Kerry Adrienne
Kerry loves history and spends large amounts of time wondering about people who lived and walked on Earth in the past. She’s a mom to three daughters, six cats, and various small animals, including a panther chameleon. Her shoe horde will attest to her fine shopping skills.

In addition to writing, she’s a college instructor, artist, costumer, and editor. Her new love is her Mini Cooper Convertible, Sheldon, and they have already gone on many adventures. Kerry is represented by Marisa Corvisiero.

Connect with Kerry on her website, Facebook, TwitterGoodreads.

Vella Day
Not only do I love to read, write, and dream, I’m an extrovert. I enjoy being around people and am always trying to understand what makes them tick. My books must have a happily ever after, and I need characters I can relate to. My men are wonderful, dynamic, smart, strong, and the best lovers in the world (of course).

You’ll find me most days on my chaise lounge with my laptop and my iced tea(unsweetened!) on the side table. I love to sleep in late and write into the wee hours. I also love FB, so you’ll find me on there, too!

I believe I am the luckiest woman. I do what I love and I have a wonderful, supportive husband, who happens to be hot!

Fun facts about me
(1) I’m a math nerd who loves spreadsheets. Give me numbers and I’ll find a pattern.
(2) I’m addicted to taking pictures (I taught high school photo for 30 years). I plan to periodically post some of my favorites on my newsletter [so sign up!].
(3) I also like to exercise. Yes, I know I’m odd. Not only do I walk with different women each week, I teach Pilates twice a week at a local rec center, and lift weights the other days.

I love hearing from readers either on FB or via email (hint, hint). [velladayauthor@gmail.com]

In case you didn’t know, I also write as Melody Snow Monroe (www.melodymonroe.com)–erotic romance for Siren Publishing.

Connect with Vella on her website, FacebookTwitterGoodreads, and Google +.

Andie Devaux
Andie writes sexy erotic romance and erotica stories that push boundaries. When she’s not writing (or reading!), she can usually be found daydreaming or attempting a new recipe. She thinks that life should require happily ever afters. And since she doesn’t make the rules of life, she instead applies this philosophy to the worlds she can control-the ones in her books.

Connect with Andie on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Google +.

Transformed by MARK OF CAIN

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a fabulous contemporary M/M romance from Kate Sherwood. MARK OF CAIN is a moving story about prejudice and forgiveness.

Mark of CainAbout the book:
When a man is consumed by hatred, is there anything left to love?

After a tough day of counseling sessions, Anglican priest Mark Webber is looking forward to a relaxing dinner at a local restaurant. When he sees who’s bellied up to the bar, though, he reaches for his cell phone to call the police.

It’s Lucas Cain, the man who killed Mark’s brother three years ago. Apparently he’s out of jail and hanging out with his old crowd, which has to be a breach of parole, right?

Pulled over upon leaving the bar, Lucas blows a clean breathalyzer and hopes this isn’t a harbinger of things to come. He’s ready to build a sober, peaceful life. His friends aren’t ready to let him move on, though, and he ends up taking refuge in an Anglican half-way house.

Thrown together, Mark and Lucas find common ground in the struggle to help a young gay man come to terms with his sexuality—and the fight against homophobic townsfolk. As attraction grows, the past is the last stumbling block between them and a future filled with hope.
Warning: Bad boys being good, good boys being bad.

My Review:
Father Mark Webber is an out gay Anglican priest in Canada. He is struggling in his position at the church, and wishes to help move past the homophobia and into acceptance. He’s a godly man, but he’s also human–and he hates Lucas Cain, the newly-released convicted killer of his younger brother, Jimmy.

Lucas Cain is 22 and a closeted gay man who has struggled with his sexuality and close-up, violent homophobia and abandonment his whole life. He was released after three years of serving a 6-year sentence for manslaughter, due to his exceptionally good behavior in jail. Lucas cannot forgive himself for his drunken fight which killed Jimmy Webber, and his remorse is bone-deep.

