Together They Found THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review of best-selling author Brenda Novak’s newly released, THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS. It’s books seven of her Whiskey Creek series, and fans will applaud Eve (finally) getting her happy ending.

The Heart of Christmas (Whiskey Creek, #7)About the book:

Eve Harmon has always enjoyed Christmas, but this year it reminds her of everything she doesn’t have. Almost all her friends are married now, and that’s what Eve wants, too. Love. A husband and kids of her own. But the B and B she manages, and even Whiskey Creek, the small Gold Country town where she was born and raised, suddenly seem…confining.

Eve’s worried that her future will simply be a reflection of her past. There’s no one in the area she could even imagine as a husband, until a handsome stranger comes to town. Eve’s definitely attracted to him, and he seems to have the same reaction to her. But his darkly mysterious past could ruin Eve’s happily ever after–just when it finally seems within reach. And just when she’s counting on the best Christmas of her life!

My Review:

I haven’t read any of the Whiskey Creek books, and I didn’t feel the lack. This story is about Eve, the single gal on the fringes of all the couples in her small California town. She’s thirty-five, and a year ago had a brief relationship with a longtime friend, Ted, who later broke it off–at Christmastime–for another woman. They are amicable, but Eve’s still hurt. And, she feels like she’s sliding into spinsterhood—unwillingly. Seeing her friends’ newly-settled lives is really hard.

So, she goes out on her 35th, alone because her friends can’t get together on a weeknight, and ends up taking home a stranger. Little does she recognize how strange he really is….

Rex has been a class A screw-up in life. He has some serious emotional baggage, and a criminal history. He was in prison, in a gang and is clean from drug addiction for four years. Eight years ago he went on the run, first in WITSEC, and later on his own when his identity had been compromised. His former gang wants blood; his. Meeting Eve is a blessing at the wrong time–he’s hiding in Whiskey Creek after being tipped off that the gang was on his trail…again.

Eve, to her horror, realizes her indiscretion about four drinks too late–waking with a blinding hangover and a skittish bed partner is NOT her style. Oh, and they may not have used protection, in one or more of their encounters the night before. Plus, Mr. Right Now, well, he’s about as forthcoming as a bankster before Congress; he doesn’t even give her his real name.

Okay, the stage is set for some real interesting plot twists. Rex and Eve find a connection. He plans to spend a few weeks in Whiskey Creek and would rather not be alone. The town is so welcoming, and Rex–despite his determination for a no-strings life–is so lonely, so starved for connection, he can’t stay away–and he’s terrified that Eve could be pregnant. How can he be a father and stay on the lamb from his gang?

Eve’s friends rally to her side–with support, and answers when Rex won’t come clean. Eve wants to help Rex, even if it means never seeing him again…and with the tight-knit Whiskey Creek community she’s able to keep Rex safe long enough for him to get another clean slate.

The whole thing is an HEA, with fairly reasonable plot turns and enough suspense to keep readers interested. I liked the elements of danger, and how candid Eve’s friends were, with both her and Rex. Though I didn’t know these characters, I got caught up in their world for a bit, and had the good kind of tingles when this story ended.

Interested? You can find THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.

Brenda NovakAbout the Author:

New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author Brenda Novak is the author of more than fifty books. A four-time RITA™ nominee, she has won many awards, including the National Reader’s Choice, the Bookseller’s Best, the Book Buyer’s Best, the Daphne, and the Holt Medallion. She also runs an annual on-line auction for diabetes research every May at http://www.brendanovak.com (her youngest son has this disease). To date, she’s raised nearly $2.5 million.
Catch up with Brenda online on her website, twitter, and Facebook.
Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Sometimes SIDEKICKS are the Real Heroes!–A Review

Hi there! Today is Veteran’s Day in the US. I’m actually a pacifist–which is pretty cool! While it means that I do not support war, violence or brutality, it DOES NOT mean that I do not support soldiers. I do. These people put their lives on the line in ways I can’t imagine, and don’t wish to. What I hate, and I’m gonna use that word, is the (unnecessary) use of soldiers to “protect people” (read: corporate interests) in places we should not be.