Here’s the scene that sets this whole book in motion:

“They’re having a party,” Mark said. He shifted to the side, staring at the scene in front of him. Three or four long tables had been shoved together like the bar did when sports teams came in after their games, but on this night, no one was celebrating a great pitch or brutal body check. This night, the guest of honor was a blond kid with cold green eyes, sitting at the head of the table with his hand wrapped around a mug of beer. He was smiling at the woman next to him as if she were the most beautiful and charming thing he’d ever seen. The rest of the extended table was lined with laughing, celebrating drinkers welcoming home their prodigal son.

The man who had killed Mark’s baby brother was being treated like a hero.

This book is about the difference between appearance and reality. Mark believes that Lucas is out drinking and carousing. In reality, Lucas is grudgingly dragged to a celebratory outing, drinks a non-alcoholic brew, and constantly watches the clock so he that doesn’t stay out past his imposed curfew.

Father Mark is the main liaison for a halfway house where Lucas ends up when his best (and perhaps closeted) friend Seth kicks him out. Homeless and jobless, Lucas needs a place to stay, but Mark twists things in his own mind, creating more havoc for Lucas–out of his own prejudice and hate. It is Mark’s misspoken words that land Lucas in the hospital from a hate crime, in fact.

Mark begins to see the error of his ways, soon, and he asks both God and his boss at the church to intercede. At this point, I stopped hating Mark. See, as a reader who gets both sides of the story, I was REALLY mad with Mark’s lack of compassion, and, frankly, lack of honor. He knew he should have asked for help, or asked to be replaced, but he craved the ability to watch Lucas, and even to make life more difficult for him. To punish Lucas, as he should have been in jail. Even better, to send Lucas back to jail to serve out the rest of his sentence. But Mark turns his sinking ship of hate around and does the right thing, and for that I stopped hating him.

Over a few months, Lucas develops himself. He works hard and plays within all the rules. He commits to staying sober and free of fighting. Never misses a curfew, and makes a few new friends. He inadvertently lands in some trouble when a young boy takes a crush on him, but he does the right thing–because Lucas always does the right thing, even if he knows it could land him in trouble. And, Mark is able to see that more and more. It is Mark’s close scrutiny of Lucas that shows him that Lucas was simply caught in a bad moment, in that fight with Jimmy. Mark himself knows that Jimmy was a brawler, and clearly outweighed Lucas by a lot. This turning point allows Mark to see Lucas as a man, not a killer.

And, before Mark even realizes what’s happened, he’s forgiven Lucas for that ill-judged moment which killed Jimmy. What remains? A developing respect for the man Lucas is becoming. All of this unfolds over about six months of semi regular contact. Before long, Mark is finding attraction where he only had scorn. Lucas thinks Mark is crazy–for forgiving him just as much as for wanting him. How can a priest love a convict, anyway?

There is real emotion here. The slow burn from hatred to love is remarkably poignant. This is not an easy transition, and causes far more heartache than stomach butterflies. There are a few scenes of physical connection, but they are not the centerpiece of this story. The story here is in forgiveness, and grace, and love.

Interested? You can find MARK OF CAIN on Goodreads, Samhain Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and AllRomance. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:

Kate Sherwood started writing about the same time she got back on a horse after almost twenty years away from riding. She’d like to think she was too young for it to be a midlife crisis, but apparently she was ready for some changes!

Kate grew up near Toronto, Ontario (Canada) and went to school in Montreal, then Vancouver. But for the last decade or so she’s been a country girl. Sure, she misses some of the conveniences of the city, but living close to nature makes up for those lacks. She’s living in Ontario’s “cottage country”–other people save up their time and come to spend their vacations in her neighborhood, but she gets to live there all year round!

Since her first book was published in 2010, she’s kept herself busy with novels, novellas, and short stories in almost all the sub-genres of m/m romance. Contemporary, suspense, scifi or fantasy–the settings are just the backdrop for her characters to answer the important questions. How much can they share, and what do they need to keep? Can they bring themselves to trust someone, after being disappointed so many times? Are they brave enough to take a chance on love?

Kate’s books balance drama with humor, angst with optimism. They feature strong, damaged men who fight themselves harder than they fight anyone else. And, wherever possible, there are animals: horses, dogs, cats ferrets, squirrels… sometimes it’s easier to bond with a non-human, and most of Kate’s men need all the help they can get.

After five years of writing, Kate is still learning, still stretching herself, and still enjoying what she does. She’s looking forward to sharing a lot more stories in the future.

You can catch up with Kate online on her website, Facebook, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Swept Away by DANCE OFF–Review & Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing in the blog tour for DANCE OFF by Ariel Tachna and Nessa L. Warin. This was a super fun read, sure to appeal to fans of those dance competition shows all over the TV. It’s a very sweet contemporary M/M romance with some nice steamy bits, too!
Check out the Excerpt and Giveaway below.
About the book:

On the reality show Dance Off, pro rugby player Olivier Gautier and Olympic swimmer JC Webster each have one goal in mind: to stay on the show as long as possible to earn his charity of choice maximum exposure and a larger donation. As the competition heats up, their goals expand to catching each other’s interest, but Olivier is firmly in the closet and plans to stay there. JC is willing to be discreet, but not to hide forever.

Starting a romance with another man is challenge enough for any celebrity, but doing it under the microscope of reality TV—and one majorly intolerant costar—is even harder. Add in meddling dance pros, JC’s overbearing family, and the need to play up chemistry with dance partners to win America’s hearts, and JC and Olivier’s time together is looking more and more like a recipe for disaster.

As the pressure to stay in the competition mounts, JC and Olivier must face their inevitable separation at the end of the show as well as decide whether a relationship as complicated as theirs can survive in the real world, outside the bubble of the set and practice studios.