See, I am not an Imperialist. I’m not an elitist. I do not think that America is THE VERY BESTEST PLACE. It is a good land, with some problems. It is a good place, that could use some improving. It is better than lots of places, and I am glad to be here, but I’m sure I could find a good life in other countries just as well. In terms of war, I think that many world leaders have forgotten the human cost of it, and that saddens me greatly.

My father, rest his soul, served in Vietnam. He enlisted, actually. Believed he would be helping out the poor Vietnamese find democracy and a better way of life. What he found was an autonomous nation of people who wanted to be left alone. As an 18 y/o kid, my dad saw a lot of combat. He was given a Bronze Star and an Airborne patch, for dropping into over 30 LZs (live zones) as an infantryman.

In honor of Veteran’s Day I hope I can urge anyone reading this to ONE: consider peace. Consider it with your life’s breath. Imagine it was your son, daughter, father, mother, brother, sister being recruited to take on a “war” and how that person may not return home to your loving embrace.

TWO: Please, don’t forget our active military and veterans. They need support. The rates of veteran suicide are so high–22 people a day! If you know a vet, or an enlisted soldier, who is suffering please reach out. Try to get that person to reach out, too. The Veteran’s Crisis Line can help.

Okay, so, back to the Reading portion of this blog… My son recommended this book, SIDEKICKS, because it struck a nerve with him. And, I’m so glad I read it. Honestly. This book got my son thinking about all the falsehoods out in the real world. The images we are sold to gain support for shadowy ideals. This is why I wanted to share it on Veteran’s Day.

SIDEKICKS is a YA romance/adventure about Scott Hutchinson, a super strong/super fast teen boy whose alter ego is Bright Boy. He is sidekick to the world’s greatest superhero–Phantom Justice. And, man is his world crumbling beneath his feet! Like many combat veterans, Scott’s a hero, who doesn’t show it.

SidekicksAbout the book:
Batman has Robin, Wonder Woman has Wonder Girl, and Phantom Justice has Bright Boy, a.k.a. Scott Hutchinson, an ordinary schoolkid by day and a superfast, superstrong sidekick by night, fighting loyally next to his hero.

But after an embarrassing incident involving his too-tight spandex costume, plus some signs that Phantom Justice may not be the good guy he pretends to be, Scott begins to question his role. With the help of a fellow sidekick, once his nemesis, Scott must decide if growing up means being loyal or stepping boldly to the center of things.

My Review:

Scott/Bright Boy has reached the Age of Awareness. Though he’s been a sidekick for seven years, he’s just now into puberty. And, well, his uniform tights…they are TIGHT! One night, his rescue of a pretty woman leads to (gasp!) an erection–one that is captured on live TV and broadcast all over the news networks.

Remember, how boners in class are a big problem for normal boys? Well, poor Scott has to suffer in silence as all his classmates snicker about the Big Deal and the newscasters cracking tasteless jokes about his “rising” to the occasion. Even Trent (Phantom Menace) is giving him a side-eye, thinking he’s a perv and telling him he better settle all that down right quick. Scott’s rage and embarrassment  knows no bounds, and when he’s taunted by Monkeywrench at a meet-up, well, Bright Boy loses his ever-lovin’ cool. He attacks, and the results? Romantic.

Okay, not at first, but Monkeywrench, sidekick to Dr. Chaotic (Phantom Justice’s nemesis), is more than meets the eye. She, well, is gorgeous, and intelligent, and interacting with her teaches Scott that “good” is a label that is truly subjective. Especially when Bright Boy gets a handle on what EXACTLY Phantom Justice stands for.