How about a little taste?
JC stretched up on his toes in the doorway to the old
restaurant that had been converted to a dining room for the cast, hooked his
fingers over the molding at the top, and leaned forward a little to stretch his
chest muscles. It hurt with the good kind of pain, and he stayed on his toes
until Chelsea came up behind him.
“Move,” she said, smacking him lightly on the ass and
knocking him off balance. “Some of us want to eat.”
“Some of us don’t want cramps later,” JC countered as he
stumbled forward. “I forgot to stretch my arms before coming up.”
“Well, you’ve stretched. Now let’s eat. We need to get back
downstairs.” Chelsea grinned and started making a sandwich from the deli meat
platter on the island. “The more we practice, the better you’ll be.”
“Not if I’m so stiff I can’t move.”
The sight of JC’s strong, compact body in a full stretch was,
as far as Olivier was concerned, the perfect anodyne for four hours of dancing
in shoes that felt like they were solid steel. He figured whatever Chelsea had
spent the morning doing to her partner, she needed to keep doing for another
several hours so Olivier could get another such view at the end of the day. “What’s
this about being stiff?” he asked as he took a plate for himself and prepared a
sandwich.
“Chelsea seems to think I should scarf down lunch and head
straight back to work.” JC took four bottles of water out of the refrigerator
and handed them around to Chelsea, Olivier, and Tricia. “I think I should take
time to stretch so I can move in the morning.”
“Worry about tomorrow in the morning,” Tricia said. “You’ve
still got four hours of rehearsal this afternoon. Everyone will be exhausted by
the end of the first week. It’s just the way it goes.”
“It can’t possibly be worse than the start of off-season
training after we’ve had a break post championships,” Olivier said. “Yes, it’s
eight hour days, but we aren’t lifting weights or running drills.”
“I’m just worried about using muscles I’m not used to using.
Swimming is very repetitive once you learn the right way to move. This is
different.” JC pulled his arms across his chest one at a time, stretching them.
The pull of muscle felt good and let him relax a little as he took a long
swallow of water and picked up his sandwich.
“You’ll be fine,” Chelsea said with a wink. “Though I would
like it if you could move in the morning.”
Olivier took another moment to appreciate the play of JC’s
muscles beneath his T-shirt and then forced himself to concentrate on lunch. He
still didn’t think it would be worse than the start of off-season training, but
that didn’t mean he intended to let anyone get the best of him. “You didn’t
stay here at the house last night,” he said to JC after a few minutes. “Do you
live nearby?”
JC swallowed the last of his sandwich and grinned. “No. I
live in Texas when I’m not training. My aunt has a house here in LA, though, so
Mama and I are staying with her.” He ducked his head as he realized he’d just
admitted he’d brought his mother with
him, and he tried not to think about whether he was more embarrassed because it
was Olivier or not. “She’s a huge fan of the show and insisted. My aunt said
she could stay too, and, well….” He shrugged, trying to play it off.
“And well, you love your Mama, and that’s as it should be,”
Olivier replied. “Don’t disappear every night, though. We had a good time
sitting around playing cards last night. Tyler says tonight he will teach me to
play rummy.”
“Tonight is family dinner. Mama, my aunt, all my cousins….”
JC chuckled ruefully. “There’s no way I can stay around tonight. If I miss it,
I’ll never live it down. You, uh—” He bit back the urge to invite Olivier over,
though he knew his mama would love it. “Let me know how the rummy goes. Maybe I’ll
stick around later in the week, and we can play.”
“Yes, another night,” Olivier said. This way he could learn
the game without JC present to see him embarrass himself. “You should bring
your mama to watch a rehearsal. I’m sure other couples would let her watch as
well.”
“Maybe once we’ve had a few more days to practice. I don’t
think Chelsea would appreciate Mama trying to give advice when I’m just
learning the moves.”
“I would be happy to meet your mother, but maybe not just
yet,” Chelsea said. “I’d hate for you to be embarrassed.”
“She’s more likely to embarrass you. I’m used to her.” JC
grinned. “She loves dancing, and she’s watched every episode of Dance Off. She’ll probably try to give
you advice about what the judges like and what gets audience votes. I wouldn’t dare let her watch other couples yet.”
“Maybe we should get her to come give us advice too,” Olivier
said with a wink for Tricia. “I could use all the help I can get.”
“Don’t you worry about that,” Tricia said. “We’ll make sure
to give the audience what they want. I already have an idea for your costume.”
“Nothing too over-the-top,” Olivier insisted.
JC smirked. “Oh please, Tricia, over-the-top. I want to see
Olivier shirtless. It’ll make all the girls swoon.”
No one would be swooning if they saw the burn scars on his
back, but he’d worry about convincing Tricia of that if it actually came up
with the costume department.
“Careful or I’ll get you shirtless too, JC,” Chelsea warned
as she bumped her shoulder against his. “I’m sure all the girls would love to
see your abs as well.”
“I’ve competed in a Speedo,” JC pointed out, trying to hide
his amusement and failing. Dance Off
was different from swimming, but shirtless was shirtless, and on the ballroom
floor, he’d still have on pants and shoes. “Dripping
wet
in a Speedo, mind you. No outfit you put me in could possibly be more
revealing than that.”
“Don’t tempt her,” Tricia said. “I saw some of the outfits
her partners wore in previous seasons.”
Don’t
tempt me,
Olivier thought, but he wasn’t quite ready to share with
everyone else just yet. He didn’t know Tricia and Chelsea that well, and while
he knew JC was bi, he didn’t know how JC would react to anything more than the
light flirting they had done so far. Olivier was willing to find out, but not
when they had an audience.
“I thought this was a family show,” Olivier said instead. “Doesn’t
everything have to be appropriate for children?”
“Swim meets are generally considered family friendly.” JC had
definitely gotten some well-concealed enjoyment out of watching some of his
teammates climb out of the pool at the end of practice or after swimming in a
meet, but there was no doubt that families of all sorts had watched them in
competition. “No one objected to the Speedo when I won races.”
“Swimming pools and dance floors are a little different,”
Chelsea said. “People expect you to be mostly naked and soaking wet at a pool.
Not while you’re dancing.”
“The costume designers know the guidelines,” Tricia added. “They’ll
keep everything in line. They do a fabulous job with fitting everything. We’ll
probably have the first meetings with them tomorrow so they can take
measurements.”
“It will be interesting to see what they come up with,”
Olivier said. He finished his sandwich and his bottle of water. “But now it is
time for more practice, yes?”
“Yes.” Chelsea finished her water and tossed the bottle in
the recycling bin under the counter. “Come on, JC. Time’s a-wastin’.”
“Slave driver,” JC muttered fondly, but he tossed his water
bottle in the bin and followed Chelsea out of the dining room, pausing to touch
the top of the doorframe as he passed through. “Don’t work too hard, Olivier.”
Olivier narrowed his eyes as JC disappeared down the hallway.
If they had known each other better, Olivier would have sworn that last little
stretch was for his benefit. As it was, he was left hot and bothered thinking
about it without any way to do anything about it.
“Don’t work too hard, mon
oeil
,” Olivier muttered. “We will show them how to do the cha-cha, n’est-ce pas, Tricia?”
She smiled at him. “Believe me—you have advantages in this he
doesn’t. Come on. Let’s get back to work.”