I’m not going to ruin this one–at all–because, it is a fantastic book. It takes all the superhero tropes and twists them. I loved Scott’s complete naivete. And Monkeywrench, aka Allison, is frankly a great accessory character. There is a love story here, and it’s not forced. Scott has never really connected with his peers, and Allison is the first person he can be honest with regarding his life, and his dreams. And, she’s tender to him in a way he absolutely needs. Plus, Scott/Bright Boy is just such a great kid. He is so pure of purpose, so incredibly self-less, and yet a bit sulky regarding his own personal life, teen readers will find him easy to connect with.

Interested? You can find SIDEKICKS on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and libraries everywhere.

About the Author:

Jack D. Ferraiolo is the author of The Big Splash (a 2009 Edgar Award nominee), the forthcoming sequel, The Quick Fix (Spring 2012) and Sidekicks (2010), which received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. He also works in animation, winning an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in Animation as the head writer for PBS’s WordGirl (a series he co-created).  He was an editor and producer for Home Movies (on Adult Swim) and a writer, director, editor, and producer for O’Grady (on The N).  Recently, he created Chuck Vanderchuck’s “Something Something” Explosion for PBSKidsGo.org, a broadband-based show about an 8-year-old David Lee Roth-type kid who’s sole purpose in life is to teach the world the awesomeness of music.

In his personal time, Jack enjoys apples and American-style blue jeans.

You can catch up with Jack on his website, or email.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

 

She Knew THE TROUBLE WITH CHRISTMAS–Review and Giveaway!

SBB Christmas Banner
Hi there! Today’s book is a contemporary Christmas romance from Kaira Rouda. THE TROUBLE WITH CHRISTMAS is a fun read about reaching one’s true potential. (For adults…because of the S-E-X)

TheTroubleWithChristmas-LARGEAbout the book:
At 35-years-old, Cole Stanton is burned out. His high-paced, uber-successful career has left him yearning to start over. He finds Indigo Island, buys a restaurant and settles into an uncomplicated life. But Christmas is a mess. He has over-committed the small restaurant’s resources again, and is over his head. He finds himself longing for everything he has left behind, until a chance encounter with gorgeous Lily offers a spark of salvation to his business and, perhaps his life.

Beautiful pastry chef Lily Edmonds is thirty years old and heartbroken. It’s just before Christmas and she’s just been dumped by via telephone by her fiancee. Her best friend Avery Putnam invites her to Indigo Island, hoping to add joy back into Lily’s life. A chance encounter with the sexy owner of a local restaurant makes Lily feel an attraction she thought she’d never feel again, and offers her a business challenge to keep her mind focused on something other than her broken heart.

Cole Stanton and Lily Edmonds are both starting over. Will the joy of the holiday season bring them together or will the troubles with Christmas push them apart?

My Review:

Everyone would be a couple, except for her. That was the trouble with Christmas. There were just too many expectations and not enough sprinkles of magic when someone needed them.

Yep. Lily’s alone again. Her dad abandoned her mother when Lily was a teen. Her mom is/was an alcoholic and out of the picture. And now Bob has cut their engagement, announcing his impeding marriage to a known socialite. Christmas pretty much sucks. Which is why Lily allowed Avery, her BFF, to helicopter her off to Avery’s parents’ estate on Indigo Island.

While there, Lily meets Cole, and his altruism is such a shock to her system. Bob was a narcissist, and Lily–a hardworking pastry chef–never measured up to his, or his family’s, expectations. Being the center of Cole’s attraction is pretty heady for Lily.

Cole’s got 99 problems, but a girl ain’t one. He’s haunted by his free-wheeling days as an investment broker. Cavalier portfolios left a number of his clients financially and psychologically ruined, and the emotional fall out caused him to change paths quickly. Now, all he wants to do is fix the business of Marshside Mama’s, a local eatery, but his high fallutin’ ideas have pushed the restaurant even closer to the brink.

Meeting Chef Lily is a Christmas miracle, if Cole allows himself to believe such exist. The attraction is magnetic, but their cooperation is kismet. Lily applauds Cole’s initiative, but recognizes his skills set isn’t in the kitchen. She works with Sally Ann, the restaurant’s owner and and cook, to create a Christmas menu that brings to locals in in droves. And the way Lily and Cole fit together? Delicious.

This is a fun Christmas novella with good pacing. I was a bit alarmed by how fast the attraction built–from a spark to a blaze–but there are moments where Lily pulls back on the reins and finds that she too can have some power in a relationship. Avery’s family is indeed too good to be true, but I love me some socially-conscious billionaires. I was really happy to see Lily figure out the trouble with Christmas, after all…

The trouble with Christmas wasn’t because of the holiday at all. Christmas was what people made it. It was their choice to focus on the bad things that had happened to them and the people who had hurt them, or choose to focus on the magical, light-filled, sparkling season that promised hope and dreams would come true.

Interested? You can find THE TROUBLE WITH CHRISTMAS on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the author:
Kaira Rouda is an award-winning and bestselling author of both fiction and nonfiction. Her books include: Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs; Here, Home, Hope; All the Difference; In the Mirror; and the short story, A Mother’s Day. She lives in Southern California with her husband and four children and is at work on her next novel.

Connect with her on Twitter, on Goodreads, Amazon, and on Facebook, and of course, on Pinterest! For more about Kaira and her books, please visit her website.

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She Aced Her PRIVATE INTERNSHIP–Review and Giveaway

Private-Internship banner

Hi all! Today I’m featuring a New Adult romance recently released by Kitsy Clare. PRIVATE INTERNSHIP explores how the lurking secrets in our lives can ruin the sweetest of romances….

Private Internship (An Art of Love novel)About the book:
Sometimes sugar isn’t so sweet and secrets can be deadly…especially with matters of the heart.

Sienna’s bestie, Harper warned her not to intern for famous bad boy artist, Casper Mason. After all, he just fired Harper who helped Sienna get the interview. But the moment Sienna sees Casper—or Caz—sweaty, practically shirtless and swinging from chains as he works on his sculpture, she’s hooked. He’s the richest, hottest artist in New York, and he lives in the fabulous Williamsburg Sugar Factory. But he’s also an incorrigible game-player, who seems to relish testing Sienna’s loyalty with a string of unsettling tests.

She knows she should get away fast. But by the time Sienna sneaks into his locked storage room and begins to unearth his dark and terrifying secret, she’s fallen way too hard for the handsome, charismatic Caz.

My Review:
Sienna is a 22 y/o graduate of art school who takes an internship working for a notoriously difficult artist. Caz is wealthy and eccentric and sometimes mean, but Sienna is determined to make her mark, so she sticks it out.

She actually learns a lot from Caz, and ends up falling for him–despite being in a long-distance relationship, which she dissolves via Skype when she feels the attraction to Caz getting too hot. There are some interesting interactions and one steamy scene, but mostly there’s a lot of Sienna getting bogged in her OCD life and wishing things with Caz were, well, cleaner.

I actually liked Caz a lot. He has some real depth and texture, and a tragic past that haunts him. I was glad that he worked through those issues, to some degree, but I wanted Sienna to be more compassionate. For someone who’s so hung up on monogamy she wasn’t terrifyingly up-front about her relationship with her touring, successful-artist boyfriend to Caz. There are some clear issues with style that didn’t appeal to me, because I am an Anglophile and Sienna read more like an Englishwoman than a 22 year old American artist. She was a bit too stiff and graspy for me to relate to on a reader-level, and I had higher hopes.

Interested? You can find PRIVATE INTERNSHIP on Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, and Kobo Books.

model positionThere’s a prequel novella, MODEL POSITION which deals with Sienna’s last two months of art school and how she falls for the sexy model in her oils class, Erik, who’s got a lot more going on than his Tarzan loincloth.