 

My Review:
What a fun story! I am not a big reality TV fan, and have never watched DWTS, but this book is absolutely enjoyable…and makes me curious to indulge!

Olivier is a pro rugby player whose dashing good looks and sultry French accent is sure to be catnip for the female viewership, despite his relative anonymity. Thing is, Olivier’s gay. And, in the closet. He doesn’t know how being out will affect his opportunities in his sport, and he really doesn’t want to become the poster boy for gay rugby, either. He’s private…and very much attracted to his fellow co-star, Javier “JC”, an Olympic-medalist swimmer.

JC is out publicly at a bisexual, has been since he was in high school. He has kept a low profile on his relationships–he doesn’t want anyone else to have their privacy invaded due to his own celebrity. He’s drawn to Olivier form the start, and it’s a huge issue. He doesn’t know if Olivier would welcome his attention, and there’s another co-star who is a well-known conservative radio host, renown for his homophobia and hate speech. JC really doesn’t want to end up as a subject on that show.

The mutual attraction simmers, each man suffering in silence as they each prepare for the competition. I know there’s a reason some locales have banned dancing–whoa, boy it can really get hot in there!

JC, Olivier and their pro partners wow in the first week. Each is happy to return for more, and to have the chance to earn money for their charities. But each is also happy to figure out that, yes, the other is “into” him. They still keep everything on the down-low, but their partners quickly find out.

I loved how supportive the side characters are in this. Olivier is really intent on staying publicly quiet, but wants to share some of his joy of being with JC, of having not to hide his looks, or to be able to share even a casual embrace. Seeing how supportive the rest of the cast is with a gay pro, once the radio host is booted, gives Olivier the push to begin dropping his walls.

JC is loving and supportive throughout. He also knows his large, exuberant Mexican-American family will be quick to embrace Olivier as their own, if that’s a possibility. The main tension in the story comes from waiting to see who will be eliminated from the show, and when. Soon, JC and Olivier are not simply competing for the big prize, but for their fledgling relationship to stay cocooned in the guise of the show. They are always careful to hide their secret from the camera, but the promise of more time together becomes the biggest reason to make it to the finals.

I really, really liked this. It was a bit light on the heat factor, but emotionally I was right there the whole time. The judges were so fun, and the commentary was constantly humorous. The men and women swoon for both JC and Olivier–who swooned for each other just as much! The end was spot-on, and won’t leave the reader hanging on.

Interested? You can find DANCE OFF on Goodreads, Dreamspinner Press (eBook and Paperback), Amazon, AllRomance and Barnes & Noble.