It’s a quick read with a clean storyline. Erik shines for me in this one, as Sienna comes off rather mercenary. It was an HEA, which set high expectations for PRIVATE INTERNSHIP.

GoodreadsAmazonB&NKobo Books

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Click the Rafflecopter link below for your chance to win

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Good luck and keep reading my friends!

kitsy clareAbout the Author:
Kitsy Clare hails from Philadelphia and lives in New York. A romantic at heart, she loves to write about the sexy intrigue of the city, and particularly of the art world. She knows it well, having shown her paintings here before turning to writing. Model Position, her new adult novella is about artist Sienna and her friends. Living in a Bookworld says: “Beautifully written! We get to learn things about art & painting, which is refreshing. A colorful story from a promising new adult author.” The next in her Art of Love series, Private Internship launches in September with Inkspell.

Kitsy loves to travel, draw, read romance, speculative fiction and teach writing workshops. She also writes YA as Catherine Stine. Her futuristic thriller, Ruby’s Fire was a YA finalist in the Next Generation Indie book awards. Fireseed One, its companion novel, was a finalist in YA and Sci-Fi in the USA News International Book Awards, and an Indie Reader notable. Her YA horror, Dorianna, launches fall 2014 with Evernight Teen. She’s a member of SFWA, RWA and SCBWI.

Catch up with Kitsy on her Website, Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook.

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She Was A WILDCAT IN MOSCOW–A Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a contemporary romance from author Storm Chase featuring some landscape I’d never read before–Moscow! I’ve read a few of Storm’s sexy shorts, but this is the first novel I got my hands on.  WILDCAT IN MOSCOW is a fast-paced tale about a down-on-her-luck gal and her unlikely hero.


About the book:
Chelsea is a 21 y/o British national who has traveled the world fighting for environmental and human rights. She’s returned home to London to claim her inheritance to learn that her criminal stepfather, George McAllister, has frittered it all away on “bad investments.” Destitute, Chelsea takes up camping in her mother’s empty, and about to be repossessed, flat while plotting her next steps.

Not only is Chelsea broke, but the police think she has colluded in a financial swindle. Worse, loan shark Carlos Santiago is after her too, determined to make her pay up for her stepfather’s debts.

Then Vladimir Voyeykov, rumoured to be a member of the Red Mafia, enters the mix. He whisks Chelsea to Moscow where she is catapulted into a world filled with intrigue – and passion.

This is a contemporary romance with some explicit sexual content. Adults only, please.

 

Excerpt:

The bouncer at the door wasn’t too pleased at the sight of Chelsea’s parka or her Save The Rainforest t-shirt, but when she smiled sweetly and mentioned George’s name, he reconsidered and let her in.

The club was loud, crowded with groups of half-drunk rowdy men and very, very pink. The walls, tables and even the bar stools were a uniform creamy rose that exactly matched the skin tones of half a dozen scantily clad girls dancing on a stage. From a distance it looked as though six sets of tiny bikinis were gyrating to the beat of the music.

“Surreal,” Chelsea said out loud. Still laughing, she turned and bumped
up against someone.

“Surreal?” a voice repeated with amusement. “That’s not an expression I’ve heard used here before.”

“Sorry,” Chelsea said automatically. “I didn’t see you.” She looked up and stepped back instinctively.

His short cropped blond hair and lean aquiline features were classic but the hard grey eyes and deadpan expression screamed danger. I shouldn’t have come here, Chelsea thought.

As if sensing her thoughts, he smiled slightly. “No problem.” He looked her over critically. He spoke fluently but with a rough inflection that was definitely foreign. “You don’t belong here,” he said bluntly. “Why are you here?”

“I’ve come to look for someone,” Chelsea stammered.

“Who?”

Chelsea wanted to tell him to mind his own business but realised that he might be able to help her. “I’m looking for friends of George McAllister.”

He frowned down at her. “But not for McAllister himself,” he noted.

“Do you know him?” Chelsea asked. “He comes in here pretty often, two or three times a week I think.”

He said nothing and Chelsea could read nothing from his expression.

“If you know him, maybe you can help me,” Chelsea pleaded. “It won’t take long and I have money.” He frowned at her. “I mean, I can buy you a drink,” Chelsea faltered.

The hard grey eyes looked her over again, resting on her hair, her t-shirt and her jeans. Despite the thick parka, Chelsea suddenly felt naked. Resisting the impulse to run away, she stood her ground determinedly.

“I’ve met him,” he finally conceded.

“Then can we talk?”

“He’s bad news. Not the sort of person you should be hanging out with.”

“You don’t understand. I’m in real trouble. Please, I just need a few minutes of your time.”

“Vlad, are you coming?” A tall blonde in a sequined black cocktail dress appeared at his side. She looked at Chelsea and seeing the thick parka dismissed her instantly. “I’m thirsty,” the blonde said while taking his arm possessively.

Vlad, Chelsea thought. Short for Vladimir. Russian. And by the look of his dark blue silk shirt and slim gold watch, a rich one too. One of those business moguls, she thought to herself, vaguely remembering stories in the newspapers of Russian oil and telecommunication billionaires.

Vladimir shrugged the girl off. “Go sit. I’ll be there in a moment,” he said.

“But the others have just arrived,” the blonde pouted. “They’ll be expecting you to join them.”

“So they’ll wait a bit,” Vladimir said coldly. “Go on. I want to talk to this girl here.” With a malevolent glance at Chelsea the girl flounced off.

“Thanks,” Chelsea said gratefully. “I really appreciate your helping me.”

“I haven’t said I will yet,” he answered.

My Review:
Poor Chelsea! Her only family is long dead, and she’s a crusader for fair trade, fair treatment of animals, and ecological awareness. She has traveled far and wide, helping wherever she goes, and collecting precious stones and tusks (ethically!) to build into one-of-a-kind jewelry. She returns home to claim her inheritance, and learns that her philandering step-father George has spent her fortune–seemingly, anyhow.

Her only remaining asset seems to be a box of receipts and collections notices. Trying to unravel the financial disaster, Chelsea goes to one of the clubs she finds on numerous receipts–there she meets Vlad. He’s more than just big, Russian and scary. He takes a moment to hear her tale of woe and gives her the best advice he can: run, for your life.

Vlad knows how ruthlessly Chelsea would be treated if she gets caught up in her stepfather’s bad debts—some of those creditors wouldn’t hesitate to prostitute, or even kill, her. They are, after all Vlad’s business associates. See, he’s a Russian “businessman” (read: mobster) and he greases the wheels in ten countries to make sure his construction projects get finished, early.

Before Chelsea can take Vlad’s advice, she’s taken in by the police–who want to pin her down for George’s fraudulent scams– and later the nefarious Carlos Santiago, who plans to sell her into prostitution to cover George’s debt. Chelsea attempts a daring escape, humiliating Carlos and earning Vlad’s admiration. Knowing Chelsea’s life hangs in the balance, Vlad buys out her debt and whisks her off to Moscow.

Isolated within Vlad’s inner circle, Chelsea finds that Vlad isn’t the cold enforcer she’d first suspected. He is generous and kind, lavishing her with affection, new clothes and art. If only Chelsea could get over his harem of highly paid prostitutes and his new ventures in drug running…

LOL. All is not what it seems with Vlad and his merry band of vodka swilling comrades. As Chelsea and Vlad spend more time together, a real affection grows, and Chelsea finds the one thing she’d longed for more than her fortune: a home.

There’s lots of twists and turns in this fast-paced romance. We’re kept very much in the dark regarding Vlad’s alter ego, until the end–which felt a little rushed. There’s a bit of smexytimes, but lots of fade-to-black scenes which keep the focus on the emotional development between Vlad and his “Wildcat”, not that Chelsea is a huge fan of all Vlad’s ‘possessives’! Still, their arrangement, which is more out of convenience at first, turns into a tender romance. It’s a bit PRETTY WOMAN with a Russian twist.