About the Authors:
Ariel Tachna lives outside of Houston with her husband, her daughter and son, and their two dogs.  Before moving there, she traveled all over the world, having fallen in love with France, where she met her husband, and India, where she hopes to retire some day.  She’s bilingual with snippets of four other languages to her credit and is as in love with languages as she is with writing.

You can find Ariel online on her websiteFacebooktwitter and Goodreads.


Nessa L. Warin lives in a fantasy world that’s mostly inside her head, though her physical address is in southwestern Ohio. Her two cats kindly play along with her fantasies and graciously let her pay all the bills, but they do require her to provide pampering on a regular basis. Nessa enjoys exploring the wonders of this world through travel—something her cats strongly disapprove of as it cuts into their pampering time—and can find whimsy in the most mundane places. When the real world becomes too much, Nessa enjoys dressing in costume and going to Renaissance Festivals and fantasy conventions. A short trip to either does wonders for her state of mind, so she makes sure to attend at least one of each a year. These trips help Nessa add to her collection of faerie and dragon art, and she swears she will frame and hang all the prints she’s collected some time soon.

When she’s not living in a fantasy world, Nessa enjoys tasting and learning about wine, particularly since it’s one of the few things she and the rest of her family agree on. She’s a regular at the wine tastings held by her local wine shop, and considers it a sin for her wine rack to have more empty spots than full ones. She’d prefer her wine rack to be filled with Pinot Noir, Malbec, and Syrah, but one of her favorite things about wine is the way it can always surprise her. More than once she’s been taken aback by which wine she likes best at a tasting, and she loves the way her wine rack illustrates the joys of trying new things.

You can find Nessa online on her websiteFacebooktwitter and Goodreads.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click the Rafflecopter link below for your chance to win one of 3 signed copies of DANCE OFF and a backlist book from Ariel and Nessa!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Conflict and Compassion in A CLEAN BREAK–A Review

Hi there! Today I want to share a review for a contemporary M/M romance by Kiera Andrews. A CLEAN BREAK is the sequel to A FORBIDDEN RUMSPRINGA, and it’s just as honest and conflicted as the first book. Issac and David are two young men raised in a very sheltered, xenophobic Amish community, and they have fled because they found love with each other, a love they knew their families would never accept…

A Clean Break (Gay Amish Romance #2)About the Book:
David and Isaac have found happiness in each other’s arms. In faraway San Francisco, Isaac’s brother Aaron helps them explore confusing “English” life and move beyond the looming shadow of their Amish roots. For the first time, David and Isaac can be openly gay, yet they struggle to reconcile their sexuality with their faith. At least they don’t have to hide their relationship, which should make everything easier. Right?

But while Isaac thrives at school and makes new friends, David wrestles to come to terms with the reality of the outside world. Haunted by guilt at leaving his mother and sisters behind in Zebulon, he’s overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the city as he works to get his carpentry business off the ground.

While David and Isaac finally sleep side by side each night, fear and insecurity could drive them miles apart.

This is the second chapter in a trilogy of forbidden Amish love. This book features explicit sex and is not an inspirational/Christian novel.

My Review:
This is the second book in a series, and I think it’s best to read these books in order.

Isaac and David have fled their Amish community in Zebulon, Minnesota, and are living with Isaac’s brother Aaron. Aaron had left Amish life ten years ago, and has completely adapted to the ‘English’ life. He got a college degree and is now a teacher, and married to a Filipino woman who is a physician. They live in San Francisco, and are fully willing to support a David and Isaac until they can support themselves. They also fully accept Isaac and David being gay.

This book is told from David’s POV, and David is truly struggling. By leaving he abandoned his mother and four younger sisters. He was the only man of the family and he fears that they are struggling. He is too scared to write and find out however. Adjusting to English life is difficult in some ways, and not in others…

Isaac smiled sadly. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? How quickly we get used to breaking the Ordnung. Practically everything we do here is against the rules. But once you start, it’s easy.”