And, I liked the Russian scene. The pragmatic nature of Vlad and his friends was very different, and (I felt) in keeping with the post-Soviet culture. The seemy underbelly of this world is on constant display, with real issues like human trafficking, prostitution, drug running and corruption being center stage. Still, there was a lot of heart packed into this romance. Vlad is a tender man who’d been missing a companion, and Chelsea’s pure heart and indomitable spirit both captivates and challenges him. I had a bit of trouble with the head-hopping POV of the narrative, bit that’s my biggest peeve. Some typos, and the British English spellings, didn’t throw me off my read.

Interested? You can find WILDCAT IN MOSCOW on Goodreads, Amazon, Amazon UK, B&N and Smashwords

Giveaway

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About The Author:


Delicious novels with fully depicted love scenes that straddle the categories of Romance and Erotica with the occasional Crime committed on the side.

Storm Chase was born September 2012. Her alter ego is Ellen Whyte, a syndicated author who has published roughly 3000 articles and 10 print books. The alter ego is the steady type; Storm is the tearaway who’s dedicated to making it work with e-publishing. Since November 2013 Storm also acquired alter ego, AJ Adams who writes cartel and mob
stories.

Connect with Storm on her Amazon Page, Goodreads, Facebook, Email, and her website.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Couldn’t Keep it BOTTLED UP SECRET–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a recently published YA gay romance about a boy who wants to come out–and his secret boyfriend, who doesn’t… Brian McNamara’s BOTTLED UP SECRET is a coming-of-age book that puts the focus on feelings.

Bottled Up SecretAbout the book:

Brendan Madden is in the midst of his senior year of high school and couldn’t be happier. He has a great group of friends, his pick of colleges, and he has recently come to terms with his sexuality. One night, he meets Mark Galovic, a gorgeous, younger classmate of his. In a matter of minutes, Brendan is hooked.

As the friendship between them grows, Brendan reaches his breaking point when he spontaneously confesses his feelings to him. Brendan is shocked and elated to find out that Mark feels the same way about him. The two begin to date, but because Mark is not out, it must remain a secret.

As their friends and family become suspicious, openly gay Brendan becomes increasingly frustrated with their discreet relationship, while Mark becomes more and more paranoid that they’re going to be found out.

My Review:

Brendan is a high school senior at an all-boys Catholic school in Ohio. He recently accepted the fact that he is gay, but has yet to come out or act on his feelings. He meets Mark, a younger classmate, through Chris, a mutual friend, and is enamored. In his infatuation, Brendan realizes he needs to make a statement to his friends, most of whom are girls, about his sexuality.

While Brendan’s coming out is not met with scorn–his good friend Chris is already “out”–he’s still nervous about revealing his sexuality to his family. What he actually does is reveal his crush to Mark, who is stunned, but not upset. In fact, Mark is anxious to remain friends. A couple weeks pass, and Brendan is blindsided by Mark’s confession of interest.

They begin a relationship, under the agreement that no one know. This causes a lot of problems for Brendan. He has to hide Mark from his friends, and keep his nosy mom out of his business. In fact, his mom picks up on Brendan’s sexuality and while Brendan tells he truth, she is upset. She wants him to deny it, and go on pretending he is not gay. It’s an awkward experience as they are the only people in the house–it leads to a lot of silence.

The secrets seem to pile up around Brendan, however. He is enjoying his brief, stolen moments with Mark, but his friends begin to notice–and ask questions. Will an accidental “out”ing cause Mark to freak?

I did enjoy this quiet romance. The physicality of their relationship is extremely downplayed–only a few kisses with little description, and one (maybe) hot-n-heavy experience that is completely glossed over. I would have really liked a bit more headiness from Brendan–more exuberance or excitement about the thrill of first love, first contact. His attitude is almost dauntingly even keeled.