“Easy not to think about it, at least.” For when he thought about it, David remembered how hard things were in Zebulon. His chest tightened as he imagined how Mother and the girls would be struggling without him. Who would break the ice in the well, or chop the wood for the stove? Or—

As the cable car dropped off its passengers and did a loop around the turntable to face the way it had come, David shook his head as if he could shake free his thoughts. He could never go back. Only forward with Isaac.

Being in San Francisco and seeing openly gay people is a huge culture shock. Isaac and David have believed their love is a sin, but witnessing other men embracing and even kissing helps them to better accept each other.

“I want to worship you,” he whispered. Isaac was beautiful and good, and David wanted him to know it.

Groaning, Isaac dragged David’s head down for a hard kiss as he spread his legs and wrapped them around David’s hips. Isaac gasped, “It doesn’t feel wrong. Does it?”

David could only shake his head, desperate for them to be naked so he could experience the heat and sweat of Isaac’s body against him. Since that first night among the trees with loyal Kaffi standing guard, touching Isaac—loving Isaac—had only ever felt right despite everything.

Not only because of how good it made David’s body feel, but in the way it reached into his soul through every pore. In every shared moan and smile, in every tremble of limbs and press of lips, he was whole.

Their love is strong, but distance does begin to grow. Isaac decides to go to school, and David is nervous to begin a carpentry business on his own. Everything in this place, this new life, is foreign, and David is embarrassed about how little he knows and understands.

“I’m so glad you’re here. If you’d stayed, I don’t know what I’d do. I’d miss you so much I wouldn’t be able to stand it.”

“I’ll never leave you, Eechel. I’m right here. Go back to sleep.” He kissed Isaac’s head.

David stared at the faint pattern of the street lamps through the blinds, shadows and light spreading over the walls and ceiling. His earlier resolve grew stronger with each little shuddering breath Isaac took.

No more procrastination and naps. He’d get his business up and running so he could take proper care of Isaac. He would keep him safe and happy. He wouldn’t disappoint him. As Isaac burrowed close, David petted him and murmured a lullaby he hadn’t heard in years.

David’s struggle is intense and silent. He’s afraid to confide in anyone, to reveal his fears which leads to panic attacks, and further separation from Isaac. Isaac wants David to meet his friends from school, but David is ashamed that he will appear stupid to them, and continually puts it off. Plus, other men are showing too keen an interest in David, and Isaac suspects David wants someone else. There are lots of hurt feelings, lots of empty liquor bottles and lots of tears, but things end on a strained (but POSITIVE!!!!) note.

I can’t believe I love gay Amish romance, but I totally do. This series has me hooked. The feelings are so raw, and there’s a good amount of sexytimes. I am anxious to see how David and Isaac move forward, together, in the next book.

Interested? You can find A CLEAN BREAK on Goodreads, All Romance, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

A Forbidden Rumspringa (Gay Amish Romance #1)As for the first book–A FORBIDDEN RUMSPRINGA–it is a story of many firsts, told by Isaac. Isaac is the “new” eldest son of his house. I say “new” in quotes, because his eldest brother, Aaron, was excommunicated when he left the Amish community several years before. Isaac is uncomfortable in his Amish home because he doesn’t feel attracted to girls. He’s actually quite attracted to David, an Amish carpenter who takes Isaac on as an apprentice.

Together, they find out about love, and life, during their forays into each other, and the “English” world just outside their settlement. Isaac knows he can never watch David marry, but he never suspects how deep David loves only him. It is a touching story that really got to me. Check out my review for more details.

Interested? You can find A FORBIDDEN RUMSPRINGA on Goodreads, All Romance, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Keira AndrewsAbout the Author:
After writing for years yet never really finding the right inspiration, Keira discovered her voice in gay romance, which has become a passion. She writes contemporary, historical, paranormal and fantasy fiction, and—although she loves delicious angst along the way—Keira firmly believes in happy endings. For as Oscar Wilde once said, “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”

You can catch up with Keira on her website, Facebook, twitter, and Goodreads.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!