Don’t get me wrong, I thought Brendan acted very maturely. He was presented with a difficult opportunity for a relationship and he handled it with grace. I just felt the story was a bit superficial when it came to the emotional context. We hear that Brendan cries, for example, but we do not experience his pain, per se, which left me feeling a bit removed as a reader. I suppose this might be okay for some readers, but I wanted more. I wanted to feel Brendan’s highs and lows, and instead of getting a thrill ride, I bounced along a lazy river, so to speak.

I do believe this book will resonate with young gay readers, however, and I am glad that it showed some positive relationships in both Brendan and Mark’s social/family spheres. Brendan’s mom was not my fave–because I’m not the kind of mom who would try to pressure my child into my point of view (case in point:  I’m a flaming liberal and my eldest is, gasp, a libertarian), but she still came across as an honest character. Her disappointment, and the fear behind her constant inquisitions, was palpable, even if I didn’t agree with her point of view.

I also appreciated how Brendan didn’t allow his experience with Mark to shut down his life. He still visited with friends, and performed in the school musical and tennis, and even attended two proms with gal pals. His life went on, and it actually got better, to some degree. That’s a very positive message for questioning youth to encounter, and I applaud the effort by the author to write an approachable coming out story where the MC isn’t bullied, hazed, disowned or a pariah.

Interested? You can find BOTTLED UP SECRET on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I received a copy of this book via NetGalley. This is my honest review.

McNamara, BrianAbout the Author:

The youngest of six kids (and the only boy!), Brian McNamara was born and raised in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. His favorite hobbies growing up were tennis and musical theater. He obtained a degree in finance in 2009 and moved to New York City shortly after to work for a management consulting firm. While pursuing his true passions of writing and acting on the side, he decided to quit his corporate job to focus all his energy on what he loved. Using his own high school experience as inspiration for his debut novel, he is thrilled to publish Bottled Up Secret with Bold Strokes Books.

Brian can be contacted at BrianMcNamara.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Happy Book Birthday to DEVOTED by Bianca Giovanni!

Hi all! It’s election day, here in the fair USA, and I figure if you have made it through the morass of mudslinging political ads and nail-biting races you need a reward…so, how about an erotic romance? Releasing today is DEVOTED, the fourth book in Bianca’s Vice, Virtue and Video series. I’ve read and reviewed the first three books REVEALED, CAPTURED, and DESIRED (click the titles to get those reviews!) and I can tell you, they are heart and heat, in equal measure. Perfect distraction for a contentious election…

Devoted (Vice, Virtue, and Video #4)

About the book:
James Laird was once devoted to sex, fame, and money…but now this former porn star is devoted to his lifelong best friend turned fiancée, Lola Caraway. He wants nothing more than to give her a dream wedding: white dress, long veil, and a big reception with the whole family. James’ family is the only problem–he’s not sure if he can deliver on that part of the dream. They haven’t exactly been there for him “for better or for worse.” In fact, James’s parents haven’t spoken to him in six years–not since they discovered his double-life as a porn star.

As James and Lola work to build their life together, they discover mending the past could be more difficult than either of them expected. Will devotion be enough to take them one step closer to happily ever after?

Interested? You can find DEVOTED on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the author:

Bianca Giovanni was born and raised in Boulder, Colorado. She grew up with a single mother and Italian grandmother, who was an avid reader. She has had a love of writing since childhood, but self-published her first short stories in 2012. Bianca’s strong female characters and witty dialogue have struck a chord with readers and lead to her popularity on self-publishing platforms.

In 2013, Bianca signed with Omnific Publishing to bring the ‘Vice, Virtue & Video’ series to readers. The series contains First Dance (free introductory short story), Revealed (book #1), Letting Go (book #1.5), and four more novels to be released in 2014. She currently resides in Denver, Colorado, where she can often be found jotting down story ideas in a notebook.

You can connect with Bianca on her website, Facebook and twitter.